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Why be Interested in a Better Future?

by John Brian Shannon | August 15, 2016

Why build a Better World?

Imagine for a moment the unforeseen has occurred, and lying in the middle of the road is your body covered by a white sheet.

Yes, you got hit by a bus only minutes ago. And now, body-less for the first time in your existence, your spirit is hearing the words of the ‘keepers of spirits’ as you watch the paramedics put your body into the Ambulance.

They tell you that you’ll sleep for 20-years and then be awoken in time to be born in the normal manner, but to a different set of parents, exactly 20-years from today. Happy Birth Day!

Oh, and, this part is important. You won’t have any of your present memories, you may be born anywhere in the world, you may be a different ethnicity or gender, you may be born within any socio-economic group — and your parent or parents might be the poorest on that particular continent or the richest, or anywhere in between. All these variables and more will be matters of chance.

For now, let’s assume that the above paradigm is true.

But what if you died and came back tomorrow?

‘Well’ you say, ‘It depends where I was born, and how highly my parents rank in that country.’

If you came back tomorrow; There’s only a 1 percent chance that you’d be a brand new member of the 1 percent. Did you know that the 1 percent manage to exist on more than $1179. per day, per person? How do they manage it?

Some 29 percent of the people alive today live between $10. and $1178. per day, per person.

And there’s a 71 percent chance that you’d be born into a family that lives on less than $10. per day, per person.

That’s our world in 2016.

Know your annual income?
Find out which percent group you belong to on this interactive CNN chart

You found your goat! Image courtesy of Mongolia on Pinterest.

You found your goat! Image courtesy of Mongolia on Pinterest.

Today, you’re more likely to be born into poverty, maybe living on the desolate Mongolian steppes.

Hey! In your previous life you always liked goats and always wanted to pet one. Now you can be a goat-herder for the next 64 years! Which is the average life expectancy of Mongolian males who live in yurts (tents) on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

Or maybe you’d be born as one of the Roma (formerly called gypsies) the poverty-stricken people who roam all over Europe, in sight of luxury every day, but never able to experience it.

Or maybe you’re born into a Muslim family trapped in present-day Syria. Better start studying that Koran as soon as you learn to read, I hear they don’t tolerate slackers there.

On the bright side, you have a 29 percent chance of being born into a family that exists on anything between $10. per day, per person and $1178. per day, per person. You rock!

Just remember that you won’t get to choose any of this, nor prepare for it in advance. It’ll be completely random. Nor will you have any memories of your previous life.

What if you came back 20-years from today?

One wonders what kind of world will exist 20-years from now. Hopefully, you’ll be one of the people who used your time wisely in this decade to help create a better future for all humanity — not only for yourself and your immediate family — but for people who are being born on every continent, at every economic strata.

If you knew today that you were going to be reborn in 20-years with a family and country chosen for you at random, what would you do today to help create a better future for all humanity?

In 2016, 7.4 billion people live on this planet and 1 percent of the world’s population own more than 50 percent of the world’s total wealth.

But in 2035, 8.8 billion people will live on this planet; And if present trends continue, the 1 percent will own more than 80 percent of the world’s total wealth.

Leaving only 20 percent of the world’s total wealth to be distributed between the remaining 8.7 billion in 2035.

If you expect to be alive in 2035, let’s hope you’ve used your time wisely in this decade to help create a better future for all humanity.

Share of the world's total wealth for the Top 1 percent and the Bottom 99 percent. Image courtesy of OXFAM.

Share of the world’s total wealth for the Top 1 percent and the Bottom 99 percent. Image courtesy of OXFAM.

2016: Year of Global Risk or Global Opportunity?

by John Brian Shannon | December 31, 2015

While my default mode is to proactively engage with vision, leadership, pragmatism and organization, in order to preempt or preclude situations that allow dangers to form and thence for risk to concern us — there is certainly a time to take stock, to measure our place in the world, and to put our perceptions to the test in order to assess future threats.

Each year-end presents a wonderful opportunity to do exactly that.

We must keep in mind that every problem on this planet is a human-caused problem — and because we’ve caused them — we can solve them if we choose.

Humans alone wrote the madcap play that we’re the actors in.

Will 2016 be the year of global risk, or of global opportunity?

Will 2016 be the year of global risk, or of global opportunity?

