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“We are witnessing the transformation of consciousness and its influence in all our social systems at a planetary level. Economics is at the heart of this change as it profoundly impacts the ways in which society organizes, makes agreements, trades and write laws. In the emergent economics scene we are writing a new story, people are becoming architects, conscious consumers, storytellers, creators and players of a world that works for all. At the consciousness level we are entering into ‘The era of flow’ and a new expressive capacity for humanity. Come to be inspired and share about this evolution which potential is to shift humanity to a new order of consciousness and creativity.
How can we generate and maintain new economic models designed to create the most beautiful world we can possibly imagine?
What are you witnessing that indicates the transformation of a life-affirming economic system?”
Join us at our next Season Event about the future of Economy and Consciousness – Thursday, November 7, 18:30 – 21:15!
Felix F Bopp, Founder & Chairman
Shaping our Future Evolution
Learning to Survive and Thrive in the Emerging Global Paradigm
All the signs are that we are right in the middle of the transition from one global paradigm to another. The one we are leaving is often called “modernity”. The one we are entering does not yet have a name. But we already know enough about it to be sure that it will profoundly affect all aspects of our lives. If we wish to survive and thrive in what will be a very different world, we need to learn how to navigate the transition. This will mean major systemic changes in all our socio-economic institutions. It will also mean major change in each one of us as individuals.
The End of Modernity
It is not generally known that the current global paradigm, modernity, has many of its roots in my home country, Scotland. There was a time when Scotland punched well above her weight in thinking and creativity. Many things that we now take for granted had their origin in Scotland. The list is long – television, refrigerator, microwave ovens, tarred roads, pneumatic tyres, golf, the steam engine, radar, modern banking, antisepsis, antibiotics, quinine, the fax machine, ATM machines, genetic cloning, logarithms, iron bridges, and many other things. For reasons that need not concern us here, Scotland used to be the most inventive country in the world.
Scotland’s inventiveness is relatively well known. What is not so well known is that much of the intellectual basis for the modern world was developed in Scotland, during the Scottish Enlightenment (roughly 1740-90). Of the personalities involved, Adam Smith and David Hume are the best known, but there were many others who made important contributions, such as Thomas Reid, Adam Ferguson and John Millar, as well as notable pioneers in medicine, science, education and civic life. It is difficult for us today to appreciate just how influential Scotland used to be. Indeed, Scotland’s intellectual leadership was so powerful that Voltaire was moved to write: “…we look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.”
Of course, the Enlightenment was by no means confined to Scotland, but I think it is useful to look at Scotland’s contribution because it helps us to see what the Enlightenment gave to the world. Scotland was very active in the development of modern economics, modern medicine, modern science, modern education, modern technology and modern government. To express this another way, the Scotland helped to give us modernity – the set of ideas, beliefs, values, institutions and practices that have shaped, and continue to shape, the modern world.
Few would deny that, for a long time, modernity made life better and easier. It raised the material living standards of many; it increased life expectancy; it enabled us to address many forms of ill health that had gone unaddressed before; it brought education to the majority; it vastly increased our knowledge of the physical world (i.e. science); it has given us a lot of very useful technology; and, in theory at least, it allowed many adults to participate in the big decisions that affect them. All in all, we have much to be thankful for. Any criticism I am about to make must be tempered by my belief that there are many aspects of modernity worth retaining. The bathwater must go, but the baby must stay!
Although modernity brought us many good things, something has gone very wrong. We have just come through the most destructive century in human history, with major wars on nearly every continent, in which over 100 million people were slaughtered, and with more damage to the planet and the biosphere than ever before in human history. And the present century has not begun well. As the 21st Century gets under way, wars are raging on three continents, inequality within and between nations is very high and rising, mental and emotional illness are epidemic, the financial system is in permanent crisis, and nature and the planet are more seriously threatened than ever.
There is a growing sense that modernity has outlived its usefulness and that the benefits it still brings are now greatly outweighed by the problems it causes. The economics, medicine, science, education and politics ushered in by the Enlightenment served us well for a long time but, in some important respects, they are no longer fit for purpose. What we have long assumed to be the main solution to our problems – modernity – may have become one of their main causes. While it is true that many of us are materially richer, we are in some important respects poorer. We have more money and things than we ever had, yet how many of us are truly happy? We receive more schooling and training than ever, yet greed and superficiality are the hallmarks of modern culture. We have more technology and scientific knowledge than ever before, but we struggle to use them wisely. And although we continue to call ourselves “democracies”, many of us wonder what the point of voting is when the outcome of elections can be determined in a few marginal constituencies, when there is little to distinguish the main parties, when big money determines policy, and when leaders ignore the people’s views on major issues, such as war. Since it has been, and still is the dominant global paradigm, modernity must be seriously implicated in all these problems.
