There has been substantial feedback on the predetermined issues. Commentary was mostly concerned with the timing and nature of emergence from the current crisis. I have tried to summarise what this implies in a figure which is shown below. What follows is the explanation of it.
First, the axes. Horizontally, you will of course find time. The vertical axis measures our collective capacity to manage complexity, either at an international level, or more locally.
It is straightforward to demonstrate that nations of course vary very greatly in their capacity to support complex activities. However, it is also the case that industry which engages in activities that demand high levels of complexity usually generates higher returns and salaries than do simple, commodity industry. The supporting complexity-management infrastructure is often embedded in the entire society - in its human resource flows, in the support capabilities which a firm can buy locally, by the efficacy of law, by regulatory quality, economic management and the absence of volatility. This offers is a convincing explanation for the power of clusters, of cities, of the ability of complex nations to keep ahead despite their higher costs. (More here for the implications of this to development theory.)
Firms, industrial clusters and nations that do not actively increase their capacity to deal with complexity will remain as they are, or fall back. Existing previously remarkable capabilities are bypassed or rendered into commodities. Conversely, if these agents are to be able to handle more complex and intractable issues, then their capabilities ned to be extended. In other words, for economic development to occur, for the orderly expansion of international relations and trade, for it to be possible to arrive at solutions to environmental issues, the capacity of international systems to manage the consequent complexity has to increase. Complexity management is therefore a shorthand for "solving messy issues", and it is evident that there are and will be a lot of these to solve.
With this understood, let us again turn to the content of the figure.
Analysis suggests that revival from the current crisis will be slow: there is a debt "chronic" to follow the banking crisis, and this must be sweated from the system as nations also attempt to re-balance their finances, manage inflation and cope with social instability. (In reference to this last, Asian sources are increasing concerned with Chinese social stability as growth falls to 5-6% in 2010-11.) Demographic transitions in Europe and China become acute in the next decade, as do the issue of how they are to be financed.
The period to 2015 is thus shown as dark and as "the present extrapolated" on the figure. The first branch out of this gloom occurs in the 2015-20 period. It contrasts a clean revival of fortunes with the majority remaining in chronic difficulties.
Let us take the lower branch first.
The world is faced with a number of major issues which go beyond the current crisis. These can only be resolved in a collaborative, relatively future-oriented and open world. (The issues are too well known to enumerate, but e.g. we shall need machinery to handle economic and other instabilities, environmental issues, trade and IP, security, energy and so on.) If the world becomes fragmented and antagonistic, then these issues will not be properly addressed. A series of well-characterised feedback systems take us into the dark corner of the figure, labelled Fearsome Chaos. Please note that this exists at or perhaps below current levels of complexity management. The title is self-explanatory. (Please note that this is not a proposed scenario, but rather the nature of this area on the figure.)
The more appealing upper branch, labelled 'slow revival', is predicated on there being some degree of cooperation between at least the major players. The perhaps partial nature of this does, however, points on to the second generic branching point.
Let us begin with the lower range that leads away from this second branching point. This is labelled 'Balkanised Success' on the figure. Here, we find ourselves in a world in which a significant fraction of the world's populations remain in difficulties, but one where a limited number do well. The focus is on national boundaries and affiliations - for example, EU and NAFTA, or what we previously termed the 'Anglosphere', those bits of the world that speak English. Opposed to these - and 'opposed' is probably the right word - are regional associations and commercial cartels. However, much of the world's population fit into neither of these categories, but may nevertheless have their own ideologies and affiliations. Because this feels very like some aspects of the late Cold War - with blocks in ideological, if not in such extremely armed opposition to each other - the 2040 outcome of this is called 'Yesterday's Future'.
The upper range of this space has much in common with the former scenario Carrying the Torch (CtT). This had a nucleus of nations who were at the cutting edge. Outside of this group, a much larger pool of people were unable to join in, not because they were actively excluded, but because they lacked the capacity to do so. In this, it is similar to the relations between the rich and poor world today.
The reason for this effective exclusion was, however, the explosive advance in evidenced based best practice, as applied to every aspect of life, from raising a child or curing an ailment to managing a corporation or an economy.The normative, multifaceted and extremely intrusive nature of this meant that only highly disciplined populations could take part, and only totally transparent commercial structures were acceptable. "Hard" social science was deployed as, essentially, an engineering tool in the pursuit of a common model of what a 'good' society, firm or individual would look like. (This is not a world of worker ants, however, because being different - occupying and defending your niche - is the greatest defensible competence in a world of churning commoditisation.) It is the rationalism and the tool set with which an individual's traits are assessed. augmented, developed that differs most from the present.
The upper branch of this space on the figure is labeled 'Oh My Gawd', in honour of the denouement of most TV reality shows. Here, the full potential of science and technology is married with competent institutions, continuously self-developing individuals, self-aware corporations and real time mass management of virtually every aspect of life. It is a world of astounding choices on one axis and extremely narrow options on another. It is, perhaps, the best that we can hope for if we are to survive together as 9-11 billion people.
Political agency moves from the nation state to something much more complex: to a network of nodes. That is, the connectivity of the world - or the complex parts of it that are 'players' - is such that choices which are made about any aspect of this are closely reflected elsewhere: for that is what 'best practice' means. Disagreements and special interest is resolved at this level, be it very local or utterly international. What this implies for law, legislatures and the like is not at all clear, but the pressures on these by all but the most balkanised world of 2040 must be extreme, unrelenting and erosive.
I hope that by now you are fuming with disagreement. Please do respond.
Very good! As I read it, the future for (say) well-educated Swedes is more or less predetermined. They will be the happiest people ever, not least because their happiness will be consciously engineered. The critical questions then are, how many other people get to join them, and what will determine who those people are?
For example, what are the relative chances of:
a) poorly-educated Swedes?
b) employees of Volvo in India?
f) Angolan peasants?
The point of posing the question like this is that it forces the scenario builder to come clean about where the big fault lines are....
Comment: They are indeed societal / social fault lines. It's down to our model of how to behave that probably matters most. Shades, therefore, of Neal Stephenson's extraordinary novel The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, in which the 2070s are dominated by what he calls 'clades', groups who have consciously adopted mind sets and ways of behaving that have proven selectively successful in global competition: Victorian values, Voortrekker strengths. More on the novel here: If you haven't read it, you have missed an extraordinary treat.
