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What’s So Great About the Great Powers?

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 5, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Craig Perry is one of our Emerging Fellows, and this is his second article for the program. As you can see from the title, he has a few points to make about the great powers.

Before we can answer the question of whether another great-power war is inevitable, we should first clarify what constitutes greatness in the context of international relations. Scholars have debated this issue over the years, focusing primarily on military strength underpinned by economic vitality—which in turn are functions of population, resource endowment, and territorial expanse. A state’s political system can also contribute to its great-power rank, especially when it mobilizes its potential in pursuit of global interests. And of course, a state’s ability to shape the preferences of others through diplomacy, culture, and values—its soft power—augments its military and economic instruments of national power.

Given all that, the number of prospective great powers will remain quite small through the middle of the 21st century—with the world’s sole remaining superpower continuing to top the list. Although China and India will likely overtake the United States as the world’s largest economies by 2050, America’s steadily growing population should compensate for lackluster growth. Washington shows no sign of retreating into isolationism as it did after the First World War, and it will almost certainly continue investing in formidable military forces to defend its expansive interests around the globe, as well as exercising a significant—if increasingly contested—role in institutions ranging from the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

By mid-century, however, America will no longer be the world’s unrivaled hegemon. The People’s Republic of China has already surpassed the United States in the gross domestic product at purchasing power parity, and this lead will only widen in the coming decades regardless of the Middle Kingdom’s impending demographic decline. The People’s Liberation Army is emerging as a near-peer competitor to the U.S. military, bolstering China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy ambitions in Asia and around the world. Frustrated by U.S.-dominated international institutions, China is developing a rival framework to advance its foreign-policy ambitions.

If China is slowly reemerging as a great power after a century and a half of foreign domination, the Russian Federation clings to delusions of Soviet grandeur despite the collapse of its empire, economy, and political system within the past three decades. Russia retains an enormous landmass and a wealth of natural resources, but it has less than half the population of the USSR—and it is expected to shrink further in the coming decades. Nevertheless, Russia is projected to remain the world’s sixth largest economy through mid-century—its overreliance on oil and gas exploitation notwithstanding—and Moscow will remain capable of fielding ever-more sophisticated military forces and projecting power across much of the globe. Moreover, unlike the Chinese, Russians can recall what it was like to be a superpower within living memory, and their leaders are determined to restore the Eurasian bear to (what they believe is) its rightful place in the international community.

While China and Russia are revisionist states challenging the U.S.-dominated international order, several other former great powers are less likely to disturb the status quo. Japan’s demographic decline and meager economic growth do not bode well for its future influence in a region increasingly dominated by its archrival, China. While Germany’s trajectory is similar to Japan, its influence is amplified by its membership in the European Union, whose combined population and economic output will continue to surpass America’s even after Britain exits the bloc. If Germany, France, and other EU member states were to renew their quest for an ever closer union by further pooling sovereignty in the foreign and security policy domains, it is not farfetched to imagine a European super-state could one day emerge as a great power alongside the United States—or even its rival, should America’s NATO commitments waver.

Of the remaining states whose economic and demographic growth ought to inspire great power aspirations, none are likely to overcome their internal weaknesses or emerge from the shadow of powerful neighbors anytime soon. India, for example, will boast the world’s largest population and second-largest economy by mid-century, but its unwieldy political system and China’s regional dominance will limit its great-power prospects.

Ultimately, what makes great powers great depends not only on what they bring to the table but also on which other states have already claimed a seat. The United States, China, Russia, and (perhaps) the EU will continue to crowd out most regional rivals through a combination of economic strength, military prowess, and soft-power appeal while leveraging their privileged positions in international institutions like the UN Security Council to advance their interests. Rogue regimes, terrorist and criminal networks, and transnational corporations and other nongovernmental organizations will undoubtedly nudge international relations this way or that, but it is the great powers who will continue writing the rules of the game.


© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  NATO  politics  power 

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Get Real

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 2, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Adam Cowart is one of our Emerging Fellows, and this is his second article written for the program. In it, he explores the real economy and asks a few questions along the way.

