Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The economics of Cory Doctorov's Walkaway

Good analysis of the economic system proposed in the sci-fi book Walkaway. Some excerpts follow.

"Alternative economic systems should also be micro-founded to be taken seriously. Walkaway, it seems to me, makes an attempt at building a micro-founded model of a whole system (the walkaway economy), but it comprehensively rejects standard micro. It eventually replaces it with a micro behavior of its own, but of a very different kind. I can see four moves:
  1. Expose standard micro as based on flawed assumptions.
  2. Argue that the behavior of individual agents is based on intersubjective conventions. This shifts the argument from economics as we know it to political economy, the border land between economics and moral philosophy.
  3. Propose a political economy that works well with digital commons, and re-build a micro model based on that.
  4. Proceed to derive meso- and macro-level behavior founded on those new micro models."
"Jacob Redwater thinks that wanting to 'be that bastard' who will overgraze the common field is human nature. The impulse to greed and appropriation is hardwired in our neurons. Standard microeconomics agrees: just assume it, and build your model on top of it. Doctorow thinks that human societies can, to a certain extent decide what they want to want, and then socialize their members to want those things. In part, this is just obvious: in the real world, parents are forever trying to teach small children not to prevaricate others, to be mindful of other's needs, to wait for their turn etc. To a large part, they succeed."

"In other words, 'human nature' leaves a lot of space for deciding how humans interact to produce an economy. This decision is collective, hence political. Doctorow is making the shift back from economics to political economy. This latter term was replaced by 'economics' in the course of the 20th century, emphasizing the mathematical side of economic modelling and de-emphasizing its political and moral side. Smith, Ricardo, Malthus and Marx believed these sides to be very important, and economics itself to be a branch of moral philosophy."

"As we have seen, Doctorow believes human nature to be less rigid than standard economics makes it to be. But if humans are programmable, what should we program ourselves for? And what, specifically, would be the object of programming? The answer seems to be this: We should program into ourselves an ethos that supports practices of networked collaboration, aimed at the production of commons."

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