Prights: Rights Delivered as Products

November 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Sharing Economy

Take a minute and listen to US President FDR calling for an Economic Bill of Rights in 1944 to provide prosperity and security for all. It’s refreshing and inspiring. Unlike most people in government today, he speaks plainly, forthrightly and without qualifiers. The first, and most important, right he calls for is “The right to a useful and renumerative job that earns one enough to pay for food, clothing and recreation”. He also calls for ” Rights to decent housing, medical care and education”.

The bulk of the economic rights FDR called for seem less likely to be delivered by most governments today than in his time. Declarations of rights often require foresight and courage. But, that’s the easy part. The hard part is provisioning the right in the real world so that people can actually take advantage of it.

In the 65 years since FDR’s call, many millions of products have been delivered by companies. Some of these products, especially in the last 8 years,  have become ubiquitous and mostly free. They’ve essentially made certain rights real in practice. All they lack is a legal declaration. We call these “product rights”, or prights. Some examples follow:

Product Right
Skype The right to talk to anyone anywhere.
The right to private digital communication.
MIT Open Courseware
The right to a world class undergraduate curriculum.
Google Books
The right to access the world’s largest library.
Grameen Bank
The right to entrepreneurial capital at reasonable rates.

Of course, most of these prights, in turn, depend upon one having a broadband connection. Which, itself, has been declared a human right in France and a legal right in Finland. We see these declarations by France and Finland as excellent examples of polivation; smart public policy that drives innovation to benefit everyone. We predict that a right to bandwidth will spread globally in the years to come, as policy makers understand that access to bandwidth underpins many of the prights which their people want.

We’ve noticed that the difference between a right and a wrong, or a pright and a prong comes down to how things get shared. So, for example, the pright, Grameen Bank, emphasizes relationship and charges a reasonable interest rate for a loan. By contrast, the prong, Pay Day lenders, often charge triple digit interest, resulting in earners at the low end transferring many multiples of what they’ve borrowed upwards. When FDR speaks of a “useful and renumerative job that earns one enough to pay for food, clothing and recreation”, he’s speaking about a pright dynamic.

What happens when sharing is built into earning, like interest is built into lending? Would that help shift us from a debt economy to a sharing economy faster? What happens when datapoints provided by you are used to continuously and automatically discover, plan or create your next job (or education), so your livelihood is never interrupted? Would that help make the economy more stable?

Prights such as these help move the world closer to FDR’s vision. But, there’s no formal mechanism like political parties and voting by which we can call for them. So, if you like prights, support them with at least the same enthusiasm you may have given Obama or McCain; because the global constitution is being written in code (software), and we need a global Bill of Prights to go with it.