TED talk: Rachel Botsman on Reputation Capital

I was disappointed, watching this 20 minute long TED talk, that Rachel Botsman did not once mention Whuffie, Cory Doctorow's reputation currency in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.  Still, she hit on all the important points -- and she approaches reputation capital from a slightly different angle. In Doctorow's book, reputation had become the medium of exchange because we had achieved post-scarcity -- there was enough stuff for everyone to have as much as they needed.  So value and priority was established, not by an individual's ability to leverage their scarce resources, but by their reputation among their peers and admirers (or enemies.)

In Rachel Botsman's talk, reputation currency isn't a solution for post-scarcity.  It's just a solution for the crappy, rapidly failing system of capital that we've been working with for the last few hundred years.  Technology having caught up to fill the gap in community between small villages and global societies, we can start the process of abandoning the debt-based medium of exchange we use now, and replace it with an inherently positive-sum reputation-based medium of exchange.

The thing I'm most optimistic about in her talk is the fact that she doesn't portray the change as some kind of violent overthrow, or organized and deliberate reshuffling of financial modes.  The reputation economy integrates smoothly into the debt economy in ways that, she points out, are already happening.  Your score on Stack Overflow can get you a job, your reputation on TaskRabbit can earn you work opportunities.  It occurs to me that reputation also figures into the success of Kiva microlending, whereby the reputation of the borrowers is how they get the capital to establish their own businesses and places in their communities.

Change is organic.  It's not easy, and I'm not sure it's possible, to get all of humanity to do something by insisting that it's important.  (Look at climate change.)  There have to be forces that push towards it, and in the case of a reputation economy, the forces of convenience and effectiveness are pushing cash and credit scores aside to make room for star-ranking on eBay and karma on Reddit.

Well, maybe not Reddit.

Aside: the implications of reputation economies on sociopaths

It occurs to me that a lot of horrible people are able to do horrible things because our economy as it exists now rewards them for it.  This thought doesn't really fit into the above post, but I think it's also worth noting that a reputation economy would be more likely to push down people who were likely to hurt others in pursuit of personal gain, which would organically mitigate the ill effects sociopaths would have on their communities, rather than magnifying them.