The time has come to replace modernity with a set of ideas, beliefs, values, institutions and practices that are appropriate to the very different conditions of the 21st Century. The time has come, in other words, for a Second Enlightenment that will take us beyond modernity to a new paradigm, and provide us with an economics, a medicine, an education, a science and a politics that are better suited to the conditions of today. But what will these be, and how will we create them? In an attempt to answer these pressing questions, I am going to ask not what modernity has given us, but what it has taken away from us.
At the very heart of modernity is a set of core beliefs that is, effectively, the worldview of modern science. I think it fair to say that these beliefs are as follows:
The universe and everything in it, ourselves included, is physical. All those things that seem to be “non-physical”, such as consciousness, can ultimately be explained in terms of the physical.
The universe and everything in it is essentially a lifeless “machine“…a very sophisticated machine, but a machine nonetheless. We human beings and the universe can best be understood as “mechanisms”.
Matter is primary and consciousness is secondary. Consciousness is a product of matter, and not the other way round. For example, consciousness is understood to be an “epiphenomenon” of the brain.
We human beings do not exist before conception or after the death of our body.
Causality is upwards. This means that “ultimate reality” is at the sub-atomic level and that all other levels, including our everyday experience, are secondary derivatives of this.
The universe has no intrinsic meaning. On the contrary, it is full of “chance” and “chaos” and “randomness”.
Religious and spiritual traditions may be useful as a moral compass, but they are no basis for “real facts”. The only real facts come from science.
Although we might not realise it, these beliefs have become so powerful and influential that all metaphysical, religious and philosophical claims that contradict them tend to be rejected. This has effectively devalued and marginalised many important discussions and much potential knowledge. And it has, to a significant extent, relegated religions to the role of providers of a moral compass. The strange thing is that the classic science worldview persists despite profound discoveries in physics, cosmology and biology that suggest that the universe is anything but a machine, that “chance” may lie only in the eye of the beholder, that the universe is rich in intrinsic meaning, and that some aspects of the human being may survive the death of the body. The “near death experience”, for example, has been extensively documented. Yet if, as science continues to insist, the universe began suddenly for no reason (the “Big Bang”) and life on this planet emerged by chance, then the world that science wants us to believe in must itself be totally meaningless. The fact that this statement, as part of that world, must also be meaningless is little consolation!
In my view, then, one of the big unintended consequences of modernity has been loss of deeper meaning. Although it is true, of course, that religion provides a sense of meaning to many people, it is equally true that many others are struggling to find meaning in their lives. Some are lucky enough to find it in their work. For too many, however, work is a meaningless drudge, often poorly rewarded. By removing deeper meaning, modernity has unwittingly created a vacuum. Many people feel that something big is missing from their lives. They may not be able to put this into words, but they feel an empty space inside them that cries out to be filled. They experience this in many ways, such as anxiety, discomfort, insecurity, despair, or a sense of pointlessness. Understandably, they try to fill the emptiness, and they do this in a huge variety of ways. They eat too much, they drink too much, they shop until they drop, they watch a lot of television or play a lot of video games, they rush around too much (no surprise that being busy is regarded as a virtue today), or they use sex, drugs or alcohol as pain-killers. These behaviours, worrying in themselves, often lead to other problems, such as alcoholism, obesity, addiction, depression, and anti-social behaviour. So long as there is a vacuum of meaning, people are likely to resort to desperate means to fill it.
If I seem critical of science, that is not my intention. Science has given us a great deal and will no doubt continue to do so. What I am talking about here are the unintended consequences of what science has become, and of the paradigm it spawned (modernity). Another of these consequences is loss of wisdom. But what do I mean by this? As Martin Luther King once pointed out: “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles, but misguided men.” We know how to create wonderful cars, planes and mobile phones, but we do not know how to use these and other technology wisely, in ways that cause no damage to ourselves and the planet. Indeed, many of the big problems of our time – such as climate change, pollution, and stress-related illness – can be traced back to the unwise use of technology. This is what I mean by loss of wisdom. We have lost much natural wisdom, common sense, if you like, because we have devoted too much of ourselves to one kind of progress – economic and technological – and not enough of ourselves to another kind – spiritual and ecological. The consequences of this imbalance are plain to see.
