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Archive for February 21st, 2009

The Conicidence of Wants, the conceptual basis of our money system, has this formulation:

The phrase double coincidence of wants was used in Jevons (1893). “[T]he first difficulty in barter is to find two persons whose disposable possessions mutually suit each other’s wants. There may be many people wanting, and many possessing those things wanted; but to allow of an act of barter there must be a double coincidence, which will rarely happen.”

About.com

— or go to the Jevons source.

Basically, barter doesn’t scale because it requires trading parties to be present and have what other parties want at the right times and locations.

The Internet destroys this inefficiency.  In kind trading is rampant on the Internet.  In fact, it’s a foundational component of how web pages, search engines, ad networks, p2p networks and pretty much everything else works online.  From the hyperlink to bittorrent to YouTube.  No money exchanges hands – just in kind trades of art, coding, content, and sometimes even physical goods (many cd/dvd, purse, shoes, cars swap sites exist).

Right now the world has a multitude of fundamental changes underway – I posit these almost all have ties to the Internet and the above destruction of physical inefficiences.  Pundits, historians, economists, political scientists banter about various theories but few of them discuss with any seriousness the impact of the Internet.  Perhaps only in the case of Obama’s campaign has anyone seriously claimed it was a fundamental game changer.  Micro donations en masse flat out crushed the old competitive process of knocking on doors and expensive dinners to raise money and garner votes.  Obama’s campaign no longer had inefficiences of time and space to contend with – the double coincidence of finding wanting voters at a time when they could listen to the message and provide a donation was not so rare.

However, this effect of the Internet is not limited to political campaigns.  The Internet completely eliminated all old media models.  This past weeks court case of ThePirateBay is the latest high profile example.  Just like napster before it, ThePirateBay simply connects trading parties -and there is no one in the middle controlling the currency, extracting a cut.  This week also saw some controversy with Last.fm and RIAA.  It too is based on this shift.

The media industry lived of the time and space limits for hundreds of years.  It controlled distribution and was in the middle of the flow of money.  Now that the distribution problem is completely gone (all the parts inbetween the recording of the media and the consumption of it – all now mostly done on computers), there is no media industry as we knew it.  The media industry has never really been about the media or the content, it’s always been about who controls distribution.  (Hell, even the great Ben Franklin new that when he “helped improve the postal system”).  Creators and consumers are now directly connected – sometimes there’s a search engine inbetween, sometimes a social network or an IM or an email or an SMS.

Additional examples of this reality are the NYTimes company problems, Microsoft’s Balmer wanting more openness from Apple, Facebook’s Privacy back and forth

This overturning of the foundation is not limited to politics and media.  Literally, our entire modern economic theory of money is upended by the Internet.  Information used to be controlled by a small set of outlets.  It is now completely distributed.   Since money was disengaged from coinage and precious metals in the 70s the value of our currency is completely based on “belief in future value” and that belief is formed from our interaction information.  Now that information flows so freely without controlling parties, it’s getting harder and harder press value statements on consumers.

Some economists and historians claim that history gives us clues about how our current situations will turn out.  I just don’t buy it.  There was no Internet in the 1930s nor in the 50s nor in the 70s.  This isn’t about “the world is flat” logic.  This is about the complete destruction of value system supporting current economic theory.  When you don’t need a physical currency to trade goods nor do you have physical constraints, the theory, rules, values of the past simply can’t hold.  The old theories and policies based on those theories relied on the concept of “scarce goods”.  In a mostly information world, what is scarce? (yes, information requires physical goods to be created and transmitted, but generally we’re not even close to getting a scarcity of computing, bandwidth and information consumption.)

The implications of the destruction of our old sense of values can be found in:

  • The passing of over 1.5 trillion dollars in government spending (does anyone even know how much that really is and what its really going to do?) without a voter uproar
  • Home values going down the tube this fast
  • The pending failure of major print media giants (NyTimes, Tribune)
  • Yahoo going from a $40 billion acquisition to $16 billion market cap in weeks
  • Car buying behavior – off 45% from “annual averages”

Money has lost its correlation with actual value in all those above examples.  No amount of money is going to solve the US economic issues.  The government uses big dollar figures as a value statement – “we’ll spare no expense to keep you safe” – not that the dollars can actually generate physical value in an information world.

Home values aren’t going to recover quickly in a world where “the American dream” of a home in the country was left in the dust by metropolis build out, going green and the hard facts that our former most desirable places to live happen to be bankrupt (California) or under constant natural threat (gulf coast and eastern seaboard).

The print companies are finished not because they don’t have the right content or the advertisers left for a better medium – they don’t control the distribution mechanism anymore.  They pay higher and higher levies to get their product in front of users while users move to 100000s of alternatives on the Internet.

Yahoo lost the battle of information.  It’s value isn’t tied to much of what value it actually brings to users or advertisers.  It had  perceived value – the promise of a future buyout by someone silly enough to buy it.  That was exposed and now it’s just a clearinghouse for super cheap CPM campaigns and low cost pay per click search buying.  (This is the reality of brand advertising online right now…)

Car buyers have left from high prices, wrong vehicles, gas trouble, sure.  In this process though, they also learned, perhaps, that you don’t need a great car to go about your business.  So many things can be done online that used to take physical travel. Banking, meetings, grocery store trips, shopping, post office trips, movie rentals… these things add up.  The time and space part of these activities have been eliminated and the auto companies relied on our formerly ever growing need to travel to cross the chasm.

An analysis of the impact of the Internet and increasing the probability of double coincidence of wants in all facets of modern life is required to create policies, businesses and culture that can be sustained.

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