Exploring Possible Economic Futures

In the interest of exploring possible economic futures, I have read books on Modern Monetary Theory, Zero Marginal Cost, The Job Guarantee, and several others. Add to the list the most recent book I finished, How Capitalism Ends. Viewed through the lens of property rights, wealth, and the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, author Steve Paxton uses an effective method of storytelling: start with history and then explore possible futures. The book is setup by two thesis: the development and the primacy thesis. What he describes helps us understand the “why” behind the future that is emerging.

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The Age Of Resilience

In an online leadership course developed in 2016, I stressed the need for resilience and adaptability. The course, titled A Journey Through the Looking Glass, focused on an emerging world of complexity, uncertainty, and the unknown. We rarely heard the words resilience and adaptability spoken back then, but along came a pandemic to force them into our vocabulary. While our short-term focus obstructed our view, cracks were forming and accumulating in ways that were likely to put a premium on these two traits.

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A Look At Economic History

The “free market” is perhaps the most familiar of economic bywords. Since at least the Great Depression, the term has been a staple of the nation’s political discourse, used both to praise and to criticize policy. An economic philosophy intertwined with a number of powerful political ideologies

Jacob Soll – Free Market, The History of an Idea
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An Economic History Of The Twentieth Century

UPDATE: Brad DeLong recently talked about his book on this podcast.

I just finished reading a book titled Slouching Towards Utopia. The book explores the history of what author J. Bradford DeLong calls a long twentieth century. He views the 140-year period between 1870 and 2010 as the most consequential years of all humanity’s centuries. In an earlier book by Robert J. Gordon, he told a similar story of a special century between 1870-1970. The common denominator is the starting point of 1870, or the start of the second industrial revolution. Both books tell a compelling story about a period of economic prosperity never seen in human history.

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Purpose Plus Profit

I just finished reading my latest book titled Purpose + Profit. The book was written by Harvard professor George Serafeim. Being purpose-driven is no longer a brand or marketing gimmick, but a sea change driven by multiple forces. The book provides data to support the coexistence of both purpose and profit. In fact, it makes the case that purpose-driven companies have better outcomes. In 2017, I spoke about the need for a hybrid of purpose and profit. It is refreshing to read the many examples of how that exact scenario is playing out. Even more encouraging is the advancement in available data that allows us to measure impact – something the author calls impact weighted accounting. I recommend the book and have added it to my library. The Amazon abstract is included below.

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The Final Stages Of The Fourth Turning

It was 2019 when I finished a book titled The Fourth Turning. I found myself referring to it a couple of weeks ago during a conversation about the cycles of history. I went back to the book after our discussion given the many changes the world experienced since I added it to my library. The repeated cycles of history described by the book remain both fascinating and ominous.

First comes a High, a period of confident expansion as a new order takes root after the old has been swept away. Next comes an Awakening, a time of spiritual exploration and rebellion against the now-established order. Then comes an Unraveling, an increasingly troubled era in which individualism triumphs over crumbling institutions. Last comes a Crisis—the Fourth Turning—when society passes through a great and perilous gate in history. Together, the four turnings comprise history’s seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and rebirth.

Frank Diana – adapted from the book “The Fourth Turning”

Read that description of the historical cycles carefully. Turnings come in cycles of four. Each cycle spans the length of a long human life, roughly eighty to one hundred years. Now, let’s trace the current cycle back in time – quoted right from the book – keeping in mind that the book was written in 1997.

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Possible Futures Over One Hundred Years

I just finished another book titled Future Stories authored by David Christian and have added it to my book library. The book focuses on future thinking, exploring the various ways that experts, plants, animals, and even cells manage the future. This visual from the book provides a glimpse of the possible futures explored.

I am a big believer in storytelling as an effective means of understanding complex scenarios. The book does just that. An abstract of the book follows. I highly recommend it.

