By Richard Telofski , Contributor, US Daily Review
Yes, here is another story about the Internet and the economy. Now, please don’t roll your eyes, groan “Oh, I’ve heard this all before,” and then click away from this page. Please stay here because this article, this thought piece, will present a new and interesting idea; one that might even be scary and which may impact the way you run your business, and even your life, in the future. This idea will be one that I don’t think you’ve come across when previously reading about the Internet and the economy. This idea is about a fifth estate.
Didn’t I say this was a new idea?
And in order to explore this new idea, we’ll first need to discuss some dry facts.
Presentation of the Dry Facts
In “The Internet Economy in the G-20,” a report recently released by the well-known Boston Consulting Group (BCG), we learn that the number of Internet users worldwide currently stands at almost 2 billion. Of course we know that there are many people on the Internet. That’s not news. But 2 billion? Think about that number. Think about that number in context. 2 billion is an utterly amazing number because that represents about one-third of humanity. One-third. Furthering the amazement is the BCG forecast that in four short years, by 2016, the number of Internet-connected persons will swell to about 3 billion. Then, BCG says, that number will represent about half of the people on the planet. Half. When you think about that context, that number, it really makes an impression.
Also standing out in the report, BCG tells us that currently the Internet economy represents an average of 4.1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the G-20 countries. BCG expects that by 2016 the Internet economy will increase to an average of 5.3% of GDP in G-20 countries. Per BCG, the percentage of business driven by the Internet represents a significant portion of national income, and BCG expectations say that this significance will not abate in the near future.
Think about these numbers.
The End of the Dry Facts; Now It’s Time to Think
Now, think again, but this time more deeply.
When this is considered, that the Internet will soon connect half of humanity and will account for a significant and increasing portion of national economies, we could say that the population on the Internet can be regarded as a community, a growing community with influence. Perhaps we can even consider it as an estate of society.
What’s an estate of society? If you’re asking that question, you’re probably not European. The term “estates of society,” being rooted in European history, is more familiar to Europeans than Americans or Asians. So, for those unfamiliar with the term, here is a brief explanation.
The term “estate,” used in a social context, refers to a class of persons with political influence. Historically there are four estates in society. The first three estates are societal divisions that have evolved beginning in European medieval times. The first estate was the church; the second estate was nobility (which later through European history evolved into government); the third estate was everyone else, i.e. the common people. The third estate, the common people, was regarded as those who would serve and produce things for the other two estates.
Over time the third estate evolved and was subdivided into “burghers” (or the bourgeoisie) who came to be associated with mercantilism. The other subdivision of the third estate was the serfs. Eventually the third estate, both subdivisions, transformed into the commercial class or into what we refer to today, on all six inhabited continents, as business.
The fourth estate is a class of persons, possessing political influence, that is not as formally recognized within the first three estates. The fourth estate commonly refers to the news media. Certainly their influence in political matters cannot be disputed.
So, in the brief review of what an estate is, we see that it is a class of persons with political, as well as economic, power.
As Promised, Here Comes the New Idea
Hey. In the preceding paragraph, didn’t we just describe the Internet economy?
Certainly, by definition, that class of persons has economic power. This group influences free-market flows across national borders. And through their fingertips, via social media ad infinitum and even ad nauseum, this class of persons can and does exercise political power. Without question, the Internet economy exercises political power on the second estate, government (who can forget the “Arab Spring”?), and on the third estate, business (in terms of influencing the nature and types of products and services produced).
Is this Internet economy, this soon-to-be connected half of humanity, now the fifth estate?
As discussed above, the Internet economy fits the description of an estate of society. And the term “fifth estate” is currently unclaimed. Right now there is no commonly-accepted definition for a “fifth estate.”
So, let’s call the Internet economy by a term that is more descriptive of its true nature. Calling it an economy is by far too restrictive because that term does not consider the Internet economy’s political power potential in the free-market process. Let’s refer to it as the fifth estate.
Why The Fifth Estate is Important
But why is new terminology important to a concept that has been brewing in the background of our collective consciousness for a while?
It’s not just about terminology. Calling this class of persons the fifth estate is important because the name highlights the importance of this group in societal evolution, impressing on us its significance in society. It’s a significance to which we’ll need to attend.
Just as the first, second, third, and fourth estates constantly battle back and forth for influence in our lives so will this fifth estate enter into the perpetual dance. And just as we need to be ever-vigilant about not allowing any one of the four estates to become too powerful, about keeping them all in check with each other, we’ll need to be equally as vigilant so as not to let the fifth, or parts of the fifth, become too powerful.
And isn’t that what I promised you?
Richard Telofski is a competitive strategy and intelligence analyst. Formerly the president of one of the first competitive intelligence consultancies, Richard currently practices at The Kahuna Institute where he studies the effects of the anti-capitalism movement on business. He blogs about “The War on Capitalism” at www.Telofski.com.