“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” – Abraham Lincoln, 1862
This article is about TRUST.
I know my opinion is only important to me but, if anybody else is concerned about the unfolding crises for our society, this opinion piece may be of interest to you.
In the next 20 +/- years…
- Global populations will rise to 9 billion +/- on a planet that some say is already struggling with the effects of over consumption of natural resources, like fresh water, and resulting in fierce competition.
- Rising sea levels associated with melting glaciers and ice caps will displace between 600 million to 1 billion people living in low lying and coastal areas, creating a deluge of climate refugees and putting intense pressure on nation states, social structures and communities. This comes at a time when there is already hostility and concern about migration, even at a 1/10th of the scale that climate change will bring.
- Artificial Intelligence and technologies that enable automation will remove 50% to 100% of all current jobs and there is no obvious approach to addressing the global economic and psycho-social impacts. This comes at a time when income inequality is already diminishing social cohesion, trust and confidence that the system is working for everyone. Worst yet, technology can already automate 50% of all jobs now. As Pope Francis noted in commissioning an Academy of Life study, “There is a pressing need, then, to understand these epochal changes…to determine how to place them at the service of the human person.” Absent of regulation and compensating mechanisms, this is catastrophic. No advanced economy can function with this level of mass unemployment, bearing in mind it was a comparatively modest 25% to 30% during The Great Depression.
These emerging issues impact the lowest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs…they are issues that we have created as a consequence of economic policy and our preoccupation with narrow metrics of short term growth, productivity and profit. You don’t need to be a Futurist to recognise that, on a foundation of rising discontent emanating from income inequality and feelings of being democratically marginalised and politically disenfranchised, we are about to also layer the effects of: an increasing global population, a huge deluge of up to one billion climate refugees; AND, the consequences of a large proportion of the jobs that we currently rely on being automated in a short time scale.
Does anybody else think this may not bode well for social cohesion?
Helpfully France is starting to sound the alarm for the world’s advanced economies: capitalism is tearing them apart. President Emmanuel Macron is using France’s presidency of the Group of Seven to argue that…
the system fuels inequality, destroys the planet and is ineffective at delivering goals in the public interest. The country has already experienced some of the fallout firsthand in the Yellow Vest movement that erupted late last year.
With no obvious political or economic mechanisms in place to address these issues, the answers lie in trusting political institutions to fairly represent society’s interests. But this comes at a time when there is almost no trust in political institutions. In fact, with few exceptions, the issues aren’t even evident in the geo-political agenda, or the public psyche.
This creates a clear choice for all: –
- Do nothing and wait for the crisis to reach its tipping point, by which time it may be impossible to correct; or,
- Proactively engage in the issues and force the political and social change needed to enable humanity to cope in the new world that’s rapidly emerging.
Trust and Confidence
These are extraordinary times. Times when Trust and Confidence are recognised as the glue that bonds the relationships critical to social cohesion. However, the notion of TRUST is a FALLACY. Perhaps it’s time to stop the endless disappointments by accepting that fact. After all, how can trust exist in a post-truth world? Aren’t truth, and confidence in what is true, pre-requisites of trust?
Spend a few minutes engaging on any topic on Twitter and you’ll realise that many don’t seem to think that truth and trust matter at all. Propaganda and Fake News reign and we’re now facing up to the consequences of the demise in trust. Consequences that happen to coincide with a defining moment in all of our lives.
I know that sounds grandiose, but it’s proportionate to the size of the challenges that lie ahead. Less proportionate, in my view, is the trust building narrative underpinned by reports like those provided in the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer (ETB), or the Gallup ‘Confidence in Institutions’ survey, and others that suggest that trust and confidence in business are steadily improving. [Multiple versions of the report are available on LinkedIn SlideShare covering different geographic markets.] Here is the UK SUPPLEMENT.
I don’t suppose it helps that Edelman controversially launches its 2019 UK report with a keynote interview with Tony Blair, touted by many as possibly the least trustworthy politician of this era (so far).
These reports don’t paint a particularly rosy picture, even so, I can’t connect with the conclusion that trust in employers to provide leadership for social change is rising when there’s so much evidence to the contrary. The parlous state of Employee Engagement is an example, i.e. 71% of employees are psychologically disengaged from their employer. How is it possible that the ETB reports that trust in the relationship with employers is rising?
Nobody is perfect. Like everyone, I have stuff I need to work on. For example, a former colleague and friend gave me some feedback I’d asked for…
Your problem Nick, is you’re too honest!
