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Do economics and politics have a common ancestry?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Robin Jourdan considers the origination point of Democracy and Capitalism in her tenth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

No straightforward origination point of capitalism can be teased out of history. Of any of the origin stories, one thread is common: capitalism's goal is benefit of the one, the owner. Thus, Democracy and Capitalism are at odds. Each depends on an ideal of equality: everybody may share in political decision-making, and everyone to do the best they can in the market, respectively. Conflicts between the two systems often rub where property rights and workplace conditions are involved.

 

Politics is local in its intentions; while capitalism is essentially global. Democratic politics is founded on the equality of its citizens; capitalism cares little about the distribution of riches. Democracy says all citizens have a voice; capitalism gives the rich by far the loudest. From the 1940s to the 1970s, when the government in the US was most reliable and allied with business, the stakeholder age, it seemed everybody won. Earlier, the Great (global) Depression of the 1930s brought the policies of laissez-faire (noninterference by the states in economic matters) to an end in most countries..

 

Technology is creating a whole new class of the worker today; the machine, robot, AI workforce. Will today's working-class become the new "useless" class? For sure, machine learning and robotics will change what work will be in the latter half of this century. As AI eliminates dependence on people or physical resources, the current global economy based on traditional capitalism could give way to 5th Industrial Revolution practices. The phase-in of a smart Digital Europe may ultimately lead to a highly automated market economy by mid-century. However, the problem is transnational. Businesses often answer to more than one government.

 

Looking back from 2050, what economic and political conditions were essential to prosperity? Markets will continue to rely on continual growth. The emerging connection, information, and sharing economy will bring a new pulse to bend markets.  These will require a new set of business rules. Growth comes to those who take full advantage of opportunities. Local agencies will lead efforts for economic development, welfare policy, and citizen engagement strategies.

 

A feature distinguishing capitalism from previous systems was the use of accumulated capital to enlarge productive capacity rather than to invest in economically unproductive enterprises, such as pyramids and cathedrals. Shifting from the Industrial to the Information Revolution as we are today globally won't follow yesterday's recipe for success.

 

Democratic politics depends on solidarity; capitalists do not prioritize nationality. Electorates desire economic security; capitalism is susceptible to boom and bust. Capitalism seeks the benefit of the one, winner take all; a benevolent and strong political governance system seeks the benefit of the many; we're best when we're together. It is naïve to ask capitalists to change capitalism from inside. Context matters. Its conflation with Democracy as a governance system shortchanges governance. Rather, it is economics that needs to be re-thought and reinvented.

 

Though bits and components existed in different locations since ancient times, these two ideals together caught fire with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. Capitalism was born at the same time that the phrase "I want more" came into our collective consciousness. Do they have a common ancestry? The simple answer is no.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  capitalism  democracy 

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Can social entrepreneurs organise across tribal lines?

Posted By Esmee Wilcox, Friday, November 15, 2019

Esmee Wilcox reviews the formation of social entrepreneurs through communities in her eleventh blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

We live in a world where familial, cultural and political conflict seems more and more prevalent. This appears a world away from the normalisation of collaboration required in the development of new socio-economic organising models that I’ve talked about. Alternative models to market and state failure.  More fit for a digital, interconnected world with an abundance of social but not physical capital, with flow displacing the importance of accumulation. The question remains: can social entrepreneurs bridge the divides across polarised but overlapping communities, to organise across divided and incendiary tribal lines? Would they fare better than state or corporate actors?  More than ever, this must be seen as a fundamental question of our future and present times.

 

Let’s look first to some of the social enterprises working in places which have seen years of violent conflict between distinct communities.  What have they been able to do to heal the trauma of conflict and enable people to organise across these lines? In Northern Ireland, social enterprises operating in ‘interface areas’, are pulling young people into sustainable future-focussed activities away from politically divisive and even paramilitary activities. In the Philippines, social enterprises are tackling the socio-economic causes of ‘intra-clan’ conflict, with profitable, co-operative, enterprise activity that can also fund healing post-crisis mediation. Social enterprises operating in areas which have seen the consequences of other conflicts through immigration, such as the Lebanon, Germany and the UK, have been successful in challenging stigma and exclusion. Where participation in enterprising activity, as producers and customers, shifts the dominant narrative of ‘other tribes’ as dependent and different, social enterprises are enabling displaced people to organise with existing resident communities.

