Microcredentials in the Angel Economy

Microcredentials are a hot new topic in the roiling debate between those who want to make credentials more meritocratic and those who want to make them less relevant. I haven’t taken sides in that debate, but I want microcredentialism to be more than a passing fad. I want to see microcredentials produce results that impact the real world, as I think it’s a Capital idea.

Basically microcredentials, like credentials in general, are supposed to serve as proof of attainment of skills by individuals. Microcredentials aim to document single, specific skills, rather than bundles of skills that are taken to comprise all the skill requirements of an occupation, which is the typical intent of occupational credentials such as journeyperson cards, occupational licenses and professional degrees. A microcredential, on the other hand, might certify someone for one specific task, and that one task might be a tiny fraction of their overall job description.

Of particular interest to me is the question of how microcredentialing might fit into a strategy for implementing an anagora, or non-market non-state economy. So far, I have proposed two schemes for implementing an anagora. I call these Angel Economics and VACIMET. Angel Economics is an idea some anonymous other came up with that I decided to expand on and adapt to the anagorist cause. VACIMET is something I made up in jest as a satire of Jeff Graubart’s Capital idea called AFFEERCE. Both Angel Economics (AE) and VACIMET are strategies to create a third way which is neither a market nor a command economy; a planned economy which is not centrally planned. VACIMET is basically AE presented in a style that imitates that which Graubart uses to present AFFEERCE, so they’re basically the same thing. AE/VACIMET makes some use of credentialism as it classifies the performers of tasks in economic production in a three-level hierarchy (in the bootmaker sense) as apprentices, journeycritters or masters. Apprenticeship in AE/VACIMET differs markedly from apprenticeship in the actually-existing economy in that AE/VACIMET apprenticeship does not seek to create artificial scarcity, and does not seek to be a guardian of trade secrets. Exclusion from economic production, even via “natural” market competition, is anathema to anagorism. So is institutional secrecy, as one of the principles on which anagorism rests is thick individualism, or an unconditional privileging of the agendas of individuals over those of institutions. Apprenticeship in AE/VACIMET is similar to apprenticeship as we know it in that there is a desire for on-the-job training, because we want a real-world focus, and because the inventor of anagorism (yours truly) has a burning desire to make the school-to-work transition less intimidating, and believes the existing protocols for that are so (if you’ll pardon my French) fucked that an overhaul of society itself is needed, including a brand new economic system.

Here are the blog posts so far about Angel Economics and VACIMET, of which I wrote all bur the first:

My approach to workforce training and development in the Angel Economy is as follows:

One way to start this project would be to spread the word about your idea of angel economics. Attract as many people (or angels) as you can. The first thing to ask of your participants can be to use matrices and graph nodes to model their own jobs. Hopefully their jobs aren’t so monotonous that the whole workday isn’t built around a single process operation. In any case any person’s current actual job in meatspace should be able to be modeled by listing materials used in each on-the-job activity, as well as internal and external ‘customers’ dealt with, etc. Additional information to obtain from each participant would include jobs or trades they would be interested in learning, as well as any for which they are expert enough to teach. This lends itself to creating a many-to-many relation mapping participants with occupations, in which each instance of person-in-an-occupation can be preliminarily tagged as ‘apprentice,’, ‘journeycritter,’ or ‘master.’ Sure this brings rank, and potentially rankism, into the equation. Consider it the kind of ‘authority’ that implies expertise and nothing else. In the angelic social structure we are modeling of course, apprenticeship is more purely for the purpose of instruction, and undertaken without the usual emphasis on bondage, servitude, entry barriers and trade secrets. On-the-job training, of course can be seen as another process to be modeled.

