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Can Disembodiment Fuel Equality?

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 3, 2019

Charlotte Aguilar-Millan examines the effect of disembodiment on equality in her fifth 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 gig economy is often hailed as the future of work. It offers more flexibility than standard roles to both employee and employer. It offers greater independence. It offers more variety in roles. Yet with all these benefits, the workforce is experiencing inequality within corporations that is increasing exponentially. Over the past decade in the UK, corporations have seen CEOs’ earnings in the FTSE 100 increase four times as much as national average earnings. It is much higher in other countries including the US. It is little wonder that employees are seeking to take more ownership through contracting or temporary work. Employees do not want to represent corporations that demonstrate eye watering CEO pay and lavish corporate greed. Examples of this were seen during 2018. This includes Credit Suisse’s CEO who received a 30% pay rise whilst the share price fell by 38%.

 

Progress, however, has been made in legislation for greater transparency. From January 2019 within the UK, legislation now requires disclosure of the CEO to employee pay ratio for all companies employing over 250 staff. The inequality within one’s own company can now be brought to light. This will enable easy comparison of companies to measure inequality.

 

Such transparency has already caused staff to act. The CEO of the Financial Times, John Ridding, received a 25% pay increase in 2017 to £2.5m annual salary. Staff within the Financial times, were made aware of this and a revolt took place which saw his salary reduced to less than £1.2m in 2018. Progress in transparency reporting has enabled both consumers and employees to demonstrate their discontent with excessive boardroom pay.

 

This does not solve inequality in companies with no employees. Examples of this include UberEats and Deliveroo who will not fall under this legislation. They have few staff as they resource through contractors rather than staff. For globalised companies whose staff are often located separately from the client, such as Upwork or Gigster, there are no reporting requirements on transparency. Gig work provides no safety nets that accompany being an employee. This includes medical insurance, parental leave or pensions. Legislation has not placed a responsibility on companies to provide these benefits. Unions have developed to protect the gig worker. In February 2019 the union GMB agreed a deal with Hermes, a delivery company, to give enhanced rights to gig workers.            

 

There are other industries from which inspiration can be sought. Acting, historically, has been an industry with many employees on short term contracts. To future proof their careers, the Screen Actors Guild Benefit Fund allows actors to pay into a progressive form of union. This provides a safety net for insurance and healthcare by gig workers earning credits each time they work that are used to contribute towards healthcare and retirement funds. However, organising a global contractor workforce who are located globally is difficult without the contracting party’s support. The gig economy represents a work force who have different expectations in working conditions.

 

It is up to legislators to protect the disembodied workforce. Disembodiment can fuel equality if the appropriate support is in place. Disembodiment gives the worker control over how they work in a way that employment cannot offer. Legislation is being considered to ensure the advantages of disembodiment are equally shared. As detailed in the Taylor Review of working practices, disembodiment benefits need to be two ways. Therefore, two-way flexibility should be in place. This could take the form of holiday pay, healthcare fees, and retirement funding. In this way disembodiment could fuel equality.

 

© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2019

Tags:  disembodiment  economics  rights 

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How much of our stuff is Stuff?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Tim Morgan publishes his fourth blog post in our Emerging Fellows program. He assumes that the digital ecosystems are leading us towards a new form of autonomous capital. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Virtualizing the real world through abstractions is as old as humanity.  Stories helped humanity thrive for tens of thousands of years by virtualizing knowledge about the world in a way that could easily be shared and remembered. The Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia created the oldest known writing, Cuneiform, over five thousand years ago. Scribes recorded everything from astronomical calculations, to sales transactions, to battles, to ownership records, and lineages. They recorded significant stories such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the great flood story Atrahasis. Over a thousand years later King Hammurabi of Babylon wrote one of the earliest and most complete code of laws. Much later Gutenberg created the printing press, which ultimately broke the elite stranglehold on writing and literacy. This in turn lead centuries later to the Enlightenment and the modern era.

 

Humans have virtualized experience by encoding it wherever they could via every means available, from pre-history to modern day. We have now expanded that virtualization via digital information technologies. We encode and store vast quantities of information, moving it around the world at will. Users upload over 300 hours of video a minute to YouTube, and individuals watch over 5 billion videos on their website every day. That is just one example. Development of information technologies is being driven by a very old human need to record.

