Tag Archives: inequality

Knowing Your Place – part two

5 May

Knowing Your Place was originally written to support a proposed event in 2018. In that brief note I reflected on the new meaning of the phrase. Once it was just a parental demand for subservience and ‘not speaking out of turn’.   Now it’s a Place-Maker’s celebration of Open Data and a vastly greater understanding of the local economy and community needs.

In Part two my attention turns to the wealth of fresh economic thinking. I say ‘fresh’ but it’s evident that ideas currently regarded as radical or outside of mainstream conventions have been around for decades. The puzzle is to understand why these commonsense ideas have struggled to be accepted.

This resistance to fresh thinking is not uniquely British. Deeply embedded but demonstrably errant economic dogma is a global concern. That in large part reflects an intellectual legacy underpinning the formative education of folk who now govern or influence policy. The re-education process will take a fair few generations to resolve.

In the UK, however, we have a particularly virulent strand of dodgy economic dogma that thrives largely because we have a very very centralised economy. In other countries with a more federal approach there is greater scope for economic diversity and experimentation amongst regions or municipalities. But before that thought distracts you, let’s review a few of these ‘fresh’ thinkers.

Throughout the profession there are economists who understand that things are not quite right. Not surprisingly these thinkers often try to differentiate their ideas. Those alarmed by widening inequalities – for example Stephanie Flanders – would prefer Inclusive Growth.   Similarly we’ve had mechanistic approaches, Economic Sciences, Positive Economics, Humanistic, Social, Monetary and umpteen other variants. All these attest to the diversity of thought and their advocates’ desire to avoid (or downplay) addictions to never-ending growth, over-simplistic price/demand graphs, supposedly free & efficient markets or fully informed rational actors.

Others come to the field with environmental and sustainability perspectives. The Circular Economy notion – regenerative to minimise waste of natural resources – has given rise to ‘systems thinking’ as expressed in Ken Webster’s ‘A Wealth of Flows’. This exposes the complexities of our interconnected world and takes on board the feedback loops that old-school economists might too easily dismiss as irrelevant externalities – leastways until they show up during investigation of ‘unforeseen consequences’.

Yet others take exception to simplistic political notions that government is bad and only private enterprise is to be valued. Leader of that rebel pack is, without doubt, Mariana Mazzucato and her work on The Entrepreneurial State where she lays bare the vital contributions of state-led investments subsequently exploited by the private sector with insufficient returns to the public purse.

And then we come to Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’.   Kate’s economic map is not of the sugar-coated variety with jam in the middle. This doughnut looks to lift folk from social deprivations (visualised in the central hole) whilst curbing the tendencies to reach beyond the outer edge of the ring where collectively we might threaten the ecology. Far from ‘deregulation’, Kate speaks of ‘re-regulation’ to better align policy with purpose and operate within the ring. Here’s an attempt to marry ‘redistributive’ and ‘regenerative’ policies – tackling both inequalities and wasted resources.

Kate’s work is hailed as ‘fresh’ but it takes years to be recognised as an ‘overnight star’.   Her ideas have been articulated for nearly two decades. Much of her research highlights the way that in recent times mainstream economists have been highly selective in their references to early thinkers such as Adam Smith. Understanding those dogmatic distortions is helpful but what is new is the power of visualisation. The ring doughnut provides a handy graphic that helps frame policy debates but is not pretending to be a pseudo-science.

The common theme amongst all these works is that they are directed towards the State – national governments and the establishment. They come across as grand top-down ideas; yet more supermodels. Not surprisingly it is painful to bang heads on brick walls that are reinforced by decades of dogma and where radical change seems unimaginably complex without some miraculously orchestrated global enlightenment.   The exception to that general top-down prescription is, perhaps, amongst advocates of the Circular Economy where some demonstrable progress has been made by careful evangelisation amongst a few global enterprises.

So perhaps an alternative approach to implementing these ideas is to take a leaf out of Ellen MacArthur’s Circular Economy Foundation. They have identified large enterprises (like Phillips or B&Q) as business communities where ideas can be worked out. Why not then start by applying the ideas, not at central state (national) level, but in cities and communities where local needs are diverse and the appetite for fresh thinking is strong? Do not imagine that there is some perfect model – a panacea – but understand that these works provide great scope for stimulating local leaders, communities and citizens to envision a brighter future with all manner of local enhancements to wellbeing – be they economic, social or environmental – in this era of rapid digitalisation.

Which thought brings me back to ‘Knowing Your Place’. Only by understanding the real needs – the locally diverse requirements that fall outside of standard economic models – are we able to address the ‘real’ economy and leave behind the rough average approximations of theoretical economists in high (and often distant) places.

There’s a time (which is now) and a place (near you) for every purpose. Let’s not delay and let’s not direct our efforts towards the centre when all about us can be transformed. These are ideas that need to find their place.

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References:

Inclusive Growth Commission – RSA Report:

https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/reports/final-report-of-the-inclusive-growth-commission

Ken Webster, ‘A Wealth of Flows‘: ISBN 9 78099 27784

Mariana Mazzucato, ‘The Entrepreneurial State‘: ISBN 9 780857 282521

Kate Raworth, ‘Doughnut Economics‘: ISBN 9 781847 941374

 

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Cutting Red Tape – lengthways?

8 Mar

hi=-tech buildingOur editorial – ‘Unbalanced Economies‘ – considers the dilemma of would be devolutionists as they grope for government policies that might ease the woeful inequalities of local economies across the UK.

