The future State?

July 18, 2013

So foresight week continues in Singapore and we move on to parallel events.  One is on complexity and is in the main academic papers, the other is a Chatham House rules event (so what I can say is limited) on the future of governance.   There are a few of us with a complexity background in this and there are some common sessions although not as many as originally planned.  Tomorrow we have a panel review of both and I am on that, but for today I can just sit, listen and ask the odd question.

Peter Ho opens both events with a salutary reminder of just how far Singapore has progressed in under fifty years to the point where it is considered by many as a model of how the modern city state will develop.  Interestingly one of our other projects in Rwanda is showing the way that country is trying to emerge from a horrific recent past to become the Singapore of Africa.  Singapore having suffered an involuntary exit from Malaysia is now up there at the top of tables on education, health etc. etc.  Studying it is important as the only way we are going to be able to cope with population growth is by moving increasing numbers into cities so the question of what the modern polis should be is apposite.   Peter goes on to to talk about how no state is immune to rare, hard to predict events with large impact often called Black Swan events.  Mind you like most with a philosophy background I always wince a bit at the name.  The phrase was coined by Popper as an example of a category error, no one was surprised that a swan could be black.  He references the discovery of the Jemaah  Islamiyah network in 2001 , the Asian financial crisis and SARS crisis as examples.   Another bit of modern speak is introduced with some irony namely Dragon Kings: events that accelerate out of control.

He points out that the frequency of such events is increasing as is and their impact.   He references the Cynefin framework which is nice and he has long been one of its champions.  He also points to the rapid escalation of everything  post the 1950s and the Anthrocene article in the Economist.   Then we have a slide on retrospective coherence; the current pattern is logical but only one of many patterns that could have formed. followed by a reference to wicked problems, cognitive failure, underrating probabilities when something has not happened, overestimating when it has along with the dangers of group think.

Now drawing to a conclusions with some critical points.  Governments need need to embrace uncertainty and see it as an opportunity for success.  Govenernmenta that learn to manage complexity will gain strategic advantage.   They need to have an orientation to think about the future in a systematic way, not to predict but to shape.  Then the most important of all, and remember this is from one of the most respected and experienced civil servants in world government: Resilience means coping its strategic shocks is not about lean and efficient government; it is all about good governance.  That was videoed so I hope the tape is made public, it was an important series of messages.  Now the conferences splints and I will share my notes more or less intact but for some editing to comply with the Chatham House convention that governs the event.

Peter Schwartz: a look at looks into the future

One of the best known for futurologists and one with whom I have built a good relationship over the years at these events.  He presents six efforts to look at the future: Shell, Global Trends, Future Vision and his own.  Will discuss all, identify common patterns and raise questions.

The Scenarios

  1. 2005 Shell Global Scenarios to 2025, balance of different forces: security, efficiency and social cohesion,   Ended up with 'Low trust globalisation' plus 'Open Doors' with networking key plus 'Flags' with nationalism,  dogmatic etc. etc.
  2. 2011 Shell to 2050 updated after financial crisis.   'Scramble' not a well organised world, scrambling for resources etc.  system neither well co-ordinated or well managed.  The scond was 'Blueprints' in which there is a plan to manage the future, high collaboration etc.   These were influential and frequently referenced.  Became iconic.   Post recession with options including deeper and longer which is probably where we are.
  3. Shell most recent – Pathway Lenses (not scenarios) came up with two pathways  namely 'room to manoeuvre' and 'trapped transition' .  The first means punctuated reform the second leads to write off & reset or decay and collapse.  Longer term scenarios are 'Mountains' a world of lockin  change slow existing power structures no adaptive.  Then 'Oceans' fluid dynamic changing, currents beneath the surface.  Market forces more dominant.
  4. NIC Global Trends which have 'stalled engines' seen as worse case, risks of conflict increase, stalled economies; 'fusions' in which China and the US cooperate; 'Gini out of the BOttle' inequalities explode; 'nonstate world' driven by new technologies, non state actors take leading role.  Most radical of all scenarios.  They also had a list of Black Swans, but all familiar, really grey!
  5. Futurevision from Australia.   60s Songs.: Imagine, Please please me, Dear Prudence, Helter Skelter a world of fear.
  6. Peter's are : 'Cascading Crises' protectionism etc. rise in challenges to state rule such as tea party, riots etc.  are we in world of interests and alliances or laws and institutions?   Then we get muddling through, coflict and state,ment, constructive rivalries and Great Recession II

Common themes

Growth and government and low/high question austerity v stimulus

  1. Equity mostly global not cultural
  2. Global politics   US-China, Institutions, non ideological interest driven, emploiwerment of individual
  3. Efficacy of national governments – US, EU, Japan negative, China mostly positive
  4. Climate Change , resources, energy, foo, water, urbanisation.

