Exponential View: the Cadence edit

Newsletter Challenge, v. 11

Quick note: I recently wrapped up a writing coach arrangement with Ari Lewis, host of the Mastering the Attention Economy podcast. We enjoyed working together (see Ari’s ROI here), and he proposed I take on a newsletter editing challenge.

The challenge: Twenty edits by 22 September.

My primary goal: add clarity, concision, and cadence to the newsletters, and sharpen up my own editing process. After I wrap up the challenge, I’ll provide reflections on each edit and offer some lessons you can use on your own newsletter.

For details on my process, click here, a Google doc. Leave suggestions as you see fit. Thanks!

“Preparing for 2030,” Jan 4

@ https://www.exponentialview.co/p/-preparing-for-2030-251 by Azeem Azhar / @azeem

–Grey typeface: Azeem.

Normal typeface: me.

Key metrics (original -> edit)
–reading level: 12 -> 9.
–word count: 1689 -> 1401
–median sentence length: 19 -> 14 words.
–sentence length, standard deviation (basically, a measure of the variety of sentence lengths): 8.5 -> 7.5.
–% of sentences, hard or very hard to read: 58% -> 40%

~~~~~~

Photo: Ishan @seefromthesky
What do the next ten years hold?

Making predictions is complicated once we understand that the system we are trying to predict is a complex one, of interwoven forces that affect each other, each layering one atop the next. And that we don’t have clarity of when certain technical breakthroughs will occur or how political forces will shape the implementation of technologies (or vice versa).

Then presenting predictions as a list, a set of steps, in this case one to ten, is necessarily a shallow representation of this dynamic system built up of feedback loops of uncertain gait.

Making predictions is a perilous practice. How might political forces shape new technologies — or vice versa?

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And then the prediction-maker is faced with the next challenge. At what level of abstraction should one make predictions? At the atomic level of technological progress (that chips will get faster, the cost of genome sequencing will decline), or at a highly macro level that describes population aggregates. I think the mezzanine layer that sits between the micro- and macro- is most relevant for understanding how our lives will change. This is where things get complicated and where our social institutions (like cities, firms, industries, communities) exist: where, in short, we spend most of our time.

Today, in the shadow of the climate threat, there is no guarantee of a naïve direction of aggregate progress, the sort of simple analysis which merely tracks longer lifespans, larger populations, wealthier societies. Wealth and health are undisputable markers. In the last century we did pretty well on that basis; we increased global GDP per capita on a purchasing-power-parity basis 5.7 times while increasing human population 4.1 times.

A climate catastrophe could unpick that simple teleology and reverse it sharply.

One of the key challenges is the question of scale. Are we interested in human genomes or population aggregates? Let’s keep things at the mezzanine layer (think: cities, firms, industries communities), which is where, after all, we spend most of our time.

With the specter of climate disaster, it’s less helpful today to track lifespans, population size, and wealth of different states. Sure, wealth and health are key markers and, in the last century, we did pretty well on those metrics. We increased global GDP per capita on a purchasing-power-parity basis 5.7 times while increasing human population 4.1 times.

Climate catastrophe, though, could unwind that teleology — or even reverse it sharply.

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And, of course, values and beliefs change. The wealthiest societies in the world now have fewer children, absolute population levels are no longer a marker of bounty and power. The richest nations have lower birth rates, many with declining populations.

One of the largest collective fictions we’ve engaged in, the nature and operation of the economy itself, is ripe to be unpicked. It will be clarified by new methods from science and social science that better help us understand the processes that underpin economic behaviour and outcomes. This rethinking of economics will happen, given urgency by our collective experience at the sharp end of neoliberal, financialised economic thinking.

And, of course, values and beliefs change. The richest nations have lower birth rates. Some even have shrinking populations. Absolute population levels are no longer a marker of bounty and power.

One of our favorite collective fictions, the nature and operation of the economy itself, is ready for rupture. National and global economics, with the help of new models in the sciences and social sciences, will articulate the processes that underpin economic behaviour and outcomes. Let’s hope we are near the end of neoliberal, financialised economic thinking.

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Many of these dynamics will result in the transfer of power from one group to another, some equitably, some less so. I can’t gauge accurately how willingly those transfers of power will occur.

We do have some clear choices, forks in the road, up ahead.

