This article delves into the historical context of global orders, beginning with the aftermath of World War I and the dissolution of empires. The focus then shifts to the post-World War II era, marked by the Atlantic Charter and the establishment of the Bretton Woods System, ushering in a ‘Golden Period.’ The narrative traces the global impact of the Marshall Plan, leading to economic prosperity and the formation of institutions like NATO. The subsequent rise of economic powerhouses, technological advancements, and the surge in global population highlight the positive aspects of globalization.
However, cracks in the global system emerge due to geopolitical tensions, the COVID-19 pandemic and regional conflicts. The article explores how nations like China and Russia profited from the current Global Order and are essential in maintaining it. However, less rational and emotional and ideologic objectives are leading to decisions that undermines the Order. The decline in U.S. political will, nationalism, and the rise of populist leaders pose threats to the established order. Internal pressures from migration, climate change, and external interference in elections further strain the global framework.
Looking at the history one can recognise cyclical developments, however this doesn’t automatically lead to inevitable events as new issues and new experiences arrive offering different challenges and opportunities.
There is an urgent need for proactive measures to address underlying issues, such as conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine, political instability, and the impact of climate change. The article advocates for an adjustment of the Global Order, strengthened democracies, adjust economies to the current state of affairs and develop inclusive solutions to migration challenges. The evolving economic landscape is discussed, foreseeing a shift from neoliberal capitalism to a more collective-benefit-based economic order, influenced by yet unknown advancements in the combination of technologies such as Mixed Reality (MR) in areas such as medicine, education and manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) in areas such as (crisis) forecasting and increasing time productivity and quantum computing, tackling complex areas such as cancer treatment, global warming but also space travel and other areas that require the massive crunching of data. Finally sophisticated algorithms can assist in creating personalised solutions.
Looking ahead, the article speculates on a transformed approach to migration, with a focus on targeted strategies. Additionally, it contemplates the reshaping of economic power based on climate change responses and the ability of political systems to manage transitions effectively. Developments in ICT will assist in these processes. Global collaboration is essential to navigate challenges, emphasising the potential for different views on (unsustainable) economic growth after a crises, akin to a second gilded age. Ultimately, the article underscores the importance of – in the wake of a potential crisis – harnessing the global political will in implementing necessary changes for a better future.
The article highlights possible longer-term scenarios that will bring us from today to Tomorrow. As I share it with others, I’ve woven in additional information from different perspectives to encourage a dialectic process.
WWI the end of the old order of Empires
The nature of WWI was more linked to the past than to the future. It basically was a war between empires and their prestige and power.
The prelude started in n 1888, when Wilhelm II became the new German emperor after his grandfather Wilhelm I and his father Frederick III died the same year. The young emperor, not yet thirty, was full of self-confidence and had no intention of following Chancellor Bismarck. Bismarck wanted to avoid costly wars; he strove to maintain the existing balance of power through a cautious alliance policy. He wanted to build a more aggressive colonial policy and a large war fleet; according to Bismarck, Wilhelm would upset the European balance of power.
However, Germany, as a new upcoming empire, was not welcomed within the European club, causing lots of friction and eventually war. WWI sort of petered out without a clear new direction for the future. Issues resulting from WWI were solved in a more traditional way through punishments. Germany was presented with an unpayable bill, and the Ottoman Empire (Middle East) was largely carved up between the Brits and the French.
No attention was given to the fact that Germany would be unable to pay the bill, and nobody asked the people in the Middle East what they thought of the totally arbitrary lines drawn on the map that created new countries that had never existed as such. The consequences of this have led to wars and conflicts in this area ever since (for more than 100 years).
Inter-war period failed to avoid the then looming crises.
In Europe, in the meantime, the old regimes wanted to rule their empires as they had done before. There were little attempts to find solutions for the financial situation in Germany, where inflation went into the thousands of percentages. New technologies started to see the start of globalisation. However, Empires fiercely protected their own trade, including that of their colonies. Tariff barriers hampered global trade. This also affected Asia, where the empires had their colonies and where they refused access to their minerals and raw materials to Japan, the upcoming economic power in Asia. Germany invaded the Ukraine to get access to their rich agriculture lands. They also wanted access to iron which was available in France. Russia invaded Finland to get access to nickel. Japan invaded the the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) to get access to oil and rubber.We can clearly see the shift in war strategies from empires/powers and egos to economics and access to raw materials and minerals.
