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Arnold Kling has a Ph.D. in economics from MIT; founded, one of the very first commercial websites, in 1994; separated from Homefair in January 2000 after it was sold to Homestore; is author of Under the Radar: Starting Your Internet Business without Venture Capital, and is an essayist. Send comments to us at

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« The Academic Echo Chamber | Main | An Intellectual Property Issue »

February 17, 2004


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Posted by Arnold

Doc Searls linked to this old essay, which was new to me. It's a good statement of what I might call geekonomics. The context is a critique of Ralph Nader, written almost four years ago.

Consumers — those poor victims Ralph is still fighting for — are starting to discover what they really are, which is customers. If they don't like what they find in the market, well, it has never been easier for them to go make those things themselves, or to draw the attention of smart producers to the presence of demand. In this new age, the threshold of enterprise is so low it verges on zero. The thresholds of creation and innovation aren't much higher, which is why product and service choices spread wide everywhere supply hears demand. And what choice does supply have but to listen? If they don't, somebody with better ears will get the business.

...Consumers and workers are rhetorical relics. The Net is uniting both, and they're throwing off their chains. Industrial communism and capitalism are both terminal. They can't survive in a networked marketplace, where We the People means exactly what it says.

There is a classic line attributed to John Gilmore that "The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." Economists might say that markets try to route around the damage caused by monopolists or government regulators. I view Searls as saying that with the Internet and markets, consumers do not need their paternalistic advocate so much.

To me, Searlsian Geekonomics sounds more like Hayekian libertarianism than Deanian re-regulationism. I don't think that the Dean campaign deserved such a strong Geekbone. To me, the logic of Geekonomics is to lead one to be skeptical of the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

Anyway, back to Doc's essay. Read the whole thing.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: economic essays


1. John Thacker on February 18, 2004 04:35 PM writes...

Geeks are smart people who are very good at solving problems. Such people are easily tempted by the idea that if only they, the right people, the smart ones, were in charge, then all problems could be solved.

Geek dislike politicians who don't get technology, but they equally dislike suits who don't get it either. The appeal of the Dean campaign was that Dean was promising to take on both the policians and the suits, and basically promised to put geeks into important advisory positions.

What the geeks failed to realize what that even the smartest person would fail at trying to regulate certain things, and that even smart geeks have very different ideas about what would be best.

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