Project 2030: A Radical Plan to Solve Global Challenges
Using distributed ledgers (blockchain) and other emerging peer-to-peer technologies
Our planet faces a systemic crisis — we’re already in overshoot — and our collective response is the same as the response to The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894: “It’s too complicated; let’s stay home.”
This systemic crisis is well understood in sustainability circles, and is slowly being recognised inside institutions and among policymakers. However, it remains heresy among mainstream economists, bankers and financiers. Unfortunately, their influence dominates policy debates and so we have seen little to no meaningful progress on staving off the end of humanity.
It is time to begin discussing the central issue — not symptoms — and begin debating alternatives and strategies to achieve a system that works for every human, animal and plant on earth. The fight to save our planet isn’t difficult. It’s just complex. But it is doable.
The problems of the 21st century will not be solved unless we change the entire system. The system is the problem; the system is broken. It hasn’t always been that way. Our governance and economic system served humanity well for over 250 years, but we are now witnessing an exhausted system taking its last gasping breaths. Time is running out, and many, many are starting to say so:
But what does it mean to change the system? And what would changing the system actually entail?
Dozens or even hundreds of bold initiatives are already tackling possible alternatives. Individual researchers and high-powered groups have begun to document — often in considerable detail — the outlines of comprehensive models of plausible alternative systems — see select examples below.
All sustainability and regeneration efforts are laudable, but lacking — and I say that with the utmost respect for the progress their efforts have produced in the urgently needed discourse. Despite their progress, there is a lack of tangible outcomes — in the form of a functioning society under a new model. Lack of progress is certainly not because of insufficient effort or misguided motivation. Rather:
The extent of — and reason for — resistance to workable societal alternatives is entirely misunderstood and underestimated by the sustainability movement.
I’ve studied deeply a great number of alternative societal models (and the sustainability movement in general). What I’ve noticed is that there are four recurring mental shackles unnecessarily limiting the potential impact of otherwise excellent frameworks and ideas:
- Systems Thinking: In most models, little evidence is demonstrated of the interconnectedness of all systems. The single biggest overlooked element is the impact fiat-based capitalism has on every society. Unless the way the global economy works is addressed, these models have little chance of long-term societal change. Many models also focus on a single country, most-often the US or UK. What we need is not a national plan but a global plan. We are all connected, irrespective of national boundaries.
- Cognitive Bias and Myside Bias: Systematic errors in thinking often affect the models proposed. In most cases this can be attributed to problems with attention. Since attention is a limited and manipulated resource, researchers have to be selective about what they pay attention to. Because of this, subtle biases can creep in and influence the way they see and think about the world. Academics view the world differently to scientists; environmentalists think differently to politicians; a first-world change-maker is far removed from on-the-ground third world challenges. It’s almost impossible to propose a new model without some form of bias creeping in.
- Transcendence: Almost all models (and the whole sustainability movement in general) have a desire to “fix” something about society. They go into great detail explaining what’s wrong with civilisation, and then crumble or stall when they try to map how we get from where we are to where we need to be. I’ve yet to find a model that starts with a clean slate and reimagines society from the ground up, free of the limitations of existing social contracts. Doing this is — admittedly — hard work, but it’s an effort urgently required, now more than ever.
- Awareness of Emerging Technologies: Most people are at least somewhat aware of the exponential advances in automation, Artificial Intelligence and big data. However, very few models build their solutions on already available and rapidly advancing technologies. Policymakers mostly have no clue of emerging technologies. This lack of technological awareness leads to the same outcome as The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894, where policy makers gave up on finding a solution to a global problem. Within 14 years however, the seemingly insurmountable manure problem had been eliminated — not by policy makers, but by Henry Ford and his emerging technology. Most “new society” models today could be significantly improved if the overarching solution embraced a blockchain-based economy, governance and structure. Our technology is racing forward at an exponential pace, yet our social designs and contracts are hundreds of years old. It’s time to imagineer new social contracts that take advantage of the latest developments in technology.
What’s a Viable Alternative?
If so little progress has been made, how do we solve our planet’s grand challenges?
I propose leapfrogging.
