The Leader and the Sign of the Times
During 2017, a series of events have set up what has become a clash of world views, rather than a clash of civilisations. This year, the moves of the previous year will play out in potentially dramatic ways, ranging from military disruptions that threaten spiralling conflicts, to economic stand-offs between major nations and major shifts in the role of media and information in shaping our society.
The opening Sign of the Times for 2018 presents a list of key themes that during the next 12 months have the potential to be catalysts or triggers for changes that will shape our world, our markets and our lives. Last year, as a new president took office and set about implementing his agenda, the implications overshadowed every other theme and turned accepted wisdom on what might happen in 2017 on its head. One year later, the world has indeed seen significant change, with the US withdrawing from the TPP, increasing instability in the Middle East, India’s economic reforms working their way through the economy, and ongoing political challenges across the EU. With the benefit of a tumultuous year’s events to consider, this month’s Leader will again attempt to identify the key political, military, economic, social and technological themes playing out in 2018 (and beyond), along with counter-pointed scenarios and a briefing on their potential impact on the world in the years to come. While recognizing the considerable uncertainty in the world today, 2018 has the makings of the year in which we may be forced to reconcile booming markets on the one hand with the prospect of dangerous political games on the other hand, potentially triggering further discord and conflict.
Silicon Valley today is home to less than 0.25% of America’s 18m businesses, yet the valley hosts one third of the net new business formation in the United States. Further, 39 of the world’s 100 largest tech companies have their headquarters there, including four of the five most valuable companies in the world by market cap. Unsurprisingly, Silicon Valley is also home to the highest concentration of millionaires and billionaires in the country. More importantly, it is the birthplace of the semiconductor, the personal computer, e-commerce, the biotech industry and countless other innovations that have changed our lives over the past two generations. The success of the area has been driven by an unprecedented concentration of resources; Silicon Valley’s dense web of education, talent, ideas, capital, and infrastructure churns out a continuous stream of innovation and new companies that create and dominate new industries. While Silicon Valley is inextricably linked to the modern technology industry it gave birth to, the idea of concentrating resources (with an alignment of purpose) has created similar hubs across a wide range of industries, the world over. What is true for tech is true for any other industry: the concentration of resources in a cluster or hub ensures efficient utilisation of these resources and creates a network-multiplier effect in terms of the quality and amount of output.
It is undeniable that Narendra Modi has reshaped both India and international perceptions of it during his three years in office as Prime Minister. Having been overwhelmingly voted into power in 2014 on the promise of economic growth, Mr Modi set out to execute a wide-ranging reform agenda focused on domestic development, securing foreign investment and playing a more proactive role in regional and international affairs. Based on macro-economic data alone, it would appear that Mr Modi’s BJP party has been on track to deliver on his promises. GDP growth has averaged 7.5% over the past three years, with growth fuelled, to a large extent by an inflow of US$175bn capital from foreign investors, making India both the world’s fastest growing economy and the largest destination for foreign direct investment. Further, the government has also taken steps across a wide swathe of areas such as infrastructure development, financial inclusion, digitisation, foreign investment and graft, in its bid to secure the country’s long-term growth potential. A previous Sign of the Times had assessed the BJP’s performance in terms of reforms at the 24 month mark following the general election. With less than two years to go until the next general election, this month’s Sign of the Times takes a closer look at India’s progress both economically and in terms of its reforms in order to assess the Modi government’s performance. More importantly, it identifies the core priorities yet to be addressed to make advances towards its medium to long term potential, thereby providing the agenda for the next stage in the journey.
Digital technology features as the enabler to overthrow governments, corrupt elections, reveal secrets, destroy jobs and undermine the integrity of major corporations. It is now one of the major disruptive forces at the start of the 21st Century. It is also very clear that the underlying digital data being generated by individuals, companies and governments combined with the capabilities to sort, filter and analyse this data will transform – threaten and enhance - our economies, our societies and even our political systems as we transition fully into the Information Age. In a new series over the next 12 months, the Sign will look at how digital technology is changing our world through a series of lenses and assess its socioeconomic and political impact, as well as broader implications for the global order as a whole. In the first of this series, this month’s Sign provides an overview of the how digital technology is already changing politics, society and commerce and how this might develop over the next decade. The next parts of the series will drill down into implications and challenges and the final part in the series will put forward a perspective on how individuals, societies and states will need to prepare for the digital future.