Friday, July 13, 2007

The future of business

Something I really want to do in my stories, but am not sure I'm qualified to do, is to address the way that business will change in the future.

I am not talking about what kinds of businesses there will be, like places that sell cold fusion drives or stardrive manufacturers. I am talking about changes in the way that trade, investment and risk will be handled a century or three from now.

Just as an example, my father is a (now semi-retired) commodities broker. The core of his business as a broker is/was helping grain elevators arrange grain futures options to hedge against a drop in prices that will destroy the value of their grain. Essentially the way this works is they buy an option that gives them the right to sell the grain at some future time at some predetermined price, meaning they can only lose so much if the price collapses.

But for this to be possible, there has to be an enormous market out there of people buying and selling grain futures, and options on futures, strictly on speculation of making a profit. Because options are so useful to businesses, now you can get futures and options on just about everything, from coffee to the Japanese Yen to bonds to electricity to the S&P average. Enormous markets exist, and fortunes are made and lost in these markets.

The business world today is full of incredibly complex financial instruments like futures options that did not exist a century ago that allow businesses to manage their risks and investment. What complex devices might become necessary if you're dealing with issues like delays that occur because of transferring money across light years, or the possibility that your factory might be devoured by nanomachines? (grey goo insurance?)

It seems like it would be difficult to deal with, because these devices are complicated and difficult to work into the plot without a lot of boring exposition. But it would be interesting if anyone is addressing the issue. Does anyone know about a writer that is doing this?


Matt Jarpe said...

This topic interests me, too. I tried reading up on Economics to get a better handle on how it all works so I could write "dismal science fiction" but it's a tough field to understand just reading a book. Richard Wadholm had a couple of stories in Asimov's on future economics, "Green Tea" and "At the Money." It doesn't look like he's gone any farther with those ideas, and his only novel is about Nazi zombies or something.

Cory Doctrow writes about a "post-scarcity" economy, which seems like an oxymoron to me, in "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom." I think he's on the right track, though, that attention and reputation are going to be noticably scarcer in the future as material goods become more available. On the other hand if we run out of oil before we set up a suitable replacement we're going to pass through a few decades of very noticably scarcity.

Jim Stewart said...

Matt, I have the same problem. It's extremely hard to understand, because usually any modern financial instrument is based on an understanding of something else which is based on an understanding of something else.

I agree with what you said about a post-scarcity economy too. With the human population growing exponentially, and our resources not getting any more common, it's more likely we're going to see the opposite.