I am now very worried. You say, and I think I agree, that the only "sustainable" (hateful word) future is in the Oh My Gawd area. I don't like this place. I also don't think that we can get there in significant numbers. I doubt that I'll make 2040, but I hate to say that you have made me glad about that!
Let me try that again. Our collective response needs to be extremely radical, either through emergence or by design. I do not see how current political structures - or things like markets - can get us there, They are innately conservative. The self-dramatists that I saw with their faces painted green at Liverpool station protesting something or other about the G20 meeting this morning have not a clue about any of this. They just feel left out of the current world, let alone the sort of thing that you have in prospect. So much for soi disant radicals.
So what gives the impulse, the spark, the 'narrative', to use your word?
Are we too confident that we can forget Fearsome Chaos? We are supposed to be in a mess because a few hundred or thousand bankers stopped playing with other people's money and started printing their own. Huge amounts of saving has passed into the hands of the developed world poor, who spent it on consumption. Nevertheless, the sub prime houses are still there, no capitals have been bombed flat; we are not short of raw materials or clean air. Compared with what could come at us - from epidemics to protracted drought or cold weather - this is absolutely nothing real. But; but any of these things could easily happen in the next twenty years and push us well and truly into Fearsome Chaos.
I recall a talk where you (Sparrow) said that technology might be out Irish potato, might let us extend ourselves so far that when the bough snaps, we cannot survive. (Note: Ireland was wracked by famine in the 1840s when the potato monoculture on which the population had hitherto survived failed as a result of the then-new Phytophthera infestans, potato blight.)
If a relatively trivial matter such as the credit crunch is to have such an impact, think what something a bit stronger might do. The 1973 shock took what? - ten years? - to purge from the system. Then, we were mostly decoupled from each other. There was a lot of slack in the system. Now that is not true, and we are all perhaps thoughtlessly living on our complex Irish potato. Shouldn't we ask what a dip into this region would be like, and how we could get out of it?
I am not sure, but does this note assume that complexity management is all that matters. Are there not more concrete issues which will have a big affect. You mention energy. So, what happens if we are still mostly bound to hydrocarbons by 2040? Obviously big winners and losers; obviously different geopolitics. The same is true across the board. I think this is a good first step but it seems really thin when you think about the specific.
This complexity idea is a good one. However, it worries me that there is an element of tautology in it. You can say that we can't do something because our complexity management is not good enough, so we need to fix whatever; but "whatever" does not equate to "complexity management", except by courtesy. It's something specific, like stopping bankers being stupid. So one can argue that you are saying that good stuff is good, which doesn't really take us forward.
Another approach is to stick with the figure which I love, and say: if we don';t solve the recession, then we get into Doomland; and if we solve it but don't solve the brand new international order stuff - and keep the rich world's head above water by doing new things, as you say - then we get into Yesterday's Future, like you say. Yes, of course doing that handles complexity, but its like quality: you don't get high quality by adding some magic thing called 'essence of quality', you get it by hard work on specific things.
So like Response 1 said, it comes down to coming clean about what specific things we have to fix.
Comment: So all we have to do is prescribe how to solve the World's big problems for the next 30 years? :=)
Suppose the G20 meeting fixed it all - and wasn't Obama a breath of fresh air after the endless Gordon Brownian movements? - and that we set off towards slow but steady growth. Banking is dead, long live biotechnology or whatever soap the next bubble is going to be made of. Is this too improbable for us to consider? I just thing the figure - though fine, and real muddle reducer - could be too pessimistic. Response 3. wondered if we were being too optimistic. I wonder if we are being too gloomy. If you talk to people who ar not economists, it really may not be that bad in a year or so.
I am getting two things from this discussion, which I find very valuable. First, people quite accept the narrative implicit in the figure. However, they don't like the vagueness and want explicit mechanisms. The one that most strikes me (Remark 2) is how we get from A to B (and C, D and Z) that is, what's the sociopolitical machinery that gets us from centuries of one style of political organisation and into another?
Obviously, one element of this is going to be our practical responses to actual problems. Trade gets stuck, so this measure unblocks it. Terrorists have nuclear weapons, so this is what we have to do to counter that. However, that is programmed to handle only big, obvious issues. Most of the concerns are going to be complex webs of interaction that are not clear to the people involved without analysis and insight, political translation and so on. Solutions may also be painful: I barely recognise the Oh My Gawd world as one I would wish to inhabit. So what is the impulse as deep as self-preservation and greed that gets action on the specifics on which people have put so much emphasis?
(As a P.S. there is a strong sense in all of this that we have messed up a good thing by over breeding and over growing and now shall have to live in poverty with what is left, like an old family that has fallen on hard times and has to live with the leaking roof that they can't afford to fix. Is this not a dangerous implicit metaphor, and should we consciously avoid it? It's very much embedded in the sackcloth, groan and moan school of environmental campaigning.)
OK, I'm from India and coming to this from outside. What I am seeing here is that the top end of society is changing very fast. The rest are not changing at all. Some go backwards, and politicians like the BJP people appeal to this. They make all sorts of trouble. Now we have terrorism all over the place which I'm not saying is coming from this or that political party, but is very much coming from people who see the elite group getting further and further away from them. Often their life is getting itself worse because subsistence does not work and they have to earn money, but that is difficult when they start from nothing. So many of them are angry.
I am reading your scenarios as like this for the whole world. All over we have people who are stuck, or learning but only going to where the rich people were a hundred years ago. They see top people in their own country shooting away, getting rich, thinking of business and stuff that they are not understanding themselves. The only politicians who are trying to explain are making trouble, like I said earlier. So it is pulling apart, inside countries, between cities and the country, between countries. What is going to stick it together? One reply above says: who is going to make change happen? And that is very much my question, but it is not change, it is healing. Healing that doesn't stand still, you see, but healing that meets the new conditions and science and so on. That is my question.
The grass roots is less conservative than you may think.
Polls (e.g. here) show large majorities in developed and developing countries which want trade to be conducted under objective standards of safety, labour relations, environmental compliance and so on. They appear to accept the costs that this might imply: that is, lots of realism is shown.
Most of the change in the last 20 years has not come from crises and 'must solve' issues. It has come from a common set of objectives between nations, notably the rich ones, and the need to harmonise in order to work together better. That makes change from the bottom up: lots of little thrusts that amount to a big push. So to answer the "how" question, perhaps all we need is articulate politics - the opposite of what our friend from India has mentioned - and mobilisation across a grid of fault lines - national, interest and so on.