My suggestions for the shape of the next decade are based on what I consider a roughly optimistic reading of those choices. I’d welcome your comments, particularly from members, below.

Many of these dynamics will result in transfers of power: some equitably, some less so. I can’t gauge accurately how willingly those transfers of power will occur.

We do have some clear choices on the road ahead.

My predictions for the next decade are informed by my optimism. I welcome your comments below, and comments from members especially.

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1. Climate change will be the dominant narrative.

We will achieve global peak emissions this decade, as Michael Liebreich argues. I believe we can go further than. Renewables are cheaper than most forms of new fossil fuels and are getting progressively so, even when you add the costs of storage. Founders I meet are bringing the same entrepreneurial skill set that brought us Facebook, Google and Amazon to the climate change problem, including those hard-to-decarbonise sectors (like steel or chemicals). Governments, like the EU and the UK, have announced net zero targets to be enshrined in law. And the financial markets are under pressure to better price in carbon risks, which will increase the financing costs of climate-deleterious investments relative to clean ones. What we can’t be certain of is how rapidly our climate is changing (something we discuss in this briefing call with one of the lead authors of the IPCC 1.5 degrees report, Professor Myles Allen). The speed of this change will determine how we shape our investments into urgent mitigations and disaster relief against sustained investing in shifting our energy mix. We’ll probably need to do both. Addressing climate change will require a concerted effort of World War II scale, but a genuinely global one. During 2019, I had dozens of conversations in boardrooms, with public market investors, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists which lasered in on the imperative to achieve net zero. So perhaps we have a chance to launch a modern-day Manhattan Project to tackle climate breakdown.

1. Climate change will be the dominant narrative.

We will achieve global peak emissions this decade, according to Michael Liebreich. Let’s imagine we can do better than that. Renewables are cheaper than most fossil fuels, even when you add the costs of storage. Founders I meet possess the same entrepreneurial skill and spirit that brought us Facebook, Google and Amazon, and they’re using it to address climate change, even in hard-to-decarbonise sectors like steel and chemicals. The EU and the UK have enshrined net zero targets in law. And the financial markets are under pressure to better price carbon risks, which will increase the financial costs of climate-deleterious investments.

What we can’t be certain of is how rapidly our climate is changing. (It’s a topic we discuss in this briefing call with one of the lead authors of the IPCC 1.5 degrees report, Professor Myles Allen.) The speed of this change will determine how we shape our investments into urgent mitigations and disaster relief. Addressing climate change will require a concerted effort on the scale of World War II, with all parties on the same side. During 2019, I had dozens of conversations with public market investors, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists: all of them had a laser focus on the imperative to achieve net zero. So perhaps we have a chance to launch a modern-day Manhattan Project to prevent complete species collapse.

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2. Our geopolitics will continue to fragment and this will result in more conflict.

This is not merely a story about China’s growing economic power and global influence, exporting its political capitalism and authoritarian capabilities through its technologies and across the One Belt, One Road initiative. Global geopolitics will need to factor a broader rise of Asia, India becoming the world’s 3rd largest economy by 2030, closing in on a $10 trillion GDP. The world will comprise of three major blocs. The EU promotes a citizen-centric model, China a state-centred one. The US lacks an up-to-date cri de l’esprit: the American dream has got mired into the tar of social immobility & profit-at-all-costs companies, which puts off the young, the environmentally-minded, and even many financiers (see trend three.) An inconsistent and unilateral foreign policy chafes capitals around the globe. America’s status as the home of opportunity and world’s moral guardian is weaker than it was twenty years ago.

Outside of those major blocs, there will be significant players whose alignment will be somewhat unclear, including hypersonic Russia, brexit Britain, the major African and Pacific economies. Lurking, demanding a seat at the table, are the major technology platforms—how will they play their cards? Critically, we’ll need to ask where the forums for co-operation and mutual benefit will reside. Much of the benefit of the Internet derived from its widely available standards and global interoperability, as it starts to fragment into four, or more, Internets, will we lose those benefits associated with openness and the democratisation of technology?

2. Our geopolitics will continue to fragment.

