There are few things in our world as fundamental as how we calculate “wealth.” That is a relatively easy thing to do: identify your assets, deduct your liabilities, and bingo! That’s your wealth. But we’re beginning to see that the traditional importance of wealth in financial terms is being challenged by wealth in “community” terms — another indication of how the Communications Revolution is challenging the fundamentals of our world.
WHAT IS “COMMUNITY” WEALTH?
I’ve suggested previously that the message of “want this,” which has been the single most influential and dominant message in the world for the past 100 years or so, is beginning to ebb in importance at the same time that the message of “support this” increases in importance. This is because of a combination of factors, including the fact that as the buying power of the middle class declines with the redistribution of greater financial wealth to the richest among us, the vast numbers of the population can no longer identify themselves by what they own. Instead, they increasingly identify with – and define themselves — by what they support. This is made possible by the proliferation of online communities that cater to the specific interests and needs of the members of the group. As groups grow both in size and the dedication of their members, there is a concomitant ability to coalesce and mobilize the members of the group to advance the goals and activities of the community. [NOTE TO ALI:“Ive suggested previously” at the beginning of this paragraph should be linked but it is now linked to the wrong place — instead it should be linked to the post that begins “How the Communications Revolution is Challenging ….” That you’ll see is dated sooner than this and is a separate file in this folder.”]
It’s reminiscent of unions during the growth of industries. As an industry grew, the unions representing the workers of that industry also grew, and as that happened, the clout of the unions increased commensurately. Union membership became central to the lives of their members: how they spent their time, how they related to their employers, how they established their political views and how they translated those views into votes and thereby how they shaped the policies and culture of their nation. While the unions built substantial financial resources and helped their members win higher wages, money was only part of the equation. There was another type of wealth in addition to money – community wealth. That asset was the loyalty of their members that allowed them to say: “This is the candidate we are supporting and for which you should vote.”
Unlike the age of powerful unions, the Communications Revolution allows groups to be created on any basis, not just the industry in which people work. The new communities are built on shared interests of their members, whether that is a hobby, a religious belief, a political viewpoint – anything that has the ability to attract and coalesce members. Each group provides its members non-tangible benefits including the sense of belonging and an ability to find meaning in their activities and lives. At the same time, the members provide the managers and owners of the group the ability to exercise the consolidated clout of the group in the way they vote, the causes they support, and the products and services they buy. This is a different type of wealth – it’s not financial wealth; it’s “community wealth.” And, financial wealth is not necessary to build community wealth (albeit in many but not all instances, financial wealth can be very beneficial).
THE INCREASING IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY WEALTH.
When considering the potential of communities and social networks formed online, the most formidable characteristic to appreciate is that they have no limits. Unlike nations, they are not constrained by geographical borders. Unlike unions or religions, they are not tied to just one type of industry or one view of God. Because the group’s members obtain much of their “news” and have much of their worldview shaped by the information distributed to them by the group owners/managers, they are not easily vulnerable to erosion caused by competing groups promoting opposing views. In fact, whereas financial wealth can be reduced or even wiped-out by events outside the control of those who possess that wealth (such as a spike in interest rates, or a collapse of a core market such as the mortgage market catastrophe of 2008), community wealth can be protected to an almost intrusion-free degree. That isn’t the reality of all groups as they exist today, but it would be folly to assume that groups won’t become increasingly fit to continue to exist — a new application of Darwin’s theory of survival.
SO, LOOKING ACROSS THE HORIZON, what type of wealth will prove to be more beneficial to possess: financial wealth or community wealth? I think the trend is clear: those with great community wealth will prosper in many more ways and to a greater degree than those who just possess financial wealth. Alas, this is yet another change in the status quo fundamentals of the world, courtesy of the Communications Revolution.