With the decline of wisdom and common sense, “experts” in science and economics have become today’s high priests. As a result, we pay too much attention to them, forgetting Bernard Shaw’s perceptive observation: “An expert is a person who knows more and more about less and less, until, eventually, he knows everything about nothing.” In the modern world, the “truths” of experts outrank all other “truths”, and we have become overdependent on them. This dependency has extended into other areas of our lives too. One of the hallmarks of modern societies is their increasing dependency on business, government and experts for goods, services and knowledge that, in many cases, individuals and communities would be better providing for themselves. As a rule of thumb, dependency is unhealthy and self-reliance is healthy. Although we sometimes think of indigenous tribes as “primitive”, the fact is that they are self-reliant, empowered communities. They are living cultures, rather than vicarious cultures. They do things for themselves, rather than having things done for them. They recognise the central importance of basic human capacities, such as caring, growing their own food, cooking, healing, educating, creating, and entertaining, and would not dream of having these things provided as commodities and services by government and big business.
I believe that modernity has had one other big unintended consequence, and that is loss of ecology. The few societies around the world that have retained wisdom and deeper meaning at the centre of their lives know just how important it is to live in harmony with each other and with the planet. How many of us can put our hands on our hearts and say that we truly live in harmony with each other, let alone the planet? On the contrary, the modern world has made many of us feel desperate and insecure. It is little wonder that we engage in frenetic activity, such as work, shopping and travelling, when we should be finding ways to live gently and simply, with ourselves and with the world around us.
Modernity and Economic Growth
When we add together loss of meaning, loss of wisdom, and loss of ecology, there is not much left going for us, apart from making money and spending it. This is almost certainly why we live in an era of unprecedented materialism. For many people, acquiring and consuming material things must seem like the only meaningful thing left for them to do. Our economics, our politics, our medicine, our education, our science and our culture have become steeped in material values and beliefs and the behaviours that flow from these. It is surely significant that schools and universities have become little more than training centres in how to participate in the economy, while hospitals in the USA and elsewhere are often referred to as “profit centres”. We are paying a high price for our obsession with material things, as we exploit and damage each other and the planet. Meanwhile, it is short step from materialism to economism, one of the more recent and toxic additions to modernity.
Economism is the tendency to view the world through the lens of economics, to regard a country as an economy rather than as a society, and to believe that economic considerations and values rank higher than other ones. Economism is clearly evident all over the world these days and is a powerful influence in business, political and media circles. It is an extremely narrow way of seeing the world, and it prevents us from seeing whether we are making genuine progress. We assume that if there is more money and economic activity (economic growth), things are getting better. In reality, they might be getting worse and our devotion to economic growth and money is probably one of the main reasons for this. Since the pursuit of economic growth has become such a central feature of modernity, I make no apology for discussing it at length.
There is an almost universal belief that economic growth is highly desirable. China, for example, is thought to be doing “very well” simply because its economy has been growing rapidly in the last two decades. This fact trumps all other considerations, such as human rights, corruption, pollution and breathtaking inequality. Indeed, the belief in economic growth runs so deep that it has a quasi-religious feel to it. Any serious questioning of it is seen as heresy in government and business circles. The truth is that there is nothing intrinsically desirable about economic growth. It simply means that more money was spent this year on goods and services than was spent last year. It does not tell us anything about the desirability or quality of these additional goods and services. It does not tell us anything about the human, social and environmental costs of providing them. It does not tell us anything about income distribution and social justice. Most important of all, it does not tell whether we are getting happier, wiser, and healthier and more fulfilled, which is surely the point of it all.
