The physics of capital

Is capital is fixed? Like energy can it neither be created or destroyed? In an hour from this writing financial markets in the United States will open up for trading. These markets act as the medium for converting cash into stocks or bonds. The law of energy would describe this conversion as the creation of a disordered state where the original form of matter, in this case cash, is turned into a more disordered state, in this case a security.

The market process does not follow the law of energy precisely. Whereas after converting matter into a disordered state means that the resulting products cannot be recombined into the original form, the stocks and bonds purchased with cash can be sold in the markets with the result being the original form, cash.

The market provides a conduit for energy transfer, the transfer between cash and securities. I consider the energy transfer that we see in the financial markets as an echo of the original and most important form of capital: information and knowledge. Information and knowledge are the “big bang” of our capital universe. The information that we derive about and from the land allow us to create and use knowledge about farming, mining, fishing. As the land becomes increasingly valuable as a source of goods and services, we use this knowledge about productivity as leverage for creating banks and banking and payment systems. Through lending and borrowing money is created and these funds can be used to expand productive capacity or invest in stocks or bonds.

Information isn’t the capital of the 21st century. It has been the premier capital of human existence. All other substance we refer to as capital emanates from this origin and is a reflection of the value of information.

I would argue that knowledge and information represent another divergence away from the laws of energy. Knowledge and information are not fixed. Man is always discovering something new whether about himself as a sovereign or about the universe around her. The more she discovers and the better she is at communicating her discoveries, the more capital in the form of currency that she can accumulate.

Currency transmits to the markets the value its holder has. It should also signal us to look behind the currency to determine who the holder is.  The rapper who has $300,000 in currency but owns no productive property and has no prospects for another hit album in a year has low value. The markets will not want to trade with him on a continuous basis versus a writer with $50,000 in coin but also owns land that she rents out for farming and is able to write software apps when not writing music. The market will see her as high value and will trade her currency.

This creates a political dilemma for politicians who claim to represent the interests of the poor. They must now come to terms with an information gap spurred on by a lack of critical thinking skills in America. Solving real world problems not only benefits the individual but benefits communities overall as solutions are distributed throughout communities. The ability to bring solutions to real world problems enhances value and creates currency. For the poor access to quality education or other resources that provide a conduit to knowledge should be at the top of the policy agenda if they are to survive an economy that asserts a greater need for knowledge and information talent.

Capital may, after all, not be fixed and can be created. Information is the most important source of capital and like energy needs an infrastructure that allows its generators to signal and transmit value.

 

When local government meets high tech sovereigns

Sometimes I think city government is sleeping at the wheel when it comes to technology and capital flows. During its lucid moments, government will fall back on its 1960s playbook of economic development by announcing plans to bring back manufacturing jobs that pay better wages than the service sector jobs that replaced factory work and eviscerated wages. This narrative may have worked in a locality that was created to take advantage of proximity to a local natural resource where factories could then convert the resources into goods for local and other markets, but for a city like a 21st century Atlanta, that narrative is disingenuous.

Atlanta’s “natural resource” today is information. Workers who know how to find, extract, organize, and distribute information are going to be the one’s who obtain employment and the higher wages that come along with work in the information sector. This demand for an information-centric political economy, I believe, is being driven by the changing tastes of capital. Capital wants its goods and services delivered conveniently and its production customized.

Information technology allows capital to target funds directly to high-value driven information entrepreneurs that can deliver a product that was designed, manufactured, packaged in, and delivered from multiple jurisdictions. Capital has no love for mass appeal. Why deal with crowded banks, malls, car dealerships, or grocery stores when extra minutes of leisure can be carved out by the manufacturing and service delivery efficiencies provided by Tesla, Uber, Grubhub, and Insta-cart.

Along with these efficiencies in product manufacturing and delivery come smaller work forces or work forces outside of the jurisdiction of local governments. Local governments have been the front line defense of investor capital from disgruntled labor. They regulate labor union speech during strikes. Where there is violence they arrest the rowdy. However, in an information age where there are a greater number of tech shops employing smaller numbers of non-unionized information workers versus a handful of large factories employing thousands of unionized lower-skilled workers, there is less demand for the police powers of local government. Disgruntled employees at today’s tech shops simply take their information knowledge somewhere else or create their own firm.

Eventually government starts tossing and turning in its sleep. It sees its “labor clamp down” requests severely diminished. Higher incomes start translating into reduced need for government services from garbage removal to security. Higher income earning citizens may consider pooling resources to support campaigns of candidates who agree to reducing tax burdens are, too the extreme, support carving out or “leasing sovereignty” to higher income communities.

Question is, how will those with no capital react to the erection of this wall of individual sovereignty?

Google and Facebook: When humans are the fuel for social media farms

For several weeks, social media firms Facebook, Google, and Twitter have faced scrutiny from media and Congress over their alleged facilitation of Russian messaging during the 2016 presidential elections. Nitasha Tiku shared last month in an article for WIRED how social media companies have been catching heat from both sides of the aisle for allowing Russia-based or backed entities to buy ads on their platforms and direct subscribers to messages designed to misinform, mislead, or otherwise influence readers.

Facebook, Google, and Twitter are leaders in the “attention economy“, where social media companies buy (more like hack), package, and sell the attention they glean from their subscribers. Keeping your attention is their business, keeping it in sufficient quantities to attract advertisers who wish to market product to you. Attention, not information, is in short supply. That is the true gold nugget.

Congress, while not having yet passed any significant legislation, is still scrutinizing how social media companies manipulate consumer behavior. For example, today the U.S. House energy and commerce committee has a hearing on how companies use algorithms when making decisions on consumer behavior. This should provide some insight on where Congress wants to go next on the issue.