thenextwave

Globalisation, nations, and cities

Posted in aviation, brands, economics, politics by thenextwavefutures on 8 September, 2017

Maersk_Container_Ships_In_Loch_Striven_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1917442

With my Kantar Futures hat on I was asked to write a short piece for WPP’s house magazine, The Wire, on whether globalisation was over. Here’s the article. 

The long globalising wave of the later 20th century is over. Global trade is barely growing, compared to overall economic output. Cross-border bank lending is down, as are international capital flows. Hostility to migrants is one of the defining features of the present political moment. Everywhere, businesses, even transnational businesses, are thinking and acting less globally and more locally. National and regional champions are growing at the expense of multi-national competitors.

This should not be a surprise.

As Stein’s Law has it, something that can’t go on for ever won’t go on for ever. Globalisation created winners, but it also created losers. Twenty years ago Hirst and Thompson observed that the globalisation wave from 1870-1913—if anything more extensive than the more recent one—collapsed into nationalism after it had over-stretched itself. More than a decade ago, before the financial crisis, John Ralston Saul noted that globalisation was losing momentum and national ideas were reasserting themselves.

We have, in short, moved from the world of the 1990s in which credible politicians spoke only for those who supported globalisation, and the language of competitiveness and market reform that went with it, to a world where in many markets globalisation has no obvious advocates. One notable casualty, certainly in Europe, has been the parties of the social democratic left. Those which continued to talk the language of markets after the financial crisis have been outflanked and decimated.

But it is easy to see right-wing populist movements and think that this is the only political change that is happening. In fact that is just part of wider shift towards a place-based politics. The diagram, developed from some earlier work by Ian Christie, suggests that this politics of place still divides along the lines of “rights” versus “authority”, a traditional split since the French Revolution.

This, in turn, has implications for brands. Election results across a broad number of countries suggest that the markers of this left-right divide are younger vs older, better educated vs worse, and core cities vs towns and country. One of the paradoxes of the digital world is that just when it is possible to live and work anywhere, attachment to place has become stronger (opens pdf). If economics has produced a place-based political response, technology has produced an emotional response, in which values have re-surfaced.

And in a world which is more than 50% urbanised, the cities are where the money is. Part of the business response to the end of globalisation has to become more national. GE, for example, is focusing on regional centres in a response to protectionism. The head of the investment group, Blackrock, told staff earlier this year, “We need to be German in Germany, Japanese in Japan and Mexican in Mexico.”

But the other implication is more interesting. If cities are becoming centres of radicalism and diversity, and that’s where the money is, businesses have to follow. After a century in which business has been associated with conservative values, it is suddenly becoming imperative to be identified as progressive. This was seen, perhaps in extremis, in the way American corporations responded to the Muslim travel ban. And truth be told, many business leaders now hold beliefs that are closer to this more progressive, diverse, urban politics than to conservative populism.

The result: the purpose of business is suddenly central to reputation, among customers, suppliers, and staff. It is not surprising, therefore, that much of Kantar Futures‘ recent work has been about helping clients think through their brand and position in terms of developing a sharp and coherent view of brand purpose. This is a deep shift, driven by long-run fundamentals, that isn’t going to go away.

The image at the top of this post, of Maersk container ships parked up in Loch Striven, is by James T M Towill, and is published here under a Creative Commons licence.

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The new politics of place

Posted in economics, politics by thenextwavefutures on 20 April, 2017

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I’m delighted to say that I have the lead article in the latest issue of the Journal of Futures Studies, which published at the weekend.

It’s called “The City, the Country and the New Politics of Place.” It connects the rise of populist politics with the development of a smaller group of high value or core urban/metropolitan labour markets as a result of the rise of the tech-led services and knowledge economy foreshadowed by Alvin Toffler and Daniel Bell. I plan to write more on this, but for the moment here’s the abstract.

Much of the current discussion of the present populist moment in politics has explored issues of social values and economic inequality. In their different ways, these are relevant, but I argue here that they are symptoms of a wider set of changes in society. The prevailing political divisions identified in the Brexit referendum in the UK, the US 2016 Presidential election, and the Austrian 2016 presidential election, suggest a sharper divide between core cities and the rest than previously, which is creating a new politics of place. The roots of this lie in the economic transformations that have occurred as a result of the so-called ‘third wave’ of industrialisation, and the transition to economies based on services and knowledge.

However, these are transformations that are incomplete. The changing nature of work, reward, and consumption that the third wave has engendered is opening up new arguments about the purpose of work. Some of these arguments would have been regarded as utopian a generation ago, but are now entering mainstream discourse. The article also proposes a schematic to understand the political changes this is creating, following the work of Ian Christie, and identifies some implications for the short-term.

The article started life as a contribution to a Symposium on post-Trump politics, but got too long for that section. The Symposium is included in the same issue of the JFS, and includes articles from some distinguished futurists.  The contents list is here.

“The Country, the City and the New Politics of Place” can be downloaded from here.

Image from Death to Stock Photo.

Fighting over democracy

Posted in finance, politics by thenextwavefutures on 20 July, 2015
Dionysos_pediment_Parthenon_BM

Reclining Dionysos, from Parthenon east pediment,
ca. 5th century BCE
Published under a Creative Commons licence, CC BY 2.5

Post-crisis politics aren’t about right or left. They’re about the core versus the periphery

One of the problems of political science, and social science generally, is that it is hard to prove a hypothesis. A sceptic can always say that there were particular circumstances that affected the outcome. We only get to play our history once.

But the recent events in Brussels in which the ‘Institutions’ settled with Greece have, without any doubt, vindicated the work of the late political scientist Peter Mair. His book Ruling The Void, assembled after his sudden death by his lifelong friend and colleague Francis Mulhern, argued that we were watching a long secular decline in party political engagement, and secondly that our political institutions were being shaped so that they had the appearance of being democratic, but none of the structure. His critical case was the European Union; it looked as if had the right institutions in place, but it was not designed to permit opposition or the expression of representative democracy.

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Ten notes on the financial crisis (guest post)

Posted in blindspot, climate change, economics, finance, politics, sustainability by thenextwavefutures on 2 April, 2013

RobTheWorldOver at the excellent Global Dashboard, Alex Evans has a post reflecting on the things he and David Stevens called wrong (and less wrong), looking through their development and poverty lens, in the aftermath of the crisis. In a similar spirit, my sometime colleague Ian Christie sent me ‘Ten notes on the crisis’, representing his take on what we’d learnt about economics and politics since 2008. I thought they deserved a wider audience. And so, with his permission, I’m republishing his Ten Notes here. They start below the fold.

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