A Possible Future: Automation Shifts The Economic Paradigm

In exploring possible futures, we give ourselves an opportunity to shape them. With all the existing and emerging science and technology building blocks converging with domains like society, the economy, and geopolitics, predicting the future is impossible. But we can look at possibilities and what they mean to our future. One great recent example was described in an article by Tristan Greene. In looking at artificial intelligence and related automation, Mr. Greene focused on how automation could turn capitalism into socialism. This is not a political discussion, rather, it is following a thread to a logical conclusion. In this case, the impact of automation on the future of work. Mr. Greene said:

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Less Is More

An epoch is a period of time in history or a person’s life, typically one marked by notable events or particular characteristics. Although not officially approved, a working group has proposed that the world entered a new epoch called Anthropocene, or the human epoch. The starting point is still debated, as some believe it started at the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution 12,000–15,000 years ago, and others see it starting as recent as the 1960s. One proposal, based on atmospheric evidence, is to fix the start with the Industrial Revolution circa 1780, with the invention of the steam engine.

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Views On The Role of Business Are Shifting Again

Prior to the 1980s (Specifically the post world war two era), there was a belief that business had a higher purpose than generating profits. This somewhat cyclical debate about the role of business is back again. Business in the post-war era served a broad set of stakeholders, not just the shareholder. Early business corporations formed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were created specifically to create roads, canals, railroads, and banks. There was a focus on service, not maximizing investment returns. In these periods, business focused on stakeholder capitalism. Investopedia defines it this way:

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Capitalism Alone

I just added Capitalism Alone to my Book Library. Written by Branko Milanovic, Capitalism Alonethe book chronicles the journey of capitalism towards the dominant economic system in the world. A major focus of the book is the comparison of Liberal Capitalism in the west yo Political Capitalism exemplified by China. Another book that instructs from a historical context – providing possible Guidance as we look forward. A great look into why communism and socialism failed, how they are linked, and what the future of capitalism might look like. The book abstract from Amazon is included below.


ABSTRACT

We are all capitalists now. For the first time in human history, the globe is dominated by one economic system. In Capitalism, Alone, leading economist Branko Milanovic explains the reasons for this decisive historical shift since the days of feudalism and, later, communism. Surveying the varieties of capitalism, he asks: What are the prospects for a fairer world now that capitalism is the only game in town? His conclusions are sobering, but not fatalistic. Capitalism gets much wrong, but also much right―and it is not going anywhere. Our task is to improve it.

Milanovic argues that capitalism has triumphed because it works. It delivers prosperity and gratifies human desires for autonomy. But it comes with a moral price, pushing us to treat material success as the ultimate goal. And it offers no guarantee of stability. In the West, liberal capitalism creaks under the strains of inequality and capitalist excess. That model now fights for hearts and minds with political capitalism, exemplified by China, which many claim is more efficient, but which is more vulnerable to corruption and, when growth is slow, social unrest. As for the economic problems of the Global South, Milanovic offers a creative, if controversial, plan for large-scale migration. Looking to the future, he dismisses prophets who proclaim some single outcome to be inevitable, whether worldwide prosperity or robot-driven mass unemployment. Capitalism is a risky system. But it is a human system. Our choices, and how clearly we see them, will determine how it serves us.

The Journey Continues

It’s been over a year since launching an Online Course focused on a complex and uncertain future. The course takes a Journey through the Looking Glass – a metaphorical expression that means: on the strange side, in the twilight zone, in a strange parallel world. It comes from the Alice and Wonderland literary work of Lewis Carroll, where he explores the strange and mysterious world Alice finds when she steps through a mirror. I have always found this to be a perfect metaphor for our times.

Every time the looking glass has appeared, the world has experienced a Tipping Point. While I firmly believe a tipping point is coming, the impact is likely a question of severity. Some believe that we have survived similar economic transitions in the past, while others disagree:

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A New Economic Paradigm?

Does the combination of emerging disruptive scenarios create a new economic paradigm? In The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Jeremy Rifkin describes a world where nearly free goods and services are enabled by the Internet of Things to drive a new paradigm that eclipses capitalism – the Collaborative Commons. It seems the exponential curve of technology is pushing the operating logic of Capitalism – which focuses on driving ever increasing levels of productivity – towards an extreme level of productivity. Its success could therefore be its undoing. I am a firm believer that this emerging period will ultimately be viewed as the most transformative of all time – but I must admit – I did not make this leap. While reading, I found myself focused on business model questions facing every industry – and through that lens, the story resonated with me. It prompted me to revise the anchor visual that I have used throughout this look at disruptive scenarios. I posed this simple question: does combinatorial innovation create a third curve?

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