06 June 2010

Informal Insider-Knowledge

Has anyone else noticed how difficult it's become to find a knowledgeable person, employed by a product or service provider, to help you? I'm sure you've noticed that online you can answer just about any question you have. But have you also noticed how much time, you, the consumer spends on these tasks? There's this intellectual labor involved with living now, that wasn't there before.

Here are some examples. I spend quite a lot of time managing and understanding retirement investments. A person who's in a fixed pension scheme doesn't have to do this. They'll get $X no matter what's going on with the stock market before then. Then, with universal healthcare, there are far fewer decisions to make on one's own, and none of them have financial implications. And then, like lots of low income folks, my mother spends a lot of time managing her coupons, store cards, rebates, reward miles and such. Finally, with big purchases like homes, cars and TV's, there's lots to know, most of which is really complicated stuff.

The picture I see coming into focus involves the ways the rich (I'd include myself, my mother and most of my friends) get richer because of their capacity to do the intellectual labor we've all been saddled with. This capacity includes having time, having smarts or a some level of education, and having social capital. By rich I mean a person who has more assets than liabilities and who understands that both extend beyond finances, e.g., knowing how to prepare food from scratch is an asset, and that owning a car is a liability.

Developing one's informal insider-knowledge may be more valuable than getting a college degree in the future. It's one of those life skills for understanding and coping with the intellectual labor of participating in an increasingly market-driven social system.