Maybe I am over-reacting but the second half of 2014 seemed to mark a growing boldness on the part of the politically ignorant to speak openly. And a growing willingness on the part of others to listen to them. It’s only a recent trend but such trends, in my view, should be strangled at birth. So here’s my contribution to the throttling.
Three examples over the last few weeks seem to stand out. Read more
I doubt many members of the Vatican bureaucracy will agree right now but the Catholic Church should count itself lucky that it is led by a man with the intelligence and courage to openly admit the failings of his organisation. Having settled down to what they expected to be a cosy bout of Christmas well-wishing from the Pope, the Church officials found themselves subjected to a forensic account of their misdemeanours which numbered no less than fifteen according to the pontiff. Clearly frustrated by the inability of the Curia to reform itself, the Pope has, with remarkable courage, staked his and the Church’s credibility on the prospect that by publicly calling out the mess in the Vatican, the impulse to genuine reform will be irresistible.
Notably, Francis was clear in his speech that the failings he identified could be applied to all Church bodies and not just the Curia. But his fifteen organisational “diseases” could well stand as a check list of failure across any number of secular organisations. There is particular resonance, however, with contemporary politics. Read more
This post first appeared as an article in City AM – the London business paper – on Tuesday, 16th December 2014.
OUR WORLD is full of third parties – the people and organisations that regulate and manage our interactions. The financial world is particularly replete: conduct authorities, prudential bodies, central banks. Even commercial financial institutions themselves often operate as little more than giant third parties, co-ordinating the connections between millions of lenders and borrowers.
However, a new early stage technology could render the conventional third party obsolete and ineffectual, exacerbating the many challenges that now exist to the power of governments and corporations. Read more
The 21st C organisation will be small, decentralised and flat. The very opposite of the 20th C organisations that still cling on to power.
Maybe we will look back and see this as one of history’s great coincidences: Henry Ford’s first Model T was manufactured in October 1908; exactly one-hundred years later Bitcoin was launched in October 2008. What’s the coincidence, you may ask.
The Model T paved the way for mass production which underpinned the creation of the vast, centralised and hierarchical corporations that came to dominate the advanced economies. It was an organisational structure which also encouraged politicians to take the same approach to the state with the establishment of large, centralised bureaucracies designed to deliver healthcare, education, social security and a wide range of other services.
Bitcoin is an early and very important embodiment of a counter-trend towards a smaller, decentralised and flatter world which may well be the defining feature of this century just as concentration of power and resource was the defining feature of the last.
The counter-trend emerges in a number of forms. Read more
WHEN the clowns start talking politics, alarm bells should be ringing not just about the state of our democracy but also the prospects for our economy.
Russell Brand’s interventions may have faced ridicule, but it is worth reflecting on why such a blatant attention-seeker should be capturing the popular mood. After all, Brand’s book Revolution sold over 20,000 copies within ten days of its launch. His Newsnight interview has been viewed on YouTube almost 11m times. Read more
I have just read Bitcoin: The Future of Money by Dominic Frisby published by Unbound. I read it in one sitting. It is a fantastic read and fascinating book.
Dominic makes a compelling case that Bitcoin, or more likely one of its cryptocurrency cousins, spells the end for big government.
He makes the point that the huge expansion of the state in the last century was funded through taxation, borrowing or printing of money. All of these things are much harder to do if a government does not issue and control its own currency. This is why cryptocurrencies are such a threat to the big state. They are issued not by governments or central banks but by computer code and the activities of a decentralised network of individuals and organisations.
But what made me really sit up was the discussion towards the end of the book about an initiative called Ethereum. It is slightly mind-boggling but, in essence, Ethereum is taking the highly secure, highly private and highly decentralised technology of Bitcoin and using it to enable a wide range of other activities on the web not just the production and use of currency. This could include the establishment of business partnerships, social networks, new apps and various other web platforms.
Bitcoin has proved that so-called Distributed Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) can work and work very well using a technology called ‘block chain transactions‘. A DAO is simply a body or network with a certain goal that is driven by mutually agreed partnerships between the individuals in that organisation rather than by the plans of a select group of owners or managers at the top of the body.
This suggests that Bitcoin, or at least the technology behind it, could challenge not just the role of big government but also the hold that the large corporation has over the economy including the new internet behemoths such as Facebook, YouTube and Google.
