I am still not finished reading “Capital in the 21st Century” but the following introduction to Chapter 11 really got me thinking:
The overall importance of capital today […] is not very different from what it was in the eighteenth century. Only its form has changed: capital was once mainly land but is now industrial, financial and real estate.
One of my main intuitions about the coming changes is that “information” will become more important than industrial, financial and real estate assets. Or put differently “information” will be the capital of the 21st century and beyond.
This isn’t very well thought out at all yet but it is tantalizing because unlike land, machines, money or buildings information is non-rival. You and I can’t simultaneously farm the same plot of land. We can’t simultaneously use the same machine or occupy the same home or office. We can’t simultaneously spend the same dollar to buy something. But we can simultaneously access and make use of the same information.
It is not that there wasn’t information historically. It is just that its volume paled compared to what we have today stored in digital format making duplication and access free on the margin. There is some controversy over just how much information production has increased but among other things we know that every minute over 100 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube. And millions of people write blog posts such as the one you are reading (or upload songs to Soundcloud, or stories to Wattpad). And so on.
This raises some interesting possibilities. First and foremost among them is that we can overcome many of the issues of wealth and income inequality that I have been writing so much about recently by investing heavily in the information commons. One great example of that came to my attention yesterday thanks to a link Andy posted to usv.com about Open Source Seeds.
I will likely be writing more about the implications of “information capital” in the coming days as I just decided that this will be the topic for my talk at DLD NY next week.