Dumb-struck, I checked back. Of all the deficiencies I might have, I hadn’t realised an abundance of honesty and integrity could possibly be amongst them. Neither did I realise they’d become unfashionable – especially working in organisations whose core propositions are dependent on trust, confidence, honesty and integrity. Actually, that’s the case for all organisations. Perhaps the fact that we know it’s not may be part of the problem.
One of the reasons the comment resonated is that my boss once gave me some gentle advice as an intervention in a difference of opinion I’d had with a senior colleague. He said…
Nick, you can’t tell people they’ve got ugly kids, even if it’s true.
Too funny! Accepting the need for emotional intelligence, surely there are times when frankness, authenticity and sincerity are essential? Times when we can’t avoid harsh realities? Aren’t these such times? Shouldn’t we try to put aside the preference for softer half-truths, or no truth at all if the facts are unpalatable or don’t match our view, instead resorting to well groomed habits of massaging the message and suppressing any pangs of conscience. When the truth always outs, why is it OK to: –
- Finesse work reports and presentations specifically to deflect and avoid challenging discussions about real issues?
- Fluff-up audited financial reports that are later exposed as being compromised rather than ‘true and fair’. A report by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Boardfound deficient audits in 30% to 50% of all cases by the Big Professional Services Firms.
- Spin everything, e.g. the UK Government pronounces record investment in public services, like the Police. Meanwhile, the Police report budget cuts have forced a loss of 20,000 officers; the public report the police don’t investigate house burglaries any more; and the news media reports an epidemic in knife-crime across the country, which Ministers quickly rebuff as having nothing to do with funding of public services – because funding is at an all time high!
What should we believe? What can we believe? Have cynicism and scepticism become the new norm? Don’t we care that untruths compromise the values and integrity? Tony Blair left office a decade ago but his reputation is tarnished by his promotion of WMD and the Iraq War. A war that resulted in 1m+ civilian deaths while US contractors, like Halliburton, KBR, etc, took away $600bn in profit. Apart from the lack of any WMD being found, can we avoid connecting the financial gains with the justifications for war and the carnage that followed?
Was it always like this or is the extreme form of ‘transparency’ provided by the media exposing or masking the porous boundary between fact and fiction? Considering more of us rely on the media for information, these are fundamental questions.
Do we still care about truth and factual accuracy? If we do, shouldn’t we be able to rely on the media to provide it? How can we ever know what is true, or differentiate between facts and propaganda? Are propaganda and fake news the same? How do we feel about knowing that we can’t rely on the mainstream media? Transparency has always been a central tenet to the role of the media in Democracy but is this still the case in our post-truth world? A world where claims of fake news are normal and trust has unilaterally declined. A world where, faced with a media we can’t trust, we turn to trusted fellow citizens in social networks who are held to a different standard of fact checking rigour. Is that the issue? The need to understand a rapidly changing world has led to an acceptance that some truth from our social network is better than ‘facts’ provided by those we don’t trust?
Post-Truth is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as
“Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief, e.g. ‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire.”
Does TRUST matter in a POST-TRUTH WORLD?
If TRUTH has been redefined, shouldn’t we recalibrate our expectations of TRUST? If not, how do we deal with the resulting shortfall in expectations?
Assessments of Trust
The problem with current assessments of trust, like the Edelman Trust Barometer (ETB), is that they seem disconnected with reality and lack debate about the consequences and solutions. A measure may be useful but in absence of meaningful solutions it is merely measuring failure – repetitively since 2001.
I’m not saying these reports aren’t helpful or misrepresentations of the underlying data. I’m saying some of their conclusions make no sense to me, nor can they for anyone that has a rudimentary understanding of business, economics, and current affairs. For example, the suggestion that people trust their employer to be a positive force for social change makes no sense, though I’d love it to be true. This is because the free-market system and fiduciary duty of executive officers are incompatible with the notion of employers as agents of positive social change. It is simply not their role. How can it be when their primary goals and behaviours of organisations are driven by narrow metrics of growth, productivity, short term profit maximisation and shareholder returns above all else? A system that shapes the extent of AGENCY or bargaining power in the employer/employee relationship, and motivates the extent of mutual or self-interest. In this case, over time, the resulting lack of restraint has become deleterious to society. Consequently, employers are improbable agents of social change under the rules of the game determined by DAVOS MAN.
I know how that reads. It’s not intended to be a political comment, negative, critical, cynical, anti-capitalist or anti anything for that matter. It’s an recognition of the emerging reality.
