New Economy

 

Introduction

We live in a world where the barriers towards creation and dissemination of content are systematically getting reduced. To take the example of media- twenty years ago all we could see and read was what certain authority figures- newspaper editors, cable channel studios, governments, etc- could create, moderate, modify, color or present with a shade of bias and show us. But now the cost of creating content is as small as a webcam, Movie Maker and YouTube, or your mobile phone camera, or a blogging platform like Tumblr. There’s no need for expensive equipment and technical knowledge, or being in a position at a channel or studio a select few hold and so on. And the barriers to information dissemination have also gone from owning or working for a major newspaper or studio, to YouTube or Facebook pages or a trending topic on Twitter.

I’d argue that it’s almost inevitable that as it develops and the barriers for other things (financing online, communications, biometrically secure voting, etc) the model will expand to everything from business, to government, to health, to whatever. Whether it’s by technology enabling voting to be more representative- or something like, to run on from the previous example of media, a framework allowing a large number of artists and art school students to band together, upload their content to it, select by votes or thumbs-up the best series or films they’ve made, and upload it two days ahead of time all in time-slots to be aired as a cable channel but created democratically, as an example- or many other things.

I think that a massive change in social structures and everything, the biggest since the 40s or 60s. Whether this happens in 5 years or 10 or 20. I think that the current generation, who’re growing up in the organic-systems age where there is no barrier to creation of content has the mindset of attacking issues by creating organic, self-correcting systems, very much unlike almost all of human history so far where to some extent or the other authority figures have been the ones creating all the frameworks and material and decisions. That there will be a general trend towards systems that are set up to develop organically and self-correct, instead of controlled by some authorities. Wikipedia, an encyclopedia created through mass creation and correction towards the most accurate information; open source software and mobile app stores; Twitter trending topics and blogging and YouTube forcing media accountability.

Essentially, a massive shift in the way the whole world works- from authority figures creating/deciding content/ideas/news/designs/products/laws/systems/whatever to systems being created organically, like apps adding to a mobile phone and patches fixing problems in it. A world where content creation or information spreading or a voice no longer limited to a handful of authorities with money, reach and equipment to do it but is made as a whole with bits being added or fixed like apps and patches do for software. Organic systems. From the media, to businesses, to the government, to the economy. I think it’s inevitable.

 

Politics

Something I feel is that mankind isn’t meant to stand still in any aspect of our lives. There are fields and areas where moving forward is a goal, if not the goal- science, technology, medicine. And then there are areas where we somehow attach a certain moral significance and weight to ideas- democracy down to every letter as envisioned decades ago, capitalism as a moral bastion over communism down from the Cold War days, a commitment to education as putting kids in schools and drumming ideas down their throats…

There is a tendency to keep on staying still with a loyalty to ideas that had served us well, without looking to evolve them or build on them, or use the technology or knowledge we have now to expand on their possibilities. It’s a path the world is moving towards. With social networking and microblogging, Wikipedia and increased connectivity, millions of apps and the proliferation of mobile devices, and the associated change in mindset that has come with this decentralization of knowledge and free spread of ideas. It’s a path that, as I’ve repeated a few too many times already, I believe is inevitable.

Our governments are based on a centuries-old system, democracy, that is often left untouched and unimproved out of some feeling of the moral right it is supposed to embody. However, as the world advances, that there are some very major flaws but which technological improvement to the system- patches, so to speak, or bug fixes- can or will actually fix.

One of these major flaws is that elected officials will vote in their own interests, and they’re usually rich, or backed by special interests, or in other ways the kind of people who were in circumstances to be able to be elected- and those interests rarely dovetail with those of the public (whether voting to give themselves more benefits, or to please their corporate sponsors, or whatever). The other is gridlock when it is never in the interests of one political party to allow another to notch up any successes so it’s always in the interests of one party to shoot down anything the other tries to push through (usually opposition against ruling), because the fewer successes the other party has, the better the prospects of your own party is in the next elections.