The Global Order after WWII
The unstable and uncoordinated monetary and economic policies linked to above mentioned protectionism and nationalism also greatly added to the Great Depression that preceded WWII.
At the global political level, it had already become clear that this world order could not continue. It was clear that in a rapidly globalising world, the monetary systems of that time, trade barriers, and colonialism were totally incompatible with the technological progress that was making the world smaller. However, people are not good at preventing crises, so it was WWII that allowed them to start solving this crisis. Already in 1941, even before the Americans became involved in the war, the world realised it had to change and one of the first results was the Atlantic Charter.
|The Atlantic Charter was a pivotal policy statement issued during World War II on 14 August 1941, which defined the Allied goals for the post-war world. The leaders of the United Kingdom and the United States drafted the work, and all the Allies of World War II – including Australia and the Netherlands – later confirmed it. The Charter stated the ideal goals for after the war—no territorial aggrandisement; no territorial changes made against the wishes of the people, self-determination; restoration of self-government to those deprived of it; reduction of trade restrictions; global cooperation to secure better economic and social conditions for all; freedom from fear and want; freedom of the seas; and abandonment of the use of force, as well as disarmament of aggressor nations. Adherents of the Atlantic Charter signed the Declaration by United Nations on 1 January 1942, which became the basis for the modern United Nations. The Atlantic Charter set goals for the post-war world and inspired many of the international agreements that shaped the world thereafter. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the post-war independence of European colonies, and much more are derived from the Atlantic Charter. Source: Wikipedia
This was followed by the Bretton Woods Conference, which led to the financial and economic basis for the post-war world order.
The Bretton Wood System
|The Bretton Woods Conference, formally known as the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, was the gathering of 730 delegates from all 44 allied nations at the Mount Washington Hotel, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, United States, to regulate the international monetary and financial order after the conclusion of World War II. The conference was held from July 1 to 22, 1944. Agreements were signed that, after legislative ratification by member governments, established the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, later part of the World Bank group) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This led to what was called the Bretton Woods System for international commercial and financial relations. Source: Wikipedia
The ‘Golden Period’ after WWII
The book ” The end of the wold or just the beginning written by Peter Zeihan describes this period in detail. With Europe totally devastated, America did come to rescue with the Marshall Plan. The US transferred $13.3 billion in economic recovery programs to Western European economies after the end of World War II. The goals of America were to rebuild war-torn regions, remove trade barriers, modernise industry, improve European prosperity and prevent the spread of communism, The financial package consisted of aid both in the form of grants and loans.
Being the underwriter of the new global system also brought enormous wealth to America. Economic revival in Europe and Asia and an explosion in global trade both benefited the American economy and made it by far the richest country in the world. Part of it was used to build the largest military force ever that allowed them to ensure that this post WWII world order was well protected. As everybody reaped the benefits of it, they all accepted the new order. Military collaboration was further enhanced by the formation of the NATO.
A crucial aspect of this era was trust. The Global Order was constructed upon shared values, dependable, liberal oriented partners, and legal security through democratic institutions, providing consistency over time. The benefits were immense, as demonstrated during the Golden Period.
Obviously, over time, Europe, Japan, and later China became economic powerhouses on their own, but still, with the necessary monetary and economic changes the world order was able to continue, which assisted free trade that led to providing access to food, oil, and other goods everywhere in the world at affordable prices. Importantly, countries didn’t need to have all these resources within their own borders; this led to significant efficiency gains. While this created unheard off wealth in the western economies also other countries in the world, even the poorest, benefited from this, be it that they remained heavily depending on what happened in the wealthy end of town, which over time saw a build up of political resentment against America and the previous European colonists. The Global Order also led to the massive development of fast and reliable global communications.
Soon after the war Europe started to address the issue of access to raw material and established the European Coal and Steel Union, which grew overtime into the European Union. This was followed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Globalisation has been driven by the above mentioned transformative financial and economic advancements, liberating countries from colonial and outdated industrial-age mindsets of production and consumption. These shifts have not only fueled wealth creation but have also elevated the lifestyles of billions. Enhanced global healthcare, improved food production, and expanded trade have led to a staggering increase in the global population, soaring from 2.5 billion after World War II to over 8 billion in 2024, with significantly fewer deaths attributable to wars.
