Tim Morgan devotes his fifth blog post in our Emerging Fellows program to the role of automation in new dynamic systems of social self-governance. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Markets are social systems which facilitate transactional exchanges of property, goods, services, and information. Markets reallocate resources and enable distribution. Exchanges within and between markets broadly establish the expected value of subsequent transactions. Markets can span the globe or a single neighborhood. Markets have created widespread material wealth by spurring economic growth via productivity. Markets are the social structures which define the modern industrial era.
Markets in toto form the social system known as the Private Sector. The Private Sector defines a sphere of control over a vast section of human affairs, one that frequently jousts with the older Public Sector of government institutions.
Markets benefit society by creating more prosperity for more people than is possible by the Public Sector alone. However, the Private Sector’s flaws are now obvious. Markets have no inherent systemic mechanism for mitigating the problems they cause, such as environmental harm or social divisiveness. Markets cannot price or own non-market externalities, so they try to ignore them. Markets simply want to do Market things and consider anything else to be a distraction or interference.
Markets only price in externalities when they are forced to via constraints like taxation, regulation, legal liability, or mass social pressure. The strength of the Private Sector lies in its ability to create economic value for individuals via Markets. Its weakness is that it is systemically blind to non-economic value.
The Public Sector is failing to moderate the externalised damage created by Markets. Luckily the same information technologies which accelerate Markets are also enabling the emergence of a new sector centered around non-economic value. Digital networks and automation are allowing people to connect in new ways towards common interests. What is emerging is a new Social Commons Sector. Shared information is their resource, automation is their tool, and enhancing common social value is their primary concern.
This new Social Commons is forming because networks and automation can connect anyone into new dynamic systems of social self-governance. It has been increasingly disruptive to business-as-usual for years. The Arab Spring, #MeToo, and recent schoolchildren climate change walkouts are just a few examples of its ad-hoc social organizing power. Networked social power is also influencing how Private Sector market entities work. Social enterprises like Benefit corporations measure themselves by both fiscal and social bottom-lines. Publicly held corporations are increasingly being held to diversity and sustainability standards by their shareholders and customers.
Other groups are automating acts of public good. Custom smartphone apps schedule free pickup and delivery of excess restaurant food for the homeless, coordinate community composting, report pollution, or alert virtual guardians to watch your GPS-tracked walk home. The Social Commons is an automation-enabled sector which is filling-in the small gaps and beginning to take big swings at big problems. This nascent sector is poised to interpenetrate and rewire the other sectors to solve the wicked problems they have created.
Markets are not going away any more than Institutions went away when Markets bloomed into power two centuries ago. Both the Public and Private Sectors are necessary and are here to stay. But both will have to reckon with the rising influence and power of a new networked Social Commons.
© Tim Morgan 2019