I'm picked this up on my RSS feed from Slashdot. I am pasting it verbatim: look guys, the future is arriving whether we want it or not, whether we have a recession or not.
"A science-savvy robot called Adam has successfully developed and tested its first scientific hypothesis, discovering that certain genes in baker's yeast code for specific enzymes which encourage biochemical reactions in yeast, then ran an experiment with its lab hardware to test its predictions, and analysed the results, all without human intervention.
Adam was equipped with a database on genes that are known to be present in bacteria, mice and people, so it knew roughly where it should search in the genetic material for the lysine gene in baker's yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Ross King, a computer scientist and biologist at Aberystwyth University, first created a computer that could generate hypotheses and perform experiments five years ago. 'This is one of the first systems to get [artificial intelligence] to try and control laboratory automation,' King says. 'Current robots tend to do one thing or a sequence of things. The complexity of Adam is that it has cycles.'
Adam has cost roughly $1 million to develop and the software that drives Adam's thought process sits on three computers, allowing Adam to investigate a thousand experiments a day and still keep track of all the results better than humans can. King's group has also created another robot scientist called Eve dedicated to screening chemical compounds for new pharmaceutical drugs that could combat diseases such as malaria."
I've been lurking. Apologies. What I see is rather a useful framework, with two breakpoints in it. The key issue is what characterises these breakpoints? What happens after they are "broken" is interesting but, at this stage, less important I think?
Breakpoint One is, frankly, conventional economics and politics. Forces pointing upwards include the stacked up potential of five of so lost years and the technological advances made in that time. Forces pointing down are - for sure - rising resource costs and - maybe - two other primary factors. One of these is the prevailing attitude in the wealthy world. I'll get back to that. The other is the degree of friction that a lengthy period of lower-than-aspiration growth generates in the middle income world. If China, for example, runs into sociopolitical difficulties over the next ten years - low growth plus an epidemic, for example - then that weakens an engine of growth and saving. Much the same is true of other Asian powers like Indonesia, India and - more generally - the what happens to the "nation" of middle class people around the world who happen to live in economies that have the potential for fast growth. It is the actions of this 'nation' - and whether its various host countries maintain stability, encourage or oppose its development - that will be a significant engine. Widespread instability and friction, or perhaps worse, left-populist movements that explicitly target the wealthy in these countries, are not at all impossible.
Back to the wealthy world. What reasons might there be for anything but a smooth take off from the difficulties of the past 18 months? Perhaps two answers. First, the potential for inflation is there. We had huge rises in commodity prices just before the collapse; and this will happen again when growth picks up. However, there is also huge amounts of deficit spending swilling around, ergo two drivers for inflation. Set that against under capacity, slack supply chains, unemployment, and so who know which way it would go in the normal course of things? However, the course may not be normal. I believe that it may appear to be in the interest of electorates who are over-borrowed (and equivalent states) to see a period of inflation, during which debts can be left behind.
Second, we have to ask whether our attitudes have changed. One measure that reflects how people feel about investment is Tobin's Q. (Example of US market posted below: ed.)
Tobin's Q goes through decades-long swings, implying that sentiment undergoes similar near-generational fluctuations. Older readers will recall the doominess of the Seventies, when everything seem to be going wrong, and all will remember the giddy March Hare atmosphere of the 1983-2003 period. I assert that if the rest of the world feel dangerous and unstable, we will dwell on our recent experience of having been let down (by banks, by our own judgment, by politicians) and we may - will? - slip into similar sentiment to that of the Seventies. Recall that the demographics make us older, and the old are depressed and depressing - look at me. :=)
Breakpoint two is harder to characterise. It entails a vision and a toolkit. The vision is that "we want to become like that", and the toolkit is the means to make this happen. The "Yesterday's Future" space works if the vision is about us, the elite (cadres or nations - I'm not sure..?) and about our bit of the world and its economy. The Oh My Gawd bit requires the 'us' to either be broader or committed to broadening itself to the world as a whole, and the vision suitable for this. A global humanist revolution? I truly wonder how that could happen when it fails at the level of neighbourhoods.
Perhaps the CSR message - that you have to behave well if you want the society in which you are working to leave you alone to work - may have something to offer. The exceedingly fearsome weapons that the exceedingly amazing science and technology of the period could make good neighbourliness essential? That seems to me to be credible, given the fragility of the systems that we have now and their likely strained nature in a few decades. So strong neighbours make strong fences, which make good neighbours?
Joop de Vries said "This latter category of issues touches on questions like ‘what is it all about’ and ‘why are we doing this’ -- individually and collectively. In the long term, this opens the door for profound changes in the way we live." I think that this is missing from your otherwise interesting figure.
I met with a major religious leader in February. He was very open about the challenge to belief from science in the next 20 years. He said that nature keeps surprising us. It may surprise us again. On the plane back, I read a Scientific American article that look at the EPR paradox. This showed that if the EPR idea was false, then the universe was non-local. I'll get to what that means in a moment. First, however, EPR.
The Einstein Podolsky Rosen idea that challenged quantum mechanics in the 1950s by setting up a thought experiment. In this, "entangled" particles were separated and one of them observed, throwing it into a determined state. This, EPR said, would require the other particle to 'know' instantly and across arbitrary distance what had happened. Instantaneity was known to be physically impossible as it allows for paradoxes. Unhappily for EPR, another physicist called Bell provided a way to test this view against experiment. Subsequent work showed that Bell's Inequality was valid and EPR was not, and that quantum mechanics allow simultaneity. (More here, ed. The Wikipedia article is good but more technical, here.)
That means that the universe is non-local, or a projection of a "higher" reality from which e.g. space time 'emerges'. It also means that there is no reality in this universe that is outside the observation. Which does not mean that' the sycamore tree ceases to be / when there's no one about in the quad', because it is observed by a host of macroscopic entities like rocks, clouds and so forth. The transaction between these is the reality, and from that endless web of transactions (apparently) is stitched together what we see as the universe, and perceive as ourselves within it. We have no idea what the 'higher' ordering principle could be, but it is timeless, in that time is a part of the emergent, generated continuum through which everything observable is falling at near the speed of light. (That's what special relativity shows: if you move fast compared to something else, the time-like velocity is switched to being space-like and your time flow appears to slow down.)
