Last week, former US vice president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Al Gore published perhaps another bestseller entitled, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. From the pre-publication announcement, it was not clear what the six drivers might be. While waiting for my pre-publication order to be delivered, I saw his brief interview with the BBC.
In that interview, Mr Gore did not discuss the six drivers either. His major point was that democracy and capitalism had both been hacked. His comments made me think of an event in Thailand which happened at just about the same time _ the arrest of Kamnan Poh, the godfather of Chon Buri, who had been on the run for almost 10 years after being convicted and sentenced to over 30 years for corruption and masterminding the killing of a rival strongman.
Mr Gore's six drivers are:
- A deeply interconnected global economy, with a completely new and different relationship to capital flows, labour, consumer markets and national governments.
- A planet-wide electronic communications grid connecting the thoughts and feelings of billions of people, linking them to rapidly expanding volumes of data, web sensors as well as thinking machines that, in certain areas, are getting smarter than humans.
- A completely new balance of political, economic and military power on the global stage.
- Unsustainable growth in population, cities, resource consumption and pollution; depletion of topsoil, fresh water supply and living species.
- A revolutionary new set of powerful biological, biochemical, genetic and material science technologies that are enabling us to alter just about every aspect of living things.
- A radically new relationship between the aggregate power of human civilisation and the Earth's ecological systems.
These drivers are powerful and will greatly affect our future, and what that future will look like depends on the political and economic choices we make. Though Mr Gore wishes to address readers in the world at large, he reserves a special and urgent message for citizens of the US which, he believes, is the only nation capable of providing the kind of leadership needed to make appropriate choices that should lead ultimately to preserving human civilisation or sustainability of our existence as a species. In order to do that, however, the US must reform its brands of democracy and capitalism. Mr Gore says those two things have been hacked by monied elites, who have accumulated a steadily larger share of wealth and influence and then use them to block the reforms of the rules and incentives needed to make the systems work as intended.
Mr Gore's points are indisputable. But how to move from where we are now to sustainability is far from clear. Achieving sustainability is not possible if the world continues to follow the US, whose fundamental aim, as stated in its declaration of independence, is the pursuit of happiness, to be obtained largely by ever more consumption.
To achieve sustainability, Robert and Edward Skidelsky suggest in their book, How Much Is Enough?, changing our aim from happiness to the good life. The good life would be obtained by, among other things, moderation or consumption based on needs rather than on wants.
Jeffrey Sachs suggests essentially the same thing under the concept of the mindful society in his book, The Price of Civilisation. This column discussed the two books on Jan 2 this year, and on June 6 last year, respectively.
Most Thais are Buddhists. They should, therefore, be well grounded in the concepts and practices of mindfulness and moderation. But that doesn't seem to be the case. The arrest of Kamnan Poh has added to the body of evidence showing that monied elites here are harming democracy and capitalism here more than they are in the US.
In politics, money has thoroughly corrupted both the executive and legislative branches. Vote buying, directly or otherwise, and intimidation by local strongmen are widespread. Fortunately, big money has not been able to totally corrupt the judiciary branch. The convictions of very rich strongmen such as Kamnan Poh and two others currently on the lam _ Thaksin Shinawatra and Vatana Asavahame _ attest to this fact.
As for the economy, the hacking is epitomised by the business sector admitting that it costs 25-30% of a project's cost, to be paid upfront, in order to win a government contract. Collusion in the bidding process is also rampant.
With both democracy and capitalism almost completely hacked, it is obvious that Thailand, despite its Buddhist majority, is much less prepared to make appropriate choices to cope with those powerful six drivers and play its part in our collective attempts to move toward sustainability.
Sawai Boonma has worked as a development economist for more than two decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Writer: Sawai Boonma