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What might be the state of mind of thoughtful people in 2030? Plainly, it depends on what has gone before. Norman Cumming remarks that "'Seven Tomorrows' (Hawken, Schwartz) had a base scenario called the Official Future, in which things just developed in the way pedestrian statisticians might project. By about 2005 the world had avoided nuclear cataclysm, the US economy had grown fairly quickly, there had been neither civil war nor social transformation, and so on. Obviously - and the rest of the book demonstrated convincingly why - this could never happen..."
The "Dull but Steady" scenario seldom features in books. Scenarios are usually intended to play up issues which the writer thinks to be important. For dramatic purposes, more of the same will not do. However, the next 25 years are, at the very least, an extension to a phase of history which is without precedent. They do not need much dressing up.
Consider what is effectively inevitable. The Official Future will see a demographic overturn of the old order, and an uncertain economic rebalancing with the new. Science and technology will be treading on very strange ground. The world will be connecting itself together, so that the discontents and ambitions of any one group will collide with those of people from whom they were hitherto insulated by distance or deference. A great deal that was once virgin and self-managing will be exhausted and in need of active care. This is, surely, enough; and we should earnestly hope that the ship of the World's affairs proceed in a Steady but Dull manner through these reefs.
Taking this as our crow's nest, therefore, how might intelligent people be thinking about their world? We are going to address this under seven very general headings.
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Let us explore this in two steps. First, what are the grand trends in assessed content? Second, we will look at the objective factors which seem to create the conditions for happiness.
History and introspection were very much an individualistic pursuit before the nineteenth century. Later, we shifted to a more collective phase of telling ourselves happy stories about progress. The twentieth century, by contrast, brought on a colder, more abstract and much less anodyne view on who we are. Many discarded the comfort of religion, all were exposed to news and other media which emphasised our capacity to do harm to each other. The mood with which the century ended - in the West, at least - sat in strange contrast to the actual achievements made within it, as measured in the greater breadth of choice, wider education, extended longevity, improved health and general standard of living. Victorian Britain or the US of the civil war were hard, rough and desperate places for the vast majority of the population.
One of the odder features of surveys which look at content is exemplified in the figure shown above. Levels of personal contentment rise with income, reaching a plateau beyond which more wealth makes very little difference to recorded levels of content. Objective indices - such as longevity and freedom from crime - follow a closely similar curve. However, as shown on the right of the figure, our views about society and the state of the world seem remarkably constant, varying little with either the level of income enjoyed by a country or other proxy measures of development. This paradox emerges at both the national and personal level: we stay grumpy when we get wealthy, and if anything we become even more prone to complain.
Objective measures of what ought to provoke content in general, and which do in fact correlate directly with personal contentment scores, give the pattern of relatedness that is shown above. That is, wealthy countries such as the US and Britain cluster together, and the developing countries are separated from these by a wide divide. Some nations and many individuals within them will be crossing this divide in the period to 2030 but, as we have seen in the development paper, many more will not. The absolute number of miserable people who, for objective reasons ought to be unhappy will rise, but the absolute number of people who think that the world is going to hell will increase disproportionately, for the reasons discussed above.
What, then, are the factors which make us individually happy? Research shows that they come in two blocks: the first broadly to do with the society in which we live; and the other to do with our individual character and its ability to find a suitable niche.
Assessment of the first block is straightforward, following much of the analysis given above. One can explain about 70% of the difference in self-assessed happiness between societies in terms of the clarity and predictability of those societies. Some of these are objective social goods: transport, housing, education, health, food supplies and clean water are all more than proxies for wealth and poverty in the statistics. Some important factors are more subjective, but at least as important in defining levels of content. These comprise questions such as: Is there a clear path to self-betterment? Can I rely on others? Is the society there to help me, or prey on me? Will things get better in future - will my old age be safe, will my children be safe?
The second block of issues - the fit between individual character and the society - is an egregious issue only in monolithic or conformist structures. In pluralist societies, most able people can find their niche. Communist and other totalitarian regimes, fundamentalist theocracies and military dictatorships all have had little time for individual differences, however. Mao had all pets killed because 'they distracted people from the purity of the state', and imposed uniform dress codes and modes of speech. Other totalitarian states tend to show similar conformity, from the universal "Saddam" mustache in pre-war Iraq to the burqua enforced on women under the Taliban.
Liberal states, by consequence, create niches within their structure. Almost any conceivable functional psychological type can find a situation in which their personality matches their circumstances. Most people with complex lives in fact inhabit several niches - work, play, family, self - and have developed sub-personalities to cope with the demands of each of these.
It is, however, notable that the more liberal the society, the more space it gives to the creators of discontent, from advertisers which invite you to consume what you cannot afford to the politicians and journalists whose lifes' work it is to pour scorn on the efforts of others. This is, however, necessary creative destruction, the Darwinian struggle from which better governance and more resilient policy ideas emerge. (It also selects for a strange flavour of public servant, but perhaps less undesirable than those bodies which rose to the top of the pond in the time of unrestricted grabs for power.)
