SEIZING THE MOMENT.
The profound significance of our times.
Some 400 years ago, a group of English explorers and an indigenous American tribe prepared to do battle over a wheat crop. Instead, they decided to share the crop and celebrate its abundance together. So, every year for the past 4 centuries most of the Western World has celebrated the event in some form of thanksgiving. It reminds humanity that its strength and wellbeing are dependent upon the capacity to co-operate; to share and work together.
To that we can add another noble characteristic: our capacity to empathize with each other. More than any other creature on the planet, we have active neurons in our brains that mirror the experience of the other. In my book “Empathy: The power within”, I argue that this power is evident in three ways: anecdotal (our personal experiences); historical (archaeological evidence of caring going back millions of years); and scientific (brain scan imaging which shows the mirror effect of experiences from one to another.) Empathy is as much an instinct as survival is.
Another, and perhaps most important edifice of our existential construct is free markets. They give tangible life to relationships; enabling us to experience our great and vibrant diversity, exchanging goods and services, ideas, creation, and innovation. This pragmatic reality has existed for millennia. Within this framework, and at all levels and instances, millions of relationships are formed. This means that our fundamental human purpose then is to create, build and maintain sound relationships.
“In five years’, the world will be radically different from what it is now.” Ray Dalio. American investor.
Soon I will be an octogenarian. I cannot remember a time such as now when relationships were disrupted over such a belligerent, wide and deep scale. Tragically the three principles mentioned earlier — collaboration, empathy and relationships — have been breached or forgotten. We are at a critical point on many fronts in the evolution of humankind. We are a world at war with each other, the planet, and with our own mental health, as we face a deepening economic recession. On top of that the horrors of war have never been so clearer shown to the world as have those in Gaza and Ukraine.
TRADE AND MONEY RELATIONS. Sanctions are totally counterproductive and counterintuitive to our wellbeing and survival. In a world that thrives on trade and exchange, the imposition of sanctions is nothing short of a powerful blow to our humanity; especially if the country or people involved make a significant contribution to global GDP. At the very least this is an abuse of power and in the end the markets WILL have their say. It is common cause that sanctions against Russia have backfired especially on Europe. Russia itself has gained economically by diverting oil sales elsewhere and replacing imports.
An examination of each disconnect or crisis, will reveal the likely underlying cause to have been malevolent intent. For too long we have sung the praises of self-gain or self-interest (even at country level) as the true motivator or inspiration of all that we achieve. This, and the misguided metrics used to support it, have made the imbalances much worse. In a world of conflict and distorted information it is easy to sour relationships. Our hope lives in repairing old, fractured relationships while creating new ones that break away from old paradigms. This is what holds huge promise in the long term, but doing this will bring painful disruption in the short term. These disconnects can be found in our relationship with nature; the planet; with religion; with family and with each other. Many are beyond the scope of this article, and I will focus on just a few as being the most critical and misunderstood.
Money markets have undergone revolutionary changes in the past 30 or so years. Their contamination and speculative growth have caused major economic ills. It has come to the point where financialization and debt creation have become disconnected from main street economics. It’s a moot point whether much of the economic, social, and geopolitical woes cannot be traced to a potential financial collapse. What cannot be denied is that sanctions and arbitrary financial censure such as freezing of assets, abuse of the dollar’s sole international reserve status and reneging on contracts and promises, have made these instruments untrustworthy on a wide scale. Even global and domestic prices are often corrupted.
The positive side is the rise of alternative instruments and institutions to bypass contaminated Western systems and structures. There’s a lot of talk about inflation and economic downturns. A factor seldom thought of is that much of our current circumstances relate to the initial scourge of over financialization, unbridled debt and money creation, and market speculation. This has led to neglect of tangible wealth creation through adding value.
As the froth is blown off financial activities, capital should move back to productive enterprise. Exchange rate imbalances are being corrected by “de-dollarisation” with local currencies being used increasingly in settling trade debts, while new currencies are being planned based on trading blocs such as BRICS and in Africa.
COMPANY RELATIONSHIPS. Business is now viewed as the only global institution to be both competent and ethical. It is here where companies are the true heroes: people serving people; generating tangible wealth that is shared with labour; shareholders and the community in taxes. The hour has come for business, entrepreneurs, and companies to take centre stage. Latest opinion polls show that business is now by far the most trusted institution in global society. Companies define both practically and measurably the contribution of the main stakeholders to society: customers; suppliers; labour and capitalists. Entrepreneurs and captains of industry who think beyond the bottom line are the key to our economic salvation. (Download my book: Common Purpose; Common fate here.)