More conflict will commence. This is not merely a story about China’s growing economic power, its exportation of technologies with authoritarian capabilities, and its One Belt, One Road initiative. Global geopolitics will need to account for a rising south Asia: by 2030, India will be the world’s third largest economy, with a $10 trillion GDP.

The world will comprise three major blocs. The EU promotes a citizen-centric model. China promotes a state-centric one. The US lacks an up-to-date cri de l’esprit, for the American dream has expired. The end of class mobility and the domination of profit-at-all-costs companies disenchants the young, the environmentally mindful, and even many financiers. (See trend three.) The current administration’s inconsistent and unilateral foreign policy chafes capitals (and capital) around the globe. America’s status as the home of opportunity and the world’s moral guardian is weaker now than anyone can remember.

Other key players and their affinities remain unclear: Russia, post-Brexit Britain, and the major African and Pacific economies. And then there’s the major technology platforms—how will they play their cards? Will forums for co-operation and mutual benefit emerge? Many of the key benefits of the Internet derived from its widely available standards, global interoperability, and spirit of democratisation. As it fragments into four (or more) Internets, will these benefits be lost?

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3. In what we have generally thought of as the West, we’ll rethink the shape and purpose of our economies.

We’ll ask hard questions about ‘rentier capitalism’, which is the end-state of the Fordist mass production model, the Friedman doctrine coupled with corporate capture, particularly of antitrust. Yes, neoliberalism will be put to bed. We may go as far as rethinking the purpose of our economies to sustainably deliver on the needs of its population, as some have suggested. We might break the simple linear division society encouraged by neoliberalism: markets which work and states which do the rest, each measured solely by their efficiency. Rather, we’ll recognise the value that responsive states provide in creating a secure, kind, purposive substrate in which we can live our lives. Many states will rethink the ‘social contract’ for a new world of work. They will also realise they need to take a more active role in directing investments in technology and shaping our societies. This will take the form of DARPA-like basic research, what economist Marianna Mazzucato calls the mission-driven state. Smart nations will figure out how to do this while facilitating basic science and accelerating the entrepreneurial urge.

3. In the so-called West, we’ll rethink the shape and purpose of our economies.

We’ll ask hard questions about ‘rentier capitalism’ — i.e., the end-state of the Fordist mass production model, along with the Friedman doctrine, coupled with corporate capture, particularly of antitrust. Put another way: neoliberalism will be put to bed. No longer will we maintain faith in the idea that markets work, states do the rest, and each is measured solely by their efficiency. Nation-states may even design their economies to sustainably fulfill the needs of their populations. Many states will rethink the ‘social contract’ for a new world of work. These actions will take the form of DARPA-like basic research, what economist Marianna Mazzucato calls “the mission-driven state.” Smart nations will figure out how to do this while facilitating basic science and accelerating entrepreneurial drive.

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4. We’ll see the rise of new digital commons, economic institutions that are neither public- nor private- sector.

Digital commons (such as data trusts) will be broadly fostered to ensure positive externalities and super-linear returns to aggregated resources are widely accessible to societies. A digital commons could hold aggregate health data for a population, such data being made available to researchers to develop novel treatments. Or cities could insist that private sector transport networks contribute transit data to a civic data commons for the broader benefit. We don’t have many great examples of digital commons working at scale, but during the next decade we’ll learn how to set them up, govern them and reap the rewards.

4. We’ll see the rise of digital commons.

Digital commons (such as data trusts) will foster positive externalities and super-linear returns. A digital commons will hold aggregate health data for a population, and that data will be made available to researchers to develop novel treatments. Cities will insist that private sector transportation networks contribute transit data to a civic commons for the broader benefit. We presently have few models of digital commons working at scale. During the next decade, we’ll learn how to set them up, govern them and reap the rewards.

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5. World trade will face a troika of headwinds.

Geotechnical pressure is one, encouraging data localisation or buying infrastructure from a native firm. Environmental concerns are another. The growing movement towards circularity, virtual working or local buying will strengthen. Finally, technologies such as 3-d printing, coupled with renewable energy, will reduce demand for ULCCs to criss-cross the globe. The falling trade-to-GDP ratio has already seen demand for larger cargo ships move into retrograde, as over-capacity beckons.

