Saturday, May 18, 2013

Services Really, Really Need Economic Value

...And institutions cannot provide that value for us, we need to figure out ways to do that ourselves. Institutions can only give us the degree of services necessarily for them to reach their goal of selling the actual profitable product (also true for non profits), so that they can remain in operation. We just haven't taken on the task of thinking that important fact through, so far. We have been somewhat blindsided by the fact that services are the most important part of the economy, but even they struggle to grow now, in their present incarnation. What seemed to be a panacea for progress only recently, is therefore called into question. Many present day service environments tend to be big, bold and full of today's busy "private space" attributes, which may even try to echo some casual public spaces. Yet their definition of wealth is chock full of capital components, which is a tremendous part of their cost and overhead. But take a closer look and reflect: where, exactly are the people...the social atmosphere? They may greet you with a smile and go deftly about their duties in your presence, but that's about as far as it goes.

 If you need something from your service providers, you'd best tend to your business quickly. If you came here to this service environment expecting conversation in some measure, chances are you came to the wrong place unless of course family and friends are with you. There are plenty of service folk who would linger over a real conversation if they could, but that's not what they're getting paid for. What's more, if their time is valuable enough that they won't be replaced by a computer, chances are they have no time for small talk, or even explanations as to the actual service provision.

The point is not necessarily that this state of affairs is bad (or horrible?). Just that we do need alternatives to this odd state of affairs, on any number of levels. For some of us there are few other remaining social or economic options, and the lack of those options makes much of life feel like this impersonal component. Yes, these services have economic value of a sort, but it's not value that feels organic or personally fulfilling, even in some important higher non repetitive skill aspects. What's more, the services provision by actual humans is kept to a minimum as it is the most expensive component of an already expensive operation. How do we reconcile the need for real social engagement with the organizational characteristic that is now services both public and private? How do we reconcile the fact that many of us will be a part of this environment at several points in our lives, maybe more, and expected to interact in the same detached manner for the duration of our stay.

Here's a thought experiment. Suppose you're in a hospital with the latest worries about a capable staff in terms of tending to your illness or injuries, but your mobility is severely limited. No problem, someone will have time to help, right? Mmmm, maybe not so much. You were there for two months and only got help brushing your teeth three times. Okay, now I need to move to the upbeat and important part of this post before my reader decides to jump off a bridge! Consider for a moment: given the choice between a safe nondescript but inexpensive environment with someone willing to help you with utensils for meals, or the "low help" environment with all the latest tech amenities (except no robots to pick up that dastard piece of meat), which would you choose? Well, maybe the choice doesn't really have to be proffered that way, if we are willing to think about how to hold wealth differently, so that choices don't have to be ungodly stark and forbidding.

Such a set of affairs serves to remind why economic life was so important in the first place. Yes, we freely help family and friends and they help us, but without definitions of economic spontaneity, (agreed upon choice arbitrage sets) it not only becomes hard to do that, it becomes hard to feel free. What's more, the help proffered starts to feel coerced, and neither provider nor recipient remain happy in the exchange. This is what some on the right don't always consider, when they assume family can just take over when services are cut, or perhaps some on the left when they think about gift economies. So where to begin? Thankfully this morning I woke up with a clear head so I will start from the beginning...

When we are in the midst of our workday, we not only want to be focused on the task at hand, but also productive on our own terms. Only one problem: that energy on our part needs to be more in accordance with the natural rhythms of our mind and body, if we are to maintain health and sanity. Think how we might do that either as an entrepreneur, or how we would pace ourselves for personal tasks on our own time. When we feel ourselves most capable, we are likely to choose high skill non repetitive work according to our own rhythms. As we progress through the day, we may cycle into work less demanding on our mind, possibly more repetitive and/or physical, in which we can allow our mind to continue processing ongoing high skill non repetitive tasks at its own pace. Sometimes it really helps us to stop for a moment or two just to be,

While the above is just an example, it is our own mind/body efficiency process that is often undermined in external institutional settings which demand their own rhythms. Being in relative control of circumstances is also the aspect of "being the boss" which contributes most to our overall health. Skills arbitrage asks each of us to be the boss of our own personal working rhythms, instead of performing someone else's non stop, which only adds to everyone's health bill in the present. While skills arbitrage settings are a way to reestablish our own mind/body work and activity options, such coordinated settings would also be an important component of economic stability This is what is meant by the idea of becoming a skills entrepreneur - a process which can be aided by localized wealth capture of a far more beneficial kind than presently utilized.

How might we think about this process in a broader generalized sense? There are (for the purposes of this blog of course) five basic patterns of economic activity, which also suggest our need to look beyond specific career categories. All of them are important and none really more so than the others, except that only one accounts for actual separate product completely independent of our limited time. And yet it represents ongoing economic activity in the other categories...hmmm, sounds like the "problem" doesn't it. It's fair to say that - in a sense - nominal targeting seeks to represent everything here but the unpredictable and (sometimes) larger than life building component outside ourselves. Here are five areas of economic activity, in a broad sense:

Maintenance - Building - Creating - Healing - Understanding

With skills arbitrage, we would use our time as a base to grow, coordinate, and manage our skill sets, and nominal targeting could work especially well for the monetary aspects of this process. Institutions have depended on the building discipline either directly or indirectly through transfer, which is why they are only able to scratch the surface of services we actually need from one another. Now there is something very basic in all of this. Physical products have a  separate economic life of their own, unlike ourselves, in which they might be resold continuously if they do not deteriorate or become a casualty of public unrest or uncertainty. Not so for our actual allotted time: it's a one shot deal, revolutions or not, as nominal targeting knows all too well. That's part of why aggregate time components make such a good anchor when strong economic diversity does exist. Some commodities, assets, capital and products can fluctuate wildly in value when skills coordination becomes uncertain. Which is why - for instance - when we "get it right" with social structures, negative supply shocks tend not to be so severe. But when we try to build our lives as though the value of our individual time does not matter, demographic fallout such as the present is just one of the unpleasant results.

Of all the skills we utilize, maintenance is by far the most important and time consuming part of life. This is our economic base in a social sense, as we utilize maintenance for the other disciplines whenever we somehow "repeat" the others, or "retrieve" their original condition, such as one might achieve when cleaning or repairing a building. Maintenance is also the bigger part of education, as we pass on (or restate) what others have already created, "healed" (in a combining sense) or understood. We create anew especially when old patterns no longer work, heal patterns in conflict with one another, and understanding is also the result of the healing process.

Time arbitrage can be used to alleviate the limitations of what the building discipline, or actual products of all kinds, brings to the table (there are some counterintuitive monetary aspects of the building discipline in the next post). The limitations of our time parallels can readily be overcome by factoring for differences in skills levels, drive, health and age considerations. Also, some basic skill set needs may be plotted out by voting mechanisms. Unlike the often counterproductive voting for scarce resources, voting for equal time sets works like a true pricing mechanism because each vote represents a direction for potential purposeful activity, not a demand. Therefore individual actors have the chance to work out the details between themselves. Even though our time would have a basic monetary base of reallocation, ongoing networks of coordinated activity would be the primary drivers of capital, assets and other products which get utilized in our combined efforts at economic diversity.

Anyone who visits some of the same blogs as myself, likely recognizes this post as the primary counter argument I've made so far, to those who want to settle long term unemployment issues with arbitrary income floors or skills auction remedies. I believe that coordinated skills arbitrage is capable of creating not just greater economic and social stability, but considerable additional wealth and fewer class divisions as well.

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