We may genuinely be entering a new era in which our top down, big, rigid organisations built around high concentrations of power and wealth are challenged by a whole new species of flatter, smaller, fluid organisations in which power and wealth are distributed more evenly or, at least, in which established distributions are more ephemeral and easily challenged.
As Dominic says in the book, the Bitcoin phenomenon is about much, much more than Bitcoin. It seems to me it may also be an acceleration of the shift to smaller, flatter organisations that release mass creativity.
These themes amongst others will be explored in my book, Small is Powerful: Why the era of big government, big business and big culture is over (and why it’s a good thing). I’m crowd-funding for the book, so you can pre-order and help make sure it gets published here.
I’m on Twitter here.
Deep political alienation is a breeding ground for extremism and populism. Research released today by YouGov and Southampton University proves the point.
The work has two key findings. Firstly, contrary to the opinion of some supposedly wise old political hands, people genuinely are much more alienated from politics today than they once were. Over the last seventy years, the proportion of the population thinking politicians put their country above their own interests and those of their party has fallen from 36% to just 10%.
The other finding is that these declining levels of trust are driving support for UKIP. Those voting for Nigel Farage’s party are much more likely to believe politicians only look after themselves (74% for UKIP voters compared to 48% for the wider electorate). In fact, the research showed that holding such a view is as good a predictor of a voter backing UKIP as the social characteristics associated with UKIP supporters: male, older and working class.
As the researchers conclude:
Arguably political disaffection unifies UKIP supporters at least as much as either opposition to the EU or concern about immigration … UKIP voters are not necessarily the ‘left behind’, but are people holding unambiguously and intensely negative views of politics and politicians.
One of the perennial objections to greater devolution of power away from the central state and down to cities and regions is the claim that it will damage equality. A classic of the genre was recently penned by The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee who wrote:
The logic of localism risks leading in the end to less national identity and less fair distribution of wealth. Good politics will revive if strong ideas hold the imagination, keeping enough people together with common goals.
This is a version of what I described in a recent post as “big equality”. This is the notion, which gained a firm grip in the twentieth century, that the best route to equality was for a powerful state to equalise incomes by redistributing the proceeds of the wealth and assets owned by the better off. It is fundamentally a remedial and conservative approach to achieving a more equal society. It takes as a given that current inequalities of wealth and economic power are very difficult or impossible to change and so the only route is to take some money from the well-off and hand it on to the less well-off. Read more
Britain is in the early stages of a crisis of democracy. Westminster has been shielded from the full consequences of voter disaffection by the fact that the anger has remained unfocused and unorganised for many years. But this is changing. The independence referendum and now a resurgent SNP is giving voice to anti-Westminster feeling in Scotland. In England, it is finding its voice through UKIP.
A survey conducted last year by YouGov and Southampton University makes clear the scale of the disaffection. Almost 2,000 respondents were asked whether they agreed with the following statement: ‘politics is dominated by self-seeking politicians protecting the interests of the already rich and powerful in our society’. 72% agreed and and 8% disagreed. The largest proportion strongly agreed at 42%.
It is worth digesting that slowly: almost half of Britain’s citizens believe strongly that politics in their country does not serve their interests but those of a powerful political and economic class.
The main parties have great difficulty responding to such sentiments for two reasons. Read more
The Umbrella Revolution must succeed: it is about far more even than the future of Hong Kong and China.
[The themes in this post will be explored in my book, Small is Powerful: Why the era of big government, big business and big culture is over (and why it’s a good thing). I’m crowd-funding for the book, so you can pre-order and help make sure it gets published here.]
China is a grim relic of the Twentieth Century. The Chinese revolution happened in 1949 – a time when the love of the big state, big corporation and big, conformist culture was at its peak both in West and East. China, as a result, is big not just in land mass and population but in its profound attachment to big power.
Modern China was founded in an era when it was widely assumed that big was more efficient, more stable and more fair. Of course the Communist countries took this claim to absurd extremes but the belief that a better world could be created if only well-educated bureaucrats and technicians could seize control of vast resources and shape behaviour was at its height across the world. It is hard to believe now but many in the West genuinely feared that Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China would ultimately outstrip the democracies precisely because their bureaucrats and technicians were so all-powerful with few limits on their capacity to shape populations and plan economies. Read more