No discussion of ideology but empowerment of individual is coming out of most of them.  No big wars or islam or technology other than energy or social change.  Niall Ferguson, low growth, negative combination of forces  the Pessimists view  his book 'The War of the World”, the scenario people fear and think is happening.

Asks are we just reinforcing each other, part of the same world.  Everytime he has got the future wrong it's because there was an inadequate diversity of opinion and that is his single biggest question.  There is an important scenario we are missing, are there early signals we are not seeing.  

I think this is the most important point, published global scenarios create a form of group think within what is a small community.   The reality is that if we look back the best you can hope for is long term trends.   I also wonder if this is a form of self-fulfilling prophesy in terms of some aspects of Government policy that are informed by these scenarios. nbsp; For me the most important thing is the need to create resilience and to consider the danger of group think and tunnel visions that pattern entrained scenarios can create.  My closing session yesterday (which Peter S liked) focused on this.

The Future of Growth Part I

Food for Thought: The Atlas of Economic Complexity,  Ricardo Hausmann  Video shown

Ravi Venkatesan: Have to adapt to what is rather than wait.  You can't wait for India to be less correct, so you have to learn how to build businesses in chaotic circumstances..  In India copyright means the right to copy, so change language, pricing etc. etc.   Three things that are positive  (i) Samsung eating Apple in India as Apple are not interested  (ii)US Recovery  (ii) Social Enterprises, also popular at Harvard Millennials want this sort of thing.   Growth of inequality worries him most and will prevent growth.   Joblessness also an issue, thought knowledge workers were safe but they are not,  Algorithms are replacing knowledge workers.  Uses IBM results with profit as a result of replacing people with software.  Balkanisation and threat to Globalisation is the third issue.

Xue Lan Dean of Public Policy  Tsinghua University  Every year 1% of population moving to cities, percentage small numbers high.  Also in China starting to get growth in service sector is high potential.  Then most recent Chinese focus on strategic industries and need to stimulate including energy saving, environment new material bio, next generation IT etc.

Manu Bhaskaran  Agrees on reindustrialisation of the US.  Restructing bottom up, labout costs going down in Spain so more investment.  Can see some of this even in the UK.  Expects Japan to start restructuring which will take time like in Germany but will have impact.   Developing economies are very diverse.   Push by some to reform and restructure,  MExico a pleasant surprise. and will be a storng competitor to Asia going forwards.   Singapore dependence Restructuring in large companies is changing, trend is to focus on large markets less so on economies with tax advantages.  Two scenarios the Asia Century and the Middle Income trap (like Brazil and South Africa).  Growth is not pre-ordained.

Discussion and questions

Need for a diverse education system and the capacity to carry on learning,  we are good at drilling information in, but there is less hunger to learn.  Young people are coming out with a snese of entitlement not hunger and too cacooned.   Multiple suggestions of sending people to other parts of the world, like a Peace Corp.   Singapore volunteers overseas has been there for a bit, but national service could not be exchanged.  So they got mainly young women as men not released but not sure they came back leaders.  Want to be called Young Ambassadors. 

I raise the point that we need to be concerned about multiculturalism.  The elite in any country need to spend time overseas, possibly as a condition of state funded hight education.   We also need VC money, especially that from Government, to focus on generating more finely grained entrepreneurial behaviour that stays within the area focused on long term sustainability, less get rich quick and move out stuff.