 

What is new with digital technologies is execution. Ancient stories recounted person to person empowered action via hard won storified knowledge. Writing allowed civilization to further develop via persistent storage of accumulated knowledge. Printing allowed us to grow more complex societies by capturing more knowledge and widely distribute it. At each step, virtualization allowed us to manipulate the world in more complex ways. Our ancestors were living information processors. They transformed virtualized knowledge in the form of stories, writing, and print into actions.

 

Use and control of property has always had a virtualized information component. What is unique about digital technologies and automation is that humans are no longer the sole processors of information for creating value. We learned a clever new trick: how to encode our decision-making capabilities into our machines. We have created a new level of abstraction, one where not only information is virtualized via encoding, but the process of use itself is virtualized in the form of applications and networks. Digital automation is a form of virtualized human judgement.

 

This is increasingly tipping the balance between the value of things and the value of the knowledge about things. Farming was the foundation stone of early capitalism and government. It relied on human judgement, and human muscle. Today it is a technologically intensive enterprise. Modern farms heavily rely on GPS-guided autonomous robots, which still happen to be called tractors. Experienced farm-hands once drove the tractors. Now the tractors are the farm-hands.

 

Even purely virtual economies have arisen with the rise of digital information technology. The online battle game Fortnite made a profit of over $2.4 billion dollars in 2018 purely off the sale of virtual goods like character “skins” and clothes. Other games like World of Warcraft have thriving black-market economies composed of gold-farmers who sell in-game currency for real currency.

 

Virtualized knowledge and judgement are increasingly becoming the key source of new value across all economic sectors. This is creating an unprecedented situation. The physical value of capital is being superseded by its informational value. We are beginning to mimic how nature creates abundance via biological ecosystems. We are creating new interactive digital ecosystems of virtualized information and decision-making entities which are connected to real things. As they become more autonomous agents, more of our digital infrastructure will shift to become a digital ecosystem.

 

Capitalism and markets are facing a new era, one they created but not one they expected. It will be dominated by the ecosystem-like complexity of increasingly autonomous information entities blurring the lines between real and virtual goods. We are instilling a technological version of our anima into what was once passive capital. Ultimately, we may be evolving a new form of autonomous capital. The question remains, will markets co-evolve with it or will they transform into something else?

 

© Tim Morgan 2019

Tags:  capital  digitization  economics 

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Can democracy solve our wicked problems?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 18, 2019

Robin Jourdan checks the possibility of solving wicked problems by democracy in her fourth 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 living in an age of wicked problems. These are problems that generally have a social or cultural component that makes it difficult to solve. They’re more often complex, connected to other grand-scale issues, a substantial economic burden, and often incomplete knowledge. Wicked problems as a marketing concept didn’t come into being until the early 1970s.

 

Historic wicked problems would include polio, cholera, typhoid, cancer, poverty, and more. Often these problems created a sense of fear, vulnerability, uncertainty, chaos, and ambiguity. Out of control societies witnessed break-downs in politics, economics, and culture. What these problems had in common included a lack of knowledge over things like hygiene, sanitation, microbes. In other instances, what was lacking often was the political willpower to create the needed changes.

 

Democracies haven’t yet solved these problems due to many factors, some technical, some social, some political. For example, approached with caution and skepticism, often analysts tackle the wrong question in such a complex challenge set. In the West, think tanks and research laboratories are most often charged with finding an answer. Problems and solutions can be overly politicized and at the mercy of wrong motivations. Science and education can be discounted as elitism and fakery. This adds to the challenge.  The same people who would doubt climate change science will stop eating broccoli when science says it’s contaminated.

 

Technocratic and autocratic strengths and weakness are the reliance on technological solutions. If based on short-term incentives, these technologies allow us to continue in our ignorant ways. Then we blame the technology when they fail. Thus, devices alone are incomplete solutions for global woes. Overreliance on this path alone may also widen the gap between solutions and willingness to implement them. Incremental thinking relying on today’s think tank structure will continue to face skepticism from the general public.

 

Short-term thinking spurred by economic priorities will compete for resources in these systems as well. Governance systems that can marshal enormous amounts of resources are likely to be positioned well for moving the needle on solutions as is seen by China's checkbook diplomacy and internal focus on climate change solutions. This assembling vast amounts of resources itself isn’t the lone tool, as squandering resources will increasingly be frowned upon.

