Great piece!

I admit I am more bearish on the idea that slums will be "leapfrogged". There are a lot of factors at play that draw people in -- and not all of them will change due to remote work.

I spent some time in Agbogbloshie in Ghana, for example. Many of its residents are fresh from remote areas elsewhere in the country. They speak only their local language and many cannot read. The odds don't seem high that they will easily transition to digital remote work, unless it's very low skill.

Slums don't arise just due to availability of work. Many developing world cities have corrupt and restrictive rules in place that make it hard to start a business, hard to hire and fire labor, hard to own assets, hard to open a bank account, and hard to build or acquire housing.

The businesses that poorer people undertake are often harmless, but illegal given the rules of their country. Slums are outposts of informality where people can trade and operate outside the purview of terrible official structures. There is a sense in which the very illegibility and disorder of slums is an asset when you are trying to avoid authorities.

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This is a great reply, and echoes some things I think about as well. In Africa particularly, the sheer number of languages in just one country (Nigeria alone has over 500) is a real impediment to the exchange of ideas and emergence of social trust that are so important for progress.

And I like your idea that the impenetrable chaos of a slum can be a strength in that state actors find it hard to impose their will.

But this chaos depends on physical transactions and relationships. It's organized around the physical proximity of others. And yet, the promise of remote work, blockchain and other decentralizing technology is that these outposts of informality, as you put it, can move online. People with some basic skills will form outposts online to work, trade, and even open those bank accounts (I was just reading about virtual bank accounts arriving in the Philippines for example).

So they can get all the benefits of a slum - the work, trade, services etc - without having to suffer the experience of living in a slum. It won't be easy or quick, but I do think this is the beginning of a change in how we live, not just for a San Francisco techie who can now work remotely from Wyoming, but also for a Chinese farmer who can make a living by livestreaming his produce instead of selling up and moving to a factory in the city, or an Indian student who can learn online at home in his village instead of moving to the crowded outskirts of Delhi.

Won't transform overnight, but I think we're at the stage where a trickle will become a trend.

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