Very importantly, globalisation means collaborating. In my work this often means silo busting, getting people to work together horizontally, across departments, disciplines, levels of government, countries and so on. This starts at grassroot levels, working from the bottom up, hence my interest in working with cities (smart cities). However, collaboration only works if it is based on trust as mentioned above.
The communication industry has als been a beneficiary of the Global Order. Information Communication Technology (ICT) progress has been nothing short of extraordinary across various sectors, including healthcare, manufacturing, administration, and agriculture. Information technology, in particular, has witnessed groundbreaking developments, bringing people closer together through the internet. Mobile phones, now nearly as ubiquitous as the global population, have empowered individuals with computing capabilities in their pockets. This contrasts sharply with the limited telephone penetration in developing countries before the mobile phone explosion, which hovered around 20% of total population based on households. See also: The role technology can play in maintaining the World Order
These advancements signify a diminishing relevance of organising within strict national borders. The urgency of global collaboration is underscored by challenges such as pandemics, exemplified by COVID, and the adverse impacts of climate change. It is increasingly evident that our only viable path forward is concerted global cooperation among the Earth’s inhabitants.
However, the evolving social and economic system started to move from a liberal structure to a neoliberal one. The focus was on the individual and how it can create personal wealth rather than creating a more equal society that should include a bigger focus on social wealth. It is this system that is failing and underlays all of the consequent problems that humanity now is facing. Rather than focussing on individual development we now need to strengthen societies to address the issues in front of us.
ICT, while connecting people, has also given rise to misinformation, increased hate speech, racism, misogyny, white supremacy, identity wars and other negative elements. Even in a developed and well-educated nation like the UK, the decision to pursue Brexit raises concerns about the impact of populism and nationalism fueled by social media and the internet. Brexit was also the final nail in Britain’s leading international role, a left over from its imperial days. The attack on the US Capitol in 2021 is another scary example of what populism in combination with ICT (social media) can lead to. Combined these two event marked the end of Anglo-America post war order. Large parts of the world have lost trust in these two countries. Populism, often directed at creating division, unravelling institutions and chaos, poses a significant challenge to a positive progression of globalisation. Populism is not far removed from another ideology, fascism. As we navigate this complex landscape, it becomes crucial to address these emotional (social) challenges and foster a more rational approach to global integration. Key her eis that we do need highly participatory liberal-democratic political institutions, they are the essential foundations for a successful societal system.
Dani Rodrik, a Turkish economist, introduced the idea of the “Trilemma,” which suggests a fundamental tension in our globalised world. The Trilemma states that nations can only fully achieve two out of three things: democracy, national sovereignty, and deep economic integration. This inherent tension helps explain the rise of populist movements on the right.
Populists enjoy the economic benefits of globalisation, but they seek to resolve the Trilemma by sacrificing democracy. They prefer strong, authoritarian leadership to the messy compromises and negotiations that are essential in a democracy. This often manifests in anti-immigration stances and nationalistic rhetoric, as seen in movements like “America First,” “Australia First,” “The Dutch will be No. 1 again,” “Alternative für Deutschland,” “Believe in Britain” and “Brothers of Italy.”
Rather than coming together in order to address these issues, we see populist conservative leaders using fearmongering to win votes. They fail to inspire people to be and do better.
Good and evil have been integral to humanity since its early days, and this duality is equally evident in cyberspace. In an environment where society starts breaking down trust is constantly under siege, the consequences are profoundly serious. Addressing this issue must be a top priority across all levels of our society to uphold the Global Order. Just as regulations followed previous technological innovations such as mail, telephone, and broadcasting, we also require regulations in the new world of cyberspace. Based on our democratic constitutional state, public values and public ownership, we can impose rules on algorithms, data. AI, MR, the Cloud, and beyond. However, there is a lack of urgency to make significant changes.These processes and laws need to be based on the values that are instilled in us people and big businesses and governments need to be held accountable for doing the right thing based on that principle. Currently they are both failing to properly address the many challenges addressed in this article. Policies, products and technologies have to work for us, not against us. I am talking here about the values that are deeply ingrained beliefs and principles that guide individuals in their attitudes, behaviours, and decision-making. These values contribute to the moral and ethical foundation of individuals and society, shaping character and influencing interpersonal relationships and societal norms.
Reviews, adjustments, and changes needed to avoid new devastating crises.
