The Butterfly Economy

In January 2020, I wrote a comment on Hacker News that said in part:
When your caterpillar morphs into a butterfly, harping on how your butterfly is "failing to thrive according to standard, well-established caterpillar metrics used globally for the past thousand years and certified as super duper accurate for caterpillars by many respected institutions." is basically gibberish ...
This inspired me to start a blog named Butterfly Economy which is about the idea that we have a new economy emerging. I believe this new economy fits hand-in-glove with a trend back towards more people living in smaller communities.

This hypothesis seems to have been validated by some of the trends seen during the pandemic. In the past eighteen months, remote work became the hot new thing in a big way and some folks chose to relocate to smaller communities, at least temporarily.

Between climate change and new tech, change is afoot. We can either live in denial, fight it tooth and nail and make things harder than necessary or we can embrace change and actively look for ways to capitalize on those changes and help ease the transition.

I'm trying to do the latter for myself and also trying to help foster that for other people.

In addition to the idea that the new economy is fundamentally different from the old, here is some of what I mean by the Butterfly Economy:
  • It's information-dense and favors lightweight solutions.
  • It has the potential to empower "the little guy" and give ordinary people access to rights and privileges previously almost exclusively found among the very wealthy.
  • It has the potential to foster a people-centered work model in place of people being wage slaves.
  • It has the potential to let more people be free to live where they choose.
I once saw a photo of an old building in Europe with flying buttresses of varying sizes. Some were much heavier than others.

The original architect was very talented and he had designed the building with very lightweight, slender flying buttresses. So the part built during his lifetime was built with these slender flying buttresses.

But the building wasn't completed in his lifetime. Whomever completed it after he died was less knowledgeable and did not feel confident that these slender buttresses would actually work, so the later buttresses got beefed up.

That in a nutshell is the value of injecting more knowledge and intelligence into a system: You can do more with less if you are more knowledgeable.

The existence of the internet is the single biggest injection of information into the global economy that has ever existed and it is revolutionizing how we do things. I think this means it is possible to improve quality of life for the masses without accepting that this inevitably means ruining the environment.

It's harder to do two things at the same time than to do one thing exclusively, but that doesn't mean you can't do both. However, you probably aren't going to do both if you don't set it as an explicit goal. That doesn't mean you can't indulge yourself or live well. As just one example, we have the unprecedented ability to hold an entire personal library in the palm of our hands without having to devote an entire room of a sprawling residence to books.

I think it's a false dichotomy to insist that we can either be good stewards of the earth or live well. I think we can shrink our carbon footprints while pursuing the good life.

We just need to reimagine what the good life looks like and how we measure it.

Caterpillars eat and eat and eat and eat, storing up energy for their metamorphosis. In comparison, butterflies eat very little -- some eat nothing -- and are also free to fly rather than crawl.

It's time to stop eating our world and start flying.*

* (Metaphorically, at least. Airplane trips aren't very eco-friendly.)

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