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Is there only an upside to your life, your job, your community in a digital economy?

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 8, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Paul Tero a member of our Emerging Fellows program proceeds with his marvelous journey to the land of digital economy in his second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members. 


Those in their retirement years today have witnessed so much change since their teenage years. As will today’s teenagers when they reach their autumn years and help to raise teenage grandchildren.

For those currently in the latter seasons of life, what have they witnessed over the course of their adult years?Among them, consider geopolitical tensions pushing history to unfold in uncertain directions (the Cuban missile crisis); consider scientific developments ushering in both hope (penicillin) and despair (nuclear fission); and consider popular music performers swaying the life choices of fans across the globe (Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix).

We now know how all of these unfolded, for it is today’s lived reality. Looking back over these decades we view this historical path as the “business as usual” path. The scenario that happened and that we now experience, study and use as reference points for what may happen in the decades ahead.

But what of other possibilities, of other scenarios, of other ways that things could have worked out. Just like our current reality could have turned out differently, what paths could history take for today’s teenagers? Specifically, what could unfold in our context of focus – the digital economy.

It is relatively easy to imagine one scenario – the business as usual path. Based on what we now know, it is conceivable that in 50 years consumer purchases to be all cashless and to involve automated delivery technology. It is easy to imagine company-wide artificial intelligence algorithms driving block-chain-based goods and services production.

But what about other scenarios? Will the history of the digital economy only unfold as a positive for your life, your job and your community? A utopia where machines undertake the work we don’t want to do and facilitate the richness of human potential? What about other possibilities? Perhaps a scenario where everything is restricted, or one where anarchy rules.

First, contemplate the likelihood of the restriction scenario. Today we live with our social media feed being individually unique. No one else on the planet has exactly the social media friends and followers as I. Similarly, with my shopping history. What is recorded on my loyalty cards is unique to me, as are the offers I receive. Why not then, in the time ahead, only seeing on my screens the things I am interested in? Only being shown political messages that will resonate with me, only being offered membership to social groups aligned with my past experiences and interests. A scenario where the lives we live have boundaries that can not be altered. Where a superficial peace is the dominant mood.

Second, the anarchy scenario. Today there are forces that seek to upend the order that liberal democracy has brought across our globe. What if they succeed? What if the internet is technically re-architected into ideologically walled gardens, that the Global Currency – the US Dollar – is replaced by the Chinese Renminbi, the German Neu Mark and the Brazilian Real, and that the bounds of ordinary life are limited to self-contained urban zones each with different digital capabilities and intents. A scenario where social and business life is quite dissimilar across the many enclaves, in which tension is a common theme.

Therefore, with business as usual, liferetains its complexity; with restriction it is hollow; with anarchy it is wearying. For the easily conceivable scenario, an AI-rich digital economy that supports quality of life is a likely outcome. For the restriction scenario boundaries are implied: consumer experience is limited to a uniquely tailored set of goods and services; business success is bounded by this unique tailoring. Where prospects for innovation are limited by the scope of these personalising algorithms.

Finally, the dystopian scenario. Some enclaves may well have the resources to realise a business as usual outcome, but most are likely to be unrecognisable societies by today’s standards. For these, through resource scarcity, lack of trust, and the application of digital capabilities built up over decades, local oligopolies may well reign supreme. Where societies become marked by deep surveillance and intense social stratification.

Understand that the future is not set. History indeed can unfold along one of these three paths. To our question at the start, the answer then is no. We are not assured of beneficial outcomes for our life, our jobs, our community in a digital economy.

© Paul Tero 2019

Tags:  economics  job  life 

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Is Financialization the New Feudalism?

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 4, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Alex Floate, a member of our Emerging Fellows program studies the nature of financialization in his second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members. 


