In my last post, I talked about how important it is to have a diverse discussion when we are discussing the future cloud. A truly diverse discussion can only happen when the environment is such that all the questions are able to be asked.
On to the question of that panel at Cloud 2020: what sort of economic system should the future cloud model itself after? I’d like to suggest that we consider a subsistence or social economies, which have been used by centuries by indigenous societies. This is my first crack at explaining what’s in my head, and I’m running on zero sleep, so let’s see if this makes any sense. 🙂
First I want to define subsistence economy. I’m not talking about the familiar capitalistic definition of subsistence:
subsistence economy An agrarian economy based on production for consumption rather than exchange. Such economies are characterized by low levels of production, yielding a surplus capable of meeting little more than the basic necessities of life, and tend to be seen by development agencies as a major constituent of Third World poverty and a cause of underdevelopment.
The definition I have in mind is more of an indigenous view of subsistence:
“Subsistence is characterized by endless circulation of goods, services or other products. ….sometimes also called domestic production, follows the seasonal cycle of available resources….and it includes hunting, fishing, gathering, trapping, and ‘other activities which provide income in kind – food heat, clothing, shelter, and a variety of other subsistence goods and services’ consumed by and shared within the family and community.”
from Indigenous Economies, Theories of Subsistence, and Women Exploring the Social Economy Model for Indigenous Governance by rauna kuokkanen
Here’s another interesting definition:
Subsistence economy: An economic system wholly reliant on the self provisioning of the community. Wealth in a subsistence economy is measured in terms of natural resources. A subsistence economy relies on hunting and cultivation for food and surrounding trees for building shelter depending on the natural environment’s renewal and reproduction for survival (italics mine).
I’m wondering: is the cloud infrastructure akin to a natural resource? I think that makes sense. Increasingly, our identities and our citizenship are reliant on the digital assets that describe us. In fact, those digital assets can be collected and mined – and have a discreet monetary value. Shouldn’t individuals have a say in how the digital assets belonging to them are used? Stored? Transported? Made sense of?
What if wealth in this proposed cloud economy is the ability to own and control these digital assets? If we look at the cloud economy in this manner…would a subsistence economy be an appropriate choice in this case?
The Cloud 2020 panel that started this line of thinking was called The Economics and Use Case of Federated Clouds? The premise of that panel was that ” it goes against conventional wisdom that there will [only] be a handful of providers offering services”. I guess I’m questioning that “conventional” wisdom. And if it does play out that we have a couple of federated cloud providers – since we do live in a market-driven capitalistic society – what does that mean from a subsistence point of view? Isn’t what we”re calling cloud vital to every human on the planet….like the land, or water? Do we have a responsibility to society to make sure that all economic players are able to participate and guide the systems that host the worlds information, including those who use an indigenous world view?
As you can see I have way more questions that answers right now. Maybe one answer is that one or two players owning the cloud infrastructure is a really bad idea for the humans that will use the cloud.
What do yáll think?
Doing reading try to find the words to discuss this (which I think I need to refine a lot!), I’ve come to the conclusion that the entire idea of subsistence economies also play into the realities of women in tech today. But I’ll save that musing for another post.
I would possibly add to your definition, the notion of prosperity as a shared communal value where no one seeks or desires to have more than another but rather sees using whatever talents or strengths they possess to insure that the weakest are made equal. I believe the concept of A shared resource model more appropriately describes what has been mistakenly labeled as “subsistence.” In this model the natural resource is seen as having value in and of itself deserving of protecting for the long view and sustained common good. This model is inclusive, generous and relational rather than self serving and acquisition oriented. In that manner of thinking the cloud then becomes a common good that all of society has an equal share in using and no select group can possess any proprietary interest in. We do see that as a democratic value for some essential resources today, but the question seems to be will the cloud be seen as such a resource by enough people with the power to ensure that it remains available to all equally. Imagine a world where we have to buy water…..oops, maybe we have crossed the rubicon?