 

A key lesson from success over these past wicked problems is the need to get to a long-term, root cause understanding. Systems thinking is a tool that can support and enable transitioning to that longer-term thinking.  Root cause understanding and multi-nation cooperation often result in action.  Such will no doubt be aided by technologies, perhaps yet to be discovered. This complements a most significant ingredient to past victory over specific wicked problems: diligence and resilience during the sometimes-long journey.

 

As the future is further transformed, the longevity economy will likely have specific influences as well. When people live longer, the higher the chance they will face the outcomes of decisions guided by short-term thinking. Having the ability to simulate results by way of systems thinking and problem-solving, but not acting logically regarding them would reveal illogical mindsets.

       

Democracies as a social construct rather than a governance system support the conditions to share what is learned on the march. This is not to suggest that the steps nor the efforts are easy or linear. Adequate investment and emotional diligence are needed are not traits ascribed to a single governance system. However, in a democracy, people can create a groundswell of interest, urgency, and memory to challenge political priorities accordingly.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  governance  wicked problems 

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What are the threats of growing inequality?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program warns about the threats of inequality in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

A widely held belief is that the defining factor between the wealthy and poor members of society is their level of hard work. This is underpinned by the view that the poor can pull themselves out of their situation by their bootstraps. The proponents of this theory find it easy to justify growing global inequality. They probably feel secure in their status and are little bothered by the growing level of inequality. Are they truly secure or is this just an illusion? Let us examine the threats that growing inequality poses to society.

 

The global economy has witnessed growth for decades. This growth has been accompanied by increase in inequality in most regions and individual countries within these regions. If Piketty can be believed, the underlying factor to this is that the return on capital is greater than overall economic growth. While per capita growth has been sustained, there has been a more proportionate distribution of this growth among the various wealth segments.  The profit share often surpasses the wage share of GDP growth.

 

It would appear that economic growth will be sustained despite the inequality. So why bother? This is not the case. Growing inequality is potentially harmful to social cohesion. People find it hard to connect with those noticeably different from themselves. Inequality could result in natural tensions between the various economic groups. It could lead to tensions between the rich and the poor who feel disenfranchised.  It could also lead to loss of trust in the government and public institutions. The poor could begin to feel that the government has failed them or does not care about their plight. Inequality could be a threat to democracy and the rule of law as witnessed in the Arab uprising. Wealthy elites who assume power could implement policies to entrench their own interests at the expense of the poor.

 

Inequality also has economic consequences. Employment income is a key factor of inequality. Growing inequality means that those at the bottom of the economic pyramid in society would effectively experience a sustained erosion of their disposable income. They would not be able to invest in their personal development and that of their children through quality health and education. This would in turn decrease the quality of labour available in the economy. Their ability to contribute to the economic growth of their nations would also be impaired, further widening the inequality gap.  The end result would be a degradation of the supply side that perpetuates itself in a negative feedback loop.

 

What does this mean? Effective engagement of all sections of society is necessary for sustained and strong economic growth. There is a need to enable each citizen to contribute to and benefit from the economic growth of their country. This can be attained through investment in public goods and services such as health, education, and infrastructure. If the national cake is not shared, it is unlikely to grow as fast as it potentially could. It could even stagnate.

 

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  inequality  rights  society 

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Could social impact dominate consumer behaviour?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 11, 2019

Esmee Wilcox writes her fourth blog post in our Emerging Fellows program. She asks about the dominance of social impact over consumer behaviour. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

In one generation my family has seen starvation and rationing through war and genocide. These experiences have hardwired how they think about value and consumption. My generation hasn’t lived through that, and we’re caught between our concern for environmental limits and our experiences, our expectations, of personal gain through consumption. With so much opportunity still to consume right in front of us, why might we choose to displace this with something more relevant? What is changing around us that might lead us to think differently about what we value through how we consume?

 

In a number of spheres, we’re seeing the rise of networks of use displacing inefficient ownership models. Our status doesn’t come from owning a particular make of car or having the best gym membership but being part of a network of users. These networks of (re-)usage may create social and environmental benefits alongside economic efficiency. You can now uber-chicly rent and rent out your wardrobe as a means of “fast fashion”.

 

Networks add value because they realise what would otherwise be latent potential. We can add small parts that create something much bigger. Participation requires an element of reciprocity, in giving and taking, in producing and consuming. We might start to meet our wants to be inventive and productive and our needs to consume, by being part of more open networks. The enjoyment we get from reciprocal relationships is different from the instant hit of private consumption. It might dominate where we can see the value of a more sustaining activity over an instant hit.