The wealthy societies of 2030 will be more complex than those of today. They will be more 'connected' by systems of feedback, regulation, information exchange. They will have even more niches, with most people living in at least several niches during the course of their daily life. Navigation in this environment will take more effort than today, just as today's world takes more social effort than did living in a village. The basic, objective drivers of contentment will be largely satisfied for most people, for - aside from being old, or relatively poor within their rich world - they will lack for very little. This is not to say that they will be happy about the ways of the world, however, but rather that they will be looking for new baskets from their irreducible quantum of irritation.
This irritation will be focused on change. As noted, society will be complex and hard to navigate, but it will also be mutable. This is not so much a matter of change in itself - although much change will be occurring - but perhaps more attributable to there being many parallel sets of rules, with no obvious way of choosing which to follow. If you live in an Islamic community in Britain, for example, there are rules for 'inside' and rules for the outside world, rules for business and rules for friends. You need to know which 'game' you are playing, and to be sure that the other people involved have negotiated their way to the same starting point.
The societies of 2030 will have many such strands running through them, requiring active management. New rules are constantly churned out by youth culture, new technology and the like - when is it appropriate to make a mobile call? It depends on who is around you and who you are. By 2030, the range of options will be much greater, and the overhead for the insular, for many of the elderly, and for those with poor adaptive skills will be considerable. Sources of uncertainty, risk and concern will not be welcomed by these groups, and whilst a normative approach is not going to be possible, the irritation that flows from this will be exploited by politicians and others.
The poor world will be much less happy, for the objective reasons discussed above. Having been able to label themselves as 'developing' - with the hope implicit in that adjective - many countries will have had generations of failure to explain to themselves. They will have straightforward social systems - the traditional pyramid, often held up by columns of patronage - with the tensions implicit in these. However, despite Marx and a century of revolutionaries, such societies are remarkably robust so long as everyone has more to gain from maintaining the status quo than they do from attacking it.
Hate will lead to direct action, and episodic low intensity violence against such targets will be a feature of the times. As now, this will attract disproportionate concern from the rich countries, and the ideology of these movements will be another thread to follow in the maze of the times. Some in the rich world will sympathise, whilst others will deny any compromise: rational processes which lead to economic and social betterment - such as free trade - will be decried by both movements, and so made more difficult. Tense times will make it hard to unclench the necessary muscles, whilst relative tranquillity and prosperity will make it far easier to ensure more of the same.
Interpretations of what humanity is 'about' try to synthesise four areas of uncertainty. First, we try to put subjective experience of the world into a way of seeing that re-balances and interprets what we know by experience and what we learn from others. As a child, for example, we can see the world as a backdrop to or even a projection of the narrative of 'me'. Later, we see ourselves in context and learn the difference between the physical world, social constructs within it and our own subjective experience. Religions and folk wisdom once took a major role in this process, now usurped by formal learning, cultural conditioning, science and other forms of investigation.
Second, we sense the world through our emotions as much as our perceptions. These start from simple attributes - nice and nasty, dangerous and supportive - and evolve into the complex emotional blends that we feel as adults. We codify these regularities as tacit rules and explicit statements of ethics, and we use them to make choices. Neither emotionality nor the mapping discussed in the preceding paragraph are enough for us to run a coherent life, however, for we need to deploy both of them. Emotional responses are how we find our way through the social maze to the cheese which most attracts us. This is not morality, but navigation; and our society provides us with more or less coherent structures by which to do this.
Third, we are drawn to look for a point to our experience. There are ways of collectively getting to the cheese which seem 'better' than others. They cause less friction, hurt fewer people and may even generate a net gain for society as a whole. We learn to think that if everyone were to show the forbearance and trustworthiness that are involved in these better ways of operating, then we should all be better off. And, as discussed elsewhere, it turn out that trust and the non-zero sum game are exactly what societies need in order to operate, and it is the rules in that society which allows these qualities to be deployed.
Morality is the name that we give to the most general rules that permit a society to operate. As football or chess literally do not exist without the rules, so societies do not exist without these rules of conduct. However, moralities need not agree, and usually have not done so beyond the fundamental needs of health, commerce and security. Most societies have kept slaves, have written complex laws about slaves and have congratulated themselves on so securing civilisation against the tide of barbarism.
The fourth area is an extension of all of the other three. In asks the cosmological, ontological question about what it is to be human: as an individual and as a collective, and as an animal managing its baser instincts with the hope of some form of transcendence. It seeks Purpose and perhaps God, and seeks a synthesis which answers all questions.
Science, which is so fine at mapping and defining the first of the three uncertainties which were discussed above is largely hapless in the other two, and helpless in this fourth category. Religion, which aspires to give these answers, often starts with a revelation as to The Point Of It All and then works back to infill the other three areas of right conduct, right feeling, and right insight. One either buys into the revelation or one does not; or goes along with the cultural norms for practice without subscribing to the supposed insight.
Most in the developed world now find this unsatisfactory, and formal adherence to a religion has dropped to a minority in all but the US. Most such people perceive no practical gap that affects the conduct of their daily life until they encounter a major life event, when the gap may become cavernous and addressed with chemicals and 'counselling'.
