What is post-economics?

A brief introduction to the key tenets that inform post-economic theory

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Several commentators have argued that we seem to be entering an era where economics is about to undergo significant change. There are two primary driving forces behind this. The first is environmental, where a crisis around emissions and plastic waste is leading to calls for a reshaping of the economy around sustainability in business practice. The second is technological, with automation, the rise of AI and an increasing potential for mass job displacement triggering trials of radical policies such as Universal Basic Income

All these arguments tend to focus on a model that is usually categorised as post-capitalist, but all assume the model to remain economic in nature. Post-economic theory extends this debate a step further by stating that it is not our version of economics that is obsolete, but economics itself.

This is not to suggest that we need to develop new economic forms more appropriate to the way in which digital technology works (using blockchain and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, for example). It is to say that a system based on comprehensive understandings of individuals – due to all the data that we stream about ourselves – makes the idea of economics entirely irrelevant. This system is different from anything that has come before as it eradicates the idea of the generic by making everything far more personal to each individual.

There are two stages of transformation that drive the irrelevance of economics as a required determiner of value:

  • Total connectivity – the point at which almost everything we do can be tracked digitally in some way and measured; and
  • Total personalisation – the point at which every individual can be recognised and treated individually, in any context, by the surrounding infrastructure to be theoretically possible.

These two stages in tandem fundamentally change the relationship of person to business. There will be some debate over how ‘total’ total can be in reality (or indeed, how ‘total’ people are willing to allow it to be), but the general equation is that the more total the connectivity, the more total the potential for personalisation.

Economic systems become irrelevant in this context as personalisation removes the need for a generic common standard – the role that has traditionally been filled by money. Our existing system made sense when two entities had limited means of communicating information about the long-term impact of a transaction or interaction, hence required this single point of value.

Having the ability to measure and understand everything that happens before, during and after any interaction – on an ongoing basis and in real-time – means that the value of anything cannot ever be fixed at any given point in time. It is instead continually being updated by what is subsequently achieved.

This paper provides an overview of the influencing factors that invalidate the use of economics as the primary determiner of value. Each is only touched upon briefly here; they will be developed in more detail in subsequent papers.