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Universal Basic Income: A Tool to Reimagine Human Dignity?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 3, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Daniel Riveong has written his third installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, he explores the possibilities of governments implementing a universal basic income. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Since the late 1990s, there has been an explosion in excitement around the idea of universal basic income (UBI). As of April 2018, there are UBI pilots underway in parts of Canada, the United States, Netherlands, Spain and other countries. While the concept was previously popular among policymakers in the 1970s, today’s interest in UBI has been driven by increasing anxiety over inequality and the threat of automation, especially among Western countries. For the Global South, UBI could be a useful tool to challenge our ideas about labor, poverty, and dignity and help us imagine alternatives.

The concept of UBI is less radical in the Global South as countries like Indonesia, El Salvador, and Brazil already has extensive conditional cash-transfer programs (CCT). Brazil, for example, is home to Bolsa Família one of the most famous conditional-cash transfers, which provides qualifying poor families cash-aide in return for school attendance. UBI differs from CCT in that is supposed to be both universal and unconditional. It is less open to political favoritism, corruption, and avoids debates over defining poverty.

For much of the Global South, the promise of UBI – rather than a bulwark against automation or inequality – is as a powerful tool to alleviate poverty. The assumption here is that the lack of income is a major source of poverty. At its most utopian, UBI is an attempt to decouple the myth that a dignified life – a life of security, health, and education – requires labor-derived income. Further, if we can decouple dignity from labor then we can also challenge the need for endless economic growth.

To spin this the other way, if dignity is not dependent on labor and an economy driven by growth then from what path? Answering this question, there are proposals for a Universal Basic Services (UBS): universal access to housing, food, healthcare, education, and efficient government services. Government policy focus on UBS could a framework for accomplishing the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which also focus on ending poverty through better access and better quality of services. Additionally, by focusing on access to services over income, it would help support the movement to shift away from GDP as the leading indicator of welling being.

For the Global South, where such access may not be as robustly supported by the government, universal access to services may be more critical than receiving an unconditional income from the government. Indeed, a set basic monthly income may pale in comparison to housing cost, where the cities of the Global South – such as Hanoi or São Paulo – rank among the most unaffordable in the world.

Together, UBI and UBS are powerful concepts that could multiply the number of possible futures. Given the correct set of larger supporting policies, these policies can encourage entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and innovation to reimagine capitalism as a tool to maximize an individual’s opportunities rather than maximize corporate growth. More powerfully, however, by asking us to disaggregate labor, income, and dignity it may help pave the creation of new post-capitalism alternatives.


© Daniel Riveong 2018

Tags:  economics  politics  society 

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Should we learn to stop worrying and love the bomb?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Craig Perry has written his fifth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. His entire series explores the potential for another Great-power War. This piece looks at the Cold War and issues surrounding the atomic bomb. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

“There’s no such thing as a winnable war, it’s a lie we don’t believe anymore.” – Sting, “Russians”

The Cold War was a scary time for citizens on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The United States and the Soviet Union each wielded massive nuclear arsenals with the capacity to destroy the world many times over—and they came perilously close to unleashing these awful weapons on more than one occasion. Yet for all the anxiety this decades-long standoff entailed, it fostered an uneasy peace between the superpowers.

Once the United States demonstrated the terrible potential of the atom bomb at the end of World War II, it was only a matter of time before the Soviet Union and other would-be great powers sought to acquire their own nukes. By the 1960s, the two superpowers had so many warheads—deliverable by a triad of airborne, land-based, and submarine platforms managed by robust command-and-control systems—that neither side could launch first without precipitating a devastating counterattack. The era of mutually assured destruction had begun.

While such strategic deterrence has produced a degree of stability in international affairs, it also creates perverse disincentives for arms control. Any developments that might undermine this suicide pact—for example, by defeating incoming weapons (anti-ballistic missile systems), overwhelming missile defenses (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles), or making limited regional nuclear exchanges more plausible (intermediate-range nuclear forces)—are seen by the other side as dangerously provocative. Even the dramatic cutbacks of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the follow-on New START left Moscow and Washington with more than enough firepower to obliterate each other. In the nuclear arms race, at least, Russia remains every bit as powerful as its American rival.