The period following WWII – in which globalisation took an enormous flight – led to enormous wealth, this was very addictive and the motto was we need economic growth. Neoliberalism supercharged this. As a consequence global cracks started to appear in this system it was clear something had to give. The German historian and author Phillip Blom mentioned that neoliberalism is a ‘good weather’ system with little room for protection against bad weather. This system simmered on in the background since the 1980s but in the first few decades of the new millennium bad weather arrived. There were the political tensions with China (trade restrictions), the Covid pandemic (global supply issues), inflation (global cost of living crises), global housing crises, Russian’s invasion into the Ukraine (energy crisis) and the Israeli war in Gaza (trade route disruption in the Red Sea). And than we are not even mentioning the climate change that is already creating economic and social havoc across the globe. The ‘good weather’ system started to fail.
While these crises are worrying, life for most people in the West continues. Yet, these events have significant global impacts. The pandemic led to a global inflation of around 15% and sparked an international housing crisis in the West. The still relatively small war in Ukraine had massive worldwide implications on energy supply, and the global food supply remains under threat. The activities of a rather small group of terrorists in Yemen have had a significant impact on global trade. What will happen if the size of such crises increases? Expect more pressure, not less.
At the moment Iran and Russia are only to happy to use the weaknesses of the democratic countries to create chaos, simply for ideological reasons. However, they don’t have the right underlaying structures to maintain this, but it does require the western democracies to try and limit the damage done by these countries. China is sitting on the fence here but international chaos would be detrimental to their economy.
These cracks are proceeding relatively slowly; it is a process, not a sudden event. This also means that people are getting used to an ever-changing environment, which becomes, in fact, a ‘new normal’—often used by people who want to deny that there are real problems. Those on the conservative side of politics usually argue leave the current systems and structures alone. Again no urgency to make difficult decisions. An extra jumper to save on energy costs and some social handouts to the bottom part of the market. All still manageable. For most complacency remains the order of the day.
Communication is equally under threat. Our communication networks such as submarine cables, satellites and international data centres all depend on trust in the Global Order. ICT will become an easy target if the Global Order deteriorates. If we think that we currently have problems with cybercrimes, data breaches and privacy issues, think what problems can evolve if there is no longer trust in the Global Order.
The political situation in the USA is particularly concerning as the world continues to depend on the country to uphold the Global Order. However, there is a noticeable decline in the political will within the nation to sustain this crucial role. Given the deeply divided nature of politics in the USA, it’s imperative to scrutinise the quality of decision-making processes coming out of the USA. While ideally, another country or alliance could assume this responsibility, currently, there is no viable alternative. Unfortunately, this vacuum of leadership leaves room for international interference in American elections, including from the mentioned countries and North Korea, with the primary intent of sowing chaos.
National cracks in the system are being caused by the pressure resulting from migration and refugees. This, in turn, leads to shifts in national politics, resulting in more nationalism, which is grist to the mill for populist leaders in among others the USA, Europe, India and South America.
Furthermore, the consequences of climate change will have significant financial implications. By continuing to concentrate our economic policies on providing/increasing individual wealth based on an open market system, we failed to put common protecting in place against increasingly frequent and devastating weather events, as well as the recovery efforts afterward, the consequences of this failure will be extremely costly. Over time, this will also lead to more internal and external climate change migrants and refugees. We still have not fully accepted that we are part of nature, and that we are not on Earth to “subdue the earth and have dominion over all living things on earth,” as the Bible says. Yet, we continue to follow this narrative and grow the economy by exploiting the earth. This has resulted in enormous wealth creation and massive population growth, all at the expense of nature. In fact, we are depleting the earth’s resources more and more, making it less habitable for humans. There are plenty of historic examples illustrating the societal and economic impacts of climate change and pandemics. While we may debate endlessly whether the current situation is human-induced or not, the effects will be the same and will be detrimental to both deniers and believers. It appears that we will not be able to halt the current changes in climate, nor can we reverse the situation. From now on, we must find ways to live with it, survive it and hopefully, new technologies can assist us in that endeavour.
Not surprisingly, the issues at hand are far too complex for most people to comprehend, especially with an economic/political system that clearly starts failing the broader society. From a human psychology perspective, this leads to people switching off, feeling helpless, and paralyzed. Instead, they concentrate on the good things in life, arguing that life is good for themselves. After the Enlightenment, it was thought that people, now unshackled from dogmatic religion and serfdom, would develop themselves. With the development of the internet, it was believed that our structures would become more democratic as people had access to vast amounts of information. Perhaps people don’t behave in that way and are blinded by more ‘material issues’.
