Rory Sutherland Rory Sutherland

The Wiki Man: The obsession with things

I’m off to California next week to visit relatives in Los Angeles, but we are flying into Phoenix first.

I’m off to California next week to visit relatives in Los Angeles, but we are flying into Phoenix first.

I’m off to California next week to visit relatives in Los Angeles, but we are flying into Phoenix first. I love Phoenix for quite a few reasons, not least the Botanical Gardens and the Frank Lloyd Wright home at Taliesin West. But best of all is the sneaky right-wing thrill you get from driving into Scottsdale along a handsome road called Goldwater Boulevard, named after the libertarian Arizona senator and presidential candidate Barry.

If you have libertarian inclinations (and I do), you’ll find yourself in good company online. Self-declared libertarians seem rather more at home on the internet than in the real world, and among bloggers and online commentators support for social and economic freedoms is far more prevalent than in print. There is even an extraordinary blog (calulmann.com, since you ask) called ‘Where hiphop and libertarianism meet’.

Given the entrepreneurial feats achieved online, this free-market enthusiasm isn’t altogether surprising. The only problem is that certain aspects of the digital economy actually show the invisible hand as being slightly arthritic.

The problem arises, I think, with Darwin. We have evolved with an inner bias which gives us a high readiness to pay for tangible, scarce things which we can hold and own outright — while we tend to undervalue those things which are ethereal, abundant and enjoyed communally. For the first few million years of our existence, this instinct made sense. But in a digital, networked world, it may cause us to misdirect our spending.

Digital music is perhaps the starkest example of this bias.

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