Yet while mutually assured destruction makes large-scale wars between nuclear powers less likely, it paradoxically permits them to engage in smaller conflicts without fear of escalation. During the Cold War, U.S. nuclear strategy quickly evolved to deemphasize massive retaliation in favor of more flexible responses as the superpowers found themselves embroiled in numerous proxy conflicts. This stability-instability paradox also encourages nuclear proliferation among lesser powers seeking to guarantee their own regime survival. Although small nuclear stockpiles with limited delivery means may deter regional rivals (e.g. India/Pakistan), they offer no guarantee against a determined great power—and a rogue regime’s pursuit of the bomb can just as easily provoke crippling sanctions and preemptive war.

While the end of the Cold War reduced the risk of global thermonuclear war, it hasn’t done much to curb the enthusiasm of great powers to maintain and enhance their strategic forces. Shortly after the Pentagon released its 2018 nuclear posture review calling for new low-yield warheads and sea-launched cruise missiles, the Russian president publicly revealed several other weapons under development. Meanwhile, China continues to modernize its much smaller but quite capable triad as a hedge against first-use by its great-power rivals—and has likely reconsidered its previous, destabilizing support for Pakistani and North Korean nuclear ambitions.

Not surprisingly, efforts to ban the bomb—including the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons—enjoy almost no support among nuclear powers and America’s NATO allies. Still, with the majority of the world’s states, the ocean floor, and even outer space now legally designated nuclear-weapons-free zones, there is a growing international consensus that nuclear warfare is beyond the pale. Despite some backsliding in recent years, the great powers are generally committed to arms control and nonproliferation as a means of preserving strategic stability—and even junior members of the nuclear club have existential incentives to behave responsibly. But whether or not you love the bomb, there’s not much point worrying about what’s become a necessary evil in our anarchic international system, which will continue deterring great-power conflict for the foreseeable future.


© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  politics  strategy  war 

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Surveillance capitalism and the liberal democracy

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Nichola Cooper‘s fourth post in our Emerging Fellows program explores privacy, trust, and social media. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

When Mark Zuckerberg was designing The Facebook in 2004, he was staggered that people were willing to share their personal data, “they just submitted it, I don’t know why, they just trust me – dumb f**ks”.

Well, those “dumb” people have just realised what Facebook harvests and monetises personal data for in the Cambridge Analytica shenanigans. Zuckerberg is contrite, of course, that’s this thing; apologising for a “breach of trust.” But, users don’t really trust social platforms anyway. Their upset is probably because they didn’t see this coming. It’s the advertisers Zuckerberg is really apologising to. Facebook’s business model relies on users sharing content and being receptive to advertisers’ messages. As the mantra goes: “if the service is free, you are the product”. Judging by the #deletefacebook and #faceblock campaigns, people don’t want to be a product.

Of course, widespread abandonment of social media is unlikely. In a globalised world we need a way of connecting, so regulators are starting to act. On 25 May, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect which will shift the balance of power from the company to the user and Facebook will need to watch their step. Article 25 – privacy by design – addresses how privacy protocol redesign should be interpreted: proactively. Yet, given Facebook’s history of asking for forgiveness over permission, users might be forgiven for expecting future privacy breaches despite regulatory controls.

Looking forward, there remain serious concerns about the future of democracy. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating 30 organisations – including Facebook – as part of its inquiry into the use of personal data and analytics for political purposes. The UK’s final European Commissioner for security, Sir Julian King, writing to the European Commission that Cambridge Analytica’s psychometric profiling during the Vote Leave Brexit Campaign was “a preview of the profoundly disturbing effects such disinformation could have on the functioning of liberal democracies”, asking for plans to manage social media companies in preparation for the European political campaigns of 2019. Emmanuel Macron supports Sir Julian, promising to ban fake news during election campaigns. It follows Malaysia. One of the first countries in the world to put an Anti-Fake News bill before parliament which will penalise those who create or circulate fake news with 10-years imprisonment or a fine of up to 500,000 ringgit (£90,000).