 

To realise this changing pattern of consumption towards the primacy of social impact, the drivers for allocating capital resources would need to evolve from where they are now. Instead of defining and measuring a linear relationship between costs and benefits, we might see allocations that understand the complex relationship between inputs that are constantly evolving and social system benefits. The accumulation of capital is not as important as its continued flow and use around the network.

 

In this space social investors might be more concerned with describing the emerging changes within social systems instead of reducing the gains to known pre-existing cost sources. We might allow the change to happen before fixing the evaluation criteria. We might then look for what does help the community in practice to self-organise around birth, adolescence and bereavement for families under economic and social stress. Instead of the known, but limited, cost gains around children staying within the family unit and not going into the formal care system. In this future, social enterprises might still be tackling the issues of health, housing and education but they might be formed more around acting as access platforms. As super-connectors of the ecosystems in which poverty exists. To extend the reach of separated systems and the flow of social action.

 

Let’s not forget though the strength of our behavioural patterns that concern us with private accumulation instead of system flow. We could still see an increase in social impact in this future. But having the capacity to consume in a socially beneficial way might determine social and political status and perpetuate inequalities. Think about how Aribnb only helps property owners. It’s making it harder for private renters to access rented accommodation and enter property ownership. You have to have capital to access the benefits, and Airbnb raises the threshold for those that don’t.

 

Moreover, the step-change to recognise that the social issues of our time that affect us all require networked and systems working obliges us to step out of atomised and ‘now-ist’ frame of thinking. Scarcity has had the tendency of driving narrowing competition and closing down thinking about tomorrow. Rule bound and closed cultures develop in response to sustained threats. Resource constraints can make us less trustful of our fellow citizens.

 

It takes imagination to perceive of how we might deliberately choose to displace personal desires to consume with behaviour that is more sustaining. As we head into the next 30 years, people and communities that have choice over what they consume might be compelled to start consuming less. Where this act of consumption can also create wider system benefits, we might start to conceive of consumption very differently. This future that generates more from social system production than private gain may be viable should we start to notice, value and enjoy our own role in that complex network. If we perceive of a collective working towards that future together.

 

New technologies might be the way in which we can start to understand our collective contributions. That make it easier to see how we are tackling systemic social issues. The development of these new technologies might create the space for self-organising patterns of socially beneficial consumption and production to emerge. It is within this future that we may find, unleash and make visible our preferences for social impact to dominate our patterns of consumption.

 

© Esmee Wilcox 2019

Tags:  consumption  social impact  value 

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Is liberty compatible with public safety?

Posted By Website Admin, Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the compatibility of liberty with public safety in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


It seems that in today’s world our security and safety are constantly under threat. Every day brings more tragic news of innocent people murdered, women killed by strangers or beaten by violent husbands, children co-opted for economic or political gains, racists and extremist views given undue publicity. Political expediency demands quick response by governments to prevent such occurrences. They trade off our personal liberty for the good of public safety and security. The outcomes may make us temporarily feel safer, but actually apply discrimination or restriction upon society’s minority groups, the women and children at risk, restriction of freedom of expression or lifestyle for those under threat in order to secure their safety.

 

Many people argue that there is always a trade-off between liberty and safety, between freedom and security. Others suggest that safety response must cut through any considerations of liberty, and restrictions on minority groups must take priority for the good of the society. Still others think that security is a pre-requisite for liberty and freedom, to protect the collective well-being. A well-defined barrier will prevent ‘evil’ from seeping into society, so we can all sleep well at night.

 

Safety through restriction doesn’t necessarily mitigate the risk, and can bring unintended consequences that can harm long-term liberty. A well-intended curtailment of freedom for the sake of protection can turn into a vicious cycle of ever greater restrictions of liberty. We are told that the girl who is murdered in an alley shouldn’t have been wandering in the dark alone. The man with the funny headdress or dark skin is to be feared or discredited because he is one of the ‘other’ and shouldn’t be living amongst us. The evil of fear grows and ferments within our society, and no barrier can keep it out.

 

By engaging in Sir Isaiah Berlin’s two-toned notion of personal liberty as both freedom from oppression (safety) and freedom to do what we want to do (liberty), we see a symbiotic relationship between safety and liberty. Their practices must exist together and evolve sustainably over time. Every citizen must be equally free and safe to reach their potential in accordance with human rights principles for today’s societal needs. Future generations must similarly be accorded the same rights. This can only occur in an open, just and inclusive society, where we recognise our bonds and obligations to our fellow human beings and their individual rights within an integrated society.

