It could be argued that the social/economic stalling of so many of the older economies is reflective of a parallel political stalling. For over 1600 years, from the end of the Roman Republic until the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 in England political/social/economic progress was very slow. Autocratic Kings and their courts across Europe and much of the world pursued a policy of self interest, largely at the expense of their populations.
After a long build up (including Magna Carta and the English Civil War) in 1688 the English Parliament overthrew King James II and appointed King William and Queen Mary in his place under a constitution, which made it clear that unlike previous monarchs they were not appointed by God and that they were responsible to Parliament.
The 1688 devolution of power from an individual to the beginnings of a representative Parliament was enough of a shift to pluralism to create fertile conditions for innovation and the Industrial Revolution followed within 50 years. The pluralism and inclusiveness of the British system of government has generally increased – perhaps up to the 1980’s and the end of grammar schools.
Since then there appears to have been a trend towards ever more powerful elites and away from pluralism. Disempowering the widest part of the social/economic pyramid, even by a little, massively reduces the overall economic and social contribution of the population. Currently most developed economies are empowering their elites at the expense of the widest part of the pyramid, leading to stagnating economies.
Autocracy is largely innovation phobic, in autocratic systems there is an intrinsic centre of gravity around maintaining the status quo – ie maintaining the autocrat and their ruling elite. Autocratic systems can be very good at playing catch-up and innovating in narrow, usually military, ways that support their rule, but fear, and therefore limit, the kind of social liberty that fosters social, technical and commercial innovation.
Much of the economic /social development we see happening in less pluralistic societies like China and in the Middle East is “catch-up” not breakthrough innovation.
What is true for societies is also true for business. Autocratic and hierarchical business cultures inhibit innovation, while inclusive and pluralistic cultures will foster it.
The way to get our economies going again is to back away from elitism and return to progressive pluralism. We need more people taking more responsibility for our collective future – not less. We need more entrepreneurs, we need more people going into sciences, engineering and even politics.
To achieve this we need a state education system that churns out leaders willing to take responsibility for some aspect of our society and we need adults in our society willing to invest in them. Families and schools are necessarily (to some extent) autocratic environments, however we need to teach our young adults that autocracy, and the submission to it, is a phase they need to grow out of in order to become fully responsible adults.
Pluralistic innovation is essential to our future, because it is not centralised government innovation or elites that will save us from climate change, it is distributed innovation coming from businesses and other inventors. We urgently need to train, empower and invest in a new generation of leaders and at the same time we need to reverse our slide towards elitism and return to pluralism. We also need to make use of technology to return our democracy to the path of pluralism that it was on for 300 years.
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