The wealthy world of 2030 will be better understood, in the sense of the first category, than we can currently imagine. We will know how we think and what constitutes awareness. We will probably be able to create synthetic analogues of awareness - so-called strong artificial intelligence - and we will be able to interact directly with the quality and perhaps content of another's mind. We will be able to measure individual mental predispositions and weaknesses, infirmities and potential and will probably be able to make interventions which are currently unimaginable. Our insight into how the body works, ages and fails will be very nearly complete, and our armamentarium with which to solve medical and psychological problems - and with which to create completely new capabilities - will be extensive.
The ability to interact directly with the mind will be very much on the horizon in 2030. Quite aside from to potential to resolve the soft and hardware problems of the mind, and the extension of inherent strengths, we shall also see the beginnings of the transcendence movement, whereby human biological limitations are set aside. For example, consider the convenience of the temporary installation of skills, such as languages or human relations, performance arts or aesthetics. One might complement this with temporary personality shifts which meet the needs of the moment, turning up one's competitive drive, dampening down one's moral qualms; or the opposite. One might look to the partial fusion with other minds across a project, such that groups of people become trans-personally intelligent, focusing as something of a single mind upon an issue. Individuals may allocate shards of their awareness to various tasks, rather as one drives, listens to the radio and thinks about problems, but with tighter management and better recall.
This implies that the four elements - of mapping, of emotionality, of social rules and of integration around a source of harmony - will be taxed in quite different ways in 2030.
As already noted, the basic issue of knowing how things work will be vastly extended. By contrast, the second cluster of tropisms called 'values', 'emotions', 'morality' will be under great strain: we will have to resolve not only our better understanding of the human condition but our advanced ability to interact and change its fundamentals. The third element, the codification of all of this into a working society, will be have to find ways of talking about a huge number of variables to an ever-more complex, preoccupied and quickly-changing society. Finally, the traditional mysteries around which religion has set up its sanctum will be under assault, by implication as new possibilities and arise and in fact as novel insights onto what constitutes awareness, the physical underpinnings of the universe and the like are defined. There is much that will shine light into these hitherto obscure corners.
Our four elements - of understanding, of feeling, or codification into rules and of meaning - are, therefore, undergoing uneven development and each subject to increased pressures. This is not an entirely happy balance.
We have seen that understanding one's society and how to cope in it will become an increasingly crucial issue. The most able will remain the best at achieving this, but the performance gap will probably increase with the scale of the task. Better tacit institutions, designed for purpose and propagated through schools and the popular media - games, soap operas - may well be the only way to close this gap.
We have also seen that many of the traditional human certainties are going to be both overwhelmed by the tasks set them by society, and also undermined by new developments. We noted that this was not an entirely happy situation in which to find oneself. It is likely that the anonymity of the large international city will attach itself to the society at large.
People in the metropolis acquire a hard, smooth finish, like a river pebble rounded by a thousand collisions, sticking nowhere and retaining nothing soft on its exterior. They have multiple identities which unfurl separately and in their safe, proper place - in the office, with the family, amongst the co-religious, the gay, the followers of pop and fashion. Affiliations are still village-like, as a protection from the larger community and as a simplification of the whole. We do not need to deal with all of society, and when we have to interact with the elements for which we do not have a persona prepared, we feel discomfort.
The answer to "who am I?" is therefore increasingly multiple, a constellation of identities which shares - or anyway, do not easily transgress - both a set of values and a vague life plan. "Values" comprise one's personal predispositions - introversion or extroversion, and so forth - and the situations which suit these; one's specific enthusiasms and dislikes and, amongst these, the generalities of ethics, compromises and relationships with power and so forth. Our identity is rooted not in class or work role, as hitherto, but increasingly in this cluster of values. As our options expand, so what we choose depends increasingly on what we want and the trade-offs that we will accept. However, as already noted, this heartland for identity is exactly where we are weakest at facing the future.
The development of the world was once thought about chiefly in terms of centres of power, and later as the interaction of nations. Nations acquired assets and capabilities, and through more or less direct means, projected their influence upon others. The Great Game was played on a board that looked very much like a conventional political map of the world.
Today, by contrast, the forces that are at work revolve as much around non-local and abstract factors - human capital, access to information, science and technological capabilities, capital markets and commerce - as they do around political centres. Where such centres are actors in their own right, they tend to represent extremely complex constituencies and to be constrained by these.
The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia is thought to be the first formal recognition of the nation state as an entity in its own right, rather than simply lands possessed, however temporarily, by a monarch. The previously-tenuous sense of national identity continued to consolidate for several hundred years, actively promoted by the state for its own purposes. The ties between citizens within a nation, whatever their status and wealth, were thought properly to be greater than the links between peers in other nations. Workers of Britain or France were therefore expected - bound, forced - to fight for their country, rather than to unite in order to fight other classes, religions or similar unifying ideas. Nationalism asserted the existence of an inclusive national identity, entailing superiority - or anyway difference - to that of others.
