Thursday, 18 October 2012

The parable of the vineyard

Red Vineyards near Arles, the only painting Vincent van Gogh is known to have sold during his lifetime, which sold for 400 Francs (about a thousand dollars in today's money).

Portrait of Dr. Gachet by van Gogh, which sold for $82.5 million in 1990 (about $146 million at today's prices).

And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Matthew 20 11-16, a passage remarkable for brazenly flying in the face of the most basic concepts of fairness and natural justice and sanctifying the idea that it's OK for those in power to decouple the amount of value somebody adds to a process from the reward given.

If we're going to get 21st century economic policy right, or even just correctly model what's working and why, we have to start moving to a model that measures value creation rather than value capture.

From a fascinating article by Tim O Reilly. It does make me wonder who the 'we' is, though. Unless they unexpectedly lose their appetite for power, that 'we' probably excludes a lot of existing politicians, rent-seekers, corporations, lobbyists, intermediaries and other beneficiaries of a political economy driven by value capture. Why would they have any interest in moving to a model that empowers people unlike themselves?

Which still leaves the exciting possibility that, one day, distributed ways of producing value might escape the control of intermediaries who want to capture that value, so that the future might contain fewer niches for wannabe rentiers and more for potential Teslas or van Goghs.* In among the niches occupied by people making videos of cats doing mildly amusing things, obviously.

*Who might even get to avoid dying in obscure poverty next time round.