The Intangible Economy

A recent book entitled Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake claims to be “The first comprehensive account of the growing dominance of the intangible economy”.  The authors:

bring together a decade of research on how to measure intangible investment and its impact on national accounts, showing the amount different countries invest in intangibles, how this has changed over time, and the latest thinking on how to assess this. They explore the unusual economic characteristics of intangible investment, and discuss how these features make an intangible-rich economy fundamentally different from one based on tangibles.

The intangible economy is indeed important and something that requires much more thought and application in the business world, but to confine the intangible to the “accepted” Western norms is not enlightening at all.

While Haskel and Westlake raise some tough questions about the “modern age of intangibles”, this is laughable, perhaps it would help if they re-read Adam Smith, Volume One, they would realise it is an ancient problematic. In the Western enlightenment, specifically the Anglo-Western experience of it, the rejection of cultural tradition, and religious sources of explaining the world, inspired some thinkers to the separate the spiritual from the physical tangibles.  The Islamic enlightenment however did not follow the Christian Western world in this pursuit, which is why Muslim economists speak confidently of the economy as an expression of the divine will of Allah.

There is no evidence that when Māori leaders invited, and brought, Rev. Samuel Marsden to the Bay of Islands they bought into the Anglo-Western separation of the Divine Will from economic and business endeavour. Hongi Hika, Hone Heke and other rangatira wanted access to the tangibles of Christianity.  I find in discussions on development goals and the Māori Economy with Māori leaders’ the conversation is inclusive of the two worlds, and the intangible and material, is considered the norm. And, this norm was found in similar seminars in Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia – i.e. Samoa, Palau, PNG, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Marquesas and so forth.

In many respects this conversation takes us to the heart of Kawa-Tikanga Māori preoccupations.  The meaning we give, or as we explore meaning helps us understand development goals on our terms.  I attended a seminar over the weekend in Horeke, where in 1840 3,000 local Rangatira and their people met to discuss Te Tiriti.  We discussed ways and means of defining, naming, and including spiritual capitals in annual financial audits of commercial and social enterprises.  This is the real intangible economy.

One Comment

  1. Abigail McClutchie

    Such an interesting conversation Manuka. Our rangatira -entrepreneurial leaders at the time certainly were managing both high level economic, social, spiritual and political decisions as well the more day to day practical ones.


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