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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 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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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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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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Fake It Till You Make It

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 22, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Adam Cowart, a member of our Emerging Fellows program explains the term hyperstition in his twelfth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Previous posts have explored various ways in which the real economy may or may not be real in the future, utilizing the concept of hyperstition, the combination of “hyper” and “superstition”, which refers to the process of ideas becoming reality in our culture. More specifically, how new realities manifest in the economy.

While perhaps the academic study of hyperstition and its effects and influence on late-capitalism is relatively new, the conceptual underpinnings are not. One of the most well-known lines in the Bible is “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (English Standard for those wondering). In our current age, the capacity for words to dwell among us, in the various forms of social media in general, twitter in particular, and our latent inventiveness in turning ideas into reality, has led to a powerful and reinforcing loop between the word and flesh.

The myriad ways in which this has influenced our economic systems have been explored, though far from exhaustively. We’ve looked at the nefarious means by which late-capitalism will continue to mine the nooks and crannies of everyday life for growth opportunities, including trauma-related world building in the form of imaginary paracosm economies, and the incredible ecological strain of consumers shifting from “having” to “being” consumption patterns. In the virtual realm we’ve considered whether AI entrepreneurs pumping out transient products and services will cause our much admired entrepreneur to go extinct along with those who face the future challenges of virtual foraging. Finally, we’ve delved into the implications of the grand performance of scarcity in a post-scarcity world, the hamster-wheel of sub optimization brought on by situated innovation and, of course, back to where we started our journey with pigeon Ponzi schemes going up in smoke.

Of course, our fiction to reality process is far from linear. And it is far from monolithic. With the most recent rise of nationalism, with left and right in a constant oppositional state of becoming far-left and far-right, we’ve also seen the proliferation of folk economics. This rejection of globalism for localism, whether practical or not, has likewise bred a plethora of local, culturally and economically ingrained hyperstitional realities. Reality and economics is now situational. The economy is both great and terrible.

We have been referred to grandly as “The Weather Makers”. Perhaps of greater concern is our inconsistent ability to be “The Reality Makers”. Still far from clear is how this will manifest in the future, where reality is customizable and up for debate.

As for the Pigeon King story I began this series with, I recently attended a play in rural Ontario, a matinee production, called “The Pigeon King”, based on the true story in which a man built a Ponzi scheme empire selling pigeons. Or, perhaps, he was just a bad businessman. Regardless, economic abstractions had given way to tangible pigeons, which had now given way to a theatrical performance. Fact had come full circle back to fiction. After the play finished, the performers took their bow. But we weren’t done yet. The performers encouraged us to open our programs. In the program was a folded paper pigeon. They told us to pull out the pigeons and then, on the count of three, we launched our pigeons into the rafters of the theatre. A theatre full of old people, laughing, suddenly children again. A sad flock of paper pigeons trying to take flight, sputtering out, before being snatched back up and tossed a few feet further. Up on stage the actors and the musicians watched. The audience and performers had switched roles. I noticed the fiddler. He didn’t play now. Didn’t fiddle. Just watched us. Content.


© Adam Cowart 2018

Tags:  economics  future  Ponzi scheme 

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