 

In reflecting on these examples, is it the connections and trust that social entrepreneurs have that enables convening and mediation?  Is it the recognition of enterprising opportunities against expectations?  How might state and corporate actors also fare out to 2050?

 

State provision of universal ‘services’ and ‘organisations’ or ‘opportunities’ enable otherwise disconnected people to meet, bond and often organise in a place. In spite of conflicting moves to reduce the population supported, states might choose to amplify this convening function.  In seeing a ‘post-market’ role in growing social networks to solve complex problems. In which case, the ability to influence within and across distinct communities becomes the priority. 

 

Both corporate and state actors might be responding to the influx of enviro-economic migrants over the next 30 years. More often welcomed due to significant global imbalances in population age profile.  Might corporate actors thrive where they can monetise the innovation potential in a clash of values and cultures?  Will they use technology such as blockchain to build trust across far larger networks of consumption and production?

 

It still hard to see how political and corporate actors can move at scale beyond the model of consumption that is well oiled by accelerating connections with those we readily self-identify with.   Social entrepreneurs operating on the margins may be more plausibly able to create the social, political and cultural conditions – including the value we perceive in organising with ‘others’ across tribal lines – for co-evolving new forms of consumption and production.   Models that can address the inherent fragility in conflict, that we may have to more frequently design around in later 21st century economies.   If social entrepreneurs are capable of doing this, might this displace the influence of present-day state and market actors?

 

© Esmee Wilcox, 2019

Tags:  entrepreneurship  social entrepreneur  society 

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What is the face of a sustainable future society?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions sustainable future societies in her eleventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

What is a sustainable society? A sustainable society is one that ensures the wellbeing of human life and nature for present and future generations. It is a society that has the right balance of the economic, social-cultural, political, and ecological dimensions.

 

The economic system is one part of our finite ecosystem constrained by planetary boundaries. Economic growth is simply a translation of the social and natural capital within society into economic gains. The global economy has been growing for decades while the natural capital is continually being degraded at a rate well above its renewal. It is not possible for the economy to perpetually grow in this finite ecosystem.

 

Economic growth is a quantitative increase which does not necessarily lead to an improvement in the quality of life or equity and justice in society. The pursuit of continuous economic growth puts undue strain on the environment with total disregard to future generations. On the contrary, we need development which sustains the wellbeing of humans, cultural values, and the environment. What will a sustainable society look like? Can this be attained?

 

A sustainable society will be characterised by long-termism rather than short-termism. It will be a global society whose members are mindful of the global rather than the immediate local consequences of their actions. It will be a society with a shared economy that pursues development rather than mere economic growth and the common good. Otherwise, everyone will face the tragedy of the commons such as effects of climate change and societal ills.

 

It will be an equitable society in all aspects such affecting wellbeing and decision-making. It will not be a society where the more economically empowered make or influence policy decisions to serve their own interests. All calibres of society will need to be represented in decisions that affect their welfare, both locally and globally. The south will be as key in global decision-making as the north. It will no longer be a case of the economic powers making decisions that affect the globe. Government policies will discourage and punish behaviours that would lead to ecological degradation and hamper future sustainability of society through levies such as eco tax and economic sanctions.

 

The sustainable global society will espouse a paradigm shift in the value of life. It will be a society where members are valued for their very existence rather than their economic worth. This will drive a sense of equity and a desire to see one’s neighbour living as comfortably as himself. Members of the society will be oriented to change for the benefit of all.

 

Is a sustainable society possible? What will drive it? Who will be its custodians? As demonstrated by the ongoing global youth campaigns for climate change, maintaining the status quo is not an option. Attaining a sustainable society is a social-political problem. Economists have failed us. Building a sustainable society will require a political class that espouses societal values and does not merely serve capitalists. This will be a calibre of leadership that has the will to enforce the right values across all segments of society and to penalise those who act contrary to the tenets of this common good. It will be a political power that works to build society’s moral fibre rather than to erode it. One that is insulated from the current economic system that currently wields undue power over society and lives in present. A sustainable future society is one that includes everyone.

