The Spontaneous Revolution

I think I’ve made it perfectly clear my love of the sharing economy and the gig economy.  These new styles of doing things represents a massive revolution in our global economy (I dare say on par with the Industrial Revolution).  With a simple smartphone app, people are able to transform their possessions into revenue-earning capital and circumvent the established ways of “doing things.”  Just as the Industrial Revolution ended slave and child labor and broke down the monopolies of large landowners, merchants, and GSEs, so is the sharing economy destroying established monopolies like the taxi cartels, hotel chains, and government regulatory boards.  ‘Tis a glorious thing.

What this process also demonstrates is the powerful idea Matt Ridley articulated: “ideas having sex.”  Essentially, different ideas come together and form new cultural memes or inventions.  Computer + telephone = Internet.  Engine + cart = car.  And now, Internet + phone = smartphones (this is fleshed out much better than I can do in the TED talk linked above and in his excellent 2010 book The Rational Optimist.  If you’ve not read it, you’re missing out!).

The most amazing thing about this process is these outcomes are just about impossible to know ahead of time.  30 years ago, when cellphones first came out, no one could have predicted they’d become small supercomputers in our pockets, nearly ubiquitous in the First World (and soon the whole world).  10 years ago, when the iPhone first came out, who would have thought the vast development of apps that would occur?  Everything from crowdsourced GPS letting you avoid speed traps to talking cats.  This massive development in human advancement, this revolution, was not driven by central planners in Washington or Brussels or Beijing (in fact, considering the efforts they’re devoting to stop this advancement, I’d say they’re pretty upset about it).  It was developed spontaneously by individuals who thought they had a better way of doing things and combined resources in ways never thought before to create something new and exciting.

I don’t know what the world will look like in 10 years.  But, like Ridley, I am rationally optimistic about the future of mankind.  As long as human beings remain relatively free, free to invent, free to profit, and free to share ideas, then these ideas will continue to mate and produce offspring that will further enhance our well-being in ways be could not possibly anticipate.

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