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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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Has The Economy Failed Society?

Posted By Administration, Friday, January 4, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Esmee Wilcox has published her first installment in our Emerging Fellows program. She recaptures socioeconomic theories in the light of realities being experienced in our modern age. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Societies have sleepwalked into an acceptance of the predominance of capital. We have gone far beyond Karl Marx’s theories of capital driving the ordering of society. We no longer question the consequence of this imbalance for our existence. We need to rebalance the needs of capital and society. Not simply as an end in itself, but primarily because we need new social norms to tackle future global issues. How has this imbalance come about?

Is Marx right that the ordering of society is necessarily driven by the needs of capital? If so, what does this mean for the assumptions we bring to our conception of society? What does this mean for the widely-held view that capitalism has triumphed other economic models?

The 1990s view of the ‘triumph of capitalism’ came out of the toppling of the old communist order in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Empire. Alongside this came a slow opening up of China to trade and privately run enterprise from the late 1970s. However, there is a flaw in the logic to present capitalism as the only alternative to communism. Without any credible alternative models on the table, it is easy to see why the ideology of capitalism took hold. 25 years on, with rising populism coupled with pervasive neo-liberal power, there are three interconnected trends that illuminate the contradictions and flaws in the predominance of the economy in our patterns of local and global behaviours.

First, the enduring power of the interests of capital at the heart of government. Politically-centrist governments have gained and retained power with policies that appeal to lower-income communities. They appeal to the interests of capital because they have done so without transferring political influence.

At the same time, the interests of capital have subtly influenced the organising of public and social value to be more ‘commercial’. It has confused being responsive to citizens needs with being economically driven. The ‘McKinsey effect’ on public policy-making should not be underestimated. In more recent years there has been some recognition of the need to rebalance social with economic value within UK local government: the 2012 Social Value Act created a space for public policy-makers to utilise its purchasing power to balance economic efficiencies with social benefits. However, it hasn’t challenged the underlying economic model whereby one’s life expectancy and life chances can be predicted by one’s mother’s educational status and the extent of your vocabulary at age two.

Second, our attachment to material possessions – aptly described as ‘affluenza’ – at the heart of our economic growth model, placates the reality of our diminishing ability to influence capital power. Credit is freely available, we can buy our housing association property, but we can’t persuade governments to pay for sufficient modern housing stock to have a home and a family life. This consumerist economic model drives income generation over friendships and developing community capital. Coupled with business interests creating a more precarious working environment, we are increasingly squeezing out time to care.

Third, the status anxiety that comes from our awareness of our social position in any social interaction. We’re so worried about people who have more income. More luxurious experiences than us. Retaining our rung on the ladder. Our status dominates our social interactions and reduces the joy in them. As social encounters become harder to have, we shy away from them and become lonelier and more isolated.

This is why it’s interesting to consider alternatives to the predominance of economic drivers on our society. It doesn’t just affect people at the bottom of income distribution, but the powerful interests of capital. Society can’t be divided into economically self-supporting strata when social phenomena exist as a response to the whole. We can no longer ignore these feedback mechanisms.

Marx’s theories were conceived of in far less connected societies. They have remained intact as we have become more globally connected. However, they are not a guide to our future that is more complex, interconnected and unpredictable. We know that self-organised, adaptive and resilient communities are more able to respond to changes in the external environment. This requires high levels of co-operation and collaboration, the antithesis of atomised economic self-supporting behaviours. These are a clue to the social norms that have to be in abundance if we are to tackle global late 21st Century issues.

The triumph of capitalism is a binary argument suited to the interests of 20th century phenomena. It has taken hold because we have become seduced by its simplicity and its immediate rewards. It is much more difficult, and yet more compelling, to seek out the 21st Century socio-economic norms that will help us face up to scarce physical resources. It will be disruptive but offers hope for future generations.

© Esmee Wilcox 2019

Tags:  capitalism  economics  power 

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How Have Companies Changed in The Past?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 2, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Charlotte Aguilar-Millan has written her first post in our Emerging Fellows program. Through a brief review, she inspects the flexibility of working within European socioeconomic contexts. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Ever since companies emerged in the Seventeenth Century they have evolved and changed as their operating conditions have changed. As successive changes have occurred, the workspace has changed with it. From the small office of Ebenezer Scrooge to the vast factory of Dilbert. Within the 20th century there has been a significant shift in the style of a working office from a closed smaller office style to what can be seen today in open plan offices.

As employees are spending more time at work, and as the working career is lengthening, the workforce is now taking more ownership of what is expected from a workplace. Employees today have higher expectations for their working life. They no longer expect a long retirement to look forward to. Instead they aspire to live their golden years along with their working years. With this new expectation, there is an increase in the need for flexibility within the workplace.

One such way companies have been adapting to these needs is with more flexibility on working hours and location. With rising intangible based operations, there is now a desire and opportunity on the part of staff to work where it is convenient for them. This has been incorporated into staff benefit packages. It is now a standard feature for a vast number of careers including consultancy, technical support engineers and even accountants – the service based creative economy.