Then there are Comcast and Verizon to worry about. After the US Congress extended the same data-gathering practices to internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, US consumers are concerned about their role as internet gatekeepers. The risks of exploiting personal data are far higher, beyond unsolicited book recommendations. Several companies are holding the length and breadth of your entire digital footprint. Take China as an example; from May, Chinese citizens with poor “social credit” may be banned from public transport for up to a year based on what they buy, say and do.

We are at a critical juncture where the sociopolitical consequences of surveillance capitalism can get much better, or much worse. Can we afford to not pay attention?


© Nichola Cooper 2018

Tags:  economics  politics  privacy 

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Growth or sustainability: Which response to the wicked problem will we choose?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 12, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Polina Silakova‘s fourth post in our Emerging Fellows program explores sustainability and the wicked problem of the limits to growth. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Grow not stop. Where shall we put the comma in this sentence? For a long time, growth has been the key focus of countries’ GDPs, business plans, and individual’s bonus schemes. But is it really a good way to measure our progress towards a better life? What is a “good life” anyway? And what does our good life mean for its key enabler – the Earth?

A group of British scientists recently tried to answer some of these questions, namely: is it possible for everyone to live a good life within our planet’s limits? They defined a good life very modestly – the satisfaction of basic needs – yet the result of their analysis of 150 countries is quite disheartening. Put on a map, the countries we know as well developed (Germany, Australia, Sweden, US, Japan) are clustered in the dangerous corner, having surpassed multiple biophysical boundaries. Moreover, if we were to try to equally distribute this modest standard of living for every person on the planet – without putting the very planet in danger – we would need to use up to six times more resources than what we currently consume. Quite a sobering calculation, isn’t it?

This study is not the first to address issues concerning our growth-oriented society. Back in 1987, the Brundtland Report called for changing the quality of growth. It stated: “Sustainable development involves more than growth. It requires a change in the content of growth, to make it less material and energy-intensive, and more equitable in its impact.” The report alerted that growth combined with acute inequality can be worse for a country’s development than the lack of growth. Currently, in 2018, we are obviously a long way from either reducing inequality or growing sustainably.

A contemporary economist, Kate Raworth addresses the same growth-related issues and warns about the obsolescence of the economic theory taught in schools and universities. In her book “Doughnut Economics” she urges us to shift the focus from the growth in GDP towards creating a more just society instead. To treat natural resources as an integral part of economics, not some loosely related externality. Although her book was shortlisted by the Financial Times as one of the best business books of 2017, Ms. Raworth points to the challenges of getting outdated academic views replaced by a more accurate and holistic understanding of economics. In an attempt to make this change happen, Ms. Raworth invites us to start a guerrilla campaign to fight against the invalid economic dogmas in a non-traditional way.

At the same time, students in Oregon, US have chosen to act even more radically to ensure their voices are heard. They took the federal government to court for “profoundly damaging our home planet by subsidizing fossil-fuel production which violated [the government’s] public-trust responsibility and threatens the plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty”. This accusation probably goes beyond any other environmental case so far. The outcome of this case is still pending, but other similar cases initiated by plaintiffs between 10 and 20 years old may start to see some success around the world.

What is an appropriate response when the traditional structures are so imperfect? When teens who compete to study in the best universities, hoping to get the knowledge they need to change the world, graduate from their courses to be disappointed by the obsolete theory they were taught. When representatives we elect to act on our behalf go astray, blinded by the short-term goals linked to their terms of power; is it a revolt like the one in 2014 organised by economics students in 30 countries against a curriculum disconnected from reality? Is it a guerrilla campaign to stealthily re-draw diagrams in university books like Kate Raworth proposes? Do we have to go as far as taking to court the very government we elected, like the boys and girls from iMatter and other environmental groups do? What actions should citizens take to make sure that the voices of future generations are heard at the tables where big decisions are made?

Something that each of us could do is at least to make sure that our own children get a systemic, big picture view of the world, as opposed to narrow opinions dictated by short-term capitalistic values. Knowing what the choice actually means of a comma’s position in the “grow not stop” sentence might become a much more important knowledge in our kids’ life than many other things in their curriculum. The question remains though – is it enough?


© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  economics  environment  government 

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Hyperloop: Will infrastructures of today be the border posts of tomorrow?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Daniel Bonin‘s fourth post in our Emerging Fellows program concerns infrastructure for emerging technology such as the Hyperloop. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

According to dictionaries, borders are “a line separating two countries, administrative divisions, or other areas.” They separate areas with different laws and norms. Borders tend to follow natural features and have been the result of war and negotiation in the past. Considering this logic, what are the implications of high-speed transportation infrastructures like the Hyperloop, a vacuum-based transport system that is 2-3 times faster than today’s fastest trains? Could it be that they create quasi-borders within countries that follow the logic of inclusion and exclusion based on speed and accessibility?


Cities and their suburbs are growing in terms of population, economic, political and social power. They might have the power and the critical mass to make costly high-speed transportation systems viable. But on the other side, rural areas and structurally weak urban areas will struggle to keep up with that pace. They will suffer from tight budgets and fail to attract investors due to a lower population density and their demographic challenges of depopulation and aging. Establishing an interstation there is also rather unattractive. If not a network of entitled cities, who would manage to create a high-speed transportation link like a Hyperloop?

A new common identity of interconnected mega corridors, a connection of two or more cities via a Hyperloop link, would emerge as resources, people, commuters and ultimately ideas, values, and norms wander back and forth and merge faster than ever before. There is another side to consider: disparities within countries are reinforced as excluded areas are at the risk of transport disadvantage. Disadvantage stems from a lack of such a system or inaccessibility of a system in reasonable time. It results in the inaccessibility of excluded areas to people, goods, services, networks and decision making. Outsider areas will lose out in the competition for factors like inhabitants, labor supply, enterprise locations, tourists and political influence. In addition, borders are created within cities that have a Hyperloop. Neighborhoods in close proximity to stations will experience gentrification and repurposing of residential areas for commercial activities. Even negative externalities are created for those excluded but traversed by the infrastructures, like in the U.S. when major roads were routed through neighborhoods of minorities. Thus, transport infrastructures threaten to exclude outsiders and draw borderlines within countries.

The question then becomes what is the role of outsider areas, or put differently, what are the limits of the borderlines? Apart from international connections, a Hyperloop could bridge vast distances within large countries like the U.S., India or even China, where the state-owned Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation dreams to combine vacuum and magnetic levitation. However, the impact is at least as decisive in smaller countries like Germany, Japan or the UAE, where nation-wide mega corridors in commuting distance could emerge. To get an understanding of the limits of the borderlines, there is the over 20-year-old idea of Marchetti’s constant, stating that the time budget people give to commuting is on average one hour per day independent of the distance traveled. Autonomous vehicles and ubiquitous internet, enable superior feeder services and change our perception of what it means to spent time bridging the first and last mile to stations in cities plagued by congestion. Given superior feeding services, we might be well willing to increase our travel time budget. Today, people commute between Berlin and its outskirts, tomorrow they may commute with high speed between Germany’s two most populous cities: Berlin and Hamburg. The travel time budget of at least 60 minutes becomes the borderline. Beyond that line, outsider areas could be considered remote and exposed to transportation disadvantage. This implies a three-tier hierarchy: Hyperloop cities, areas with sufficient accessibility and outsiders beyond the border.

Yet the disparities are not inevitable. The central question is where should a high-speed station be based, within a city center or its suburban belt? How can outsider areas ensure accessibility to stations? Can outsider areas make traveling less desirable and necessary, especially aging areas whose residents might have a lower mobility demand? If one were to consider politics: could a Hyperloop counteract populism and deglobalization or could initiatives like the One Road One Belt be exploited to play hardball in a more multipolar world?


