Power is decaying and being redistributed, the economist Moises Naim suggests.
Power is easier to get, harder to use and easier to lose: mass uprisings displacing governments around the world; asymmetric warfare entangling states in multi-year conflicts against DIY amateurs. Even a Pope, formerly a figure of extreme executive power, resigning because he couldn’t wield sufficient power to control warring factions in the Vatican.
Technology has a role to play in this power shift, in part due to the way it has democratised access to knowledge.
The internet is helping people in every walk of life. Smartphones costing just a few pounds open up access to global communication and trade for those left behind in previous technology revolutions.
The world is a smaller place, with greater interaction between continents, classes and creeds. Organisations like Khan Academy aim to offer any student on the planet a world-class education for free. Large portions of the world’s greatest literature is available to anyone. The open source movement is collaboratively creating a vast library of software and hardware designs that people and organisations can use, reuse and adapt for free.
Bionic business people
The augmentation of our abilities is enabling some – admittedly at the top end of the salary scale – to rebalance life and work. Instead of taking on more and disenfranchising others, they are choosing to work less and spend more time at home. But this requires an enlightened employer, or more likely, self-employment.
Going solo is a growing trend. Where low-paid jobs are increasingly characterised by zero-hour contracts, self-employment is increasingly attractive. Software has made the administration less painful. Companies like the flexibility of talent on demand. Online work exchanges like eLance streamline the sourcing of work and suppliers.
Time rich, cash poor?
The result is a nation of people who will be increasingly time rich. The question is whether or not they will be cash poor. In a redistributive society, operating something like a negative income tax, the question will be about engaging people’s time valuably and minimising the burden on the state. Without such a shift, spare time will be applied in any way that helps you and your family to get by.
Among the audience at The Gathering, there was a recognition of these challenges. But there was also optimism. To realise a future we want to see – where Scotland’s voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises prosper – we need to start acting on the challenges now. Otherwise that optimism will be misplaced.