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Some implications of the scenarios

Some implications of the scenarios

We have exposed these scenarios to a number of groups. The reaction has been that Blunted Edge is both extremely credible and very frightening, whilst New Deal is extremely attractive - discounting the initial depression - but not entirely plausible. Indeed, many were not clear on what the problem was that the latter stages of New Deal solved. By contrast, there was universal and immediate recognition for the issues which are not solved in Blunted Edge.

One of the common problems of scenario planning is also found in low-budget science fiction: that is, it is far easier to suggest a future dystopia, where today's solutions stop working, than it is to suggest a credible and better way of working. What, after all, is wrong with the present? Let us take something which most people will dislike: traffic congestion. If we focus on this in discussion with respondents who have not considered the problem before, then they are likely to suggest that the future will hold better cars - flying cars, hydrogen-powered motors, gadgets - rather than better institutions, or better ways of handling the need to travel. However, the main commercial and social differences between today and twenty five years ago are due to changes in organisation and attitude, in capability and motive. Spectacular surface changes, such as technology and the enormously extended capital base are, however, managed by and expressed through this intangible machinery.

The future is uncertain, but the one thing about which we can be moderately sure is that it will be more complex than the present. It will be more 'connected', and such connections create systems that have to be managed in their own terms, and interplay of needs and capabilities which also must be brokered in their own terms. Setting up such structures, both within individual nations and in the international arena will continue to be a taxing issue. If we fail to achieve this, however, then we will be limited in the complexity which we can in fact manage. If we do not extend our management ability, then we will fall into unmanaged chaos if we increase complexity, or we will have to stop increasing complexity if we want manageability.

The figure suggests the space in which this is to be played out. The central diagonal is characterised by structures and systems that self-assemble: that is, the rules by which the component parts are to interact are set up and policed so that individual agents - people, companies, nations - follow their interests and, without further co-ordination, arrive at a system in balance. In a regulated system, for example, the desired policy goals are achieved through this balance. Much policy around welfare and commercial regulation has been designed in this way, such that people better themselves and therefore cease to be dependent on welfare, or so that companies are motivated to innovate, to install clean processes and so forth. The systems are essentially self-policing, so long as information remains transparent to all of the agents and so long as the basic rules are enforced.

Such measures are far easier to enforce that those which require formal policing. For example, contrast the effort which is required of the state in respect of getting the supply of horticultural products - lettuces and tomatoes - to match the demand for them with the which is involved in trying to stop this balance being struck around the supply and demand for narcotics. The characteristic of such policy measures is that those who frame them have an expert understanding of the system that they are trying to manage, of its agents, their motives, of the time frame in which things can be done and the pitfalls that have to be avoided. Much the same perspective has to be brought to bear on all complex, chronic problems. In New Deal, the world learns this. In Blunted Edge, it does not.


The table shows the key issues for a number of interests. It does this under the two periods set out above the columns. Following the convention that we have used elsewhere, the rows are colour-coded. Pink rows refer to Blunted Edge, pale blue ones to New Deal.

2003-2013 2014-2025

Industrial states: commerce and the economy

Attitudes to other peoples' money

Immediate concerns over corporate governance fade as capital growth resumes, with EU and the Japan affording increasingly attractive portfolio options. Industrialising markets show remarkable returns. Tax 'management' and regulatory evasion become major reasons to handle resources offshore to the industrial world.

Crisis brings many irregularities to the surface, and a rigorous regime is imposed. Capital markets come under sharp third-party scrutiny. Corporate relationships with government are rendered transparent and distant.

Good projects are scarce, whilst savings flood US capital markets. Government borrowing increases. There is a rigid and anxious scrutiny of corporate behaviour and performance. Concern around pensions rises sharply to 2008. National tax collection becomes avid.

Powerful and binding international agreements about the rights and duties of ownership are set in place and policed, at least in the major markets. Transnational regulatory regimes are harmonised, leading to a plethora of new regulation.

