Why Not Drop Out of School and Become a YouTuber?

Photo by PatricksMercy, courtesy of Creative Commons

From a young age, we’ve been told that going to university is a respectable thing to do. We dedicate time and energy to earn a degree with the hopes of furthering our employment prospects in a new, highly competitive and volatile labour market. This war-zone is one in which bachelor’s degrees are becoming decreasingly valuable, yet costing far more than ever. Our generation of students is enduring unprecedented levels of mental health problems and, more likely than not, amassing on average thirty thousand dollars in student loan debt.

Come to think of it, none of that “university experience” stuff sounds that great or glamorous. 

Luckily, we have esteemed social critic and multi-millionaire Jake Paul to help us reassess our educational decisions. As he so articulately puts in his 2018 track, “My Teachers”:

 

“Look, I’m a millionaire, but I ain’t used nothin’ in my life that my teachers taught me

My teachers never taught me that

. . . 

How to make my paper stack 

How to get a DM back 

How to buy a Lambo cash.”

He has a point. If  post-secondary education is such a risky investment, what are we all still doing here?

Cynicism aside, I recently discovered that while we stumble towards our degrees, certain people are making enough money on Youtube to be able to afford Lamborghinis, private jets, and multiple homes. This realization dawned on me when I noticed my girlfriend watching a video discussing a YouTuber who leads such a luxurious life. A quick Google search later and I learned that, sure enough, the top ten highest-paid Youtubers collectively earned $180 million dollars in 2018. The list includes Jake and Logan Paul, who respectively earned $21.5 million and $14.5 million dollars, and five gamers. 

I thought of the bottom half of our country who earn less than $35,000 CAD a year, so many of whom exhaust themselves working two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

My immediate response to learning that you can make tens of millions of dollars a year by posting videos to Youtube of yourself playing video games was a combination of amazement and animosity. I thought of the bottom half of our country who earn less than $35,000 CAD a year, so many of whom exhaust themselves working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. The fact that somebody playing Minecraft in front of an online audience can make upwards of seven hundred times as much money in one year as do fifty percent of all Canadians is absurd, and you don’t need to be a fervent anti-capitalist to recognize that as injustice. I think this disconnect is ultimately emblematic of much larger problems of income and wealth inequality, and it demonstrates the failure of meritocracy in Canada.

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be rich Youtubers. If you make videos that millions of people enjoy, you deserve adequate compensation. Likewise, some Youtubers possess genuine talent and artistry. What exactly “adequate compensation” means, however, is the discussion I’m interested in having. Would these Youtubers no longer be motivated to release content if they made only $500K, or even $1 million, a year? Those are still enormous sums of income, which could easily land one in the top 0.1 percent of wage earners. Even jobs that we typically think of as being “the best, highest wage-earning,” like being a doctor or lawyer, only have salaries on the higher ends of $300K. Is it wrong of me to think that no matter how eloquently one plays video games on the internet one should not be able to make over sixty times as much as the highest-paid surgeons? 

A typical response to this condemnation of remarkably high salaries is that whatever the market deems to be adequate pay is adequate pay, which is why I think that markets themselves can be unjust. They may be efficient productively, but when it comes to creating an equitable distribution of income, they’re downright awful.

I think a clear example of money being fairly distributed by the market but being in principle wrong is the so-called “LootBox scandal” that happened at the start of this year. Jake Paul and many other large Youtubers released sponsored videos (most of which have since been deleted) showcasing a website called “mysterybrand.net,” an obvious scam where you could supposedly win “the most expensive Los Angeles realty 250 000 000$” and iPhones by purchasing “mystery boxes” that valued thousands of dollars. Jake Paul and others clearly aimed the videos at children, and both Jake Paul and Brian “Ricegum” Le even claimed that you can “make money back from this site.” The site no longer exists, further calling into question its legitimacy.

As a culture, we’ve become fairly accustomed to hearing about online “influencers” receiving exorbitant pay for single-sponsored posts.

The Youtubers who made these videos are suspected to have been paid around $200K, as other, smaller Youtubers were reportedly offered over $100,000 to promote the site. As a culture, we’ve become fairly accustomed to hearing about online “influencers” receiving exorbitant pay for single-sponsored posts. So accustomed, I feel, that rightful skepticism of that system is diverted and dismissed. 

Also noteworthy, the inequality of income earned among Youtubers is even more unequal than that of all income, with creators accruing 1.4 million monthly views only earning an estimated yearly income of $17,000. Achieving 1.4 million monthly viewers puts one in the top three percent of all Youtube channels, who receive ninety percent of all views, and yet still nets one an infinitesimal share of the income.

I see the astronomical earnings of the very top Youtubers as being unjustifiably large and at the expense of other, equally worthy Canadian workers. This inequality acts as a glaring example of our economy’s fundamental failures.

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