As Phillip Blom suggests, we are not the rulers of the world, nor are we the lords of creation; we cannot subdue the earth. This brings us to the question of “who are we?” We indeed need new images and new stories of ourselves to answer that question.
Talking about the arguments for urgent changes, the question often asked is: who has to change? Or when it’s mentioned that we have to change, the question arises: who is ‘we’? The answer lies with those living in Western economies, who are generally well-educated and have a relatively good lifestyle. It’s challenging to expect farmers in Ecuador or Malawi to lead the change; they have little influence over their own lives, let alone the broader environment. Those in Western economies have the knowledge, finances, and the possibilities to lead the change.
In short it is clear that we need to review the post-WWII economic system which is running out of steam and question if we need to review the current model based on economic growth.
Are there cyclical patterns?
Understanding potential cyclical nature of historical developments provides some valuable insights into contemporary challenges and potential future trajectories. William Strauss’s book “The Fourth Turning” offers a framework for analysing these patterns, drawing parallels with historical crises like WWI and WWII. These cycles, spanning society, economy, and politics, typically follow patterns of growth, peak, contraction, and recovery, often involving disruption and renewal:
- During a crisis, tough decisions are made, and societies mobilise in survival mode.
- Societal, economic, and political changes occur, strengthening existing institutions and sometimes creating new ones.
- Sacrifices are made for the common good, facilitating recovery efforts.
- An awakening follows, accompanied by relaxation and a shift away from stringent rules, often leading to societal upheaval against the old order but typically avoiding war.
- This period of relaxation eventually gives way to unraveling and unease, marked by polarisation and group aggregation.
- Maximum polarisation is reached, leading to a new crisis, as depicted in Strauss’s theory of “The Fourth Turning,” linked to generational shifts.
While these theories offer valuable historical insights, it’s essential to approach them with a critical lens. Proving generational cycles as factual is challenging (Karl Popper’s falsification theory), and the theory’s heavy reliance on American examples may limit its global applicability.
Reflecting on the tendency of humans to respond to existential crises only when pushed to the brink underscores the importance of urgency in addressing pressing global challenges. Philosophers like John Locke and David Hume observed centuries ago that humans are resistant to change during periods of contentment. This highlights the critical need for proactive measures and decisive action in times of relative stability to mitigate the risk of crises reaching catastrophic levels. In this context, it becomes imperative to examine current global trends and consider how proactive approaches can pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable future.
The question arises: Must a crisis necessitate war in order to change the underlaying system that has gone faulty? While historical lessons lean in that direction, alternatives exist, such as from the 19th century American philosopher and psychologist William James. He talks about the concept of the “Moral Equivalent of War,” which seeks to channel the same spirit of sacrifice and discipline toward peaceful endeavours.
Following the observation of the widespread reluctance to consider new wars for addressing current issues, it becomes imperative to explore alternative approaches to conflict resolution. This reluctance, juxtaposed with historical justifications for past wars, underscores a paradox in human perception—one that prompts a reevaluation of our collective understanding of peacebuilding and conflict management. In light of this, let’s transition into an examination of peaceful alternatives and their potential to mitigate global challenges, offering insights into a more sustainable path forward.
In our current “unraveling” phase, tough decisions are deferred in favour of short-term personal gains like tax cuts, indicating a lack of readiness to confront the potential larger social and economic crises head-on.
Notably, post-crisis periods often usher in new leaders who emerge amidst the turmoil, shaping the trajectory of recovery and renewal. Examples abound, such as the emergence of visionary leaders following WWII or the American Civil War, who navigated their nations through tumultuous times with resolve and foresight. However, as cycles near their culmination, a sobering reality often emerges—a dearth of effective leadership. This observation prompts a critical examination of the current leadership landscape and its capacity to confront the complex challenges facing our world today. Let’s delve into an analysis of whether our present leaders possess the vision, resilience, and collaborative spirit needed to steer us toward a brighter future in the wake of ongoing crises.
These personal observations underscore the cyclical nature of leadership dynamics in times of crisis. While history shows a surge in new leaders emerging from the crucible of adversity, it also warns of a leadership vacuum as cycles near their end. Understanding these patterns has profound implications for addressing contemporary global challenges. By harnessing this knowledge, we can better equip ourselves to identify and cultivate effective leadership, ensuring a more resilient response to present and future crises.
