21.4.13

The Locust Economy

"The Jeffersonian middle is the place where decency, goodness, hard work, an admirable work ethic, modest and non-predatory entrepreneurial ambitions and mainstream culture live. This is not the regular middle class but the Jeffersonian middle class that idealistically seeks an autonomous, meaningful existence.

The typical member of this class does not want to either build a billion dollar company or live off a passive-income lifestyle business based on exploitative arbitrage. He or she wants to work hard at a meaningful activity and asks only to be left alone to be content with modest rewards and economic autonomy.

... It is also the class that foolishly believes in resilience without mobility at a small scale. Unless your idea of small-scale resilience is totally isolated communes behind an economic firewall that seals out the global economy (I have yet to see a working example of that ideal), you are coupled to the larger economy and vulnerable to bigger actors — Hamiltonian swarming-platform actors who believe in growing as big as they can, as fast as they can.

Because you see, it is not the Big Guys alone that you have to figure out. It is the Big Guys in an alliance with locusts whom you are predisposed to be contemptuous of, but are capable of sneaking through your defenses.

Being in the locust swarm full-time or part-time, sucks. But it is often the only way to make ends meet in the long tail. Being in the 1% (assuming you are okay moving from being slightly evil to Mr. Burns evil) is by definition not an option open to all.

But being in the Jeffersonian middle is probably the worst position to be in. Jeffersonian middle class dreams are not resilient even in grasshopper economies.

Unlike truly secure capitalists, who generally have enough wealth to cash in long positions in a declining economy for privileged starting positions in new ones as investors (Rockefeller’s descendants are still pretty darn rich several generations later), small-scale capitalists barely have enough resilience to ride out the economic volatility of a single human lifetime.

To be totally brutal about it, if you’re in the middle, you’re probably screwed no matter what the economic conditions are. Since industrialization began, there has rarely been a period where small business has been good business. If you’re not willing and able to grow big, your fate is to get eaten alive by either locusts (or directly by bigger organisms) or go out of business."

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