October 02, 2006
The Rising Tide of Knowledge Populism
I’ve recently thought about writing a book, or at least a few well placed articles, on the subject of knowledge populism, of which evidence is all around us.
Like political populism, which flourished in the US mid-west at the turn of the 20th century, the knowledge populism we see is surely a tricky subject-containing elements both malignant and glorious. It is a natural outgrowth of the world-wide democratization of knowledge and information that is roiling our world in so many ways.
In doing some reading for this subject for a dual talk Tom Davenport and I are doing later in the month, I found some books for you all worth commenting on.
The first is Infotopia, by Cass Sunstein who is a law school professor in Chicago, and is also what I’d call a "public intellectual" i.e. someone willing to talk on subjects outside the technical details of their field, someone actually worth listening to. This book is quite good – it’s short, interesting, and with a real knowledge perspective. Its main theme is the need for deliberation - space and time to deliberate. Sunstein is particularly interested in how many users using the web have the potential to create valuable new knowledge.
Another interesting tome, is by Yochai Benkler, yet another law school guy (this one at Yale – what’s with these guys?). This book is called The Wealth of Networks and is sub-titled How Social Production transforms markets and freedom.
I’m not at all sure about the power of his argument concerning freedom but his arguments about social production are cogent and interesting - if a bit dry and based on neo-classic economics - which is tidy but not real. The book, like Sunstein's, is well written and is also really about knowledge.
We are winning the race, fellow knowledge practitioners!
To butress this last point take a look at a World Bank report, released just a few months back called Where is the wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century.
While the bank researchers still conflate knowledge with human capital, at least they now acknowledge it as a powerful source of intangible wealth.
We have come quite a ways in this regard. Take a look at any economic reckoning of wealth just a few decades ago and there was no mention of any intangibles whatsoever. Now if we can only get accountants and finance people to see the light!! They will if they have Baruch Lev as a professor but he can’t teach everybody!
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