After discussing the potential impacts of crises, it’s essential to shift our focus to future scenarios and potential outcomes. Understanding the cyclical nature of historical events, as outlined in William Strauss’s “The Fourth Turning,” provides valuable insights into potential trajectories. While the past offers valuable lessons, it’s crucial to consider how current challenges and opportunities may shape future developments. Let’s explore some potential scenarios and their implications for global peace and prosperity.
Can we learn from historical cycles?
As mentioned in the beginning, during the 1930s, most global leaders were well aware of the unsustainability of their policies. However, decisive action was not taken. This resulted in a crisis (WWII) that allowed humanity to address the issues and as a result, they created a better world, but at what cost. Also in this period technology was used to successfully undermine democracy and used against Jews, homosexuals, Romani (Gipsies) and people with disabilities. In totalitarian regimes today we see similar misuse of technology often used for political reasons to get rid of people who don’t follow their ideology.
We are now – in the 2020s – at a similar set of crossroads; we know what the issues are, we know that we need to adjust the underlaying social, economic and political systems and structures. Humanity is able to learn from mistakes and as such this ability has evolved over time in a way that we are getting better at it. But note we unfortunately first seem to need to make mistakes in order to learn. As we know from the past the costs of this could be very high.
On the positive side, this time, action is being taken in many ways to prevent another serious crisis. The question is, do we have enough time to create effective enough change to prevent a crisis, and what sort of a crisis lays there on the horizon? We are facing an accumulation of issues, and they all need to be addressed and resolved to prevent crisis situations:
- Key to the future is that we need to adjust the underlaying economic system. We need to move beyond capitalism and away from the neoliberal system focussed on individual development and wealth to a more just and fair social democratic or social liberalism system aimed to securing the sustainability and longevity of the societies we live in.
- Together the western economies need to revamp and strengthen the Global Order. This includes finding solutions for the underlying issues that are causing the wars in the Middle East, in Ukraine and then tension in the South China Sea. While there are other wars that need similar solutions, these three are the most serious threat to the current world order.
- Democracy is under pressure in the USA, already officially classified as a flawed democracy, the political gridlock needs to be resolved. Further political decline in the USA – towards nationalism/populism – needs to be reversed in order to prevent a serious blow to the Global Order. The USA is still essential to secure uninhibited free trade. Countries such as China, Russia and Iran will be more than happy to step into this vacuum. The total lack of control of the Big Tech operating form America has led to significant undermining of democracy, the rise of populism, a range of addiction related health issues and massive increase in misinformation. This needs to be stopped urgently as AI will only make this situation worse. We can not have the American structures dominated by a political plutocracy.
- China and Russia are essential in maintaining the Global Order, and they need to become active parts of the solution, not adding to the problem.
- Address the combined issues of declining population and migration in most western economy in an orderly and rational way to avoid populist-driven counter-effects, which will be devastating for both the emigrants and the economies of countries with aging populations. Positive solutions will hopefully also stabilise the political situation in individual countries.
- More global effort is needed to address the potentially very high (human and financial) costs of climate change. The reality here is that fossil fuel pollution will still continue for many decades before a full transition can be concluded. This transition requires a long period of global stability.
- Significant technological breakthroughs and innovations are needed to come up with better alternatives for fossil fuels and rare earth metals. As our current technologies will be unable to address the issues at hand.
- Western economies don’t need to grow but do need to be strengthened. Those depending on imports of foodstuffs, energy and raw materials are most vulnerable. Those who lack critical manufacturing at home are another potential casualty to a looming trade and economic crisis.
- Education is critical in guiding humanity through the complexities of our time. It has been shown that education, more so than income, has resulted in better family planning and lower levels of mortality. According to UN Women, the education of women and girls in developing countries has delivered unprecedented positive social and economic outcomes. On the other hand, according to research from Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton people in developed countries with lower levels of education suffer socially, health-wise, and economically more than others. They experience cumulative disadvantages throughout their lives and are more prone to populism. Therefore, it is clear that more needs to be done on the educational front.