Jan opened the mail from New North Bank; it included a voter guide for the upcoming 2040 state elections. “New North needs your support; without it your debt payments may increase” the top line read. It listed the candidates, some supported by New North, some by Eastern Pacific Bank or others. At the bottom was the option to ‘Vote Now’, with each choice for the New North candidate earning you points towards their coveted Platinum Earners club. Jan, needing just a few more points to reduce the rates on his student loans, enthusiastically chose the ‘All New North’ option.

One analogy of feudalism is of a political-economic system where the rentier class of Lords and Vassals, control the land holdings of the peasant class. This analogy has seen use in describing many societies outside traditional feudal Europe, such as Japan under the Shogun and India under zamindars where peasants were beholden to landowners for their homes and livelihoods. As the financialization of the economy grows and inequality increases, will we see its return?

Financialization is a system that seeks profit and wealth through financial markets and products rather than creation of new wealth and tangible products. With a short-term view it often inflates the value of existing assets instead of creating new assets such as infrastructure, goods or research and innovation. By siphoning off value through interest, speculation and fees for transactional work, profits from innovation and labor become undervalued. Ultimately it overvalues the present and undervalues the future.

Financialization rewards those who already have assets while moving capital from enterprises and activities that create assets. Social implications are a divorce from the egalitarian principal that one’s reward is the result of their effort and labor. The result of these ‘rent seeking’ activities is increasing financial inequality and concentration of wealth and power among the participating firms and individuals.

Under a default scenario of the future, the financialization of the economy will continue and grow more pervasive. Interests, both financial and political, will continue to ensure that markets for financial instruments are minimally regulated. Attempts to protect those without assets from exploitation and usury will be thwarted or become simply a façade. Many governments, forced to reduce taxation for the financial class, will have less ability to maintain infrastructure or uphold the social contract with their citizens. Access to goods, services and even currency will increasingly come in the form of subscription or require financing. A separation between the rentier class and dependent peasants will be the dominant economic and political reality.

However, there are other possible futures in which financialization becomes less of an economic and political driver. Among these are a collapse of the system that could result in even greater dystopian possibilities. Post-capitalists present a disciplined future where technology and humanitarian principles appear as the main drivers to
move away from a system that embraces financialization and the resultant inequality it produces.

The groundwork for all possible futures is being laid today by politicians and their various constituencies. Not only must they contend with the sway of the rich and powerful, but with populist and nationalist forces that will also affect the economy in dynamic ways.

© E Alex Floate 2019

Tags:  economics  feudalism  financialization 

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What has been the Impact of Digitisation on Corporate Structures?

Posted By Website Admin, Friday, February 1, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Charlotte Aguilar-Millan publishes her second blog post in our Emerging Fellows program. She inspects the impact of digitisation on corporate structures. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members. 


What if the option to earn the same amount of money as you do now was offered to you, but rather than working over a 12-month period, this money was generated in only 9 months? This flexibility is becoming ever more present in workers lives as a result of the rise of a new concept known as the ‘gig economy’. The term gig economy was once uttered with fear due to the instability of short term contracts. However, with the rise in skilled labour adapting to the gig economy, it is now a growing platform with which businesses are expected to adapt.

The gig economy can range from those working on zero hour contracts such as the likes of Uber and Deliveroo, to areas in which seasonality can be seen within skilled professions. With the introduction of websites such as Hourly Nerd, Upwork, Freelancer and Fiverr, professional careers are now appearing as part of the gig economy. This includes tasks such as copy writing, accountancy, translation or even coding.

Take Upwork, for example, where roughly a decade ago two friends in Silicon Valley created this platform. Today it has grown to now being listed on the Nasdaq. Upwork remains free to post advertisements requesting specialist work. This gives the gig worker the flexibility to submit a bid for work within a timeframe that suits them. The platform then offers a paid tier for a more specialist pool of workers. From the gig worker, Upwork then deducts a set percentage of the fee, linked to the amount billed. Upwork provides an interview process and handles payment securely for clients. Both parties can feel secure that the advert posted is authentic, and that the specialised skill offered is also authenticated through Upwork’s vetting process.

