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A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2011

Venkat Rao has written a fascinating post on the history of the corporation and, in his estimation, the end of the Golden Age of corporations. From Fareed Zakaria, here’s a small taste of what the corporations helped do in the West:

We get a much clearer picture of the real standing of countries if we consider economic growth and GDP per capita. Western Europe GDP per capita was higher than that of both China and India by 1500; by 1600 it was 50% higher than China’s. From there, the gap kept growing. Between 1350 and 1950 — six hundred years — GDP per capita remained roughly constant in India and China (hovering around $600 for China and $550 for India). In the same period, Western European GDP per capita went from $662 to $4,594, a 594 percent increase.

But in the future, corporations will find it more difficult to achieve such easy growth:

Attention behaves the same way. Take an average housewife, the target of much time mining early in the 20th century. It was clear where her attention was directed. Laundry, cooking, walking to the well for water, cleaning, were all obvious attention sinks. Washing machines, kitchen appliances, plumbing and vacuum cleaners helped free up a lot of that attention, which was then immediately directed (as corporate-captive attention) to magazines and television.

But as you find and capture most of the wild attention, new pockets of attention become harder to find. Worse, you now have to cannibalize your own previous uses of captive attention. Time for TV must be stolen from magazines and newspapers. Time for specialized entertainment must be stolen from time devoted to generalized entertainment.


Each new pocket of attention is harder to find: maybe your product needs to steal attention from that one TV obscure show watched by just 3% of the population between 11:30 and 12:30 AM. The next displacement will fragment the attention even more. When found, each new pocket is less valuable. There is a lot more money to be made in replacing hand-washing time with washing-machine plus magazine time, than there is to be found in replacing one hour of TV with a different hour of TV.

We Work Remotely

The 2000s, summed up

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2009

Momus is first out of the gate with a summary of the 00s, what he calls a “mister narrative of the decade”…a one-man master narrative.

Other things that looked dead or dying this decade: I personally stopped going to the cinema. Why sit behind someone’s head in a fleapit when you can download all you need to see and project it at home? Copyright effectively died, overtaken, de facto, by events on the internet. Magazines and newspapers ended the decade looking very unhealthy indeed, although books seemed strong. Young people got a lot less interested in cars, leading some to label Japan a post-car society. Detroit pretty much collapsed. The polar ice caps melted rapidly; climate change is a fact. Banks — having invented what they thought were clever ways to spread risk around, and play with planet-sized sums of entirely fictional money — looked pretty shaky.

Embedded in Momus’s post is a video called Rise of the Rest, the title of which was borrowed from Fareed Zakaria.

From the video:

In ten years, the number one English speaking country in the world will be USA India China.