Sunday, October 1, 2023

Attali: 2050, a world without a “heart”? (By Eric Besson)

The challenge is enriched with a new weekly column. Titled “The World to Come”, its author is Eric Besson, former French Minister of Industry, Energy and Digital Economy, also president of a Moroccan subsidiary of a large Swiss services group.
Each week, Eric Besson will highlight his comments on books, reports, notes from foundations or think tanks that have caught his attention. He sometimes even addresses future topics with the aim of summarizing for the reader the author’s main thesis (or the reflections to which he leads) and making him want to go further by investigating the topic.

What author, apart from Jacques Attali, could afford to write on the “back cover” of a book: “I have brought together here, as clearly as possible, without irony and without hiding anything about the issues at stake, all the world should know about the world and its future. All. From the mechanisms of power to the challenges of science. From history to technology. From finance to politics. From geopolitics to ecology. From culture to ethics. From social struggles to the struggles of women and minorities”?
Coming from anyone other than him, such immodesty would make you smile, to say the least. But Attali, one of the most cultured and versatile intellectuals, has some noble titles. Whoever has published more books (81) than years (79), can at the same time present them, like Yuval Harari, the author of the best-seller Sapiens, a history of humanity or become a dietitian. He will need, for example, to reduce his consumption of “meat, sugar, tobacco, alcohol.” As a personal development coach, everyone should “reflect on their own future, based on extensive introspection.” Ask yourself about your past and future choices, about your mistakes. Ask yourself: “Am I able to act on my future, on that of my family, my business, my city, my country, the world,” or “Am I active enough to get what I need?” seems the best, for me and for others?

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Attali also suggests that “we give ourselves the means to know (our) own material situation as best as possible” and “use them to predict its future evolution.” Moving on to wealth advice, he recommends digital tools suitable for this type of exercise, “Personal Finance Management”. As you may have understood, each one must do “an analysis of their own eating, sporting, psychological, professional, mental, academic, friendly and sentimental behaviors.” Enjoy “talking, reading, streaming, music, general art, gardening, cooking, DIY, and many others.” Learn, always learn. And anticipate. “Everyone will also have to prepare for the unexpected, the impossible,” which could “call everything into question overnight.” “Am I prepared to fail, to experience the unexpected, to not get discouraged?” But “being prepared for the unexpected and unthinkable requires serious reflection.” This demand for anticipation, if true for individuals, is even more so for nations. Forecasting is a difficult art.

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Attali has taken risks many times. Faithful to the method of the futurists, drawing lessons from history to outline the world to come, Attali considers that since “the arrival of the mercantile order” in the West, in the 11th century, the world has been successively dominated by “nine hearts.” ”, nine cities, nine seaports. Successively Bruges (1250-1348), Venice (1348-1453), Antwerp (1453-1550), Genoa (1550-1620), Amsterdam (1620-1780), London (1780-1882), Boston (1882-1945), New York (1945-1973), Los Angeles and California (1973-2008). And from ? Attali describes a world in crisis. Despite the dazzling economic and social progress achieved during the last century, “we face financial and ecological crises, wars and conflicts multiply, spending on weapons increases, to the point that “in short, we are not in a world war, but in globalized wars.
In 2023, “the two largest world powers will be China and the United States.” “The United States remains the world’s leading political, economic, technological and military power,” despite “increasing weaknesses.” The “heart” is still in California but it is a “wavering heart.”

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Because “many rivals are emerging, in particular China”, “today driven by a desire for revenge and a feeling of power.” Chinese weaknesses are as real as American ones. Regarding its main strengths, Attali considers it “the best placed to use and develop artificial intelligence in a huge and currently docile market.” It would be (but no source is cited) “ahead of the rest of the world in 37 of the top 44 industries of the future.” The Chinese are investing massively, for example, in the fields of healthcare or autonomous transportation. Eight of the world’s top ten ports are Chinese. “Chinese higher education trains a million engineers a year.” One million engineers a year!! Who will dominate the world of 2050? Attali seems hesitant. He believes that “the United States will no longer be the dominant power in 2050, not economically, not geopolitically, not even culturally.” Some of its cities, Miami, Houston, could play an important role, such as Singapore, Dubai or Mumbai. The tenth “heart,” if it continues “its journey toward the East,” will be “somewhere in China.”