The principal measure of economic growth – GDP (Gross Domestic Product) – treats the good, the bad and the ugly as if they were all good. So long as money legally changes hands, it counts towards GDP. If there is more crime to be dealt with, more divorces, more pollution to be cleaned up, more illness to be treated, and more debt being incurred, then all of this counts towards economic growth. In fact, nothing boosts growth more than a war or a natural disaster. GDP gives us the impression that things are going well when they may be going badly. There are several good alternative indicators, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). In essence, this subtracts the costs of economic growth from the benefits, to give us a truer picture of progress. It is significant that while GDP in all western countries has been rising more or less consistently in the last 50 years, GPI has been falling or static since the late Seventies. Adopting a more accurate flagship indicator would be a major step in the right direction. Meanwhile, it is worth examining the main arguments normally made in favour of economic growth.
The advocates of growth tell us that if GDP is not moving, we have “stagnation”, and that if it is declining, we have “recession”. These are both emotive terms. Yet, there is surely nothing wrong with a society that is not consuming excessively. And there is surely nothing wrong with a society that actually chooses to spend less money on some types of goods and services. Imagine a world where people walk and cycle more, where there is less divorce and less crime, where people take more care of their health and need less medical treatment, and where there is more self-reliance and cooperation. In such a society, there would be less spending on goods and services. But, in conventional terms we would be in “recession” and considered to be doing badly, such is the Alice in Wonderland world of topsy-turvy values we have created for ourselves.
Then there are those who constantly remind us that less spending leads to unemployment and the closure of businesses. In the short term this is often true. But it is worth pointing out that what we regard as “stable levels of employment” is based not on sustainable production and consumption, but on excessive production and consumption. That excess cannot continue forever. It is causing too many problems, including record levels of personal debt. That is unsustainable. It is much better to spend wisely and moderately and work out the consequences of doing so.
Finally, many people believe that economic growth is a kind of universal panacea. They believe that if we have problems – poverty, inequality, unemployment, injustice, disease, crime, whatever – then all we need is more economic growth and the problems will eventually disappear. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. Far from being a universal panacea, economic growth may be a universal problem because, in one way or another, it seems to be at the root of much ill health, crime, social breakdown, inequality, and environmental degradation. As Clive Hamilton points out in his book Growth Fetish: “Growth not only fails to make people contented; it destroys many of the things that do. Growth fosters empty consumerism, degrades the natural environment, weakens social cohesion and corrodes character. Yet we are told, ad nauseam, that there is no alternative.”
Real Meaning of Sustainable Development
Of course there is an alternative. It is sustainable development. But it is not the kind of sustainable development that many people seem to have in mind. Contrary to widespread belief, “sustainable development” does not mean economic growth, while keeping a weather eye on the environment. Growth means “getting bigger”, but development means “getting better.” These are two very different things. Of course, we have to sustain and enhance the natural environment, but we also have to sustain the other systems that sustain us, namely our health and the fabric of society. Just as the natural environment is under serious threat, there can be little doubt that health and society are under just as much threat, yet this is rarely mentioned in the sustainability debate. If we take the view that “development” means “making things better” and that there are several things we have to sustain, then the concept of sustainable development begins to look very different. It can be redefined as:
Sustainable development is the development of people, communities and planet in ways that sustain the three vital systems that sustain all of us – our health, the fabric of society, and the natural environment
Expressed in this way, it stands in stark contrast to economic growth, which is increasingly identified in public consciousness with exploitation and diminution of people, communities, nature and planet.
To be fair, economic growth itself is not the only problem. It is the set of values and pressures that lie behind it. As a society we seem to value money and things more than we value people and nature. And many of us feel under constant pressure to perform and compete and consume. Such values and pressures wreak havoc on our health, our families, and our communities, not to mention the planet. Whatever else it does, economic growth does not bring health, happiness, wisdom and meaning. And trying to use economic growth to solve problems is like trying to put out a fire by throwing petrol on it. It is true that some things have improved over the years, but there seems to be an increasingly high price to pay for this. For example, we have more speed, but less time for reflection; more choice, but less satisfaction; more competition, but less sense of being at ease; more schools and universities, but less education in the true sense; more doctors and hospitals, but less health; more communications, but less listening; more public services, but less self-reliance; and more police and prisons, but less security.
Next Event: the future of Economy and Consciousness
Thursday, November 7, 2013, 18:30 – 21:15
Location: Waag Society, Nieuwmarkt 4, 1012 CR Amsterdam
A collaboration between Waag Society, Dialogue Cafe and the Club of Amsterdam.