Our current economic system and all the social and political systems tied to it require perpetual growth. Growth not only underpins the financial economy but the real economy as well, which requires new goods and services (or more demand for the same) to expand. The end of growth would mean the collapse of financial markets and stagnation in the real economy. It would also lead to social and political upheaval due to financial inequality. The socio-political perspective that underlies our obsession with growth is the presumption that lower and middle-class citizens will accept massive inequality as long as their lives (and wages) get incrementally better, year after year. We would all love to have that private yacht, but are content as long as our annual salary increase allows us to take that Alaskan cruise. And this incremental improvement does not come from increased economic equality or financial redistribution; it is a result of growth.

Another long standing economic assumption is that, as jobs are automated, new forms of work will emerge. While some estimates follow a historically consistent trend of 10% job displacement in the foreseeable future, other estimates predict an acceleration of displacement, up to 50%. If job displacement does enter the 50% range, the creation of as-yet-unknown jobs, at such significantly high numbers in a relatively short period of time, seems unlikely. Even minor displacement can have a significant disruptive effect on political and social cohesion. But there is another option for continual growth in the real economy: instead of creating new jobs, simply commoditize things that people are currently doing for free.

Paul Mason alludes to this in his book “Post-Capitalism” when he suggests that in order to make this a scalable economic area of growth, “would require the mass commercialization of ordinary human life.” Late capitalism appears to be stealing a few plays from the feminist economics playbook. While media attention has largely been focused on pay equity between genders, some of the foundational work in feminist economics has focused on care work and intra-household bargaining. It is not much of a stretch to interpret Mason’s “ordinary human life” as the traditional perspective of unpaid “women’s work”.

If one is looking for a macro-trend in the real economy, one need look no further than the colonization of social interaction by the economy. This is evident in the more ubiquitous forms of social media but is also increasingly prevalent in more innocuous forms. Consider the cuddle party, a social media coordinated interaction where strangers come together out of a desire to cuddle (and watch a movie). Organizations such as “Nurse Next Door” look after the elderly, Christmas dinner can be ordered online, and Chore apps convince kids to (continue) to do work around the house “for free”. The company “Do My Stuff” has succinctly defined the overall trend with their slogan “Outsource your life”.

Anyone considering a new business could start with the question “What are people doing today for free, that I can get them to pay for tomorrow?” Of course, the question now must be asked, if every tiny component of our existence becomes commoditized and outsourced, are we even real anymore?



© Adam Cowart 2018

Tags:  capitalism  economics  work 

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Can We Live In a World of City-States?

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

David Roselle is one of our Emerging Fellows. He and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. His first article an important question about the increasing importance of city-states.

In 2015, the UN proposed the Urban Development Goals – a list of seventeen ideas for global collaboration that strive towards planetary health by 2030. The UDGs include eradicating poverty and hunger, promoting gender equality, and developing affordable, clean energy, as representing our most pressing challenges in the 21st century. To achieve the UDGs, the UN must rely on governments and the private sector to execute them. While these goals are aspirational, we must ask: are our current government institutions designed appropriately to deliver legitimate solutions to these complex problems?

The purpose of the proposed question is to investigate the efficacy of our existing geopolitical institutions for the 21st century. Are they structured to handle the world’s most challenging issues? Could a model dating back to antiquity – the city-state – plausibly be a more innovative governing structure for the future to respond to such lofty goals? While we need to avoid apologetics for the city-state government model, the city-state model could be used as a way to consider a new geopolitical landscape within an alternative future. It is a provocative future which could evolve beyond the competition of superpowers for global dominance, allowing new values to emerge.

This question is timely. Ostensibly, we are amidst a major era of transformation in which everything is being challenged — from our currencies to our cars, to the sanctity of our democracies. Yet, the government institutions themselves appear to be overlooked.

While there are valid reasons for concern, there are tools to make a difference. Design, for example, is one cognitive tool of many that has the potential to change organizations fundamentally. What if governments integrated human-centered design methods into the DNA of their institutions? What new opportunities would that afford society? In order to attempt such an overhaul, we first need to be able to name the social invention we are seeking to transform: the nation-state.

The nation-state is a relatively recent political construction that began after the Treaty of Westphalia in the mid-17th century. The nation-state bounded people together through customs, language, and religion, forming a powerful bond of allegiance to the state and land. This model was then exported to the world through colonialism and reinforced through colonial powers.