 

© Felistus Mbole, 2019

Tags:  economics  society  sustainability 

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What happens when AI becomes your broker?

Posted By E. Alex Floate, Friday, November 8, 2019

Alex Floate, a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the use of AI in fintech through his new blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

“Here is a summary of your weekly investment activity. Maynard has made the following changes to your investment portfolio,” my assistant announced. Maynard is the name I gave to my investing AI, who oversees my portfolio and makes decisions about where and how to invest my small nest egg.

 

“There were changes to twenty-three individual stock and seven bond positions. Analysis of long-range weather forecasts, with adjustments for anticipated climate changes, resulted in a modification to the commodity strategy with modified positions in Ethiopian coffee and Phillipino cocoa. The latest climate assessments have also caused modification to real estate investments.”

 

“Currency swaps from national currencies to Amazonians and Alibablers have also occurred. Twenty-seven micro-investments in the Lagos and Kinshasha metroplexes have been created, with twelve micro-investments recouped and closed. Your investment return averages seven-point-three percent, and your social scoring has increased thirty-one points.”

 

Maynard has, once again, pleased me with my return and the socially responsible method by which he achieved it.

 

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. True AI advisors have to assimilate vast amounts of data, analyze it, learn from it, and formulate a strategy that takes advantage of various possibilities. The analysis moves beyond basic linear financial analysis and into the multiple and complicated systems that support the investment and ultimately create value. The more it looks into these systems, the more it will learn about them and how they affect investments and strategies to gain value. Maynard also had to learn my personal ethical preferences to ensure transactions would not endanger my social credit score.

 

When AI advisors first came on-line, there were fears that it could cause trouble in the markets. Most concerning was that those AI agents could all come to the same conclusions and make the same trades at the same time, destroying value in some assets and over-inflating value in others. There were also concerns that AI advisors would learn to game the system and make moves that circumvent legal or ethical standards while covering their tracks. Although that has occurred, it has not been as widespread as discovered in the court case Global Securities Exchange Commission vs. “Alladin” (AI Agent # 234GXE36576). By tying AI agents to their human’s social score, it helped ally the fear of widespread ethical lapses.

 

What has occurred is an increase in the choices for the average investor. Before the internet, the majority of investing was placed through brokers, who often manipulated investors by steering them towards items that were more profitable for the brokers than the client. Average investors were also unable to enter other investment vehicles such as commodities, real estate, and small business start-ups. Although the brokerage model was partly to blame, it was usually due to a lack of knowledge; AI solved this last issue.

 

AI promised to even the odds that average investors could compete with the largest funds and firms, and for those who could afford a good AI agent, it did. Initially, it required champions and interventions by authorities to ensure widespread access to the various exchanges at reasonable fees. However, once set in motion, the financialization of the economy became everybody’s business, and business was good.

 

© E Alex Floate 2019

Tags:  AI  artificial intelligence  fintech 

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Will a digital utopia finally come to pass for us all?

Posted By Paul Tero, Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Paul Tero a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the feasibility of a digital utopia in his eleventh post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

In July 1893, 220 men and women from the relatively new settlement of South Australia decided to start anew and create a utopian society in Paraguay, South America. Although this “New Australia Co-operative Settlement Association” had some quick wins in clearing land, establishing a township and using cattle as one of their sources of nutrition it all fell apart within two years. Despite their efforts, the ideal that this assortment of well-meaning people sought for was beyond them. While examples abound across the globe and across the centuries of utopian projects that ended in disarray, there are others such as the Shaker communities in the 1830’s and the modern Tamera project in Portugal that have achieved success.

 

When it comes to a future digital utopia will the dream be realised like the Tamera case, or will it be another failed venture like the “New Australia” community? Driving these outcomes are answers to several questions. For example, what does this future state look like? What is attractive about it? Do we actually want to live in a society and operate within an economy where “digital” is more dominant than it is today? What of the relationships between business, government and the citizenry? And then there are global considerations – what structure will the interactions and governance frameworks at a geopolitical level take?

 

What form will this anticipated mid 21st Century digital utopia take? Could we attain perfection in employment, in well-being and in society? Regarding employment, one can argue that the technologies of automation and machine learning are laying the groundwork for universal basic income. When it comes to health, advances in personalised medicine could lead to us living in trouble-free bodies. Likewise, with the social sciences, and with regtech and fintech, are we not marching toward more efficient transactions and services as well as removing impediments to social harmony?