Ferananda Ibarra, Co-founder, Collective Intelligence Research Institute (CIRI)
Invisible architectures: the key to a healthy and thrivable Economy
Jeff Clearwater, Founder, Gaia Villages
Charles Noussair, Professor, Tilburg School of Economics and Management
Artificial Intelligence and the Economy
Moderator: Ferananda Ibarra
Dialogue Host: Sacha van Tongeren, Dialogue Cafe
Optical Glass House by Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP
Club of Amsterdam blog
Club of Amsterdam blog
Demography and Hegemony
Navigating the Transition
Will Green Buildings Help
Shaping our Future Evolution
Oh, The Humanities! Why STEM Shouldn’t Take Precedence Over the Arts
Joy Rides and Robots are the Future of Space Travel
News about the Future
Fighting poverty, profitably
Special Report: Financial Services for the Poor
by Gates Foundation
Transforming the economics of payments to build sustainable, inclusive financial systems
Poor people do not live in a static state of poverty. Every year, many millions of people transition out of poverty by successfully adopting new farming technologies, investing in new business opportunities, or finding new jobs. At the same time, large numbers of people fall back into poverty due to health problems, financial setbacks, and other shocks. However, it is costly to serve poor people with financial services, in part because most of their transactions are conducted in cash. Storing, transporting, and processing cash is expensive for banks, insurance companies, utility companies, and other institutions, and they pass on those costs to customers.
The Gates Foundation’s Financial Services for the Poor program (FSP) believes that effective financial services are paramount in the fight against poverty. Nonetheless, today more than 2 billion people live outside the formal financial sector. Increasing their access to high quality, affordable financial services will accelerate the well-being of households, communities, and economies in the developing world. One of the most promising ways to deliver these financial services to the poor – profitably and at scale – is by using digital payment platforms.
These are the conclusions we have reached as the result of extensive research in pursuit of one of the Foundation’s primary missions: to give the world’s poorest people the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty.
“We’ve developed a method by which molecular hydrogen-producing catalysts can be interfaced with a semiconductor that absorbs visible light,” says Gary Moore, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and principal investigator for JCAP (Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis). “Our experimental results indicate that the catalyst and the light-absorber are interfaced structurally as well as functionally.”
“We look forward to adapting our method to incorporate materials with improved properties for converting sunlight to fuel,” Moore says. “We believe our method provides researchers at JCAP and elsewhere with an important tool for developing integrated photocathode materials that can be used in future solar-fuel generators as well as other technologies capable of reducing net carbon dioxide emissions.”
More creativity in post-production
More creativity in post-production
In the throng of the film set, camera operators have to determine the camera angle, the aperture, and depth of field of the camera. In the future, they will be able to change these parameters, even in post-production thanks to a new camera technology.
And – Action! The set resembles an ant hill. Actors, actresses, extras, cameras – and in between all of this, the director is calling out his instructions. The camera operator has to make sure of the correct settings, pay attention to the flow of the scene, and instruct the camera assistants. Which camera angle should be assigned to which camera? Which part of the image should be sharp, and which should retreat, diffuse and out of focus? Because once the recordings are “in the can”, as they say in the movie biz, these parameters can no longer be corrected. At least, not until now. An algorithm combined with a new type of camera array – i.e. an arrangement of several cameras – should enable these changes to be made retroactively in the future – and thereby allow for more creativity in post-production. Filmmakers can then still decide afterwards which area of the scene should be portrayed sharply. Or move around within a scene – virtually – like in the film Matrix. The actor is frozen in the scene, hanging motionless in the air, while the camera moves around, capturing the scene from all sides.
Capturing the light field: The new array from Fraunhofer includes 16 cameras (see it in picture’s right above angle). So it is possible to rejust sharpness and camera angle even after the original recordings. © Fraunhofer IIS
Many perspectives instead of just one
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen, Germany, have developed a camera array that makes this feasible and will be exhibiting it at this year’s International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam. “The array consists of 16 cameras in total, arranged in four rows and columns”, explains Frederik Zilly, Group Manager at IIS. Instead of having just one single camera as usual, which records the scene from just one position, the 16 cameras collect the light rays at various points in the plane over which the cameras are distributed. The researchers speak of having captured part of the light field from the scene, instead of only one specialized perspective. Although the array consists of 16 cameras, its cross section is only 30 cm by 30 cm (12” x 12”). So it can be conveniently and easily employed on the set and in the studio.