In incorporating microcredentials into Angel Economics, I think the operative words above might be “instance of person-in-an-occupation.” Replace “occupation” with (narrowly-defined) “skill” and retain the apprentice-journeycritter-master ranking, and we have a system that, if nothing else, is combinatorially interesting. As the job-modeling process is described in my first Angel Economics proposal (emphasis added):

The first thing to ask of your participants can be to use matrices and graph nodes to model their own jobs. Hopefully their jobs aren’t so monotonous that the whole workday isn’t built around a single process operation. In any case any person’s current actual job in meatspace should be able to be modeled by listing materials used in each on-the-job activity, as well as internal and external ‘customers’ dealt with, etc.

In a microcredentialed AE/VACIMET, single processes would be sought out; not avoided. If the process at a particular workstation involves some constellation of micro-skills, it could conceivably be staffed by a group of one or more people who have the full micro-skill-set between them. Note that AE or VACIMET, by definition, involve no proprietary information technology and no proprietary data. Without this precondition, breaking work down into microtasks and microskills can only produce nightmarishly dystopian outcomes. Consider the proprietary platform called WorkFusion (h/t Manna subreddit on Reddit):

WorkFusion lets users standardize knowledge processes into online workflows comprised of microtasks, the simplest unit of work. WorkFusion provides an extensive library of both machine tools and human worker instruction templates which users can drag-and-drop into workflows using a graphical design tool. WorkFusion comes equipped with pre-built knowledge process workflows, which users can customize.

This is actually pretty much how I would describe the combination of AE/VACIMET with microcredentialing. The key difference is that in AE/VACIMET, the “users” are not a separate entity from the “human workers.” To get an idea of just how diabolical WorkFusion is, consider the following (from the same page):

WorkFusion is integrated with the leading online talent marketplaces, including Amazon Mechanical Turk, Craigslist, Elance, oDesk, and uSamp. WorkFusion sources and qualifies workers from this combined market by posting microtask job listings onto these marketplaces simultaneously, selecting the best applicants across all markets based on a user’s demographic and qualification requirements and on the results of qualification tasks administered by WorkFusion. WorkFusion then databases each worker, creating a vetted, on-demand, dedicated workforce for the enterprise.

This is the current trend in work under capitalism, and is the sort of dystopian nightmare our descendants can look forward to if we don’t effect a major overhaul of economic allocation and coordination.

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The catch-22 of frugality

Frugality can be a matter of necessity or choice. Also, it can mean frugal use of money, but also of other resources such as land, energy, time, etc.

It would seem that high-density housing makes relatively efficient use of land and energy. It would also seem that it costs more than low-density housing. A frugal person (especially one who is frugal out of necessity) would prefer small living quarters over large living quarters because less land, in theory, costs less money, and less square footage costs less money to heat. Less house or apartment should also be less expensive when it comes to maintenance. So why can’t we have what, by the yardstick of frugality, would be the best of both worlds; a small house on cheap land? Perhaps part of the reason is because many people, especially successful people, have finally figured out that high density living is more desirable than low-density living, and so America may well at some point join most of the world in having suburban ghettos instead of urban ghettos. A more insidious reason might be a built-in property of the market mechanism itself:

conserve what’s most expensive

Market actors have the strongest incentive to conserve those resources that are most expensive, so developers will make more effort to use every square foot effectively in places where land values are high. This also affects the ideological tug-of-war between advocates of sustainability and advocates of growth (i.e., affluenza). The fossil fuel apologists and other right wingers love to gloat that “the greens love high fuel bills.” I suppose we love high energy costs to the extent that we believe that high energy prices are the most effective incentive for energy efficiency and energy conservation. Being an anagorist (market abolitionist) I’m not sure I buy that theory about how “incentives work.” At any rate, high-density development in a cheap neighborhood seems to be too much to ask of the market. Is there some Iron Law of Economics to the effect that a walkable neighborhood in the U.S.A. has to be either a college town or a ridiculously gentrified east or west coast city?

the (first) customer is always right(est)

The frugal consumer will generally buy used, not new. Same for those who try to practice “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The designer of a product such as a house or car is thinking primarily about the first buyer. Someone who is in a position to be in the market for a new car is someone who is basically established—has steady-eddie income and established credit. This goes at least double for someone in the market for new-construction housing. These consumers are in most cases upper middle class and up. To the extent that these manufacturers and developers are thinking about the second hand buyer, they’re thinking in terms of maximizing resale value. While this meeting the needs of at least a portion of the people who aren’t looking at new, it probably means the more affluent portion of that population, more than the less affluent. And of course the second-hand customer is “righter” than the third-hand customer, whose wants and needs are at most an afterthought.

is there a sweet spot?