This ethos proved to be a useful way of organising moderately complex societies, and also the source of much conflict and political misdirection. Its simplifications helped to answer many difficult questions, but often provided answers that were less than helpful to a complex and dangerous world. Nationalism fuelled most of the wars of the Twentieth century, created a blueprint for the end of Empire which may have been less than appropriate to many of the arbitrary chunks of geography to which it was applied, and perhaps encouraged ancient tribal tendencies by encouraging self-definition, where formerly a certain vagueness had fostered mutual toleration.
Industrial societies demand more abilities from more of their populations than do agrarian or simple economies. The pursuit of wealth and influence demands a population with widening education, with access to information and with a growing individual autonomy. Political structures have to adapt themselves to this, or face revolutionary change. The national model of stable economic development demands concessions from the able to the less capable or wealthy, and enforces solidarity amongst those who happen to be physically co-located.
External threat - from the Cold War to hotter conflicts - acted so as to enforce this solidarity. However, despite attempts to talk up skirmishes into a war on terror, these pressures have since reduced. By contrast, the economic survival of agents at all levels of aggregation - from individuals through companies to industries, regions, nations and continents - has become much more acute. Nations are moving from a pre-industrial status to full international integration in a generation, often leaving their hinterland much as it was before.
Government is, therefore, caught between national pretensions and international forces. It is clear how a nation is to adapt to the forces of modernisation, but this prescription either requires consent from a geographically-focused social collective, or goes ahead without them. A significant fraction of the population are neither touched by not likely to touch the whole areas of knowledge, commerce and communication in which economic strength is made and destroyed.
A growing fraction of most national populations are acquiring the skills and knowledge that is needed in order to adapt to events. The income of those who fail to make this transition fall in real and relative terms. This said, mobility is now remarkably high. The figure shows how family incomes have changed in the US in a five year period. The columns show the percent of a given income quintile (fifth of the population) which remains in its original earnings position, and the distribution of those whose status has changed across the other four quintiles. If there had been no change, all the columns would stand as either zero (off the diagonal) or 100%.
The cohesion and solidarity of societies rests in part of narrative - on stories which we tell ourselves so as to interpret our world - and in part on facts, delivered and tangible. Our narratives about the past always seem stronger than those concerned with the present, and the societies of the past almost always to have been more cohesive, more clear about their collective identity than does the present. It is easy to over-state the level of contemporary anomie. This said, virtually all measures of confidence in institutions, in leadership and in social cohesion have shown declines in almost all Western societies over the past 20 years.
The figure is taken from a paper, here, which is concerned with social typologies. In brief, societies differ more internally than they does the mean between nations. The same dimensions of personality exist in all societies, and offer the same level of performance when classifying people into psychological types. There are, however, trends which develop with the level of income per capita, and this is what the figure shows. More people tend to be "traditional" in their outlook in agrarian societies than in industrial ones, for example, whilst middle income societies tend to be dominated by consumers, who tend to be interested neither in tradition nor in how things work, but who tend to focus on self-improvement and on the prospects for their immediate family. Rich nations tend to be made up of, very roughly, a third of "systems rationalists", who worry about society, the environment and how things are best configured; a further third who are consumers, in the sense used above, and a third are traditionalists or those whose traditions have been smashed, often without replacement.
The Western societies are aging, and around 40% of those over 60 years tend to be traditionalists. The discontent that was referred to above is vested in this traditionalist group, with murmurings from the consumers when things do not work as expected.
A further focus for disaffection are low-skill, low-adaptability males in Western societies. Competition from low wage areas has, of course, impacted this group. Women appear to have responded to this in a more flexible manner than have men, who have sometimes found it socially difficult to retrain or to enter the service sector. A fraction of this group is beginning to articulate political opinions which have been characterised as "right wing", but which are in fact traditionalist and populist. In line with the general practice of such movements, abstract problems are personified, much as the Nazis picked on the Jews. No one convincing line has emerged, to date, but the level of ferment implies a huge level of anxiety across a wide range of society.
Where an individual fits in is perhaps less of an issue that who they want to be, at least for the able bodied and the capable. Where choices are limited by circumstance, however, identities are ascribed by those who have power - nursing staff in a care home, for example, where the individual is firmly cast as a dependent being: a sweet or a cantankerous dependent, but nevertheless anything but a free agent. Resistance to this can only be achieved by creating an alternative identity, which is what many NGOs and other pressure groups may have as their chief product. They sell identity, and indignation and borrowed articulacy to go with it: victimhood or Silver Power, the new role empowers the previously powerless. This may be more or less successful in the context of a nursing home, but is surely a force even today amongst the powerless.
Evolutionary biology tells us that we are programmed to care about those who share our genes. Altruism is extended to blood relations, or those who affect blood relations. We are also programmed to find solidarity with the tribe, to revere its hierarchy and to mark and defend our territory against other packs. Or so it is if we are higher mammals, where these rules seem universal. They increase individual and group fitness to survive, whilst precipitating territorial and power conflicts. It is a tautology that the fit survive, because before weapons of mass destruction, there were always survivors and those which survived were called the fittest. And they bred their numbers back up and wrote the history books.
