Sunday, February 18, 2018

Notes on Reciprocity and Economic Complexity

Why does mutual reciprocity feel so awkward in the present, compared with forms of social reciprocity that earlier generations took for granted?

Perhaps the economic complexity of our times has contributed to this problem. Productive economic complexity, with its extensive monetary exchange and specialization, has gradually shifted how we experience our time and get things done. These changes have dramatically affected our cultural expectations. Whereas once we shared similar tastes, activities, and resources in common, today's seemingly infinite range of product, has also led to great variance in habits and personal preferences.

Scarcely anyone goes about their normal routines in quite the same way, which can lead to problematic relationship issues as well. The fact we produce and consume so differently, encouraged us to depend on market pricing mechanisms, instead of trying to decipher the wants and needs of others. And since friends and family tend to be geographically scattered, brief moments of shared time with loved ones may revolve around special consumption choices, instead of ongoing daily concerns. Consequently, for some of us, our daily routines would benefit from useful patterns for societal reciprocity.

Many with sufficient income who live in prosperous regions can take advantage of highly specialized services production. These desirable market mechanisms reduce some of the uncertainties of personal negotiation and transaction. However, service options in prosperous regions have hardly replaced the social cues that people need for reciprocal assistance and time based coordination, elsewhere. At a personal level, today's market mechanisms often fall short. Just the same: Arguments that the free market doesn't work well for personal needs, miss the point. That doesn't mean societies would want to return to how services were addressed in the past, because too much cultural regression would be the likely result. We need to rethink services by closely examining where the use of our time holds the most meaning. Then, we can better align our own aspirations to the dreams and aspirations that others hold.

How might time arbitrage address these issues?  Since we lack recognizable patterns to negotiate for services, mutual reciprocity will take plenty of practice before it feels comfortable. But that's okay. We've had to negotiate with hierarchical service institutions for so long, that communicating face to face with others will doubtless take some getting used to.

Nevertheless, time arbitrage could give us new ways to think about how services specialization can be maintained, especially for small communities. In particular, it has been more inconvenient than some realize, for residents of small towns to run to large cities every time they experience technological or medical problems. All citizens need better means to take part in an economically complex world, where they already live.

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