© Daniel Bonin 2018

Tags:  Hyperloop  infrastructure  technology 

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As much as we might deny it, we always trust the bank

Posted By Administration, Sunday, April 8, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Nichola Cooper‘s third post in our Emerging Fellows program explores trust, blockchain technology, and banks. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The future of trust is topical. A sustained spate of political and financial calamities has accelerated the decline of global trust levels and enhanced interest and development in decentralised technologies and peer-to-peer networks. This blog post marks the first in a series regarding how that trust is expressed in discernible changes in social organising patterns, engagement with technology and financial markets.

We begin with Bitcoin. You might have heard of it? It is commonly thought that its creation was a reaction to the global financial calamity; from a desire to obviate unscrupulous bankers and prevent bad lending practices. This is not quite true.

In fact, the Bitcoin protocol was designed to resolve the double-spend problem of digital currencies. Unlike physical money which is reasonably difficult to counterfeit, digital currencies can be replicated quite easily – they are basically like a file on your computer that you can email to a friend. There is nothing stopping you and your friend both copying (counterfeiting) the file and sending it multiple times across the network. The Bitcoin blockchain prevents double-spending by verifying each transaction with a proof-of-work algorithm which made digital currencies as a medium of exchange all the more viable. The proof-of-work is why a common refrain has become that the blockchain negates or even creates trust.

This also is not wholly true. There is an increasingly prevalent inverse relationship between trust in institutions and peers. For, unlike Bitcoin, decreased trust in centralised institutions can be attributed to corporate malfeasance and bankers’ chicanery. Whilst transactions on decentralised networks skirt institutions, they are not inherently trustworthy for this reason alone.

Despite excited claims that we evidently trust technology more than institutions, I suggest that blockchains are simply an artefact of greater trust in peers. In the cloud of blockchain and cryptocurrency confusion, we have forgotten Bitcoin’s famous integrity is designed and maintained by a community of users – people just like us. In other words, social trust is not shifting to technology, but ourselves.

In financial transactions, we deal with three particular kinds of trust: institution-based, character-based and process-based. Institution-based trust is self-explanatory: we trust the authority in the transaction, usually a bank or government. Characteristic-based trust is awarded to someone that reminds us of ourselves. Process-based trust occurs when precedent indicates reciprocity in an exchange. For example, if I go to shake your hand, I trust you will reach out to take my hand and return my handshake.

It naturally follows that trust in our peers would increase when we lose trust in central institutions and we don’t understand technology. Part of our fascination with cryptocurrencies is a yearning to be able to stick it to the man while making a quick buck. The dominant, practical part of ourselves, however, simultaneously wants to be protected from risk.

It’s all fun and games as long as the price of Bitcoin keeps going up. But it isn’t. Bitcoin’s price has lost 27% during the time it took to write this post, commentators blaming volatility in the markets on banks’ demands for regulatory intervention. Academics have observed banks’ demands are motivated by challenges to their power and legitimacy; technology that disintermediates them suggests lack of relevance.

Yet, the evolution of money has consistently shown approval by a central authority to always have been necessary. Gold has been valued by a jeweller, money dispensed by a bank, tax paid and refunded by a government agency. As much as we might wish the success of digital currency its use as a medium of exchange is probably dependent on support by governments or central banks; as seen in movements towards cashless societies in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, India, and Venezuela.

As much as we might yearn otherwise, we always trust the bank.




© Nichola Cooper 2018

Tags:  blockchain  economics  technology 

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The Future of Paracosm Economies

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Adam Cowart is one of our Emerging Fellows, and this is his fourth article written for the program. In it, he explores the concept of a paracosm economy.

In this blog series, we’ve been exploring just how real the real economy will be in the future. Not just the inherent “realness” of the economy, but the relevance of the real. Will the real economy continue to exist in any meaningful way in the future? The answer, at least in this particular blog, is an emphatic “No!”

Paracosm refers to an imaginary world, usually a very elaborate imaginary world, developed by a child early in their life, which may or may not stay with them into adulthood. Psychiatrists have used the term to denote a process of understanding loss and tragedy in early childhood by retreating into the imagination. The historical image of this is well known: A Victorian-era child sits despondent in a garden somewhere, the only adult who ever really loved them now dead; they are wearing formal “adult” clothes that in no way are conducive for garden-exploring; they are pale, forlorn, at the mercy of a world devoid of happiness. And their only escape will be an active imagination, a world of characters and high drama, a world just barely in their control.