Autarchy linked to oligarchy has been the commonest form of government throughout history. An elite support a supreme leader, but pull him - usually, him - down if he proves poor at the job. This is simply the animal pack, lightly bejewelled. Movement away from this model does not seem to have come from the poor government that primates hurling insults across their borders seem able to deliver. Rather, it came when land became less important to the economy than commerce.
Managing land was a slow business, and the people subject to the oligarch were effectively fixed in place and kept in relative ignorance. Commerce, by contrast, requires layers of expertise and is fuelled by information. Expert people see opportunities and they leave. Would-be magnates need to command loyalty by offering mutual advantage, and they need to innovate at least as fast as the competition if they are to succeed. They depend on consumers and suppliers: all of their relationships are contingent and bilateral. The instincts engrained in every magnate ascending to potential oligarch was, therefore, the transience of power and the importance of keeping everybody content.
Societies which developed commerce and grew rich acquired a middle class of able, mobile critics and an elite of thinking, conflict-evading natural politicians. Britain was fortunate in its civil war and the execrable sequence of monarchs who followed this: there really was no alternative to reform, although even that was too little for the American colonies. France suppressed its merchantile class and rode the tiger for too long; Russia for much, much too long. Japan developed its merchants under the Meiji and then forgot what its society was for; and China's elite went to sleep at the wheel.
This long preamble does, however, serve to put the question into context. Societies were once 'for' their owner, the King; with perhaps some vague gestures being made towards the spiritual good of the subjects so ruled. Societies are now firmly 'for' their citizens. They are seen as engines through which collaboration is managed and the benefits apportioned. We are embarrassed by how we handle this, for plainly societies are not 'for' each citizen equally as by no means all of the benefits so created as distributed evenly. Where this is justified, it is done in terms that revolve around motivation (enterprise, entrepreneurship) or around ownership of the resource needed to create wealth (property, capital, efficiency in markets.) In fact, of course, societies are freely-evolving entities in their own right and they are 'for' their own smooth internal workings as much as anything else. Those which pursued other goals - pure equality, impractical religions - to the exclusion of the pragmatic have left only their ruins.
What we should ask ourselves is what it is that societies need in order to function even more smoothly in their co-evolution with their peers. Each is an ecology that has to mesh with others around it, avoid disruption internally and avoid the instabilities that come from resource exhaustion and the equivalent of - and literal - pollution. We individuals are cells in their bodies - thinking, contribution cells - but our health is tied up with theirs.
Socio-biology tells us that a great deal of what we feel as a duty of care is wired into us, and not necessarily appropriate to modern circumstances. We are no longer feral packs, defending our territory or, perhaps, that is exactly what we can become if we forget ourselves. The consequences of doing this are, however, widely lethal in the environment of 2030, where everyone has 'large toes' and where stamping space is limited. Our duty of care is to the system in which we are embedded, and within that, to those mechanisms that most need this care.
So what are the mechanisms that need our attention? The early Twentieth century totalitarian packs hunted around this concept, but mistook outcomes for mechanisms, and anyway chose an adolescent set of outcomes on which to predicate success. In fact, it is the more fragile aspects of tacit infrastructure that most needs our care, and which is most damaged by totalitarians: the prevalence of trust, the predictability of social interactions, the clarity with which choices present themselves.
Societies which are to succeed in the knowledge economy need extreme specialisation and equally extreme dedication to high-order performance. The commercial and other machinery needed to train, showcase and develop such talent comes only in finely-tuned, stable environments. People do not give huge sections of their lives in the hope of financial rewards, or those of aspirations met or creativity fulfilled, if they do not also expect continuity of the "deal" under which they are operating.
Economists have the notion of the utility curve, a concept which has been validated in organisms as basic as bacteria. This combines two ideas: that we value an unexpected benefit less than we fear an unexpected but equal-sized penalty; and that this difference becomes more marked in an environment that is volatile as compared to one which is tranquil.
The level of risk to which a life is exposed is equivalent to the amount of volatility that it encounters. A very volatile - uncertain, and also objectively choppy - situation deters many of the features just discussed: trust, forbearance, entrepreneurialism. (Extreme environments may force extreme measures, but these are seldom constructive, more products of the world of the wolf pack.) Industrial societies strive for tranquillity and predictability not merely because these are pleasant conditions but because without them, the very core on which the society rests is weakened. We note that some forms of instability are best managed by the individual - marriage and family life, perhaps - and some by the collective: economic stability, defence.
The history of the Twentieth century has been for the collective to creep into individual lives. At the same time as the vast majority have come to enjoy choices denied to all but an elite, so many choices are now effectively prescribed, or proscribed. This is particularly true of parenting, where the state requires standards of health care, schooling and parental behaviour that would have been foreign to an earlier generation. Much the same has become true of the workplace.