Today, the world looks much different. Nations are diverse, multilingual, and secular. The same customs that bonded citizens together before hold less meaning. Consequently, this sparks tension between ethnic groups as some struggle to cope with the change — illustrated through the wave of nationalism sweeping the West. This change brings into question what it means to be a citizen of a country. Within the course of a century, the world gained six billion people with two billion more expected in thirty years. The UDGs serve as a focal point to handle intensified pressure from exponential population growth. Can the nation-state adapt to these technological and social challenges or will a new model need to be innovated? It is a challenging question, but the urgency and importance of these questions are such that we cannot afford to ignore them.



© David Roselle 2018

Tags:  economics  politics  society 

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Society, the economy, and the planet

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Polina Silakova is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article discusses the intersection of societal norms, economic conditions, and the environment.

In the lead-up to the festive season, streets are dressed up in chic decorations, stores experiment with creative stands with sweets and gifts, and wherever we are, we can hardly escape from commercials, kindly offering to help us choose presents for our nearest and dearest. The hustle in the media and in the shops became an inseparable part of this special time and we can hardly imagine it to be otherwise. End of the year’s shopping boom is good for us and good for businesses, right?

At the same time, a different announcement nearly got lost in this busy media clutter. A world meteorological organisation reported 2016 results which show the record increase in global carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere (403.3 ppm for those who like figures) – a rate not seen for millions of years. The increase is largely attributed to human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels. Those fuels keep our homes warm (or cool), make (most of) our cars move, enable the production of all the things that we need (and the ones that we don’t really need), and help me write this post by powering my laptop with electricity.

Until now the price of most of these goods and services did not include full environmental costs and we only start considering this now, possibly too late and too slow. The Paris Agreement on Climate Change is the first attempt to address the issue at a big scale. With Syria recently having signed up the accord, all the countries in the world agreed to act collaboratively to limit the negative impact of human activities. The United States has become the only one leaving, as announced by Donald Trump earlier in 2017. Trump’s reasoning is that the terms of the agreement are bad for America’s economy (which is, by the way, the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon). In other words, if the United States commits to the accord, they will not be able to produce as much stuff as they do now, as profitably as currently.

The reason for Trump’s decision is in the short-term thinking and capitalistic values behind it. But he is not alone in prioritising the more tangible short-term outcomes over the more blurred future on the horizon. Generally, as recent research by the University of California suggests, human brains are “not wired for the future”. However, as with everything, there are exceptions and in another part of the world, we find a different story.

While Trump is trying to protect the production of new goods, Sweden introduced a 50% reduction in tax on repairing goods. This is the government’s attempt to rationalise new economic behaviour for people to revive their possessions, instead of buying new stuff; to create the new norms, as opposed to what developed countries are accustomed to. The initiative aims to cut carbon emissions from production, reduce waste and more generally, promote sustainable consumption. In other words, Sweden gives its citizens an additional, financial reason to take care of the planet. Sustainable values of responsible citizens are supported both by making this behaviour normal in society and by providing monetary rewards. And Swedes don’t seem to expect any negative economic outcomes from the new law.

The difference between the responses of these two countries to the wicked problems we face is in how much weight does the future have in the decisions we take today? The Brundtland Report in 1987 gave rise to the most influential definition of sustainable development. It states: “…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The difference between the Swedish and the American response is exactly in defining the needs of the present and in understanding the impact of today on the generations of the future.

While the governments of different countries may choose different actions in regard to these two components of sustainability, we are curious about whether we will see a more American or a more Swedish response from consumers in the future? We are not inviting you to re-gift your last year’s present or to carry a Christmas tree home on a bicycle. The problem is much more complex than that and the solution involves all three parties: government, businesses and consumers.

What role will we choose to play? What is the relationship between our values, societal norms, economic conditions and our buying behaviour? When will we start including full environmental costs in the price of the goods and services and when will we be ready to pay for it? Will it direct our choices between alternative goods? Or not?



© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  economics  environment  society 

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Swift trust in virtual reality

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Nichola Cooper is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article discusses the importance of trust and when implementing mixed reality technologies.

Is 2018 the year you advise on the business impact of mixed reality (MR) technology?

The enterprise potential for alternate reality products is growing, with an increasing number of use cases from technology companies that create immersive scenarios in gaming, social media and team collaboration that can potentially transform how we share culture, communicate and collaborate.

It is important we also consider the inherent risks in implementing MR into a business environment – one such risk is trust. As we design environments with a projected self, how do we not just protect the data within the environment, but also the outcome of the collaborative process too? Trust is a functional lubricant that enables effective feedback loops between people and systems. As our communication is advanced to include a non-human projection of ourselves, are there impacts to the psyche and the subsequent development of the trust process that might undermine the business impact of MR technology?

