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CHAPTER VI - Conclusion


The basic story of e-commerce and electronic payment systems today is a story of great ferment fueled by open networks and digital innovation—a familiar drama being played out in many sectors of the economy, government and culture. It is hard to argue with the efficiencies and conveniences that new open platform systems are providing. But neither does that mean that incumbent players welcome the disruptions that radical innovations such as Bitcoin and M-Pesa are bringing to mainstream commerce. Government regulators are charged to act as proxies for certain collective social and economic interests that markets may not be able to deliver—yet regulators (and legislators, for that matter) are themselves challenged in making sense of the confusing menagerie of tech innovations, business models and social practices. Governance itself is in desperate need of innovation.

There are some provocative proposals, such as the ones offered by Clippinger and Green, to develop new sorts of network-native systems of tech design that would embed governance into the systems themselves. This could enhance citizens’ ability to act on their own interests, reduce the need for cumbersome command-and-control regulation and improve business compliance. But would the hosts of legacy systems and government embrace such a radical transformation in governance? The truth is that there are few graceful ways to navigate a paradigm shift, and most are not ushered in by choice. Large, powerful incumbents usually do not welcome disruptions of existing infrastructure, investments and business practices. Smaller players may be buoyed by the power of open networks and digital innovation, but still hamstrung by their smaller size and the barriers of incumbent systems.

The challenge ahead, then, may be in finding ways to overcome the tendencies of inertia and stasis, and to show leadership in the face of great ongoing tumult, much of it only partially understood. It is an open question from whence this leadership will emerge—government, incumbent players, new tech startups, foreign greenfields—and how the new paradigm(s) will manifest themselves. But there is little question that the drama of e-commerce, payment systems, labor marketplaces and related sectors has not yet played out.

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