Industry categories

Envelopes of function, ownership and geography become almost complete decoupled. A coherent managerial holding responds to similar time frames, regulatory imperatives and skill needs. Coherent ownership, by contrast, balances countervailing demand cycles, tax and earnings. Market facing organisations seek brand identity that is coherent with endlessly redefined consumer cadres. Supply-facing organisations seek cost-time-risk balances along diffuse supply chains.

A new cadre of innovation-only firms arise to undertake what is in effect extremely focused venture capital, aiming to create new things specifically to sell these on to organisations which are best at routine operations.

The return of geography as an organising principle, and the extreme threats to extended supply chains through extortion, terror and simple malfeasance restores one aspect of traditional patterns. However, the old forms by which assets are held and managed are all but gone. Consumers may see what look like car makers selling vehicles, for example. However, there is no single entity that performs this task, and neither is there an 'envelope of ownership' that allows anyone to hold such an asset. A loose web of organisations is co-ordinated by firms which specialise in orchestration, finance, market positioning and so forth.

Hard times cause firms to consolidate around whatever is defensible and familiar. The pursuit of low cost through consolidation accelerates, and cheap surplus capital makes M&A attractive. However, the depressed market will not deliver significant capital growth, and reliance on real earnings imposes a pervasive discipline on such investment.

Familiar categories of operation and ownership break down, as in the early stages of Broken Edge. The key issue is what a particular organisational module can do to add value that others cannot, and how this is modulated by location, history and special relationships. Such envelopes define coherent patterns of ownership.

Supply side issues

The complex economies are recognised to be tool kits, in which almost anything that can be needed is available through outsourcing. "Specifiable" products - anything for which an unambiguous specification can be written - are seen as commodities, acquired from anywhere that can meet criteria of cost, speed and risk.

Geographical outsourcing can access low wage, high productivity regions at modest cost and limited risk. The dissolution of trade barriers and the scope of IT pushes this trend quickly forward.

Crisis causes a partial reversal of these trends. However, insofar as some relationships are essentially ineradicable, bilateral deals are forced on the parties to manage (perhaps pacify) regions which are particularly critical.

The relationship that existed over the period 1980-2005 between the major oil exporters and the industrial powers gives a good model from which to understand the practical limits and general form of this.

The unconstrained theft of intellectual property serves as major disincentive to outsource anything complex.

Much the same processes occur at a much slower pace, and with much less geographical spread. The later wave of xenophobia served to cut back much of the work that had been done.

Very slow reintegration into the industrialising world, chiefly on the back of better institutions and policing.

Increased regularisation of trade issues, and better management of intellectual property creates a reciprocal set of roles for the old and new industrial states.

Human resource needs mandate maximal education for relatively scarce young of the old industrial nations.

Markets and brand

Manufacturing systems are such that there is no effective advantage to world branding, save where consumers aspire to a cosmopolitan image. Consequently, national and regional brands proliferate with the spread of regionalist media.

The impact of the billion plus 'new consumers' from the industrialising countries is important in shaping brand strategies.

The key brand messages for the period are those of the safety envelope and the traditional identity. People want to know what is in a product and to be sure that nothing untoward has affected it; and they want to feel assured that the good came from people like them and is intended for other people with whom they feel solidarity.

Product brands are essentially traditional. Corporate brands are intended to convey probity and continuity.

Considerable effort is put into making the new seem merely an extension of former trends. This is particularly an issue for the biotechnology-utilising industries. Non-economic delivery systems with a high personal service element are introduced specifically to provide such a traditional transition platform. Discourse machinery is set up around new products - placing them in context, setting them within familiar entertainment, for example - is a major thread in product promotion.

The same trends continue, but with a stronger thread of internationalism. The interests of the new consuming cadres from the industrialising countries makes itself apparent.

Extreme technologies are increasingly acceptable as the period progresses. New technologies are, however, carefully set into a context that allows populations both to see them for what they are, and understand intuitively what problems they solve or opportunities they present. Regulatory and technical issues of impact are solved before such semi-political presentation is attempted.

Scrutineers and critics

Strong though criticism may be, the momentum behind international integration of commerce allows this largely to be swept aside.