Is it possible to build small-square-footage housing on cheap land? Is it possible for an affordable (that is, cheap) neighborhood to have high population density? Perhaps that’s how it was in the “pre-war” era, except that back then the market’s verdict was that high population density had negative utility. Is it possible to design an automobile in a way that prioritizes fuel economy and durability with high priority and purchase cost with medium to high priority, while de-prioritizing “performance,” “luxury,” etc.? It certainly seems to me that the constraints standing in the way of such a set of priorities come from economics, and not science or engineering.

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Does work undermine freedom?

John Danaher asks, “Does Work Undermine our Freedom?

As soon as I got as far as the title “Employment as a Limitation on Self-Ownership,” I reflexively thought of Abolish Human Rentals (Support Worker Cooperatives) Personally, I don’t buy the idea of “self ownership” as I consider “self” (myself, yourself or anyself) as being in a category entirely separate from the category of ownable stuff. I think slavery is something that should not be made light of, so for that reason if no other, I prefer “human rentals” over, say, “wage slavery” (an oxymoron) as a description of what employment is and does.

Despite my rejection of the term wage slavery, I consider myself (among other things) an anarcho-syndicalist, so I believe that a workplace that is both worker-controlled and cooperative is an absolute prerequisite for work not undermining our freedom.

The second phrase that grabbed me is Karl Widerquist’s “effective control self ownership.” This idea sort of captures how I think of these things, but is unfortunately a self-ownership-based model. I think more along the lines of the probably similar-but-not-the-same “capability approach” of Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum et al. The approach emphasizes functional capabilities (“substantive freedoms”, such as the ability to live to old age, engage in economic transactions, or participate in political activities). One area where I differ from this is that I crave the freedom not to engage in economic transactions. It should be noted, however, that this attitude is borne out of frustration in my experiences with the market economy, especially the labor market. If gainful employment were a lower-hanging fruit, as it were, perhaps I would be able to see free markets as friends rather than enemies of freedom.

Concerning the two prior categories of anti-work arguments: “intrinsic badness arguments (which claimed that there was something intrinsically bad about work) and opportunity cost arguments (which claimed that even if work was okay, non-work was better)”

Substitute “transaction” for “work” and I would agree with both arguments. My philosophical bent is utilitarian (specifically negative utilitarian) and both the above arguments are basically statements of rank-ordering of preferences. That which is better is preferable to that which is okay, for the exact same reasons that that which is not intrinsically bad is better than that which is. With me, it all boils down to rank ordering of preferences. Employment is what exists at the intersection of acts of work and acts of transaction. Employment is what transforms work from an end in itself to a means to an end. I like how S. Zoutewelle puts it:

Sure we need to survive, but let’s acknowledge the desperation under this drive to take everything we do, are or think and try to get cash for it. It reminds me of a young child who shows her father a drawing. He playfully offers her a dollar for it and 15 minutes later she comes back with 5 more. What got lost there in between the first spontaneous artwork and the 5 subsequent calculated ones?

The bottom line is this: In America today work is both a requirement and a privilege. It is a requirement because the world doesn’t owe you a living, and it is a privilege because the world doesn’t owe you a job. This is a property of every market economy.  There is no reason to believe that a “freed market” economy would be any different in this respect.  As far as I can see, the non-aggression principle directly implies work being both a requirement and a privilege, and these two things directly imply that survival is a privilege (and not a right). In other words, the non-aggression principle (NAP) implies social darwinism. This is why I think anarcho-capitalists, not left libertarians, are the true guardians and heirs of the non-aggression principle.  It’s also why I reject the NAP and why my antistatism of an antilibertarian variety.