History teaches us that serious crisis situations invariably result in restrictions on personal rights, the suspension of human rights, a lack of comprehensive economic and social security, and, generally, the suffering of ordinary people. The Rule of Law becomes a Rule by Law(s) as we have seen and can see in totalitarian regimes. To prevent this, we must establish new processes and enact new laws that restore trust and ensure people feel secure. However, the rising tide of populist leaders worldwide complicates the implementation of these processes and to maintain the Rule of Law.
Tweaking the political and economic systems
The neoliberalism flavour has been the major form of capitalism since the 1980s (Thatcher, Reagan). This has shifted the focus away from society to the market. This essentially means that under this ideology, proponents believe that we are all rational beings and therefore make the best possible choices ourselves. However, not only is this not correct, but it also stimulates increased selfishness, greed, and a desire for more and more (resulting in massive consumerism). This has been enormously beneficial for a few very large companies (financial organisations, the big tech companies) and the much discussed super wealthy 1%. (the latter group is not much different from what the aristocracy was, before the Ancient Regime was overturned).
As than also this group of the 1% has been detrimental to the wellbeing of our society and also to our environment. True people are being kept happy with what the material wealth they got out of this system, but this material happiness does no longer match the sentiment of large parts of the population and many are emotionally unhappy. So we have the paradox that while life is relatively good for most people in the western democracies at the same people are anxious about their future. We now see that people who are reasonably well off are getting into problems in the current cost of living crisis. Under neoliberal policies social structurers and safety nets have been eroded and both the system and the people don’t have the capacity anymore to bounce back, this create unrest and distrust. Yet politicians continue to promise tax cuts rather than investing in strengthening social structure.
Another issue that we are facing is that within our mature democratic systems we have indeed been able to establish strong and powerful institutions. While this provided for a robust democracy at the same time these institutions has created detailed regulations for basically all aspects of the society and economy. Making fundamental changes to our structure and systems to address the new issues that societies are facing has become nearly impossible.
Additionally, our political system is now dominated by individuals who mainly view it as a career. As such, the political system has largely moved away from us, ‘ordinary people’ (hence, populism). Politicians often have no clue and/or no incentive on how to address the negative fallout of neoliberalism, resulting in little action being taken. Neoliberalism have created very rich and very power companies, which are too big to fail and the super wealthy who wield enormous (political) power and the political system is not up to such powers. Under neoliberalism these companies don’t have any social responsibility for the complex problems they have developed. They are simply economic entities who are there to make profits and obtain power. This all despite the fact that most scientists in all disciplines as well as most politicians are worried about an upcoming disaster if we don’t make the necessary adjustment. As historian and philosopher Thomas Kuhn mentioned, a paradigm shift is needed and this usually doesn’t come from the traditional powers and often arrives from left field and from a younger generation.
Life after the current crises
Time will tell if we have indeed become wiser and evolved as smarter humans since WWII, capable of solving current issues without undergoing another potentially devastating crisis. Such a crisis would undoubtedly be very costly and could set us back many decades. Of course nobody can predict the future and nothing in inevitable, but we can envisage certain scenarios and we can also create the future ourselves, along the moral and ethical principles and the processes and laws as mentioned above.
Negative trends toward a crisis scenario are, of course, an extension of the conflicts in the Middle East, Ukraine and South China Sea, disrupting free trade and leading to price increases, especially for foodstuffs and energy., which will lead to more internal turmoil in the countries most effected. Important to note here is that they increasingly are fueled by religious differences, this is unlike previous conflicts such as WWI and WWII.
Another significant marker will be the upcoming Presidential Elections in the USA. The apparent growing disinterest in ‘enforcing’ the Global Order could potentially lead to political instability in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and East Asia.
If we can manage these two issues positively, we do have the time to address other crises, even if it means muddling through.
While discussing WWI and WWII, it’s essential to note that these conflicts did not involve all countries on earth. However, a crisis based on the aforementioned scenarios would impact every country. Regardless of the outcome, a full global doomsday scenario is unlikely, with some countries more affected than others and varying abilities to manage crises. Engaging in proactive crisis planning and preparedness might assist in mitigating the worst outcomes.
If indeed a crisis is needed to usher in a better world, there is reason to believe in a scenario that, as after WWI and WWII, we could enter a new era of positive growth, akin to a new gilded age. We possess the knowledge and technology to address and solve these issues for a better outcome. However, the current challenge lies in the need for global political will to implement the necessary changes. Another good example is the civil war in the Roman Empire (49-29BC). Roman historians from that era describe the periods before and after this turmoil as times of prosperity and peace (Golden Ages). Despite enduring two decades of chaos and pain, a new empire emerged stronger after implementing necessary political, social, and legal changes.