Social networking sites indicate our digital persona is a narrated composition of our authentic identity and our ideal self, customised for each channel. The narrated self is a defence mechanism the self-employs to manage the risk involved in issuing a faceless communication. Humans have evolved to instinctively discern from non-verbal cues whether someone is trustworthy or not; communicating online introduces uncertainty, which we manage by controlling the trust process. Unless digital communications are supported by offline personal relationships we distrust the other until evidence proves otherwise. Strategic mistrust is efficient, rational and functional, it may not, however, be the best way to organise our affairs.

The success of mixed reality for industry and educational use is predicated on creating trust in the virtual environment and the persons present to make the most of the technology. While cyber-security and risk practitioners concentrate on delivering trust in data integrity, it is incumbent on business to instil trust in the virtual space. Using principles of human-centred design and swift trust, business can customise existing operating principles to recognise the short-term nature of virtual engagement.

Establishing traditional forms of trust take time. Trust involves cognitive, behavioural and emotional factors in the assessment of another’s trustworthiness and the decision to make oneself vulnerable in commencing trusting relations. Interpersonal trust also assumes longevity: we trust to build relationships over time.

Swift trust, however, is cognitive and normative in development; trust is assumed as a condition of the gathering and is verified in the actions undertaken by participants. It is best employed in conjunction with traditional team-building strategies, for it is fragile. Deviations from group norms in a swift trust environment can produce volatile reactions that are unmitigated by trusting relationships.

Therefore, swift trust is a tactical approach to team dynamics which needs to be supported by strengthening offline relational trust in order to enhance its impact. Companies considering integrating the use of MR technology into their operating practices from 2018 could consider an MR playbook that outlines the principles and practices of applied swift trust, and then integrate expectations for virtual environments into codes of conduct. It is quite probable that team members engaging in virtual environments have not met before. It is essential they understand the rules of the game.



© Nichola Cooper 2018

Tags:  technology  trust  virtual reality 

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Trust Beyond the Present

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 15, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Monica Porteanu is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article discusses the intersection of society and trust.

Trust is a social construct essential to economic and societal development. However, trust has issues that the passing of time has not only not yet solved but also blurred any futures orientation. Furthermore, while technology presents possible solutions, it also introduces new challenges. One would expect that science has resolved such issues, but science itself has undergone a trust crisis. A solution to re-establishing trust is designing the future with the society itself.

In 2017, trust in official institutions registered a collapse in the US and a significant drop in the UK, after a steady decline over time. Decades earlier, behind the Iron Curtain, the communist regime thrived through the propagation of mistrust.

Centuries ago, the victory or defeat in war was a question of how the communication amongst generals, stationed at various locations, was transmitted through trusted, non-forgeable links. The system, at that time, did not have any control or feedback loop to ensure traitors did not intercept and interfere with the message. Dubbed the Byzantine Generals’ problem in mathematics, in many ways similar to the Prisoners’ Dilemma in economics, the challenge might now be solved by blockchain technology, with its promise for a single record of fact between two parties involved in a transaction.

Even if blockchain succeeds, another technology facet raises trust questions: data. With staggering amounts of data available but a remarkably low percentage analyzed, and even smaller amounts validated, how do we know whether we can count on the truth of this content?

The belief that scientific research is a trusted leader is also challenged. Investigations show that less than 50% of psychology studies could be replicated, together with increasing instances of corruption, including priming effects, fake peer reviews, or proliferation of citation cartels.

Extending the question of trust to forward-looking settings enhances decision makers’ ability to anticipate possible futures and navigate risks and uncertainties, especially when trust molds into “the willingness to be vulnerable to another party’s actions.” Trust in futures thinking enhances the capacity to embrace opportunities presented by “actionable images of the future” while deflecting weaknesses and threats.

A solution to re-establishing trust is expanding its definition from being an ingredient that catalyses economic prosperity and social life for people, to envisioning futures of a society with people. This participatory approach is diametrically opposed to the communist doctrine as well as the hierarchical, patriarchal, belief, and value systems that underlie existing power structures. Participation not only increases the likelihood of trusting what could be developed but also the engagement to ignite futures and shape the preferred one.

