The Last Industry
It’s a perverse joke that the phrase “in the industry” is used by artists, musicians, writers, actors and programmers. Industry is concerned with the production of goods. And, refining knowledge is as dissimilar to producing industrial goods as mining gold is to the same. We trade art, food, gold, cars and water; but, only one of these is an industrial good.
The first world is exiting the business of industry. We outsource making things as much as possible. Instead, we focus on “creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, images, and culture.”
But, it’s hard to hold a monopoly on knowledge. Mark Pesce uses these demonstrative examples:
- Encyclopaedia Britannica hides behind a walled garden and is subsequently obsolesced by Wikipedia;
- Television shows and films end up on BitTorrent before they’re broadcast; the torrent for Halo 3 was posted last week. The video game was released on Monday.
- A tight group of reporters and bloggers just brought down the US Attorney General, who attempted to stonewall all investigations into his politically-motivated firings of eight US Attorneys.
- And - oh yeah - there’s that whole open-source movement which is, ever so slowly and carefully, eating Microsoft.
The presumed solution has been “intellectual property” and the complex body of laws associated with it. Copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets all exist to prevent knowledge from spreading or being used in ways not intended by its original creator. But, again, it’s hard to hold a monopoly on knowledge. And, history has shown that if you think of something, so has someone else.
Furthermore, “intellectual property” only works through collusion. Consider the case of AIDS in Brazil. Merck, a United States pharmaceutical company, spent millions developing the HIV medication Efavirenz and owns the “intellectual property.” But, the cost of their intellectual property was far higher than the cost of industrial production. Therefore, Brazil “stole” Merck’s “property” and saved millions of its citizen’s lives.
The difficulty in maintaining a knowledge monopoly becomes obvious when you consider each step:
- Thinking new thoughts is easy.
- Refining those thoughts into “intellectual property” is hard.
- Distributing that “intellectual property” is easy.
- Producing goods from “intellectual property” is cheap.
Industry is only involved with production. And production is cheap and getting cheaper. I posit, like Neal Stephenson in The Diamond Age, that the last industry is moving materials - raw materials to manufactured goods to consumers.
Economy Without Property?
From an evolutionary-biological perspective, we have a few basic needs: eat, sleep and sex. Maslow placed these at the base of his hierarchy and titled them “deficiency needs.” The knowledge of how to satisfy those needs on a global basis are well known.
Thus, few people in the first world die of starvation or are chased down by lions. If you or I quit our jobs and did nothing, the socialist elements of the state would still satisfy our basic needs. That’s because only a few people are needed to work the fields, drive the trucks, and handle the basic need infrastructure.
Everyone else is focused on making our lives longer and more entertaining.
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
A couple hundred years ago, a new deal was brokered. If you published your creation of the mind, the public would allow you exclusive right and control of it for a limited time. It was then your responsibility to find compensation for your “intellectual property.” This balance was controversially open when compared to the preceding system of professional guilds.
It seems a new deal will need to be brokered. People need to be encouraged to refine knowledge. But, that knowledge can’t be sold. Therefore, people will need an encouragement that isn’t financial.
I’m stopping here because I started writing about service economies, gift economies, neo-Marxism, post-democracy, elimination of the landlord class, and all sorts of other crap. Clearly, I need to graduate because I’m going crazy.
Suffice to say, the service industry and knowledge workers are all that will matter. No one will be a millionaire; but, there will certainly be celebrities. And, it won’t matter because we’ll all be happy. It’s not socialism. Everything will be too damn cheap.
Look at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. Make sure you’re doing something you love. That advice is more important now than ever.