if capital is an alien invasion from the future, the first thing needed is a way to see it, to measure it, since it evidently eludes us and appears as the history of capitalism. what we need is an index.
taking capital to be a process such as biological life, measuring its formation (intensification) should probably follow a similar logic.
a first immediate index to life’s formation is simply how much matter is trapped in the form of biological entities. a biomass index is readily available in fact.
given a certain mass, intensification is tracked by the alterations in that mass, so that an index of proliferation (reproductive success or fitness) makes itself necessary.
finally, probably due to the cosmic calculation problem, life intensifies also in how complex a metabolism is, so that it can miniaturise and thus function at a deeper time scale. (there are many complexity measures, all of them roughly represent the same insight: more degrees of freedom (more fine indirect expenditure of energy over a certain time for the same quantity of mass), but the network theory measure (number of paths in a graph) is the most amenable to the socio-economic dynamics that, as i’ll propose below, track capital formation. also, it’s only expected that a cybernetic intensification such as capital be described asymtoptically (i.e., teleologically). using Big-O notation can be useful when tackling capital’s complexity. Land, of couse, expects – by Moore’s Law – that capital’s complexification rate be O(2^n), that is, exponential on base two.)
taking this view, a list of three indexes to capital formation can be made:
- capital’s mass index, relative to total earthly mass (at least);
- capital’s reproduction or proliferation rate (arguably the trickies to spot);
- capital’s complexification rate
these will be the xenoeconomist’s primary tools to see the alien they’re hunting.
in mainstream economics, are there any indexes to which these can be roughly mapped? I initially thought of something in the lines of:
- gross world’s wealth estimate
- gross world’s growth rate
- technological innovation rate
but i have no idea if economists are tracking any of those things.
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in a related thought, what if, taking Land’s lead, we are to think of capital as a collection of individual urban centers, such as life is a collection of individual organisms? then, i think, we get a little less tangled. we could use indexes of urban development to track capital formation. a rough and provisional mapping would be, respectively:
- urbanisation rate (% of people in urban centers)
- city proliferation rate (first derivative of the urbanisation rate in relation to time)
- average city complexification rate
Vincent Garton has pointed to me the first obvious objection to this urbanomist approach: it apparently ignores the deployment of capital in agriculture, which would be inconvenient, given the “green revolution”. a rejoinder could possibly be developed along the lines Land’s already touched upon here: it’s cities that provide big and stable enough markets so that industrial agriculture can develop, thus capturing one is already implicitly capturing the other. a better formalization of this is, surely, wanted.
a very interesting paper on China’s megalopolisation, made me think that megalopolisation could be another good proxy for the second metric, of city proliferation, since it’s a doubling down of urbanization (cities going to cities). but possibly it could be better captured by city complexity rates. i totally think Land’s theory of mega-cities as AI bodies gets traction in seeing the maps of megalopolises.
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since we’re talking about measuring a cybernetic intensification, this Wikipedia compilation of measures of “Accelerating change” can be quite useful.