Debugging the profit motive

In a column on the website of Rick Falkvinge, founder and until January this year head of the Swedish Pirate Party, Zacqary Adam Green takes on the profit motive in a three-part series of articles. He points to damage done in the name of making a profit at any cost, and says that the profit motive needs debugging.

The first article is titled Debugging the Profit Motive: Part One — Bad Behavior

The point he makes here is that it is difficult to control bad behavior which is promoted by the desire to make a profit at any cost. The problem, he says, is in the “shiny gold coins”.

In the second article, titled Debugging the Profit Motive: Part Two — Shiny Gold Coins

Green points out that wealth is not the same as worth but that, in the world of economy, a person’s worth is often measured by their wealth. He comes to the conclusion that even if the money be not shiny gold coins but of debt, there is always the danger of debt becoming a debilitating influence due pressure that can be brought to bear on the person owing the money.

In the third article titled Debugging the Profit Motive: Part Three — Pressure

we are told that profit is power, it is a measure of one’s ability to get other people to do things. While the author acknowledges that [profit] is a perfectly reasonable thing to desire, and a perfectly natural thing by which to be motivated, he points out that it can be a problem in that it allows us to make people do what they really don’t want to do.

One solution Zacqary Adam Green points to is a gift economy, and he says that in order to make this work, it has to be incentivated by keeping track of reputation. But there are problems with a pure reputation system, so another proposal is made: let’s create a hybrid system that consists of credit and also keeps track of reputation. The system does get a bit complicated and it doesn’t answer all questions. As a matter of fact, in the ending the author acknowledges that he’s pointing out a problem and is asking his readers to comment on his solution or better yet, to come up with a better one. He concludes with the following:

    “We’ll likely never have a perfect system. We may never be able to make individual profit completely synonymous with the common good. But I’ll be damned if we can’t try, and we can get as close to perfect as possible. The profit that individuals seek is measured today in shiny gold coins, and slouching towards shiny gold math coins — that’s hardly the best we can do.
    Free market theory posits that individuals will act in their rational self-interest. As human beings, our rational self-interest is a better world for everyone. Every time a person lives impoverished, uneducated, malnourished, and powerless, that is one less unique viewpoint and one less voice in our global conversation. Every time we allow a small minority to accumulate wealth at the expense of others, that is one more threat of a chaotic revolution to throw a wrench into society. Every time a human being’s potential is wasted and squandered by forcing them to fight for survival instead of utilizing their unique talents, we all miss out on what they could have done. All this because our definition of “profit” is broken and misplaced.
    This bug is marked as critical. I’m assigning it to everyone.”

It so happens that a simple system to take care of the problems Zacqary points to, was proposed almost a century ago by an economic genius why – you guessed it – was not given the recognition he deserved. I am talking of Silvio Gesell, whose magnum opus “The Natural Economic Order” is available on the net. (Silvio Gesell – The Natural Economic Order – PDF) Also available on wikilivres (The Natural Economic Order).

Based on Gesell’s writings, which make eminent sense to me, I have tried to outline in a few words how the profit motive could be put at the service of the common good by turning those shiny gold math coins into something less shiny – rusty balls.

If you’re interested, my comment is posted at the end of the third article

– Sepp.

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