Those of us growing up in the 1960s and 1970s experienced tumultuous times that had some similarities to the last decade. Among many other contributions from our generation—which include both positive and negative influences—were some great artists, one of whom Bob Dylan is featured in a massive IBM ad campaign. Dylan’s poetry is timeless and quite relevant today:
The post WW2 era we grew up in provided the best economic conditions the world has ever known. The baby boom population explosion, of which I am at the tail end of, combined with vast sequential gains in productivity to create the ‘miracles’ of economies in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and China among others, or so it seemed.
Although a few credible experts have warned all along that the world’s trajectory wasn’t sustainable, and perhaps most of us intuitively realized same, the financial crisis contained a potential silver lining in revealing the stark naked truth: much of that ‘success’ in the post war era came at the direct expense of the future, and the bills are coming due.
Although woefully deficient in ethics with poor visibility of systemic risk—even in cases where desire for prevention existed, master politicians and financial engineers in both the public and private sector have masked structural problems in the economy for decades—from the public and each other, by employing ever-more complex short-term remedies in a misguided game of musical chairs.
Unfortunately, the resolution of the financial crisis has consisted primarily of the very same type of financial engineering—it’s the only hammers central banks have in their toolbox. While central bankers are justified in pointing fingers at political and fiscal malfeasance, it’s up to humble citizens like me to hold up a mirror and suggest that they take a look to see that such malfeasance would not be possible if not empowered by monetary policy.
One certainty is that the super majority of consolidated malfeasance in much of the world has been transferred to the balance sheets of central banks and national debt at direct cost to billions of people, many of whom followed the rules, not least those who saved all their lives just as their public institutions recommended. Those savings have been taxed for nearly a decade now by monetary policy rather than a democratic process; by devaluation of currency, record low (or negative) interest rates, inflation from asset bubbles such as commodities and housing, and the need for hundreds of millions to tap their principal for survival. Also certain is that regardless of whether or which stimulus measures were necessary, one outcome has been a dangerous expansion of the wealth gap now at record level in the modern era.
It’s very important to better understand that the previous wealth gap peak in the 1920s was partially causal to the Great Depression and WW2, among other earlier great revolutions and loss of life. Today’s billionaires seem to understand the moral hazard and potential for backlash, which is presumably one of the reasons for the philanthropic pledges. A nice gesture that will hopefully do much good, philanthropy is not an alternative for economic diversification, though can help if targeted for that purpose.
The financial crisis represents precisely how corrosive moral hazard is realized at dangerous levels that can reach critical mass, which could be triggered by unforeseen events. Moral hazard is a psychological phenomenon, which occurs from regulatory, governance and policy failures that then combine with the ensuing economic weakness to cause the next crisis. In this case the trigger was regulatory failure followed by heavy-handed resolution that caused massive collateral damage, further harming innocent citizens worldwide. In such cases where the non-virtuous (aka vicious) cycle is not interrupted by a moral realignment, typically through accountability by the justice system, strong credible governance, and adoption of new systems that punishes crimes and rewards beneficial behavior, then civilizations can and do rapidly decline.
In hindsight from a high level view, from a hopefully wiser former business consultant who has studied related phenomenon for decades now, it appears that we enjoyed a long period of one-off exploitations of planet and people combined with ever-increasing public debt and corruption supporting promises by politicians and institutions that were far beyond their means to deliver.
The bad news is that the combination of public debt and future liabilities tragically promised by politicians—and now expected—some portion of which is necessary to survive in the high cost modern economy caused by these policies, can’t possibly be paid by the current economy.
The good news is that not all of that massive spend on R&D over decades has gone to waste, and we now have much more accountable systems that can indeed prevent the super majority of future crises, if only we can muster the courage to adopt them. We are also seeing dramatic improvements in systems that have the capacity for exponential productivity growth over time, which is the only method in our current economic system to cover national debt, unfunded liabilities, and the needs of a quickly aging global population, given the immense future needs in healthcare, environment and economics.
So my plan for 2016 is to tap the exponentially decreased cost and performance improvement in computing hardware and algorithmics to extend our networked artificial intelligence system to the mid-market, NGOs, and governments to provide them with a world class system unavailable to anyone at any cost until very recently. My hope is that our Kyield OS will help even the playing field and lead to a more dynamic and robust economy of the type that is only possible with healthy balance of diversification. Soon thereafter we plan to do the same directly for small business and individuals.
“If your time to you is worth savin’
you better start swimmin’, or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’”
– Bob Dylan