One of the most tiresome tropes on the futures circuit is the idea that the world is speeding up, often accompanied by a dodgy video with dodgier data. It’s one of those things that almost every generation in history has believed, along with the notions that young people are less respectful than they used to be and that society is going to the dogs. It also helps to sell books and consultancy projects. And broadly speaking, it is just plain wrong. To borrow Sohail Inayatullah’s terminology, it is a “used future”, borrowed from someone else.
Tesco is due to announce the result of its investigation into its accounting scandal along with its half-yearly results on Thursday, and the Telegraph got first wind of Tesco’s report into its accounting “irregularities” a few days ahead of publication. The ever-diligent Ian Fraser was quick off the mark on Twitter:
And when I retweeted this, Jamie Saunders, who runs futuresedge in his spare time (“this isn’t my job, it’s a hobby”, as Clara said recently on Dr. Who), sent me an interesting question as to whether this was actually about an absence of checks and balances. But actually, it’s worse than that.
Whatever happened to the Conservative party? Not this week, but over the last twenty years? Geoffrey Wheatcroft asked this question in the Guardian this week, and it is a good one. Actually, he asked it a bit more forcefully than that:
Has what was the most successful political party in modern European history succumbed to some strange death wish, determined to tear itself to pieces and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?
By “successful,” he means that between 1886 and 1997 – 111 years – the Conservatives were in power in the UK for 79 of them, either alone or occasionally in coalition. Now, though, said Wheatcroft, it looked “like a fractious rabble”.
American sports commentators have a saying, that “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” It’s a Wagnerian opera reference, apparently, but the meaning is obvious: this game is going right to the end. On the day after the Referendum in Scotland it was easy to think it was over – especially for disconsolate ‘Yes’ voters, and flag-waving (and Nazi-saluting) Scottish ‘loyalists.’ But there are good reasons to think that the Referendum itself is only half-time in this particular game. I know that it’s probably not a good idea to mix metaphors about sport and politics, but this particular game has a long way to go. Here’s seven quick notes on why, below the fold.
PFI, outsourcing, and privatisation have all been strategies to shift money from the public sector and the taxpayer to the financial sector. But they are now running up against political limits.
I think we’ve got to the point where we have to name British politics for what it has become: a wholesale looting of the state and the public, with the complicity of the political class, to reward the financial sector. I’ve tried all of the other explanations, and none of them work better. It is the only explanation that fits the facts. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but what finally triggered me to write was a relatively minor tweet from the Cabinet Office:
While it’s sensible to make sure that public assets aren’t standing idle, the Property Finder is related to the Government’s “Right to Contest”, explained this way in a story in The Guardian:
Under a right to contest introduced in January, anyone can force the government to explain why a building or plot is not being used fully. If the department that owns it cannot justify its current use, it will be forced to release it for sale.
Hashtag GovSavings. It will be forced to release it for sale. And in turn this made me wonder if I could identify a single decision made by George Osborne or the Coalition that didn’t benefit the financial classes – and the 1% – rather than the rest of us. I came up with one, the raising of the minimum wage, where the Chancellor was outmanouevred by Ed Miliband. (In case you’re wondering about the raising of the income tax threshold to £10,000, just no.)
It is the week of clearing, when silly-season news is briefly full of stories of would-be university students who didn’t get the grades they needed for their offered places scrambling to get a place somewhere else. Looking at it close-up, the only credible conclusion, now that university education is so expensive, is that the system is designed to benefit the universities far more than the students.
In turn, this represents a whole privileging of the universities and their trade associations, that also promotes the wholesale financialisation of the higher education system. Which is odd, because the previous non-financialised system delivered world-class outcomes at less than world-class costs, and there’s little guarantee that that the financialised system will do the same. Indeed, the evidence so far is that giving universities too much financial autonomy turns them into rogue institutions, if the record of London University is anything to go by, here, here, and here.
Over at The Futures Company blog I have a short post on Tesco’s problems, prompted by the abrupt dismissal of its Chief Executive Philip Clarke in the face of the continuing pressure on the company’s market share and profitability.
For non-British readers,Tesco is (still) Britain’s largest supermarket, but having been utterly dominant in the 1990s, has been struggling for much of the past decade.
The first thing I said in the post was that the food market had become more complex since the financial crisis, and Tesco hadn’t been able to follow. This normally translates into a story about being “assailed by discounters”, but the discount proposition isn’t just about price. People who advise Tesco to turn its attention to fighting with discounters on price show they don’t really understand how the market has changed.
The start of the Tour de France seems a good moment to write a post on management technique from one of the influential moments in last year’s Tour. It’s been in my mind since I read David Walsh’s book Inside Team Sky. The moment is during the rest day, after the Sky team had disintegrated on the Stage 9 to Bagneres de Bigorre. The passage in the book, about the Team Sky manager David Brailsford, says a lot about his management style. (more…)
“The most annoying thing about most of the commentary on the European elections is that it is dominated (as usual) by people who are only interested in elections, and entirely uninterested in what is actually going on”, John Naughton observed in an excellent post this week. Actually, that splits into two, reinforcing problems. Politicians are too interested in people who vote, and not those who don’t, and the media is too interested in events, and not sufficiently interested in causes. As a result, you get lots of heat and precious little light.
And it’s pretty clear that what we saw last week was one of the continuing shock waves rolling out from the financial crisis, a crisis that almost certainly has another decade or so to go.
Regular readers of the next wave will know that I am a fan of the work of the economic and technology historian Carlota Perez, who developed a model that explains the processes by which new technology platforms first emerge, then become dominant, and then become superseded. There have been five of these “technology surges” since 1771; the present ICT surge is the fifth.
Her model is a historical one. This isn’t a complaint: she is a historian, and she did the analysis of the historical data to propose the pattern she describes in her book. But when I was asked to contribute to an Association of Professional Futurists workshop that used the Three Horizons method to explore candidates for the Sixth surge, I wondered if it was possible to identify future-facing characteristics in her model.