 

The Western digital utopian vision may include a freedom to individually pursue creativity and education, but for those across the Asian or African continents the digital utopia may centre on social unity and shared economic activities. While either personal or communal achievement is at the heart of each of these potential future states, individuals motivated by power could well be disenfranchised.  

 

This is where our move to digital ubiquity may actually reconcile competing impulses and world views and realise a digital utopia. For the long-held and default perspective on our atom-centric economy is scarcity. It’s supply and demand. We pay a price in exchange for owning a thing. But in a bit-centric economy abundance is the dominant narrative. This abundance stems from the fact that there is relative little marginal and distributional cost associated with the production of digital goods and services.

 

For example, social media services don’t have limits on the number of people that can access their platform simultaneously. Likewise, there are relatively few limits that can be placed on sources for Internet of Things data. And with the relative price of computer power and data storage always falling, the opportunities of artificial intelligence influencing the natural and social sciences seemingly knows no bounds.

 

It is with this perspective of abundance in a fully digital economy that a digital utopia may well come to pass for us all. While not in the same format for everyone across the globe, but certainly with some common threads and with unique contextualisations dependent upon who and where we are.

 

© Paul Tero 2019

Tags:  digital economy  digital utopia  economics 

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Will the Company of the Future Need Staff?

Posted By Charlotte Aguilar-Millan, Friday, November 1, 2019

Charlotte Aguilar-Millan checks the urgency of human resources in future companies through her eleventh blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

The company of the future will not have the same staffing requirements as the company of today. The use of personnel, an often costly fixed cost, has been declining. The company of the future will not rely on personnel to fuel their growth. We are now in an age of technology where unskilled labour is fast being replaced. This can be seen with robotic lawn mowers, self-service fast food and even an order app for Starbucks. These tasks once performed by humans, have now been successfully replaced by technology.

 

While technology has been developing, labour supply has tightened as the population ages. Unemployment rates have been steadily declining from 2011, with May 2019 seeing rates of only 3.8% in the UK. The last time this was seen was in 1974. With tight labour markets, an opportunity for labour to demand a better working environment is emerging. With this, the workforce is becoming more agile. The company of the future will have to compete to attract and retain staff.

 

In July, Amazon announced that it will retain a third of their US work force in the technologies of the future. The companies that will succeed will be those who entice new workers and keep them stimulated sufficiently to stay. The rise of the gig economy heralds an opportunity for staff to determine the environment in which they wish to work. The gig economy gives the workforce more flexibility on working hours and location.

 

This is only possible where there is a shortage in supply. Specialists in fields such as IT or Finance have seen their conditions significantly improve, with large companies offering incentives such as unlimited annual leave or pet maternity leave. In the unskilled work force, for gig workers in fields such as fast food or transport, the landscape is not so good. Uber provides a platform for gig workers to supply their labour. It determines a driver’s profitability and whether any customers are routed to their cars. Uber’s control over what a worker is paid month on month has created an instability for unskilled labour. It also demonstrates that the company of the future does not need staff. The Company of the future will not even require drivers. Once autonomous vehicles become sufficiently reliable to be roadworthy, these will replace the workforce.

 

This has enabled companies to exploit the labour force by expecting a pseudo employee relationship with control over the worker. However, they do not have the obligations of a typical employer. No sick pay, parental leave or pension contributions are required where you do not employ your labour force.

 

The trend to have fewer employees will only continue into the future. Tech companies are leading the way. Facebook in 2019 had an average turnover of $1.4m per employee while Apple had $2.1m per employee. When compared with the successful companies of the past, this demonstrates how the need for employees is in the past. VW’s average turnover per employee was $0.5m with Ford at $0.8m in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The Company of the Future does not need employees in the same way the Company of the past has. The trend of specialisation will continue into the workforce with those unspecialised left exploited.

 

Will the company of the future need staff? Yes, and no. If those staff are highly trained and motivated, then yes. If those staff are unskilled and could be replaced by robotics and AI, then no. The challenge to society is how to upskill to ensure that the latter aren't left behind.

 

© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2019

Tags:  future  human resources  staff 

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How smart can Smart Capital get?