Until now the only reason we elect representatives by votes, and so on, is because it’s the only way we have the capability to run a country- millions of people can’t meet in a city hall and take a show of hands on an issue, referendums are too expensive and logistically difficult to set up in a fair way so only left for enormous issues like whether a country wants to join the EU, etc- but as that capacity gets created, those bits should be plugged in to the system. I could theorize that if the technological capacity to run a referendum without all that expense (for example if widespread computing or even electronic platforms in neighborhoods, connectivity and some kind of biometrical test like retinal or something scans if a database of national IDs and fingerprints/retinal scans exists) comes into being- if someone designs a platform and someone else improves on it and it ends up good enough to be fair and all-encompassing- then for major issues or budgets or major bills at least, direct democracy can run a vote on it. Which eliminates votes on issues being affected by MPs’ own interests or direct corporate campaign donors or something, and eliminates gridlock of people just blocking every major issue to make the other party have no victories, so two of the main flaws of the system are reduced.

Or, to go further along this line of thinking but perhaps more practically- draw a perfectly random, statistically large number of people- selections among citizenry is already widespread in most countries as done for jury duty, for example- that is representative, give them files or evidence containing views from all the stakeholders and arguments from both sides, etc- again like jury duty- and then let them be a factor voting on major bills. They’ll be randomly drawn and a large enough pool to balance out so they’ll be fully representative, they won’t mostly ‘1-percenters’ or even career politicians, they’d have no interest in future electability so no need for just opposing everything or creating a gridlock, and since they are randomly drawn for each major issue as it comes and haven’t been in the career for years would be much harder to secretly lobby or buy out. (Something along these lines, called deliberative polling, are already being tested out in Australia by the IDA). Whether through jury duty style selections or outright referendum or whatever, this direct democracy is a nice layer- one that could work almost like a third house of parliament, so to speak, one that has a major say in some of the larger issues and has final say on the biggest matters- that can be plugged into the political system to eliminate its two biggest flaws.

 

Economy

Occupy Wall Street the movement has suddenly brought into light the failures of the current economic system as well as the aforementioned political systems. Instead of settling for regulations and laws while sticking to old schools of thought and old ideas, the current atmosphere of focus on the failures of the existing situation provides an opportunity to look at new ideas and thought without the lens of skepticism through which new ideas and change are usually viewed.

There may be some changes in law or role of businesses. Even now, in certain states in the USA, business licenses based on the social good a company does as well allow businesses to no longer be limited by legal obligations to provide maximum return to shareholders, allowing for companies that can set as goals impact on communities or change in society. Along this direction towards new laws there might be, for example, something like- a law that massive companies over a certain size should own, say, at least 5% of their assets, in the form of venture capital or shares in small businesses. This could specify that these massive companies can own at most a 49% share in those small businesses or that it has to be a non-voting or simply financial investment in the holdings which count towards the 5% of assets, so that we don’t see many small businesses simply going under the control of large companies through this investment. A law like this would make millions of dollars available for funding for small businesses and startups that currently find it very hard to get financing. It would do this without causing a direct loss to those large companies too, since they are not being taxed this amount- those are still assets they own and investments on which they will be getting a return on their original financing. Since the massive companies have a vested interest in these small businesses succeeding, the chances of frameworks through which they get training and support needed to grow and be successful is much more likely- this wouldn’t happen with an alternative like companies just giving away some money for SMEs, for example.

A main shift will probably along the lines of increased entrepreneurship and shifting away from banks and major financial institutions. Returning to the theme of societal change caused by connectivity- it allows normal people or small businesses to band together and benefit from economies of scale in ways that they wouldn’t have been able to before- and ultimately, towards making resorting to many currently necessary institutions unnecessary. Systems which will provide a framework of security and checks-and-balances that avoid the worries many people have for pooling resources, and the connectivity to allow people to collaborate in this way.

It could be real estate- groups of people pooling their economic power to buy or develop apartment blocks or a number of housing units enough to divide up at an affordable cost instead of having to take out bank loans at exorbitant levels of interest to pay for the retail prices individuals would have to pay- or basic goods stores, services, investments in small businesses, anything. The basic idea is that as the frameworks for people to both connect and securely pool their money, these ‘superconsumers’- consumer units of many individuals banded together through a technology/framework that allows them to both find like-minded individuals and safely/securely do so- will become a larger and larger economic force.

