Dot Commie 28: So where’s my cheque? By William Bowles

February 2002

So the Rand plummets once more, and the pundits tell us there’s no ‘reason’ for the dramatic fall. Perhaps some individual (or more likely portfolio fund manager) found that they had a bunch of Rands to get rid of, who knows?The upshot is that the Rand, hence everybody’s earning potential, buys less, is worth less. Overnight, a large chunk of the ‘value’ of the country’s productive capacity is ‘lost’ (somewhere).

Many years ago, I proposed the idea that at birth, everybody has a calculable value and this value should be put into an account — call it the Life Account™ — and throughout the course of an individual’s life, this account gets added to according to the amount and type of information they generate throughout their existence. As economic activity, is at the root of all social activity and which is now measured in largely informational terms, a person’s mere existence gives it intrinsic economic value as part of the production/consumption process. All we need to do is measure it and calculate a value for it.

Of course I wuz laughed at back then. But even then (the early 80s) the idea was not so utopian. After all, companies like TRW Data were already collecting statistical data on millions of individuals, massaging the data in various ways and selling it to allcomers. Governments have been collecting data for centuries and they now sell it on the open market. The data collected — buying habits, income, age, gender, location, job and so on — perhaps for processing salaries, was data that was collected initially for a specific reason and paid for by a customer. The data was then sold, either in raw or processed form to other companies to market products, service their customers, design new products, predict trends and now, with the Internet and globalism, tie it all together. The beginnings of the Information Economy.

But once gathered and converted into the right format (eg digitised) it has no particular value in and of itself unless used for some reason. It also reflects an economic universe that is increasingly abstracted from the real value of labour or indeed the real value of anything (not that we’ll ever know the ‘real’ value of anything). This is because firstly, as Braverman in “Labour and Monopoly Capital” pointed nearly thirty years ago, profit or surplus value is now spread across an entire range of productive processes, the value spread so thin as to be unmeasurable at any one point in the process of production to consumption. Value is lost and gained as the ‘product’ moves through the system, often in a quite arbitrary manner (eg the value of a currency).

This data is now called Intellectual Capital. This new kind of capital accrues no interest as it has no one source such as land. Unused, it has no real value, except perhaps the cost of collecting and storing it, but even here, it comes from so many different sources, ascertaining the cost of any given piece of information is probably impossible.

But back to my Life Account™ idea. Let me explain how it works:

The average individual in any society has a statistical lifespan of x years. During this time, they go to school, hopefully get a job, get married, have children and then die. At every point in this process, from birth to death (and even beyond), information is collected and used in some way, mostly economically, about this person. So the person’s life can be summed up in terms of the individual’s contribution in information and a value (dynamically) assigned to it.

So, even before you get born, you’re already measured in some way ie, birthrate, location, number of siblings, impact on the economy and the state budget for health, schools and accommodation. The parents too, form part of this chain, as they spend money on health, preparations for education, changing buying habits, priorities and so on. All of it is used in some way as part of the production/consumption cycle. The more you know about a person, the easier it is to integrate them into the cycle. Being able to predict trends in spending or birthrate, have a direct impact on investment, government policy, international trade etc.

Statistically, it is possible to put a value on a person’s Life Information™. This is how insurance companies do it as do governments when planning spending on social services. All that remains to be done, is to create a system that calculates the statistical ‘value’ of the person’s information contribution to the economy, assuming statistically, that they’ll live three score and ten and do certain things throughout the course of their life.

As my friends, the ‘Crazy Baldheads’ said in their book “Funky Business“, nothing’s for free on the Net, you pay for it with your privacy. Today, privacy means hiding information so that it can’t accrue value of some kind, to someone or some company, somewhere. Giving up your privacy means that companies can use the information gathered about your tastes, opinions, spending habits etc, massage it and sell it to someone for a price which ultimately depends on an assessment of how much value the information can help generate in for example, the design of a product. The more complete and uptodate the information is, the more value it has.

The Internet has exposed this idea but in a slightly different way; E-cash, micro payments and now, distributed computing, whereby companies buy computer time on an individual’s PC when it’s not being used. All require the creation of measuring systems and a virtual ‘value chain’ that points toward the eventual creation of a Life Account™. Of course, only those with a connection to the Net will really be able to take advantage of it, even though those not connected will still be included in the overall value assessment of the Information collected. Another case of the Information Rich – Information Poor divide?

Trading systems such as the LETS system, which is in effect, a private currency, also work along these lines by assessing the value of a product or service, indirectly. So for example, I need to see a doctor but my doctor doesn’t need a writer but another one of his patient’s does, so the doctor exchanges some surgery time with the other patient who gets my writing in exchange and the doctor gets the product or service of a third party. No actual cash changes hands. Extended into the Information Economy, the LETS system (and others like it) will be able to use a ‘base currency’ value, in other words, a virtual currency based upon use/exchange of the product or service.

The LETS system was originally designed for small, essentially ‘closed’ communities (or economies) but it was developed before the advent of the Information Revolution. With a realtime measuring and storage system in place, the local nature of LETS can be expanded globally. Combine the Life Account™ and the LETS-type system and we have a basis for a truly information-based economy. All that needs to be added to this mix is a realtime picture of the economy, and we have a truly cybernetic system that reflects real economic activity and comes closest to measuring the ‘value’ of a person’s life in purely informational terms.

Ideally, such a system should be set up by the state as part of its overall information infrastructure. Or perhaps a UN Information Rights Charter but one modified from the proposed New World Information Order document that was killed by the US back in the 80s?

So where’s my check?

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