World After Capital by Albert Wenger [book notes]
Humanity is shaped by non-linearities–periods of rapid growth which render existing predictions about society useless. We experienced two prior non-linearities: from Forager to Agrarian and from Agrarian to Industrial. Today, we are experiencing the shift from Industrial to Knowledge.
Non-linearities correspond to the removal of the primary scarce resource and introduction of a new primary scarce resource. Agrarian: food to land, Industrial: land to capital, Knowledge: capital to attention
Why is capital no longer scarce? It is possible to meet virtually all human needs with existing physical, working, and financial capital. With technological advances increasing and population growth decreasing, we will become even more capable of meeting all human needs with existing capital. Needs
Will all humans benefit from these shifts? Not with our current structures. Advances in technology will automate many jobs (most over a long enough time frame) and we don’t have a system that makes capital unscarce for these individuals.
We rely on the “Job Loop” (buy goods, sell services) to meet human needs and wants today. Automation of human labor breaks the Job Loop. What can we do? Universal basic income to start. Labor
We can afford to give everybody enough money to meet their most basic needs. Economic
In a world where most jobs are automated and most needs are met through UBI, what needs are left unmet? The “existential need to make sense of the world as an individual by finding purpose that makes our life meaningful.”
Left unmet, this need leads to depression, drug abuse, and suicide. It also leaves people susceptible to populist messages. as we’ve seen in recent elections across the world. At scale, this is a big problem
Thus attention becomes the primary scarce resource. Without proper measures, attention gets captured by the infinite supply of mind-numbing content or, more dangerously, populist, retrograde messages. Attention
Instead, attention should be directed at participating in the Knowledge loop (learn, create, share). This loop enables distribution of knowledge at zero marginal cost and leads to compounding benefits to society. Power
To summarize: the Knowledge Age introduces two big problems. First, we need to meet every person’s needs. Second, we need to empower people to direct their attentions in meaningful ways (participation in the knowledge loop).
How to do this? We need to system and individual regulation to enhance economic, informational, and psychological freedom.
In short, meet everybody’s basic needs in a world without jobs (economic), remove boundaries to receiving and creating knowledge (informational), and facilitate culture change that moves people away from the scarcity thinking of the Industrial Age (psychological). Part Three
Overall, a thoughtful book that contextualizes the rapid changes we’re observing in society today and outlines the risks and opportunities ahead.