So why are we all not signing up to the gig economy? This short term contract culture has created more instability over a worker’s long term future. Gig economy workers can find it harder to navigate life events – such as buying a house – when there is no guarantee of a fixed income. The gig economy itself has expanded labour market competition to bidding for advertised work. Not only from those within the same country, but also accessing a global pool of gig workers. This means that those in developing countries are able to provide the same services for much lower prices. Gig economy workers in more developed countries are finding that their services can be easily undercut on price, and they must either develop a specialist niche or accept lower pay to stay competitive.

The long term effects of the gig economy could also create negative futures. Governments have shown little innovation in how the gig economy could affect future tax revenues. Which country will receive the corporation tax if a company in the UK hires a gig worker from Singapore, but pays using a platform based in the US? Policymakers have a much slower reaction time to these changes in the employment market.

Corporations have taken this evolving landscape of work and altered their business models. It is no longer a requirement for successful companies to pack all staff within office buildings. There has been a decline in requirements for office space in the typical corporate structure as a result of digitisation. With staff able to work from home or contractors only made use of when required, a disembodied company is now emerging.

The disembodied company sees that large areas of work are seasonal and as a result having an office full of workers is not cost effective. Digitisation has allowed companies to disperse their staff away from the old structure of all being based in one building. They have adapted to new policies such as home allowances to assist staff to pay for home bills whilst working from home.

The gig economy helps companies make it easier to search for talent and reduces employment costs. It also means that work for the gig economy worker can fit in with their lives. Further, gone are the days of the toxic boss and navigation of office politics given that contracts typically are short term allowing for non-renewal if one party wishes. If a gig worker wants to work longer hours in one month to take the other off, the flexibility
is there.

Overall digitisation is allowing a reduction in face to face communication where the same workers are no longer needed to collaborate effectively by being in the same vicinity. Instead, by companies effectively utilising technology, a typical office structure is no longer needed. The gig economy is seeing unprecedented growth particularly for those who desire flexibility over security. This is fundamentally changing the way in which companies operate. It is now up to legislation to adapt to these new work dynamics as companies evolve with the use of the gig economy.

© Charlotte
Aguilar-Millan 2019

Tags:  corporate structure  digitisation  economics 

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Is Use More Important than Ownership?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 29, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Tim Morgan publishes his second blog post in our Emerging Fellows program by comparing the concept of ‘use’ against the ‘ownership’ notion. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members. 


When artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky was a graduate student in 1952, he constructed a simple machine which he kept on his desk. Acclaimed scientist and writer Arthur C. Clarke once saw the device, finding it both sinister and fascinating. The machine had a single switch. When activated, the device did one thing: it would raise a small arm and flip the switch back to the OFF position. This “Useless Machine” is an automation with only a single use: it turns itself off.

Minsky understood a fundamental aspect of automation: use is inextricably bound up with the structure, operating rules, and intent of the automation. His Useless Machine was a minimalist example of that active fusion of intent and capability. No matter who owned the machine or operated it, it would always lead to the same result. It would turn itself off.

We appear to see two contradictory trends at work with automation and capital. There is a long history of owners ceding use of their capital to intermediaries like banks, managers, and companies. Automation is clearly amplifying that trend via everything from programmatically traded stocks and commodities to “lights-out” automation of shipment planning and warehouse management. Even hobbyist gardeners can now buy an autonomous gardening robot like FarmBot to seed, weed, and feed their backyard garden based on the bot’s sophisticated algorithms and design.

Conversely, we also see automation pushing direct control back to the owners. That same FarmBot gives its owner the tools to plan the garden they want, schedule watering that adapts to local weather, and alert them to problems. The average owner has far more sophisticated control over the quality of their home-grown food than if they had bought it from intermediaries like local farmers, a local supermarket, or grown it the old fashioned way.