Over the last 70 years, free-market capitalism has driven many important advancements across society. People are generally better off than previous generations so populations and life-expectancy have increased. Businesses have innovated and flourished; and the global economy has grown by 300% in the post war era, as the following chart shows.
However, if we looked at this chart in 20 years time I suspect we’d see a very different picture. Things are getting materially worse for almost everyone.
There’s no greater example of the battle for truth and trust than the recent report of a decline in life-expectancy in the UK. It’s not just the declining life-span that is the point of issue, though it’s not unreasonable that a progressive civilised society might expect to be living longer as a result of improvements in medical science and social policy. What’s interesting here is the fight for truth that sits behind the publication by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
In response to a report by the Institute of Actuaries that life expectancy in the UK has fallen…
the Department of Health and Social Care described the warning as “a triumph of personal bias over research.” In doing so, the UK government and its agencies were not just failing to publish their internal monitoring of the situation; they were actively rubbishing the work of others. In such a political climate it is hardly surprising that the warning signs were ignored. The question this raises is why were competent, able, intelligent people at the heart of government choosing to ignore the statistics?
Is it because the facts are uncomplimentary to government policy? How many other examples of this are there that? Does this matter or have we become so desensitised to untruths that we are apathetic?
That’s why the current trust deficit can’t be addressed with superficial, incremental behavioural changes – which broadly represent the approaches advocated. The ETB sections on thoughts leadership primarily focus on extracting advantage from improvements in trust but these are unsustainable when the body of society is chronically diseased. That’s not intended to belittle the efforts and intentions of those that are trying to make a difference. It’s just not an appropriate approach to address systemic problems associated with Sustainability and Social Justice.
The ‘system‘ is broken: it benefits fewer and fewer people and it gives those few individuals disproportionate influence over the rules of the game. This has created a crisis for democracy and a crisis of trust in almost every institution of society, institutions that have delegated authority to represent society’s interests. Worryingly, there is no obvious mechanism to resolve this dilemma. Instead, institutions of government, and other potential agents of reform, are exacerbating the problem rather than collaborating to create an alternative, more sustainable agenda. Powerful vested interests lobby against any change that constrains their activities – think Big Tobacco, Firearms in the US, Food, Big Pharma, Automotive, etc, each of which lobby for regulatory change that is detrimental to society by putting short term profit before sustainability.
Compounding these issues we are also facing a number of existential threats that will test the resilience of society as a whole.
Trust in the Face of Existential Threats
Two factors require a level of trust and collaboration we’ve not seen before: –
- Technology mediated job loss; and
- Population displacement through climate change.
I’d add CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing as another existential threat but let’s keep it simple.
Symptoms of both of these issues are already in evidence and both are a direct consequence of the lack of sustainability that is a consequence of our preoccupation with growth and short-term profitability. In both cases, despite the threats they pose, they have yet to fully and properly enter the geo-political/economic agenda, or become prominent in public and political discourse. Perhaps their lack of visibility is revealing in that it implies an absence of leadership.
Hopefully this will change quickly. Pope Francis recently noted in commissioning an Academy of Life study…
There is a pressing need, then, to understand these epochal changes…to determine how to place them at the service of the human person.
Technology Mediated Job Loss
There’s little agreement about the overall impact of technology on jobs. Some eminent individuals, like the late Stephen Hawking, say that while bringing immense benefits, advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, etc, create a number of existential threats for humanity, not least of which is the unilateral loss of jobs that will occur over time. Meanwhile others argue the opposite, that new jobs will be created to off-set the effects of the jobs that are lost.
Whichever turns out to be the case, there is little evidence of any mechanism to address the structural issues that are already becoming apparent. For example, despite the potential negative impact on society, there is no formal regulation of AI and related technologies. This is being left entirely to the discretion of the technology creators and innovators – the Tech companies themselves. Recent exposés about privacy, data, anti-competitive behaviours and a range of other issues with companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google, etc, perhaps hint at how socially minded we might expect them to be.
So what’s the problem?
The chart of population and economic growth above shows that the mechanisation in the 1st industrial revolution had a modest impact on population and economic growth. Despite the concerns of the Luddites, mechanical machines generally augmented human effort to improve productivity and production scale. Manual craft jobs lost through mechanisation were supplemented by alternative work, so incomes were maintained and the economy prospered.
