Yesterday I attended MIT's Roundtable on the Digital Economy. It was a gathering convened by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, the authors of Race Against the Machine, to discuss “Work and Value in the Digital Economy.” The gathering brought together an interesting mix of academics, startups, investors (yours truly) and policy experts.
I don’t have time this morning for more detailed thoughts, but I came away with a clearer grasp of some of the central questions:
1. Is work actually diminishing more permanently or do we just have a disappearance of “jobs” as we know them? The latter might be easier to deal with than the former.
2. Do people need jobs or can we deliver what jobs provide some other way and in a potentially unbundled fashion? The “jobs of a job” include income, structure, social connections, meaning, and at least in the US, access to healthcare.
3. Are emerging marketplaces such as Etsy, Airbnb, ODesk, Relayrides (these were all present) a potential solution? There are important differences between markets that potentially drive down the payout to (commodity) labor (a la Amazon Mturk) and those that may create sustainable activities with the potential for a stable income. More on that in a future post as I had a big Aha moment.
4. How meaningful is the shift from producer surplus (profits) to consumer surplus (value creation) in the digital economy (eg Khan Academy) and how should it be measured? This is an important question as we think about how to regulate some of these emerging providers and marketplaces.
Unfortunately I could not stick around for the last session on regulation, so I have to wait to see some of the transcribed notes from that. All in all it was a very thought provoking day on a topic that I care a great deal about, ie how do we get the transition that’s before us right instead of winding up with massive social unrest.