Global Disruption

I’m back at the writing – and back in the USA – after a trip to Paris to moderate two panels on the recent French elections: one on “A Whole New France and Whole New World – Politics in the Age of Populism,” with political consultants from France, the US, Russia and Turkey; the other, called “Under Fire: What Role Did the Media Play in Shaping Opinion?,” with leading French journalists.

While there, I was interviewed by the head of the French foreign correspondents’ association, Fabrice Pozzoli-Montenay, about my own take on France’s elections. This led to my piece published this morning in US News & World Report. Here’s the main argument:

Most commentators, both in France and here in the US, have taken the results as an indication that the global anti-global movement has crested…. I think reports of the demise of global disruption are premature.

What will remain true regardless of who becomes France’s next president, however, is that the two parties that have traditionally dominated French politics have imploded[:] only one-quarter of voters sided with the two major parties combined.

The success of both Macron and Le Pen – whose “party” is actually more like a “movement” resembling Trump’s – casts into doubt not simply the viability of the two long-time major parties but, even more so, of parties generally: Political parties very well might be headed the way of newspapers, TV networks, record manufacturers, hotels, cab companies and countless other “authorities” and industry incumbents that were undermined or rendered obsolete by new technologies that make it possible to unbundle services, democratize their provision, and allow consumers to assemble their own personal bundles. Just as people are increasingly their very own news sources – both as consumers and producers – so, pretty soon, might everyone be able more-or-less to form their own platform and political party, or at least a party of one, that can merge with or secede from others at will….

The US political system – with its “first past the post” allocation of offices – militates against party fragmentation, let alone such “micro-parties,” and in favor of a stable two-party system, in a way that Continental parliamentary systems do not. Otherwise, does anyone doubt that Americans already would be deserting both the Democratic and Republican parties in droves? But such grassroots unrest is something that both parties are already experiencing, with little idea of how to address. [I]t very well may be … that the aggregating and mediating function of parties is just another casualty of the atomizing and polarizing force of the new technologies on society as we have known it.

Scenes from Paris (clockwise): Moderating panel with French journalists, with French Senator Leila Aichi, at the French Senate, at Place de la Republique the morning of the poll.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump passed the 100-day milestone in his presidency. I was asked by Aspenia to comment on this from the perspective technology and the economy. The piece explores themes I’ve address repeatedly in the past year or so concerning the rising global disenchantment with the kinds of economic and social disruptions caused by the new digital economy – disenchantment that has led to the rise of Trump, Le Pen and other right-wing populist/nationalist politicians worldwide. But I believe this is only the opening phase of a larger political realignment:

As it turns out, the information industry is just as extractive as prior economies: In an interesting little book, Platform Capitalism, the British Marxist economist Nick Srnicek observes that data turn out to be simply another natural resource that our newer technologies have figured out how to extract, and how to extract value from, not unlike mining, oil drilling or agriculture before them. Meanwhile, like manufacturing, these IT industries are focused on how best to increase per-worker productivity and substitute capital for labor whenever possible. In a few years’ time, the jobs being lost to technology will be not only those of former blue-collar manufacturing workers – they also will include those of many who now consider themselves riding the crest of the New Economy wave, from Uber drivers replaced by self-driving cars to radiologists replaced by AI to composers and authors replaced by hit-producing bots. Many current Hillary voters will be joining the disgruntled Bernie and Trump supporters who see the Titans of Information as their threat.

Meanwhile, these Titans, despite their seemingly liberal politics, are proving little different from other Titans of Industry. They’re already finding common ground with the traditionally Republican wings of the Republican Congress and Trump Administration: They recently joined to repeal Obama-era prohibitions on reselling individuals’ online search histories – and just days ago the Administration unveiled its plan to eliminate Obama’s “net neutrality” rules, so that big players can further dominate the Internet. In the words of that noted political philosopher Peter Townsend: Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Both the Disruption, and the Resistance, are just beginning.

You can read the full pieces here:

– Macron and Le Pen’s success in France casts doubt on political parties

– Thus Donald Trump joined the global conflict on technology

As always, I welcome your comments below!