The 3rd industrial Revolution, the computer age, has had a more marked effect. Computers, robots and electronic machines augment human ability to innovate faster and increase productivity well beyond the opportunities afforded by mechanical machines. Complimented by market de-regulation, the increase in the size of the economy and improvements to living standards stimulated a two-fold increase in population – since populations of all species rise in times of plenty. Similarly life-expectancy increased consistently throughout this period; new jobs were created and output was a combination of humans and electronic machines working together.
The 4th Industrial Revolution, the age of the intelligent machine, amplifies this effect but creates a new problem. Work that utilises such machines doesn’t rely on human endeavour to the extent that it has in the past. In absence of an alternative, the current free-market model, lobby influence of powerful financial interests, and the continuing focus on growth, productivity and short-term profit, are driving degrees of automation at a rate that exceeds our ability to adjust for the structural impact of job loss. The projected consequence of this is that between 50% and 80% of ALL jobs are likely to be lost in the next 20 years. Adair Turner, Davos Man and Head of a leading Think Tank, recently said…
it would already be possible to automate 50% of jobs with current technology, and all jobs by 2060.
…”By 2060″ is a red-herring.
An ability to automate 50% of all jobs now is catastrophic when we have no viable political mechanism to accommodate this degree of change in this time-frame. With the current economic system and its characteristic liberal relationship with debt, no society can function and maintain social cohesion in the face of 50%+ unemployment (remembering that unemployment in the Great Depression was a mere 25% to 35% by comparison).
This is just Speculation, right?
Of course, we don’t know the rate and extent of change but, if it looks like an elephant…..
The point is, according to the ETB, we don’t trust governments to act in our interests, but we do trust business organisations will do the right thing. In absence of regulation and a robust legislative agenda, we would really need them to because, to accept that technology mediated job loss won’t be a serious issue, you also have to believe that employers can and will create new jobs in sufficient numbers to maintain the employment levels needed to sustain the economy. You also have to believe that they will do this at the same time as having a rational alternative choice of improving productivity and increasing profit and shareholder returns by automating work such that it doesn’t need people at all. In other words, you have to believe that organisational leaders will voluntarily forgo profit maximisation in a system that specifically rewards productivity, profit maximisation and shareholder returns.
It won’t happen and we shouldn’t expect otherwise. Each business will develop its own competitive strategy based on profit maximisation and shareholder value, by adopting the most advance technologies they can to reduce cost. They are much more likely to lobby legislators against any measures that constrain that purpose. Jobs are the collateral cost, so the debate needs to shift to how an adjustment of this scale can be accommodated in this time-frame. Avoiding this debate has unthinkable consequences.
Check out any reliable technology blog today and you’ll find that tech corporations like Amazon, IBM, Alibaba, Google and others have already automated the role currently carried out by circa 10 million Call-Centre agents. Self-driving vehicles will impact many millions involved in the various branches of the transportation industry, and those business sectors that support them. Robotics and AI are already impacting big employers like farming, stock markets, banking and other financial services, medics and hospital workers, lawyers, media, education and learning, public sector services, admin jobs, computer programmers, warehouse and distribution centres, etc. No class of job is untouched. If it can be learned by a human, it can be learned much more efficiently and consistently by a machine.
You don’t need to be a futurist to recognise that we will have a serious problem long before the all jobs automated scenario. If 50% of jobs can be automated today, the shock to the global economy and our working lives is already foreseeable and in play. In comparison, what arrangements are in place TODAY to accommodate the economic and psycho-social impact of this massive structural change? Many people dream about retirement from work but imagine having no work and no means of income at a young age. No avenue to express your aspirations. No reason to get out of bed in the morning.
I suppose, in this respect, we can trust employers to be the agents of social change. Technology mediated job loss is an immense social and economic change. I’m just not sure that’s what people had in mind when they responded as they did to the ETB.
Chatting with a friend about this recently, he pointed out that as employment in the US and UK was high technology mediated job loss couldn’t be a serious factor.
It’s true, as I write, employment levels are high, western economies are growing (slightly) and stock markets are high indicating positive market sentiment in shareholder returns. These are not long term indicators of anything. It’s probably also the case that technology is yet to reveal itself as a significant factor in the overall level of employment. There are however, strong indications that a significant loss of agency by employees is having an effect on the global economy – another reason why the suggested role of employers as trusted agents of social change is improbable – it’s not supported by the facts – if we still care about facts.
Income Inequality is one the most powerful indication of these changing fortunes. The chart below maps the long term declining share of Wage Income to Gross Domestic Income (GDI). While economic output is increasing, wages are falling as an overall share of output – which is why profits are increasing and stock markets are high. It doesn’t matter that the chart reflect US data. The trend is typical.