Posted By Tim Morgan, Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tim Morgan inspects the concept of Smart Capital in his tenth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

We are starting to embed automated decision-making into capital itself. We routinely embed automatic control systems into our processing plants and factories ensuring that optimal use is made of those capital investments. Advertising and sales are increasingly given over to algorithmic management. No industry seems to be untouched by automation. We are infusing our intelligence into our capital systems. So how smart can our capital get?

 

Once upon a time a computer was a job description, not a machine. Human computers did the hard work of accurately calculating everything from astronomical phenomena to tracking weather patterns. That changed with the advent of stored instruction computing machines. Programmed algorithms could be systematically created from a combination of well-defined repeatable steps incorporating not only mathematical operations but conditional (if/then/else) decision-making logic as well.

 

We have been developing this computational capability for decades. We still are limited by the need to design and transcribe programs most of the time. The logic is still simplistic and rigid compared to human reasoning. But that design limit is quickly giving way to complex machine learning algorithms. Artificial Intelligence has been a field of study since the beginning of the digital computing era. Now the early promises of decades past are rapidly being realized.

 

A.I. researchers are harnessing our exponentially increasing torrent of data to train machine learning algorithms. This has resulted in A.I. techniques like Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) which use competing Generator and Discriminator neural networks to solve problems based on older human-curated examples. GANs quickly learn tasks like creating human-like art, designing 3D objects, and accurately identifying tumors in X-rays.

 

Other advanced A.I. techniques are moving beyond the need for human training or big data sets. Google’s AlphaGo A.I. beat world Go champion Lee Sedol by 100 games to 0 in 2016. AlphaGo’s neural network heuristics were initially trained using a database of 30 million moves from 160,000 masters-level games. Yet in 2017 with no access to that database and just three days of self-play AlphaGo Zero beat AlphaGo by the same 100 games to 0 that AlphaGo beat Sedol. Go masters worldwide have begun eagerly studying AlphaGo Zero’s unusual moves to inject new strategies into their sport.

 

Computing advances will not stop with digital computers and machine learning. Researchers around the world are rapidly developing Quantum Computers to take computing capabilities to a whole new level. A leaked paper recently revealed that Google has demonstrated the theorized principle of “Quantum Supremacy”, or the ability of quantum computers to quickly solve problems that conventional computers cannot. Their quantum computer solved a problem in about 3 minutes that the world’s most powerful supercomputer could not perform in 10,000 years.

 

The cognification of capital via computing will not stop. It will accelerate. Capital will incorporate computer’s gains in self-training and abilities to solve ever harder problems. Capital will acquire more and more ability to self-manage with less and less need for human decision making. The ultimate endpoint may be that it no longer needs our direction. If that happens, capital will go from being owned to autonomous. If it does, we will need to pay close attention to what it wants.

 

© Tim Morgan 2019

Tags:  capital  finance  ownership 

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Can liberty be preserved in a surveillance state?

Posted By Ruth Lewis, Friday, October 25, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program discusses the protection of personal data under surveillance in her tenth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

What do we make of the practice of actively mining our personal data and building our personal digital profiles by corporations, to observe our behaviour, predict our needs and to nudge us to buy more products? Even more invasive is the retention and use of our information by governments, to scrutinize where and when we may perform anti-social acts. These predict or manipulate us to conform with the dominant governance system through a social credit score or through other less publicly visible means.

 

Current pervasive use of ‘predictive policing’ seeks to forecast the risk of criminal activity and acts of terrorism before the crimes have taken place. This method seeks to predict who the offenders may be, who the victims of crime may be and where and when the crimes may take place. Profiles are created of individuals, groups and locations deemed to be ‘at risk’ of future crimes. These identified groups are given additional surveillance and intervention from police to prevent future acts. Predictive policing is achieved through sophisticated collection and quantitative analysis by Artificial Intelligence algorithms. Vast pools of stored data are gathered from multiple sources, including historical crime statistics, social media, financial records, CCTV images and geo-location records of vehicles and mobile phone records, much of which would be classified as personal information.