Many voices, from all points of the compass, from the rational and the mad, from the insatiable advocate and the implacable critic all arise in an endless mad babble. Incompatible forms of debate proliferate across the astounding IT of the time. Litigation, political trouble-making, all manner of direct action and terrorism are directed at whatever issue touches enough nerves.

Criticism within the industrial nations is highly coherent and sharply focused. It affords a new lease of life to traditional party politicians, at least in many of the larger nations. Neophobic and xenophobic populism is a potent thread of this. However, the governing principle is that of claimancy. Major inroads are made into commercial freedoms and the sanctity of individual property in the pursuit of this.

The more extreme forms of protest weaken as the economies revive and as effectual forms of policy formation prove themselves. Activism through stakeholder participation and evidence-based enquiry proves to be too boring for the firebrands.

New, younger political cadres provide a different focus from the industrialising nations.

Role of conventional politics

The realities of transnational life and of local pluralism make "rich world" party politics, in all but the most general sense, impossible to maintain. Some brand weight attaches to old established parties - particularly for the old and the rural - and there is a vague association formed around the interests of wealth generation and efficiency, set against those concerned with consumption and dependency.

The resulting parties are, however, incapable of maintaining internal coherence around any crucial issue. Internal differences are greater than those between the notional groupings. The population notes this, and loses respect.

Shrill politics and high passions do not conceal the fragmented nature of the political agents themselves. There are, however, general issues around which most can agree - that defence against a frightening world is important, that problem groups have to be contained and overwhelmed - but passions are remain high in respect of the techniques to be used. All debate is filtered through a shrill cacophony of activism and special interest.

Age and claimancy, coupled to the general background of distress, revive party politics. Existing parties strive to re-brand themselves and occupy the new high ground.

As there are no political solutions to the issues, this revival is gradually enveloped in a cloud of activism and, in some areas, populism.

The evolving 'new' political systems leave national party politics essentially beached. The forms remain at national level, but the multivalent connections of the new economic order - and the growing tide of constraints applied by partners, evidence, expertise and formal agreements - together leave little room for national politicians to manoeuvre.

Resource issues: welfare and tax

Growth offers abundance; and internationalism an abundance of opportunities to evade tax at the corporate level. Transition to collectable taxes, such as VAT, over taxes on delocated entities, such a corporations and individual incomes.

Minds are focused by acute episodes of shortfall, and also by the ever-present threat of instability and upheaval.

Chronic shortage and shortfall. Major effort by states to collect tax.

Steady increases in both what is affordable and what is expected. These are brought into alignment by a 'technology' of welfare mitigation and management.

Public-private relationships

Europe and US differ. EU relations become distant as subsidies are dropped and protectionism is lessened. US relations with its international business is unusually close, due to the 'war on terror.' In retrospect, these relationships are seen to be too close.

A distancing between commerce and the state is everywhere evident in the industrial worlds, whilst the converse is true elsewhere. This is particularly true of the aggressive rejectionist states, which use external commerce as a tool of expansionist state power.

The state sees commerce primarily as the means to get tax revenues; and also as having failed monumentally when left to its own devices. There is, therefore, an intrusive element to regulation, and a substantial covert welfare burden - as in pensions, or in extending the retirement age - which is shrugged onto commerce.

The role of commerce within the overall social enterprise of civilisation has been talked through many times. A consensus has arisen. Commerce is 'for' a wider group of beneficiaries than the holders of scarce resources - capital, knowledge - or for consumers. This balanced against the fact that commercial success comes from appropriate motivation. Considered, manipulative regulatory positions are therefore put in place to achieve the desired balance of outcomes, using commercial capabilities as a tool.

Technology, insight and communication

Explosive, unconfined exploration of every facet which technology lays open, fervently backed by capital markets.

Equally unconfined exploitation of technology, but with major efforts being made to manage its geographical spread.

Crime and the criminal use of information technology is pervasive beyond the core industrial nations. Many seek regulated or forbidden benefits of biotechnology unregulated havens.