Another main change I foresee is in banking. Occupy has brought many of the issues surrounding the practice of banks and the banking system to light, ranging from crises in housing to student debt practices little short of intentionally cruel. For much of recent decades banks have been a necessary institution- their role in allowing people to buy homes or fund businesses through loans or allow people to invest their money wasn’t one served elsewhere. But now we’re starting to see an alternative to traditional banking coming up in various forms.

It’s in something that are actually two rather different original ideas, but could be similar enough in evolution for me to discuss them together. One is ‘Islamic finance’, or namely the banking models sprouting up over the world under the religious limitation of interest being prohibited. Most of these banks follow the system where people who put in their money to save, instead of getting fixed interest and having their money then be lent out again at a fixed interest, have their money invested in a loan applicant who applies for a loan for any value-generating process (whether to start a small business, or a loan to build a house which he will then rent out, or so on) as a part shareholder. So, for example, if I put in my savings to the no-interest bank, my money, instead of being lent out, will be given for a share of (non-controlling) ownership, and instead of loan interest being the interest I get in my savings account, it’s the dividends that I get as regular payments. Some of those investments into small businesses or ventures won’t be successful, of course, but overall it brings in enough profits to cancel out those rare losses and give gains to people who deposit their money in the first place. That was a very short summary that doesn’t really capture the concept- for details, you can read up on the subject from various sources online.

The other, related area is microfinance. Companies such as Kiva (as well as many other microfinance institutions) allow people to invest their money, from as little as $10 or $25, in the form of loans to people who will use it for something that generates value- starting a small business, getting stock for agriculture, and so on. Many of these microfinance institutions report loan payback rates of over 98%- Kiva itself has a loan payback rate of 98.88%- which adds up to a low overall risk.

It seems obvious that there is enormous untapped potential for increased growth among millions of people without the situation to empower themselves- as technology allows the kind of connectivity to tap into these potential and automate the process, ‘ethical’ banking/microfinance companies which manage the savings of people given them and use them to manage portfolios of microfinance investments that provide steady if slow gains to these savings accounts, allows them to make a difference to the world that they can look up on if they so wished, drives actual economic growth, and has the low risk of not wiping out massive amounts of money if any one creditor defaults.

 

Business

Business being a more ‘individual’ segment than most of the other parts of this article, I’ll write this part in idea form.

Let’s look at what too many businesses and companies look for when hiring-  maybe not so much in cutting-edge industries of developed countries nowadays, but something that is still the only reality in many developing countries, especially South Asia. Your official qualifications, and your experiences. I would argue that sole focus on this, specifically for high-level positions or positions of responsibility, where ideas or creativity is important, isn’t necessarily the way to go about running a business. Looking at some of the companies in the forefront of innovation, we see a culture where the focus is on talent and ideas. Google, for example, lets their employees have a fifth of their work time to work on their own projects. And people on the internet who make amazing online tools for Google services are quickly recruited- recently, a college student who made an Instant search for YouTube the way Google Instant operates now was immediately contacted with a job offer..

The theme I’m getting at here is that companies should probably start to consider the ideas a candidate says they have as the main factor when hiring. Look for the message, not the messenger, and hire the people who have brilliant ideas and can demonstrate that they can back them up. Where I lived most of my life, and in much of Asia, this culture is pretty much nonexistent- qualification or seniority matters most. We need to cut that out. Why shouldn’t a company- or a government ministry, or small business- looking for the best put out their job offers asking applicants to not just show their list of past jobs, but to study your company and explain to you the ideas they have to change or improve it? I think here in the Maldives we should start giving that some weight as well.

For example, encourage anyone looking for a job at your company to just walk in and present what brilliant thing they could do, in a specific format of proposal which you make publicly available on your website and your reception desk, and if someone suggests something brilliant, give them consideration. Don’t worry as much about their qualifications and experience as much as brilliant ideas and creative solutions. They could even be someone inexperienced in the field, or a teenage college student.

This continues on to having merit based recognition on a general basis as well. The information explosion in the world in recent years is due to the ability for everyone, instead of a limited number of professionals, suddenly being able to act on ideas and create content. The post-Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube age, where information can be looked up instantly and content can be easily created and made accessible to the world, is seeing humanity now generating as much total new knowledge and content every three years as was the sum of all human knowledge in all the years up to 2003[6]. This was driven by  mindset change of everyone being part of the creative process, in testing and ideas and content and design, all over the world- with the best ideas and suggestions and content and websites, as one would expect through capitalist principles of competition, rising to the top- getting the most visibility and most being the most acted-on or influential.

