Old global certainties and structures are collapsing, as the recent US election and Brexit vote have vividly demonstrated. A new international order is emerging. As Mikhail Fridman puts it in his opening contribution to the journal,“We are entering a disruptive era driven by extraordinary levels of human creativity,” an Indigo Era of rapid economic change that is generating winners and losers. He writes that “volatility in politics and markets is a sign of a major tectonic shift”. As he says, something strange is happening to our world.
This journal examines this economic shift through the eyes of leading commentators and business people around the world. It draws on their own perspectives and in their own words explores the nature of the change and its implications for countries, businesses and individuals.
Based on these views, from a wide range of disciplines economists, historians, politicians, entrepreneurs and educationalists – a narrative emerges of our world standing at a fateful crossroads of two difficult economically disruptive roads: one path leads to a prosperous, creativity driven, connected globe with rising living standards (a “New Renaissance,” as Ian Goldin puts it), and the other path leads to a world in which the forces of reaction and fear precipitate a spiral towards a new Dark Age.
As Stan Greenberg says, “The elites are comfortable with globalisation and migration, and aren’t thinking about what this means for the average person.” We’ve seen how Trump’s vote was boosted by those hungry for radical change. As Dominic Barton says, “The next fifteen to twenty years are going to be some of the most exciting and disruptive in human history, and one of the biggest drivers of that is the technological shifts that are under way.”
The key change taking place, according to Deirdre McCloskey, is that we are entering a digital era in which human capital is the most significant resource any country or company can enjoy. Asked what advice she would give to someone at school today, Professor McCloskey is clear. “Learn how to think. Stop reading The New York Times, get off the internet, and start reading serious books.”
Others agree about human capital, but fear that education systems are not teaching the skills required. Michael Bloomberg would emphasise vocational training, Ken Robinson, creativity, Tanyella Evans is working to democratise knowledge, Vince Cable quotes a slogan on the wall of a schoolin Germany, ‘Wissen ist begrenzt, kreativitat ist unbegrenzt’ (knowledge is finite, creativity is infinite), and Yuri Milner would emphasise, “curiosity driven breakthroughs in fundamental science.”
Other contributors emphasise the role played by digital technology and the internet: Parag Khanna argues that if the “world population has a common goal, it is the quest for modernisation and connectivity.” Which is why Alex Klein believes that “giving the next generation access to computer science education is fast becoming a basic human right and not just a luxury.” There is optimism from Carl Bildt, who points out that Afghanistan and Somalia are now two of the most connected nations on the planet, but others like Lynda Gratton warn of the“hollowing out of work,” as technology disrupts industries and destroys middle and lower skilled jobs.
This new era is creating heroes of a new generation of entrepreneurs. Brent Hoberman believes that this will benefit the societies in which they thrive. Research conducted for this journal looks at nations around the world, and identifies those that, based on over 30 measures from a wide range of public data sources, are best placed to benefit from the new ‘Indigo’ economic order.
Many of those writing in this journal are concerned with how to deal with those left behind because, as Ian Goldin points out, the original Renaissance was nearly derailed by populists like Savonarola. David Lipton is concerned that just at the moment that the world needs greater interconnectedness and cooperation, creative destruction is building a new alliance which threatens to undermine our future. George Freeman agrees that the challenge in post-Brexit Britain is to create an economy that works for everyone, or as Michael Bloomberg puts it, to support those who feel powerless, who see “the market’s invisible hand” as a clenched fist.
But there are different views about how to achieve this. Deirdre McCloskey wants governments to step back, Carl Bildt feels they must lean in, Dominic Barton warns that global institutions are nowhere near ready for the challenge ahead. Several contributors agree that dealing with redundant workers is critical; Dominic Barton would support a 5 per cent Labour Dislocation Challenge (money put into a fund to retrain people whose jobs are going to disappear), Ian Goldin agrees that we need more social welfare support, and Lynda Gratton argues that if we are now living to 100 we will have to return to education to reskill at different times in our lives.
One significant aspect of the challenge is migration from countries impacted by economic change. Parag Khanna argues that “there is no higher morality than allowing people to move to wherever they want to,” but while Ian Goldin believes “absolutely fervently” in the economic benefit of migration to ageing populations, he and many others know that they must go out and win these arguments.
The future, writes Parag Khanna, “always comes faster than we expect.” It is clear from this journal that the human race could be on the brink of an extraordinary leap forward, but as Yuri Milner says, “it’s far from unstoppable.” We need, as Lynda Gratton writes, to find “great leaders who can persuade us to adapt to this brave new world,” to help our generation to discover, in the words of Carl Bildt, how to “channel these changes for the good of all.”