Disturbing the future: my ‘Five Books’ interview

Posted in books, future by thenextwavefutures on 28 June, 2015

WP_20150529_003 (1)The website Five Books has a simple proposition: it asks people to nominate five books on a subject and then it interviews them about their choices. Anyway, I was privileged to talk to Bea Wilford of Five Books about futures and futures books recently, and the interview has now appeared on the site.

The books I chose are in the picture:


Long waves and the innovation question

Posted in books, future, innovation, long waves by thenextwavefutures on 20 June, 2015
Image by Caroline Neld

Stephenson’s Rocket: an abundance of speed.
Image from Caroline’s Miscellany

In my last post summarising some of the key ideas in Joshua Goldstein’s book on long waves, I looked at the different schools and some of the evidence. In this one, I’m going to look at the model he constructs on the dynamics of a long wave, and its link to innovation. (Discussion of the war school(s) will follow in another post). But I also realise that I haven’t spent enough time on his work on whether long waves or long cycles exist at all. So I’m going to start there.

Collecting evidence

In Chapter 4, Goldstein brings together the long wave dates going back to 1485 from 33 different scholars (I added a 34th from a book published more recently). These are data sets that operate at different scales (e.g. national, regional or continental) with different data (e.g. prices, production) and with very differently levels of granularity. The full dataset included 55 series, as follows:

  • Prices: 28 series
  • Production: 10 series
  • Innovation and invention: 9 series
  • Capital investment: 2 series
  • Trade: 4 series
  • Real wages: 2 series

I’ve reassembled the dates he derives from these into a spreadsheet, which still needs some work to extract the dates as charts. But it does suggest that there is reasonable consistency between the dates of different scholars working in different schools, and that there are reasonable regular cycles of downswing and upswing.

Which isn’t to say that cycles are exactly the same length, or would need to be for the theory to hold. Goldstein quotes Kondratiev, who argued repetition is more important than periodicity.

The “regularity “of long waves should refer not to periodicity but to “the regularity of their repetition in time” and to the international synchrony of different economic series.


Utopias and six generations

Posted in future, visions by thenextwavefutures on 5 June, 2015

Source: Soho Theatre

Looking back six generations is a ‘utopian trick’. And looking back at the last six generations suggests that capitalism might have been a transition.

Danny Dorling has posted the audio of the talk he gave in Bristol recently on “Utopian tricks”, and it is worth a listen. It’s subtitled, “thinking ahead 100 years and back six generations,” and therefore links to a couple of my previous posts on here: on six (or seven) generations, and on looking forward a hundred years.

His argument is that utopia is a journey, not a destination. We tend to look forward a hundred years, as Keynes did in his famous “grandchildren” essay, which looked out from 1931 to 2031 (a date which Keynes’ critics sometimes overlook). It’s a shorthand, as Dorling said, for “after I am dead”. When we go back, we tend not to go further back than six generations, or two hundred years. Which reminded me of one of Paul Saffo’s rules of forecasting: look twice as far backwards as you look forwards.