When Eroding Social Capital Reduces Circulation in Local Economies
Why certain companies make such great bozos

Harry Potter and the circulation of markets

Titus' last post, focusing on circulation, gave an important look at how local economies can stagnate because of compartmentalized thinking and cultures. When people within larger communities self-stratify, narrowing their focus, they may create vibrancy within their own orbit but fail to benefit from the network value of tapping into others around them. The end result are cities like Los Angeles,which is as equally, if not more ethnically diverse than New York City, but because of dependence on cars limits cultural cross-pollination.

If politicians, businessmen, even community developers could take a look at the online world, they might learn something about prospering through eco-system iteration and extension. Take Google. It has no obvious branding campaign, but beyonds it ubiquity in search, it has grown into one of the world's biggest companies by inviting outside, non Google developers, to borrow its code and develop applications of their own. That they can indeed develop their own markets around. Google's code is intellectual property for which Microsoft - in a very different business model - might sue those same developers for using, thus limiting its broader usage. And that brings us to Harry Potter.

Yesterday it's author, J. K. Rowling, entered a New York City court to sue a 50-year old Michigan librarian, a man best described as a highly passionate fan of her creation. He didn't stalk her. He didn't fill her mailbox with disturbing letters. What he did was create an unofficial Harry Potter encyclopedia.

The New York Times described the man, Steven Jan Vander Arka, as having "the mild-mannered demeanor of Ron Weasley, and the intelligence, charm — and haircut — of Harry Potter." More from the Times article by Anemona Hartocollis

"On the witness stand in Federal District Court, he portrayed the famous writer as his idol, his true literary love, who had been unaccountably bewitched by the evil, money-grubbing forces of publishing, like one of Voldemort’s vassals. One day, he testified, Ms. Rowling was singling out his Harry Potter Lexicon Web site, out of “hundreds of thousands” of Potter fan sites on the Web, for praise; the next, she was accusing him of plagiarism for wanting to turn it into a book."

Rowling, apparently felt violated that one of her fans would generate something on his own that referred to something she had created. Was he going to make money from it? Definitely. Was she going to lose money from it? That's far from certain, and doesn't even to have ever entered the equation. Her lawsuit seemed to emanate half way between the author's personal sense of total authorial control over her creation and her corporate publisher's desire to control any potential profit.

Like Rowling, today's mainstream business and political world tend to be led by  a 20th century media models that reinforces command-and-control enterprise thinking. It's the same parochial outlook that leads people to silo what's possible in incorporating and integrating influences, but also in generating value. Rowling and her publisher could have found ways to profit from Steven Jan Vander Arka's own efforts to further build value around this book that is now a franchise. The problem is that as a franchise, it needs a lot of centralized control.

Similarly, if we think about local economies, indeed communities and neighborhoods, those that think of themselves as franchises stand the most chance of losing their generative values. Their ability to foster circulation. Concretely, think of gated communities or neighborhoods. Think of over-branded geographies. Think of cultures that are so inward looking that that they work only so far as they can isolate themselves from outside influences

Honestly, some such cultures and communities can maintain their own unique vibrancy that way. Think of the Amish. Or certain quaint towns where the charm would be threatened by "change." But even then, survival for such areas still requires an ability to serve as nodes in the eco-system of outsiders. Inevitably, their cultural and market health is dependent on that which surrounds them.

What excites me about Titus' "circulation" thoughts around markets and culture is this: thinking through today's economic downturn, not to mention global inter-dependence, we all could use sight lines or benchmarks to which we can see possible "fixes." Visions of ways to create more vitality in markets. Titus' ideas about circulation are powerful, as they give us all an ability to contribute to our local economy. Not by simply spending money at the local  "mom and pop" as  opposed  to some heavily branded retailer. Rather, it means circulating. Extending our human connections. Leveraging and growing our own local eco-systems. That's something that the fictional but virtually real Harry Potter could get.

How about you? Tell us what you think.

Jonathan Field

PS: Below is another creation inspired by Harry Potter. Though long, and unless you get the references, not all that interesting, it was watched over 3.5 million times on YouTube. That's circulation. And demonstrates the way ideas form cultures and markets. 


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