RELATIONS WITH GOVERNMENTS, LEADERSHIP, POWER AND INSTITUTIONS. Most Western leaders have lost credibility. Democracy itself is no longer trusted especially in the EU. Latest trust research shows that more than half of the major economies of the world actively distrust government, while less than a third of all countries actively trust government. Ironically, public trust in so-called autocracies is much higher than in so-called democracies. China still has the highest government trust score of 89% and Russia’s Putin still attracts about 75% of popular support. Only 37% of United Kingdom citizens trust the government and 42% of Americans theirs.
PEOPLE, BORDERS AND SOVEREIGNTY: Wherever there is conflict one will in most cases find that borders have been drawn without taking ethnicity into account. Recognising a sovereign state depends largely on land a group occupies and their ethnicity. An ethnic group is often split and subjected to another group. This has happened in many of the Baltic states, where ethnic Russians have a large minority but are subject to the rule of another often-belligerent ethnic group. Israel and Palestine have a similar history. The cardinal mistake is putting resources, land or territory (things) above the interests of people.
MEDIA RELATIONS. Trust in all media (traditional, social and search media) is at record lows. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, social media continues to bump along at the bottom of the trust pile. Traditional media has had the steepest annual decline of any media source in almost a decade of tracking.
Trustworthy information is vital to a functioning democracy. The wars in Eastern Europe and now the Middle East have become largely driven by hypocrisy, duplicity, deceit, lies and propaganda. An inclusion or omission of a fact can shape vehement views: like when did the Ukraine war start: 2014 or 2022? The truth is out there. It takes a lot more scratching of a lot more sources and in time one learns to trust alternatives.
GEOPOLITICAL RELATIONSHIPS. The changes in geopolitical and international relationships have been described as “tectonic”. It’s been the main current affairs focus for a while now. What is emerging is a more multipolar world, and the breaking down of U.S. hegemony. Much of the American and Western rhetoric is still trapped in cold war paradigms and ideological constructs such as capitalism, communism, socialism and other. There is something quaintly Quixotic in an elitist beating his chest and proclaiming to be “a Western Capitalist.”
The simple truth is that most countries today, especially the big powers, are free market driven. It explains the rise of China, Russia, and India as economic giants. Indeed, one could argue that their economies are often more “open” than the bastion of capitalism, the United States. Which beggars the question: why are these powers being feared as predatorial and imperialistic? Free markets are the most important and relevant components of democracies. The failure of sanctions and the coming together of likeminded people is a massive victory for free markets. It is time for a “cancelling” of all debate around democracies; systems and “isms”. In particular, the violent overthrows and regime change disruptions cannot be legitimised based on “bringing freedom and security” to the victims. It is a falsehood that is becoming more exposed.
“We are gambling with the future of all mankind. And for nothing.” Colonel Richard Black Ret. US Senator.
If we can avoid Black’s scenario, the painful and senseless wars in Ukraine and the Middle east have created a completely new path in our destiny. We have begun to reverse unilateral hegemonic power vested in the US and the E.U. New power blocs are being created in Asia and the middle East, Russia, Africa, and Latin America. Africa is emerging as being the key focus and the signs are there that most countries on the continent are very keen to engage this new world. The continent is a far cry from the time that it was referred to as “darkest Africa”. With sponsors and partners such as Russia and China the future has never been brighter for the resource rich continent.
MULTIPOLAR RELATIONSHIPS. A Proxy war is the most egregious way of engaging in conflict. It’s like a big kid encouraging his much younger and smaller brother to fight the biggest playground bully. Continuing to do so despite the small kid being severely hurt, is beyond criminal. The world must surely condemn in a loud voice the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which is clearly going to leave the country demolished. When the killing and destruction are described by the sponsor “as the best investment we can make”, the support given is nothing short of atrociously mercenary.
Polarisation on the one hand and galvanisation on the other will undoubtedly in time leave the world in a better and more balanced place. There is more reason to hope than despair. It’s a matter of revisiting relationships at all levels and ensuring their benevolent intent.
The new economic world in the global south, especially Africa, holds promise of an economic rebirth: fresh, new and exciting.