Indeed, most early examples of paracosms and their creators (paracosmists) are the usual crowd: Emily Bronte and her paracosm “Gondal”, J.R.R. Tolkien and the languages of Middle-earth (the imaginary characters would emerge sometime after the imaginary languages that they spoke), Henry Darger, the “outsider” artist, who invented the world of the Vivian Sisters in his teens, and many others. Paracosms are considered a sign of high intelligence in children, an example of “worldplay”.

Beyond the rather obvious economic value of the imagination in contributing to books, film, and art in the physical world, what do paracosms have to do with the economy? The answer is in how we reconceive of that image of the precocious child. They are no longer wearing frilly Victorian garments, spending hours alone in a vast garden finding respite from disapproving servants. They have taken their imaginations online, and are increasingly being given the tools to construct their imaginative worlds – not out of words, not out of inanimate toys, or the rocks and sticks lying about the garden. But in the virtual world.

Consider a few ongoing trends. Prosumerism, where we generate our own products. The end of growth which, presumably, means children yet to be born will not enjoy the abundance that we currently fail to fully appreciate. And, of course, the multi-streamed and nefarious ways in which companies are trying to tap into (and latch onto) the hearts, minds, and imaginations of children at the earliest age possible.

In the future, a nearly infinite area of future growth will be our imaginations. We often look at “developing” nations as under-exploited areas of opportunity. Meanwhile, every child is walking around with a world of undercapitalized voices in their heads that could become its own nation, its own economy.

Imagine the two warring moons in a distant galaxy, and the market potential for their military industrial complex. Imagine a happily married couple, she a talking car, he a unicorn, navigating the exciting but expensive world of reproductive medicine to help them start a family of their own. The paradigm shift at play is moving from the current virtual market, which relies on human exchange on behalf of their avatars, to a virtual world of virtual exchange between multiple avatars created by a single human. Likely with no human knowledge of the exchange.

What does the rise and fall of our civilizations look like? Will they continue to exist after we are gone (regardless of their future growth potential)? A soulless universe without a creator that exists only for the pursuit of profit? Or will they be tied to us as if by a virtual umbilical cord?

 


© Adam Cowart 2018

Tags:  art  economics  technology 

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What factors might prevent Peak Boomer from occurring in 2035?

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 26, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Laura Dineen has written her second installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, she questions how the effects of an impending peak boomer situation could be mitigated. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

In my previous post, we talked about our globally accelerating and ageing society, as Baby Boomers continue to flood the over 65 age group. Using the latest projections from the United Nations Population Division we estimated the year 2035 to be Peak Boomer. The point at which the ageing population’s rate of acceleration begins to diminish.

How certain can we be of the UN’s population projections and the year at which we will hit Peak Boomer? The maths behind the projections is certainly solid, and uses an accounting framework for the three major demographic components of change; mortality, fertility and immigration. But any major deviation from these estimated demographic components of change could blow the Peak Boomer projection off course.

The ageing population of today, and the Peak Boomer prediction of 2035 is determined by the high fertility levels post-WW2. Fertility since then has reduced, coupled with the likelihood that these Boomers will survive to older ages.

The first component that could affect the Peak Boomer prediction then, is mortality rates. Crude death rates (deaths per 1,000 population) have been decreasing globally from 19.1 in 1950 to its lowest point, 7.7 in 2010. However, the projections do not continue to decrease past this point and in fact are seen to be rising again. The actual figures in more developed countries have risen from 2010 to 2015 and are set to continue to do so. Why has there been a rise in mortality rates? And in particular the rise in crude death rate in high-income countries? Our ageing population may hold the answer here. With more strain being put upon societies’ health and social care systems by our growing aged population, the increased healthcare requirements alone may be enough to significantly impair the system as it stands. If we add in restrictions on funding, austerity measures and other increasing demands on healthcare provision in many jurisdictions, you get a perfect storm where the supply can’t meet the demand.

