Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Informal Economy Needs Elite Guidance During Its Maturation

The informal economy is out there on the fringes of mass consciousness.  It rears its head every so often when the mainstream media ask Burning Man attendees what they do for a living when they're not making art or smoking dope.  Gray market transactions enter the official economy through financial sleight-of-hand when auditors and inspectors are distracted.  There are many ways for underground entrepreneurs to go legit.

Wisdom Hackers seek philosophical explanations relevant to modernity.  The Human Agency takes wisdom a step further, transforming it into brand new things.  Social entrepreneurs outside large organizations can test-market their ideas with an Ashoka fellowship.  The League of Intrapreneurs leverages the guerrilla skills of people already working inside established enterprises, in the spirit of the social capital movement.  Ask Alexa Clay for examples of how an "Amish Futurist" would question technology.

The Anglo-American Establishment has taken note of the informal economy.  Attempts to channel its energy for the benefit of the existing order are underway.  OpenIDEO takes the open innovation concept out of its UC Berkeley birthplace and into the technology sector.  Google Dot Org puts one of the world's most powerful brands behind tech ideas that can change the world.  The Aspen Ideas Festival works like a TED Talk that morphed into a salon conversation with an agenda to make the world better.

Elite guidance is essential if the informal economy's youthful enthusiasm is to produce anything beneficial on a large scale.  The movement's thought leaders have a penchant for multi-disciplinary thinking that risks becoming undisciplined.  Throwing around buzz phrases like "bohemian, sharing economy, sense of place, artisans," etc. tends toward verbal decoration of things that lack practicality.  I listened to one grown-up bohemian (a hot babe, I must say) wax on about how a small town is really an inherent company that resists outsiders and creates horizontal networks that scale across an entire country.  That sounds a lot like neofeudalism to me.  She didn't come out and say it but a member of the elite class will recognize the concept's future value in managing society.

Another buzz term is "pre-competitive collaboration."  It reminds me of the misfit squatters I met when I wandered into their Freespace temporary autonomous zone back in 2013.  Civic hacking needs room to experiment, and some experiments will fail.  Hackers need not be skeptical of MOOCs just because they don't offer the "deeply immersive conversations" (another buzz term!) that educated them in ivory towers.  Thought leaders hung up on wishy-washy thinking about the nature of the self, subjectivity, emotional intelligence, postmodernism, and cross-cultural metanarratives sound immature.

The "idea people" in social capital startups are prone to existentialist angst and alienation.  They need to put down the Albert Camus collection at some point and hand the informal economy over to the Big Data people who can calculate a social enterprise's potential.  The freethinking hippies and hard-core data nerds need each other provided they work with each others' strengths.  Misfits are simply wired differently, with brain chemistry far into the outlier range of what neuroscience measures.  They will not be found in the middle bulge of any normal distribution, and their ideas will thus be incomprehensible to most people.  They also risk being victimized by remaining too long in the informal economy, where the hustlers in pirate subcultures will eventually confiscate their wealth.  Get those open innovations out of the gray market and into the light of the above-ground economy's accelerators, where mass adoption and elite investment await.

We will hear a lot more about the informal economy in the years ahead.  The real economy in developed countries gets more dysfunctional by the day.  Underemployment is now a fact of life for Millennials with student debt.  Their constrained incomes need augmentation from micro-scale entrepreneurial action.  They will find profits in System D enterprises that deserve to be legitimized.