Economic growth: inclusive, green, no-cost.

Lifting the left-behinds

Access to markets has lifted millions out of poverty. POEMs (Public Official E-Markets) would push tentacles of economic opportunity into the lowest levels of an economy.



1) New pathways

POEMs can’t, by itself, conjure up steady jobs, better housing, and an end to prejudice. But it would offer broad, fluid, deep, exchanges fueled by a commercial need to increase each person’s earnings. That’s the opposite of current distorted labor markets. There would be key transitions in dynamics for the least well-off:

  • Distorting Secrecy to Supportive Transparency:

We are used to impenetrable algorithms slashing pay and protecting market operators. It’s easy to forget software could equally target upskilling offers, identify underused assets (including people), identify discrimnation, and build tailored pathways. In POEMs the code would be available for anyone to inspect.

  • Discouragement to Micro-engagement:

A life seeking job interviews, getting maybe one a month followed by rejection, should be only one model for labor market engagement. Another is to have constant flows of small parcels of diverse employment offered to work-seekers. A few hours’ work tomorrow creates hope and opens doors. It should promote engagement.

  • Standardized to Personalized:

Interventions, support models, and training could all be more tailored in POEMs. It would have data and tools to galvanize resources each person needs to unlock their potential. That may be a “Peer Navigator” (a local person trained to help others into the workforce), or a funded course in medical coding.

  • Intermediation to Relationship-building:

If someone books you in POEMs and then wants to move you onto their payroll, that could be a target outcome listed in the legislation. Going “off-platform” is a contractual offense or incurs fees in many of today’s labor platforms.

  • Bureaucracy to tailored assistance:

POEMs should be allowed to interface into rules and funds for public assistance. With anti-fraud protections embedded, it could be allowed to calculate then transfer a person’s entitlements week-to-week, possibly factoring in their real-time earnings and utilization in the system. They wouldn’t need to do anything.

All the above would be magnified if a “First Rungs” strategy is baked into the POEMs concession. This diverts commission on undesirable – but unavoidable – large transactions on the platform into a fund that grows market activity by bringing in users who need help to get going. That initial subsidy and tailored support can put anyone able to move to self-reliance on a ladder to increasing system earnings.


2) A modernized safety net

POEMs’ operators will want to run a comprehensive safety net. Public assistance generates small transfers, the system would be getting its cut of each, while remaining cheaper than current ways of dispersing welfare. Protections attract users, and pay-outs to the needy generate spending through the micro-economy. A safety net in POEMs would be built around:

  • “Flexi-curity”: Individuals who can have their full range of skills exploited are more resilient and adaptable when, for example, market signals show first signs of declining need for a particular type of work.
  • Portable benefits: Infinite providers of financial services could compete to provide sickness cover, unemployment insurance, and other protections alongside government. POEMs would handle hour-by-hour deductions, pay-outs, and verifications.
  • Early interventions: Peer navigators, workers trained to support labor-market strugglers, can be a low-cost and quickly responsive solution for someone without work. Government agencies or charities might allocate, perhaps, 10 one-hour sessions to a client through POEMs.
  • Guaranteed Work: Public agencies could set aside budgets each year for entry level tasks such as maintaining public spaces. Any citizen is entitled to, say, 15 hours of this work a week for up to three months. Immediately they proved reliability, POEMs could start constructing steppingstones up.
  • Palatable welfare: If politicians demanded conditionality, POEMs could administer the rules more humanely than alternatives. For example, payments could be conditional on the user having listed a minimum 25 hours of availability for work last week and successfully completed all bookings or job interviews that POEMs then offered within a 5 mile radius. Cash transfers would then be automatic and fully verifiable.

We have a more detailed briefing about POEMs and the safety net. The system is neutral infrastructure, responding to levers. It can efficiently power a range of government interventions aimed at racial or gender equality.