At the end of the coming decade, trade in raw materials and manufactures will be lower relative to GDP than it is now. How will a decreasing relative reliance on trade impact international relations?

5. World trade will face a troika of headwinds.

The pressure to buy local will expand, in lieu of environmental concerns. The growing movement towards circularity, virtual working or local buying will strengthen. Finally, technologies such as 3-d printing, coupled with renewable energy, will reduce demand for ultra large crude carriers to criss-cross the globe. The falling trade-to-GDP ratio has already seen demand for larger cargo ships move into retrograde. Over-capacity beckons.

At the end of the decade, trade in raw materials and manufactures will be lower relative to GDP. How will a decreasing relative reliance on trade impact international relations?

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6. Cities will become relatively more important.

They will lead the charge to build the affordances of more sustainable livelihoods and tackle climate change. As much of citizens’ well-being is determined at the city rather than national level. As cities continue to be the engines of national economies, city governments will engage in robust debates with national ones over who controls what. As the rural-urban divide has been the most apparent schism in much of the politics in Europe and the US in the past years, this will make for an interesting tension. As shopping malls and big-box retail fails, this land will be used for other purposes. In European-style cities with reasonably close suburbs, expect the development of more live-work neighbourhoods in downtown office and retail areas. This decade will also see even more strongly integrated megalopolises, or city-clusters, especially in China. Larger cities bring those super-linear benefits of greater innovation, but they also see non-linear increases in the incidence of public health problems. Growing cities in Africa and Asia may witness both health emergencies and resource, particularly water, shortages; the challenges of urbanisation might prove fertile environments for innovation at the edge.

6. Cities will lead.

As they become more important in power relations, city officials can build the affordances of more sustainable livelihoods and tackle climate change. For many citizens today, their well-being is determined at the city rather than national level. As cities continue to be the engines of national economies, city governments will engage in robust debates with national ones over who controls what. With the rural-urban divide as the primary political schism in Europe and the US in recent years, tensions over control will continue. As shopping malls and big-box retail fail, the land they occupy will be re-purposed. In European-style cities with reasonably close suburbs, expect the development of more live-work neighbourhoods in downtown office and retail areas. This decade will also see even more strongly integrated megalopolises, or city-clusters, especially in China. Larger cities bring those super-linear benefits of greater innovation, but they also see non-linear increases in the incidence of public health problems. Growing cities in Africa and Asia may witness health emergencies and shortages in water and other key resources. The challenges of urbanisation might prove fertile environments for innovation at the edge.

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7. We’ll eat far less meat.

Plant-based diets will become more popular. Artificially cultured meat will remain a novelty. The health benefits of plant-based diets together with their better energy footprint and cost-basis will give them an advantage over lab-grown meats. The health benefits of plant-based diets will become more widely known, and not just because of this Netflix documentary. In the UK, in the first half of 2019, 3.6m fewer animals were eaten by 800,000 people. Where younger eaters go, so too will entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, food retailers and governments.

7. We’ll eat far less meat.

Plant-based diets will become more popular. Artificially cultured meat will remain a novelty. The health benefits of plant-based diets, along with their smaller energy footprint and lower cost, will give them an advantage over lab-grown meats. The health benefits of plant-based diets will become more widely known, and not just because of the Netflix documentary The Game Changers. In the UK, in the first half of 2019, 3.6M fewer animals were eaten by 800,000 people. Where younger eaters go, so too will entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, food retailers and governments.

# # #

I hope you like Azeem’s analysis, and will head over to his page to catch points 8-10 — some of which have already come true!

And that’s a wrap.

If you like what you see, drop me a line over here.

Thanks!

Happy writing!

Published by Randal Doane

Living the good life in NE Ohio. I dig science and the written word. Let's build something amazing together.

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