"When people put their ballots in the boxes, they are, by that act, inoculated against the feeling that the government is not theirs. They then accept, in some measure, that its errors are their errors, its aberrations their aberrations, that any revolt will be against them. It's a remarkably shrewd and rather conservative arrangement when one thinks of it." – John Kenneth Galbraith

Regular readers of this blog know how we have been looking at the various convergence of large trends (environmental, geopolitical and economical) that are reshaping the world and potentially creating a more unstable future. These trends are powerful medium to long term shifts that are somehow related, but rarely put together. Yet their combination will certainly compound the pressure upon our societies in the coming years. Here is how they interact:

  1. The world is still coping with the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis, which means that individual countries are adjusting internally to find new growth drivers while increasingly protecting their national markets. The world may appear more globalized on TV but the domestic economical/political realities prevail over farther concerns, which is increasing international tensions (or decreasing international cooperation).
  2. Given the size of imbalances, disruptions are expected to be quite large. However, a minority of people who have been greatly benefiting from these imbalances have become a significant political force, and (depending on countries) been able to capture a share of the political process.
  3. Over the last 30 years, our societies have seen a significant shift in values, putting economical and financial concerns at the center of our political thought, which has transformed politicians into little more than managers. At the same time, new technologies have accelerated the gutting of jobs in the primary and secondary sectors, even denting parts of the tertiary ones. The result was a significant decline in political engagement, a void that has been filled by corporate and vested interests.
  4. Our current economical models are unsustainable over the long term, creating inequalities within societies and putting too much pressure on Earth's finite resources. We are increasing efficiency rapidly but we are still consuming more than ever every year.

If you aggregate these trends, a conflicting outcomes result: our economical models need to be changed to face the challenge of global warming and build a better future, but entrenched interests in the current systems are yielding disproportionate influence on the political process, the only tool able to steer us in the right direction.

Indeed, independent solutions can only solve parts of the problems. The true challenge of today is thus to find alternative models that will sustain our specie for the coming centuries. However, the fall of the Soviet Union and the ascendency of markets over all areas of public and private life are now leaving us unable to think about new paradigms.

One of the first step toward finding a solution that we are aware of has been put forward by Franck Lepage, a Frenchmen who is working to bring back a concept developed after the Second World War to avoid a renewal of atrocities: l'éducation populaire, a continuous political education through debates of all the actors of society. Given how society is freezing itself, with various 'strata' increasingly experiencing very separated lives, it is one of the only way to bring people together, acknowledge the complexity of reforming and work out a solution that will be fair to the majority of the people.

Debates are certainly perceived disturbing but they are actually a great way for societies to define together how to evolve and create a future. And so far, we are not seeing the kind of engagement through debate that are required to address the coming challenges.

Science, General Knowledge & Environment

Isaac Asimov Asks, “How Do People Get New Ideas?” – "Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)"

The Economic Consequences of Sex – "Indeed, given that most jobs in developed economies require little or no physical strength, cultural values that discourage women from working outside the home are rightly regarded as archaic, serving only to undermine women’s economic and political freedoms."

Europe emission targets 'will fail to protect climate' – "He said the easy climate protection measures – like energy saving – had been snapped up, leaving to future leaders the job of introducing new clean technologies in every walk of life. I don't think many people have grasped just how huge this task is," he said. "It is absolutely extraordinary and unprecedented. My guess is that 40% for 2030 is too little too late if we are really serious about our long-term targets."

These Two World Leaders Are Laughing While the Planet Burns Up – "This is how Canada and Australia's top leaders frame global warming. The two stress that they will always choose short-term economic gain first, disregarding scientific findings and even the interests of their political allies in the process."

History & Geopolitics

The mixed picture on poverty and inequality – "In particular, people are becoming increasingly separated by economic and political power, leading to heightened social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown. Laws are also increasingly favouring the rich, driven by a “power grab” by wealthy elites, who have co-opted the political process to rig the rules of the economic system in their favour."

The Similarities Between Germany and China – "First, the Europeans were obsessed with Germany and concerned about Russia. Second, the Asians were obsessed with China and concerned about Japan."

China is again slowly turning in on itself – "However, tackling the problems facing China today requires addressing the core political factors behind them. Excessive, unchecked power in the hands of a few has fueled the viral growth of a long list of social and economic problems."

Finance & Economics

How to link Australian iron with Marine le Pen – "This blog entry started out on iron ore and Australia, but is finishing with Marine le Pen. As I say in my book, in a globalized world anything that affects the relationship between savings and investment in one country – and nearly everything affects that relationship – must have the opposite effect on the rest of the world. There is no way of escaping the fact that imbalances generated in one country become a problem for everyone."

Reform alone is no solution for the eurozone – "The big challenge for the eurozone is not to create institutions, but to promote adjustment and restore growth. The people of the eurozone cannot be expected to remain patient forever. Indeed, the dangers of continuing economic stagnation are obvious."

China’s credit kleptocracy – "There’s no question that President Xi’s leadership has had to focus on endemic corruption as integral to the task of implementing economic reform, and restoring the Party’s legitimacy. But quite where this all leads, and whether it makes successful and durable economic reforms more or less likely is a moot point. The focus on Party purity, anti-graft, anti-democracy, and ‘traditional culture and values’ is a bit of throw-back, and doesn’t sit comfortably with unbridled optimism."

Picture of the day: Pokot archers of Kenya

About Carlito Riego

"Great perfection may appear imperfect, but its usefulness is inexhaustible. Great abundance may appear empty, but its usefulness cannot be exhausted. Great correctness may appear twisted, great skills appear crude, great eloquence appear awkward. Activity conquers cold; inactivity conquers heat. Clear serenity governs the world." - Lao Zi