I was reflecting on an earlier blog post about Complex Systems where I point out that theoretically there are only information, physical, economic & political systems and nothing else. There are some subtleties involved in this since very small primitive economies look like political systems more than anything else. After you realize that resource acquisition isn't such a hardship in primitive people's daily lives, and that intangible characteristics (ie, status) play a heavy role in these systems, then it makes more sense that they are political rather than economic. And artificial systems like resource distribution in computers could go either way, depending on how they're designed. But that's not what I want to get into.
What I want to get into is all the people who've been talking about the New Economy. You know, with the internet and the infinite reproducibility of information. People who've been trying to answer 'once you take out the cost of reproduction as a dominant element of the system, what's left?'. Clay Shirky has written about it on his site. Michael Goldhaber has written about The Attention Economy on First Monday. And I even recall an article using Hollywood as an analogy for the "new economy". It's all well and good. Hell until now I considered these papers to be Very Insightful. Only it turns out they're not very insightful at all. There never was a new economy and there never will be. What's called the "new economy" is an old thing called politics. Let's examine that for a minute.
The key concepts of the "attention economy" are attention, credit, fame and celebrity. Certainly politics has its own key concepts; loyalty, betrayal, conflict and factions come to mind. And you might think those are separate but wait for it. You see, the key concepts of economics are production, consumption, cost, price and trade. What do they have to do with politics? Nothing, that's what. Whereas, if you bother to think about it, the key concepts of the "attention economy" are the underpinnings of political power. If you have people's attention then you can help redirect that attention to something else, including something you want them to do. And making people do things is politics. Credit, fame and celebrity all further one's political power.
So what about loyalty, betrayal and conflict? What do they have to do with attention, with the so-called "attention economy"? Well, 'attention economy == politics' wouldn't be a very good insight if we didn't learn something new from it. And after careful thought, loyalty and betrayal are merely higher order effects. They're phenomena that appear when systems of attention are high valued and tightly bound together. Eric Raymond's betrayal of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation didn't involve money or laws or anything else of the kind. It involved pure attention. Just a very high-volume and high-grade form of attention since Unix programmers were showing loyalty by heralding Stallman as the messiah. Loyalty then is nothing but a form of highly consistent, high grade, long term attention. Betrayal is the hijacking or redirection of loyalty. It's attention all the way down.
There never was any new economy and never will be. Only a degraded form of politics that must inevitably bloom into its full form.
As a final note, I will say that the insight that an economy is about scarcity is not nearly so interesting once you realize it's implied by metacircularity. A metacircular system is one that's got a concept of self, an idea of what it values and of how it wants to be. This inevitably creates optimization and prioritization, what are called economics and politics. Also, the question of 'what do you want to do and be when you can do and be anything?' comes out of this naturally. It becomes an obvious extreme to the evolution of such systems - a trivial insight, not an important one. All this can be derived from metacircularity, a far more important phenomenon than mere politics or economics.
Metacircularity, especially consciousness, is a topic I've been meaning to write on for a while.