Rising political disillusionment in the Western world, coupled with the inadequacies of capitalism, socialism, and emergence of those left behind by economic globalization, cries out for something new. A new way. A new system. Less confrontational and adversarial. More in tune with the realities of the modern world and equipped to handle the oblique and unforeseen challenges we face ahead.
Traditional left-right political orthodoxy was fit for a pre-globalized and networked world, where people were still divided by class, job, and financial status. The centrist “Third-Way” introduced by Tony Blair (a mix left-wing social policies and right-wing economic policies) was an attempt to address the inadequacies of left-right politics, but has only since contributed to the rise of political disillusionment — particularly in the UK. Socialist, capitalist, or centrist prescriptions for modern problems fail to take into account how much our world has been (and still is being) transformed by technology and interconnectivity.
Prof. John Kay’s 2004 essay on oblique goals questioned the notion of control and the conceit of those who believe that they can directly architect, direct and dictate change.
In the complex, dynamic, and networked world we live, the traditional political concept of control and ideology is irrelevant. Things cannot be understood well enough or remain stable long enough for a direct plan based on political ideology to work.
Tech firms have taken the lead in the drive for oblique goals, notably Google (Alphabet) with its values-driven culture and, for example, its Moonshot programme. This innovation by tech firms isn’t just in the field of new products and services. Business, management, society and the economy itself have all been impacted. Politics has remains unchanged, until now.
This is not to say that governments are no longer needed, they are — just not as we currently understand the term. Traditional left-right prescriptions for social and economic policy have become irrelevant and should be replaced by the pursuit of a clear values-driven vision, with oblique approaches. Achieving our goals indirectly, issue-by-issue, and applying practical solutions with support of the people.
The final clause of that sentence is crucial, and where my vision for a distributed government comes in. The internet, globalisation, social networks, and the blockchain offer an opportunity for a new kind of democracy. This neo-democracy, direct, or true democracy, as I see it, offers the opportunity for the redistribution of power away from the state and back to the people. In essence, direct democracy in the Athenian sense, the smashing of political hierarchy and emergence of distributed power.
The innovation behind the blockchain makes this a credible and realistic notion. Trends in social interconnectivity and networking offer the opportunity.
To some extent this involves increasing localism. As 3D printing, Artificial Intelligence and robotics take hold, and the “reshoring” of whole sectors of the economy take place, a reassessment is needed of what globalization means. Social rather than economic globalization will predominate. Many of the negative impacts of globalization are felt in distinct localities (in the UK, primarily those outside the South East of England or major cities). Localism offers an opportunity to augment globalization and make it work for people, but also to prepare for a world where goods are once again produced and consumed locally.
The rising discontent in the West cries out for something new. The only other model to emerge over the last 20 years is that of China’s authoritarian State Capitalism which, due to its perceived (albeit ill-judged) success, has become more and more appealing to developing countries.
If we don’t act to address the disillusionment of those who have lost out to economic globalization and the failures of the left-right model of political hierarchy, the very survival of our free and liberal society is at risk.
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A final word on globalization. The element I’ve deliberately missed out here is political globalization. And you might (correctly) imply from my call for localism that I don’t forsee a politically globalized world.
A world of global governance, or regional for that matter, will not win-out.
The European Union and its failures is case-in-point. The UK is due to vote on its EU membership on 23 June. If the people decide to leave (which I think they should), we will likely see the break-up of the EU entirely.
This is not a bad thing. It is a consequence of the trends dominating the global world. Sovereignty will return to the people. Europe will remain socially globalized, but not politically or economically.
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Future essays will consider the practicalities of distributed government and blockchain, the rise of Artificial Intelligence and robotics and their impact on the social and political landscape, as well as social interconnectivity, the internet of things, big data, the sharing economy, universal basic income, and 3D printing.