Can we reconcile automation simultaneously degrading ownership and amplifying it? We can if we consider how use plays out via the automation. Owners get more control over the use of their capital by embedding rules and algorithms into the capital itself. A factory produces goods. A fully automated factory would produce goods exactly the way the owner wants. The automation allows the owner to use the capital the way they see fit, restoring more direct control. The flip side is that automation is increasingly dependent on outside integration. The automated control is spreading out into the vast network of supporting services like cloud storage, software tools, and data services like weather reporting or goods pricing.

The resolution to the contradiction is that Ownership and Use are fusing together via dependence on a vast network of embedded, actively changing automation infrastructure. With each piece of capital automation, we add its capabilities to the networks of the world. This amplifies the capabilities of other items, creating new opportunities and synergies across the network.

Automation is creating a new world of Networkable Capital that is both amplifying control and spreading out the benefits to others in a seemingly magical halo of interdependent capabilities. That bodes well for bringing the benefits of Networked Capitalism to everyone in the future.

Now if we can only keep it from shutting itself off.

© Tim Morgan 2019

Tags:  automation  machine  network 

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Is the Washington Consensus compatible with Liberal Economics?

Posted By Administration, Friday, January 25, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Robin Jourdan a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines liberal economics in the light of Washington Consensus in her first installment. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The compatibility of the Washington Consensus with Liberal Economics invites reflection on the evolution of economic thought. The origins of classical Liberalism can be found in the American, French, and Industrial Revolutions. In its simplest form, Liberalism as the celebration of individual liberty dates back to the works of Aristotle. Conversations about politics, human rights, and free markets continue today. The Washington Consensus is about establishing a democratic framework to support the Liberal Economy. On many points they are self-reinforcing. However, the two are also counterbalancing. What remains are questions of where the balance lies and the continued relevance of either.

Such an element is inequality. Inequality, often expressed as a negative, is really the freedom from want across and within nations. It may actually clash with the ability to make unrestrained profits. Yet people want both. This issue has separated the Washington Consensus from traditional Liberal Economics. Liberal Economics recognized that there are some people who will simply not be successful in the system. As a result, they shaped a social safety net, albeit imperfect, for them.

It’s easy to say that the Washington Consensus and Liberal Economics has had a love-hate relationship with nature. From protections in the US from 1872 onwards, the natural world has been viewed contentiously with economic success. A race-to-the-bottom strategy for developing countries to provide the cheapest labor has almost always been at the expense of both the worker and the environment. It’s now known that these practices are unsustainable.

As a result, there is no escaping the realities of today’s climate crisis. With it is a series of deadlocks from those who fear accelerated job losses and few alternate paths available. These, led by access to education, must come online quickly to assuage fears of economic ruin. What’s needed is the motivation to shoulder an economic makeover that changes our relationships to both environment and workforce.

What’s past is prologue. From sci-tech to demographics, the global economy is entering a new age. Today, more people globally enjoy greater peace and prosperity than they did in the 20th century when the Liberal world order was the dominant protector. The post-2008 financial crisis has brought a mix of responses, austerity and government intervention. The world doesn’t seem to work as it did even 10 years ago.

The next 50 years could go many ways for Liberal Economics. For some, staying the course will bring a reality of hardship and blame as nationalist struggles emerge into civil wars. Anxious acts for peace may diminish as memories of WW2 fade. For others, a world of distrust might strain with advances in education and medicine. In this world, could pressures of “getting ahead” further compete with individual freedoms?

Revised rules could provide for mutually managed fair trade and green development. Ideals like full employment during the transition to an entire green economy can be prioritized.

Could six decades of uneasy integration be undone if incrementalism is inadequate? Might democracy unbundle itself from flawed and disappointing elements? Energy dynamics may create new alignments, especially with geopolitical significance. What if economic growth were enabled by open immigration policies more than property rights? The rise of service and experience economies challenge such old thinking. Could frustration about
inequality and a new authority of women correlate to more balanced economic
success across the globe?