The Eternal Question: Should We Steer Our Ship by the Stars, or by the Sea?

1. We must remember that when viewed through the prism of American or European thought, we in the West cannot fully understand the Russian mindset.

Yes, the Russians look like us, they buy many of the same products, they may even vacation in similar locales. But it would be a big mistake to think they are us or think like us based on those superficial comparisons.

Their national experience since October 1917 couldn’t be more different than our own.

Although the Soviet Union was founded on revolution, their experience in WWII (for example) was much different than ours. The people of the USSR endured almost inconceivable suffering and millions more deaths happened on the Soviet front as compared to our side of things during WWII, and so consequently, their response to us during the Cold War and their evident bias to not only end the Cold War but to disband their entire bloc and rewrite their constitution, were shaped by those experiences.

Suffice to say that the worldview of everyday Russians and their leaders are significantly different from North Americans and Europeans.

If we base our policies and subsequent actions on a flawed interpretation of the Russian mindset we are likely to be enablers of dangerous situations, resulting in increased risk.

Therefore, everything Russia must be viewed not only from the American or European world viewpoint, but through the lens of the Russian leadership and of the citizens of that country.

And frankly, that hasn’t been done as well as it could and should have been done, since the days of Kissinger, Brzezinski and James A. Baker III.

Our #1 risk factor isn’t Russia, it’s our lack of understanding.

2. China is a large country that isn’t going anywhere. We’ll be dealing with China for many decades to come. And they’ll be dealing with us.

If anything, we should avoid conflicts with China — and instead of always trying to ‘put them in the wrong’ we should become their guide, their facilitator, their mentor, and always be trying to ‘put them in the right.’

Every day of the year, we humans are teaching other humans how to treat us.

If we teach China that we are all about hostility, they’ll learn that fighting us is the way to deal with us. If we constantly criticize China, they’ll condemn us in return. If we give China reason to fear, we all know that “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.”

It’s a great Star Wars line, isn’t it? Still, it’s just as true on Earth as it is in adventure movies.

To lower our risk with China, we need discipline. We need to be setting the bar, showing the way, shining the light, and using constructive criticism — praising publicly and criticizing privately.

In this way, we’ll be the Father, the Mentor, the Guide, the Explainer — and what we teach China about who we are, will tell them how to treat us.

If we teach China that use of force always works and that diplomacy doesn’t — we’ll be the worse off for it, and so will they.

Yet, it will have been us that wrote that madcap play.

Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy to Peking (Beijing) as it was then-called by the West, was a great start.

Smatterings of constructive engagement since, have been helpful (but only in a smattering kind of way).

And Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ may yet turn out to be, in retrospect, inspired — if handled correctly and properly followed-up. And the recent joint U.S.-China CO2 reduction plan seems to have added some amount of normalcy that has been otherwise lacking in that relationship.

Yet, the Windows of Lost Opportunity have been stupendous!

It’s a somewhat unmanaged relationship, with far too occasional bright moments of successful diplomacy.

Had the Sino-American relationship been handled proactively and correctly all along, the $1 Trillion dollar Apple success story would have represented only one of many similar stories. Perhaps a thousand similar success stories.

In reality, thus far, the relationship between China and the U.S. has been one of staggeringly huge, missed opportunities, and even worse, minor sabre-rattling.

Although China seems a willing partner and wants to engage, the same cannot be said of America. Europe is doing a little better, but only recently.

If China represents a risk to the West, it’s because we’ve been very busy with less important matters.

3. Except for the Western-inspired ‘Arab Spring’ the MENA region might have made some small amount of forward progress in the 2010-2020 timeframe.

I doubt anyone would suggest that citizens of the affected countries are any better off now, as compared to pre-Arab Spring.

Yet with the Iran nuclear deal secured and Israel now turning to domestic issues, the >1400-year-old chess game between Sunni Arabs and Shia Persians will continue as uneventfully as ever, I suspect, for many decades. (Lots of smoke, very rarely, any fire)

Containing ISIS and keeping Western nations safe from ISIS terror attacks would be best served by getting Western nation forces out of Syria (leaving the Syrian situation to the Syrian government and the Russians) and concentrate on increasing the coalition presence in Iraq, with plenty of assistance for Turkey, which has two problems: millions of refugees and a security threat on its southern flank.