 

In order to promote human flourishing, we need to recognise and celebrate the diversity and temporal position that we hold in our universe. We must undertake custodial responsibility as a society to look after the security and safety of our environment, the food, water, shelter, energy and climate that we all need to survive. We must create a virtuous cycle whereby the positive contributions of all humanity can be celebrated, protected and encouraged.

 

We must promote both liberty and public safety with a long view to the consequences of today’s decisions on today’s complex society, as well as tomorrow’s generations, their health and their environment. So, liberty is absolutely compatible with public safety, but only if we recognise and share a common and equal entitlement to these aspirations. But does that mean that we must all believe in the same thing? How then does religious freedom affect personal liberty?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  freedom  liberty  rights 

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In a fully digital economy will the dollar still be king?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 4, 2019

Paul Tero a member of our Emerging Fellows inspects the supremacy of dollar in digital economy in this blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

We trade in what we value. Whether it be a young child trading a small coin for a sweet at a corner store, the consistent portion of a wage over many years in exchange for a house, or the complexity of financial transactions to fund a manufacturers expansion. If we value something we will participate in a fair exchange with the seller.

 

We are all aware of the barter economy, of an era long past, where that form of trade was the primary mechanism to establish fair exchange between parties. Over the course of time it was hard currency that first supplanted this ancient mechanism, then promissory notes, until now where digital representations of cash are the means through which value is exchanged fairly.

 

Also today, it is a sovereign currency, the Dollar (or Euro, Renminbi or Yen) if you will, that is king. It is this fiat currency, this legal tender of value backed by an issuing government that is implicitly trusted so that we can fairly exchange value. Whether it’s that young child at the corner shop, or the insurance company guaranteeing the importation of that machinery, we all implicitly trust that issuing authority.

 

We pay, and governments collect, taxes based on that trust. Businesses leverage the inherent strengths of the banking system to invest in growth, based on that trust. Governments trust other governments based on that trust.

 

But in a fully digital economy, what entity will be the foundation of that trust? The case could be made that a single global currency could become king. Where, over the coming decades, a currency founded on blockchain principles could supplant the many sovereign currencies in existence today. The case could also be made for a return to the barter system. Where, again over the coming decades, the nascent peer-to-peer sharing economy becomes the most trusted mechanism for the fair exchange of value.

 

Given the possibility that either of these two paths could be realised, it may well be a fool’s errand to just assume that the future of financial transactions is just a more efficient version of what we experience today. Where this more efficient version still relies upon the sovereign entities of trust. And where these entities of trust are the anchor for computerised exchanges of value. Just as it occurs today at the retail level, at the commercial and at the government level.

 

Consider two scenarios. First, what if the world moves to a type of universal basic income or universal basic services model? Where the accumulation of wealth is a foreign concept to most and bartering is de rigueur. Secondly, what if the digital economy transforms into the intelligence economy? Where real value is no longer held in varying compositions of bits, but in prized abstractions of knowledge stored in quantum computing machines. In either of these two scenarios, what would be sensible: to have a single global currency, a ubiquitous barter system, or just more efficient version of the current way we conduct financial transactions?

 

Finally, if we accept that human nature will fundamentally remain unaltered in the coming decades, we can appreciate the logic in the following propositions. We can accept that in a fully digitised economy there will continue to be shining examples of our “better angels” and likewise examples of those with more sinister intent. We can also accept that, because of our human nature, we will still form systems of governance and administrative oversight. We will still need the ability to enforce exclusion upon those who are a danger to society. We will still participate in fair exchanges of value. For people will still be people. At our core we’ll be motivated by the desire to either work toward goals, to work with people, or to work to accumulate power.

 

Given all this, and as we look far over the time horizon, will the dollar still be king in a fully digital economy? More than likely, the literal dollar won’t be king but the metaphorical dollar will be. Even though human nature is not likely to change, the mechanism for the fair exchange will continue to change. For each of us will continue to have something of value that is worthy of trading.

 

© Paul Tero 2019

Tags:  dollar  economics  value 

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What is Missed by a Focus on Profit?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Charlotte Aguilar-Millan shares her concern about the mere focus on profit in her fourth 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.

