Radical Markets presents five Big Ideas for totally reshaping our current ideas of markets, ownership and value transfer.
Regardless of what you think of their conclusions, the work is valuable even as a thought experiment. I’ll cover / respond to three of their ideas here.
1) Data as Labor
This was the topic that drew me to the book. Today, big tech companies are built on their ability to get their users to train their self-optimizing algorithms or feed their press with content. This has created a tremendous value imbalance that has left us vulnerable to massive, asymmetric exploits (a la Cambridge Analytica).
When we produce data to feed big tech, we are executing labor.
As scary as the current data situation is, I see a plot ripe for a Crusonia plant. Even while fears of job loss to AI spread, we have the potential to design our data collection and processing systems such that we can cut the users in directly on the value increase.
I have many more thoughts on this topic, and will post more soon.
2) Property is Monopoly
By far the most contentious of the proposals, this chapter argues that anyone who owns any type of property ought to pay an annual tax on their own named value of their property. So if I owned a grain silo, and I declared it worth $100k, I’d pay $7k in taxes on it annually. I’d also be required to sell it if I received an offer for purchase at $100k.
This seems like it works best at the extremes and less well in the middle of the bell curve. It seems fair that the owners of the skyscraper downtown should have to pay regularly in order to preserve their rights on it, and home owners with small plots of land in rural areas would possibly pay less tax than they do today. My gut tells me that suburbs might fall prey to cash buyers ready to amass rental home empires (a phenomenon similar to what we’ve seen coming out of the mortgage crisis).
The intended result of this idea is liquidity in the markets. In the “downtown” case, we would see buildings either changing hands or raising substantial revenue for the public good. No longer could buildings stagnate for generations while the owners wait for the value cycle to work its magic. But I can’t see how enacting this policy in, say, San Francisco, wouldn’t immediately price out all but the wealthiest residents and magnify the current housing supply problems.
3) Quantitative Voting
Moving back toward the realm of “I might get behind this”, quantitative voting is the idea that members of a community could accrue votes (voice credits) over time and apply the square root of their total votes toward the issue of their choice. This enables community members to apply their passion or expertise toward issues they truly care about. 1 credit = 1 vote, 9 credits = 3 votes, 100 credits = 10 votes.
In the context of a community with active and sophisticated membership, such as a discussion board or perhaps a building co-op, this would be phenomenal. People deserve the feeling of their voice being heard, and this technique would deliver. It could even patch major issues of information deficit in US democracy, such as local bond measures, judicial elections, etc: those who know the issues at hand could exert their due influence rather than letting the tally fall to random choices from the electorate. (I am definitely guilty of making at least one random choice in the latest election).
It strikes me that the big weakness here is the electorate itself. Saving is a difficult enough task when it comes to money, which has immediate, practical applications. Saving for future votes? And the darkest thought – could the system be manipulated such that issues critical to the powerful could be put forth in the shadow of “popular” issues that consume a great deal of “vote savings”?
All in all, the West is in great need of re-thinking and re-architecting some of our institutions. We need to make sure that they are working justly for all, and also that they maintain our momentum, and make sure that we are capable of competing in the global climate. In this circumstance, we need to have serious conversations and explore challenging ideas. Radical Markets is a must read.