Words Worth

Sorry for the puny title. I was thinking about the value of writing, and of "literature," in our world. Lets call it another post in my sporadic ongoing series of amateur theoretical economics posts. Or something.

The overriding theme of this series has centered on thinking about ways to build business models in a way that represents an authentic (and sustainable) concept of the generation of wealth. Basically, to recognize that wealth is created through the exchange of goods and services which themselves have physical costs, rather than through the exchange of money. Business models which are primarily profitable because they're designed to cause money to pass through someones hands (who can charge interest on it,) seem flawed from beginning to end. Business models that seem to increase wealth without creating something or doing something in the world, seem fraught with problems.

So then, writing.

Writing is, I thing (inspite/because of my obvious bias) something valuable, and something that has worth, but I don't think the source of its worth is particularly clear. A lot of literary types are convinced of writing's power to effect change in the world. Aside from rhetoric (essays, etc.), fiction is a powerful vehicle for cultural critique, and for stimulating thought and wonder in any of a number of areas. Writing provides groups of people with shared experience ("Did you read that book? What did you think?") and which is certainly socially productive.

But that's not business, or at least that doesn't suggest some sort of sustainable business model. Long term social value doesn't translate into a publishing industry that can sustainably fund the efforts/lives of writers. In a larger frame of reference, we should be able to fund and support the lives and efforts of artists without much trouble. In a sustainable way.

I've been thinking about trying to tie some sort of notion of sustainability into this evolving economic theory. In one respect economies which value worth, are necessarily sustainable. On the other hand, I totally recognize the logical inconsistencies with saying "art has abstract worth, so we should value it; investment banking has abstract worth, so we should abandon it."

Also in this nexus of ideas, I've been playing with another concept (in a story, of course) regarding how much (and what kind) of work is required to keep a society fed/clothed/healthy decreases with regards to effort and time. Technology is a powerful thing, and it means, fewer people have to farm (per acre) to grow enough food to feed everyone, better/more efficient refrigeration means less food gets wasted. Better shipping technology means we can centralize tasks. All this filters into "less energy spent on survival" and thus more energy spent on more... abstract... endeavors. Supporting writers, hell supporting everyone, is an increasingly logistical problem.

I'm not sure that this translates, very well, into some understanding of busiess models for folks who do work in more "abstract" markets. I do know, (and have talked at some length here) several things about the business model for writers today: It turns out that bloggers are most successful (it seems) when their "blog" functions as advertising for "actual" work in some other arenas. That's not a bad thing, and really I think "real writers" have a similar gig. From everything I can gather, "Authors" make money from speaking engagements, book signings, academic contracts, and the like. Just as a blog serves to create a market; a book contract serves to create authority. The business model works for a certain class of writing people, but I don't know how generalizable or future looking this might be.

And maybe that's part of the worth of fiction, of writing in general, and of my work in general: if we have any chance to explore these sorts of ideas, theories, and potentials, it's going to be with the help of researchers who write about their findings, essayists who synthesize information in novel ways, and the fiction/literary writers who explore the implications and possibilities.

Onward and Upward!

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