 

For a company to grow, profit is required. This has been the age old mantra that those in the world of business have restated again and again. Why, when we look at fast growing companies, do they make limited profits? Deliveroo, a food delivery service, whose revenue increased by 116% in 2017, saw profits grow only by 1.5% during the same period. This is as a result of reinvestment into their technology apps. It is also an indication of the changing landscape. For companies to deliver long term shareholder value, profits are not the key driver. Instead, profits act as a by-product from placing value on other areas.

 

Too often companies focused on profit look to scaling efficiency and reducing costs, resulting in missed opportunities. Amazon is a prime example of a company which reinvested into its services including delivery and inventory availability. This has enabled fast growth and expansion into new markets. It has also added an edge to the market. Companies focussing on profits cannot compete with this edge. 

 

Globalisation has enabled more end user awareness of the behaviour of a profit focused company. Poor treatment of staff stops a brand from being able to convey aspirational attributes. Potential employees are able to research these workplace habits and have become aware of the working environment of a profit focussed entity. This has made potential employees wary of those companies tarnished with a profit only focus.

 

There are longer term impacts on society where companies solely focus on profits. When cost reduction is a main factor, the contribution to the remedy of global issues is weak. Measures to help reduce climate change and poverty from seeking the lowest cost are often retrospective. Often this action is as a result of external pressures only. Take corporate social responsibility (CSR) as an example. This is a tool now used by companies to demonstrate they are ethically aware. However, companies persevere with using suppliers who do not pay a living wage. They offset this in retrospect by allowing employees to take a volunteering day or sponsored run. Rather than take responsibility for the repercussions of their cost saving exercises, companies introduce CSR policies and assume that this is sufficient. It is the individual who has to pay the price for a company focussed on profits. Whether it’s by accepting higher prices or lower quality. Whether it’s by downsizing with fewer staff but the same workload. Or even whether it’s accepting climate change as a consequence of the profit focus.

 

Shareholders have a responsibility to make the directors of a profit focused company accountable. They have the opportunity at least annually to demonstrate an activist investor approach. Activist investors can use their equity stake in a company to put pressure on its management. Companies have historically taken no action where no pressure or incentive is given.

 

The end user can also demonstrate more self-awareness of the products and services they are consuming. We have seen the growth of ethically sourced products, such as Lush and The Body Shop. This is starting to develop within other industries. The size of ethical funds is at the highest level it has ever been before, peaking at roughly £4bn in May 2018 on the London Stock Exchange.

 

The choice lies with consumers. Consumers can use their purchasing power for positive change. Activist shareholders can place pressure on companies in the future to enable the change they want to see. This could change the approach of companies to effective climate change mitigation, reducing unequal director to employee pay ratios and increasing staff welfare. In the future, companies may have to pay more attention to those issues which are missed by a focus purely upon profit.

 

 

© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2019

Tags:  company  economics  profit 

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Could Social Entrepreneurs create new forms of power and influence?

Posted By Administration, Friday, March 29, 2019

Esmee Wilcox writes her third blog post in our Emerging Fellows program. She evaluates social entrepreneurs’ potency in terms of power and influence. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

We’re living in a world where our institutions have been shaped by the power of capital are increasingly less able to meet the changing needs of citizens.  Social entrepreneurs can offer alterative pathways through collaborative and creatively intense enterprises.  If we fast forward to 2050, how might social entrepreneurs create new forms of power and influence? How might they exert this?

 

2050 will see the middle age of the next but one generation.  We’re just switching on now to the influence of Millennials in the working age population. In 2050 Generation Z will be in charge.  They will probably have lived through another global economic crash, after the end of the rapid rise of the next wave of technology.  The seeds of that technology are around us now, responding to climate and population change and attempting to tackle the scarcity of food, energy and water.  The more open socio-economic systems may be more conducive to these new technologies combining, innovating and solving problems at scale.

 

Capitalists and the myriad of related institutions derive power and influence by controlling the development of the infrastructure of our dominant technologies. Capital is allocated on the extent to which it can derive private gains to investors, over the most expedient timeframes.  What would it look like if instead we allocated capital on the basis of social cost and benefit, over time and spatial dimensions that allowed for systems development? How might we develop the infrastructure of the next wave of technology if decisions are based on social metrics? We might see investment programmes that leverage payback from the creation of social capital as an end in itself and not as a proxy for economic growth.  We might see global investment networks that tolerate the risks of start-ups from poor communities with greatest environmental potential.

