Even I, a non-Wordle player, was a little saddened to see the New York Times buy up the popular once-a-day word puzzle game this week.
As many, many, many people have already noted, it seems impossible now for anything to exist outside of commerce. Even a free, low-stakes internet game has to be bought up by a major media outlet as soon as it exists. Everything popular must be monetized, it seems, or else why does it exist?
It’s worth considering this phenomenon from the other side for a moment.
Are corporations rapaciously buying up everything they can get their hands on, or is there just too much money chasing too little stuff right now?
One of the weird functions of the last 15 years or so is that money is now free.
No, not free to you or me or, y’know, normal people. But free to people with nice suits and corporate offices, yeah.
This vast flood of money is the result of the aftermath of the Great Recession. Virtually every government in the world lowered interest rates to almost nothing, and many also practiced some form of “quantitative easing,” which made borrowing even cheaper. This was repeated, but faster and even more extreme, after COVID hit in early 2020.
The intended effect was to encourage business investment, which in turn would create employment, so everyone wouldn’t be broke and jobless and liable to riot.
And it worked. But it also had some side effects.
It has made saving money extremely unattractive. Rock bottom interest rates mean putting your money in the bank shrinks it every year. Savings bonds? Term deposits? Forget it!
Instead, money has flowed to stock markets, startups, Robinhood, and SPACs. Everyone is chasing profits, and the market is the only place left to find any.
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This has caused a strange phenomenon – there’s so much money, that a desperation to buy has set in.
This is why the last decade has been a parade of bizarre corporate white elephants, like Juicero and MoviePass, and strange crash-and burn stories like that of blood testing startup Theranos. It’s led to ludicrous valuations for companies like WeWork. It’s likely responsible for a lot of the froth in cryptocurrency and NFT markets, in tech firms whose business plan is to lose billions for years before (somehow) turning to profitability. It’s one reason why your house is now worth the same as a chest of pirate gold.
This has happened before, several times. In the early 1800s, in the first flush of the Industrial Revolution, English mill owners became the equivalent of today’s billionaires. But they only needed so many factories! Instead, they flung their money into canal and railway building, into fake Central American countries (really!) and, of course, into conspicuous consumption.
Today, we have an infinite number of money-bleeding tech startups, dozens of streaming services, and that’s why someone was inevitable going to buy Wordle. Everything popular becomes a money-magnet.
Of course, this always ends. The money tap always gets turned off eventually.
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