Friday talk at the Putney Debates


On Friday 12 January, I shall be presenting the first of the Putney Debates for 2007.
My topic will be “The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson, what it means for business and libertarians.”

I think “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More” by Wired editor Chris Anderson, is the best economics and business book written in the past 10 years.

If there is one book that everyone trying to sell things or ideas today should read, this is my pick. The whole Web 2.0 concept contains elements of the Internet boom and bust, but this time there is a lot more substance to the excitement.

For one thing, in 1999 someone would have set a website selling real estate, which some merchant bank would value as if no one else could enter the market for a few hundred pounds. Gullible investors would then buy shares in the property website valued at hundreds of times actual earnings.

This time the focus is more on how the markets are actually shifting. For example, in the UK we have a property boom and estate agent offices are closing down, because about two thirds of all customers are using the Internet to search for properties and contact agents. Some web-based businesses are and will continue to be overvalued and will collapse in spectacular fashion. However, I think we are moving from the era of experiment (like the early days of the motor car) to the era of business (where recognizable brands emerged).

The Long Tail though, is about the way that economies of scale have been utterly transformed in the production process and how consumers are increasingly able to become producers too. If the Marxist concept that the individual is defined by his belonging to an economic class has any meaning, then Web 2.0 really throws up a lot of questions for the cleavage “producers/consumers.” Entire business models are now obsolete, in particular the way in which intellectual property is defined and exploited.

For Libertarians, there is the satisfaction of discovering that the Long Tail is the apotheosis of the sovereign consumer, with the explosion of niche markets. There is also the warning that the tools for intellectual debate have been revolutionised, and we have, so far, been missing out.

For details of the Putney Debates and how to get there, etc, email tim[at]libertarian.co.uk.

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One response to “Friday talk at the Putney Debates

  1. Good luck with your talk.

    From what you say the work is basically a business book, but one that makes some points that are relevant to economics. Of course the word “economics” ( “household management”) would cover how to run a business rather better than it would the study laws of human interaction in regard to how human beings in general (as opposed to a particlar business in a particular situation) survive. Although (of course) how a particular enterprise (or a single individual) is managed (or manages himself) is dependent on the laws of exchange (unless one is alone – as in some fantasy or science fiction examples).

    However, “catallectics” (the study of exchanges), although supported by such writers as Richard Whately in the 19th century and Ludwig Von Mises and F.A. Hayek in the 20th century, has never really “caught on” so “economics” will have to do – even if people confuse it with business (or other) management and so describe themselves as “business economists”, “energy economists”, “agricultural economists”, “labour economists” (and so on). Whereas (if the word “economics” is going to be used to cover the study of exchanges) there are only good economists and bad economists (not specialized sorts of economist), and advising people on how they should run their business or whether they should invest in a particular enterprise is nothing to do with economics (although many “economists” make their living doing these things).

    I note that my examination of Kenvin Carson’s recent work “Contract Feudalism” is still sitting on the “submit material to the L.A.” section of this site (where it has been for months). And my question (about how we are to “link” to a paper pamphlet attacking the persecution of home schoolers in Belgium, when we write e,mails of protest about this persecution) has still not been dealt with.

    Such is life. And, besides, it is nice to see the examination somewhere – even if the only comment it has got is one pointing out a typing mistake.