This interesting infographics ‘the richest people in history‘ reminds us that throughout most of our human history, the Agricultural Age, the richest people have been the kings, emperors and rulers of vast areas of land. Then, in the 15th century onwards (the start of the Industrial Age) came the time of bankers and merchants.
The infographic does not go as far, but of course from the 15th century, accelerating into the 19th century, the richest people started to be industrialists and bankers financing new machines and infrastructures. And now, they are industrialists of the economy. Still their wealth is much less than the historical rulers mentioned in the infographic whose wealth could be up to 20% of world GDP – which shows that in a certain measure richer people are now much less proportionally rich than historical figures.
The other interesting transformation to note is that up to the 15th century, wealth was derived regionally and mostly within one’s borders. Then trade spread and fortunes were made on this basis. In the 20th century it started to become truly global, and now it is definitely mostly global for the richest people on earth. Thus the geographical basis of wealth has also significantly changed.
It is often interesting to take such as historical perspective to remind ourselves that what we observe today is the result of a long evolution. Wealth is now not an exclusive property of tyrannical rulers, or industrialists but the domain of businesspeople with global interests that move resolutely into the Collaborative Age.
The Gray War is redefining international politics.
The new weapons of war are everyday technologies.
The face of censorship has fundamentally changed.
Old conceptions of sovereignty no longer apply.
In the Gray War, de-industrialization is disarmament.
What I find interesting here is the concept of ‘grey war’ and the fact that industrialization is the key to remain at an essential place in the world order. “Gray zone competition conflicts are now a pervasive and predominant feature of international politics. I use the term “Gray War” to describe the systemic global tech-fueled struggle between U.S.-led democracies and China-led autocracies. The stakes of this war are ultimately about political power and influence over every meaningful aspect of our everyday lives, our economy, our infrastructure, our ability to compete and innovate, our personal privacy, and subtle decisions we make based on information we interact with every single day.”
Interconnection of our economies and our technologies has changed significantly the face of geopolitical competition. Conflict takes a different face, with grey war and more permanent threats and attacks.
In this thoughtful post ‘Seeing The Bigger Future‘, we are called to reflect on what is actually change and what isn’t. Basic human needs don’t change irrespective of what technology we deploy, and there are some constants that will remain true, and even if AI develops beyond our wildest dreams.
“While many things are changing around us, the secret is that some things never change. […] You don’t have to focus on the technological details to predict its progress. Anticipating what people will need is a great predictor of what will get built. Because while technology changes, human nature doesn’t. That means predicting “what” is often easier than predicting “how’. Why? Because technology doesn’t often look for a problem; rather, it is the response to one. A medium is just a tool. And the tool is just a way to accomplish something more efficiently.”
We should be careful not to be overwhelmed by changes in our tools. The basic needs we try to respond to are still the same. And focusing on those is what is really important.
In this interesting post ‘The Connection Between Narrative and Culture‘, Valeria Maltoni addresses how cultures change. Cultures being often defined by narratives (like popular stories), they are at the center of cultural change too.
“Culture develops over larger time horizons. It’s a reflection of a society’s or group orientation. Like the market, collective attention determines what people carry forward. Hence the prevailing narratives. Some see change as the result of influence by a group of outsiders. […] I have another theory of change […] It does start with a story. But the story has to reflect the reality to draw from it. Not just be utopia.“
I find this approach interesting. In a world where stories are constantly created over social networks, the emergence of strong collective stories may be what changes cultures. It requires diversity, infusion of new ideas, and this creates stories and memes. At the end of the day, it makes cultures evolve.
The idea that cultures are defined by collective stories and evolve through stories is quite strong. And quite actionnable.
The site ourworldindata.org is always an excellent reference about worldwide statistics, and their page on economic growth is particularly instructive. The historical perspective is quite instructive.
Global economic wealth production is quite exponential when looked upon a long time frame, since the Agricultural Age through the Industrial Age. Lately, it has spread to many more countries and people, sustaining this exponential growth.
GDP per capita follows the same exponential growth, particularly in developed countries, but also – albeit at a lesser level – in developing countries.
As the page shows, conversely, extreme poverty has been decreasing significantly in the recent decades globally, which is excellent news (even more taking into account the significant growth in world population) – going down from a historical 75% of world population down to less than 10%.
Hence economic growth is definitely a major component of human well-being. Solutions to the current climate crisis should take it into account, looking at means to pursue growth – in a more sustainable manner – so as to continue raising the well-being of more people.
In this interesting post ‘How People Get Rich Now‘ by Paul Graham, he makes the point that the origin of the fortune of the richest people has changed dramatically since the 1980s. Heirs and oil fortunes have been significantly displaced by entrepreneurs and financiers. I believe it is due to the shift to a new Age, the Collaborative Age.
“In 1982, 84% of the richest 100 people got rich by inheritance, extracting natural resources, or doing real estate deals.” “In 1982 the most common source of wealth was inheritance. Of the 100 richest people, 60 inherited from an ancestor. There were 10 du Pont heirs alone.” Today, “Roughly 3/4 [got rich] by starting companies and 1/4 by investing“. This makes a huge difference.
Looking at it with an even wider historical perspective one “1892 looks even more like today. Hugh Rockoff found that “many of the richest … gained their initial edge from the new technology of mass production.” That was a time of intense entrepreneurship with the Industrial Revolution, when railroads and factories were built generating huge changes.
It is where I beg to differ from Paul Graham interpretation about the future. It seems to me that the situation in the 1980s was due to a mature Industrial Age, driven by large corporations that exerted scale effects on mature technologies of the Industrial Age. With the technological revolution, we enter a new Age, the Collaborative Age, and like in the 1880s many new companies are blossoming up and new wealth is created accordingly. But in a few decades we may be in another mature Collaborative Age and maybe the richest people will remain the heirs to the Apple, Amazon and Facebook founders.