One of the reasons why this has happened has already been discussed. The collective can do things to even out the instabilities of life, giving children their best possible start, prevention accidents in the workplace and so forth. The other is quite different. It is to do with "caring", and reflects the fulfilment of certain values as its objective. Perhaps in consequence of the totalitarian wave, perhaps following the sacrifices of world war two, perhaps as a bulwark against Communism, the industrial West set up enormous welfare programs in the middle of the century. In part, these are aimed to even out life's wrinkles, and in much greater part, they are intended to "care".
The progressive expansion of the state has been driven by three forces: coping with complexity, increasing competitiveness through all of the risk-annealing and capability-enhancing measures already discussed, and the caring aspect of welfare. None of these needs will abate in the period to 2030, and demographics point to sharply increased welfare needs. Something has to give - tax payers pockets aside - and it is likely that this will be the caring aspect of state spending, set aside for more pragmatic goals based on concrete aims. As an example, it is well known that the amount of long term unemployment in a country is directly proportional to the period over which people can expect support. Those nations with indefinite support have large numbers of long term unemployed, and those which do not, have not. Equally, those which invest to reduce barriers to employability - through training, mobility, counselling - also enjoy lower levels of unemployment. The caring model - that someone should do something for these poor people - is replaced with a more concrete use of welfare spending.
The duty of care that we owe to our society is, therefore, extremely well able to handle issues of welfare. It places these on a solid footing: what qualities does society need in order to keep intact and reinforce subtle issues such as trust and risk aversion; and how does it handle the chasms that open in people's lives? Plainly, there are issues such as disability and age which are not susceptible to "fixes", but which can be greatly mitigated by appropriate policy measures. The scale of these issues is hinted at by the chart, showing the proportion of a large random sample asked about mental health in the US.
Collectively we need attractive responses to these issues because they are the outward sign of the values to which we individually and collectively aspire. As noted above, our personal identity is rooted not so much in class or work role, as hitherto, but increasingly in a group which is predicated on shared values, aspirations, balances between options. We have noted that this tendency can only intensify, yet each values-defined group through which we move in our daily lives needs to exist in harmony with the society at large.
Dissenting groups may try to change society, or be changed by it. This is legitimate and the essence of opinion-forming and politics. However, if their values and actions do not integrate within the elastic bounds of society, or which strive against the overall flow of change within it, must expect something other than tolerance of difference. In the case where active harm is done - as with criminal groups, but also with lax parents and bad employers - society applies direct sanctions. It is probable that more insight into social processes will lead to ever-greater areas of default and failure coming under this umbrella.
A society is usually thought of as an entity with strong geographical roots. There is, therefore, a separate issue created when groups who are geographically co-located do not share values, or where identity is strengthened by emphasis on difference. Where the group is numerically and economically inferior to the dominant culture - as is the case in all of the current industrial nations - then groups which refuse to integrate are placed a self-imposed ghetto. This can be a source of prolonged friction - as evidenced by the French 'young Muslim' riots in Autumn 2005 - and can also be a source of strength and eventual integration, as with the US melting pot. Britain's industrial revolution drew heavily on the technical legacy left by Huguenot migrs from French persecution of Protestants.
This said, the 2030 period is likely to be one of some tension between the wealthy and poor nations, and between the new and the old rich. Demographics have many implications for European countries, and a large number of guest workers will need to be managed if the societies are to function. The old rich will be living on their wits, and will depend on having leading-edge skills and the structures in which to make use of these. What a society can do will depend on its level of stability, of trust, of connectivity; and tolerance for sources of instability, drags on the system and waste will be extremely thin. Pluralism within clear norms will be the order of the times, but norms set less by what you do than by why you do it, to whose benefit and with what harm to others, the environment and above all to the structure of society as a whole.
Such an approach is aided by the universal and potentially extremely intrusive information systems of the time. It is assisted by much better assessment of individual tendencies, potential, medical weaknesses and the like, such that appropriate channels make themselves apparent to individuals.
Readers may see this as a planned, totalitarian society from 1920s science fiction. The technology of 2030 certainly has that potential. However, it also has the potential to give each individual choices currently hidden to them, doing so without human or state mediation. Readers are referred to the story "Everywhere" by G. Ryman, in which a small boy has conversations with his evolved mobile telephone-wrist watch, such that it learns what he enjoys, offers advice and tuition, and points him to options and possibilities: "Join a water fight by the river", "Earn some money cleaning pigeon lofts", "Take a cardboard box to the mask-making party at Number 23" and so forth. The machine is intelligent enough to recognise situations that have danger in them, and dangerous people. The life-trail of such a person - with whom they have interacted, where they have been - creates a situation of complete security, in that any harm done to the child can be immediately accessed, in the manner of CCTV. Thus trust can be extended in the manner of a village community, and networks built.
We have created a great deal of the shape of our view of the default market economy of 2030. It is a long, long way from what most counties have at present. But it is, in fact, not so far from the situation in some of the smaller economies: from the Scandinavian countries, from Canada, from newly-founded centres of wealth in the US.
World War Two taught its administrators and senior officials the merits of uniformity, centralisation and simplification. Things has to be put into so-called silos, where one thing could be done very well and in huge volume. No ambition was beyond the rational mind, and there was no conceptual difference between building a society and building a bridge. Great societies were there for the taking of those with great minds.
