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Meta-Commerce is an intellectual and collaborative attempt to chart the path to the future of finance. It aims to set the critical questions finance is facing. A contemporary version of David Hilbert's 23 questions for mathematics, Meta-Commerce looks to engage thought leaders and shape the research agenda on financial practices and systems in the long term.

These 78 questions, encompassing economics, finance and society, are a first attempt to map the road to Long Finance and contribute to its overarching goals - to expand frontiers, change systems, deliver services and build communities. These questions should be seen as a starter set which should be expanded, trimmed, combined and reworked.

The Questions

Long-Term vs. Short-Term

1) Is there long term asset alignment, e.g. pensions and mortgages, or divergence?
2) The benefits of diversification – how rapidly do these benefits decay with time?
3) With household savings rates below 2.5% in the USA and below 3% in the UK, large numbers of people seem to have realised that saving is a bad deal in the long-term - the reward for financial prudence is to get shafted by the majority who don’t save - so why save when you just pay more tax and lose utility?
4) What are the implications of long-term asset valuation e.g. can one be made? Is there an interaction between valuation periods and volatility?
5) When should you be short-term?
6) Life expectancy and its implications on financial decisions?
7) Creating demand for the long-term
8) Extending the Economist’s Felicity Foresight idea from 1999 to Debbie’s Diversification over 100 years – the time traveller investor
9) How would anyone know you’d mis-sold a 100 year project?
10) Is commerce truly not a zero-sum game?
11) What are secrets of success among the finances of the Vatican?
12) Family businesses that last -
13) Anything on the Social Discount rate

Fiscal vs. Monetary

14) How might we price counter-cyclicality?
15) What is the discount rate of a politician?
16) Can/should an economy be made to deliver stable (unspectacular) growth, or should economies be constantly on steroids?
17) Which is best, multiple currencies, single currencies, other currencies, SDRs, etc?
18) How does fiscal policy affect liquidity?
19) What is the difference between consumption and investment? Can we tell them apart? Can the utility of investment approach the utility of consumption?
20) How do we identify bubbles? Are bubbles formed when returns are delayed?
21) How do ‘new’ risks, e.g. climate change, asteroids, start to enter the fiscal calculus
22) How much does Keynesianism depend on Keynesian conditions (e.g. low government expenditure as % of GDP)?

Free vs. Regulated

23) Can we treat trade as an intelligent life-form?
24) Should regulation involve indemnity?
25) When should things be “bailed out”?
26) Do the dangers of ‘best practice’ reduce diversity?
27) What is the value of high velocity trading?
28) Privatising risk, nationalising reward?

Selfish vs. Selfless (Agents vs. Owners)

29) Turnover of investment managers portfolios, i.e. long-term = lower volatility and selling mandate measures that recognise the long-term is inversely correlated to share turnover/investment turnover
30) Volatility of funds, i.e. long-term = lower volatility;
31) What does ‘absolute returns’ mean?
32) Moving from “institutional agents” voting (rather than “institutional investors”) to beneficial shareholders voting;
33) Does altruistic self-interest exist – can people willfully NOT follow self-interest decisions?
34) Mutual destruction – let’s go bust together
35) Does professionalism matter? Or personal ethics?
36) What are the pluses and minuses of positional goods?
37) Can you do much more than one thing, e.g. deliver profit
38) How do ideas propagate through finance?
39) Is social cohesion strained by inequality?
40) Does progress require a society where the few are disproportionately rewarded versus the many?
41) How do we value human networks?
42) What are the rules of true trust?
43) What does long term brokerage mean?

Mutual vs. Public Sector vs. Private-Sector

44) Are keiretsu good things, conglomerates, private equity?
45) How do we price trust?
46) The equitisation of debt, i.e. the replacement of debt instruments with shared equity ownership, resulting in innovative risk/reward sharing arrangements [Lars Wulf]
47) What can we learn from the oldest organisations – churches, universities, schools guilds, families (pick up from existing research)?
48) Are the oldest organisations similar, do they encourage diversity or restrict it? What metrics should be used to evaluate them?
49) Do successful organisations just have a system that promotes a successful decision-maker for the time?
50) Do successful organizations promote trust and thus lower transactions costs?
51) Building the insurer that could never go bust
52) Building the ultimate mutual
53) [from Mick James] “One more long-finance anecdote, possibly apocryphal: in land-owning British families it was traditional, when a daughter was born, to plant a grove of willow trees. By the daughter came of marriageable age, the willows were mature enough to be cut down and sold to the makers of cricket bats: the proceeds paid for the wedding.”
54) Can we create an out-of-the-box mutual investment vehicle that needs no maintenance – automated fund management for the masses? [Frank Dunn]
55) Regulation, monitoring, supervision, competition;
56) How do we prevent the moral hazard of governments promising what they need for votes, tyranny of the silent majority?
57) Are NGOs a sign of failure or a new life form?
58) What is the effect of taxation on the value of money?
59) Can we build retirement cohorts?

Rational vs. Behavioural

60) Is ‘nudging’ethical
61) Should we ‘read’ people’s brains?
62) Is trust an emergent property of large networks?
63) What can we learn from harsh climates - the finances of the Inuit or Bushmen?
64) What can we learn from conditions of over-abundance, e.g. economic booms and busts of the potlatch system among the Northwest coast Indians (Tlingit and such)? [John Abbink]
65) Why does augury sell?
66) How might money affect our evolution as primates?

Sustainability vs. Robustness vs. Resilience

67) Sustainable supply chains – not transaction by transaction, more trust
68) Assume a 1% improvement in productivity each year – so a genuine increase of 1% per annum in wealth per capita – you then need about 70 years to double your money in real terms. Therefore today’s 20 year old can expect to have doubled his/her savings contribution by the age of 90. Higher returns are the result of inter-generational transfers of wealth, or the growth in population. Population needs to peak during the lifetime of todays 20 year old, or the planet goes to hell. Inter-generational wealth transfers won’t work without population increases as eventually the paying generation revolts. So back to productivity increases as the only real source of wealth increase. Question: Is there another sustainable source of wealth generation? If not, how do we improve the rate of productivity increases in order to create a robust long finance framework?
69) How can we introduce and measure ‘simplicity’?
70) How do we internalise externalities?
71) How do we prevent internalities becoming externalities?
72) Is there a way to value abundance rather than scarcity? [Tantram]

Theory vs. Practice

73) What radical new theories are (a) elegant, (b) coherent, (c) profound?
74) Valuing the hard to value – what is mark-to-market, do third parties know what they’re doing?
75) Is finance a good in its own right, a source of information, a self preserving feedback loop, or a parasite?
76) Rejecta Economica (like Rejecta Mathematica – Economist, 1 August 02009) – what might be learned from discarded economics?
77) Finance as fashion – X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing
78) What if one person had all the money?
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