Sunday, August 24, 2008

Economic fallacies II

Fallacy #3: The singularity is a great investment opportunity
A technological revolution like that brought about by the PC or the Internet is a great investment opportunity. Current possibilities for this kind of compound growth in technology-driven financial returns include alternative energy, genomics, personalized medicine, anti-aging therapies, 3d data manipulation tools and narrowly-applied artificial intelligence.

A technological singularity is not necessarily a great investment opportunity. A technological singularity implies change so radical and diffuse that prior models for understanding and exploiting or profiting from the world will no longer work. There is a substantial risk that financial markets as they are known today could disappear. Growth, alpha and superior financial returns may be irrelevant in a post-traditional financial markets era. Planning for the possibility of a technological singularity suggests a much broader definition of what the assets of the future may be and allocating to these areas, a substantial shift away from the traditional asset preservation and financial returns that outpace inflation in the long-run mindset of today.

Fallacy #4: Economic systems become irrelevant in a post-scarcity economy
This is the notion that economies and markets go away in a post-scarcity economy for material goods. At present, an increasing number of goods and services are becoming available for free or offered via modern business models such as the freemium. In the future, substantially all material needs may be easily met at low cost or for free in a molecular-nanotech society, but scarcity as an economic dynamic is likely to persist and economics systems in general are also likely to continue.

Scarcity would be perceived in whatever material resources were not yet plentifully available and in any finite resources such as time, ideas, attention, emotion, reputation, quality, etc. Economic system dynamics could change substantially, for example, property tax would not make sense in a world where nanotech could rapidly build or absorb structures. Unless economics and markets as the most effective means of resource distribution are superceded, they are likely to endure.

Fallacy #5: Social capital markets need not deliver competitive returns
The conventional notion is that it is acceptable for social capital market investments to deliver lower returns than traditional financial instruments. Social capital market investment products include SRI equity funds, corporate governance initiatives, social capital venturing (private equity), fair trade coffee and organic products. On average, consumers are willing to spend 5% more for attribute products (products with affinity attributes such as fair trade, local, organic, etc.) and investors have been willing to sacrifice 5% or more in financial return for socially responsible investments.

However, after some implementation time lag, social capital could have equal or higher returns. Sustainable socially responsible businesses should be more profitable not less. Both direct tangible economic benefits can accrue as well as the indirect benefits of marketing and market-knowledge that the business is more principled and sustainable. Corporate governance and other green or social initiatives should benefit the bottom line, not penalize it. The notion that return and social good are mutually exclusive is a fallacy.

The article with all nine fallacies is available here

blog comments powered by Disqus