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Quotebag #114

kyleserikawa:
One of the things that sometimes seems to get lost when people talk about the power of the market to create efficiency is that a free market requires that information be shared and freely available and understandable by everyone. When information is withheld by one side or the other of a transaction, or when different customers for a service or product are unable to compare prices, the metaphor of the invisible hand breaks down.
mawil1013:
There used to be, ‘Company Towns’. There are now, ‘Company Nations’ where every aspect of human life is governed by the whim of those at the top.
kollapsnik:
Competitiveness is what fufflers like best to exploit. Most non-fuffled life forms choose cooperate, out of an innate sense of self-preservation. Among the more evolved humans, competition is a display designed to please the gods, not to defeat your own friends.
Poor Richard:
Automation can easily exhaust any resistance we have.
byte-smasher:
The constant feeling that I could do much more for this world than I can possibly ever get payed for, if only I didn’t need to waste all my time doing things I can get payed for… There are few things so soul-crushing as the knowledge that this feeling is not mine alone, but is in fact commonplace.
robocopper1986:
all those bright well meant ideas drowning in a cestpool of advertising, warmongering, pron and what not.damn you interwebs you were the chosen one to lead us from darkness into light but kinda got high and wondered off…
From Arse To Elbow:
In a society where labour is increasingly superfluous, “work” becomes a positional good rather than an economic imperative. You can see the early stages of this in the shift to unpaid internships and the increasing cost of tertiary education.
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Public data infrastructure?

This is prompted by Who Owns Big Data? by Michael Nielsen at the “OpenMind” website. I was clued in to that post by a re-post of part of that article by Michel Bauwens at the P2P Foundation Blog. The OpenMind website doesn’t accept comments, and the P2P blog either doesn’t accept comments this long, or doesn’t accept comments edited offline and pasted to the comment form (it actually came back with an error message “you’re posting too fast, slow down”). So again, the blogosphere is the voice of the little people; the antidote to the we-talk-you-listen model of institutions, and those working within the system.

The “OpenMind” website where this content came from seems to be staffed by NGO types (at least one, it seems, is affiliated with UNESCO), so of course they’re looking for new roles for the large-scale nonprofit sector. They also, to a person, have academic pedigrees. Their world is one that is utterly inaccessible to my working-class born-and-raised self, thanks to the usual opportunity hoarding and the like. I loved open source back in the glorious nineties precisely because it was the age of hobby projects. Plus, the OpenMind website has a look and feel that seem to me, how shall I put it–“polished.” “Professional” production values. You know what I mean, I’m sure. The lack of a commenting facility also seems to say something, um, institutional.

Academia, in spite of its elitist tendencies, was a big part of the open source scene of the glorious nineties; maybe most of it. Many open source developers had a day job that was staff-not-faculty at some university. If this job paid enough to live on, and wasn’t as draconian about non-disclosure, non-compete and EDS-style training cost clawbacks as was private industry, then right there you have all the ingredients one needs in order to have the luxury of contributing to open source. There also seemed to be more activity of that sort in Europe than in North America, but I’m not sure. Before 1993 or so, .com domains were somewhat exotic against a backdrop of .edu domains and their overseas equivalents.

The surrender of open source to either monetized linux distros or free-will offerings of corporations is a mixed curse (the mirror image of a mixed blessing) as (1) at least there is still code in the public domain and (2) that model does have the virtue of scaling to larger and more sophisticated applications. I still think the reason it happened in the first place is because of austerity–an ideological commitment to a leaner public sector, especially when it comes to paid jobs. Those university computer lab staffers and (“supported”) ten-year-track graduate students of the 1990s had creative luxuries that are almost unimaginable today.