Entertainment and information media are heavily dissected: some nations will not allow some things in, many will not allow other things out. Access to education is similarly constrained in some areas of knowledge by some nations. Commercial secrecy reaches unprecedented levels, as intellectual property theft reaches critical dimensions.

Fast innovation is essential if commerce is to keep up, yet very fast implementation means that few companies make money from this. Indeed, the pace at which existing positions are eroded is at least one major reason for economic under-performance.

The growing anti-modernist consensus seeks to block of heavily regulate threatening technologies, and to take active measures against firms which support these. Genomics delivers some unwelcome messages about the human condition and about individual options and constraints. Life-extension technologies provoke jealousies and drains on the pocket. Seemingly aware, groupware and other sophisticated IT creates its first social impact. Pervasive data mining and other forms of invasive scrutiny generates a sense that nowhere is truly private.

Anti-rationalism gains a considerable hold in the 2007-2015 period. Collective identity and emotional responses are held to be more 'valid' that analysis. Decisions are only possible amongst unlikely coalitions, where clean debate conducted around agreed ground rules is frequently impossible. Outcry and emotion-based leaps in the dark are all that seems to work.

The gradual return to 'bottom up' pragmatic rationalism is a huge relief for many, not least when set against the cacophony of the previous years.

This said, there is no 'return of the white coat', and the days of neophilia are long gone. Technologies need to prove their place in the scheme of things, and regulatory processes are more complex, more extended in time and more "social" than hitherto. Social impact statements are a characteristic regulatory tool of the times.

Economics - and its peer sciences concerned with decision-taking, institutional functionality and information creation and handling - are regarded with great respect. From academic disciplines, these have evolved into formal technologies, supported by IT structures and by data collection and assessment techniques that appear almost magical. Applied to many problems that were once open to debate, these structures show how the underlying "clockwork" operates and where, in malfunction, it does not operate as might be wished.

Applied to issues of security - on the one hand - and to development on the other, these tools have formidable impact. Interventions are less a dubious art form, where the outcome is essentially unknowable, to a series of clear 'war aims' using well-understood tools.

Issues for the industrialising states

Economic drivers

The commerce of the industrial world spills over into new economic basins, initially to access low-cost disciplined labour, later to access new consumer markets. This is a sharp acceleration of existing trends, much enhanced by the use of specifically US-based companies to further the aims of the US government in its attempts to manage international security. European interests are less pro-active and relations are more commercially rational. There is a sharp decline of the business ethics of some of the major players.

This is a period of dashed expectations for many, and of general lawlessness in the international arena. Nations which maintain their coherence do reasonably well, whilst those which lose themselves in rejectionism at one extreme and criminality at an other tend to do badly, at least in the medium term.

Intellectual property and managerial talent are in short supply.

Poor performance and protectionism in the wealthy world means that most growth comes from internal markets, and from the exploitation of low wage areas.

Interactions within the industrialising nations create webs of connection and interaction which form a framework on which independent development can eventually be constructed.

The piecemeal, thoughtful reintegration of the web of commerce - and the strong links that endured the difficult years - provide the grounds for stable development.

Reciprocal arrangements in the international arena curtail some freedoms, but enable a growing range of trust-based relationships to develop.

Social expectations

A growing professional class develops in the most compliant economies. Consumerism expands amongst billions, and with this social stress and debt. A growing cadre look beyond the good life to criticise the existing order. Sharp eyes are turned on local institutions and, beyond this, to the impositions of the wealthy world.

Nations which are not inclined to adapt themselves easily to a quickly changing and dirigiste world are put under huge pressure, or withdraw from any attempt to wield at international influence.

The breakdown of the former certainties leave many in a state of bewilderment. In the short term, many are over-extended or painfully affected by economic instability. Those peddling grand certainties may attract a wide following. The emergent middle classes are often penalised by these groups as the betrayers, or as those who harbour foreign influence. Capable people are forced to enter unethical professions, to serve corrupt or foolish regimes. Much potential is wasted.

