For the past few months, I have been submersed in thinking about global trends in the world and how the world may look over the coming few years and even decades. On that journey, I was lucky enough to come across this fascinating talk from Paddy Ashdown. (Watch it first).
I think the three ways that he identifies are very powerful. The classic lateral shift in power is definitely taking place. However, I do not think anyone knows with any certainty how the world will actually end up. Will we see two powers? Four? When will China become the world’s largest economy? When will India? Will the per capita gaps ever narrow completely? Many questions, few answers, but we can be sure that the world will not continue as it has recently.
On the vertical dimension, I think former Ambassador Ashdown may be missing some of the changes. While I would agree that power is shifting away from the nation state, I think that it is moving in two directions. Global institutions are gaining power in the upward direction, but I think that individuals and subnational organizations are also gaining power. There has been much talk of the rise of the public private partnership to solve challenges facing states, which directly empowers companies, and cities and smaller groups of individuals are often taking a lead on policy (New York has been doing quite a lot). And while we need to have international regulation as so much more happens outside of state boundaries, current global institutions have not had a high success rate at changing behavior so far. The state is getting squeezed from both sides.
The last point around interdependency has been everywhere the last few years post-financial crisis, but it begs repeating. For so long, we operated under the premise of mutually assured destruction – a concept that is frightening but turned out to work pretty well in keeping the powers in check. As we become more interdependent in other ways, including more specialization in who supplies energy, food, manufacturing, and ideas, does a similar concept also occur in trade and economics? That could be a brighter though, as it would suggest stability as an imperative on all fronts. We will see.
However accurate he is in identifying the axes of change, I also like that he is not prescriptive. There is no over promising of what the future might look like, when we would be wrong to say we were anything but uncertain.
On a complete side note, I think that Ashdown’s rhetorical skills are simply superb. He has a command of language, and really makes this talk spellbinding. At some point, I would like to also be able to speak at length in such an eloquent fashion.
Food for thought.