Wikipedia happened because Jimbo Wales was independently wealthy. OpenStreetMap is “in partnership with MapQuest” and so, like the monetized Linux distros, has become at least semi-commercial, which is probably better than simply folding or something, but may well be a step away from rather than toward the public data infrastructure we all dream of.

Some 15 years ago I first proposed Pubwan. At the time, I was thinking “public wide area network,” but my thinking on this evolved into more of a public distributed database. Now that “Big Data” is the rage, I’m starting to think maybe I was on the right path to begin with, focusing on hardware. It becomes more clear every year that overwhelming informational advantage can be decisive advantage, and organizations (let alone loose federations) that are not in a position to run server farms and/or large-scale network infrastructure, probably have no potential to play an active role in humanity’s informational future. This is sad, as I’m only a little more trusting of Big Philanthropy than I am of Big Business.

Back in the day, there was something called Fidonet that was pretty purely, decentralized, hobbyist, non-monetized, whatever else you would like. The catch was that if you whittled it all the way down to the hardware level, the platform it ran on was the telephone system. As far as I know, there is no precedent for assets of that type to be managed by non-profit organizations. It’s either public monopoly or private monopoly.

Consider the following two statements from Nielsen’s article:

In general, I am all for for-profit companies bringing technologies to market. However, in the case of a public data infrastructure, there are special circumstances which make not-for-profits preferable.

But it’s difficult to believe that having the government provide a public data infrastructure more broadly would be a good idea.

It’s almost as if the First Commandment underlying the public communications of organizations such as OpenMind is “don’t buck the neoliberal consensus.” This is the kind of kabuki I have come to expect from the kind of people who are established in careers…

Then there is the question of what we would like a public data infrastructure to accomplish. I would propose the main mission would be to act as a countervailing force to commercial big data practices. A strategy to replace information asymmetry with information parity. Work against the fact that information doesn’t want to be free and make no bones about it. Fight the tendency of commercial websites to dispense single data points by offering members of the public the ability do ad-hoc queries against large datasets. Also, put personal devices in people’s hands that feed behavioral and other data first to their users, and afterward, assuming the permission of their users, some subset of that data stream might go directly into the public domain. With any luck, it will find its way into social science research; a more worthy cause, in my opinion, than market research.

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Is anyone nostalgic for the ’70s?

Thomas Frank: Is anyone nostalgic for the ’70s?

I certainly miss the seventies, and not just because I was a child then. The seventies were the age of the single adult. One reason for that, no doubt, is because that’s when the BBG happened to be passing through the “young adult” portion of the snake, but I believe that other factors may have played an even bigger role in that. In the 1950’s or earlier, there was no socially acceptable place for a single young adult. Colleges were explicitly understood to be “in loco parentis.” My mom spent her single years living at the YWCA. About the only other housing arrangement for a single adult would have been a boarding house, which probably had its own version of “in loco parentis.”

During the 1970’s “singles apartment complexes” emerged as a consumer market category (see here and here). In the midwestern metropolitan area where I live, the housing stock is overwhelmingly single-family (even in the city let alone the suburbs). More to the point, home ownership is a cultural norm, in which “single family” is specified in the norm. An astonishingly large percentage of the non-single-family housing is specifically designated as senior citizen housing. In my particular suburb there is a two-story limit on residential construction, and an extensively micromanagerial system of permits and inspections for rental housing, single family or otherwise.

