The ecosystem of a coral reef

In light of the Radical Markets book chapter entitled Data as Labor, its co-author Glen Weyl invited me to write this post for the RadicalxChange blog, published 9 Feb 2019.

The RadicalxChange mission dedicates the community to “using dramatically expanded competitive, free and open market mechanisms to reduce inequality, build widely-shared prosperity, heal global political divides and build a richer and more cooperative social life.”

Our values are aligned and our purpose very similar, but I will describe here some important considerations in designing for personal data that may not yet have received attention by the RadicalXChange community.

Co-operating is essential

It is, I think, critical to outline the emphasis I adopt here in framing the problem and the opportunity. Whereas the RadicalxChange mission aims to have competition lead to greater co-operation, I treat competition and co-operation here as equal and concurrent. Here are two quotes by way of explanation.

The brilliant and indomitable biologist Lynn Margulis discovered that:

The view of evolution as a chronic bloody competition among individuals and species, a popular distortion of Darwin’s notion of “survival of the fittest,” dissolves before a new view of continual cooperation, strong interaction, and mutual dependence among life forms. Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.

And the progenitor of the invisible hand himself, Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations, actually considered his Theory of Moral Sentiments to be the superior work. It is, as Gintis et al write, the perfect counterbalance.

Effective policies are those that support socially valued outcomes not only by harnessing selfish motives [Wealth of Nations / competition] to socially valued ends, but also by evoking, cultivating, and empowering public-spirited motives [Theory of Moral Sentiments / co-operation].

I had such a blend in mind a few years ago when I had a stab at defining the meaning of business beyond the outworn credo of shareholder value and the Newtonian simplicity of customer-centricity; that is, to establish and drive mutual value creation. Competitive and co-operative.
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