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The Journey Of Humanity

Since the dawn of the nineteenth century, a split second compared to the span of human existence, life expectancy has more than doubled, and per capita incomes have soared twenty-fold in the most developed regions of the world, and fourteen-fold on Planet Earth as a whole

Oded Galor – The Journey of Humanity

That quote comes from a book I just finished titled The Journey of Humanity. Author Oded Galor explores the origins of wealth and inequality. He takes a fascinating journey from our migration out of Africa, through the Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions, to modern day. Along the way, he describes how technological advancements and higher land productivity led to larger but not richer populations. The fact that standard of living improvement only occurred during a tiny stretch of recent human history – and the reasons why – are explored in detail. A somewhat perplexing fact that hunter-gatherers evidently lived longer, consumed a richer diet, worked less intensively, and suffered fewer infectious diseases, is echoed in the book titled Work by James Suzman.

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The Genesis Machine

I just finished reading my latest book titled The Genesis Machine, in which authors Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel explore the world of synthetic biology. Although not as widely discussed as AI, Blockchain and others, it is perhaps the best example of why the future may look very different than the past. I have argued that the world is in the early stages of a phase transition. The content of the book represents a clear reason why.

The authors provide a riveting look into the world of synthetic biology. The book focuses initially on its origins, shifts to the here and now, and then pivots to a glimpse of the future. They provide several scenarios that help the reader envision that future, and in so doing, allow us to see both the potential for human development, as well as the possibility of several destructive paths. The book closes with a discussion on our way forward. As a world-renowned Futurist, Amy knows how to tell a story, and it is through storytelling that individuals can see the possibilities along both paths. The authors define synthetic biology as:

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Innovation At Scale

The world is experiencing another period of great invention. We have the building blocks of the future, but to drive human advancement, the resulting innovation needs to scale. Organizations are getting better at experimenting, prototyping, and delivering minimum viable products. But scaling innovation remains a challenging endeavor. As the organizing system of our world changes, structural shifts will follow. One such shift involves the way we create and capture value, which increasingly takes the form of ecosystems. These emerging ecosystems complicate our scaling efforts.

In a recent book titled The Voltage Effect, author John A. List shares his perspective on how to make good ideas great and great ideas scale. He provides a number of examples that describe why some ideas are built to fail, while others are built to scale. Given the importance of the topic, I highly recommend the book and have added it to my library. The Amazon abstract is provided below.

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Signals From The Past

When I finished a recent book by Alec Ross titled The Raging 2020s, I spent time reflecting on the various signals captured in the book and what they might mean for the future. I wrote about both the book and the signals in early January. My team at TCS then produced this short video to capture the message. I have long believed that history can be very instructive – and these 19 signals could be just that. A special thank you to Kevin Mulcahy, April Harris, and Adam Boostrom for their efforts on the video.

Geopolitical Forecasting

The growing convergence story promises to alter our view of possible futures. There are a number of likely shifts that make Geopolitics a critical piece of the story. These shifts add to the high degree of uncertainty reflected in the current environment. In light of this, evaluating geopolitical implications and their influence on the future is growing in importance. But how? I just finished a book titled Geopolitical Alpha that offers a perspective on how to improve forecast accuracy in the geopolitical domain.

The era of geopolitical ignorance is over. The days when investors and corporate decision-makers could be successful without much understanding of politics will be a footnote in the annals of history.

Marko Papic – Geopolitical Alpha
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The Economy Is A Critical Area Of Convergence

Much is said about the critical role that science and technology play in shaping the future. This area of convergence continues to have a profound impact on that future. I have described the importance of convergence in various posts in the past, highlighting the impact of other domains like geopolitics, philosophy, and society. Another key domain is the economy. Understanding the global economy is critical to illuminating possible futures. The role of Central Banks has been instrumental in navigating extreme events like COVID-19, as well as the various boom and bust financial cycles of the past.

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How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything

In 2015, best-selling author Martin Ford gave us Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. In the fall of 2021, he followed that up with Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Transform Everything. In his recent book, he explores various aspects of artificial intelligence – both positive and negative. He likens AI to electricity, perhaps the greatest general-purpose technology the world has ever known. A general-purpose technology is pervasive, improving over time, and able to spawn new innovations. In the Second Machine Age, the authors describe this phenomenon as a common element of each industrial revolution, including steam (First), electricity, Telephone, and internal combustion engine (second), and Internet (third).