Will the Washington Consensus or Liberal Economics have staying power in the face of any of these possibilities? Significantly, democratic politics has been called-up from its comfortable place on the sofa and is increasingly on the edge of relevance.

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  economics  Liberalism  Washington Consensus 

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To what degree is the economy digitized

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Paul Tero a member of our Emerging Fellows program investigates the concept of digitized economy in his first blog post in 2019. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Let’s explore the digital economy that we currently experience.

Consider how ubiquitous digital technology is in our daily retail transactions. Recently I was on assignment to a far-flung Pacific Island. During my time there I enjoyed a latte at a cafe. The ease with which I paid for my beverage with a common payment card through an electronic terminal at this very remote establishment is a wonder of modern technology. Years ago this story would have been much different. Different, for example, in the planning for this most prosaic of first world transactions. This planning in years past would have included making sure I had enough of the local currency by actually visiting a banking outlet, during office hours, and conversing with real people behind a physical counter! No doubt you have similar stories to this.

Consider too, the actual things that we purchase. No longer common, for example, is the youthful experience of excitedly carrying home the latest 12-inch vinyl disk. Now, we enter into some form of electronic agreement to gain access to artists that please our ears.

I could continue. But now, wherever we are on Earth and whatever sector we can think of, we intuitively grasp that so much of today’s economy, so much of what is produced, traded, and consumed, has digital written all over it.

What is the digital economy? Building on the foundational understanding that an economy is comprised of the production of, the trade in, and the use of goods and services, we can add digitisation to each of these three factors. For example, the digitisation of labour, of transactions, of decisions, and of value. The list goes on. We have indeed shifted from the economics of atoms to the economics of bits.

The digital economy is this. It is the economic and social activities that information and communication technologies deliver. Yes, it is about how the internet has changed business, but the digital economy is about so much more. Various estimates put the value of the digital economy at about $5 trillion. Considering that the global economy as a whole is worth more than $80 trillion. This growth in the digital economy is from a standing start twenty years ago. What we are witnessing is no doubt historically significant.

The componentsof this phenomena include, for example, ICT hardware, software, and services at over $3 trillion (the enablers of this revolution) and electronic games at over $100 Billion (its fruits). For some countries, up to 10% of their GDP relies upon the ICT sector (its importance). The impact of this phenomena is witnessed in the speed at which companies of scale are built. Harley Davidson took 86 years to get to a billion-dollar valuation, Twitter just 3 years. The ease at which we can find answers to almost any question (40,000 questions are asked of Google every second), and in the explosion of data (90% of the world’s new data is only 2 years old).

The journey over this series of articles is one of exploration and prospection. Both discovering the pervasiveness of digitisation of our economy and contemplating that which could appear.

A journey that is supported by two purposes. The first: reflections upon the opportunities and costs of a fully digital economy at personal, business and government levels. The second: considerations of contemporary economic themes using the lenses of established strategic foresight models.

A journey with a vista of the world that today’s teenagers will experience during their later life. A time when their own grandchildren are in their teenage years.

A journey that will be worthwhile.

© Paul Tero 2019

Tags:  digitisation  economics  value 

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What is the future of capitalism?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 17, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions the future of capitalism in her first blog post in 2019. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Capitalism has the capacity to excite both love and hate in equal measure, depending on which side of the divide one stands. I will look at capitalism as it exists today and then explore these two questions: Is capitalism a good or bad thing for society? What is the future of capitalism?

Capitalism is a social phenomenon where the market players or owners of capital set prices based on demand and supply. The market eliminates inefficiencies with the aim to maximise profits. In the absence of competition or where it is minimal, monopolies and oligopolies result. There is a willingness among market players to adapt to change for greater efficiencies and more profits. This adaptability is typified by an ever-growing dynamism fuelled by technology and innovation. There is a constant search for new ways of doing things and new products. In capitalism, self-interest pays. The more capital one has, the more profits one is likely to make which further adds to what one has. Capitalism is self-reinforcing. Capitalists become wealthier as the providers of labour in society become poorer.

