Framework Foresight and other foresight methods suggest that any exploration into the future be accompanied by a look backward into the recent history. So, as part of our ongoing exploring into what’s next, it seemed like some financial history would be relevant. I selected Niall Ferguson’s, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, 2008. Ferguson is a renowned historian writing for someone not an expert in the topic, e.g., me. I’m not particularly interested in money (don’t tell my clients), seeing it as a necessary evil. The book is an interesting, enjoyable, and useful read, but I want to focus on ties or implications to our “what’s next” topic.
Make no mistake. You are getting the mainstream view here. Money is “the root of most progress.” The financial crisis of 2007 is in some measure explained by public ignorance not just among the ordinary public but also the “masters of the universe.” There is a bit of hero worship of the great financial minds, who do go a little too far now and then. And that does causes suffering for the masses, but it’s kind of implied that it’s their own fault. Basically, the real problem was the dummies who bought subprime loans, not those who sold them to them. In case it’s not clear: “poverty is not the result of rapacious financiers exploiting the poor.” Perhaps a more balanced view from my perspective: the financial system….reflects what we human beings are like….finance can enrich the lucky and the smart, and impoverish the unlucky and not-so-smart. That’s a pretty baseline view right there, and one that any alternative future is going to be confronted with.
Ferguson briefly entertains the idea of a world without money. “The Communists and Anarchists dreamt of that.” Yet no communist state has been able to dispense with it. And the others who have done without it, hunter-gathering societies, are not exactly happy places. He notes that money is a belief. In our parlance, it is a social construction. And we know that social constructions can be deconstructed, beliefs can be unbelieved. As we futurists know, paradigms can be amazingly powerful, as if they are the way things have been and always should be. Yet this book shows how our financial system is, historically speaking, a relatively new (and perhaps fleeting?) phenomenon.
I think it is very important for us, as we explore alternative futures, to keep in mind how strong the paradigm around money and capitalism is. Alternative thinking can easily be swept away by many folks in a few paragraphs. “That can’t happen,” or “The Commies” tried that and it failed. End of discussion.
One thing we clearly need to do is have a good response to “it’s communism and communism failed” argument. The basic income may be a useful frame. It’s a bit granular. Post-capitalism is close, but the “post-” is a sorta lazy way of admitting we don’t know what’s next. The three dozen or so concepts have their flaws. Something for us to ponder – suggestions welcome! — Andy Hines