The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson
Probably prescient, but a few things lose this book a star or two for me:
- There's a skewed moral undertone: the author seems to imply that the predicted thriving of sovereign individuals is not only inevitable, but right. Which very well might be the case, but at the same time the book has no problem writing off all the "left behinds" as a calculated externality, neither right nor wrong, just part of the physics of the thing, no more good or bad than inertia.
To me, a better book would either (a) make the prediction with more academic precision, and describe the results, critically and dispassionately (which would be a much shorter book); or (b) go ahead and make the moral case, as they've done for the terror of taxes and the suffering of those afflicted, but also have empathy for the other human players, no matter their role — the winners and the losers. The lack of consideration for those folks makes me suspicious of a further lack of consideration or thought in the rest of the books arguments, which one goes on to find:
- The book assumes a pigeon holed type of humanity that's robotic and totally concerned with nothing but profits. I have no problem with libertarian ideals and I have no problem with an interest in profits. But one's argument can't rely on a hypothetical person that has no ties to family or home. "The Sovereign Individual" apparently will be willing and able to pick up and leave all national jurisdictions with zero marginal cost, so apparently none of these people have had an infirm parent or children that prefer to keep their friends? At a more glacial scale, slow and large, the argument makes more sense. Digital nomads might migrate once or even twice in their lives, and that's more than enough of a trend to cause a long-term effect. I'd move to Bermuda for 50 million, but what if then Bermuda then became corrupt? Would you move to Bermuda, then Cyprus, then New Zealand, then an oil rig in the middle of the pacific for 50 million? If the sovereign individuals are the only ones capitalized, smart getting smarter, what stops them from permeating the world as the rent seekers the Author's make current governments out to be?
- They argue that nationalism and patriotism are anachronistic, but also claim that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket because no one is religious or morally cohesive anymore. And somehow, the digital nomads are going to simultaneously continue on the path of amoral agnosticism (i.e. no attachment) that allows them to transcend boarders, but also they're going to rebuild religious and interpersonal ties that bind them together. Cosmopolitan dogmatists? The author seems to see no issue with the oxymoron.
- "Everything will go digital" and the information economy will be the only relevant economy. What about farming? Live concerts? Skiing? Golf? Waste management? Energy production? 25 years after publication it's clear that a lot of information is now digital, but what about the products that were never information? And so if at least some of his "stuff" has to stay productive in the physical world, doesn't that at least dilute the thesis a bit? The book seems to hyper-focus on everything going digital, with no consideration for the things that won't or can't.
Anyway, a few thoughts.