The reciprocal relationship between participation and trust is self-explanatory: participation spawns trust through dialogue, transparency, and agency, while trusting beliefs and actions (e.g., ability, benevolence, integrity) strengthen participation through the willingness to engage, take action, and break various barriers such as personal, situational, functional, or psychological.

Such relationship alleviates the anxiety of unknown futures through mental training and careful orchestration of expert and participant involvement. For example, while futurists’ skill is critical in trend analysis to unearth blind spots and set the stage for grounded results, diversity and wide participation is more beneficial than competence during the next phase focused on opportunity prioritization. Further refining of selected opportunities is easily enabled by experimental prototyping of actionable future narratives, as a method to understand and handle the uncertainties and risks of unproven ideas about the future. The experts’ facilitation skills and toolkits, such as empathy maps, role-playing, or installations, contribute to establishing the need, desire, and feasibility of building the envisioned futures.
As a final note, participation to build trust is the opportunity to develop further the networked society in which the collaboration amongst creativity, ethnographic, foresight, and analytical approaches convert the unknown into a viable and promising future for society.

© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  future  technology  trust 

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Why do we need to think about the infrastructures of tomorrow?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 28, 2017
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Daniel Bonin is one of our Emerging Fellows. He and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. His first article discusses the importance of futures thinking for building infrastructure.

By 2050 the face of our built environment will have changed. While this seems to be a long way off, there is good reason to start thinking about tomorrow’s infrastructure today.

Infrastructures outlive civilizations, country borders, and governments. It can take years until they are up and running. Infrastructures have been symbols and indicators of power: from the Egyptian Pyramids to the Golden Gate Bridge in the U.S. or the One Belt One Road Initiative of China. Infrastructures are physical legacies for the generations to come and constitute the framework conditions we innovate around. In some sense, our thinking is not only shaped by bounded rationality but bounded by the existing infrastructure. We tend to think of new ways to use streets, but not about alternatives to streets. As a part of a complex system, partially aged infrastructures cannot be simply removed and re-inserted without risking disruptions. The inert nature of infrastructures is also at odds with faster innovation cycles in technology. These characteristics are at stark contrast with the evolving needs of people and business and the global challenges on our way to 2050.

Depending on whom you ask, you will get different answers to the question of what infrastructures are. Some will spontaneously name airports, high-speed trains or broadband internet access, while you can hear the dreaming in the voice of others when they say wastewater disposal, uninterrupted power supply or well-equipped hospitals. Infrastructures are the physical backbone that allows people and businesses to fulfill their needs and desires. And even a fully digitized world with telecommuting or tele-education would still require some sort of physical infrastructure. The access to infrastructures means somehow destiny – reducing or exacerbating social inequalities. It is evident we need to think about infrastructures in order to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in areas like health, education, renewable energy, environmental protection, justice, and peace. A more sustainable world would ultimately be a world where infrastructure converges both between and within countries.

This is clearly an ambitious goal, considering a perfect storm of weaker economic growth, growing governmental debt, workforce ageing and a reduced taxpayer base due to labor automation. These factors will greatly reduce the ability of governments to fund and maintain infrastructures up to the year 2050 and beyond. At the same time, less developed countries and their energy and resource hungry middle classes will grow. Besides the unprecedented demand for expansion in less developed countries, developed countries are starting to fall behind in infrastructure quality as their century-old infrastructures continue to age.

The resulting infrastructure investment gap could be even larger than previously thought, given that economic growth forecasts have shown to be way too optimistic in the past. But infrastructure development comes not only at an easy measurable monetary cost. Each additional square meter of sealed surface, deforestation and land grab of the world’s most fertile soils puts our ecosystem under more and more pressure. Yet the irony is that we will need to expand and adapt our infrastructure to tackle challenges like climate change and push decarbonization efforts. With tighter governmental budgets, economic costs might well trump environmental impacts. It is all the more urgent to develop business models for sustainable infrastructures that are attractive for private investors. On the positive side, higher efficiency technologies and decentralization of knowledge, power, and production might reduce some of the expansionary demand.

The overwhelming majority of our infrastructure for the year 2050 has yet to be built. Each additional infrastructure must be well planned as it adds complexity to the inert infrastructure systems. We have to anticipate tomorrow’s needs to understand future investment requirements. Moreover, we need to design infrastructures in a way that they can be adapted over their lifetime to keep up with the changes ahead and beyond 2050. Otherwise, we will find ourselves drawing upon yesterday’s infrastructure to cope with the challenges of tomorrow.