But how does that work, being able to edit the recording so much better retroactively? “The software estimates a depth value for every pixel recorded by the cameras. It therefore determines how far from the camera array the object portrayed is located. Intermediate images can be calculated in post-production from this depth information, so that we have virtual data not from just four columns and four rows of cameras, but from 100 x 100 cameras instead. As the camera operator films the subject, each of the outer cameras is able to look a little bit behind the subject – they have a different angle of view than the cameras located in the middle of the array. After the recording is made, the filmmakers are able to virtually drive around a person or an object, and to change the camera angles and depth of field.
The researchers have already developed the software for processing the recording from the camera array. The graphical user interface is also ready for recording on set. The researchers are still working on the user interface for the post-editing at present; they should be finished in about six months. The scientists are planning then to produce a stop-motion film that is particularly suited as a test run of the software. “Later, we would like to use it as a demo film,” discloses Zilly. “Then we can show interested parties the kind of possibilities and opportunities offered by employing a camera array.”
by Otto Scharmer (Author), Katrin Kaufer (Author)
Our Time Is Now
We have entered an age of disruption. Financial collapse, climate change, resource depletion, and a growing gap between rich and poor are but a few of the signs. Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer ask, why do we collectively create results nobody wants? Meeting the challenges of this century requires updating our economic logic and operating system from an obsolete “ego-system” focused entirely on the well-being of oneself to an eco-system awareness that emphasizes the well-being of the whole. Filled with real-world examples, this thought-provoking guide presents proven practices for building a new economy that is more resilient, intentional, inclusive, and aware.
Demography and Hegemony
by Michael Akerib, PhD
Europe, Asia, Eurasia ?
The Super-Continent of Eurasia is a unique land mass including both Europe and Asia with Europe barely accounting for 20% of the land mass but the largest proportion of the land mass. With the exception of the Sakha peninsula in Russia and the Arabian and Indian subcontinents, these lands lie on a single tectonic plate.
Europe and Asia are separated by mountain chains – the Himalaya, the Hindu Kush and the Karakorum – as well as by the Mongolian steppes.
Eurasia and Africa, prior to the opening of the Suez Canal, were called the World-Island by sailors. This concept is supported by the fact that Eurasia was populated by the same migration wave sometime between 20 000 and 30 000 years ago.
It is believed that the original population settled around the Eastern Mediterranean and then followed a centric movement towards the Atlantic and the North Sea following trade corridors. Simultaneously, part of the population moved eastwards and developed very different cultures, identifying themselves clearly as Asians or Europeans. These are, nevertheless, deep differences between the various countries composing Africa or Europe.
There were very clear differences between these two population groups in the speed of development and the use of technology and explanations have diverged from genetic differences going back to early prehistoric times to the lack of availability of materials to develop tools such as axes.
The first major human settlements took place along the Ganges, the Nile, the Po, the Tigris and the Yangtze. At the start of the Christian era, the two most populous countries were India and China with a population of around 60 million each.
The Mediterranean littoral became the center of civilized life with various civilizations succeeding each other. From 500 BC to 1500 AD – i.e. for two thousand years – four civilizations occupied this territory: the Chinese, the Greek, the Indian and the Middle Eastern. Central Asian barbarian nomads and Jewish traders called Radhanites ensured that the contact between these various civilizations was maintained. This form of trade disappeared as the Chinese Tang Dynasty collapsed ant the routes became unsafe.
Culture and technology migrated through their actions irrespective of their religions. The population of Europe and of the Near East mingled more easily in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean.
Asian geography did not allow such close exchanges as rivers remain inside ethnic and cultural borders, mountain ranges and deserts are difficult to cross.
At the beginning of the Christian era the population of Eurasia was divided into four fairly equivalent groups of approximately 50 million inhabitants each. These were Europe and the southern Mediterranean, the Middle East, India and China.
The period until the end of the 9th century saw large movements of population: the territorial expansion of the Slavic tribes, the invasion of Celtic territory by Germanic tribes, and the Arab invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.
During the Middle Ages, agriculture had moved northward and westward in countries such as France and Low Countries. Northern Europe and Russia were only thinly populated until the seventeenth century. However, their fast economic growth allowed them to overtake the Mediterranean countries. A possible explanation resides in the lack of coal in that part of the world.