The governments that evolved for the cold war took these principles and applied them to politics, redesigning parties as engines for winning, not the embodiment of ideas. Power resided in functionality, managed from the centre through monolithic executive silos. Expenditure expanded and bureaucracy succumbed to hypertrophy. Governments were to be for the people, but also reigning over them and defining their lives. Commerce was an adjunct, a necessary breadwinner to this mother-and-child relationship. If the power of ideas did not define this sufficiently, then the fact of the cold war would do so.
The reassertion of commerce and capital - and the fact of global competition - came in the wake of extensive failure of this mode of government. It was paralleled by the rise in the importance of information technology. The colophon was the increased irrelevance of the communist ideal in the face of market-based social success, and the eventual collapse of the USSR. The mellowing of China towards market authoritarianism has capped this phase of history in fitting concrete. However, the old models of representation and decision taking are still abroad, their garments flapping in the winds of change.
This essay has indicated much of how citizens might think about their society in 2030. There is a major issue of how we get from here to there, discussed elsewhere. Here, however, we need to give a little more shape to the emerging model.
First and foremost, it is clear that the tradition of a geographical model is increasingly irrelevant. Technological excellence is not a concept attributable to locales, despite the importance of specialised clusters. Economic insight or the ability to trade financial instruments resides where people are trained and paid to acquire them. Solidarity, as we have seen, is also with attitude clusters, groups who have similar views and who follow similar life trajectories. Geography has, however, the grand structures which we call society, discussed in detail above and strongly influential on what can be achieved at any given locale. Geography is also extremely influential on costs and economic scale.
There is a tension at work, between geography and the non-localised, between the soft, subtle social networks that create the seed bed of the knowledge economy and the harsh realities of commercial competition. Mediating in this are markets and consumers, individuals and pressure groups, governments and the processes of discourse by which societies make up their minds about things.
Once formal government reigned supreme, but now it is one voice amongst many. Its policy wings are firmly clipped by expertise: there are rather tightly defined tools by which to manage an economy, but much, much less ambiguity than hitherto as to what will work. Thousands or hundreds of thousands of trained minds consider questions which were once settled in isolation, often by generalists focused on the short term. It has to be the case that this wing-clipping will continue as more and more policy domains fall to the expert voice.
This said, one sees precious little sign of self-reform in the governments of the industrial nations. The European adventure seems predicated on what Mrs Thatcher once called "yesterday's future", but may yet be a catalyst for change. Japan has striven mightily for nearly two decades and may slowly be removing its self-imposed constraints. It is hard to discern a sense of coherent mission in the US state, fraught as it has been with inexplicable adventures and fixed ideas.
Government is already much more layered, more subsidiary than it was a generation ago. This delegation into layers and to the local will continue, as a measure to combat complexity as much as a gesture to democracy. Modules of government are much better suited to access specific expertise, and to work closely with the relevant networks. Ultimately, specialised units - local, functional - are able to give their superiors advice which is so expert that it amounts to direction. Certainly, it closes down many options, as civil service briefings are supposed to restrict the wish list of elected officials to the practical and affordable.
The role of central government is, therefore, going to change; or become seen to be increasingly irrelevant to the issues at hand. Issues which do not delegate downwards to regions or functional expertise are concerned with, on the one hand, balanced integration and on the other, with the subtleties of values and the public tone of voice. Current political structures - essentially, one or more legislatures and an executive - are poorly suited to either of these tasks, although the balancing of resources and goals is something which government has learned to do. It does it, however, with a typical horizon measured in years when the issues take much longer to resolve themselves. The question of tone and values, of the duty of care to the society as a whole that was discussed above, is either implicit, embodied in the persona of the leader or worn on the sleeve as a badge of party loyalty. Democrats are softies, Republicans are tough.
We began by mentioning the default Dull but Steady scenario, in which the future rolls out much as we might expect on current trends. The greatest enemy of this frankly happy prospect is a polarisation of the world into camps. These could (conceivably) be armed camps, but only if driven by deeper forces. Such forces are primarily economic - mercantilist - or they are ideological, reflecting and giving a voice to disparities in health, wealth and happiness - on the one hand - or rejection of the whole ethos of, for example, the industrial world.
Consider first the potential economic causes of polarisation. There are two generic concerns: resource scarcity and pollution on the one hand, and the consequences of international competition on the other. We have discussed resource issues under energy and noted the positive and negative spirals into which policies could take the world. Much the same issues, with more local implications, focus on regional pollution, fishing rights and water supplies.
International competition is a more pressing concern. The current industrial powers are faced with several billion highly motivated people queuing to compete with them. How China, and later India, Brazil and perhaps Indonesia manage their impact on established markets will make a great difference to how their emergence is greeted. Trade wars and embargoes on knowledge transfer would lead to unhappy long term consequences.