This is probably too much for everyone. The point that I am trying to make is that we now begin to know how little we do know. The conventional matter of the universe appears to make up 4% of what is; and even that we understand only in a phenomenological way. Energy stored in the (negative) gravitational field of the universe so as to exactly balances the energy of everything else so that they exactly cancel: "everything is literally made from "nothing", by elegant symmetry breaking.
(Or not: Ed. Assorted modifications of Newtonian gravity ( MOND) consist of e.g. extensions of Einstein (e.g. TeVeS) that do away with the need for dark matter and dark energy. But do so atthe cost of having two kinds of gravity, for example, and opening a door to en even odder universe.)
There is room in all of this for huge surprises. You have taken it as read that we have a secular future ahead, with 'less and less room' for religion. I suggest that this is a false dichotomy: we will be unlikely to see the brighter revert to incense and hieratic religion, but that we may be exposed to profound philosophical reappraisal of what we are and how we are seems extremely likely. The potential source of this is neither revelation nor revival through social pressures, but the insight coming from the very science that is generally seen as the bringer of light, the dispeller of cobwebs. You yourself have made much of the potential for insight into cognition, artificial intelligences, augmented humanity. But think what knowing how a man, dog or mouse thinks may make us feel about our fellows? To be seen as dispensable - nine billion copies of "me" all feeling the same, and that's before you count the cows - or precious, remarkable and therefore no longer to grace the hamburger? Loss of biodiversity as mass murder?
My main point; perhaps major, but always rational, ethical and philosophical realignments likely in the next 30 years.
What an interesting discussion! I am falling into the camp which sees the aspiration to something like the Oh My Gawd space as almost inevitable.
We have seen that it may not be safe to exclude people in the constrained, potentially dangerous world of the 2030s. Threat asymmetry means that conventional deterrence does not work, and communal pressure for self-sacrifice carries the self-same message. I can hardly be deterred by super ordinate force if I am prepared for the certainty of death in attacking it. It is only if the act of asymmetrical warfare brings down equally asymmetrical retaliatory force - mass reprisals - that deterrence does seem to work.
Cicero, in his first Philippic against Marcus Antonius, accuses him of following the principle of oderint dum metuant: let them (the citizens) hate, so long as they fear. Cicero said of this: "And if you think in this way, you are ignorant of the road to glory. [...] To be feared, and to be an object of hatred, is odious, detestable; and moreover, pregnant with weakness and decay." So, too, with countries which maintain their power through terror.
In addition, the easy access to WMD that is offered by the sweeping new biology (and perhaps by the new physics, as discussed in Response 13) means that the proportions that are involved in a 'disproportionate' response are ludicrous. If we lose New York to a virus or a nuclear weapon, then how much of which bits of the world would we have to sterilise to deter any further such attack? The whole stance is untenable. For our own safety - and in a stressed world of scarce resource and immensely complex interconnections, remember - the wealthy would have to bring the poor closer to their level, for the (very dangerous) alternative would be the render them impotent through destitution.
It follows that it is relatively easy to see where the "vision thing" comes from. Response 8 asked what gave the impetus that would be a powerful as self-preservation; and the answer is, plainly, self-preservation itself.
This brings me to an alarming sequence of thoughts.
We tend now to think of battle spaces, rather than battle fields. That is done because logistics and communications, remote and local systems and intelligence all encapsulate what can be done more or less simultaneously in a variety of spheres and locales.
The world that we discuss would, of necessity, have a battle space which enveloped the entirety of human affairs. What it would be monitoring is the actions and situations of individuals, scrutinised intelligently in ways that allow it to adduce motive and mechanism to those individuals and groups as they go about their lives. It would provide tactical information to systems that could flag emerging areas of discontent and activism, the misuse of modification of dangerous technologies; as well as crime, lesser fallings below individual potential and even low morale. It would be somewhat like a nuclear inspection regime, but personalised and permanent. The public information that it would use to do this is a necessary part of how life is lived in the 2030s. Such information allows interventions at an individual level, both preventative but also enabling. It might arrange for compatible people to meet, nudge them to behave in ways that increase their potential, arrange for individuals to get jobs that are ideally suited to them and so forth.
The predetermined factors section mentioned the possibility that companies might act as though aware, and government agencies acquire insight that was independent of the people and systems that made them up. They would act to coordinate activity from an Olympian perspective that no individual could match. All that stands between that and the most benevolent and pervasive tyranny imaginable is computing power, access to data and the 'hard' social science to which that section also referred. Given the existence of all three, and of the imperatives already discussed, we see a very alien and rather alarming society being born.
I had a meeting yesterday at which the following thought was floated and then developed. It seems extremely germane to Response 14.
Renewables and carbon emission mitigation is not economic as compared to conventional energy sources. Thus, movement to cleaner energies will occur only when states impose costs or in other ways demand that cleaner technologies be used. It is irrelevant for the argument whether this is done by market mechanisms or by fiat, by subsidy or by pricing emissions.
States are reluctant to do this unilaterally because their economies would be disadvantages (and their electorates probably irritated.) Laying aside the electoral issue, the economic impact of non-compliant nations can be managed by means of tariffs which "deem" the level of embodied emissions in a given category of import. Thus, a system of green tariffs can act as a direct inducement for non-compliant nations to come into line; and preserve the level playing cliché.
Of course, there have been any number of instances where notionally green considerations have been used for protectionist purposes. One could not get a permit to build vehicles in German without a dedicated recycling plant, as i understand it, but only Germans firms somehow or other managed to get permission to erect such a plant. And so forth. One does not, of course, need to stop at green issues: for example, these shoes or clothes are deemed to embody child labour, which we deter through a punitive tariff. Or this humanitarian issue or that. Once installed, such a system could be extremely effective in forcing the weaker economies into compliance with the preoccupations of the stronger ones. Licensing could be used in the same way.
I turn to Response 14, with its arm twisting by the rich world of the poor 'for their own benefit'. Here is a mechanism that demands nothing new - certainly, no weird science on the scale envisaged by the writer - by which the game could be raised globally by the efforts of a nucleus of nations. I suspect that there are many other such procedures by which the Oh My Gawd area could be approached if we decided that this is what we wanted to do.
