Thursday 7 January 2021

Scale of economies

 I never studied Economics, which probably accounts for a lot - it's something I've sort of muddled through and picked up as I've gone along. We touched on socialism and capitalism as systems for how production, distribution and consumption work at school, in History, and since then I've become aware of the various variants on and hybrids of these basic models. Overall, how resources are managed and value, in terms of goods, services and quality of life is produced.

Throughout my working life, various expressions including the word "economy" have come in and out of vogue. When I started work, in the 1980s, there was a lot of talk about how we were moving from a production economy to a service economy, and as we moved into the 1990s, chatter about the information economy and the attention economy was all the rage. There's still plenty of chit-chat about the latter.

Moving on to the next millennium and, in the wake of advertising agencies re-inventing themselves, up popped the ideas economy and the experience economy. Whether "economy" was exactly the right word for these concepts, or whether "current obsession" might have been more honest, is debatable. 

In the last few years, I've been aware of the ideas of the circular economy (sensible), the gig economy (euphemism) and the purpose economy (hmmm).

What's interesting is that many of these ideas are still circulating, and I think it's yet another example of less neat and tidy "from - to" and more cumulative, with everything piling on top of each other.

My prediction for this year is for two more economies to join the merry band. There's the wellness economy for starters. I thought we'd done and dusted wellness fifteen years ago, but it's back with a Covid-propelled vengeance, fanned by the flutterings of self-care, it seems. 

And the other rising star is the identity economy (I can hear the groans from here). There's all sorts of self-improvement and personal growth gubbins attached to this one - "brand me", "being the best version of yourself" (I've often wondered - in whose eyes?), "authentic self-discovery" and "life as an identity project."

But maybe the part brands can play in the super shiny identity economy is not so new. If it's all about the question "who can X brand help me to become?",  then my thoughts go all the way back to saving up my money aged 13 to buy a Ben Sherman shirt.

Brands have always been expressions of status and identity, even if what we mean by those terms may change.


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