Ideology is much less tractable than economic or resource issues, in that it is often in the interest of the ideologues to increase, rather than lessen tension. The faithful become that much more bound to the leader if hostilities are high and boundaries drawn. There are two interacting cores to potential ideologies. One is hardly new, but reflects on disparities in wealth and opportunity and blames the wealthy for this. The other is less well-defined, but finds complexity and change too difficult to manage, and seeks a return to strong simple certainties, one of which is that the rich countries are the source of all that is bad in the world. Either or both of these can cloak themselves in religion or secularism. They have their heartlands, but are essentially delocalised - some states may adopt them as the official view, as they did in the cold war, but the modern expression comes from social movements that transcend borders.
Ideology may lead some people to take violent action, which we call terrorism, on which much more here. This is, however, not its most important implication. As we have noted, economic and social development is a necessary precursor to a clean and peaceful world, and rejectionist of hostile politics in the regions so affected will slow political growth or set it in reverse. It can be an excuse for dictatorship. It can be an excuse to reject transparency and so cover corruption from view. Above all, it is a profound source of friction in nations which cannot afford this.
We have, over the past five years, seen activity by the great powers which have undoubtedly raised tensions and created the conditions for persistent instability. By contrast, we have also seen many development successes, and nothing injects calm so effectively as economic progress and stable government. As noted repeatedly, there is a generation in which to get these issues right - to assure the Dull but Steady future - after which it will be increasingly difficult to envisage a desirable way of living together. The people of 2030 may look forward to a crowded, densely populated and polluted planet, but with the tools in place to go forward towards something desirable, or they may see much the same, but with every path forward littered with the obstacles of intransigence.
Wealth is made when specialists come together with things in their possession that others want, and will exchange for their own speciality. The wealth comes from the deployment of specialised skills, as observed by Adam Smith in a pin factory two centuries ago. A hundred people, each engaged in making cheese or bread, pins or thread collectively generate more goods and services - things other people want - than do the same hundred, trying to create the goods that they need for themselves. The specialisation generates the goods, but the desire to exchange generates the motivation. Wealth generation comes down to this: comparative advantage earned by specialisation and exchange, and the motive to create desirable things so that you can enter into this exchange.
Nothing is intrinsically valuable, in the sense of being open to trading in this way, unless it can be captured by an owner. Fresh air is infinitely valuable - in the sense that we die in minutes without it, and so would trade everything we have for a breath of it - but it has (fortunately) proven hard to acquire title and restrict the supply of it. Gold, by contrast, is much less necessary but much more valuable because one can indeed capture or acquire legal title to the mine.
Equally, extremely valuable things - such as having a rule of law that allows title to be claimed on properties and factories, and which prevents seizure and plunder - are not traded. Or, where they are, it is called 'corruption'. Such qualities are essential to the process by which wealth is created and traded. Others are the stock of human resource, the political stability of the state, its transport and other infrastructure, the general state of health in the population and so on: a long, long list of necessary conditions. One way or another, a society has to come up with ways of resourcing these needs if the tradable aspects of wealth generation are to be satisfied and it is to maintain or improve its relative position. Its true wealth should, however, by accounted to include not merely the value added which is swapped around but the intangibles and institutions which it has in place.
Wealth was once measured largely in tangible things: fields and cows, gold coins and carriages. Even so, the intangible was much sought after, in the shape of a charter to trade in certain areas, or the legal right to levy taxes at a port on behalf of the monarch. These were social conventions, not things, yet they possessed the keys to wealth and were exchanged avidly for tangible assets. The resource base of the natural world was taken for granted, and indeed 'nature' was a threat, to be tamed and domesticated.
An OECD assessment, conducted in 1998, saw something around 50-60% of all traded added value in the industrial countries as made up of patterns of order rather than of tangible things. Further assessments tend to show that the cost base of even traditional manufacture is split, roughly evenly, between the activities which one normally associates with making things - buying metal and bending it, distribution and finance - and between such patterns of order. That is, half of the cost in manufacture went into research and design, intellectual property rights, patents, legal agreements, partnerships, outsourcing agreements, regulatory costs, marketing and advertising, insurance and so on and so on. The key skill is, increasing, the ability to manage within complexity, keeping the cost of this under control and preventing projects from getting tangled in its thickets.
How is this likely to change in the period to 2030? Not a great deal, except even more output will be attributable to complexity management. Even more weight will be carried by the less tangible underpinnings of society. Renewal will proceed at a faster pace, due to both competition and technical advances, and winners and losers amongst nations, suitors for capital, approaches to management will come and go faster than ever.
Complexity management may not be open to export. The costs of, for example, packaging for the litigious US market is not recoverable from - let us say - the Chinese one. However, what is plainly the case is that knowledge - of what, of how - is a central driver which will not go away. The best current estimates suggest that that investment in primary science yields something between 15% and 30% real, averaged over ten years and across disciplines. However, US science has been shown to have yielded much more economic gain in Japan than in the USA itself. One needs the full social, legal and commercial infrastructure to make renewal work. As study after study has shown, this linkage is a key weakness to the otherwise highly innovative Britain, and a strength in a Japan which even the Japanese regard as conformist in its approach to commerce.