Everyone, who has played Monopoly, knows that the game stops when a single player has won so much wealth that the other players cannot afford to pay their rent.
Now the real world is reaching this point. Huge fortunes have accumulated in the hands of a few extremely rich individuals (source) and the wealth gap has become so large that welfare policies no longer can bridge it. We must rewrite the rules of the game, if we want humanity to survive.
The Social Contract
The rules of the real world monopoly game are written in a social contract, which is the narrative that regulates the relationship between citizens, businesses and state.
During the post-World War II golden age , the societal surplus in most Western countries was divided equally between the capital owners and the laborers. As a part of the deal, the wage earners financed – via their income taxes – a state apparatus that secured the infrastructure, educated the workforce, covered social security, and paid for capitalism’s negative externalities.
Now this contract is running out, and the nation states are unable to cope with the global challenges like inequity, global warming, and pandemics.
The capitalist form of production is not only unfair, it is also inefficient. It is founded on inequality and is driven by incentives like greed and hunger. Greed incentivizes people to invest and hunger incentivizes them to work.
Capitalism suffers from three very fundamental flaws:
- The social and environmental costs of capitalist production are not included in the price of the products.
- Capitalism promotes artificial scarcity, and monopolized platforms – like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Airbnb and Netflix – stand in the way of truly free markets.
- The capitalist system overcomes the lack of trust between humans via intermediaries like banks, public services, escrow agents, etc., who take a substantial cut of the produced value (source).
Nationalism vs. Globalism
My generation can thank the Scandinavian welfare system for our safe upbringing and our good education and health, but we have also experienced a welfare state that does not deal with global inequities and leaves little room for individual initiative and responsibility.
We are currently in the middle of a process where the political divide between left and right is blurred and supplemented with a divide between nationalism and globalism.
The Western left has no global strategy apart from support for national liberation movements and payment of development aid to developing countries.2 The neoliberal right, on the other hand, has been very successful with a globalization strategy that has radically reduced absolute poverty in the world and created a global middle class. As a side effect, income development for the Western middle class has stagnated.
The Short and the Longer Term
The rich over-consume, waste resources and destroy the Planet for everyone else. The 10% richest people in the World are responsible for 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions (source). We risk reaching a tipping point and, according to the IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we have very little time to reverse the trend.
My own generation came up with climate strategies like Nuclear Power? No thanks!, Degrowth and Organic Farming; but they will likely prove to be inadequate at a planetary scale. Nuclear power kills fewer people than coal (source), degrowth is only a strategy to pursue in highly developed countries, and organic farming is a rather expensive and extensive form of food production.
Putting shame on meat eaters and airline passengers is not the way to go either. In the short term, the only way to change people’s behavior is to make radical changes to commodity prices through carbon taxes. The prices of goods must reflect the full climate footprint and include cost of recapturing the carbon emissions they inflict on the planet.
But that is the easy part. In the longer term, we can expect an explosion in demand for goods and services from a growing middle class in low and middle income countries. The overall food demand, for example, is on course to increase by more than 50 percent, and demand for animal-based foods by nearly 70 percent by 2050 (source). The real challenge of this century is to satisfy the needs of a growing middle class at the same time as reverting global warming.
A New Europe
Despite the name: the European Union, Europe was never really united after the Iron Curtain was lifted in 1991.
Most of the Soviet Union’s European satellite states have been admitted to the EU; but the Russians were never invited to take part in the European integration. On the contrary, they were humiliated and considered non-European barbarians. Hereby, Putin was kept in power, and Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia were kept in a position as Russian buffer states, who were not allowed to join the EU (or NATO).
But this is not the only example of European politicians’ narrow view of what is European. There are over 350 national, ethnic and religious minorities in Europe (source) who are not part of European governance and who’s rights are not protected by the EU institutions.
The EU is a very exclusive club of nation states, not a union of nations. That will have to change in a new Europe. If we are to save the planet, Europe must play a much more active global role. For that to happen, the whole of Europe must be united and minorities must be given independent rights.
The Global War
My generation’s slogan: “make love, not war” has clashed with the real world, and we must reluctantly admit that it has limited effect on nuclear weapons in the hands of despots like Putin and Xi Jinping.
Although there are many common features between the current era and the time between the two World Wars, it is fortunately not likely that history will repeat itself in the form of an old-fashioned third World War. Data is the modern source of wealth and access to data cannot – unlike access to fossil fuels – be conquered by force.
However, we live in a connected world and connecting people can easily lead to ethnic conflicts. We are in the midst of aglobal war between religious groups, minorities and tribes. Nearly 100 tribal wars are being fought around the world (source) so we need not fear the return of the World Wars, but rather the return of the crusades.
Although Putin apparently is fighting for territory in Ukraine, the war is basically an ethnic conflict between Russians and Ukrainians. It is a war between nations fought by nation states.
Modern warfare consists of a military part, an economic part and a technological part. To avoid getting involved in the wars of others, the superpowers have learned to limit the physical part to the directly involved parties, as in the Ukrainian case. The economic sanctions, the cyber war, the supply of intelligence, the supply of weapons, and the battle for the narrative, on the other hand, are truly global: Not only governments are involved, but also corporations, sports associations, and cultural institutions, etc. participate on behalf of their stakeholders and fans.
The climate crisis, however, with rising temperatures, wildfires, rising sea levels, mass migration and pandemics, is likely to play the role of an old school physical world war. It will probably result in the same kind of human suffering and destruction: kill millions of people, devastate entire countries and destroy a lot of physical capital. The good part of this bleak story, however, is that the war on climate – like previous world wars – hopefully will results in a new global consensus that can concentrate all forces on technical and social innovation in order for humanity to survive.