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New Fast Company: 3 New Economies

My new Fast Company essay is up: Three Possible Economic Models talks a bit about what 21st century economics might look like, given certain disruptive drivers. Yes, Resilience Economics is there, but so is "Just-in-Time Socialism" and "Robonomics."

Speaking as a social futurist, not an economist, the three emerging conditions that ride high on my list of potential breaking points for the modern economy are as follows:
  1. Brittle Strength: The current global economy seems to exaggerate booms and busts, and the ongoing consolidation of corporate actors into "too big to fail" entities means that when busts happen--and they do--the system tends towards failure rather than "soft landing." It's getting harder and harder for governments to step in and serve as safety nets to prevent total collapse; the current economic downturn may well be the last one the system can stand.

  2. Griefer Economics: Information is power, especially when it comes to finance, and the increasing use of ultra-fast computers to manipulate markets (and drive out "weaker" competitors) is moving us into a world where market position isn't determined by having the best offering, but by having the best tool. Rules are gamed, opponents are beaten before they even know they're playing, and it all feels very much like living on a PvP online game server where the referees have all gone home.

  3. Robots Stole My Job!: Think you can't be replaced by a machine? Think again. Robots are becoming more dextrous, able to do a growing number of tasks requiring precision and strength, and computer systems are becoming smarter, able to tackle jobs needing pattern-matching and creative skills. Humans are still cheaper, for now, but this puts downward pressure on wages--and the old rule that new technology opens up entirely new fields of human labor won't hold true forever. Smarter, more capable machines will snap up those jobs, too.

All exaggerations, to be sure, but indicative of where trends seem to be heading. All are issues that could, over the next decade, explode in a way that pushes us to try innovative economic and social models.

Next week, I'll examine the three resulting models in more detail.


Here is a wireless communication based model of the Basic Income Guarantee that might be able to be used as a development model.

In exchange for free use of a wide section of the spectrum telecomunication companies agree to provide every adult with one free I phone like device and X hours of free usage (say 15 - 20 hours) per week. People should be able to use their phones to trade hours like money.

The telecoms gain several things by doing this (besides the free spectrum)
Everybody gets signed up as a customer,
The business imperative becomes getting people to collectively use more network time than is given away,
If a customer doesn't pay the bill you can deduct that many hours from the "free" time that they get for the next month.

In response to the brittle economy (or even robots stole my job), I think you'll see a rise in local microeconomies, possibly with their own currency (see http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2009/08/we_dont_need_no_stinking_dolla.html). Max will still owe the US gov't back taxes for participating in the gift economy...

Could we really teach a robot to be as amoral or corrupt as a human being?
humans would probably be more comfortable around a robot that was amoral and corrupt. that way there feelings of mistrust could be justified.

Easier said than done.

"the increasing use of ultra-fast computers to manipulate markets (and drive out "weaker" competitors) is moving us into a world where market position isn't determined by having the best offering, but by having the best tool."

This reminds me of Hyungkee Kim's definition of "knowledge intensity of capital" in this paper:


As global finance firms and other knowledge firms increasingly "compete" with one another on terms like these, I think we can safely predict (or provocate) that capitalism is going to go through a fundamental shift in our lifetimes. The questions about how we are going to attempt to steer it are intensely political. That's why technologists really need to understand the kind of political theory you did in your recent post on Thiel.

Jamais, your work has been off the chain good lately.

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