There’s no lack of awareness of the growing gap between the growth of London and the UK’s other major cities.  It’s not just about jobs.  The impacts are evident in health, education, culture, innovation, and umpteen aspects of society –  and there’s no denying the dependence of local economies on centralised purse strings with stringent controls on spending anywhere that seems electorally risky.  Nor would the Whitehall wizards deny the export potential for technologies that claim to make cities smarter – though they shrink away from encouraging innovative aspirations in the underlying digital infrastructure investment.

But solutions are not to be found in more top-down initiatives.  If pushed the Whitehall policy police might perhaps concede that fostering maybe two provincial city hubs might be sustainable but such half-hearted measures fall way short of the natural aspirations bubbling up in places large and small across the country.

Enter the RSA’s City Growth Commission.   No debate better captures the red tape that ties central policy development in knots and exposes how the digital economy is delightfully disruptive.  Cutting the red tape lengthways is simply not good enough.

Full story here

The Rural Imperative – Dig for a Gigabit-enabled Future

14 Apr

As the UN considers the prospect that by 2050 over 70% of the global population will be working and living in cities, and as policy developers continue to invest in cities to stimulate their economies, the New-York-based Intelligent Community Forum announces its Rural Imperative – a focus on developing smarter rural communities to offset the strains of unbalanced and unsustainable mega-cities.

The economic and creative power of cities cannot be denied but inequalities in digital infrastructure provision are beginning to drive rural communities towards radical moves to build a more-balanced economy.

Full story here

Digital Inequalities and long tail challenges

29 Mar

Way back in the 1950’s the long slog of completing the great UK-wide changeover from AC to DC electricity was at last completed.   It was of no great surprise that the last houses to be welcomed into that modern era were in the poorest and must run-down areas of of our cities.

In the 1970’s North Sea Gas conversions were still edging their way towards completion – and as with all such great infrastructure projects it was only with conversion of the remote ends of the network that the full benefits could be realised.   Such is the nature of long term investments.  Short-term patches and temporary fixes do not answer.

Right now, with the transformation of the entire economy, we are only beginning to understand the length of the long tail – a challenge that does not have a clear beginning and end because the pace of digital developments often runs faster than our efforts to catch up.

The report from the National Audit Office on the UK government’s ‘Digital by Default’ design for public services is a timely reminder that we have a long way to go – particularly for those who are most in need of public services.

This story will, inevitably, run and run.

More

Connecting Continents

30 Nov

While I’ve been deeply immersed in an altogether different journey my colleague Marit Hendriks has trekked to Cape Town and back.

Communications networks are seen by many as the threads that tie us all together but as Marit’s exploration of the African market shows it is the diversity of developments and their contexts that provide the most interesting insights.

Although her visit was focused on the Africa Com conference & exhibition, Marit arrived in South Africa in time to see beyond the glitz of the international conference centre.  In the first of her reports (Under African Skies) Marit takes a trip into a township and takes measure of the vast inequalities and digital divisions.

At the conference itself the contrasts between Europe and Africa were also very much evident – the local approach to Social Media, the huge importance of Mobile Payment systems and the very different priorities for infrastructure in the wider wilderness.  The venturing zeal, the local software industry, the scale of the opportunities are all vast – but the scale of inequalities and the size of the un-served market demands a very different approach to market development.

If there was one common theme between our two continents it might be found in the gradual reduction of relevance of the old ‘last generation’ Telco models – while millions clamour for connectivity the investment spotlight has shifted to the cleverness of Apps and the demand for higher ICT skills – and deepened the digital divides in places that are already desperately disconnected.

Preparing for Rio+20 – the full edition

28 Apr

Over the past few weeks Groupe Intellex has devoted space to raise awareness of and prepare delegates for the forthcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development taking place in June.

We have now brought these editorials together in a single edition to make it easier for readers to navigate and comment on the series.  Some of these have appeared in previous posts but together they add up to a fairly weighty reading list that delegates might turn to in the 6 weeks remaining before the mechanisms of global diplomacy and lobbyists for corporate interests seek consensus and commitments that might flourish more effectively than those made in 1992.

Our focus kicked off with Marit Hendriks’ piece on ‘Sharing Experiences‘ and the need to learn from others without being tempted to ‘reinvent the wheel’.

This was followed by another essay on ‘the end game for the next generation‘ – an editorial that has been widely shared around the world.

Distracted by racing cars cavorting in the Middle East the short piece ‘What, on Earth Day?‘  made us think more about the silo mentality that compartmentalises discussions that are, or should be, interconnected.

The publication of the Royal Society’s report ‘People and the Planet’ gave us opportunity to start the ‘Ready for Rio‘ series and then the Ellen MacArthur Foundation weighed in with a brilliant exploration of ‘The circular economy‘ – by far the most widely read of our trilogy to date.

Finally – not least because you now have more than enough homework before Rio+20 – we reflected on a more spiritual view – taking the thoughts of Dr Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury – and suggesting amongst other things that our fixation on growth, markets and the commoditisation of everything was somewhat ‘eccentric’.

Groupe Intellex will, in the next few weeks, seek out and publish the news and views of others (your inputs are welcome) and will then report on the outcomes of Rio+20 and the prospects for further progress toward sustainable development.

Getting ready for Rio

26 Apr

The Royal Society (London UK) today published a major report – ‘People and the planet’ – a good read ahead of the UN Summit in June.

All 10 recommendations would be more easily translated into practical policy if there was intensive investment in digital infrastructure.

Full story here.