We need to re-think the nature of financial capital: is it just a scarce resource or the scarce resource? I was at a meeting at which a senior politician was listing the number of countries and leaders who were calling for a re-think of GNP growth as a sole target, seeking to replace or augment it with something which measured the overall quality of life. The point being not the banality of this sentiment but that the tone suggested that the day of raw economic - as opposed to social - value added was at an end.
Clearly, a well-ordered and secure society is better at adding value than a chaotic one, all things being equal. We need our institutions and our predictable tranquility. That is not where I am going with this. What I want to ask is more about the traditional factors of production, and whether they need a re-think. Land, labour, capital all have markets and ownership can be moved around efficiently. So why are all companies or countries not equally effective? Why do resources not flow from costly rich countries to cheap poor ones?
The answer is that they do, but not as much as you would think; and that when a poor country is a mess, the flow reverses. That is, the degree to which a country of a company is well organised is more important than the money or people, technology or resources that it can in theory attract. Not, perhaps, a "Gosh!" point, but one that tells us that the really scarce resource is less about what you have got than what you do with it. (©Tallulah Bankhead 1920?)
The thing I find with all the companies that I work with is this indefinable quality that they either have or lack. It's about understanding, about being organised, about poise. They know what they are about. Duds that lack this have a market-to-book around 1. Ones that have it vastly out-value their notional assets. Yet it cannot be bought and sold: acquire one of these companies and the esprit is usually gone in a flash.
Hiding in plain sight is something that we have not got our minds around. If we could predictably and routinely make this state of affairs happen in companies, in government, in nations, then we would have transcended another scarce resource, one that we do not even know that we are missing. A couple of people have seen the entry route into Oh My Gawd as being driven by fear, by technology, by self-interest; but just maybe it is better seen as being the result of getting this potentially-routine social technology into place.
Response #16 did not go where I was expecting to to from its first paragraph. That stimulated some thoughts, and I want to expand in a slightly different direction. What i have to say has a bearing on the issues of what the early stages of the Oh My Gawd world feels like.
Money is an extraordinary invention. It allows us to boil so much down into an abstract means of warehousing, transporting and transforming exchange. At base, however, it signifies that "I've got it and you want it". The implication, Beatles song aside, is that "it" can be anything we care to trade that is tradable. There are exceptions. Love cannot be bought - notionally - because in common with many other subjective or interpersonal behaviours, it cannot be defined, captured, parceled up and sold by the kilo. Public goods - fresh air, liberty, security - are also (allegedly) not for sale.
We take fresh air for granted, because it has not been in scarce supply until relatively recent times. Security is now taken for granted across much of the globe, but this was once the most precious possession, and societies taxed themselves to the extreme to maintain war-like aristocracies, standing armies, bribed deities and the like to ensure as good a form of security as they could afford. In other words, what the politician with whom I began may have meant is that we have forgotten the value of what we take for granted.
Monetary wealth equates to choice. Once basic biological needs are fulfilled, everything else is essentially about the pursuit optimisation along assorted asymptotes; marginally better neighbourhoods, marginally better cars. Choice proliferates, the implications of exercising that choice become less and less differentiated. As we can choose to do more, so we have to regulate our capacity for choice, so as not to oppress or injure others, pollute the commons and glue up the workings of society. Greater individual potency in exercising choice equates to more and more individual constraint when all are more or less equally wealthy. The Baron can crush the peasant, but two armed militias need to exercise mutual respect. That is, as widely distributed wealth increases, one sees two curves at work.
The upshot is much as sketched in the figure above. The red line shows individual choice growing with wealth. The blue line shows the control need to control those choices. The magenta line shows the net individual liberty afforded by wealth. That is perhaps why it felt better to be rich (and healthy) in the 1950-60 period than it does today: if you had money, you could go anywhere and find it essentially untouched, you could behave much as you chose only subject to the norms of a small clique of other wealthy people whom you chose to respect. Powerful nations could act without much regard to what the less powerful thought of them. Within limits, companies could behave with essential impunity.
This is very different from today, where you can go to gaol for being rude about religion or race, smacking your child or failing to fulfil your norms as a parent. We are scrutinised as never before, and whilst we have extremely broad liberties, these are increasingly freedoms "from" unpleasant matters - security threats, noisy neighbours - rather than freedoms "to" do things. All of this is extremely rational, following the blue line, but the consequence is a homogenisation around the magenta.
I have been giving this some thought and offer two pegs in the ground:
An Ethnographic Futures Framework for creating scenarios is useful in connecting to vision because it is directly concerned with people's attitudes and behaviour. The key insight is to focus on social impact rather than on drivers of change, and to look at how change ripples out through human experience. Religion, for examples, has changed over time, but the human need for an explanation of the world in which we live has not. Weapons have changed, but then need to defend ourselves has not.
The five main headings are:
These headings allow the formulation of a coherent set of scenarios which can be compared factor by factor as well as describing different worlds in a holistic fashion. The use of separate factors is important for teasing out and understanding the levers which can be used to change people's attitude and behaviour.
Please note that this work has been completed and is available here.
You have all rather written off the bottom corner, Fearsome Chaos. I want to explore this a bit. I don't think it's one thing, but rather several different things that we need to be clear about. (I am talking about the mature state, not how we get there.)
There seem to be a number of ways in which assorted takes on Fearsome Chaos might differ:
Let me pick these up in turn, so as to make them clear. The "block" issue is clear enough. The predominant form of organisation will combine social and geographical order, with a fringe that answers to one or the other of these. Social order is a list of the usual suspects: polarization around religion and political ideologies; with perhaps new flavours to these. Geography is likely important because of the weight that attaches to nationhood and ethnicity during difficult periods; and because even in 2040 social stratification amongst the poor will tend to follow national boundaries rather than transnational classes - what you called the 'class of the capable'.
The degree to which the world is a muddle and the extent to which it is an aggressive, armed muddle is hugely significant. Fearsome Chaos will be a fine world for armaments manufacturers as the failure of international institutions leaves no alternative to self-defence. However, whether this slips into confrontation depends on the blocks discussed earlier. It would be worth exploring the nature of this polarisation - following Response 18, perhaps - to get a view on what people might regards as worth dying about. Trade blocks are painful, and wars were fought for nutmeg in the past; but intestinal hatred comes from less mundane friction.
Poor governance shows in ecological collapse - today's fisheries, for example, but tomorrow's water supplies. It manifests itself in weak public health: epidemics, short lives, high anxiety amongst the poor, accidents in industry, exploitation of child labour and so on. It makes innovation difficult when intellectual property is stolen without recompense. It expresses itself in financial disruption and bubbles, in erratic economic management, inflation, high discount rates and low rates of saving. In general, if high complexity requires stable structures to support it - your opening argument - then Fearsome Chaos is a global Zimbabwe, incapable of handling even the simplest challenge. It slips back to a state that it can support: the 1950s? The 1600s?
I introduce these figures to make a point.. It is historically true that almost all civilisations have declined, leaving the lightest of legacies. We assume that ours is distinct and, because it is a truly global entity, there may be some truth in this. Nevertheless, it is worth a moment's thought that we can support 9 billion only with great art and forbearance. It is not "automatic", the way that agricultural improvement was automatic during the 1970-80 period. If we drop the ball in a major way, we will fall into a series of negative cycles - positive feedback, but without the usually-happy connotations of that word - and be unable to recover. Or recover patchily, with the rest of the world in Chaos.
A key issue is in which way we assume global change to be taking place. Implicitly, it is usually assumed that “we” (“the” world) can make right or wrong decisions, as a result of which we end up in a good or a bad world, in one scenario or another. In an overwhelmingly globalised and democratic world, however, this may no longer be the case. There was a time when monarchs led their country to glory or ruin, followed by an era when ‘democratic’ elites had the power to choose. In the West, in particular, this is no longer the case. Political leaders can create “fait accompli”-situations and get away with it for a while (cf Iraq), but a correction is due to follow.
The numbers of contacts, information exchanges and interactions between individual people, across all borders, have risen beyond recognition. The ability to “control” such processes has declined accordingly.
Every action is followed by many re-actions, which makes the net result unpredictable except at the highest macro-level. There is, I think, a parallel with thermodynamics, where macro-properties correspond with the behaviour and specific properties of numerous particles at the molecular micro-level. Regarding global change, a crucial question is which underlying mechanisms are at work ‘underneath’ visible change, and which are, at this lower level, the driving forces for change. I would not advocate a teleological approach, which considers history as a process with a built-in goal and mankind on its way to a final destination, but, at the same time, there must be driving forces at work underneath the level of economic models, international organisations and world leaders. To some extent, the latter must be the symptoms of structural change rather than its creators.
Where democratic countries elect a radically different government, the new government reflects what they have been feeling and thinking for years. Obama is not so much ‘going to change America’ than a reflection of how America has changed during the last years under Bush. The cause – effect relationship will never be clear-cut but ideally scenarios should show on which implicit assumptions they are based (which even may differ from one scenario to another).
A similar dilemma is highlighted by the “what if…?” question. It is definitely true that the individuals who killed archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serajevo in 1914 or president Kennedy in 1963, have changed the course of history. But increasingly, such events will not change the world’s long term future irreversibly. An unexpected crisis or event at present will influence many subsequent developments, which usually will try to push the system ‘back to normal’. Because France’s kings in the 18th century insisted on the absolute monarchy without any compromise, revolution followed. In England, the Stuarts lost their battles with Parliament, and thus greatly reduced the need for a political revolution.
The more outspoken a particular course of direction is, and the more it deviates from common norms, the more likely it will be countered on the first occasion that presents itself.
This is not so much a convergence process, as a recognition of the fact that democratic societies do, over time, reflect their people’s value judgments, priorities, aspirations. Societies ‘get the leaders they deserve’, and continuous feedback from voters to their elected politicians further narrows the gap. The effect of this mechanism can be observed in areas such as economic models, human rights, just wars, sustainable development, leadership styles, and many more. In scenario terms, it is as if we describe a massive system that like a river flows to the lowest point, but which can get there in many different ways. For the long term, we know perhaps more about what might be the lowest point than which precise riverbeds and riverbanks the river over time will create. We should be able to speculate about these “lowest points”, i.e. about what a society, or the global community, considers its goals and sees as progress.
A related point is the question to what extent we are now experiencing a “paradigm shift” and the growing impact of “new rules”. This concept was first launched in the 1960s, and later seemed to be premature or misguided in the Thatcher years. But perhaps not this time.
There were major developments in recent years that did not fit the models of the world as developed a mere fifteen years earlier, and which, as a result, were largely missed or ignored by gurus and analysts. Examples:
In particular the new nationalism, spirituality, xenophobia, etc came as a surprise to observers who assumed that the future was going to be “modern” - in the way they saw modernity.
Many of the ‘new paradigm’ elements do indeed point to a new modernity: a significant minority of people will be able to handle ambiguity, uncertainty, complexity, and dilemmas. In the long term, all of these structural developments have the potential to determine our future to a larger extent than, for example, the aftermath of the current economic crisis - which is serious but has not (yet ?) created despair and social terror.
The problem with the abstract types of change is that we lack effective instruments to define, describe, and assess them. This, however, should not be a reason for declaring them to be of marginal importance. To complicate matters further, these ‘soft’ developments strongly interact with one another, which means that dissecting them into traditional academic disciplines makes it impossible to capture their essence.
Long term scenarios need to be visibly rooted in past and present, preferably going back at least half a century. America, Europe, China, India, etc are all to a large extent constrained in their future options by what they are, and think they are - and this is largely the outcome of culture and history. This is why, focusing on Europe, I think we have to address questions like “what makes Europe Europe ?”, “what is it all about, what are we trying to achieve ?”.
In this context, “we” does indeed refer to ‘the people’ in general, and to society as a whole (society is diverse, but one particular segment tends to be in a dominant position, and often represents all of society). Based on history, Europeans have collective memories that, in scenario terms, will create “no go”-areas for many years to come. For example, following the 20th century, very few Europeans are still willing to die “for king and country” (although perhaps for other reasons), and this narrows the range of plausible European scenarios.
If Europeans feel that they achieved a level of affluence and security that allows them to value both time and money, they are unlikely to follow a scenario that describes them as constantly fighting for survival. If Europeans do not feel threatened by the fact that China is more populous and may, on average, become as affluent as they are themselves, a scenario where they will sacrifice anything and everything in order to stay ahead, is not very plausible. Also worldwide, we can identify ‘personas’, which can help defining the range of plausible (long-term, surprise-free) scenarios.
The ‘persona’ dimension loses its importance once we include disaster- and ‘worst case’ –scenarios. The links between past and future are only meaningful if we restrict ourselves to surprise-free scenarios that describe structural change and long term futures, and each are considered rather plausible and probable.