The generalised slow-down puts many in extremely difficult situations. A significant number cast about for alternative value systems, and many candidates for these are brought forward. Some of these find common cause with similar movements in the wealthy world, whilst others seek to develop in isolation of foreign influences.

The emerging world is extremely complex, both socially and institutionally, and almost any imaginable social experiment is being tried somewhere, and almost every form of actual or invented traditionalism is also in play.

This is not a time of great tolerance, however, and whilst it is clearly necessary to keep certain frameworks in place, hard-won liberties are fiercely defended against erosion and invasion by other cultures.


Public governance

Enforced if lopsided reforms are made in some nations, chiefly around issues of strictly economic relevance. Often regressive steps are taken in others in order to manage unrest in the face of change and instability.

Institutional reform largely ceases and many nations return to primitive forms of governance - to absolutism, dictators, warlords and caciques.

The general focus on institutional weakness leads to much questioning, but to little action. However, the grounds for acting is firmly established in the public mind. There is a growing conviction amongst billions that the state is there to serve the people, and not the other way around.

The hard tools developed in the wealthy nations are increasingly applied to the technical micro-issues of individual countries: to traffic and hospitals, water supply and education. Practical benefits lead to further application, in widening areas. People see that there is nothing particularly political in organising things effectively, and that special interests cannot be allowed to override the public good.

Such simple lessons, coupled to the spread to education, social and commercial networks, lead to a pressure for practical reform within the idiosyncratic social structures which may have been adopted. Enhanced surface difference and specialisation is increasingly underpinned by common performance targets.

External relations

Polarised between the rejectionists and the 'acceptive'; with a large cadre of poor nations which cannot play by the rules that have been adopted.

Coarse self-interest coupled to more subtle bilateral agreements.

Multilateral groping for 'how to be,' with an increasing conviction that whatever ethnic and other differences can be maintained locally, the industrialising nations need to get together to find and alternative to being poor copies of the West. This is a particularly strong Asian sentiment, much orchestrated by China and, separately, by the Indian elites.

The gradual, rational integration of world institutions is brought about only slowly. The situation at the beginning is confrontational, and most accords arise through pragmatic needs rather than grand or idealistic aspirations. The art of negotiation, in a world where orders cannot easily be given, is a primary skill. The capacity to sell constraints - policing, environmental and social management - to the domestic populations of the industrialising nations is crucial, and a skill that is all too rare.

Nationalism and identity

Strong amongst the rejectionist nations, all but lost amongst the fellow-travellers and those unable to make a play. The undercurrent of dissent is focused less upon traditional political boundaries than on solidarity with peers.

The splintered structure of the world carries many kinds of governance, and the more authoritarian of these use nationalism as a tool. There are few organic sources of identity on offer, save from those who define themselves by what they are against.

Increasingly powerful, but less as statist constructs than the consequence of middle class individuation. "What it is to be Thai" is an increasingly pertinent question in a world where the consumerist models of the West are ever-less valid.

Educated individuals usually belong to many "tribes", each of which have different norms. They are able effortlessly to swap the tropes and mores appropriate to each of these, doing so without thought as they pass through daily life.

The connectivity between these groups has now surpassed the connections due to geography, and highly focused entertainment media, means of earning, spending and socialising all tend to reinforce these. "What it is to be a Thai in the caring professions who happens to be pursuing a particular outdoor interest?" is now the pertinent question.

Issues for the rest of the world

Health, wealth and happiness

Elites do well, the poor regress. Rapid urbanisation. Resource shortages.

Criminal and repressive elites are common. Environmental and resource breakdowns are common in some areas.

Economic stasis or regression.

Concerted external effort to raise the quality of governance and so to attract mobile resources.

Public governance

Inorganic democratisation in some areas, authoritarian regression in others.


Limited change, but some affects from a new generation of leaders.

Progressive change, significantly driven from the outside and by external examples. People increasingly seen as citizens, not tools or prey.

Stability and security

Either enforced security or exclusion, but with growing economic and social instability.

Prevalent instability or imposed order.

Grave threats to internal security as economies falter.

Gradual improvement.
2003-2013 2014-2025
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