The means of production

Scott Leslie and I agree on many things, so when he posted the following, I wanted to make sure I had not missed something in my own thinking:

With Canada’s GDP at 69% services and stock indexes like the S&P at over 80% intangible valuation, I would say that much of our economy is no longer based on physical capital. The means of production are knowledge, creativity and ingenuity. Also, tacit knowledge accounts for the most-valued work today and it cannot be codified, as explicit knowledge can. Knowledge cannot be separated from the knowledgeable person and even more importantly, knowledge can be increased through collaboration amongst knowledgeable people. Knowledgeable people are the means of production.

Does this mean that “we” own the means of production? No, not yet and maybe not in the future; but perhaps yes. I am not a techno-utopian but I see great opportunities in a networked world where much is transparent and the barriers are low for one person to connect with many. This blog is an example. However, there are reactionary forces that are trying to put the genie back in the bottle, as Jaron Lanier describes at length in You are Not a Gadget:

One effect of the so-called free way of thinking is that it could eventually force anyone who wants to survive on the basis on mental activity (other than cloud tending) to enter into some sort of legal or political fortress – or become a pet of a wealthy patron – in order to be protected from the rapacious hive mind. What free really means is that artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers will have to cloak themselves within stodgy institutions.

We forget what a wonder, what a breath of fresh air it has been to have creative people make their own way in the world of commerce instead of patronage. Patrons gave us Bach and Michelangelo, but it’s unlikely patrons would have given us Vladimir Nabokov, the Beatles, or Stanley Kubrick.

For example, Facebook and YouTube create nothing themselves except for the platform while members contribute the valuable content for free. Then these corporations reap the profits through advertising and the sale of aggregated data. Will this be the only future for knowledge workers; to contribute to the hive mind for free?

It is possible that this is our future, especially if net neutrality is lost. But I think that interconnected and active citizens will self-organize and counter this movement. For now, the financial systems are controlled by elites and hierarchies but for the first time in history, billions of people have a way around them. We just haven’t figured out how to create better systems – yet. We own the means of production, but we don’t know what to do with it.

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