We can go all the way back to fire to witness the impact of these pervasive innovations. In an article from July of 2021, Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google’s owner Alphabet, said that he believes artificial intelligence (AI) will eventually have a bigger impact than fire, electricity, and the Internet. This poll from my post on the topic explored the reaction to that belief. Fifty-eight percent of respondents agreed with him. Please take the poll and lend your voice to the conversation.

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Winning The Right Game

My belief in a shifting organizing system dates back several years. The work of leading think tank RethinkX effectively highlights why. History tells us that a collapse is inevitable when the existing system can no longer adapt fast enough to order-of-magnitude improvement in technological capabilities. When this condition is present, a new organizing system is required. RethinkX defines an organizing system as:

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Present Future

Time is the dimension of historians and futurists, of chroniclers of what was, and speculators of what may be. Here is a truth: In making any decision, we are by definition deciding what to do . . . next. We must choose amongst known possibilities and paths, simulate outcomes and consequences in our minds. Another truth: At any decision point, 100% of the information we have is based on the past, while 100% of the value and consequences of the decision we make lies in the future, which is inherently probabilistic and unknown

Guy Perelmuter, Present Future: Business, Science, and the Deep Tech Revolution

That quote comes from a recent book titled Present Future authored by Guy Perelmuter, Founder at GRIDS Capital. The book takes a look at history and the future. The foreward echoes one of my strong beliefs: “when it comes to our endlessly unfolding future, the only certainty is uncertainty, and the only way to reduce uncertainty is to have a deep sense of history and reliable clues to the future.” That foreward was written by Josh Wolf, Founder and Managing Director, Lux Capital. He describes the book as follows:

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AI 2041: Ten Visions For Our Future

In a recent post on quantum computing, I referenced a new book (published in September 2021) that I recently added to my library. The book titled AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future was authored by Kai-Fu Lee  and Chen Qiufan. The authors use highly effective approach that combined fiction with expert analysis to help the reader imagine possible futures. The storytelling was brilliant (my compliments Chen Qiufan), and Kai-Fu Lee provides analysis after each story, showcasing his grasp of AI and its possible applications.

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The Exponential Era

Much of what is driving our emerging future is the exponential pace of science and technology. When combined with the Convergence of building blocks that span multiple domains, it becomes easy to see why the world seems to be moving so quickly. In a recent book titled “The Exponential Era”, authors David Espindola and Michael Wright explore this phenomenon and present an approach for surviving in a future that is moving so fast. This story is about an overwhelming number of building blocks and the rate at which they are converging. As this happens, long-standing beliefs and institutions are rendered obsolete. I had the honor of providing a quote for the book jacket:

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Are We Heading Towards A New World Order?

After World War Two, 730 delegates from all 44 Allied nations gathered in the U.S. at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The Bretton Woods Conference aimed to regulate the international monetary and financial order after the war ended. Held from July 1 to 22, 1944, agreements were signed and ratified by member governments, establishing the institutions that represented a new world order. This led to what was called the Bretton Woods system for international commercial and financial relations.

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Post Corona: From Crisis To Opportunity

“I begin with two theses. First, the pandemic’s most enduring impact will be as an accelerant. While it will initiate some changes and alter the direction of some trends, the pandemic’s primary effect has been to accelerate dynamics already present in society.” – Scott Galloway

That is a quote from a book I just finished. Scott Galloway is a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he teaches brand strategy and digital marketing to second-year MBA students. In his new book, he looks at the world post corona. The book titled “Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity” has been added to my Book library. He points to remarkable things that have happened since the virus reared its ugly head, like: It took Apple 42 years to reach $1 trillion in value, and 20 weeks to accelerate from $1 trillion to $2 trillion (March to August 2020), and we registered a decade of ecommerce growth in eight weeks. Additionally, Tesla became not only the most valuable car company in the world, but more valuable than Toyota, Volkswagen, Daimler, and Honda combined.

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