© Daniel Bonin 2017

Tags:  government  infrastructure  politics 

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What is climate change?

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 18, 2017
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Ariana Lutterman is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article seeks to clarify what climate change is and its implications for the present and the future.

Climate change is often cited as the most pressing problem facing humanity today. To truly understand its implications, it’s important to first understand its language. Here I hope to present a framework for how climate change has been defined through a process of international scientific consensus as well as how human actions are implicated in what we are currently observing as climate change.

Climate is weather over time, the earth’s climate is a combination of climates across the planet, and planetary climate change is a change in the earth’s climate over an extended period of time.

Phrased slightly differently, planetary climate change is a change in the combined climates made up of combined weather around the planet over a long period of time. Everyone anywhere experiences weather on a daily basis, and while everyone on the planet is affected by planetary climate change, its effects are infinitesimally small and often more intangible.

Global warming, a rise in the average global temperature, is one measure of planetary climate change. Often used interchangeably, global warming is just one measure of climate change. As the name suggests, it is an overall rise in planetary climate change, but this is only one aspect of what climate change means. The daily lived experience of climate change may, in many areas, look like cooler seasonal temperatures or more frequent cold weather events. So climate change as a term indicates that not only warming is occurring but also a host of other fluctuations to the usual planetary weather patterns.

The earth’s climate is constantly changing. Historically there have been periods both warmer and cooler than now. These fluctuations have resulted from natural processes like variations in Earth’s distance and energy received from the sun, volcanic eruptions, plate tectonics, and changes in earth’s oceans. There is a distinction between this natural climate change variability and what we are now observing. Current observable climate change is occurring much more rapidly than any historic climate event. It is this speed of change we are currently observing with which scientists are concerned. It is this that is attributed primarily to human activities.

The primary anthropogenic, or human-induced, contribution has been a dramatic increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) since industrial times largely through the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas). Though a misnomer (not actually the mechanism through which a greenhouse functions), the greenhouse effect describes how solar radiation trapped by a planet’s atmosphere warms the surface. Human actions since the industrial era have dramatically increased the number of atmospheric greenhouse gases. This anthropogenic greenhouse effect is caused primarily by actions like burning fossil fuels, agriculture, and deforestation which significantly increase atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide and cause higher than normal rates of solar radiation to become trapped by the atmosphere.

I plan to follow the international scientific community’s consensus in recognizing climate change as referring to planetary and anthropogenic changes to climatic patterns. Climate change is a part of a complex system of Earth processes, and its consequences manifest in similarly systemic ways. It represents not only an environmental crisis, but a social, economic, and cultural crisis as well.

© Ariana Lutterman 2017

Tags:  climate change  environment  global warming 

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Is Another Great-Power War Inevitable?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 14, 2017
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Craig Perry is one of our Emerging Fellows. He and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. This first article about war asks an important question for the present and the future.

“Anarchy places a premium on foresight.” – Kenneth Waltz

A century ago, with the world embroiled in what was then naively dubbed the “war to end all wars,” few people imagined a second global conflagration igniting just a generation later. Since the end of World War II, however, humanity has experienced over seven decades of relative peace, with the frequency of war deaths trending sharply downward throughout this period. This is largely attributable to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, a standoff that spawned numerous proxy conflicts but never turned truly hot. It remains to be seen whether the ongoing reemergence of a multipolar world, with potentially several states capable of exerting influence on a global scale, will lead to yet more wars among these so-called great powers.

There are good reasons to fear a return to great-power conflict. Warfare has been endemic to the human condition since the dawn of civilization, and remains the ultimate way of resolving conflicts among states even in the modern era. World affairs are inherently anarchic, with states pursuing their own advantages in a Hobbesian struggle of each against all. While the weak may occasionally band together to balance would-be hegemons, the prevailing self-help system of international relations features no permanent friends or enemies, just interests. “Countries have always competed for wealth and security, and the competition has often led to conflict,” the late neo-realist scholar Kenneth Waltz noted. “Why should the future be different from the past?”

Indeed, war has accompanied the rise and fall of great powers throughout recorded history. In his classic account of the Peloponnesian War, Greek historian Thucydides concluded that the growth of Athenian power and the fear this inspired in then-dominant Sparta made war between these city-states inevitable. This dynamic, which political scientist Graham Allison calls the “Thucydides Trap,” has ensnared rising and established powers in more than a dozen wars over the last 500 years—and it threatens to do so again as other states challenge the United States for global influence.