A company or economy can increase productivity, by moving with the times and use technological resources available only now to replicate this system of anyone being able to have the building blocks to come up with ideas and the means to present them easily. Have company policy that allows employees no matter their rank or seniority to suggest solutions or ideas, in form of proposals in a particular format; incentivize this by evaluating and rewarding them accordingly. If a desk employee presents a proposal for some brilliant new operation the company could start which would bring in money, put him as one of the members in charge of planning the project. Keep basic company information easily accessible to employees, as well as previous successes and failures of ideas- allow the employees that would take on the task of trying to create something new or brilliant the tools to carry this out by keeping this information available. Create a system for the submission of ideas and projects- a proposal form or template, for example, which employees can fill in and submit directly to the required department.

The next theme I would get at would be creativity among employees. Knowledge. The fact that a wider breadth and variety of knowledge and details, and freedom to express ideas, will breed creativity, and creativity will breed innovation and good ideas and the shortcuts or developments that will make your business or government office or country, whatever, succeed. The capability to do this very simply and at next to no cost exists now, and building them for the future would be easy enough- why not take advantage? I don’t mean just now-ubiquitous services like Wikipedia- I’m also talking about things like KhanAcademy, for example, the online site which has video lessons at college level for subjects from biology and chemistry to economics and history in short, simple lessons, or iTunes University, where short videos of actual lectures in universities like Harvard are available for free.

I’d say that every employee should be learning something throughout their life in a company, that their value should keep on increasing as much as possible during their stay for a business to benefit the most from them. For example, all employees, from office cubicle workers to managers and admin staff, can have a format through which they can keep on constantly learning and gaining education while they work. Not just in their fields, but in the whole breadth of education, because people who know a lot about a lot of things will be more productive, more creative, and crucially in the current business environment, more innovative. The different schools and methods of thinking in the different fields is why interdisciplinary knowledge makes people most capable of thinking outside the box.

For example, all employees could log in to a video lessons portal and watch one video lesson and do one exercise every day- this will take about twenty minutes of the day. Over time, businesses can have their own knowledge bases as well- files on previous projects, 10-minute video explanations of various aspects of the company or things employees should know.

This can even apply to unskilled employees or manual workers- through the same concept, they can be in a position for much improved prospects by the time they stop working in your company. Certain companies in Massachusetts already do this, from what I know, allowing manual workers to get their GEDs. Your unskilled workers take half an hour or so a day to learn a little through the educational videos and an exercise, while working full-time. By the time three or so years pass, they learn the material they need to do a high school exam or GED and can move on to better prospects, strengthening the community and their livelihoods.

In today’s business world, with the crucial role of networking, flexibility and connectivity in business, I would argue that a focus on tying down employees is less ideal and actually aiming for a higher rate of turnover in most positions is something to aim for. I think that an ideal strategy, especially for a small or medium sized business but also for most firms, would be to have a policy where they support employees to achieve their life goals. Whether to move on to another bigger company or government position, or start their own small business (or even something more eclectic like get published or start their own conservation program, whatever). It will increase productivity by making employees feel valued, of course-however, the main purpose would be that, in a modern business environment where networking and connections are crucial, former employees with good relations and a moral debt to you in positions in bigger companies, or public roles, or running a small business which could provide goods and services you use (at better rates or with more focus on higher quality due to the personal interest than you could normally expect for said business or service, for example) or whatever creates a strong position for a business, is increasingly important. Formal and informal connections and the advantages they can bring is increasingly advantageous for businesses- employees that leave can be filled by new employees, but these connections cannot be bought or created by any other means than human ties.

Of course, all this also ties into the factor of goodwill- always an important commodity for a business. In a world with clear trends towards an increasingly socially conscious public and customer base- where businesses soon will not be just praised for corporate social responsibility and responsible operations that generate real wealth and benefit the communities they belong to but be expected to have them- again, something I believe that current trends point to and is inevitable- a reputation of such positive culture provides immeasurable value at little loss. (And applied on a policy level for the operations of businesses in the country, gives a reputation of positive culture and innovation to the country itself- crucial connotations in nations that depends very much on its image for its economic growth or survival).

 


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