The metaverse, an idea really worth 3,000 billion dollars?

The development of the metaverse, this virtual universe compared to some of tomorrow’s Internet, will make it possible to add 3,000 billion dollars to world GDP in ten years, according to a study published in Monday. But this work, funded by Facebook, has some questionable assumptions.

A virtual world that could rain down billions on the real economy. Three trillion in ten years to be precise. The metaverse, the now popular virtual universe concept promoted by Meta (ex-Facebook), will have the capacity to grow the world’s GDP by 2.8% over ten years, according to a study published in Monday, May 16 by Analysis Group, an American economic consulting firm, and funded by Meta.

These economists calculate that the metaverse “if adopted today” will contribute $ 1 trillion to GDP growth in Asia by 2031, add $ 440 billion to European GDP or more than 500 billion dollars in the United States in the same weather. The region least affected by the metaverse is sub-Saharan Africa because the economic impact will only have 40 billion dollars.

A consumerist paradise without a consumer?

“This is a study that has, at least the merit of existing because in general this type of data-as questionable as it is-is often lacking when there is new technology. It allows at least to lay the foundations for debate ”, said Pascal de Lima, chief economist for Harwell Management, an economic consulting firm.

This is especially true with the metaverse, a concept with vague plots that has spawned so many fantasies since Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, made it the foundation of the future of his digital empire in October 2021. The metaverse will be the “successor of the Internet”, according to the authors of the Analysis Group report, which means everything and nothing.

More prosaically, the metaverse includes a technological aspect-the development of tools such as virtual reality headsets-that allow you to project yourself into a repetitive online world where everything true can be virtual. Users must, by placing an avatar, be able to communicate, work, travel, play, build or even buy in the metaverse.

Enough to arouse the appetite of traders of all kinds. Many of them have already set foot in this metaverse, though Mark Zuckerberg himself said it will still take years before we can see it really take shape. So Zara launched a “phygital” collection (a retreat of the physical and digital) of clothes that existed in the store and for avatars, while Decentralant, one of the metavers ’main projects (Not only Facebook is trying to build it. universe), organized a “metavers fashion week” that brought together brands like Dolce & Gabbana or Tommy Hilfiger. There are even real estate developers who sell metaverse plots.

So we find ourselves in a “dangerous situation” for these traders, according to Spanish economist Manuel Hidalgo, who was interviewed by the Spanish daily El Pais. “Back then, someone created technology, like the combustion engine, and when it came to life, products were born, like the car. In the metaverse, the situation was reversed: the idea was promoted and when traders invested here, it is developed ”, he summarizes.

The metaverse is becoming a consumerist paradise without consumers. And here comes the Analysis Group study: it is supposed to reassure these investors by giving academic gloss to the idea that the metaverse will have a huge impact on the economy.

A bold parallel to the mobile internet

And “the authors made a very serious copy that aimed to be strict”, Pascal de Lima acknowledges. Their demonstration seemed, in fact, enticing. They thought about the future economic impact of the metaverse from the mobile Internet.

“The way smartphones combine technologies- a device, internet access, or even photography- to recreate the way individuals communicate reflects the promises of the metaverse”, the authors write. author of the study.

They then estimated the economic contribution of mobile Internet in each country by comparing the penetration rate of this technology to the evolution of GDP between 2007 and 2019. a 0.087% increase in GDP, ”the study said. .

It is then sufficient to apply the same method to the metaverse to arrive at the conclusion that “the potential impact is a contribution to world GDP of 2.8%”. Simple, effective and something pleasing to Meta, who is funding this work?

“However, there is a problem of intellectual honesty to some degree,” Pascal Lima said. Starting with calculating the economic impact of mobile internet. “The authors note the statistical correlations between GDP growth and the adoption of smartphones, but that doesn’t mean there’s necessarily a causal link”, says this economist, author of “Capitalism and Technology: dangerous relationships”.

Then, the mobile Internet comparison has its limitations. No one yet knows what the size of the metaverse (s) will be and “its comparison to the mobile Internet makes it possible to underestimate the phenomenon by putting it on the same level as a technology we know well and have, around the world, had a rather positive impact ”, emphasizes Pascal de Lima.

A study that is largely encouraging

For him, the main goal of the authors of this comparative study was to “reassure the public” about a technology that is still difficult to identify. The almost subliminal message of this document is to say “you survive the mobile revolution, you will survive the metaverse revolution very well”.

“This makes it possible to set aside any discussion of the possible adverse economic effects and the social risks specific to the metaverse”, Pascal de Lima explains. For him, the main danger of a successful metaverse is about the world of work. Professions that involve traveling or having direct human relationships – such as sales reps, doctors, salespeople, teachers, or even people who deliver – will require “greater training obligations than after the advent of the mobile internet. . “, said the economist.

The danger is to leave on the sideline everything that does not fit into this new reality … of the virtual. The economic value of “potentially greater technological unemployment than the mobile Internet” was not considered in all studies.

The logical conclusion of the Analysis Group is also to say that Mark Zuckerberg’s good fortune brings happiness to the global economy. “This is a macroeconomic approach that is equivalent to saying that the metaverse will explode into world GDP because Gafams and large groups get rich by building it and selling their products here,” the economist from Honeywell Management summarized. .

This is a classic application of trickle-down theory, which suggests that whatever makes the rich rich will ultimately benefit everyone through additional tax revenue and money being put back into the economy. . Except that “nowhere is it explained to us how the wealth focused in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg and others will benefit everyone”, Pascal de Lima said.

This does not mean that it is impossible, but it still needs to be shown how, for example, developing countries – where high -speed Internet is necessary for the proper functioning of the metaverse – will benefit from it.

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