Another issue adding to the stress on the healthcare and social support system is the fact that the older population itself is ageing, with an increasing share aged 80 years or over. Driven again by the Boomer cohort, between 2030 and 2050, the global population that is aged 80 years or over is expected to rise to more than 20%, from today’s 14%. Might this pressure on the system cause a tipping point that could bring the Peak Boomer date closer than predicted? That scenario might come about more gradually but another consideration is the breakout of a new or mutated disease. Epidemics that we are ill-equipped to fight against could cause a more rapid change in population structure. Particularly as much older people are more susceptible to infection and more vulnerable to the effects of disease.

One major cause of population ageing is fertility decline. In most of the world, fertility rates have been falling since the Baby Boom, with the exception of Africa where fertility started falling from 1970. The assumption is that fertility will continue to decline, as it has since then, albeit at a slower rate. But what if there were a sudden increase in fertility? A new societal pressure to breed? A mutation or medical advances resulting in a vast increase in fertility, twins or triplets? A major political or cultural occurrence similar to what sparked the post-WW2 Baby Boom? Any significant increase in fertility over the next ten years could have an impact on the Peak Boomer prediction by changing yet again the age distribution in society and slowing down its acceleration.

The final component of demographic population change is migration. Migration between nations does nothing to change the global Peak Boomer prediction. However, there are significant differences between the rate of ageing across the populations of the world, some driven by migration, that I will be exploring further in the next article.


© Laura Dinneen 2018

Tags:  economics  generation  society 

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What are ways the Global South might redefine prosperity?

Posted By Administration, Friday, March 23, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Daniel Riveong has written his second installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, he questions the nature of prosperity. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The stunning economic successes of Asian countries like South Korea and China have been touted as proof that economic growth is possible for all, not just Western countries. What’s implied in the celebration of their economic success is that economic growth drives prosperity, generates happiness, and raising living standards. While countries like Ethiopia seek to replicate the Asian success stories, environmental degradation, fears over job automation, and rising inequality are challenging this narrative: economic success is both now more difficult and less relevant in the face of dangerous environmental consequences.

If explosive GDP growth is no longer plausible nor desirable, where does this leave policymakers and might we measure our prosperity in new ways? Must rising living standards be rooted in Western-minded developmentalism? This question is of pressing concern to developing countries, home to 85% of humanity, over 6 billion people. If we must look beyond the West and the Asian Tigers to re-define prosperity, how might we do so? Where do we look?

The past decades have seen many attempts to look beyond GDP as a measure of a country’s prosperity and improving living standards. The most common known alternative measure of development has been from the United Nations, which developed the Human Development Index (HDI) and Sustainable Development Goals. More recently, economist Kate Raworth has proposed the “doughnut economics” framework based on addressing the challenges of Earth’s life support systems (fertile soil, stable climate, etc.) to life’s essentials (as defined by UN’s SDG).

If we shift our focus to the Global South, we can find far more radical rethinking of prosperity. At the 2018 World Government Summit, the Indonesian Minister of National Development Planning, Bambang Brodjonegoro, spoke of how SDG has been reinterpreted within Indonesia’s cultural lens. The 17 SDG goals were reframed across spiritual, environmental, and human dimensions drawing from Indonesia’s Hindu and Muslim beliefs:


• Improving People-to-God relationship (Hablum minallah)
• Improving People-to-People relationship (Hablum minannas)
• Improving People-to-Nature relationship (Hablum minal’alam)


These three relationships above called Tri Hita Karana (“Three Reasons for Prosperity”) among Indonesia’s Hindus. Such a worldview from a high-ranking government official, specifically the minister of national development planning, speaks volumes of how the narrower, Western idea of “economic growth is good” is supplemented by more culturally-specific values.

In the United Arab Emirates, we find even more ambitious, culturally-driven rethinking of prosperity with the establishment of the Ministry of Happiness. The ministry’s mission is to drive “government policy to create social good and satisfaction” and to “make the country amongst the top five happiest countries in the world by 2021.” To achieve UAE’s vision of happiness, UAE monitors metrics like divorce rates help track family cohesion and adherence to Muslim values to assess the strength of its national identity.