3) Lifelong learning ladders

POEMs extends the reach of education. Take the case of Ah Wing, 43, singled out as a case study of poverty in Hong Kong. A garbage collector, he works until midnight, 7 days a week. Life is about survival with no time for progression. With POEMs, how might his educational outlook change?

POEMs’ operators and intermediaries would be incentivized to increase his hourly earnings because they get a fixed cut. An intermediary might start by credentialing his life experience: he has raised children, lived rough, done heavy lifting in all weathers. Each of those can be formalized in POEMs’ uniquely granular datapoints, with the intermediary putting their brand behind him.

With his potential captured, POEMs knows which sectors and geographies need workers, and which entry level skills would help. If he goes part time on the garbage to try selling hours in POEMS, the system will know times he is available for work but hasn’t been booked. This downtime is when he can be scheduled to learn without losing income.

Educators might adopt “fluid faculty”; renting classrooms and hiring teachers when enough students were available. This could exploit the downtime of thousands of Hongkongers each day with training funded by government, philanthropy, or industry.

Credentials, designed around local market needs, could each be gained in a few hours, but assembled into formidable qualifications. Once reliability is proven, companies have every incentive to fund inductions to get targeted workers ready for their peak staffing needs, or they might try tempting reliable individuals out of POEMs into a job. Assuming a user stays connected to POEMs, even when working full time, this rolling re-education need never stop.


4) Unlocking Total Economic Potential

It’s currently a challenging notion, but mono-skilled dependency on one organization – aka “a job” – may not always offer the best security for life. POEMs can unlock an array of personalized economic opportunities for each user. Take a single mom, 30, currently employed as a duty manager in a supermarket. She has a job, which many commentators would regard as economic fulfillment. But, like so many of today’s workforce, her hours and income are unpredictable, and chances of meaningful promotion are negligible.

POEMs would be ready to exploit as much of her economic potential as she wished. Perhaps she had training as a first aider in the past. She has a hairdressing licence and did pre-Christmas mail sorting. POEMs can seamlessly also connect her to businesses looking for these skills.

And her life story will have given her more general abilities; computer literacy, childcare, home decorating. Combined with POEMs’ datastreams this creates her potential skills; in-demand worktypes that she only needs a bit more learning to offer.

Then there’s community services she could provide; an unused parking place or storage in her father’s shed. What possessions might she profitably rent? A former partner’s workwear? Her kid’s old teaching aids? Does she have spare cash to lend, even if only in $10-for-a-day increments? Does she need micro-insurance or special kit to exploit other talents? Are there interventions with which POEMs could align her?

None of this would ever be obligatory. But POEMs’ operators would have a compelling need to see she makes as much as possible. If she wants to do that by progressing to more stable employment, POEMs will help. But the system sees her as so much more than just her job.


5) An economic stake

POEMs pushes local people together, unintermediated by the business model of global brands. A world of localized interactions with individuals retaining almost all their earnings, supported, free to innovate, and able to cultivate regular customers or employers – any of which can develop into an off-platform relationship – is likely to see diminished alienation. Each person will have a tangible stake in their local economy.

This could reach through barriers like urban “enclave economies”; geographic clusters of businesses united by ethnicity. Someone may chose to remain working as, for example, a kitchen porter in Chinese restaurants; but if they do so through POEMs and keep their system settings open, the wider world could soon start offering to upskill and widen their options.

By empowering people who earn fluidly, POEMs should benefit all workers, just as unionization is reported to lift even those who aren’t members. Unchallenged, for-profit hourly labor markets commoditize and devalue workers, which drives down the value of all labor. POEMs reverses the commoditization. There will still be minimum-wage workers, but they will be on a ladder and the willing ones should move up more quickly than before.

POEMs would be funded and owned by multinationals, because few other entities have the resources and robustness required. But each market within it should be run by a responsive local franchisee. It’s hard to quantify, but the new facility might  then engender an empowering regional pride much as Brits share a sustained enthusiasm for their National Health Service.


Greening the micro-economy