Rushkoff on radical abundance and the economics of Web Cubed

Paul Raven @ 23-11-2009

I’ve mentioned Douglas Rushkoff here a few times before (both as a thinker and a writer of comics and fiction), and I’m also deeply interested in alternative economic structures, so the following video of Rushkoff’s swift fifteen-minute keynote speech to the O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference was like internet crack for me.

I strongly recommend you watch it; even if you don’t agree with all of his points, Rushkoff’s got a very coherent vision, and seems to be one of the few alternative currency advocates who’s thought beyond the basics. In a nutshell, he’s saying we need to shift paradigms, and move from extracting value to exchanging value. Take a look:

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7 Responses to “Rushkoff on radical abundance and the economics of Web Cubed”

  1. Adam Roberts says:

    Very interesting stuff. I wasn’t keen on the way this 15 minutes breaks down into 13 minutes with ‘what’s wrong with the present paradigm’ and only 2 minutes on ‘this his how to make it better’: would have preferred more detail on that.

    Also some of his transitions made no sense to me. For example: ‘We are actually getting the scarce market demanded by our legacy currency system
    the same way the early Renaissance got a scarcity of labour by killing off half the people with the plague.’ Am I being dense, but I don’t see (a) that the latter has any basis in history, and (b) even if it did, what the analogy with the present situation would be.

  2. Rick York says:

    Paul and Adam,

    I am amazed that Rushkoff tries to create an analogy between and economy of scarcity and the scarcity of labor subsequent to the plague. First, the former was a complete accident of history and biology. The second is, as he says, a direct consequence of conscious manipulation of markets an resources. Also, except for the people that died (admittedly a BIG exception), the plague was the best thing that could have happened to the poor. The scarcity of labor worked to the advantage of anyone seeking work. And, led to the mobility of labor which helped to create the middle class.

    To me, the problem with Rushkoff – and most idealists – is that they never account for the costs of the transition. The only way such an economy could come into existence is over the dead or wounded bodies of huge segments of the world’s population, mostly the poor. We just came within a whisker of such and economic calamity. And, we will be living for many years with the consequences of that near-collapse.

    By the way, Paul; is there any way you could add preview to the comments section?

  3. Paul Raven says:

    I’ll look into the comments preview thing, Rick; thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

  4. Apesofmath says:

    @ Paul and Adam

    I’ve read a few of his books and what he said about the plague makes perfect sense, but it’s just not explained fully in this 15 minute speech. In the late middle ages people had devised local currencies that allowed the rise of the middle class and an abundance in the lower classes. Populations increased and there was a reliance on this new localized economy. There were also common lands that peasants could farm and sell the crops for local currencies. When the monarchs banned localized currency these economic systems collapsed. To make things worse monarchs sealed off the common lands (most notably the enclosure in England) in order to graze sheep for wool or raise other cash crops. This devastated the middle and lower classes and there was a dramatic rise in the population of the “wandering poor”. Large groups of wandering malnourished poor living in unsanitary conditions provided the perfect conditions for a plague.

  5. Apesofmath says:

    *enclosure movement

  6. Apesofmath says:

    @ Rick

    Before anyone starts with a “the problem with idea X” argument they should do a little research first. Rushkoff’s last book counters most of your points and in most cases completely demolishes them.

    Rushkoff has been very clear that a shift to a decentralized currency system would have a devastating effect on elderly populations who depend on savings. However, making this change won’t come through a massive, instantaneous shift. This is something that must be accomplished through small local DECENTRALIZED action. It’s more of a social problem than a policy one.

  7. Adam Roberts says:

    Apesofmath. That’s clearer, thanks. Not sure I agree though: the plague was a Middle Ages issue (though it did, as I understand it, result in higher wages for peasants; and in things like the Peasant’s Revolt). The Renaissance boom — the boom in innovation and, more to Rushkoff’s point, in wealth — had less to do with this, and more to do with the ‘age of discovery’ opening up the world, bringing large quantites of materials and labour to bear on the West; combined with a less tangible intellectual freeing-up of possibilty (for a complex tangle of reasons) that enabled the leap forward in invention, new technologies etc. etc.