7 years, 11 months ago

An economics challenge for enterprise-architects

Link: http://weblog.tetradian.com/2011/09/19/economics-challenge-for-ea/

As usual, the previous post ‘The architecture of a no-money economy‘ ended up way too long and involved and ‘wordy’. Sorry… :-(

So let’s do a shorter version, in some ways going a bit deeper, but concentrating only on the issues and suggested actions.

Here’s the problem: there is no way to make a possession-based economy sustainable.

(Trust me on that one. I’ve been researching it for at least the past couple of decades: the best outcome we can get from a possession-based economy is ‘The Worst Possible System‘, in which most resources automatically end up where they’re least needed.)

Which is a problem, because what we think of as ‘the economy’ is actually a money-based economy built on top of a barter-based economy built on top of a possession-based economy, scaled up to a full global scope.

Which means, in other words, that there’s no way to make what we think of as ‘the economy’ sustainable.

Which means that in the longer-term – or even in the medium-term, at the rate we’re currently going – if we don’t find an alternative that actually works, we’re dead.

Oops…

So here’s the challenge: find a way to run an economy, in a radically different way, that actually is sustainable. Start at the household level first; then scale it up to a work-team or business-unit; then an entire organisation; and keep on scaling up towards a full global scope.

Big challenge? Yep. Big stakes too…

We can’t use money for this, or any form of so-called ‘alternative currency’. The problem isn’t money itself, but rather the fact that money is a standardised form of barter, which assumes that we have something to withhold from others in order to barter with, which in turn depends on the notion of ‘right to exclude’ that’s built into the notion of possession. And that’s the part that doesn’t work: which means that nothing else that’s built on top of possession will work, either.

The only thing I’ve found that does work is responsibility – literally, ‘response-ability’, the ability to choose appropriate responses in accordance with the needs of the context. Mutual responsibilities interlock within a social context: we can build upward and outward from that fact. Without any form of possession.

But this is where it gets interesting…

For a start, money vanishes from the economy. No banks, no insurances, no pensions, no social-security, no medical bills or grocery-bills or school-bills or college-bills or lawyers-fees or consultants-fees, no sales-commissions, no savings or loans, no credit-cards, no mortgages, no monetary taxes, no salaries, no pay-rates, no threat of lost income from lost job, no threat of monetary fines. Gone. All gone. Can’t use them, either as stick or carrot, or any part of the economy.

Because possession doesn’t work, the entire property-model that we know and, uh, well, know, disappears as well. There are property-responsibilities, in the same sense as we talk about ‘project-owner’ or ‘process-owner’; but all those much-vaunted ‘property-rights’ vanish. Gone. We own something because we declare responsibility for it, and for no other reason. (This isn’t a fiction, by the way: most ‘traditional’ property-models operate this way. What we think of as normal, they rightly regard as an aberration.) So we can’t use that as a stick or carrot, either: whether via the offer of property, or the threat of loss of property, it isn’t going to work.

(It’s not that we can’t make a ‘property’-type model seem to work: that’s actually quite easy to do, and that’s what the present possession-economy does right now, after all. It’s that we cannot build anything of that type that does not automatically fall back to an unsustainable ‘Worst Possible System’. That’s why this challenge is a lot harder than it looks.)

We don’t possess ideas, so ‘intellectual property’ vanishes completely. (It never made any sense anyway, so it’s no loss.) We can be responsible about ideas, but they’re not ours to possess. They never were.

We don’t possess people, either. We can’t really talk about ‘our’ people: that’s treating people as possessions, and the only time when people are assets is when they’re slaves. Not a good idea, especially when you have no possession-based way to bribe or bully them into staying in your chosen place. Which, by the way, means that the usual family-model – ‘to have and to hold’, of children in parental ‘custody’ and the like – also vanishes, in much the same way that no-one ever really possesses a cat. Tricky, that…

Almost all of the usual controls disappear from this scenario. No stick that we can wield, no carrot that we can control. Hmm…

How do we get an economy of any kind to work under these constraints? A global economy? An industry? A town or village? A company? A school? Even a family?

Definitely an interesting challenge… especially compared to what we think of as ‘normal’ at present…

(We know it can be done, because, again, this is how most ‘traditional’ societies operate. But in most cases they do so only in small family or tribal groups in agrarian or nomadic contexts – not huge sprawling megacities dependent on complex supply-chains, high technologies and very high energy-demands. Same idea, very different scale – and scale is where so many of the really hard architectural problems arise…)

As I see it, just about the only way to make this work is by reconnecting to enterprise, via shared-vision and the like. Which is why whole-of-scope enterprise-architecture turns out to be really important in this kind of economics.

Which is why this is a challenge for enterprise-architects almost more than for anyone else.

So: Interested? Over to you for your ideas?

Oh, and for an extra challenge: how do we get from here to there? :-)

[Update: Forgot to mention: my sort-of-novel Yabbies is in part an exploration of these themes: Share & Enjoy, perhaps? (At present, download the whole book for free from here.)]