In terms of American economic history, the 1970s get a bad rap for stagflation, and deservedly so, but the deep early 1980’s recession didn’t start until 1979. The 1973-74 recession caused a lot of temporary layoffs (If you’ve watched “Good Times” lately, that particular anachronism in the theme must have been good for a belly laugh). The 1979-83 recession was a major overhaul of labor economics; a systematic dismantling of the “permanent full time job with benefits,” that is ongoing to this day. The 1970s are that period of history sandwiched between the civil rights legislation of the 60s and the privatization push of the 80s-present. You have no doubt noticed that today there is a civil war within movement liberalism between people who prioritize job security and economic security, who see the postwar period as the high point of civilization, and those who place a higher priority on civil rights and feminism who describe that period as “dress for success, wear a white penis.” Sometimes the latter imply that the former are mistaken in placing a high value on economic security in the first place, and maybe occasionally even join neoliberals and other fuckwits in chiding people about the “old economy,” “legacy costs,” “opportunity society vs. security society,” etc. But the 1970s were, in some real sense, even in spite of the stagflation, a temporal island of “best of both worlds” in the implied employer-employee contract that built the American middle class.

As for Reagan, my theory is this: Affirmative action, for reasons rooted in political expedience (the perfect is the enemy of the good, you know the drill) was implemeted in a way that caused it to apply primarily to government at all levels, government contractors (IIRC correctly the very first affirmative action program was specific to federal construction contractors) and businesses with roles largely defined by public policy such as utilities and to some extent large publicly traded corporations (such as General Motors). For probably unrelated historical reasons, those were also the workplaces most likely to be union shop. Not surprisingly, the civil service and public utility workforce got noticeably blacker. Privatization became civil rights rollback by proxy. To this day clueless progressives are scratching their heads wondering why working class people vote against their own interests. While I’m not accusing anyone of anything, I humbly suggest as a plausible explanation that these “Reagan Democrats,” as of 1980, were not people steeped in the literature of Laissez Faire or Austrian Economics. But they almost certainly were people for whom the end of civil rights clawback justified the means of privatization and perhaps union busting.

And also, of course, the 70s were, as Perlstein noted, a time when America contemplated a future as a nation among nations, a transition that Britain and France seemed to have survived, if anything with an improved quality of life.

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Monetization = value subtraction

As we speak, they’re flooding the internet with noise. Surely you can’t have not noticed just in the last few months the absolute deluge of “numbered” article titles and aggressively promoted content farms that went suddenly from either nonexistence or obscurity to apparent extreme popularity; vice, vox, upworthy, business insider, the disgustingly slick “blogging platform” medium.com, ad nauseam.

Then you have formerly-respectable websites eagerly jumping on the clickbait bandwagon; Mother Jones, AlterNet, etc.

Apparently they have reached the conclusion that they cannot afford the luxury of not doing so.

The blogosphere still exists. So what if it’s “so 2006.” It’s the real deal; the real voice of real people, most of whom are amateurs, which is to say, people doing something they love. It still exists, but now you have to be really looking for it to find it. You have to filter out a shit-ton of noise to get to the signal. Noise is a “value subtracted” feature of the internet. It makes it take a gigabyte to do the work of a megabyte. I did more meaningful communicating 25 years ago on a 2400 bps modem, and Usenet was as useful for the essay form as blogging. The combination of the UNIX finger and talk commands was as useful for instant messaging as any of the “instant messager” platforms. IRC was as useful for online chat as any present day monstrosity in that space.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For hardware we have Moore’s Law, which has increased the performance specs of computing equipment in the hands of ordinary people by something like 10 orders of magnitude in 30 years. For traffic we have the fact that implementation requires monetization combined with the fact that, at least when it comes to informational goods, monetization requires value subtraction, so the monetizer has something to sell “back” to its audience. This currently takes the form of signal degradation (content dilution, SNR reduction). There has literally been enough signal dilution to cancel out the gains from Moore’s law when you consider the total payload in HTML, CSS, Javascript, Flash content and other traffic involved in reading a 100-character message via a web-based email provider, or a 300-word blog post on a lightly-monetized blog. Note that I don’t even mean blogs monetized by their writers. The present blog is on wordpress.com, which now shovels up video advertising. In terms of bandwidth, a picture is easily worth a thousand words, and at 30 frames per second, 34 seconds of video is worth a thousand pictures. Assuming you aren’t using Ghostery or something similar to read the present post, you could easily be downloading a million times more bytes of advertising than of content.

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