Economic growth translated into population growth, reaching the level it would have prior to the Industrial Revolution, with France being the most populated country. Generally, in the countries of Western Europe, people married earlier and had more children. Deforestation occurred to gain arable land.
The 10th century saw a number of important innovations in farming in particular protein-rich foodstuffs such as beans, thus giving more energy to the population and the strength to build cathedrals.
Until the thirteenth century, an economic system interlinked eight cities and their peripheries. These were Flanders, the Champagne area, Genoa and Venice in Europe; Cairo and Baghdad in the Near East; and several cities in India and China.
The 13th century, however, saw Europe’s population having problems feeding themselves. At the time, China’s population was of the order of 100 million inhabitants. The situation worsened in the 14th century, with a series of bad harvests leading to a general famine and a lowering of the immune system that prepared the population for the catastrophe that followed.
This was the Black Death which, with the Second World War, can claim to be one of the worst catastrophes of humanity. In Europe, it is estimated that one third of the population died, but in some areas, the figure reached 60%.
Just as the Second World War affected a large number of countries, so did the disease, spreading over a period of a few decades over the entire Eurasian continent and killing 60% of the population of the Near East, and up to 50% of China’s. The military and tradesmen were probably responsible for the slow spread of the disease. The resulting scarcity of labor raised the survivors’ income and a large number of peasants were able to obtain their freedom from forced labor. This was not the case in Asia where for several more centuries, the peasants would be cheap labor – in fact so cheap that modernization would not happen. However, demand for one of China’s main exports – silk – collapsed leading to a major economic depression in spite of an economic development unmatched by Europe at the time. The Confucian bureaucracy was highly educated and constituted an elite in the country. China benefited from an agricultural revolution. The country’s capital, Changan, today’s Xian, was a city of two million inhabitants.
In China printing was common in the 11th century and large libraries existed. Cities were larger in China than in Europe. Paper money was common. Iron was produced in large quantities. Gunpowder and the compass had already been invented. The junks were as big as galleons and military vessels were numerous and very large.
The absence of bounded labor in England led the British nobility to farm the land they owned themselves, invest to modernize production and reduce the number of agricultural workers, freeing them to first move into larger villages and later work in the first factories that were a product of the Industrial Revolution. Slaves were brought in from Africa and Asia.
These changes were wealth generators.
The three centuries that followed saw the world’s population increase by 20%, 10% and 27% in each of the subsequent centuries with 1750 being the year in which the population figure increased considerably.
Europe saw the sharpest growth. In the 15th century alone the population grew by 53%. By the middle of the 18th century, Europe’s share of total population would increase but would not equal Asia’s share which went from 60% in 1600 to 67% in 1800. China’s population alone was twice that of Europe, rising from 60 million at the end of the 14th century to 175 million at the beginning of the 17th century. India’s population, during that same period grew from 50 million to 200 million.
Life expectancy in Europe increased, and by the beginning of the 18th century one percent of the population was over 70 years of age.
It is believed that this phenomenon is due to the earlier marriages in Asia in general and China in particular, and the more frequent sexual relations between Asians as compared to Europeans where the clergy was celibate. Europeans were also immigrating to the American continent, thus further putting pressure on the population figures.
The lower population growth in Europe allowed the continent to have a slightly better economic growth as reserves could be created.
By the early 19th century, 55% of the world’s population lived in China and India and by 1950, a population explosion will take place. By the mid 19th century, Europe’s population had doubled as women had an average of 4.5 children.
Today, with a below replacement fertility in Europe, in some countries reaching historical lows, the continent accounts for just 7% of the world’s population with Asia accounting for 60%. The most important component for population growth in Europe is international immigration, very often of Muslim origin. The net immigration flow is of 1.5 million people per annum and this is a reversal of the situation that lasted for centuries with Europeans immigrating to other continents. The flow of immigrants into Europe, totaling around 45 million and representing up to 15% of the population in certain countries, is creating major problems due to large cultural differences and a feeling by the nationals that they are losing the control of their countries.
Life expectancy has doubled over a period of a century, thanks to better diet, hygiene and living conditions generally.
The old continent’s population is expected to peak around 2040 to 2045 and decline from then onwards, in spite of immigration, while the world’s population is expanding.
The larger ratio of older persons in the population implies both a reduction in the workforce and a higher old-age dependency ratio with social expenditures ballooning.