 

Many concerns have been raised on the use of predictive policing, not least of which that it seeks to apply a ‘technology band aid’ on to what are often endemic socio-economic and political issues, without seeking to understand and remedy the root causes of these problems. Additionally, it may be causing greater harm than good, applying unjust profiling techniques based on biased algorithmic training data onto marginalised or vulnerable elements of our society, subjecting them to ever greater levels of surveillance within a harmful cycle of confirmation bias.

 

A clear and mature analysis and understanding of our societal ‘wicked problems’ leading to crime, together with strong, mature, transparent and accountable governance over such powerful surveillance tools must be developed before their widespread deployment and use. The creators of these tools need to ensure that there is an intentional commitment to eradicate inherent bias. The various service providers who provide data as input to the analytic algorithms need to build in a strong commitment to collective and individual privacy and personal autonomy of our personal data, and transparency as to the processes and purposes used for collection of this data.

 

Without this, the more likely risk is that these surveillance tools will catch the innocent in a wide surveillance net. It will undermine personal privacy and liberty, and the ability to engage in our own lives without psychological or physical inhibition within the boundaries of the law. We should not have to constantly look over our shoulder and wonder who is watching us, and how they might be judging us.

 

Truth becomes distorted in the name of crime prevention, and sometimes bent toward political or coercive outcomes that skirts legality. There are no future facts, nor a way of accurately predicting when someone will break the law. However, there are inalienable human rights – the right to privacy within our lives. There is also the ability to examine where we are now, foresee where this trend may develop, and be concerned about the type of society that this may create. There is the ability to define the type of future that we want to live in, one that seeks justice for all. As a start, we as a society need to demand greater accountability and transparency from our governments and our service providers to protect our liberty, our privacy and our freedom of current and future expression.

 

Our society’s future aspires to extend beyond our terrestrial realm. How should we consider space travel and off-world habitation? As an extension of our current terrestrial culture with its inherent injustices? Can we envisage a space of liberty and humanity? But how free would that off-world society be, when mere survival will necessitate extreme co-dependence?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  data  liberty  rights 

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Can democracy function in a polarized society?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Robin Jourdan inspects the functioning of democracy under polarized conditions of the society in her tenth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

To polarize is to cause people to divide into distinct groups. Polarization is more than just having a different opinion than a neighbor. It’s when we refuse to live near that neighbor we become polarized. During the American Revolutionary War, not everyone in the Colonies wanted independence. Loyalists to the British Crown, aka Tories, included William Franklin, then royal governor of New Jersey and son of Patriot leader Benjamin Franklin. Holiday dinner must have been uncomfortable.

 

Let’s not be confused that polarization is a political tool. Polarization isn’t limited to the US, of course. Europeans, disenchanted with mainstream politics and growing global anti-establishment sentiment, have extended the fragmentation. There is a price to pay for polarization. For example, we see a decrease in charitable giving and personal health. There is more pressure to conform, and it’s easier for us to be deceived. Legislative gridlock and violence grow.

 

Of the many forces shaping polarization: tribalism, trust, community, technology, media, and politicians are reaching a collective apex. Tribalism is almost religiously seen today by groups that compete, especially where negotiation and compromise are perceived as a betrayal. As Abraham Lincoln put it, “Constitution and Laws” were to be America’s “political religion.” All this talk of tribalism misses a crucial point. Diversity, when combined with equality, makes us stronger. This is not new.

 

Who benefits from polarization? Take a lesson from Deep Throat: follow the money. Today’s Fifth Estate: search engines, social media, and news media benefit from polarization. The first two, using algorithms and personalized content create non-arbitrary access to information. The growing glut of information generates confusion and discomfort for many. Algorithms assuage this by providing only that information which is personally comfortable and self-reinforceable.

 

Countries with less diversified but emerging media markets, e.g., China and South Korea, are becoming more polarized due to the development of such media. When business models are based on how much time and interest a user spends on a site, the incentive is clear. And nothing outdoes puppies followed by outrage. In the West there is a quote: “Common etiquette says not to talk about politics, sex, religion, or money. But these are the most interesting things to discuss!”

 

Going forward, as the Gen Z society’s comfort with diversity becomes influential toward mid-century, businesses that improve transparency will build trust and thrive. Evolutions in the business world will similarly progress expectations on representatives. But growth can be stunted by a lack of trust in unconstrained technology. New technologies support opportunities only if the public has confidence in how the data is used. Missed opportunities will grow. Only 1-2% of consumers today trust that their personal information will be protected in the markets through mid-century. Wearable and implantable technologies enable people to interact in new ways. Digital services can contribute to a shared vision of social justice, environmental and economic stability if a generally inclusive worldview expresses public dialogue.

