Saturday, 26 April 2008

The London Futures Symposium

A Meeting Organised By The European Futures Observatory

The Keyworth Centre, London South Bank University


DAVID BIRCH, Consult Hyperion
MARTIN RHISIART, Cardiff University
ZARMINA PENNER, Future Management Group, AG
JO CAUSON, Chartered Institute Of Management

On Friday 18th April 2008, twenty futurists and non-futurists from across Europe met at The Keyworth Centre at the London South Bank University for a series of presentations on aspects of the future.

David Birch of Consult Hyperion presented a session on the move to a cashless society, which is particularly important in the case of African and Asian development; Martin Rhisiart of Cardiff University Business School presented on the disappearance of the nation state; and Zarmina Penner of Future Management Group and Jo Causon of the Chartered Management Institute presented on the Future of Work and Management.

The day proved to be quite enjoyable. There was a good range of information to be absorbed, coupled with the opportunity to renew old acquaintances and to make new friends.

READ the full report and access the presentations.

Friday, 25 April 2008

The New Nationalism

What is the opposite of Globalisation? In order to answer this question, we need to have an idea of what globalisation is in order to consider its opposite. If we had to stylise globalisation as anything, then we would stylise it as inter-connectedness. It is a process whereby the world – enabled by communications technology and falling transport costs – has been able to get closer together. It is about shrinking the planet.

If so, then the opposite of globalisation would be characterised by dis-connectedness. It would be a force that would drive people apart, reduce their linkages with each other, and highlight the differences between peoples throughout the world. We just have to add in to this mix a pinch of resource scarcity, a hint of geopolitical competition, and a grain of moral superiority to obtain the New Nationalism.

Whilst Globalisation acts as a force of integration, the New Nationalism acts as a force of dispersion. We take the view that one of the perspectives of history is that it can be characterised by the relationship between the integrative and the dispersive. One force may become prevalent, but it cannot completely eradicate the other, which, at some stage, will make a come back. This is important when we consider the future of Globalisation.

A number of factors have emerged recently to hint at what shape the New Nationalism might take. It is likely to lean towards protectionism rather than free trade. So, when we hear US Presidential Candidates talking of protecting US business from unfair foreign competition, or when we hear of the US Congress blocking commercial transactions to protect strategic US national interests, they are playing to the New Nationalist agenda. Equally, the New Nationalism is likely to be unilateral rather than multilateral. Again, when we hear of India and China imposing restrictions on the export of rice, the New Nationalism is starting to assert itself. And finally, the New Nationalism is likely to be chauvinistic. When we see ethnic Chinese people counter-demonstrating against Olympic protesters, we are seeing an assertion of the New Nationalism.

All of this raises an interesting question: is there a state in the world, largely untouched by Globalisation, which demonstrates the New Nationalism? Obvious candidates might be Myanmar, Cuba, or one of ‘The Stans’, but there is an interesting example much closer to home – Jersey. Jersey is something of a constitutional anomaly. It is ruled by the Duchess of Normandy, who also happens to be the British Monarch. It gives Jersey close ties to the UK, without actually being part of it. More importantly, Jersey is not part of the EU.

Since 1949, Jersey has operated a system of immigration controls that have prevented the settlement of anyone other than ‘High Value Residents’ (the rich are welcome, and the poor are not). This has distorted the local labour market (too many chiefs and too few Indians), and has distorted the economic development of the island. Jersey today is expensive, delivers poor quality services, and offers poor value for money. It has the general air of decline. This is all resulting from a lack of competition on the island lasting for nearly three generations.

Much worse, Patrick Muirhead – a BBC news reporter – alleges that this lack of competition has encroached into public life. In The Times he alleges (see article) that the island is corrupt and self-seeking. This is allowed, it is alleged, because a web of nepotism and favouritism has given the political class on the island control over the media. This issue has come to a head as it now appears that, for decades, children in care on the island have been abused and murdered and the authorities have done absolutely nothing about it.

In Jersey, we are given a glimpse of what the future might hold if the New Nationalism were to gain the ascendant. Personally, I find it quite an unattractive prospect. Globalisation has brought many benefits to me, and I would be reluctant to give up those benefits. However, I do see that Globalisation has not delivered an effective response to resource scarcity and the competition for resources. Perhaps this is the challenge for its next phase?

Globalisation has not been universally welcomed by all. What I would say to its detractors is that if they want to see what a world without it might look like, they should take a holiday on Jersey.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Christmas Comes But Twice A Year

The weather has been really funny in the UK over the past few weeks. Towards the end of March, winter finally arrived with our first snow falls of the year. The snow only lay on the ground for about 36 hours before spring arrived. We had quite a warm spell for a couple of weeks, and then it turned cold again. Needless to say, snow made another return, didn’t stay for long (less that 12 hours where we live), and left us in our current position that is colder than we would like it to be.

This has had all sorts of interesting implications. To start with, we haven’t felt able to turn off the central heating. Normally, I would have expected the central heating to be unnecessary from about the end of March or the beginning of April. I wonder if this will have an impact on the economy later in the year if we are typical in our behaviour, and the public in general are finding that the soaring cost of energy is constraining their discretionary household expenditure. It is certainly helping to postpone the seasonal reduction in energy prices that we would expect at this time of year.

There are also far more subtle effects of the changing weather patterns that we need to account for. An interesting article in The Independent (see article) speculates about whether the dissolution of spring as a distinct season is the harbinger of a climate catastrophe. The article is a bit sensational – after all, that sells newspapers – but it does make an interesting point: is climate change affecting the pattern of the seasons? If so, then, as futurists, we might want to examine what the implications might be, and who stands to gain and lose from these changes.

A further article in The Independent (see article) starts to piece together a chain of causality in the natural world. If we accept the model that climate change will cause flora change, and that flora change will cause fauna change, then we ought to start amassing evidence of those changes. An interesting link between the flora and the fauna is the role of birds and insects in the environment, and it is here that we might find the weak signals of an emergent future to be more leveraged. This is an important area because birds and insects play an important role in the countryside. In a world that needs improved agricultural yields; dramatic changes in the biosphere need to be monitored carefully in terms of incidence and impact.

Can we now see how the issue of climate change will evolve to affect our lives? It is possibly too early to tell for certain, but the evidence is starting to accumulate in that direction. Of course, climate change is not of itself a bad thing. In our house, taking inspiration from C S Lewis’ Narnia stories, we felt that if winter were to come twice a year, then Christmas ought to come twice a year. Our first Christmas – a mush of gross consumerism – was at the end of December, and our second Christmas – a far simpler affair with just the family, no presents, and no commercialism – was at the beginning of April.

Strangely enough, I enjoyed my second Christmas better than my first. If that is a consequence of climate change, then climate change is not entirely a bad thing.