4. The world (not just the U.S. and Europe) needs a dedicated (and properly funded) cybersecurity organization on par with INTERPOL, but geared to identifying and combatting cybercrime in realtime, and to offer all manner and levels of support to domestic agencies involved in countering cybercrime.

EXAMPLE: Whether that proposed anti-cybercrime organization is assisting a small town 5-person police department putting together its first anti-cybercrimes programme, or is assisting the Chief of the NYPD cybercrimes division to combat a cybercrime in progress, or briefing Homeland Security or the Pentagon (and other police and security organizations in other countries) it must meet those agencies and departments where they are and provide what they need in realtime.

If not, catastrophic failure will be the result.

The present situation just isn’t up to the forming threats. As well-intended as each department and agency’s efforts in this regard surely are, their capabilities are at least one order of magnitude less than what is required to defend us from cyberattacks against government and industry infrastructure and cybercrime that impacts private citizens.

By 2020, it might be two orders of magnitude short of reasonably preventing the most serious cyberattacks.

We spend money to insure our cars and trucks (in advance of mishap or misadventure) for good reason, because on an otherwise average morning, we might step outside to find that $50,000. of damage has occurred overnight to the $70,000. vehicle in our life.

A properly funded and properly overseen global anti-cybercrimes support centre would provide the ‘insurance’ we need to counter future cyberthreats.

TO SUMMARIZE: We live in a world of risks

However, that doesn’t mean that we have to play their game — after all, why play to our opponent’s strengths?

With the right vision (to preclude falling into ‘risk’ in the first place) and the right leadership (to put that vision into practice, or at the very least, turn-negatives-into-positives if things go awry) and by providing the proper support for those who negotiate or fight on our behalf — we can either change the game completely to better suit our strengths — or at the very least, lower our risk.

And that, my friends, is how to play the game of Risk and win, more often than not.


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Will the Economics Profession Wither or Flourish in the 21st Century?

by John Brian Shannon | September 10, 2015

I compare the entire economics profession (and each individual economist in it) to a star quarterback — like the great Joe Montana who is probably the best quarterback who ever lived, or who will ever live.

But what would the great Joe Montana have been *without a healthy dose of self-confidence* and who instead lived his life on-and-off the field in a world of self-imposed self-doubt about his overall importance to his team — in short, a world-class athlete with vastly superior skills who didn’t know, or didn’t believe, how capable and how important he was to his team, to his sport, and to the fans?

That is similar to how economists and the profession in its totality appear to me in the year 2015 — world-class, with vastly superior skills, who don’t know, or who don’t fully believe how capable and how important they are to our society, to our nation, and to our civilization.

Spelling it out for you! Economics must trump Politics. Image courtesy: The jesuitpost.org

Image courtesy: The jesuitpost.org

Where we are – and where we need to go

It is a profession that is better than it has ever been, certainly no cohort of economists have ever had the knowledge, sophisticated theory, and datasets of today’s economists, nor have such intractable problems ever required solving.

For example, the economic puzzles extant in ancient Rome or of the Victorian Era were Lilliputian by comparison.

Three problems confront the economics profession today

1. Unlike Joe Montana who received huge accolades for his massively successful plays on the field — economists sometimes prevent economic catastrophe but nobody notices and the world moves blithely on.

Economists prevent economic catastrophes and nobody notices. Need I say more? It’s a problem related to mindfulness, to the recognition of competence, and of reward.

It’s a problem intrinsic to human psychology that we reward some, but not others.

It might be more accurate to say that today’s economists ‘make plays’ that are of the utmost importance to ‘the team’ but are more analogous to the defensive linemen on a football team ‘who prevent the other team from scoring’.

Notice that for those players the cheering isn’t as loud?

It’s a problem in sports, and in economics too, and (unbelievably) many economists don’t give their own colleagues due respect.

It isn’t always about creating ‘touchdowns’ sometimes it’s about preventing ‘touchdowns’ by the other team — each is just as important as the other.

Psychology is a major factor in economics, in trade and in the markets, yet the application of human psychology in economic theory has been largely overlooked.

2. The profession lacks self-confidence. Imagine superstar pro athlete Joe Montana — but *without* confidence. (!)

Did Joe Montana, great as he is, ever seriously think that every time he threw the ball that it would result in a 50-yard touchdown?

