Queen Defender of the faith: Omninetworks

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Likewise, hardly any aspect of human life will remain unchanged by transliteracy and the new communications technologies of the next half century. In this final part of the essay, I'd like to describe a little of what I think about the future omni-networked societies.

Commerce as information

As an old Catalan proverb says, On hi ha comerc, hi ha vida: where there's commerce, there's life. Commerce is the blood of nations. I like to think of it as another form of communication.
Through commerce, innovations quickly get diffused around the globe. Even when other forms of communication fail, commerce usually carries the day -- even enemies have to trade.
You only have to realize that money is really nothing but data to get an idea of the tidal changes lurking ahead. Paper money and coinage are very crude ways of storing knowledge about wealth.
As financial transactions go electronic, the pace of business gets hotter. More money sloshes around the globe during a few days' time in the 1990's than during an entire year in the 1960's, with much of that movement of money tied to speculation on currency fluctuations.
Economies will become more complex, more nonlinear, and more difficult to keep track of. Competition will sharpen. Even the slightest differences in quality or price will loom large in such a sensitive, well-informed marketing environment.
The City will bring an exciting era of trade, as never seen before. It'll be a different kind of trade, though.
Physical materials won't be exchanged as much as designs and knowledge will be. Manufacturing will be as local as possible.
What will move will be designs that provide know-how about how to build things using local materials. This reminds me of waves on the ocean; even though the wave energy travels great distances, the water itself just bobs up and down.
The City will make it possible to trade many things which aren't commodities today. Knowledge will be a commodity to be bought and sold, for example, just as wheat or petroleum get traded today.
Commodity trading has the advantage of eventually settling on prices that realistically reflect the worth and availability of goods and services. When prices climb too high, people stop buying, prompting the sellers to lower their prices to encourage people to buy again.
If prices drop too far, though, people will spy a bargain and lunge to buy, making it possible for the seller to ask for higher prices. The market is complex and dynamic, but the overall result -- the form that emerges -- is accurate pricing. It's not necessary for the traders ever to see what they're buying.
All that actually changes hands is the control of the commodity, which is really just knowledge. For that reason, world trade will be much more fluid as a result of the City's superior knowledge-processing power.
Clean air and clean water will become commodities, too. Before anything can become a commodity, however, there has to be some way to know much of it you have.
The clean air trade has begun in the 1990's with international agreements limit the amount of CFC's (chlorofluorocarbons) that each country may release.
CFC's are known to destroy the ozone layer in the atmosphere that protect living things from deadly ultraviolet radiation. Some countries sell their CFC "credits" to other countries.
Trading precious resources like clean air and water will create tremendous market pressure to invent and implement more ecologically sound ways of doing things.
The City will provide the information-processing needed to quantify damages done to assets through contamination of the air and water. (Real estate in Los Angeles would probably be more valuable if there weren't any smog.)
Those damages will be imputed to the polluters, both great and small. Hitting 'em where it counts is the best way to get things cleaned up. It's also the best way to make cleaner but more expensive technologies cost effective.
The "invisible hand" that Adam Smith wrote about is another example of information, another example of spontaneously emerging form and structure. A market is mostly a chaotic system, something like an ecosystem.
There's no way to successfully predict or control it. The form which emerges out of the hurly-burly of the market is the structure of economic relationships between groups of people. Those economic relationships are what organize production of the goods and services that people need and want.
In other words, a market is an informational system that creates wealth. The same hallmarks of information are present in markets that are also present in biological systems: diversity, competition, freedom, and selection.
Ideally, the consumer should provide the selection. Putting control over selection in the hands of consumers maximizes the flexibility and appropriateness of the market.
When the state interferes in markets, the results are often disappointing because it's difficult to engineer efficient economic relationships, just as it's impossible to know which genetic mutations will turn out to be beneficial.
The City will help markets operate more fairly and efficiently by providing buyers with useful knowledge about competing products, and by providing producers with useful knowledge about the buyers' interests.
It will be tougher for producers to cheat consumers because the City will provide consumers with copious on-the-spot knowledge about each producer.

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