 

Can democracy function in a polarized society? The principle: nature abhors a vacuum is equally true in a political ecosystem. Manipulation byproducts of the Fifth Estate will diminish only when government earns confidence by solving real problems. Political systems failing to deal with complex issues and social dissatisfactions have many reasons for fabricating distracting headlines. First, governments must learn from the business sector and catch-up with real transparency. Without the possibility of polarization, where differences of opinions allowed, we stumble into authoritarianism no matter how well intentioned at the start.

 

Second, polarization ignores moderates. Today, moderates in the US are leaving the traditional 2-party system in favor of the “Independent” party. A moderate’s goal is not to make the world conform to some extreme perspective. Instead, it’s to work in the world as it actually is, with all its messiness and confusion. International relationships that are based on mutually relevant values, and respect, signal moderation. Have we reached a global or regional “peak polarization”? Not quite. However, today, moderates matter more than ever. Every swing of the political pendulum includes a moderation period.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  polarization  society 

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Can Social Entrepreneurs solve wicked problems?

Posted By Esmee Wilcox, Friday, October 18, 2019

Esmee Wilcox inspects the ability of social entrepreneurs in solving wicked problems through her tenth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Our world in 2050 will plausibly be connected in ways that seem unimaginable now. Not least the integration of virtual and physical socio-economies, and artificial and human re-combinations. We will have had to understand how to work with the complexity this creates. We know how difficult it is to bridge different systems. We know how corporations, education systems, and political movements proffer binary answers as a technique for maintaining the status quo. Looking ahead to 2050, how will social entrepreneurs need to be operating then to be more effective in solving wicked issues? What do they need to consider to make strides towards this?

 

In practice, how many of us have been involved in long-term visioning projects that generate promise and movement but fail to translate into the necessary significant change? Why do we keep repeating the exercises believing it will be different with a tweak? What we’re missing from these technical exercises are the difficult conversations about the new norms, values and behaviours that exist in these new futures, and how they affect us personally. We find it easier to hunt for examples of practice that we can recreate to transition from where we are now to this agreed plausible future. Instead of understanding the conditions – that our own behaviours create - in which these solutions could arise.

 

Take some of the self-organising movements in health and social care. These are deliberately and explicitly creating the service organisations that are congruent with the theory of agency over personal health. Practitioners interacting with patients have agency and are valued in ways that correspond with the agency and value they are supporting patients to find in themselves. By explicitly working on the values and behaviours that are required in the organisations of the future, they are disrupting and tackling the values and behaviours that are no longer effective in the present.

 

So what does this mean for social entrepreneurs that are already creating these ‘future fit’ enterprises? The skill is not only in being able to operate in these experimental transition spaces. It is also to create connections and meaning for people whose system is codified in the present. The practice needs to be in making the values and behaviours of everyone visible, explicit and connected to purpose in the new future. To then consciously move away from the present and step into new uncodified practice together, social entrepreneurs have to think about trust. Can social entrepreneurs extend their trust across competing value frameworks to hold the discomfort, the anxiety, and the tension when working in-between systems? Is part of this about being explicit about what’s behind the intention of actions? This would fit with evidence that we can mobilise surprising agents of change when we make our underlying preferences known.

 

Where social entrepreneurs can help institutional actors step into the transition space, we can imagine the release of band-with to tackle wicked issues. Including the paralysing healthcare conundrums such as investment in long-term wellbeing in conflict with short-term needs, which exist because we cannot conceive of the meta conditions changing. In this way social entrepreneurs are capable of solving the preponderance of highly connected, multi-causal, wicked problems we will become used to seeing as we enter the latter half of the twenty-first century.

 

At the same time, we ought to consider a parallel question about the impact of further atomisation and divisiveness within society. If social entrepreneurs are to succeed in tackling latter century wicked problems, how might they also work across these incendiary tribal lines?

 

© Esmee Wilcox, 2019

Tags:  entrepreneurship  society  wicked problems 

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