The Financial Crisis And The Future
People come to this web site for well written, interesting columns on science. To some degree it must be questioned as to whether economics is a science. That being said, the current financial crisis is worthy of some commentary here as it will affect all of us to some degree. As a futurist, I see this crisis as part of a bigger transition from one Age to another. The Information Age began in the 1970s and is now giving way to the Shift Age. All year, in speeches given around the country, I have stated that the economic downturn we are going through must be looked at from a new perspective. The ‘is it a recession or not’ and ‘is it a bear stock market or not’ is a far too narrow focus for insightful discussion. There is something much larger that we are beginning to move through. We are beginning to move into a new global reorganization of human society. We have known for close to a decade that we are moving into a global economy. However, the government, its regulatory branches, the mandated subsidies and tariffs that exist are all legacies of the 20th century economic model of the nation state and what is going on is the first fundamental reorganization of this new century. That reorganization is called the Flow to Global. [Those of you who have read “The Shift Age” are familiar with this dynamic]. Whenever a new age begins, the filters and the metrics of the prior ages all of a sudden seem to be less relevant. The stagflation of the 1970s and the puzzling economic inconsistencies of that decade were difficult to fathom as Industrial Age economic models seemed to not apply. As we can now see from the vantage point of this century, that decade was the beginning of the Information Age. The explosion of the white collar work force, the ongoing launches of communication satellites, the Apple and then the PC and the beginning of the digital age all pointed to an new age that seemed to be about information, hence the name Information Age. We are now moving into the Shift Age, which as the name implies, creates shift going on in all aspects of human endeavor. One of the first areas where this shift is clearly and painfully present is in this new economic reorganization into a new global whole. This current debt crisis is a global crisis in its interrelatedness as the paper created by Wall Street is on the balance sheets of financial institutions and sovereign wealth funds around the world. Conversely, the money that is keeping the U.S. government afloat comes from other countries. Money has become electronic, central banks need to coordinate policy, government involvement in the financial and other markets, notably the energy market needs to be completely recast to anticipate this new human global reality. Whenever there is a new order the early indications are usually exciting. The early indications of the Shift Age come to us because of and through our accelerating electronic connectedness. It is also exciting because of the new touch and voice interfaces with technology. We get excited about how connected we are and how everything seems to be immediately available, all the time. The second stage has now begun, which is the painful stage when what used to be true, no longer seems to be true. When what used to work, no longer seems to and when the filters through which we view the world no longer seem to give us a clear view or ability to analyze and predict. As the great Alvin Toffler once said: “Any serious restructuring of business must directly attack the organization and the entire system of power based on it.” While “attack” might be a strong word, it is clear that the nation state structure of business is now being superseded by an incredibly complex and interrelated new global business structure that we are only now developing a sense of. In 2020, when historians look back, they will write about how the time between 2005 and 2010 was the time when the new age, the Shift Age began. They will write that this debt related financial crisis we are deeply mired in was just part of the painful transition from the Information Age to the Shift Age. People, and certainly institutions live in and reflect the past. That is why there is pain. When new forces and dynamics take root and create change, people and institutions are surprised. As a futurist, I spend a lot of time thinking about, looking toward and sensing the future. The analysis of developing patterns and the connectivity of seemingly unrelated events helps me to develop a vision of what lies ahead. I do believe that there is a real possibility of a new golden age of humanity, but there will be painful and confusing transitions until we begin to understand the dawn of this new time. The current financial crisis is one of many events of upheaval that will be part of this inevitable process.