The World After Capital

I've been reading Albert Wenger's blog for around a decade, so I was excited to read his book The World After Capital. The premise is rather bold: we are exiting the Industrial Age in which the key scarcity was capital and entering a new epoch, one Albert calls the Knowledge Age, in which the key scarcity is attention. In previous transitions (i.e. Forager > Agrarian > Industrial) things were not smooth (e.g. lots of violence, death, tumult, etc.), and Albert proposes that our transition to the Knowledge Age need not follow suit. In order to do so we must invest in three types of freedoms for everyone: economic, informational, and psychological.

If you're interested in reading the book you can do so here. Albert shared it on GitBook which is the first time I've used the service. He also tweeted the TLDR version if you want to quickly get a sense for the major themes.

There were a lot of things that stood out to me. For one, Albert is rather audacious in his proclamations and I like that. This is a book about how to exit the Industrial Age by following a high-level roadmap for how we should evolve as a global society - that's an undertaking that requires a certain level of confidence and a broad set of knowledge to do well. Several topics that I suggest digging into:

  • We are terrible at allocating our attention. We need to do a better job at this, but the Industrial Age Job Loop will be difficult to escape.

  • The Knowledge Loop is an extraordinarily powerful concept. It should inspire everyone to share more. This has given me immense appreciation for the blogs I've read that have impacted the course of my entrepreneurial career like Albert's, Fred Wilson's (USV in general), and Chris Dixon.

  • If you're a fan of UBI, Albert goes to great lengths to demonstrate how this is the cornerstone of economic freedom. I'd have liked to see him talk about other concepts here, too, such as the federal job guarantee espoused by MMT advocates.

  • Albert's words on Privacy as something that is "fundamentally incompatible with technological progress" will likely push you way out of your comfort zone. That’s good.

For me personally, one of the big takeaways is how venture capital can be an entrepreneurial tool for systemic change. While reading the book you'll notice that there are plenty of references made to portfolio companies. At first glance, it may seem like a plug and that perhaps some of the themes are shaped around the USV portfolio. However, if you've followed the history of USV and the knowledge the partners at the firm have disseminated, you'll know that the inverse is true: the portfolio follows the themes and theses. To me, this is such a powerful concept.

As an entrepreneur, I've spent my entire professional career focusing on solving one problem at a time. It's a lot of fun and unbelievably rewarding when you get to help people. One thing you have is control: ultimately, you are responsible for success and/or failure. As a VC you relinquish that control to the entrepreneur, but if you are thoughtful enough you are able to support many different problem-solving threads that can tie together to create thematic change across the world, perhaps even by strengthening economic, informational, and psychological freedom as the catalyst to a peaceful transition to a new era. This is not to say this is what VC is broadly - I think 99% of firms and investors are not this and simply focus on investing in good businesses/entrepreneurs in their areas of expertise to generate returns - but it is what it can be, and that can be world-changing. 

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