Uber didn’t set out to fix the taxi industry; AirBnB isn’t trying to fix the tourist accommodation industry; Google and Facebook created entirely new platforms that didn’t fix anything. Many developing nations leapfrogged the building of fixed telephony networks by going straight to mobile. Similarly, we shouldn’t concern ourselves with fixing a social contract that no longer serves humanity — we should simply leapfrog. Just as Uber and AirBnB exist alongside the industries they disrupted, there’s no reason why an entirely new social contract can’t exist alongside what we have now.
A leapfrog sustainability approach could be the ultimate test of Darwin’s often-misconstrued statement:
“In the struggle for survival, [those who fit best into their constantly-changing environment] win out at the expense of their rivals.” — Charles Darwin
Commuters decide whether they prefer Uber or yellow cabs; travellers decide whether they prefer hotel chains or AirBnB. Humans should be permitted to decide whether they prefer the social contract the world has now or an entirely new social contract that benefits the many rather than the few.
How Would Leapfrogging Today’s System Work?
I propose that — for the purposes of a new social contract — we classify the planet’s 7.5 billion inhabitants into 3 groups:
- Players: Those who are actively engaged in the current game. Let’s call it The Scarcity Game, because all the players compete with each other for more of the planet’s dwindling resources. Those who accumulate the most are said to be successful. There are approximately 1 billion players, identified by either a tax number or a credit score above 630.
- Spectators: Those who are passengers on our planet, but not engaged in The Scarcity Game. There are approximately 6 billion spectators — those who do not have either a tax number, national identity or credit score above 630.
- Sideliners: Those who are currently playing The Scarcity Game, but are either not playing to their full capacity — because of plummeting employment opportunities — or because they have lost faith in the game. Estimates of the number of sideliners vary widely, but let’s peg this number at 500 million.
We then set to work — urgently — on designing a new social contract for the 6.5 billion spectators and sideliners — let’s call it The Abundance Game. The aim is to transcend — not fix — the current social contract.
Starting with a clean slate, without trying to fix anything, would liberate us from the daunting task of getting buy-in from stakeholders who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (and there are many of them).
What Might a New System Look Like?
Since I am an unapologetic philosophical technologist (with all of the cognitive bias that brings to the table), I propose that this new system be entirely data-driven. This is the defining differentiator from our current system, which relies on the fallible and corruptible opinions of middlemen like lawyers, economists, bankers, doctors, presidents and priests. In evolutionary terms, we build technological feedback mechanisms into society itself.
All of the models I’ve researched thus far lack this feedback loop. Human behaviourists agree that feedback loops play a critical role in what we do. From biofeedback to the quantified self, designers and psychologists alike are discovering the real power that these cyclical interactions play in shaping humanity’s day-to-day choices. The feedback loop in the current social contract is money: it’s the only method by which progress is measured. We need a feedback loop that encourages sustainable and regenerative living. As radical as it sounds, we must remove money from a new social contract if we are to succeed (and it is doable).
In it’s simplest terms, I envision a collective of all the best sustainability and regeneration ideas glued together and running on the blockchain, without middlemen and where the players themselves tweak and tune the system as part of their daily lives. The system includes core economic institutions, a governance structure, lifelong learning systems, a medical system based on wellness instead of disease, cultural richness and purposeful value creation. Unlike other models, this system doesn’t include transition pathways, because the system is built from the ground up on a clean slate. Transition maps are replaced with an interface between the existing system and the new system. In tech-speak, this system will completely gamify the delivery and distribution of money, by replacing money with a rewards system that incentivises right behaviour.
What Would Life be Like Under a New Social Contract?
Postcards from 2035 is a collection of imaginative depictions of what everyday life could look like under a new social contract, written in easy-to-understand language for the person in the street. I freely admit that many of the details in Postcards may be wrong, and yet I think that tabling them (and critiquing them in a global conversation) can help understand what’s really happening in our world today, and where we’re headed to tomorrow. The purpose of these depictions is not to accurately predict the future, but to get the conversation started, urgently.
At a minimum, I propose this new social contract should include the following:
- A planetary digital self-sovereign identity: a method of recording everything about each citizen — the core and essence of a new social contract. The profile is private and owned by the individual — since there are no middlemen. The profile provides useful feedback on every aspect of each person’s life. I’ve proposed a Whole Person Index and discussed the idea more technically under the banner of Personal Data Exchanges. The Decentralized Identity Foundation is well on their way to shaping such a platform.