When employment is high, as it currently is in the US and UK and, wages are falling as a proportion of income, it can only mean that employee’s bargaining power is diminishing (either through increasing monopsony power of employers, a change in the nature of the jobs market, and/or creeping technology). After all, Price is a function of Demand. If demand for labour is high and price of labour isn’t increasing, other factors must be constraining or decreasing the labour cost (i.e. fewer jobs, less work content, reduced bargaining power and representation, de-skilling, availability of cheaper labour, etc…).
It won’t come as a surprise to find that rising inequality is correlated with this declining share of wages.
That’s why AI based automation is an existential threat. The current (Global) economic model relies on high levels of employment, and balanced bargaining between employers and employees. This provides employees with discretionary income that can be saved or redistributed to buy goods and services, thereby creating demand for more products and services – and more jobs. Absent of other compensating factors, automation disrupts this cycle and leads to income inequality and economic stagnation – which is already being reported. Remember, employees are also customers, so this trend is counter-productive to maintaining a buoyant economy that relies on the circulation of money.
“The world changed after the financial crash of 2008, and politics have been shaped by a toxic growth in income inequality. As well as the gap between rich and poor, there is a deep sense of grievance among those that have faced a long stagnation in earnings, and where the resentments are inflaming a wide variety of issues related to inequality and perceived injustice. Social media provides a far reaching platform to share this resentment”. – A.C. Grayling
Did the world change after the financial crash of 2008. It certainly did from the financial and economic perspective, but that’s probably not the beginning of the post-truth era. Perhaps the neo-liberal policies and deregulation of financial services in the Thatcher/Reagan years promoted moral hazard, where the ends justify any means at the cost of accountability and social-conscience. Or, perhaps the loss of trust in politics intensified in the UK with Tony Blair’s promotion of the Iraq War. Whatever the origins, it’s clear that only our democratically elected representatives can make the changes needed to regain trust in the system. We have to trust that the mechanisms of democracy are working in all of our interests, but how is this possible given a significant democratic deficit and complete absence of trust in politicians and those with great influence? How can it happen when there is a lack of consensus and cooperation between Global political leaders about everything? Is more or less Globalisation or Democracy better? the ideology about how the world should work is the real issue at the heart of Brexit. Trade deals, and everything else, are trivial by comparison.
Why is inequality bad?
There is a view that people have little understanding about the real extent of income inequality and the rate that it has occurred. So, on the basis that a picture speaks a thousand words, these two short videos are even better.
VIDEO #1: Dan Ariely shines a light on the lack of understanding of the reality of Inequality and Social Justice.
VIDEO #2: Professor Richard Wilkinson talks about the impact of Inequality on Trust and a range of other Psycho-Social factors – in 2011.
You can decide if the situation is likely to be better or worse after 8 years of Austerity, Quantitative Easing (QE), and other policy devices that drive inequality…
If Americans want to live the American Dream, they should go to Denmark! – Professor Richard Wilkinson.
Climate Change is another example of the lack of consensus and confusion that arises through lobbying and creates a barrier to social change. However, ignoring the vagaries of extreme localised weather events, one ting that everyone agrees on generally is that melting sea-ice will lead to sea-level rises and flooding of low-lying terrain and coastal areas.
Consequently, estimates of mass population displacement from sea-level rises alone are in the range of 600 million to 1 billion over the next 20 years (excluding displacement through extreme localised weather). Given the typically hostile response to even modest numbers of refugees through war, famine, drought and other natural disasters (i.e. total migration of approx. 69 million globally). Just imagine the extent of tolerance, trust and cooperation that’s going to be needed to accommodate the cultural diversity and volume of 1 billion+ climate refugees.
Are we ready?
What arrangements are in place today to prepare for this? How will they work to live? Are we psychologically prepared? Are we physically ready to accommodate the impact of this change to our communities in such a short time-frame when governments are increasingly protectionist and nationalistic and even the European Union is divided about the UN Compact on Migration. What democratic mechanisms are in place to ameliorate the impact mass migration will have on every aspect of society? Are our attitudes, behaviours and political systems as HUMANE and tolerant as they need to be? Do we TRUST that this change will be handled properly, and who are we placing that trust in?
Will Macron’s France lead the way?
Perhaps the profile of the issues are becoming more prominent. France is sounding the alarm for the world’s advanced economies: capitalism is tearing them apart.President Emmanuel Macron and his Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire are using France’s presidency of the Group of Seven to argue that…
the system fuels inequality, destroys the planet and is ineffective at delivering goals in the public interest. The country has already experienced some of the fallout firsthand in the Gilet Jaune movement that erupted late last year.
