What started in 2008 as an economic crisis morphed into a social crisis, leading to mass unrest; and now, as revolutions turn into civil wars, creating military tension between nuclear superpowers, it has become a crisis of the global order.

There are, on the face of it, only two ways it can end. In the first scenario, the global elite clings on, imposing the cost of crisis on to workers, pensioners and the poor over the next ten or twenty years. The global order — as enforced by the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation — survives, but in a weakened form. The cost of saving globalization is borne by the ordinary people of the developed world. But growth stagnates.

In the second scenario, the consensus breaks. Parties of the hard right and left come to power as ordinary people refuse to pay the price of austerity. Instead, states then try to impose the costs of the crisis on each other. Globalization falls apart, the global institutions become powerless and in the process the conflicts that have burned these past twenty years — drug wars, post-Soviet nationalism, jihadism, uncontrolled migration and resistance to it — light a fire at the centre of the system. In this scenario, lip service to international law evaporates; torture, censorship, arbitrary detention and mass surveillance become the regular tools of statecraft. This is a variant of what happened in the 1930s and there is no guarantee it cannot happen again.

In both scenarios, the serious impacts of climate change, demographic ageing and population growth kick in around the year 2050. If we can’t create a sustainable global order and restore economic dynamism, the decades after 2050 will be chaos.

So I want to propose an alternative: first, we save globalization by ditching neoliberalism; then we save the planet — and rescue ourselves from turmoil and inequality — by moving beyond capitalism itself.

Paul Mason, Postcapitalism

In Imaging A Corporation in 2050, I posited a ‘Human Spring’ in the early 2020s, that is perhaps represents Paul Mason’s three alternatives, although he doesn’t address climate change to the degree I did. But the scenario I called Humania, is his third alternative:

Humania is the most egalitarian and democratic scenario.

After mounting concern about inequality, the climate, and the inroads that AI and robots were having on society, in the 2020s Western nations — and later other developing countries — were hit by a ‘Human Spring.’ New populist movements rose up and rejected the status quo, and demanded fundamental change. At first the demands were uneven — some groups emphasized climate, or inequality, or the right to work.

But by the mid 2030s, all three forces were more-or-less equal planks in the Humania platform. This led to mandated barriers to inequality — such as limits on the multiple of the salaries of highest to lowest paid workers, and progressive taxation so that the well-off paid much higher taxes by percentage. Additionally, there were worldwide actions to limit oil and coal use, and a dramatic shift to solar in the early 2020s. Concerned that people would be pushed inexorably out of the job market, governments build limits on AI use into international trade agreements, based on a notion of the human right to work.

I will be reading Mason’s book, looking for a map plotting a course to Humania.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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