 

So how might social entrepreneurs seize the opportunities in the next 15 years to shape the infrastructure around the next wave of technology? How might they use their networked influence that taps into the social concerns of Generation Y and Z?

 

We know there will be moments where the economic, political and environmental crises will open up spaces to redefine the legitimacy of existing power.  Think about our current international concern for tax avoiding corporations that dominate particular technologies. Our political institutions, influenced by capitalist models as they are now, have been unable to collaborate to regulate the exchange of benefits for the social and economic system costs.  Corporations play on the different local socio-economic conditions including desires for short-term growth.

 

Where capital starts to be allocated on a social return and system benefit, short-term policies that court tax avoiders start to decline.  Where political institutions have failed to create the pressure for corporations to reform, social entrepreneurs, who derive their political power through networks and the production of known social benefits, may be more able to step in.

 

But crucially, to shape the infrastructure of the next wave of technologies social entrepreneurs need to be connected into the innovation ecosystems where the technologies will combine.  From a number of different reporting metrics, social enterprises are on the rise globally. To capitalise on this growth, they need to be collaborating with enterprises that are seeking to tackle the problems of our environmental limits.  This ecosystem leadership requires a step-change in resources and mindset that allows for adaptive, long-term approaches.

 

2050 could be the place where power and influence are no longer dependent on financial capital but on the systems benefits of sharing new technologies widely. In this future social entrepreneurs could have expanded their political legitimacy and technical credibility to shape the enabling infrastructure.  This is a future where networking of accrued social capital has more influence than closed institutions.  The question still remains, what are the best routes to expand that network?

 

© Esmee Wilcox 2019

Tags:  entrepreneurship  influence  power 

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Is the ownership of capital changing?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Tim Morgan publishes his third blog post in our Emerging Fellows program by asking about the ownership of capital. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

If you can’t open it, you don’t own it. That is the unofficial motto of the world-wide Maker Movement, which emerged along with the early development of the World Wide Web. It celebrates the fusion of art, technology, and do-it-yourself inventiveness. It inherited much of its emphasis on openness from the earlier Free and Open Source software (FOSS) movements.

 

FOSS formed in response to proprietary software which could not be changed by anyone but the copyright owners. FOSS advocates professed that collaboration via sharing source code was the best way to develop software. Makers embraced FOSS sharing sensibilities in no small part because automation was key to many of their projects. It was easier to bootstrap a new creation by copying and modifying existing code or hardware.

 

This free-as-in-speech information sharing ethos shaped the way the early Internet developed. Shared code forms the foundation of many commercial operating systems. Android alone powers over 2.7 billion smartphones and devices worldwide. The Internet and Web as we know them would not have expanded as quickly without shared-source software. This desire to share information is a design consequence of digital networks. Information can be copied with perfect fidelity as many times as desired. Perfectly copying information from computer to computer is fundamental to the design of the Internet. If the medium is the message, then the message of the Internet is to Share.

 

The drive to share is fundamental to human nature. Digital technologies unexpectedly created a new type of social structure that champions sharing - an Abundant Information Commons. Value is added by modifying for your needs; be it code, a design, a formula, or a written work. Those changes are then released back into the commons for anyone to use and improve.

 

Digital technologies are not completely free from restraints though. Individual possessiveness is in human nature too. Information may want to be free, but markets do not. Algorithms and hardware can put controls on data. Laws can penalize unauthorized use. The old ownership modes still exist, but now they are in tension with a network that wants to copy information. After several decades, we have reached an uneasy balance between owned information capital and shared information commons. Wikipedia did not replace Encyclopedia Britannica, but it did force it to adapt.

 

This balance is still shifting though. The more digital technology is embedded into everything, the more networks find new connections into physical, legal, and market domains. Cracks in the foundational layers supporting ownership are being slowly forced open by the roots and tendrils of ever-expanding networks. What was once purely physical is being bonded with the virtual.

 

Nothing owned is safe from this increasing integration with the digital realm. Networks want capital to be data-like and are actively working to make that happen by embedding code and connections in every owned thing.

 

The traditional capital triad of Ownership, Control, and Use is thus giving way to the networkable capital triad of Copying, Modification, and Sharing. The dynamic of how the virtual and real will fuse together will determine how future value is created.

 

The future of ownership is that if you want to own capital, you will need to find a way to open at least part of it and share.

 

© Tim Morgan 2019

Tags:  capital  economics  ownership 

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