However, this is not Attali’s forecast: “I don’t think China will be home to the heart of the world economy and politics in 2050.” Therefore, we would move towards a polycentric, and even fragmented, world, where states would only have a fraction of their previous power. “The commercial order will have become so powerful and technology so nomadic that no geographically determined political power will no longer have the capacity to control, direct or regulate it. No army alone will be able to control all the oceans, all the lands, all the spaces, all the digital networks, all the minds, all the revolts. No financial center, no national currency will be able to control world markets. No one will be able to hinder the power of capital, whose participation in added value will be even greater than today. As a result, “no country will be in the center, the periphery will no longer take orders from anyone.”
The resulting outlook is bleak. “There will be no main place for the accumulation of wealth and power” and this absence will lead to “a global market without the rule of law”, although “for a time, each State will guarantee its own defense and protection.” of its rule of law. Then it will be the era of “dictatorships and illiberal democracies.” Procession of dark clouds.

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According to Attali, the world would then face “three deadly threats”:

Climate threat: “If nothing important is done quickly, climate change will make life unbearable on much of the planet.”

Threat of “hyperconflict”: “We will fight for water, for food, for raw materials and for a fairer distribution of wealth.” In this context, “many borders could then move.” Examples? “Russia could be divided into three”, “Syria and Iraq could be dislocated”, “many African countries could be dismantled, such as Mali, Nigeria and the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo)”.

The threat of “artificialization”», for example health: from the benefits of remote monitoring of our body or advances in the fight against aging to the risk of “human clones”. Or education: “prostheses will be grafted into the brain to increase memory capacity; “We will decode mental states to penetrate thoughts.” Human relations with the multiplication of robots or holograms. In this future world, “everyone will be offered the opportunity to self-repair, then produce copies of themselves and eventually be cloned. One day we will no longer be able to distinguish between our clone and ourselves.” It is human civilization itself that would then be threatened. To escape this “fateful fate”, Jacques Attali advocates a “radical change”. Having advocated in the past for the emergence of a “world government,” he lucidly points out that it does not exist and that “the UN, the G7 and the G20 have never been so weak.” He insists on thinking that it will be necessary to try to “give birth to an embryo of planetary power.”

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Other proposals : “impose – or at least encourage – positive behavior.” In this “positive society,” we would make “unconstitutional any law, any regulation, any action that cannot be demonstrated to be consistent with the interests of future generations and nature.” But Attali does not tell us who would have the necessary legitimacy to appreciate this precautionary principle taken to the extreme, nor by what criteria we could define in advance the interests of future generations. We have known since the beginning of time that a simple tool can be, depending on the hands of the one who wields it, a fruitful tool or a deadly weapon. Should we refrain from funding research on artificial intelligence, quantum computers, robots of the future and genetic manipulation? No one knows today whether these important technological advances will ultimately be a source of benefit or misfortune for “all humanity.”
Consequently, Attali advocates “eliminating all production of the economy of death”, which includes all fossil fuels, and developing “the economy of life”: sustainable infrastructure, hydrogen, sustainable finance and insurance, etc.

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He also wants the adoption, instead of measuring or growing the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), of classifications that favor the quality of life, such as the Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations. According to this criterion, Attali specifies, “all the classifications today place the Scandinavian countries and New Zealand at the top.” In the last pages of the book, Jacques Attali seems surprisingly directive and interventionist. The list of what he believes should be limited or banned to succeed in this “Great Change” is long. But the very influential former advisor to President Mitterrand still asks: “how to implement such reforms, most of which will be temporarily very unpopular” and “will be experienced as a set of deprivations or punishments”?

The general answer might surprise: “At first glance, only a planetary dictatorship could effectively resolve and implement the Great Shift.” And to specify: “it is not excluded that some come to propose or impose, in the panic of an imminent catastrophe, a ‘green dictatorship’.” A green dictatorship! God forbid…
Reading Attali is always stimulating and invigorating. His erudition and teaching talent are indisputable. Some of her past intuitions turned out to be correct. Not all, obviously. However, we can be more reserved or skeptical about his proposals for concrete actions.
This does not diminish the interest in reading these “user manuals” of the world.

Born in Morocco, Eric Besson is a former French minister. In particular, he was Minister of Industry, Energy and the Digital Economy during Sarkozy’s presidency. Coordinator of the “France 2025” report published in 2009, he is passionate about foresight and the great challenges of the future. Eric Besson has also held numerous responsibilities in the private sector. He currently chairs the Moroccan subsidiary of a Swiss services group. He writes this column in Challenge in his personal capacity.

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