This classical capitalism is a free market economic system founded on the private ownership of the factors of production such as land, labour, capital, and entrepreneurship. In such an economy, there is minimal interference by the state and individuals have free will to make decisions regarding their property and labour – without infringing on the rights of others.

Capitalism in its pure form is almost non-existent. There are no free markets as such. The state intervenes through tax policies and by regulating markets to ensure that there is no manipulation. Left to their own devices, the owners of capital would oppress the providers of labour through dismal wages and poor working conditions. This is especially the case in situations of excess semi-skilled labour supply such as in Asia and Africa today.

Where there is strong competition, capitalism delivers value to the whole society. The contrary is true in monopolistic and oligopolistic situations where the benefits largely accrue to the owners of capital. The growing use of technology, especially automation, and the need to remain competitive has led to consolidation and concentration in many sectors. Deloitte cites technology as the number one driver of acquisitions and mergers in 2018. A lot of the wealth of companies today relates to economic rents from copyrights and patents related to technology and other soft forms of property. This is making competition a lot harder to achieve than in past decades. Globalisation has presented opportunities for capitalists to further their profits by expanding to markets previously beyond reach.

Despite all the fears and criticism, capitalism has delivered value to society.Globally, the last few decades have seen a greater decrease in inequality than in past centuries. However, there is growing inequality both across and within countries. There are segments of the population, even in progressive economies, being left behind which could lead to discontent and unhappiness. The increased use of technology has led to more demand for specialist skills and less use of unskilled labour.

The situation can only worsen with the prospect of immense automation in the second half of this century. This will be further exacerbated by the anticipated aging of society due to higher life expectancy in the next 50 years. The youth bulge in Africa and Asia will be no more. These two factors will result in high dependency ratios. Yet the need for human inputs to sustain the dynamism of markets through innovation, the essence of capitalism, will remain. The more educated who have cognitive skills that are valued by this capitalist economy will continue to be in demand. This will drive inequality between the skilled and unskilled segments of society further. A situation that is not sustainable.

Capitalism does not exist in isolation but in the bigger planetary system whose resources are bounded. Natural resources are dwindling and the need for humanity to live in harmony with nature for sustainability is escalating. The future of capitalism depends on the sustainability of the planet. Businesses thus need to abide by the nine planetary boundaries. Capitalists have great influence over society and are a key driver of the sustainability of the planet. It is the business of business to safeguard the planetary resources for itself and future generations.

What does all this mean for the future of capitalism? Capitalism in its current state is unsustainable. Capitalism needs to transform into a more responsible form. Mixed economies where capitalists address the inequalities in the societies by subsidising the incomes of those at the bottom are inevitable. Simultaneously, governments will need to ensure that everybody is given an opportunity to engage with and contribute to the economy. Governments can realise this by providing public goods such as education and healthcare which would in turn support capitalism. Both outcomes can be realised through progressive tax policies. States will also need to effectively regulate markets by establishing frameworks for property and contract rights, and planetary boundaries, and to provide a level playing for all market players.

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  capitalism  economics  society 

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What value do we place on personal liberty?

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 14, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program investigates the concept of personal liberty in her first blog installment in 2019. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

How do we feel about our freedom to do as we wish? How is our perception of our sense of freedom governed by the times and the type of society that we live in, and the type of person that we are? For most people in Western Society, our personal liberty is highly valued, and is fundamental to our sense of well-being. The freedom to be who we are or who we aspire to be, to reach our potential, to acquire wealth or to withdraw from society – these are all seen as personal liberties that we value as a fundamental right. However, of equal value in our society is the ‘rule of law’, which can sometimes constrain our sense of personal liberty, ‘Rule of law’ can be represented by traditional values, by morals and by restraints imposed to ensure the safety of others.

Clearly there will always be tension between these two ideals between liberty which carries with it the absence of restraint on human action, and with the restraint on human action imposed for the good of society.