These developments could spell an economic catastrophe for Europe: inflation, reduced investments, lower economic output and a decreased living standard. This, in turn, means a decline in education and health care, less impact in foreign affairs decisions and governance, and a reduction in the influence Europe has on supranational institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank.
A manpower shortage would have dire consequences for the military. A shortage of funds will make it difficult to fund the purchase of technologically advanced hardware.
If these population shortfalls are amplified and create power vacuums, they could be exploited by other countries. If immigration is used to alleviate the population shortage, and if the migrants come from too diverse a culture in large number, the countries could be destabilized.
Even if fertility worldwide reaches its lowest point, it is the least developed countries that will account for the largest population. Europe’s presence as a major actor in international relations will dwindle to irrelevance.
This, however, is not a purely European concern, as this same situation will affect China, Japan and South Korea. Total fertility rate in these three countries in 2012 has been, respectively, of 1.55, 1.39 and 1.55 – in other words, below replacement rate. Between 2011 and 2012 alone, the number of elementary-grade students collapsed from 200 million to 145 million.
Japan could lose up to a third of its population by 2050. Cancer-related deaths are expected to balloon in China due to the marked environmental degradation and the poor quality of the healthcare system, further decreasing the country’s population. Nevertheless, it is expected that there will be 300 million retired persons by 2025.
Finally, these three countries attract very few immigrants.
The consequences of the aging of China may well spell the return of industrial production to the United States as cost of manufacturing in Asia will increase substantially.
The end result will be that the United States will retain their position as the world’s hegemon if it so wishes and if it makes the required investments to maintain that position. A victory by default until it too witnesses a major demographic shift.
addendum: In the 59 countries in which 44% of the population lives, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) – i.e. the number of children a woman will have during her lifetime – has dropped, in the last 50 years, to below the replacement level. For the European Union, this figure is of 1.5, with two countries, Italy and Spain at 1.3.
Europe’s population, excluding Russia and Turkey, accounts now for 11% of the world’s population as against 25% only a century ago. Should the Italian TFR become the norm, the population would shrink by 75% by the year 2100. A positive immigration flow of one million persons a year would ensure that by 2050 the EU’s population would be of 690 million thu shaving shrunk by ‘only’ 40 million in 50 years.
Several culprits have been identified. Women marry at an older age thus reducing the period during which they are fertile. Divorce rates have doubled over the last 40 years and mono-parental families represent 21% of all families in the EU. A variety of contraception methods are available including safe abortions. The high unemployment figures are also taking their toll.
If an active young population is an indicator of a dynamic society, Europe stands little hope of being amongst the world’s biggest innovators.
Futurist Portrait: Clement Bezold
Clement Bezold is founder and chairman of the Institute for Alternative Futures. Dr. Bezold established IAF in 1977 and in 1982 he started IAF’s for-profit subsidiary, Alternative Futures Associates, to assist corporations in their strategic planning using futures methods. He has been a major developer of foresight techniques, applying futures research and strategic planning methods in both the public and private sectors. As a consultant, Dr. Bezold has worked with many Fortune 500 companies along with major organizations, including the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, AARP and the American Cancer Society.
Dr. Bezold has published numerous books and reports on the future of government, the courts and healthcare. He is a consulting editor of the Journal of Futures Studies and is on the editorial or advisory boards of Technology Forecasting and Social Change, foresight, and World Future Review. Dr. Bezold received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Florida. He has been assistant director of the Center for Governmental Responsibility at the University of Florida Law School and a Visiting Scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Clement Bezold – What’s Missing in Government: The Future, Fairness and Shared Vision
|Season Events 2013 / 2014|
November 7, 2013
the future of Economy and Consciousness
November 7, 2013, 18:30 – 21:15
Location: Waag Society, Nieuwmarkt 4, 1012 CR Amsterdam [Center of the Nieuwmarkt]
A collaboration between Waag Society, Dialogue Cafe and the Club of Amsterdam
January 30, 2014
the future of Urban Mobility
February 27, 2014
the future of Learning
March 27, 2014
the future of Creativity, Arts & Consciousness
April 24, 2014
the future of Women in Business
May 29, 2014
the future of Green Architecture
Location: Geelvinck Museum, Keizersgracht 633, 1017 DS Amsterdam
Supported by Geelvinck Museum
June 26, 2014
the future of Transformation
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