Futurology blog: what’s the next trend that’ll disrupt our world, financially, socially or just pointlessly?

Friday, 14 November 2008

Non-profits and co-ops to erode capitalism

It’s now axiomatic that greed is the most successful motivation for providing goods and services to people. That if entrepreneurs can’t expect to make ever-increasing profits, there’s no point even trying.

The result is that we have greedy developers building us shitty homes, car manufacturers continuing to make petrol- and diesel-powered cars and banks that simply practise legalized theft.

Capitalist dogma preaches that the market will, in time, bring us better, cheaper, cleaner products. But in fact it’s usually only legislation that does this. Hybrid cars and low-energy lightbulbs will prevail through legislation, not capitalism.

Utilities, operated for profit, are examples of a business model diametrically opposed to the public good. In London, Thames Water let its own product leak away into the ground for decades while it rose prices and whinged about shortages, until government forced it to use some of its massive profits to fix its porous pipes. Now it’s creating gridlock all over London while it rips up the roads in its glacially paced upgrade.

OK, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with the profit incentive. In most cases, it works fine. But it’s not the only incentive. Creative people do their best work when they’re simply trying to create something new and exciting. Businesspeople get as excited by the thrill of competition as by their financial reward.

I don’t believe that Trevor Bayliss created the wind-up radio because he wanted to be rich, or that Dale Vince created Ecotricity, the wind-only energy company, to roll around in piles of money.

That’s why I expect more and more entrepreneurs to follow a not-for-profit business model. Providing things that people want, affordably, with good working conditions and a low salary disparity between management and workers.

Wait and see: consumers will actively seek out co-op and non-profit products and feel better about owning them. Result: loyal customers and motivated workers: a great competitive advantage.

Car-sharing, power, food, homebuilding, furniture, manufacturers and retailers, they’ll be everywhere soon. Check out http://www.cooponline.coop/index.html for co-ops in your area.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Iceland and Scapa Flow - two strategic EU imperatives

The British Navy hasn’t always been based in Portsmouth. Back when Spain was the enemy, it was based on the south-western tip of the country, in Plymouth. Then when France became the No.1 enemy, it was moved to Portsmouth.

Well, it’s time to move again. Northwards. Sure, the nuclear submarines are based in Scotland, but that’s not really enough anymore.

Russia will soon have a rash of grey-coloured craft all over the Arctic Circle to reinforce its ambitious land and seabed claims. The resources available, and the trade routes, are simply too attractive to ignore.

Canada will inevitably be drawn into some form of stand-off. And who else? Norway and Japan definitely. But what will the EU do to assert itself in the Arctic Circle? Denmark and Sweden aren’t all that close to the action. (Denmark’s Greenland would be extremely expensive to get up to speed on the level required, but is certainly an option.)

And what about Iceland? The country is certainly strategically vital in any northern geopolitics, but as it’s just gone bankrupt, it’s essentially up for takeover.

Basically, the EU needs to make them a deal very fast, before Russia steams in. Let’s face it, there a handful of Russians could bail them out in the blink of an eye. Considering what’s to gain, it’s only a matter of time.

Would the Icelanders be able to refuse the right offer – or offers? One company could buy their ports, others could install their merchant and fishing fleets, followed inevitably by the Russian Navy to protect their “legitimate” interests.

Therefore, two things need to happen. One, the EU needs to drag in Iceland and restore their national pride. (The UK hasn’t exactly helped here, thanks Mr Brown.)

Two, the British Navy needs to establish a major naval base as far north as it can – Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. It would not only help to protect British (and EU) interests, it would also make Iceland a lot less isolated. Hopefully, the plans are already on a table somewhere.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Our glorious surveillance paradise

The way it started was that the big chains offered small discounts for card purchases. But of course now we know it was really a Trojan horse: suddenly it was turned around so that the real price was the card-payment price and you paid a surcharge for cash payments.

As different ways emerged for paying cashlessly for small purchases, the banks followed by making us pay more and more for depositing and withdrawing cash.

The government was right behind the trend, the less cash in circulation, the less opportunity to evade taxation. And then, of course, all new cards began to be issued with RFIDs: after all, the banks were losing fortunes to users of cloned and stolen cards and they wanted a way to track them down.

Naturally, all the log data on RFID-tracked movements of cardholders had to be accessible to any government agency that asked for it: MI5, the police, the DSS … it soon turned out that schools were using the data to find out whether applicants for scarce school places really lived where they said they did. (And if you remember, by this point WiFi-enabled RFID readers could be placed pretty much anywhere, seeing as how you could buy them from any electronics shop.)

And then, under the Freedom of Information Act, all sorts of non-government organizations and individuals realized they could obtain the information too: employers, spouses, parents, litigants. A free-for-all.

But hey: if you weren’t breaking the law, if you weren’t concealing some dark secret, what was the problem? Only a menace to society would object to a card-based, RFID-tracked economy. And the advantages were so obvious: more efficient management of the economy, less tax evasion, less underage drinking and dropping crime figures.

And combining the RFID system with mobile phone logs and CCTV cameras proved a bonanza to local authorities: all the laws that people used to break unthinkingly on a daily basis – jaywalking (became a crime in 2011), minor littering, trespass, stopping in no-stopping zones, etc – could now be enforced in a contracted-out, automated and highly efficient fashion. Do you remember when the enforcement agencies eventually won the right to simply siphon the money out of our bank accounts instead of having to wait for us to get around to paying the fines?

Somewhere along the line huge numbers of people decided to leave the country: people who weren’t comfortable with being monitored on a 24-hour-a-day basis. Remember that scandal when it was discovered that home CCTV cameras that people had hooked up to check up on their kids online were being snooped on by the police? And how, when the matter was taken to court, the police won?

The latest? Because random stress-related violence has become so common, this latest directive from the government: personal stress monitors linked to our mobile phones – sending out an automatic distress signal for interception by roaming peace keepers as well as making over-stressed people ineligible to board public transport. Isn’t it finally time to **THOUGHT CRIME IN PROCESS : APPROPRIATE AUTHORITIES HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED**