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Archetype responses to a changing world

Archetype responses to a changing world

The preceding texts have emphasised our focus on the international arena and our novel approach to scenario creation. Below, we reproduce the fundamental dimensions in which we believe that international affairs will play themselves out. The dissimilar (and familiar) nature of the quadrants are obvious.

The location of a nation (or interest group, company or other affiliation) depends on perception and narrative, on the stories which those people are telling themselves. This is not, emphatically, a map of what is but of what is felt.

With this in mind, please inspect the scatter that we have established for a number of important nations or groups of nations. A few of the names may need amplification. The 'Anglosphere' is the English speaking group of around 400 million people, which map together strongly in all attitude typologies. We have already published a number of such typologies. "Rejectionists" are those groups and nations which recognise a strong current in world affairs - social, religious, technical, economic flows - and who set themselves either against this or try to isolate themselves from it. The Anglosphere - in practice and in narrative - is the heartland through which this current flows, and so anathema to the Rejectionists. Whether the current of history does indeed flow in this way is, of course, the object of this entire exercise.

One reads positioning this to say that Japan, for example, sees itself as slightly more inclined to directive policy than not; and rather more likely to collaborate for mutual advantage than it is to seek individual advantage without at least giving this a try. This places it in the 'grand projects, defaulters not tolerated' quadrant; although only marginally so.

What follows is commentary on a number of small diagrams, in which these individual players are allowed to move. They do this in response to two very crude stimuli. Responses which are shown in red are driven by a world in which collaboration has broken down: there are trade barriers, societies are more separated than they are today and it might be that many have internal dissent. Responses which are shown in blue are made to a contrasting world, one of collaboration. Collaboration requires one to have a common model of how things work, however, and we shall see that the 'official future' which this embodies of necessity alienates some players. Additionally, a world in which we believe that we understand the fundamentals of wealth and social health is one in which states feel confident to act on this insight. It may well be a directive, prescriptive world. Some groups seem more eager the embrace prescriptions than are others.

It is, of course, necessary to have some idea as to what brings these crude distinctions into existence. In the absence of exogenous events, such as an epidemic, it it the actions of other players, and of the agent in question, both sum to generate such affects. These will be sketched in as we pass through the individual figures.


China is the only major new player likely to enter the international arena in force during the scenario period. How it is received - and how it manages itself - will have a major impact on overall events. That is, whether we face a collaborative or antagonistic world depends in no small degree to how China itself behaves.

The gray line shows how China has moved over the past 20 years. The blue trajectories show a collaborative, firmly-managed China that works with rather than against its trading partners. The red curve shows the result of the emergence of an aggressive and triumphalist China. A phase of carrying all before it leads to tariff and other barriers. China reacts with narrow self interest, and unleashed commerce.

Paradoxically, a strong Chinese impact on the rest of the world is coupled to weakened state control over society and commerce. As trading conditions become harsh, the tendency to compete by all means is enhanced. By contrast, a managed impact - where, for example, intellectual property is respected, Chinese manufacturing works with established brands rather than strives to supplant them - is one in which state control and internal institutions are at their strongest.

The Anglosphere

The Anglosphere grasped a new synthesis about society, economics and politics during the 1980s, and put it into practice as the cold war ended. The essence of this consists of two components. First, good choices are made under transparent conditions. Information makes markets assign resources where they are best used, and ensures that all the aspects of what constitutes 'the best' are served.

Second, the way to manage complex structures is to set boundary conditions - law, regulation - and allow a myriad of small transactions to seek out optima. Government is there to set these conditions where needed, and to ensure that they predispose the system to clear in desirable ways.

Just what constitutes the 'desirable' is also, for the most part, well-understood. It is usually set in terms of antitheses: that stability is better than erratic economic performance; that having choices is better than being constrained; that being well is better than being ill, individually or as a nation. Precise optima are avoided, for that is the role of micro-transactions, and one person's optimum is not that of another and these societies are nothing if not pluralistic.

This synthesis has, in fact, shot the Anglosphere across the figure over the past 20 years. (Gray line.) However, it contains an unresolved conflict that may create trajectories on the figure that are essentially independent of world conditions. However, if conditions are antagonistic, then this will clearly predispose this situation to resolve itself in specific ways. Before we get to the trajectories, however, we need to think about the contradiction.

One way of thinking about the Anglosphere synthesis dwells on self-assembling systems, such as market mechanisms, entrepreneurship and social network formation. Extrapolating such a future takes us to the right on the figure, and suggest a world of limitless choice and personal responsibility, of great rewards and severe punishments delivered impersonally by the system. It is the future as seen with the eyes of the 1980s.

The other approach to thinking about this synthesis is quite distinct. It also focuses on knowledge, good management and best practice. It asks: if we know how to bring up a wise, healthy and stable child, then why should we allow people to exercise choices which will bring up a child as stupid, sickly and unstable? If we know how to run an economy, then why should we tolerate nations which harm their citizens, our commerce and the world financial system by running their badly? In critical situations, directive expertise will always have a clearer voice than plural experiments and panic. Faced with security threats and issues of energy security, with threats to public health, to the environment, to food supplies or other critical systems, the Anglosphere consensus will become increasingly directive, "to enable economic and social liberties", of course.

Curiously, it seems most likely that such a directive approach will develop under conditions of collaboration. When the path is smooth, optimal routes can be plotted and proven, and why should anyone choose a lesser path? Where collaboration and trade come hand in hand with competition, this pursuit of the best is far more strongly expressed than when trade is constrained. Equally, tolerance for those who dissent is limited, for can they not see hard facts? Why should we let 'those guys' muddy the waters?

Any situation in which the policies of aggression win over those propagating collaboration is, of course, far better suited to the pragmatic, fragmented "micro" interpretation. The world is seen to be too choppy and risky to even think about seeking optima. What is needed is a situation which permits many parallel experiments, at least one of which will suit whatever conditions come forward. Extreme adherence to competition and aggressive expansion will, as indicated under the discussion on China, perhaps lead to precisely this response.

This brings us to the two trajectories. One, shown in blue and referring to a collaborative international environment, tracks the Anglosphere into a domain in which it feels supremely confident of its message, and so confident does it feel that "there is no alternative" to the prescriptions of this. The state optimises, prescribes much that was once open to debate. This is done in ways which is predicated on evidence and facts as to what works, which match carrots to sticks, which allow dissent but which gradually engross more and more of the way that life is led. Education must be done thus, industrial or food safety delivered just so. On occasions, policy makers and the society as a whole become over-confident of this model and great, sweeping mistakes are made. Frequently, however, it is intensely prescriptive to others, much as the IMF is accused of being towards developing economies, or neo-conservatives to the social policies which they follow. A sense of urgency around the environment, terrorism, migration and related issues make the Anglosphere increasingly directive: 'in a world of nine billion, there is no room for error, there are urgent problems to solve, so there is no alternative to doing what we say.'

The red trajectory takes forward the market consensus but down-plays the elite, expert prescriptions discussed above. This balance occurs because external conditions are difficult. China is booming and aggressive, resource and energy prices are high because of this, and commercial change is occurring at huge speed. Significant voices are raised about the importance of preserving domestic jobs, commerce, customs in the face of an onslaught of change, much of it in fact generated domestically. The shift towards prescriptive policy takes the end of the trajectory almost as much to the right as does the other case, but with very different results. The movement down the chart - to terrain in which collaboration is not attractive - suggests reduced trade, weakened ability to address collective issues such as the environment and an increased security threat. Such a world links neatly with the 'aggressive' model discussed under China.

The founder European Union countries

The conventions which have been followed are identical to those used above. The founder EU countries have moved substantially from a directive, statist model to an accommodation with the Anglosphere approach. Demographics and other factors - and recent performance in areas of competitiveness, innovation and liberalisation - suggest that this movement has reached its limits.

Two trajectories suggested themselves. The collaborative response is similar to that described under the Anglosphere, above. Prescriptions may, however, be arrived at with different value systems, whereby social consensus against change stands above renewal, efficient factor recycling and growth.

The red trajectory is essentially analogous to that of the Anglosphere, but with a much earlier turn to protectionism. The initial surge to increased competition is avoided, and new economies are seen as a problem to be handled and not an opportunity to be grasped. The later response is far more pronounced in its statism than is that of the Anglosphere. It is less designed to adapt to new times than to shut them out.


Two central issues have changed for India over the past 20 years. First, the centrist, statist model of government has been dropped for something more subsidiary, plural and international in its orientation. Second, a significant educated consumer class has emerged which both fits the country to compete and demands access to choice, novelty and personal advancement.

The consequence has been areas and social groups which have done very well, and regions and classes which have lost ground. Consensus is very important in India, and there is a dread of splitting the social fabric that dates back, perhaps, to when the thousand administrators of the British Raj managed the affairs of several hundred million. "If they all spit, we drown."

There is a strong sense in Indian politics that the trend of the past twenty years has endangered this consensus and thus its democracy. At the same time, there is neither appetite for nor - in the absence of the supportive Soviets - and real practical possibility of returning to the days of inefficient state industries, agrarian poverty and (relatively) quiescent cities. For India to grasp the options offered by world conditions that encourage collaboration, it is felt to need firm central leadership. Regions need to cross-subsidise each other; great projects of urbanisation and public health are required, involving perhaps more taxation but certainly redistribution; education and other public goods are in need of reform. For this reason, the blue curve bends up, towards greater collaboration with the outside world, but also sharply back toward a prescriptive state. the prescriptions may differ, but the expectation of enforced clarity is well-established.

The red curve is something of a default. If world conditions are bad - ranging from high energy prices to a poor collaborative environment, from protectionism in its overseas markets to embargoes on intellectual property transfers - then it is likely that politics will fail to deliver reform. If they do not, then current trends will continue, exacerbating inequality, social instability and worsening the conditions for reform still further. The links with preceding analysis are evident: a rampant China, a mercantilist Europe could gravely damage India.

The developing nations

The poor nations have made some strides. Human capital is stronger, health generally better, participation in work, politics and schooling increased. Access to clean food, air and water are usually better, with huge exceptions and many foci of poverty.

Our analysis has shown us that institutional strength is the key to development success. Economic liberalisation, the tendency of governments to try to do less, but to do it more effectively, has begun to have significant effects. This said, many cards are stacked against the poor nations in the international arena and they start from a position which does not encourage collaboration or openness. This is shown by their trajectory and placement on the figure.

If the external environment is unhelpful - as with India, above, but with even greater fragility - then the future will comprise a slow continuation of this trend. If the situation is collaborative, however, then one should expect reform of the state and a much greater engagement of this with the process of development. Development best practice may well be well-defined by 2020, let alone 2030, and the Anglosphere will, for reasons already discussed, be pressing for this to be applied.

One corollary of this is that states that have understood what they are about, and which have grasped the relevant policy levers, will begin to present a far more unified body in both lobbying and decrying things which cause them harm. Successful development will lead to hard bargaining in a collaborative environment. There will also be a growth in transnational political movements, and the remarkable IT of the period will tend to spread such movements efficiently. This will have substantial implications to other players with large populations of people who feel excluded, or who feel solidarity with religious fraction, political factions and delocalised nationalist movements. Should one feel solidarity with fellow but often rather alien citizens, or with people who are apparently like you, but who live far away? One sees the smallest flickers of this in various terror groups, and much stronger expressions in everything from the international sports and pop music to science, or to political movements: Zionism, Kurdish separatism. Many people who live in nations which are labeled "poor" are better thought of as occupying a virtual "rejectionist" country. If they and their narrative come to dominate in any one nation's politics, then that country will scoot across this figure to the Rejectionist camp.

Rejectionist groups and nations

Around 10% of a population are typically alienated from its core values, and this number goes up when a new way of living sweeps through a hitherto static society. Around 40% of rapidly developing societies may fall into this category, and - typically - the same proportion of people over 60 in any society feel a similar alienation.

This does not make them rejectionists, however, A rejectionist is someone or some group who chooses to set themselves aside from - reject - the general flow of the times. They may actively oppose this flow, or simply attempt to isolate themselves from it. Rejectionist states are those where this world view has gained political dominance.

Rejectionism is one of a family of responses to change, all of which can be lumped under the heading of 'populism'. For example, the early stages of the Nazi political movement gave the German population an explanation of why they had lost World War I, and why they were then suffering seemingly arbitrary economic calamity: they had been betrayed, by Jews and by international capital. Islamic populists of the fundamentalist persuasion try to explain the failure of Islam to meet the industrial West on its own terms. They do so with reference to backsliding from the fierce virtues of the time when Arab armies had conquered half of the Mediterranean region, when Arab scientists and doctors worked at the frontier of knowledge and Islam art and architecture set the standards for Europe. Islam is betrayed by 'Westoxication', and sources of this must be stopped, and those addicted cured or, sadly, killed for the good of the body politic. And, of course, so on and so on throughout humanity's blood-soaked history.

As noted above, there is no shortage of people who feel bewildered by change, no lack of change itself and a surplus of politicians who would like to harness this fear to their own ends. The figure suggests that rejectionists will become somewhat more fervent over the period, irrespective of what happens in the world as a whole. A successful, collaborative world would offer a clear axis against which to react, much in the manner of anti-globalisation protestors. An aggressive, fragmented world would also provide fuel of a different kind.

One form of rejectionism that has been largely ignored in analysis of this issue is that coming from the elderly and poorly educated population sin the wealthy world. Several million rejectionists try to live outside the standards of the US, for example, whether as religious communities, survivalists or ethnic, aesthetic or paranoid counter-cultures. The demographics of Europe and Japan will both yield unprecedented number so elderly, often ill-funded, often quite well educated and able to use information technology. That such groups will not become politically unified is inconceivable, and that their voice may in part become rejectionist is entirely possible. The consequences could blunt productive innovation - no to biotechnology, to artificial intelligence, to outsourcing, migrant labour, preventing capital funds from investing in this or that, here or there - and this force could be a major component in creating a non-collaborative world.

The trajectories differ in that in the antagonistic world, the demand will be for the state to act, to close down outside links, to police what is taught in schools and so forth. The nature of the enemy would, however, be extremely plural. In a collaborative world, by contrast, the enemy is the 'official model'. This is opposed in far more plural and complex ways than a diffuse external threat. The state is involved - although sneakily undertaking some aspects of the official model, much as banking or land reform occurs in Teheran today. It is not the major player, however.


The last twenty years has seen enormous changes in Russia which do not need to be rehearsed. In a collaborative world, it is likely that these will continue to run. The state has a relatively weak position, not least as it merges with the darker side of commerce in ways unforeseen by Marxist-Leninism.

In an antagonistic world, rejectionism and populism would be expected to be important in Russia. Equally, its strong position as an energy supplier offer a strength that it could exploit much more directly than when doing so would lose the fruits of collaboration. However, political instability would increase and the centralisation of power would accelerate. This would e justified by sweeping state-mediated measures, as has characterised Russian history.


Japan has three overweening issues to face: its graying population, its proximity to China and its internal institutional weakness. The banking collapse of the late Eighties consumed some 20 years of growth, but despite a clear diagnosis, the consensus culture and vested interests made it impossible rectify the situation. Japan is a fine example of a country where economic complexity outstripped the capacity of institutions and society to manage this.

The proximity of China offers Japan particular problems, in that its former clients - Taiwan, Korea - are either independent of Japan or falling under the sway of Chinese economic interests. Japan is caught with an expensive and aging workforce right next door to a nascent manufacturing super-power. That they share a troubled history does not help the situation.

Japan has the potential to renew its industries as knowledge vendors, offering services and ideas as its manufacturing lead undergoes a natural erosion. Much has been said about this, but very little that is concrete has been done about it.

The trajectories that are open to Japan are fairly limited in their extent. Post-war Japan has shown itself to be willing to trade, but not particularly open to collaboration or to absorbing foreign ideas of individuals. It is unlikely to progress much further away from a statist model that has dominated its history and decision-taking. The blue arc is, therefore, effectively a short vertical movement on the figure. An adverse external world would, in all likelihood, drive Japan into itself, with the state as the mediating agent in this. Japan has had period of populist-fundamentalist rejectionism before, most recently in the 1920s, and whilst the response is certainly likely to be more muted that occurred at that time, it should certainly not be discounted.

The overall picture

The overall picture

We have looked at each of the major (national or quasi-national) players. Naturally, this has not brought in topics such as resource supply and energy, technology, environmental change and the like. However, the building blocks that we have examined will be driven by and act upon these factors in ways which are different, and perhaps predictable - at least in terms of dynamic, if not outcome - in regard to the collaborative and antagonistic worlds.

Below, we present the overall outcome of this exercise. The 2030 end points are all shown individually, with the colour coding retained. (The axes are the same, of course.) The red and blue ovals enclose the spread found in the collaborative and aggressive cases, respectively.

There are two central points to be drawn from this. First, both the antagonistic and collaborative futures have a dispersal that is very different from the start position. (This initial figure is repeated, below.) Individuals move a lot or a little - the rejectionists, for example, hardly move at all, more or less by definition, although their composition may change enormously. Nevertheless, the character and dynamics of the next two decades or so are such as to shape a world quite unlike anything that we have known. (A plot similar to the one shown below for 1960, or 1900, would probably retain the 2006 pattern, but with it compressed towards the lower right quadrant. The Anglosphere would sit slightly above where India is marked on the chart.)

The second key insight comes from the nature of the dispersal and the two ovals which enclose it. The blue oval shows the dispersal in the collaborative world. It affords a clean axis along which interest groups align themselves. At one end, those who believe that they have found truth are creating a clean new world of collaboration, competition and functioning institutions. At the other, a huge number of people are not at all sure about this, and in some cases actively opposed. One is reminded of Diego Rivera's painting that contrast Mexican and US culture: at one end, rustic Latin muddle and the Indio heritage, at the other, robot-like hordes of steely-eyed blonds.

The red oval is distinct - as one would hope - but occupies at least some of the same space. The same axis of dissent will, therefore, express itself in both futures, but plainly in different ways and with somewhat different players. There are three clusters in the red oval: the Anglosphere and others, the rejectionists of all flavours, and the "old rich" of the EU, Japan and - probably - others. One should, perhaps, interpret this clustering as a tension between commercial and social pressures, expressing itself distinctly in these groups. However, one can see three straightforward interpretations: rejectionism and all that goes with it, safe old age and protectionism, and a rough, tough looking after number one by the more confident and commercially-oriented players. Each will be looking after their own interests by building bilateral relations with those who can give them advantage.

The triangle of interests has the following dynamics. (Please read the table as follows. The heads to the columns are those who are under consideration, and the heads to the rows as those whose opinions of them are being documented.)

  Commercially aggressive Retiring old rich Rejectionist - hapless
Commercially aggressive   An interfering irritant, weak and prone to betraying their natural allies: surrender monkeys. A particular irritation where they have become dependent on 'difficult' regions so as to cause policy clashes: e.g. EU on Russian gas. At best misguided and in need of enlightenment; at worst damaged beyond redemption, or a source of active menace. Some such countries are in need of active management in order to assure - for example - mineral or energy supplies.
Retiring old rich A destabilising influence, which through its technical and commercial thrust is making the world a worse place. This group are seen as the direct cause of instability in much of the world and their intransigence as the reason that nothing sensible can be negotiated by way of trade, climate change and other agreements.   Victims, and people who need to be understood and who need to understand themselves better if they are to achieve an open future. At the same time, as a dangerous source of instability, illegal migration and dangerous technologies. (Note remarks above concerning defection to Rejectionist camp if populist politics dominate.)
Rejectionist - hapless On the one hand, an attractive and glittering mirage that always remains out of reach, on the other, "the source of our problems, our challenge and our shame." Real issues - of commercial aggression, of trade barriers, of issues around intellectual property - elide with these more complex emotions. Neurotic ambiguity that turns quickly to outbursts and hostility. Closer and more amicable relations, threaded by a growing theme of contempt. Trade barriers are a particular area of contention. A favoured destination for migration, and there is an unresolved issue of expatriate subversion and of domestic groups which sympathise with or support political movements from the poor regions.  

These, then, are the building blocks for the scenarios.

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