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Adam Davidson

ADAM DAVIDSON is the cofounder of NPR's Planet Money podcast and a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he covers economics and business. Previously he was an economics writer[…]

ADAM DAVIDSON: I think a lot of people don't realize that he world we have lived in for the last hundred years is just a blip in human experience, that it started to feel just normal that people work in big companies, people have things called a job and a career path and that people make more money in their forties than they did in their twenties. And they'd make even more money in their sixties and that kids make more money than their parents did. And that there's this sort of general sense of progress. That's this weird little thing that happened to happen in the twentieth century and really would have been seen as utterly confusing and unlike basic human nature at almost any other time in history.

And there's a lot that was wonderful about that blip. It really transformed the world. Far fewer children died in infancy. Mothers didn't die giving birth. People lived much longer lives, they had more to eat, they had more comforts. Things like pain relievers. Things like international travel, international communication. All the things that we associate with the modern world came about because of the widget economy. Because of that blip.

But we're now shifting away from the widget economy into a new kind of economy. So what fueled that growth in the twentieth century was the mass production of the same sort of thing, getting better and better and making the same stuff faster and faster, cheaper and cheaper and getting it to more places. And that is a form of growth that is revolutionary. It's more growth than ever existed by far anytime in human existence. But it is about sameness. It's about turning people into variations of the same thing. You have a job. It has a title. You have to suppress who you are to satisfy the needs of that job. Products are not designed to match some particular person's unique interests and passions. Coca Cola is for everyone everywhere on earth. Ivory soap is for everyone everywhere on earth.

And this new economy, the passion economy, it comes out of the widget economy but I see it in most ways as a real advance, a progression from the widget economy where the secret to growth, the secret to economic opportunity is not making the same thing billions of times as quickly and cheaply as possible, but creating special things that only some people want but they want a lot. They want it in a way that nobody wanted the widgets of the widget economy. And that is a totally different structure of an economy.

It means probably still having some big organizations but also a lot more smaller companies, entrepreneurial companies. It means a much more chaotic but I think ultimately probably more satisfying career path where you're not just junior ad sales and then you're ad sales and then you're senior ad sales and then you're manager of ad sales. But rather as you're finding your unique passions and the things that you uniquely provide your career might kind of bounce around a little bit. You'll be finding who you are, who your customer is, who your audience is. And it won't be quite as linear. I do think overall for people to understand and embrace the passion economy it will be better. You'll make more money in concrete terms but I think it will be more chaotic, a little more confusing, a little more confounding at least according to the rules we have because the rules we have are the ones that were made for the widget economy. And this economy is wildly different.