When we think about our personal liberty, we see the positive image of our freedom, happiness and unbounded pleasure to do whatever we wish – so many choices! Lurking underneath is the negative image of our lack of control, over-consumption, living beyond our means, dissatisfaction, anger, fear and anxiety for future, greed, avarice and jealousy, or wrong-doing. This is the paradox of our free society: having the freedom to do and say as we please, yet a lack of control or accountability over the consequences of our actions.

How do we balance our individual liberty with personal and societal restraint to promote and protect the good of the individual and our society? And how do we react when the society that we live in imposes constraints on our individual liberty?

Current definition of minimum acceptable liberty includes the definition of Human Rights, for example as codified through the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is enshrined within international and national policies and law. Such law protects the individual’s right to life and liberty, including freedom of holding an opinion and being able to express it. It protects the right to education, work, cultural freedom, well-being, privacy and freedom from enslavement or torture, arbitrary detention, discrimination or religious hatred.

Paradoxically, our freedom of expression, coupled with strong beliefs, often results in some of these enshrined human rights being violated. How can we protect our societal human rights, and yet at the same time offer freedom of expression through times of change, complexity and individual uncertainty, which in itself brings an atmosphere of fear? Uncertain times seem to always lead to fear within society. This leads inevitably to protectionism, and to discrimination and harm to ‘the other’. In these times, love of liberty may become less important than protectionism, and freedom held less sacred. Our recognition of the bonds and responsibilities to our fellow human beings may be inverted into violation of the basis of human rights.

Our understanding of personal liberty depends so much on who’s worldview is being described, and in which society we are applying it. To a ‘conventional’ and structured society, personal liberty may be supported by the rule of Human Rights, but too much personal liberty may appear as anarchy, as stepping outside conventions and rules, and may result in sharp censure of the individual. To a success-oriented highly capitalist society, personal liberty means the freedom to acquire success without boundaries or obstacles, and their ideal society will support and promote their aspirations. However, as we have seen so often, some ‘success stories’ built without due care for societal impacts, often have victims of that ‘success’. To a consensus-based community, personal liberty may cause disruption of the social fabric, placing the individual’s desires above the good of the whole.

In my discourse, I plan to examine the checks and balances of personal liberty in the present, the past and the future. I will explore how the individual’s sense of personal power and freedom must be protected. We will discover how we might apply balanced, foresightful justice through obligation and regulation for the good of the society that we live in.

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  freedom  right  value 

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Do We Need to Own Things?

Posted By Administration, Friday, January 11, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

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

Immediately after the painting “Girl with Balloon” sold at auction for $1.4 million, the painting began slowly destroying itself. A malfunction caused it to stop half-way.

The anonymous artist known only as Banksy had secretly hidden an automated shredder inside the frame. The half-destroyed work is now considered a new piece of art, valued much higher than the original painting. The event is an unlikely but apt metaphor for how automation is redefining ownership.

The Eighteenth Century philosopher Adam Smith described capital as owned property used to produce an economic return. Capitalism’s central feature is that owned things are used to produce exchangeable value, be they a farmer’s vegetables or self-sabotaging paintings. Ownership from a capitalist perspective is control of something used to create enhanced value. In turn, exchanges of ownership are synonymous with exchanges of value. Each side gets something they value more than what they are willing to give in exchange. Centuries of worldwide progress and prosperity rest on ownership as capitalism’s bedrock social organizing principle.

Control determines who can create value from property. Capitalism assumes that control and ownership are inextricably intertwined. Yet Banksy’s auction stunt illustrates how automation is changing the current relationship between ownership and control. Traditionally if you own capital then you also directly or indirectly control it. Banksy subverted that control by using automation to go beyond “I don’t want my art sold” to embedded enforcement of “You can’t sell my art, even if you own it”. Automation enables embedding active governance rules into owned items themselves. Legal scholar Lawrence Lessig describes this as “Code is Law”. Banksy’s embedded painting shredder is analogous to copy protection of digital movies and music files. You own the ability to experience, but not the thing itself.

These embedded automation rules constitute an increasing level of external control over owned things. If ownership equals control, then those who are implementing the automation are increasingly the owners, no matter who holds the receipt. Existing legal frameworks have always considered use as a legal component of ownership, but those institutional frameworks are lagging the breakneck pace of automation. A user can own an AI-enabled smart-speaker appliance like Amazon Echo or Google Home, but those same items become expensive plastic bricks without their backend automated services.

But does this loss of control due to automation extend to productive capital? History shows a progression of ever more abstract relationships between owners and control of productive capital. We went from the concrete control of simple property such as farms and animals, to abstract control via corporate shares and investment funds. Even in the past few decades innovations like millisecond flash-trades and complex financial derivatives make it unclear who owns what at any given time. At each stage the use of capital to create value appears to become more tied to its control than to its ownership.

It is ironic that Banksy’s automated assertion of control over “Girl with Balloon” increased the piece’s value, rather than destroying it as intended. The work has been appropriately renamed “Love Is in the Bin”. The new owner adapted to Banksy’s attempt at automated control. By inadvertently relinquishing a bit of control to unknown automation, the new owner gained more value than they originally purchased.

Love may be in the bin, but for now capital still hangs on the wall.

© Tim Morgan 2019

Tags:  automation  capitalism  value 

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Finance: servant or master?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Alex Floate, a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the globalized face of finance in his first blog post in 2019. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members. 


Finance touches anything that involves cash or credit. In public or private transactions. Whether it is to purchase individual or collective assets. For many people however, the word finance has become synonymous with the ability to get a new TV or car with a low-down payment. Although consumer lending for immediate desires is a part of finance it also includes investing, borrowing, insurance and the management of national monetary systems.

Our modern financial system began over 2,000 years ago with merchants granting credit to customers to enable them to purchase their products. Early banks in Renaissance Italy extended and aided these transactions and created innovations such as insurance. During the industrial age, finance evolved again to adapt to the capital-intensive nature of modern industry. Governments also found it possible to advance the common good by using these markets to raise money to invest in modern infrastructure and advance the public good.

Today, finance is globalized, heavily reliant on technology and intertwined with nearly every aspect of modern life. Nothing exemplifies a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment better than modern finance. Every country with a treasury or banking system is integrated into a broader system that it can affect and be affected by events and decisions made by others a continent away. Major institutions, with stakeholders scattered across the globe look for advantages and profit in new markets and by leveraging the latest technology. Governments may seek to control their own economies for the good of their citizens but are often at the mercy of self-interest built into the system as profit seekers bid up, or crash asset prices and currency exchanges.

Recent events (global recession, Brexit, self-inflicted trade wars) will eventually be footnotes in history, but several themes from the aftermath provide insight for the future. One is that seemingly isolated events can move through global systems, even if those events are not seemingly connected. Another is that financial markets are resilient thanks to the various interests, both private and public, that will seek to revitalize the economy. However, increasingly this has been accomplished by turning private losses into public debt. The hardest lesson we learned is that even after a disaster caused largely by the financial industry itself, nothing really changes. The industry itself has eschewed any and all attempts at real reforms that would reign in practices that create greater risk in the markets.

The biggest change in the last 50 years has been the growth of finance as an industry unto itself. Separated from the purposes of providing credit for purchasers, capital for industry and risk management for all. The financial industry created a means for trading financial instruments themselves, such as derivatives of stocks, currency swaps and commodities that bear little relation to the actual hard assets. This has introduced additional complexity and volatility. Yet it has provided greater rewards to those who can access, manipulate and profit from these specialized financial markets. It is also seen as contributing to the widening wealth gap in many nations. Within this context, we must ask if finance has ceased being the servant of economic enterprise, and instead has become its’ master, and what part it will play in our mutual future.

© E Alex Floate 2019

Tags:  economics  finance  market 

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