Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Economy 2.0: Blurring the boundaries...

What is "property"? A gamer in China has been given life after stabbing a fellow gamer who "borrowed" his sword in-game, then proceeded to sell it off for almost 500 quid.

The two viewpoints of interest come at the end of the article:

Following the case, associate law professor at Beijing's Renmin University of China said that such weapons should be deemed as private property because players "have to spend time and money for them".

But a lawyer for one Shanghai-based internet game company told a Chinese newspaper that the weapons were in fact just data created by games providers and therefore not the property of gamers.

While possibly seeming somewhat silly to those of us who don't spend as much time immersed in on-line worlds, it strikes me that this is comparable to - if not even more sensible than - the ongoing legal wranglings around every other non-tangible "product" in our society - from music, to software, to films, to text. All of these are just "data" that we've created, copied, manipulated and "unset" to obtain something recognisable, too. Yet we have industries and laws around these too - laws that are being fought over as I type.

"Property" comes out of a materialist thinking. The problem is that we've moved on from our materialist paradigm, into a physical reality that threatens to trade scarcity and demand for ubiquity and supply. So far, economies based on information have been nothing more than a hack - an attempt to shove new ideas into the old hole. However, as the new methods outpace and outstretch old thinking more and more, we'll find increasingly that the hack just doesn't hold together - not without a whole bunch of laws, and lawyers and police to back them up. In short, we're doomed to a future of strangled enforcement simply because our philosophy doesn't match our desire.

We need a refresh. We need to start thinking progressively rather than defensively, only governments and corporates are currently too entrenched in the way of life that benefits themselves to take notice. History shows that this mismatch between societal strata will have to be forced out of place before the people that "run" the show actually listen.

This ties in with a question I asked on the alt ec tribe. There are different kinds of alternative, depending on where you are and where you've come from. I think what we need now is a radically different idea of economics based on a radically different idea of "property". We need to combine the new paradigm with the old in order to get somewhere useful.

But at the same time, it's not enough to simply come up with something *different*. If possible, a new economy should act as a "superset" of the old, a backwards compatible version 2.0 economy that fills in the holes in the old one that cause all the grief we've inherited today. A lot of what we have works, and we'd be foolish to re-invent the money wheel. Maybe shifting the idea of "property" to take into account all the things of a less tangible nature would simply be enough?

How much would you pay for your soul?