The Future of Growth 2

Chaired by Cheong Koon Hean CEO of the Housing and Development Board

Catherine Fieschi  Director of Counter Point  Populist parties are reluctant radicals who wish they didn't have to vote for them, not right wing thugs.  Low trust in government, low trust in institutions, declining trust in experts, resentment against immigration, foreigners etc.  Then looked at people with same views who were not voting for those parties.  What was beyond the headlines   Diagnosed two things (i) a perception radical uncertainty and (ii) huge levels of anxiety.  This is uncertainty beyond risk.  This gives rise to an existentially different type of anxiety.  This is the elephant in the room its not a swan of any colour.  Difficult to do in systematic ways. Narratives of conviction were the way to overcome doubt.   Feels betrayed by its own institutions.  Exerts were the source of meritocracy so loss of belief is an issue, this is a product of how we managed affluence.  Affluence creates more choice, impatience.  Populist parties are very good at managing these anxieties.  They offer nostalgia, fantasy of the past a return to something which is lost forever. 
What could be possibly do?  Solutions are not magic bullets, but we have to take emotions seriously through neuroscience research to get over emotion/reason crap (well done) and how does this translate into political belief.  The second thing is to create institutions that cater to most basic needs which includes some predictability and patterns.  Can create institutions that put relationships at their heart.  It means relationships, neighbourhoods etc.  Through this we will come up with new narratives of conviction.

Yeoh Lam Keong, Institute of Policy Studies  Crisis of political legitimacy  Elephant in the room is a type of economy, the stagnation of wages of up to 70th percentile and decline of bottom 20% and this is the probelm.  Top 10% spectacular growth, top 1% obscene, we haven't seen this type of plutocracy since the Great Gatsby.  Elite leads to a crisis of political legitimacy.  Populist narrative through social networking allows mobilisation.  Networks can swarm.  Means loss of ability to do things in the long term, dead end.  IN Singapore we need to do big difficult things together and this is difficult.  Sweden does not have this pattern of inequality.  Economic Justice means real wages should grow with productivity, in the US they have lagged. 
In Singapore have to rejuvenate public housing, health care, education for social mobility (less now).  Market does not work here for public goods but tendency has been in that direction.  Finns have far higher confidence than elsewhere.  Social protection system is producing results; what is the functional equivalents for Singapore?  Have to institutional this practice, means democratic methods based on local government that give people confidence in their institutions.  Adds decent immigration policy to the earlier list.


Peter Ho asks about the narrative, and has it been hijacked?  If so loss of trust and huge effort to retake it.  Social Media also plays a role, big challenge everywhere and not amenable to control

Catherine points out that Finland and Sweden have populist parties and major problems.  A social democratic narrative will not cut it.

Yeoh Lam says we need to admit to the elephant in the room. and fix them all.  Social media could be a positive source.  Singapore is missing in action in social media. 

Me, need to manage through narrative not numbers, manage constraints to allow localised solutions to emerge.  Maybe markets based on community (SNS) as a reward mechanism

The future of governance – how will cities organise themselves differently from countries?

Chan Heng Chee  Mayors have set up their cities as companies, taking the initiative.   China has passed 50% of the population in cities.  References capabilities and limits of cities.  References Livingstone initiative to bring together rmajor cities to reduce carbon emissions ((now 61).  Should cities handle their own immigration policy?  Question is what can they do best?  Suggests trade and investment initiatives.

Parag Khanna  To what extent does a city act like a state?   Moving to polycentric order.  Governance has become a competitive marketplace.  Cities attract and hoard capital and it becomes a source if inequality.  translate deliberation into decisiveness.


Apologies but I had to remove all of this

The Future of Governance – how will roles and relationships between citizens, corporations and governments shift

Monitory Democracy  John Keane.   Suggests that since 1945 we have seen the multiplication of forms of public scrutiny of democracy.  Partly located in governments .  This historical shift is not completed, might not survive but is changing the way we think about democracy.   Mechanisms that scrutinise democracy across borders..  Need independent scrutiny or you have trouble as decision making ineffective and inefficient.   Self regulation causes bubble in finance.

Kenneth Tan  Civil space in Singapore and talks about the Singapore Conversation project.   Now reading out the  scenarios, noticing the confusion of roles with identities.

Anies Baswedan Various commentsx on Indonesia

Pankaj Mishra  Responds to Keane saying the phrase monitory democracy is just too plan, does not take on board depth of frustration against technocratic elites.  A more menacing phrase would be activist democracy or participatory democracy.  Governments seen as too close to business elites.  Talks about India with states that have been politicised..  People awakening to ideas of aspiration and dignity.    

Ann Pendleton-Jullian  Globalism is not just starbucks and the iphone its the responsibility of freedom which is fractal and has texture – quoting from editor if New Yorker.  Networks of social responsibility rather than social contracts.  Networks are not associated with entities  Leadership really matters but does it need to off load to networks at least some of its responsibilities.

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