No. Joe Montana showed up on gameday and played his best game. Because that’s what Joe Montana did.

But did the fact that he didn’t throw a 50-yard touchdown every single time he threw the ball, cause him to lose confidence? No.

If you’re playing *your best game* then you should have all the confidence in the world. But there’s no harm in trying to improve your game, over time, that’s a given. But to lose confidence every time you don’t score a touchdown? That should never enter the equation.

3. “Start with the end in mind.”

In order for economists to do their jobs properly, we need to have measurable goals and metrics to steer by.

Nobody enters a serious car or yacht race where there isn’t a definite start line and a definite finish line.

Economists are stuck in a race with no start line and no finish line. Why are we even racing?

We know who we’re racing, we know when we’re racing, but what goal are we trying to achieve? Would somebody tell me?

They can’t. There is no goal. Economics is a free-for-all-race against other economies with no end goal.

And yet, every economy (country) is in that race and each one started at a different position, are driving different kinds of vehicles, at different speeds, and taking different routes.

We need to stop that.

You can’t *win* a race when there’s no finish line (a goal) unless you kill all the other competitors. Then, you *win* by default. Not very sporting, old chap.

We tried that before. Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) — anyone remember that?

We arrived at M.A.D. in the 20th century because politics ruled the world and not always with good results. Thus far, the 21st century doesn’t look much better.

I could write a thesis on this — and volumes, or even tomes would still need to be written on the clear and verifiable path that took us from the (economic) competition between nation-states, to the (political) M.A.D. doctrine.

National Economic Goal-Setting

We need to start with the end in mind, a goal.

I posit that the finish line *the goal* (limited to the U.S.A. to keep this example simple) should be that every citizen should have a reasonable expectation to attain a net worth of 1 million dollars by age 25, near-perfect health with universal healthcare systems, and a tuition-free university education.

Further, regulators should require that a minimum of 25% of every American’s investment portfolio should be invested in U.S. corporations, or single entity businesses (artisans, for example) and another minimum 25% of their portfolio be invested in foreign companies that are located in countries that enjoy ‘Most Favored Nation’ trading status with the United States.

And finally, for the United States to always earn a Top 5 ranking in such indices as the UN Happiness Index and the Social Progress Imperative if we expect every citizen to fully buy-into our national success.

Economists could ‘work to’ and ‘measure against’ and ‘devise new theories’ in order to meet those goals

Who but America could attain such a goal?

Germany, Japan, The UK, France, Canada, Australia, a few more Western nations maybe — with America leading the way.

Beginning with the end result in mind would give the economics profession unprecedented focus and allow it to become all that it can and should be, instead of it continuing on without clear and measurable goals to steer by — and because of that it is a profession laden with self-doubt and presently living under the thumb of politicians.

A Tipping Point for Economics

The economics profession is nearing a tipping point in the early 21st century.

It will either rise to unprecedented greatness by asserting its independence from politics by setting its own goals with the ‘end-user’ of economics in mind (which are citizens, not corporations) thereby becoming super-efficient, super-effective, and consequently, economists would become more confident — or the profession will forever remain the scapegoat of politicians.

In the 20th century we faced Mutually Assured Destruction due to the competition between political models.

If economics remains subservient to politicians the 21st century will devolve to M.A.D. of a different kind, this time it will be the Mutually Assured Destruction of the global economy due to the competition between political models.

Because in a no-goal model, the only way to *win* is to eliminate competitors

Economics by its very definition is amenable to and works better with metrics, and an end goal. In politics, there is no end goal.

If we are to survive as a species, eventually, the importance we place on economics must supercede (Canadian spelling) that of the importance we place on politics, because, as I said before, in a no-goal race the only way to win is to kill all the other competitors. Then you *win* by default.

Which is what we’ve been doing in slow-motion since 1914 and one could argue, since the time of Cain and Abel.

Our species must evolve past the ‘law of the jungle’ model to a point where it isn’t all about the politics of ‘country A’ vs. ‘country B’ — but where it’s all about how well citizens score their nation on the UN Happiness Index and Social Progress Imperative index

Only when we devote our industrial, academic, and social effort towards the well-being of the ‘end-user’ (citizens) with verifiable end-user metrics, will we stop working at cross-purposes. Then watch our species succeed!

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