- Decentralised, societal big data: an ever-growing mass of data generated by people and objects tracking the holistic health of every individual and their surroundings. I’ve proposed the Internet of Everything and BigchainDB is building a massive decentralised data storage platform that looks, acts and feels like a database, but with added blockchain characteristics.
- The Arts: one of the most important aspects of this new society because an appreciation of art stimulates right-brain thinking, which is important for developing future-fit skills like empathy and systems thinking. This new social contract supports the shift from STEM to STEAM.
- The Sciences: based less on reductionist thinking and more on holism. Far more open to embracing the unknown and more accepting of fields like noetic science and the advancement of consciousness.
- Religions: a new set of cultural beliefs and stories about the civilisation with a matriarchal, nurturing bent. Many of society’s biggest issues today (discrimination, wealth disparity and competition) are initiated and supported by hierarchical, command and control, patriarchal religions.
- Educational Systems: supporting personalised life-long learning built around the concept of meaningful disturbances. Education, not climate change is the most urgent and pressing issue, because we need entirely different leadership skills for the future, and we need to start now. As education reformers have found, affecting meaningful change is challenging. What’s needed is a methodology that is both supportive of current education systems as well as transformative. The methodology that appears most capable is SOLE: Self Organised Learning Environments, because it can be introduced without changes in policy and — importantly — it teaches self-learning, which no education system does (by design).
- Healthcare: based more on prediction, prevention and wellness rather than disease and cure. Includes nanotechnology and Artificial Intelligence to replace middlemen like pharmaceutical companies and doctors.
- Media: based more around the sharing and exploring of ideas than reporting on events.
- Business: a society based on purpose rather than profit, where each individual is rewarded for their regenerative contribution. There are no jobs, so there is no unemployment. Contribution is tracked by way of an Abundance Score (similar to a credit score in the capitalist system).
- Economy: this society has broken away from the idea of the wealth and resources of a region in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services. Instead we’ve designed a system that rewards right behaviour.
- Governance: a society with truly participatory democracy and no elected officials. Government has been replaced with governance systems, and every citizen has equal say in the governance laws, contained and enforced in a decentralised smart contract running on the blockchain.
How Does a New Social Contract Rapidly Solve the 17 SDG’s and the WEF’s 30 Global Risks?
- Each individual SDG and Global Risk is merely a symptom of a much larger systemic breakdown. Neither the UN nor the WEF acknowledge or even mention the system, globalisation, large corporations or state capture;
- Infinite growth as defined by the UN (population and economic) is entirely at odds with infinite resource extraction from a finite supply. The issue of development and GDP growth isn’t questioned, when it is obvious to any thinking individual that infinite growth on a planet of finite resources has to end badly;
- The SDG’s and Global Risks pander to the interests of big business and fail to address how poverty is created. The goals and risks assume that poverty should be expected and managed, but cannot go away. Both the UN and WEF fail to acknowledge that eradicating poverty will cause the entire global fiat monetary system to collapse. The underlying assumption is that poverty should never be eradicated, because poverty supports the current system.
Cognitive bias has caused well-meaning individuals to direct all of their energy towards curing essentially meaningless symptoms, while ignoring the underlying cause.
The UN is treating a global terminal disease with placebos.
The UN and WEF cannot effectively and conclusively solve the SDG’s or Global Risks because doing so will affect the status quo of the world’s wealthy. The language, framing and approach of the SDG’s implies that the UN’s mandate is to uphold economic growth above human well-being. As a result, it is up to us to solve the SDG’s and Global Risks. To do so requires a new social contract — there simply is no other way.
This is how a new social contract will address each SDG.
- Goal 1: End poverty. Poverty cannot be ended in a fiat-based capitalist economy, and so we propose an entirely new economic model in which the “currency” incentivises right behaviour. We propose a Universal Abundance Income and replacing the credit score with an abundance score.
- Goal 2: Achieve food security. This goal cannot be achieved in a system where food production and distribution is controlled by a handful of large corporations. We propose localism and bioregionalism.
- Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives. What it means to be healthy should not be dictated by a global pharmaceutical industry and medical system. We propose that nanotechnology combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning replaces both the medical and pharmaceutical industries, where individuals become more informed about their health and can take more accountability for prevention rather than cure.
- Goal 4: Ensure quality education. The current education system globally achieves one thing only: conformity to the current social contract. We propose personalised life-long learning, where educators play the role of facilitator, guide and life coach, rather than teacher. Our schooling system urgently needs to start developing future-fit skills, including sense-making, adaptive thinking and cross-cultural competency.
- Goal 5: Achieve gender equality. The current social contract promotes structural and institutional discrimination against women and people of colour, by design. The system must keep us divided against each other, or we will unite as one to change the system. We propose making the Whole Person Index the only scale by which we measure ourselves.
- Goal 6: Water, Goal 13: Climate Change, Goal 14: Oceans, Goal 15: Biodiversity. All of these goals are predictable outcomes of an extractive social contract that doesn’t serve the planet. We propose that under a new social contract these goals are naturally achieved by incentivising right behaviour. We propose the Abundance Score to influence right behaviour.
- Goal 7: Ensure access to energy. Under the existing social contract energy is provided by treating nature as a commodity and reducing the planet and its contents to a material input for industrial processes and profit to those who control the supply. We propose the development of free energy technologies.
- Goal 8: Promote economic growth. Continuous economic growth makes absolutely no sense on a planet with finite resources, even when planetary mining is considered. We propose promoting holistic growth, where progress and development is redefined to focus on development in all facets of life rather than only the economy. We propose ecological, circular, regenerative economies and growth measured by the Whole Person Index.
- Goal 9: Promote industrialisation and employment. The current social contract is a modern day slavery system where the masses work for those who extract value from natural and human resources. We propose the end of employment, worker ownership, robotics and self-management to ensure a far higher level of free time.
- Goal 10: Reduce inequality among countries, Goal 17: Global partnerships. The concept of national sovereignty in the current social contract is a fatal design flaw in systems thinking because it fails to acknowledge that we are all connected despite national borders. We propose treating each human as a Global Citizen.
- Goal 11: Make cities livable. The concept of cities supports the current social contract, whereby jobs keep the economy going. Since we have designed a reward system that makes employment obsolete, the need to commute to a city is not as great. We propose anywhere living.
- Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production. Consumption and production under the current social contract benefits and profits large corporations. We propose community-based ownership solutions and cooperatives, with a focus on minimalism.
- Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies. Many of society’s ills are caused by widening gaps between the have’s and the have not’s. Since we have addressed inequality in the way we eradicated poverty, this is a much smaller problem to tackle. In order to ensure inequality doesn’t occur, we propose participatory economic planning and reinvigorated social democracy using smart contracts on the blockchain.
The planet’s biggest challenges cannot be solved while operating under the current social contract. Rather than fixing the system, it is possible and highly preferable that we leapfrog neoliberalism and design, from the ground up, an entirely new social contract.
My Pledge to Humanity
I absolutely, positively, decisively and consciously commit to work with the brightest and most caring, holistic minds on the planet. Together we will produce and implement a transcendent social contract, supported by emerging technology, that benefits the 6.5 billion currently disenfranchised humans, as well as all animals and plants on this earth. The vision is crystal-clear and entirely doable, with the right team.
- Phase 0: Ideation and Documentation — currently underway and due for completion by December 2017.
- Phase 1: Building Awareness and Assembling the Team — 2018
- Phase 2a: Preparing Leaders — 2018 to 2030 — the period during which we will address education systems to develop the leadership skills required.
- Phase 2b: Open-Sourcing Society — 2019 to 2022
- Phase 3: Rollout — 2022 to 2030
If you’re in a position to assist in any way with the first phase of a seriously disruptive project and feel resonance with what you’ve read, I hope you’ll reach out or dive in.
Cape Town, South Africa
Exactly a year after this essay was published, I published this update:
The real-world game with real-world outcomesmedium.com
Want Occasional Updates?
Big Questions to Explore
- Where do poverty and inequality come from?
- What is the role of colonialism in the early stages of Western development?
- Why must the sole measure of progress be economic growth? Who benefits from growth?
- Could money become obsolete?
- How can a viable economy be built using big data as the underlying natural resource?