TRUTH and TRUST
This article is about the trust deficit and starts with the somewhat jarring suggestion that trust is a fallacy, mainly because we don’t seem to care about truth any more. Given the importance of work to our overall wellbeing, the article focusses on the role of leaders, and employers generally, as positive social influencers filling the vacuum caused by the absence of trust in political leaders. BUT, as illustrated, there are many reasons to doubt that organisations and their leaders can, will or should fill such a role.
The Prisoner’s Dilemma in Game Theory explains that reversing the current decline in trust and confidence requires collaboration and overt demonstrations of self-sacrifice for the greater good. It requires decisions and their outcomes to be based on WIN-WIN rather than WIN-LOSE, and it requires trusting that everybody will play their part and not act in their self-interest, otherwise everybody is worse off. Unfortunately, the evidence is that the reality is represented by theory very well. Self-interest is the currency of success and society is worse off as a result.
Can we do better?
We can, but it’s difficult. Increasing levels of narcissism means that we are more predisposed to take actions motivated by self-interest. That seems to be embedded in our conditioning. For example, Personality Psychology tells us that a change in behaviour require strong situational cues. We have to have important reasons to be motivated to behave differently than we otherwise might. Similarly, the economic and social impacts of the current system are unsustainable when they reward behaviours that have anti-social consequences. We need to reward different behaviours if we want to make a change, because rewards are a powerful example of a strong situational cue. Failing to address these issues means that advancements in technology will provide an almost perfect opportunity to make things unilaterally worse for everyone.
Doing nothing in the belief that we can’t change a global system simply maintains the status quo. Doing nothing is no longer an option, and Pope Francis and President Emmanuel Macron point out. The continuing focus on short term growth, productivity and profit has negative consequences for all, and they lead to consequences that have a tipping point and a cascading effect.
Perhaps those in secure well paid jobs feel insulated from these issues, but what job is secure given what we know?
Perhaps they feel secure and comfortable in having savings, pensions and other assets. These provide little security given the nature of the emerging challenges. Asset values are volatile when markets are unstable. Hyperinflation reduces the buying power of cash, and in a system based on fractional reserve banking, cash is only a reliable unit of tender when banks are stable and functioning as intended.
Property and material possessions are a liability in times of civil disorder. They attract the attention of lawless mobs energised by searing resentment and nothing to lose. Remember the London Riots in 2011? A week of escalating chaos that spread across the country resulting in 5 deaths, the complete destruction of 100 homes, thousands of young adults criminalised, 50,000 businesses looted and disrupted, and £200 million in insurance claims. History is littered with examples of uprisings by the disenfranchised, e.g. the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions – which was only 50 years ago, in 1966 and resulted in the deaths of more than 2m people (a popular uprising spurred on by inequality and resulting in a class war against the elite class who were perceived to be exploiting the poor).
Unless you live on the Moon, nobody is immune from the potential consequences of declining social cohesion arising from inequality, mass migration, or the structural effects of technology mediated job loss all happening at the same time. Inequality is pervasive regardless of socio-economic strata and we can see the effect of a concentration in wealth and economic power. For the first time in our history, on a planet with 8 billion people, you can actually name the few individuals that hold almost all of the world’s financial resources – and this is becoming a shorter list as time goes by. In our life times, mass migration will affect all societies, almost all jobs will be affected by technology and the resulting competition will not bode well for cohesion.
We are the problem and the solution. We can choose between action or inaction, evolution or revolution. Either way, our world is changing in ways that we are not going to like. We don’t want to halt technological progress when it brings huge opportunities and benefits for the advancement of society and humankind. But, in absence of a viable political approach to deal with the consequences, continuing on the current path is counter-productive to society, though it may benefit the few individuals that already own almost everything and hold sway over regulators. Inequality is divisive. Populism and full blown socialism may be unpopular in the West but the current lack of trust in democratic processes and unrestrained capitalism are making radical shifts to more extreme political views. Declining social cohesion and mass civil disorder are inevitable, as they were with each of the revolutions in the past.
Be the Change you want
If you believe trust is a good thing, be a part of the discourse. Put the issues on the public agenda. Promote self-restraint and organisational policies that consider shared interest over self-interest. After all, in the coming decade, hundreds of millions of climate refugees will test your humanity and willingness to allow them to join your community, share your public services, compete for resources and the few jobs remaining that humans will be able to do.