One of my arguments for change has been to direct more political and economic power to the cities. I addressed these issues under ‘Smart Cities’, indicating that democracies built up from grassroots might work better than current top down federal approaches. In this new environment people interconnect, participate, cooperate and contribute meaning that can be synthesised, so it creates value by synergy to all participants. Over time, I believe that our political system will also need to move in that direction — democracy from the bottom up, with the assistance of experts. It’s somewhat similar to the ancient Greek system, but this time of course, all of us should be involved in the lottery regarding decision-making.
If we look beyond the immediate crises, into the 10-20-30 year horizon, what might emerge are:
- A new economic order (social democracy/liberal socialism) that slowly replaces the currently most dominating form of capitalism, neo-liberalism. A new order based more on collective benefit rather than individual wealth. This still will include free trade, individual (property) rights and market liberties as per Adam Smith. but more equally distributed. The next great philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill also recognised the need for social liberalism.
- To clarify this it is interesting to hear what John Maynard Keynes, a prominent economist of the 20th century had to say. He proposed a shift away from 19th-century laissez-faire economics towards a system he termed “liberal socialism.” This concept aimed to strike a balance between collective action for common purposes and the protection of individual freedoms and rights. Keynes advocated for government intervention in the economy to address issues such as unemployment, economic instability, and inequality while still preserving individual liberties. Individual rights and freedoms need to be embedded in society. Liberal socialism offers the prospect of combining respect for liberal rights, checks and balances on state power, and participatory democracy with socialist concerns for the equal flourishing of all in a sustainable environment, the extension of democratic concerns into the workplace and ‘private government’, and pushing back on plutocratic rule.
- With that in place, new combinations of technologies such as MR, AI and quantum computing will play a key role in finding new solution for our complex global problems. They will also play a central role in creating (social) wealth, reducing the direct role human time and effort has played in the industrial revolution. Think 4-day work weeks, Universal Basic Income (UBI), passive income etc.
- New ICT and networks innovations will happen and they are crucial to understand what is coming beyond ‘value extracting capitalism’ this is especially visible in the current move to cloud capitalism based on creating some sort of techno-feudalism ( term coined by Yanis Varoufakis in his book ‘Technofeudalism: What killed Capitalism). Cloud capitalism has indeed little to do with capitalism, as both users and commercial customers can only participate on these platforms based on the conditions set by these Big Tech companies, there is no competition, no invisible hand of the market, instead pure extraction of personal data on one side and fees on the onder side (hence the reference to feudalism).
- The compounded effect of the new technologies mentioned, has already a profound effect on our society and economy and will even have a greater impact than previous ‘revolutions’. However, the development of these technologies need to be based on the common good and not on what is good for the Big Tech companies. Only when this is based on a more democratic tech system – and not based on the current techno-feudalistic system – can sophisticated algorithms also assist in creating personalised solutions.
- A completely new way of dealing with migration. The current (now old) thinking which emerged out of WWII (ie rich countries feeling sorry for poor ones, and allowing largely unconstrained migration, which drains the host country of talent thus prolonging poverty, has massive cultural impacts on the receiving country, and causes significant economic strain) may soon be replaced by a new way of thinking – with the need for fewer people, and a more targeted approach to migration/refugees, the movement of people across the globe may shift dramatically
- A reshaping of economic power due to climate change. Who will win in the mitigate-or-die approach the world has taken towards this issue? Which political system can manage the transition the quickest and thus protect its people the best? Who has the economic might to rebuild destroyed landscapes and construct the infrastructure required to protect its people?
The timeline for these developments will hinge on our capacity to maintain and modernise the existing world order, preventing a substantial global crisis. Alternatively, it relies on our ability to maintain and if needed tweak the world order, to ensure global peace and prosperity a likelihood that becomes more plausible once we have effectively addressed the ongoing crises. Unfortunately, at present, we lack the necessary political leadership and will to navigate this transformative path. Instead, there is a growing surge of populist leaders worldwide, complicating the implementation of essential processes and laws crucial for updating the current world order and averting a significant global crisis.
Taylor Swift: “Only the young, only the young, only the young can run, so run”