October 22, 2008

Well known troll Andrew Keen argues the case for money in the great "money vs. something else" platform war.

My response :

Surely if something gets scarcer, it's value goes up, but, by definition, consumption goes down.

If there are fewer pancakes, we may obsess over pancakes, we may dedicate our lives to the great pancake chase. But most of the time, we'll eat bread.

In a recession, the thing that's got scarce is money. And whether we like it or not, we'll have to make do with less money, and more of something else. (Whether that's scrip, LETS, doing each other favours, growing our own food or donating our time to free software.)

Your argument is effectively based on the idea that demand for money is "inelastic" ... that however expensive it gets, people just gotta have it and so anything else will be sacrificed for it. I don't agree.

If there's less money, companies aren't going to start splashing out on *more* software licenses. People aren't going to start buying more CDs or DVDs. *Consumers* will either adapt to go without, or to pirate, or to consume free versions.

And whichever of those three they choose, the effect is the same : less money will change hands while people manage their software and content requirements. And there'll be less money going to programmers and "content creators".

This is true for any other product too. We don't imagine that a recession means more paid work for people in the steel industry. Why imagine that it will mean more paid work for journalists?

The only difference is that we know that when there's no money to pay for steel production, the quantity produced and consumed goes down. Because information isn't scarce in the same way, we don't know whether total production and consumption in the information industry will go down or whether amateurs doing it for free will pick up the slack.

1 comment:

John Powers said...

My eyes light up when I see another post labeled TCP/IP vs the Dollar!

I really do agree this is the big platform war. As far as looking back years from now, I suspect our memories will be mixed. I'm of a certain age so look back at what's called "the sixties" but really for me was the seventies. Stewart Brand said somewhere "We got it ALL wrong." The evidence for Brand's case is convincing, yet I'm not so convinced.

Cognitive surplus is big. Google received over 150,000 entries in their 10 to the hundred! It wasn't a contest to win a million dollars. No, "In other words, helping helps everybody, helper and helped alike."