Nevertheless the statistics shared by Paul Graham show that we are in a period of Opportunity where value is created from new technology, upending the more traditional wealth ranking.
Survival at different time scales (year, decades, centuries, millenia) requires the mobilisation of different groups. This can explain the importance for us to cultivate those groupes (from the family to humankind). And this can also be contradictory therefore leading to paradox and conflict.
This thought is based on the quote by mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson: “The destiny of our species is shaped by the imperatives of survival on six distinct time scales. To survive means to compete successfully on all six time scales. But the unit of survival is different at each of the six time scales. On a time scale of years, the unit is the individual. On a time scale of decades, the unit is the family. On a time scale of centuries, the unit is the tribe or nation. On a time scale of millennia, the unit is the culture. On a time scale of tens of millennia, the unit is the species. On a time scale of eons, the unit is the whole web of life on our planet. Every human being is the product of adaptation to the demands of all six time scales. That is why conflicting loyalties are deep in our nature. In order to survive, we have needed to be loyal to ourselves, to our families, to our tribes, to our cultures, to our species, to our planet. If our psychological impulses are complicated, it is because they were shaped by complicated and conflicting demands.”
Survival at different time scales requires sometime contradictory approaches and relying on different social social groups. That may be something we do not sufficiently account for in our understanding of social tensions.
First, I note that the overall perspective of the author is quite aligned with my Fourth Revolution viewpoint: “Technological progress has shifted scarcity for humanity. When we were foragers, food was scarce. During the agrarian age, it was land. Following the industrial revolution, capital became scarce. With digital technologies scarcity is shifting once more. We need to figure out how to live in a World After Capital in which the only scarcity is our attention.” Attention being new the new scarcity, it is an essential skill we need to practice more.
According to the author the key success factors include:
Fighting the climate crisis
Promoting universal basic income
I’d probably add something about inequality and inclusiveness
In any case, important transformations will have to happen in the 2020s decade to move into the Collaborative Age. They will be accelerated by the Covid crisis and possibly other upcoming world transformations as well. Be ready for change!
This excellent post by Philippe Chain ‘Code, on wheels‘, explains how software is becoming the main differentiator in the automotive industry. And that the industry is becoming ripe for disruptors not originally from the automotive industry.
“Software will play a central role in the upcoming car revolution. Unless legacy carmakers quickly reinvent themselves, new players will fill the gap to provide an OS and an app ecosystem.” The author explains how Tesla is actually run as a software company at its core, upending the traditional organisation and approach of historical automotive companies. More than half of Tesla engineers are software engineers! Software updates are performed on a continuous basis in pure agile style.
This is very different from the traditional approach where everything needs to be specified in advance, and where development is split between various suppliers which need to be strictly coordinated.
The industry begins to understand that the company that will build the standard for the next automotive operating system will have a substantial competitive advantage. Seeing the danger, VW has announced that it gets in the race. Cars have today 100 million lines of code and very soon 200 to 300 million! “the likeliest evolution for the car industry is to see a competition between traditional carmakers and tech giants — with Tesla as the maverick — to come up with a car OS that will set the standard for the entire industry“. Not to mention the possibility to have an app ecosystem built on those standard OS.
The automotive industry is ripe for a revolution and not too many historical players may survive. Exciting times ahead!
Those forces identified in this post shaping our world today:
the demographic shift reconfiguring modern economies
unprecedented access to information leveling social gaps (i.e. the Fourth Revolution)
However the most important part of the article for me is the long description of what our world today owes to WW2. “It’s hard to overstate how much the world reset from 1939 to 1945, and how deeply the changes the war left behind went on to define virtually everything that’s happened since.” As examples: the baby-boom, antibiotics, all sorts of technological advances (nuclear, jet engines, social changes triggered by war economy, GI bill and higher education, and also the social net in European countries…).
Internet at the end was a technology that evolve as a result of Cold War and the need to preserve communication in case of nuclear attack. And Cold War was in itself an intermediate consequence of WW2.
We too often fail to go back sufficiently in time to understand the deep drivers of our societies. It is worth sometimes going back a century to grasp those large trends and what triggered social changes that astonish us today.
My observation of the Fourth Revolution is that the revolution in communication capabilities places back the global nomad at the top of social and value hierarchy, after it had been displaced during the Agricultural and Industrial Age which depended a lot on huge local investments. The opposition and struggle between sedentary and nomads is age-old and it just took a new turn.
Many social movements such as the ‘Gilets Jaune’ in France, and more generally the crisis of local communities, can be connected to this major change. In addition to local territories, local elites feel displaced as more value is now captured by global nomads. This leads to strong reactions and struggles, one clear path being protectionism as an illusory protection against this trend. But that obviously can’t be effective if one also wants to benefit from modern connectivity at the same time.
This readjustment of the value chain benefiting nomads will be a major social trend in the next decades and an interesting way to understand what is happening globally. Still I believe the trend can’t be resisted and the future Collaborative Age elite will definitely be global nomads.
According to him this is phase 3 after two initial phases
Initial developments dependent on subsidies
Clean Power is competitive for new developments only
The post provides some statistics and trends to support the analysis. Still the most important is that in certain circumstances clean energy may challenge existing facilities. This leads thus to a substantial loss of asset value and upcoming major financial headaches for power companies, which often are very much in debt and still reimbursing the investment.
Be ready for substantial transformation of the energy market in the next few years, with potentially substantial value redistribution between players!