Staff are able to be based at home to complete work and only go into the office when the need arises. Employers, as well as employees, experience benefits such as reduced stress from the absence of a daily commute. Staff feel more focused on their work by leaving the noisy open planned office and an empowerment to shape the classic 9-5 working day to their needs.

The new type of working environment does however have a large stigma attached to it. Working from home has not come without side-affects. Research has suggested that those who regularly work from home also experience a fall in opportunities for promotion in comparison to performance. This has placed the onus on some employees to feel that they must be available for longer hours when working at home. This is an area which employers are able to exploit as more employees receive a work phone or work laptop in order to work from home. There is also an expectation that these are kept on at weekends and evenings.

The company of today has had to adapt to lifestyle changes in their employees lives. This has seen, for example, the development of ‘peternity leave’ where staff are able to take time off to buy a new pet. Other changes have arisen as a result of legislation, including changes in parental leave. In the UK, legislation mandated that where both parents desire to split maternity leave within the first year of a child’s life, an employer must allow this. Other countries within the European Union have legislated initiatives, including Sweden paying a ‘gender equality’ bonus to parents who adopt this shared parental leave and Germany adding two months of parental leave to those parents who split the leave.

While structural unemployment rates continue to fall – for example in the UK from a high in 1984 of 12% to 4% in 2018 – this allows employees an opportunity to seek the benefits that resonate most to them rather than accepting those which an employer offers. As a result, companies have had to accept change in order to attract staff.

Employees are now aware of the opportunity for further flexibility in their work place. Will a growing desire for flexible working manifest itself into a global gig economy where employees no longer have just one employer but the flexibility to pick and choose work when suits them? If a gig economy manifests itself, will this see the end to companies as we know them? What, exactly, does a disembodied company look like?

© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2019

Tags:  change  work  workplace 

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Ticket to the Future

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Polina Silakova, a member of our Emerging Fellows program accomplishes her blogging mission successfully in 2018 by publishing an interesting post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

People introduced tickets as a mechanism to control access to limited goods and services. We are surrounded by tickets. A ticket on a plane reserves us a seat in a machine which will take us to new horizons. A visa allows us to stay in a place that is usually attractive enough to create an artificial contest for the right to be there. A membership provides you with services not available to others. You invest – you get access to an opportunity. If we are in a lucky position, we can choose the ticket and the destination. If we overlay this concept with the idea of a variety of possible futures awaiting us ahead, a ticket to which future do we want to get?

Over the past 12 months, we discussed this by looking at potential pathways for the post-capitalist economy. We were especially keen to know whether the universal moral values or the capitalistic cult for possessions will guide our future. The search for the answer took us to different corners of the planet where people’s responses to the side-effects of capitalism are sparking hope that we might be heading towards a better future.

We saw young entrepreneurs jumping off the big and clumsy steam train of global corporations (successful if measured by their share price), because these people could not agree with the direction that they were heading towards. In the smog from ever increasing unsustainable production, they could not see the purpose to align with. We applauded to the municipalists movement in Barcelona, who understood that improved equality and long-term sustainability will make citizens happier than infinite growth benefiting a few. Not only they challenged the current understanding of democracy, but could demonstrate already in the first couple of years that their approach is working. We even joined a hearing in a US courtroom, where boys and girls from iMatter, already at a young age have become disillusioned with their government’s ability to protect their needs and those of future generations. They refused to accept tickets to the future valid only till the end of the government’s election term.

These steps towards the increased consciousness plant seeds of hope that the next iteration of economic system will be more sustainable and just. And yet, the embodiment of this hope to a greater extent depends on the choices that powerful global businesses will make. Many quoted this year’s annual letter from the CEO of BlackRock – one of the most influential global investment firms. It stated that following new expectations from customers and community, they are now evaluating companies based on their response to “broader societal challenges” and whether they “serve a social purpose.” The New York Times called the letter “a watershed moment on Wall Street” raising “questions about the very nature of capitalism”.

The question remains though: what is driving the companies to make this shift? Does it happen out of fear to lose customer trust or investors’ support, with profit remaining the underlying motive? If so, how significant can this social impact be? Does it become just another marketing tool for the same old endgame: more sales, more growth, more money?

Even then – we could hope – this shift could take us a little closer towards a more positive version of the future. Remember the coffee-cup example from our previous posts? Initially driven by a bunch of innovators, reusable coffee cups are now conquering the world, helping it to become a tiny bit more sustainable. Similarly, the new generation of businessmen growing up in the environment where creating positive social impact is becoming a norm might nurture values quite different to those ruling the capitalistic economy. In the face of increasingly challenging global issues, these values will help them to genuinely engage in revisiting unsustainable business models.

To what type of future humanity is heading depends on the tickets that each of us will choose. These tickets are a combination of choices that we make every day. These are our “investments”, each associated with a specific type of future. Can I give an example? Here you go.

We started this series just after last Christmas and as we finish it, the new Christmas season is approaching. If you are wondering what choices you could still make this year to contribute to a “good future destination” ticket, think of your Christmas presents. Consider not buying new stuff. Give your loved ones experiences. Give surprise visits to people you haven’t seen for a long time. Give them your time and take them for a walk in a forest. Give them a ticket to joyful moments of life – they will never end up in landfill.

 
© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  capitalism  economics  United States 

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