In recent years, much attention has been paid to the ‘wild cards’ and ‘red* swans’, which opens wholly new perspectives. Natural disasters or epidemics, can of course never be excluded. Evil and fanatic leaders can create “faits accomplis” which will trigger war and destruction. Interest groups may lay the foundation for cyber wars or militarising space. One cannot exclude a disastrous outcome of developments that are well underway, for example inexpensive drones that will give many governments the power to eliminate opponents without any risk to themselves (except for retribution afterwards*).
Unlimited surveillance and massive data mining open up possibilities for new types of conflict that may not be called ‘wars’ but can be seen as modern forms of war. In certain scenarios, every opportunity to engage in a war that can be won, will be energetically pursued as a matter of course as it is embedded in commercial and political logic. In other scenarios, accidents will happen, but “mutually assured destruction”- thinking will defuse conflicts before they get out of hand. Such a difference might be a major point of distinction between Fearsome Chaos (aggression) and Balkanised Success* (constructive competition).
*Ed pedantic note 1: Lakatos wrote about "red" swans, which a subsequent writer lifted and transposed to "black". Lakatos' point was that if you came across a red swan you would want to expand your mental horizons to understand why it was red. The airport bookstand publication says merely that not having seen a black swan does not mean that there cannot be any.
*Ed note 2: The issue of asymmetric conflict is crucial. WMD are going to be widely accessible. Biotechnology can easily be coupled to simple delivery mechanisms - "try our free samples". Non-state aggression can be handled through deterrence, for reasons stated in Response 14. Hence the need for surveillance; and hence a driver for Oh My Gawd: it is just too dangerous not to collaborate.
*Ed note 3: Balkanised Success = One flavour of Yesterday's Future?
The underlying assumption is: complexity will increase autonomously, as a result of technological progress, whether we like it or not, and growing complexity will generate new problems and challenges, but also a growing capacity to deal with them.
Ed note: it is not that complexity "has to increase" intrinsically, but rather that coping with global integration requires us to be able to manage more complex systems. If we cannot develop this capacity, then we will not be able to cope, and will not attain the potential which they imply. Centralised totalitarian states cannot manage the complexity of an industrialised economy as welll as a distributed information processing system such as that embodied in markets. Thus, totalitarian systems get stuck at or slightly beyond the limits of the complexity which command and control can deliver. Go beyond that limit and you get the fall of the USSR, for example.
Young people are good at using hi-tech gadgets, as they both master and use their built-in complexity. Whether they are more “productive” as a result, is hard to say - which also applies to the net result at the macro-level, which may be regarded positive or negative. The “capacity to manage complexity in a constructive manner” plays an essential role in the scenarios, because it corresponds with the vertical axis of the scenario chart. The capacity of international systems to manage complexity “has to increase”.
An interesting question is why it “has to” increase. This could be a statement of fact: people are pre-programmed to make their lives ever more complex and will subsequently be obliged to cope with this complexity. Another driving force may be that the global players who are locked into an ever-lasting competitive battle, have to use complexity as a competitive weapon. Possibly the capacity to handle complexity will have to increase in order to avoid global disaster and put an end to poverty. In this respect, the positions of nations and corporations are not quite the same. Nations are geographical entities that will encounter growing complexity and must ensure that they have the right talent to deal with it. Corporations keep selecting people and resources on an ongoing basis, and can consciously develop a “capacity to handle complexity”. At every level, there will be winners and losers.
The nature of the current crisis is as yet uncertain, and so is its outcome. The scenarios consider a period of gloom, at least for the next 5-10 years, as predetermined. But is this how the current crisis will be seen in retrospect ? A decade from now, it may also be seen as a correction that was long overdue, and as the origins of a system that is not dominated by greedy and short-sighted interest groups. How unique and how important is the current crisis ? The amounts of money risked, lost, printed, etc are unprecedented, but will these financial developments be the common trunk from which all possible scenarios spring ?
The crisis developed rapidly and took most experts by surprise, but we are (still) far removed from 1929 situations. Has the crisis so far shown how vulnerable the global system is, or how resilient ? The answer to that question is embedded in each of the scenarios, if only implicitly. These are many signs of resilience. We may not yet have taken full account of productivity gains, say in agriculture or car manufacturing. Perhaps because we use productivity gains for maintaining unnecessary jobs, for ever faster delivery, ever more variations of product specs, for inventing new types of service, etc. Which percentage of the population do we really need to produce enough food, energy, housing and ‘things’ ? Maybe the crisis is already demonstrating that today’s high quality cars do not need being replaced every three years, and in any case that small efficient cars can do everything we used to associate with large inefficient cars. This may exacerbate the crisis, but in hindsight it will be seen as a catching up process that makes our lifestyles more sensible and sustainable.
‘Fearsome Chaos’ depicts a fragmented and antagonistic world, unable to handle the growing complexity. The suggestion is that the world ends up in a ‘fearsome chaos’ if it fails to collaborate and address the 21st century challenges head-on. The question is whether collaboration will prevent Fearsome Chaos, and whether Fearsome Chaos must be the result of a lack of collaboration.
When the future world is ‘fearsome’, the reason may be uncontrolled emotions rather than merely fragmentation. We experience ‘fearsome chaos’ in particular when developments get out of hand, when populist leaders intimidate people and engage in fear-mongering, when nationalism turns into xenophobia, when being reasonable is a sign of weakness, when ideology turns into fundamentalism, when conflicts are consciously polarised, and when wars are fought ‘because we can’. Fearsome Chaos will be an aggressive world beyond the reach of reasonable players : is this not more likely to be the result of uncontrolled emotions rather than unequal access to scarce resources? Fundamentalism and extremism are often connected with notions such as the defence of honour, lack of respect, media manipulation, or destructive leaders.
A Balkanised world in the sense of a small number of “blocks” seems a quite realistic prospect, regardless whether demarcation lines are defined by nationality, language, geography or history. There will in any case be ‘opposing groups’, if only because groups and economic blocks need opposition, in order to define themselves and to make clear to their own people with whom they are competing.
They will try and be as distinct and different as possible, creating an identity on the basis of heroes, highlights, history, achievements. What will, in this context, happen to the superpowers ? I would agree that this world may not need them, and even will hardly tolerate them when they tend to become dominant. In Carrying the Torch, there is ‘a nucleus of nations at the cutting edge’, plus many others who lack the capacity to join in. Perhaps being at the cutting edge is sufficient to be recognised as one of the nations that earned the right to take the lead.