Such systemic, structural factors are not the only aspects of international relations that can drive states towards armed conflict. Marxists argue that capitalism compels the core, industrialized powers to compete for dominance as they exploit peripheral countries for labor and raw materials. Political scientist Samuel Huntington suggested it is culture—rather than ideology, politics, or economics—that is shaping patterns of conflict, with the Western belief in the universality of its values leading to clashes with rival civilizations. Constructivists similarly believe ideas shape international relations, as each state perceives world events in its own peculiar way.

So why should the future be different from the past? With nearly 200 sovereign states around the globe, it seems inevitable that at least some of them will come into conflict in the coming decades—and great powers will occasionally intervene if only to enforce international law or for some other ostensibly noble purpose. Yet it is far from certain that these great powers will again come to blows with each other, for several reasons. While anarchy will continue to characterize international relations for the foreseeable future, a number of developments—including nuclear deterrence, globalization of trade and investment, relevant international institutions, shifting social norms, and widespread competition below the threshold of war—are incrementally reducing the likelihood of another great-power conflict. Will these trends be enough to prevent the eventual outbreak of World War III?


© Craig Perry 2017

Tags:  power  strategy  war 

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When Money Grows Wings and Flies Away

Posted By Administration, Sunday, December 3, 2017
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Adam Cowart is one of our Emerging Fellows. He and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. His first article discusses the futures of money and the economy.

On March 19, 2014, in a Canadian courtroom, 66-year-old Arlan Galbraith was convicted of fraud of over $5000 and sentenced to a little over seven years in jail. While all agree that he lost millions of dollars of other people’s money ($42 million to be precise, and contractual obligations to pay another $356 million), many, including some of his victims, are still unsure of whether he willfully defrauded them.

In 2001, Arlan founded Pigeon King Industries. The concept was simple. Pigeon King would sell you a set of breeding pigeons for a certain cost and agree to buy back all offspring at a fixed rate over the next 10 years. Over time the story of what, exactly, the business model would be, shifted. First, the pigeons would be sold to the supposedly lucrative pigeon racing industry, then the story changed to a plan to sell squab meat. In actuality, the offspring were sold to other farmers as breeding pairs, and the excess pigeons were housed at Pigeon Kings’ expense. Ostensibly the plan involved a period of building a “network of breeders” before taking over the world. Eventually, farmers and government got leery. Pigeon inventory started to rise as Pigeon King continued to honor contractual agreements, buying up offspring, despite a dwindling number of buyers. Barns were retrofitted to house the excess inventory. Funds were spent to feed and vaccinate the exploding population. Finally, farmers willing to sign on dried up. Without new buyers, Pigeon King couldn’t pay their existing breeders and the whole thing fell apart.

Sound familiar? Kind of like a Ponzi scheme except, instead of money, the currency was pigeons?

How real will the real economy be in the future? This series of blogs sets out to explore how fiction turns into reality, reality turns into fiction, and how this will shape the future of the real economy. Reality and fiction are often at war with each other. Perhaps we inherently move between periods in which reality is dominant and periods where fiction/myth dominate. And in our most recent fictional turn away from the real, we now have the destructive tools and technologies (and some very good reasons to escape from reality) that allow us to bore deeper and deeper into the mystical archetypal hearts of our own dreams and collective desires. And with this deepening of unreality, we take our systems and structures with us: families, politics and, yes, the economy.

What is the financial market if not a future bet on a compelling story? Between the virtual and financial economies, how will the real economy be influenced? Will it become a “puppet” economy for its two bigger and stronger cousins? Or, with scarcity and limits to growth, will it come roaring back as the dominant economic sphere? Since we abandoned the gold standard, have we drifted into a hyper-real economy from which there is no escape? If late-capitalism requires constant new areas of growth to survive, does the turn to a fictional economy create limitless new areas of expansion?

As for our poor unwanted pigeons, after health and city officials warned of a potential release of the birds, and with the specter of a mass migration to Toronto, where they would blacken the skies and overwhelm parks, much like their now extinct Carrier cousins, the birds were slaughtered en masse. Drowned. Gassed. Burned. Hundreds of millions of fictional dollars. Up in smoke.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?


© Adam Cowart 2017

Tags:  economics 

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