Several decades ago, William Tenn wrote a science-fiction story in which alien creatures, interstellar traders, claimed on their business cards to be “dealers in intangibles”. Professor Danny Quah of the London School of Economics argues that doing that is now the only option open to developed societies that want to continue to increase their standard of living. He has given it the name weightless economy, in reference to economic activity whose value does not lie in a physical end-product. Examples are intellectual property such as ideas and designs, computer software, entertainment products, telecommunications, and better ways to transmit information, all of which he calls dematerialised products or, putting it another way, intangibles. Success in such a weightless economy comes from being able to organise and manipulate information in ways that generate extra value and is closely linked to success in applying information technology. One implication is that it is only those people with the right skills and aptitudes that can make the transition to this happy state, which will leave a lot of people outside in the cold.
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