UAE’s interpretation of a happy society and Indonesia’s views of development challenges the traditional materialist view of prosperity. It emphasizes a culturally specific perspective of what is a successful society. Prosperity is no longer just about building gleaming skyscrapers or eliminating hunger, but can also mean flourishing cultural traditions and strong families. Indeed, the challenges of climate change, inequality, and automation throughout the world will perhaps inspire each society to rethink prosperity in more cultural and human terms.



© Daniel Riveong 2018

Tags:  economics  prosperity  society 

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Artificial Intelligence and Us

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 22, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Monica Porteanu has written her third installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, she questions the effects of artificial intelligence on society. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

“Will AI take over the world?” is a common question across many news outlets these days. “Artificial Intelligence will best humans at everything by 2060, experts say,” predicts one of them. “More than 70% of US fears robots taking over our lives, survey finds,” describes another. Most of all, “how long will it take for your job to be automated?” seems to be the question on everyone’s mind. Opposing views are also present, arguing about “The great tech panic: robots won’t take all our jobs.” How do we reconcile these views into what Artificial Intelligence is and can be?

The term “Artificial Intelligence” was coined in the 1950s, intending to describe the ability of machines to perform tasks at a human intelligence level. Today, the definition encompasses more nuanced meanings, especially when considering the level of human cognition. In this regard, there seem to be four categories: (1) automation; (2) machine learning using artificial neural networks; (3) deep learning; (4) and beyond.

Automation represents a low cognitive process that is repeatable, having well-defined sequences of actions that are pre-programmed into machine behaviour. The machine is a passive executor of what is being instructed to accomplish. Its ability to complete complex computations fast and without error is superior to humans. Automation can be applied on a large scale, with numerous examples from manufacturing production lines, to, more recently, interactions with customers, such as onboarding operations. It has the most concrete social impact, as it does take away jobs as we know them today. However, it also opens the opportunity for humans to do what they are better at than machines are: empathy, critical thinking, and creativity. The key to staying ahead of automation is, as Garry Kasparov puts it, “human ambition.”

Machine learning using artificial neural networks requires a more sophisticated, yet still moderate level of cognition. The machine can mimic repeatable but personalized activities, while learning from each interaction, and utilizing increasing amounts of data. It reacts to events based on what was instructed to be accomplished. In other words, it can present a solution to a problem as posed, recommend tasks, or take simple actions. For example, it can automatically set up preferences at home, adjust ambient environment parameters based on these preferences, turn appliances on/off, or keep track of our grocery list. This stage has developed in leaps and bounds during the last decade or so, achieving results in recognition and even digitization of image, face, or speech. However, the machine still has difficulty perceiving at a level comparable to a human. Although we are still irritated by recommendations gone wrong or irrelevant comments coming from the chat box, we allow this type of artificial intelligence into our lives, without yet understanding its concrete positive and negative impacts.

The leap to deep learning is the phase that debuted only a few years ago. With big visions at the forefront, deep learning aims to build capacity for a machine to solve problems without being told how. Such machines mimic the brain, through layers of artificial neurons that connect with and send signals to each other in the network. Initial results are astounding. For example, the machine has been able to beat humans at Go, the complex ancient Chinese game, whose number of alternative positions surpasses the atoms in the universe. However, it seems we have yet to uncover what is happening inside these deep neural networks. Scientists are currently investigating adversarial examples, in which the difference between what the human and machine sees is extreme (e.g., turtle versus gun).

Beyond deep learning is yet an area for even bigger dreams in which, perhaps, machines will surpass the human brain capacity, being able to create symbol systems (e.g., language, money, time, religion, governance) and with that, structurally alter every aspect of the life as we know it.

It seems we are now somewhere during the development of the second category, machine learning, and in the early stages of the third one, deep learning.

We have been warned that “Artificial Intelligence will best humans at everything by 2060.” With the many and contradicting opinions though, one could wonder, what will human capacity be in 2060? How will our brain functions evolve, and with that, where will our creativity, empathy, ambition, and critical thinking take us?

 



© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  artificial intelligence  machine  society 

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