The Off-Limits Economy

So much of business appears to be the creative application of a few simple rules. The same equations of supply and demand, revenues and investments, earn and pay brought to bear on as many aspects of daily life as creatively possible. But a recent spate of news stories recently reminded me that there’s a whole shadow side of the economy for which we don’t seem to have reliable rules. We don’t seem to quite know what to do with renegades.

In this case, the rogues are the adrenalin-addicted invincibles who scoot the orange tape at the ski slopes to dodge off-bounds cliffs and boulders at high speeds at (supposedly) huge personal risk. And what’s worse — and utterly appalling according to the radio-call-in, website-commentary crowd — is that they’re not the least bit repentant when they get into the kind of trouble for which they need professional help in extricating themselves. Shockingly, they claim that no personal danger, fine or even brighter orange tape will deter them from skiing out of bounds again in the future. It’s as though they feel entitled, rules be damned.

Of course, the media’s been bent on solutions (fines, arrests, maybe yellowtape), but there’s about as much chance of preventing the out-of-bounders to stay within the lines as there is of eradicating illegal downloading, spammers or metal thieves. This is the economy for which we have so few rules: the economy of renegades.

Downloaders use the Internet like back-country skiiers use ski lifts, like a phone-line thief uses a recycling depot: making use of just as much of the established system as suits them, and making their own rules when it doesn’t. If there’s one heartening note in the variety and persistence of these kinds of resisters, it’s that they prove there’s plenty of appetite left unserved in the economy.

It’s up to stalwart entrepreneurs to figure out how to deliver the thrill the out-of-bounders are looking for in a profitable way, how to tap the labour potential of shopping-cart recyclers and match the convenience of Those rules simply haven’t been written yet.