Late addition Advice for an age-gap baby
is a newspaper that is part tangible, part intangible. Some of the components that are needed to produce a newspaper like the JC— the paper, the printing presses, the desks and pens and computers for reporters and staff — can be touched and felt. Other bits, such as the design and branding and the ideas for articles, cannot.
The economist Jonathan Haskel contends that the intangible parts of the economy are becoming massively more significant than before. With Stian Westlake, Professor Haskel is co-author of the widely acclaimed Capitalism without Capital, a book described by a chap called Bill Gates as “eyeopening”.
In the past, the economy was driven by companies producing tangibles, steel and cars and desks and paper, for example. Now, the likes of Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Uber drive the global economy. Intangible investments don’t function in the same way. According to Prof Haskel they have four key characteristics —the 4 S’s, he calls them — which together represent a fundamental shift in how today’s economy operates.
First, intangibles are scalable. Once you’ve developed the software for Uber drivers in San Francisco, the same software can be used by drivers in London and Tel Aviv. Second, they involve sunk costs. If a car manufacturer goes bust the buildings can be flogged off. But if a software company goes under even after ploughing in massive investment in product development, there may be little left for the administrators to salvage. Third there are spillovers: an intangible investment can benefit not just the company that receives the money, but other companies too — Apple’s iPhone quickly created a whole smart-phone industry. And fourth intangibles exhibit synergies— they are more valuable together; think of the Harry Potter franchise, where stories start in books and then are adapted for theatre and film.
The implications of the new economy are many and include growing inequality— the victors in the intangible economy win more and they win more quickly. It’s remarkable to think that Facebook is only 15 years old. But the shift in the