A new approach to economics is essential to understand and master the changing nature of the world. Humans have mastered or at least learned to predict and cope with natural issues. Food is plentiful, even with a high global population. People are moving to cities everywhere, meaning that daily life is defined by interactions with people more than with the natural world.
People’s Economics is about mastering that world.
Our life, and the lives of everyone around the planet, are defined more and more by technology. Will this enrich our lives or enslave us? Will it make people happy or redundant? The answers to these questions are the difference between a future dystopia and a time of great abundance. It is essential for the implementation of Industry 4.0 as well.
The world has been coming together for a very long time. Trade between civilizations has given each of them a peek into new worlds which dazzled and challenged them in turns. From the Silk Road of 2,000 years ago to the shipping lanes of today, trade has often defined how the world comes together.
As important as this has been, it has never been even or reliable. Trade is defined by people and their desires. Economic value is always what the buyer is willing to pay for something, and far too often the definition of things like money and credit has had a large role in how it works out. Contact between people brings more than physical goods, too – it brings envy, greed, curiosity and concern among many other emotions.
A world defined by people and their needs is a connected world. But those connections have to be at a human level more than at a money level if they are going to be sustainable. Connection in and of itself is one of the Five Points of the definition of People’s Economics for this reason.
A world which seems to move faster all the time usually doesn’t feel like it at all. Like a car on a highway, speed is never what people sense. Yet the faster the speed, the more likely it is that every bump in the road or sudden gust of wind can cause an accident.
A few decades ago, cars felt simply dangerous at high speeds. As technology advances they become more comfortable and much safer because they are more stable. It’s not a static balance that they achieve, but a dynamic reaction to every bump and every change, correcting it back to controllable and level.
The same sense of dynamic stability is essential to a faster moving economy as well. This is why it is one of the Five Points of People’s Economics.
After World War II, America settled down to a comfortable life and much of the world started to rebuild. Using the industrial models that defined the times, including the war, the entire process was described in terms of developing a “consumer economy.” The main economic function of people was to consume what industry produced, guaranteeing profit and growth. It was dynamic in that money changed hands rapidly, yet static in the view of where capital comes from and how it was used.
As more nations developed the process was expected to continue. But it did not. Societies, particularly in Asia, found many reasons to save money and develop themselves and their families for the long haul. This has been a critical change which, when applied properly, makes market based systems work even better.
This is also why a true market based system focused on people has to emphasize investment over consumption. It is a big part of the definition of People’s Economics, as this continues.
Market day. The open stalls bubble with activity as vendors show off their products. Small handwritten signs tell you what it will take to make them yours, but you know that’s just a starting point. You can offer less, especially to the quieter booths away from the activity. But have cash on hand to make the trade quickly once you have a mutual agreement on what everyone considers fair.
That’s the common view of what a “free market” is, and it’s something everyone around the world has experience with. It seems perfectly natural, an essential part of being human. It can’t possibly need interference from other people to make it work, can it?
Yet as the world comes closer together, the definitions of nearly everything wind up befuddled in language, definitions of fairness, and sometimes the simple lack of a personal connection.
While there is little doubt that rapid change in technology and connection is putting a strain on the world, the path forward is far from clear. Many people want to move backwards, at least in connection, and place barriers between people.
That impulse is understandable. History shows us, however, that the world has nearly always moved forward in learning,skill, and connection. A look backwards is a look at the ghosts of the past staring straight back at us, their future. They saw progress as a way to a better life.
There are problems to solve, however. People’s Economics is based on finding people based solutions for a better life to these problems. And so the Five Points can be described in terms of the reasons for anxiety about the future that is racing towards us.
It was 31 years ago, on Monday October 19th 1987 that the world discovered a new problem. It started as an anticipated stock market crash in Hong Kong, the result of a fairly obvious bubble. But it did not stop there. Within hours, exchanges opened up in the morning already down and panic pushing them lower, all around the world.
It was eventually blamed on “program trading” or automatic sell-offs directed by computers. Circuit breakers were put in place to stop it, and that was that. But it was the first sign that equity markets had become truly global and had much less to do with global conditions than everyone thought.
The lessons from this are much deeper than program trading, but they are much harder to learn.