Designing an Economy. Part II

This post is a draft. I’ll flesh it out as I have time. Feel free to comment on the draft.

In part I of this series we learned that automation and climate change are exerting extraordinary force on our economy. The effect of those forces are:

  • Key components of our economic infrastructure are nearing the end of their productive lifespan, and need fundamental re-design.
  • The infrastructure make-overs may need to happen rather quickly.
  • Production needs to be moved closer to the point of consumption.
  • More people need to learn how to create and then own wealth-generating productive capacity.

Now we begin designing a new economy that effectively adapts to these forces.

Because so much of our economy is affected by these forces, and because we wish to direct more wealth into the middle class, we determined that a widely-distributed, bottom-up design methodology might work best.

Challenges of Bottom-Up Design

When I say “bottom-up” design, I mean “everyone can play”. If you think of what’s at stake, maybe “everyone should play”.

The benefit of bottom-up design is that a lot of people are involved, with many different backgrounds. New ideas are very likely to happen, and some of those new ideas will be very good ideas.

The main challenge of bottom-up design is that there’s little coordination among the designers. There could be thousands of designers, all working independently, each one in a different situation.

In this context, it’s worthwhile to produce design guidelines that help paint a clear contrast between “where we were” and “where we’re going”. Because each designer is in a different situation, we can’t provide a detailed map that works for everyone. These design guidelines provide a compass heading – a direction – that will help get people started.

Design Guidelines

An economy is a collection of products that are produced by, traded among, and consumed by the people the economy serves. When we say “we’re designing a new economy”, we’re also saying “we’re designing new products and the enterprises that produce those products”.

There are some fundamental changes in perspective that will heavily influence the design of tomorrow’s products and the enterprises that produce them.

These next tables contrast the “old economy” .vs. the “new economy” on several aspects of consumption, work life, product design, and entrepreneurship.

Each one of these “aspects” is hinting at new products, new customer behavior, and new enterprise design.


AspectOld EconomyNew Economy
Distance product was transportedLongShort
Who you buy fromStrangers People you know
Luxury items purchasedManyFew
Purchases financed with debtConsumer itemsInvestments in myself
Energy purchasedLotsLittle

Work Life

AspectOld EconomyNew Economy
Value of My LaborCrushed by automation / globalizationRises as I become a better entrepreneur
FulfillmentEndless boredom and anxietyEvery day’s a new adventure
AgencyOther people control my lifeI control my life
VersatilityGood at a few thingsGood at many things
Commute timeLongShort

Product Design

AspectOld EconomyNew Economy
DurabilityPlanned obsolescenceBuilt to last
Impact on the Natural WorldDegrades natural worldFits right in with natural world
Re-useProducts designed to be thrown awayProduct designed to be fully recovered after use
WasteLots of wasteNothing is wasted
Purchase criteriaWhat it costs (price)What it does (value)
TransportLots of transportationLittle transportation


AspectOld EconomyNew Economy
Barriers to EntrepreneurshipHard to get into the gameMuch easier to get started
InnovationHappens at big companiesHappens everywhere
Impact on the CommonsReduce itExpand it
InvestmentIn other’s production capacityIn my production capacity
Asset utilizationPoorGood

Design Patterns

In the software development business, there’s a thing called a “design pattern”. A design pattern is simply a generic solution to a commonly-occurring problem.

Over time a library of design patterns get built and debugged. When the designer encounters one of those common problems, the pattern offers a fast, tried and true solution.

Design patterns are great time-savers, so let’s begin developing some design patterns for the typical problems that economic designers will encounter.

Typical Problems We Face

What are some of the typical contexts that designers will be operating within?

HH, Village, City, Region

What typical problems will they face during the design process?

Don’t believe it’s possible.

Don’t know where to start.

No team.

Stupid idea.

No feedback.

No resources.

Missing dependencies.

Author: Tom Pfotzer
I'm a retired I.T. worker who runs a farm. Like many of us, I'm trying to figure out how to respond to the slow-motion environmental and economic collapse we're engulfed in. I want to work with people who understand what's going on and are ready to do something about it.

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