- Can a new society be built on the positive aspects of surveillance capitalism?
- Which countries/societies are ripe for leapfrogging fiat-based capitalism?
- Which countries would most easily exit neoliberalism?
- Can the same location scouting process that Bridge International Academies use to decide where to build schools be used to decide where to build the world’s first circular city?
- How would one ensure the building of a circular city with a new social contract wouldn’t be forcibly halted?
- What interface is required between two different social contracts i.e. how would one purchase goods or services without a fiat currency?
- How do meaningful disturbances support the evolution of a society as a whole as well as individuals?
- What would a “marketing” campaign to UBI recipients to encourage them to contribute to the project look like?
Ethical Individuals Working for a Brighter Future
An incomplete, in-progress, unordered list. There are many, many others. If I’ve missed a notable initiative/individual, please let me know.
David Schweickart, Juliet Schor, Richard Wolff, David Korten, Michael Albert, Marta Harnecker, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Robin Hahnel, Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Erik Olin Wright, Herman Daly, Joe Guinan, Pat Devine, Tim Jackson, Richard Heinberg, Joan Martinez-Alier, Richard Douthwaite, Andrew Cumbers, Stephanie Mills, Kirkpatrick Sale, Gus Speth, Fritjof Capra, Marjorie Kelly, Elinor Ostrom, J. Phillip Thompson, Anuradha Mittal, Daniel Ellsberg, Danny Glover, Angela Glover Blackwell, Sushil Jacob, Noel Ortega, Camille Kerr, Norman Solomon, Saskia Sassen, Roberto Lovato, John Tirman, Medea Benjamin, Dayna Cunningham, Muhammad Yunus, Dylan Ratigan, Lorenzo Fioramonti, Rupert Sheldrake, Joe Brewer, Daniel Christian Wahl, Richard D. Bartlett, Diane Coyle, Julia Unwin, John Elkington, Paul Mason, Adam Lent, Bill McKibben, Dan Ariely, Margaret E. Atwood, Andy Revkin, Don Tapscott, Gar Alperovitz, Neil Wilson, Jennifer Heflin, Sarita Gupta, Aaron Tanaka, Aaron Hurst, Michael Townsend, Nafeez Ahmed.
From a technological perspective, thinkers who explore aspects of how new technologies shape and mediate society and lived experience include Sherry Turkle, Marshall McLuhan, Jaron Lanier, Natalie Smolenski and danah boyd.
Ethical Groups Working for a Brighter Future
The Next System, Tellus Institute, Institute for Policy Studies, Social Science Research Institute, Club of Rome, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, The Pluralist Commonwealth, The Earth Charter Initiative, Regenesis Group, Earth Intelligence Network, Evolution Institute, Blockchain Futures Lab, Slow Money Institute, Global Alliance for Banking on Values, Integrative Design Collaborative, International Living Future Institute, STEM to STEAM, The Venus Project, New Economy Coalition, Work That Reconnects, World Social Forum, Tomorrow Makers, The Solutions Project, Global Justice Movement, The Simpler Way, Transition Network, Insurge Intelligence, Simplicity Institute, Cultural Evolution Society, Millennium Project, Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation, Barrett Values Centre, Indivisible, Sea Shepherd, Scientific & Medical Network, Institute of Noetic Science, New Economics Foundation, Singularity University, Co-operatives UK, Grist, Schumacher Institute, The Climate Group, 350.org, made2bmadeagain, 10:10, Climate Desk, Worldwatch Institute, The Institute for New Economic Thinking, Open Society Foundations, Capital Institute, EconomicSecProj, Forum for the Future, PolicyLink, B Lab, Slow Food USA, Imperative, Futures Centre.
Names of New Economic Models
The sharing economy, the caring economy, the civic provisioning economy, the restorative economy, the regenerative economy, the sustaining economy, the collaborative economy, the solidarity economy, the gift economy, the resilient economy, the steady state economy, the new economy, the wellbeing economy, Modern Monetary Theory.
Postcards from 2035 is a series of profoundly simple interlinking ideas describing life in a highly desirable society, where everything and everyone is advanced, happy, intelligent and problem-free. It’s a blueprint of the world we need to create. The best thing you can do to help us get there is to share with your friends and get the conversation started with the questions this postcard has raised.