In this upper branch of the scenario diagram, the world may be divided and competitive, but it seems that all nations and cultures share a very rational approach to life. That would explain the high levels of transparency and discipline, the common model of a ‘good society’, the clever development of niches in order to avoid commoditisation. Does this imply that the developments we observed in recent years going in more irrational and extremist directions, will come to an end ? Does that in turn mean that a sense of injustice and hopelessness, emotional fundamentalism, and sheer aggression will either be controlled or fade away ? If we only consider how at present the standard media coverage focuses ever more on crises, games, celebrities, trivia, excitement - could we expect that, at the macro-level, the global community will be essentially rational and results-oriented?
“Oh My Gawd” is indeed too good to be true. For it to be plausible, there must be somewhere something going wrong and a price to be paid.
Can we, for example, imagine a developed society where the most capable people play a decisive role and get everything in perfect shape, without others who are jealous, destructive, incompetent, disturbed, etc trying to undermine this perfect construction? Is it plausible, under any circumstances, that the whole population is collectively rationalistic?
Not that many years ago, many people felt we had reached ‘the end of history’, discovered the final success model, a New Economy that defied gravity, the ways to manage the world successfully ever after, the end of ‘boom and bust’, etc - but the world turned out to be more multi-dimensional, less rational and more fascinating than these analyses allowed for. I doubt that this will be very different in 2040.
If we conclude that “current political structures – or things like markets – cannot get us where we need to be”, this does not mean that we will therefore get new structures that will get us where we need to be. More likely, we will remain involved in a giant ‘muddling through’ process, where every action provokes a reaction, and creates a zig-zag course around a long term development with a particular end point and sense of direction. This process will be better than we feared and not as good as we hoped for.
Yowser - follow that! On the last point about 'prices to be paid', Response 17 - the post with the three line graph - showed that individual choice peaked at a particular level of wealth. That spoke to me. I found the same thing in the services, where power peaked at one star, and you got stuck in politics when you went higher. Yes, there is a price to pay for the OMG case, and that price is the trade-off between collective and individual freedoms - or perhaps I should say, capabilities. If we can guarantee that every child is healthy, wise and able to follow their own 'best path', then that means that parents give up a lot of influence on their childs' upbringing. If we allow parents free rein, then we get some warped children.
The same is true at the global level. If we want fish in the sea, we have to manage how much fishing can be done. Firms' freedoms change, and peoples' diets with them. Market forces are probably not enough, because for markets to push back from a nasty outcome - crowded beaches due to mass tourism - the beaches have to stay pretty nasty to deter additional traffic. So, there is a balance between what we all want to happen - what Response 20 discussed as personae - and the ability to filter this through the political process to action. The process is political because it entails conflict between these collective liberties / capabilities and the status quo, to which people are attracted by habit and by the genuine pleasures of, for example, international travel or successful parenting.
There is also an issue around what my chemistry teacher called "activation energy". People have to be moved from a currently comfortable spot to a potentially much nicer location. They ask: can you prove to me, now, that my life will be better if I give up this or that traditional freedom? That is why crises and occasional strong leadership, foreign examples of success and so on can achieve things which conventional politics does not. Europe was the centre of global conflict and aggressive expansion into the rest of the world for hundreds of years, and discovered its current pacific persona only after two particularly ferocious civil wars. It will stay pacific so long as it is not harmed by this model, when it will switch to soemthing else. There are always a wide range of political narratives on sale, and conditions define which of them seem a bargain.
So, fear and greed are great motivators, and so are copying the leader, being in fashion and feeling comfortable with the trends in one's life. Several posts have discussed FC as being not one thing but several, and as such having many different possible psychological configurations. I suggest that the same is true of OMG.
These threads may all be active at the same time, may (will) be pulling in different directions and will be mixed with the many other forces that have been discussed. There will not be a sudden transition from a World of Whatever to OMG. Rather, you have to think of it as a series of 'burns', locations where most of the forces point in the right direction. The resulting example serves as a beacon, to some a warning, to others a navigation point. There will be lots of these, and they will cross pollinate and breed. OMG will not arrive universally or in a single form but as a patchwork. It will solve different problems in different places: LexusNexus serving up automated Sharia precedent and probable fatwahs for one market, downloading active intelligences to mobile telephones in order to manage business conversations in another.
To us, we think that one can see the cases in another light. It is best to show this with a picture, which we ask you to draw again in English.
We have retained the vertical axis, that is the ability to manage complicated societies. The horizontal axis also is the same as before. However, we show arising three dotted lines, the which show the level which a society must reach at one time on the axis to be "industrial" or "industrialising". These rise because the world is getting more complicated. The red line shows how fast the average industrial land is augmenting its capacity in this regard. It stays itself adequate until it cuts through the dotted line, and by the end of the period is only good enough for to be "Industrialising". Thus, the rate of improvement has to accelerate in line with the complexity of the world. If an industrialising country like here in Mexico wants to get to the industrial level, it has to move not just faster than its dotted line, but also enough to catch up.
Now we see also that there is a blue area. This represents the arrival of things like climate change, which you have called the systems issues. These can come soon or they can be delayed. If they are soon, then the fine dotted line shows how the minimum level for the industrial countries will rise. So they will have to go faster than before. That puts a really big strain in countries which want to catch up. It makes it really impossible for the pre-industrial countries, which are just growing the bananas. They have to get to be like the rich countries now if they want to stay in place and not go backwards.
Please give note that we are not saying that the pre-industrial countries need to get as rich or industrialised as the rich countries of today. But what we are saying is that they need to be as organised as those ones are of today. That wants of a major leap forward in things not tangible in those nations. It is their governments that have to change.
What happens if they do not change? It means that they cannot even stay still, and go backwards like Africa has regressed since they have liberated themselves. If anyone rich does not change? Well, they drop back from being leaders to followers. So: those who recognise this will act on it. You see Singapore do this under Lee. You see India and the China doing it now; also maybe the Brasil, I think Poland and so on. It is not good enough to be doing regular. You have got to do exceptional. If that means not everyone goes on the trip, well it is the elite that are making the plans, and the rest want better than what they have in the actuality. Maybe it gets harder when there are more people involved but unless someone offers magic, there is no real choice.
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