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July 17, 2006

Stage 2: Renegade Economic Objects

Well I've learned an incredible amount the past six months or so, and now it's time to move on to stage two. That means rewriting everything from scratch, a whole new draft. Apparently John Kenneth Galbraith needed five, ouch. But if that's what it takes to write about economics as clearly and delightfully has he did... Regardless if things go as planned draft two will recast everything in the first one into a whole new narrative structure and conceptual framework. And that framework is something I call renegade economic objects.

A renegade economic object is whole new approach to economics, although if you read some of the first round drafts it should come as no surprise that it has roots in the institutional economics of Thorstein Veblen. Renegade economic objects split the difference between the dominant liberal/neoclassical economics and the various socialist/marxist/conservative approaches that constitute the alternative. Neoclassical economics is ultimately a reductionist approach that sees economies entirely in terms of the actions of individuals, and then transformed into a mass form via the "invisible hand" of the market. Most alternatives counter this view by looking to very large entities, in particular governments and "society" for their answers.

Renegade economics objects are a class of entities that lies between these two poles. They are larger than individuals, yet smaller than governments (or at least the larger ones) and far more concrete than "society". Corporations are renegade economic objects. So are social networks. Markets themselves (but not "the market") are renegade economic objects. So is money itself. Non profit corporations are renegade economic objects too, as are open source software projects. Terrorists groups are often renegade economic objects, and perhaps the "military industrial complex" is too. Closer to home families are renegade economic objects and cities, neighborhoods and other urban concentrations are too. There is a whole world of these things, and it has just begun to be explored.

To be a renegade economic object three qualifications must be met. One it must involve the interactions of multiple individuals. Two it must possess emergent properties, if it's function can just as adequately and usefully be described via some smaller objects than there is no reason to use the larger object. Finally it must be real; overly large and amorphous constructions like "society" or "capitalism" are not objects at all, and ultimately do not even exist except as concepts. Renegade economic objects are very real and that is exactly what makes them so powerful, they are means by which we can attempt to improve the economy around us.