Tim O’Reilly quoting William Gibson:
The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.
If you’re dissatisfied with your microeconomy, it’s because the economy you’ld like to live in doesn’t yet exist for you, though it probably does for someone – an unevenly distributed future.
Alan Kay famously said that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it“. The challenge is to design a user-friendly microeconomy and then distribute it evenly enough that it can touch any life. To build that microeconomy from scratch, what to focus on? Yesterday, I suggested that data is the heart of the problem.
Every economy is data-based. Every database is forms-driven. In our lives, we say or write some things and if they fit a certain requirement, a form is presented to us, filled in, and then our Social Security Number becomes a blip in a database which causes resources to flow in ways dictated by the database rules. Maybe you get a check every two weeks. Maybe you get a phone bill every month.
Most (all?) microeconomies are scarcity-based – they mine a lot of people’s too-scarce cash and distribute it to very few. They’re interesting to us for the same reason the lottery is interesting – not because it makes a difference to so many, but because it makes such a big difference to so few.
Knowing how hard it is to get rich, these opportunistic microeconomies are built to be uneven – their candid goal is to make as much money as possible for a relatively few people, so that’s the purpose of the operational databases they build. Then they build a back office database called an accounting system to collect from the many and distribute to the anointed few.
If our proposed microeconomy is to be even-handed, it must be built from the inside out, starting with an open source accounting system and then building the open source operational database(s) to handle the actual transactions. As a public microeconomy, there can be no central control and no definition of what work is done by this enterprise, since there’s no enterprise in the usual sense. Instead, it’s a free-for-all where we collectively track the quality of transactions and conduct the marketplace as we would in a village, where all promises and all outcomes are visible to everyone.
AT&T’s old slogan, Universal Service, has been realized, but there’s still dissatisfaction with the service we’re getting. What people purchase is not a product or service, but a sense of assurance that it will give them the benefit they seek. Disappointments arise because you pay in advance for everything you get, whether it works as advertised or not. What we need is a transaction protocol so favorable to the customer that it creates an economic ambience of Universal Assurance. Here are the elements of Universal Assurance:
In that microeconomy, you won’t contract for anything unless it’s already been rated highly, which makes it worth the time and effort of trying it out, knowing your own acceptance protects you against unsuitability.
Our microeconomy is designed to be peer-to-peer, so everyone is buying and selling all the time. Our peers’ competence is visible, quantifiable and are tough competition for the “Brand” names. Branding looks pretty weak compared to strong ratings from real customers.
Our next challenge is to teach people how to productize whatever they might offer, whether it’s plumbing, massage, web design or managing your Wall Street Journal subscriptions. Then their skills can be describable, sellable, reputable and worth more next month than they are today.