Personal Data is a natural resource. We’ve built our entire socio-political infrastructure on that natural resource. Any accountant could tell us that infrastructure is a depreciating asset that requires investment for upkeep, usually with more of the resources that were poured in to begin with. Fossil fuels must be paid for to replenish the infrastructure that we travel upon daily. I’ve heard personal data called a free commodity by attorneys at a tech conference.
Data proliferation has allotted for seemingly exponential increases in the efficiencies of providing goods to consumers; so much so, that they’ve disrupted the supply and demand of microeconomics. People’s input whether it comes voluntarily or involuntarily is at the core of every good that producers work to deliver in this second decade of the 21st century. Per classical economics, all productivity is a measure of inputs, and in 2018 knowledge of both the many consumers and many producers delivering even the most automated and processed goods are inputs to the underlined price of productivity. It’s a fact that personal data stems from both producers and consumers to quench the supply of demand.
The productivity that we know to have taken off in this post information age started to skyrocket when automation changed our cultural infrastructure in the 1970s. Our measurable economy has been nearly 200% more productive in the past 50 years than it was in the previous 50. Yet we’ve failed to invest in the individuals who contributed our most valuable natural resource for infrastructure. With flat wages our infrastructure is showing cracks of fear and division. People who provide valuable input to our generation of goods have lost faith in their potential to be included in the capitalism that built this place.
We need a new brand of income inclusion that acknowledges and indemnifies people for their valuable input. It’s work. Before 1970, the growth in productivity was nearly coupled to the growth in wages. The problem with this era is not jobs, but that wages are attached to jobs, or rather that income is attached to wages. Further, people’s value is attached to jobs when they’re productive elsewhere. However high the jobs numbers go, they can’t keep up with our productive ability to provide goods to ourselves via increasingly more efficient and effective processes of interpreting our contributions in data. As Americans, as a society, we don’t necessarily need an increase in wages or an increase in jobs; we need to increase in income. We need an income based on an equity stake in productivity. That’s not the same as equity in a company. It’s equity in our pieces of the revenue generating pie.
If we truly want to see an era of income inclusion to thwart inequality and expand the American pie, we must apply a scalable equity stake on the productive input people are noted to have contributed. An inclusionism of sorts is necessary to make capitalism more moral in this time of hyper automation. It is a fact that all things we interact with derive their value in some micro or macro capacity from that interaction. We should be proud of this era and the fact that we’ve reverse engineered the ideal that people have an intrinsic value with 0’s and 1’s from their daily living. While 20th Century’s solution to inequality was welfare and Basic Income, the 21st Century’s data science provides us with an opportunity to leverage a natural resource patrimony as plain as the 1’s and 0’s that affirm our value.
This is a political issue. When Hillary Clinton told Ezra Kline in September of 2017 that she wanted to run a campaign on Universal Basic Income but she couldn’t make Alaska’s oil patrimony work in the other states, I’m convinced that she hadn’t identified the right resource. Every company is a data company, and we’ve recently passed global legislation that speaks to the human rights of our digital personhood via the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) adopted by 28 European nations in May 2018. In the most capitalistic nation in the world we could lead again, by telling all people that they are valuable contributors to the productive creations they consume with a Right to Ownership of personhood and personal data. Basic income should be replaced as an ideal with a basic ownership. That’s the most American thing our founders could have hoped for when fleeing remnants of feudalism. All of our empirical evidence confirms that the more people who participate in an economy, the better off we all are.
About the author:
James Felton Keith is Author of Personal Data: The People’s Asset Class