Whether or not the point makes it across, it’s good to see articles like this one at The Atlantic, or Stiglitz’ Vanity Fair piece getting some attention. They highlight the fact that our current dire economic situation isn’t all that novel; we’ve been playing a game that many other nations do, just with more chips and for higher stakes. When you’ve got a bigger bankroll, it’s certainly harder to fail; but when it happens it’s a loonnngg way down the well if you’re not careful.

The Quiet Zone:

Emerging-market governments and their private-sector allies commonly form a tight-knit—and, most of the time, genteel—oligarchy, running the country rather like a profit-seeking company in which they are the controlling shareholders. When a country like Indonesia or South Korea or Russia grows, so do the ambitions of its captains of industry. As masters of their mini-universe, these people make some investments that clearly benefit the broader economy, but they also start making bigger and riskier bets. They reckon—correctly, in most cases—that their political connections will allow them to push onto the government any substantial problems that arise.

Sound familiar? That’s why I’ve always hated terms like “America’s CEO”. America is not a freakin’ corporation; The United States doesn’t have shareholders, employees, and management. It’s better than that. Or should be.

Last fall, the Institute For The Future sponsored a massively multiplayer forecasting game called Superstruct that I spent some (though nowhere near enough) time in. The entire set of user data, game scenarios, discussion groups, etc. was frozen at the end of the game, and the information was made available to researchers. The first results have now been released…nice! More to come from IFTF, and there has also been a great deal of non-official commentary and analysis; I think the game was a great idea and a great success. I look forward to more work like it.

Amusing anecdote…the data was released at the Institute’s 10 Year Forecast event, and Jamais Cascio (a prominent futurist associated w/ the Institute, and whose blog I follow) gave several presentations there on Fifty-Year Crisis Scenarios. I just read the post on his presentation, which included the following scenario (I quote his quote):

In this fifty year period, a massive depression, coupled with the collapse of a key resource, undermines traditional economic models. Even as the global economy recovers, a global war erupts, a horrifying accident triggered by political systems overwhelmed by increasingly rapid communications, a tragedy multiplied by the almost casual use of chemical weapons. The end of this war coincides with the emergence of a pandemic the likes of which the world has never seen, killing millions upon millions — and, combined with the war, almost eliminating an entire generation in some parts of the globe.

After the pandemic ebbs, a brief, heady economic boom leads many to believe the worst has ended. Unfortunately, what follows is a global depression even more massive than the previous one, causing hyperinflation in some of the most advanced nations, and leading directly to the seizure of power by totalitarian, genocidal regimes.

What follows is perhaps predictable: an even greater world-wide war, nearly wiping out a major culture and culminating in a shocking nuclear attack.

At this point, you’ve probably already realized that this scenario covers the end of the nineteenth century through the end of World War II.

As he noted, fun stuff. When done well, futurism is a powerful tool for understanding potential future (and past *grin*) trends, issues, and challenges (and can even include things like writing science fiction). I’m always happy when I see someone thinking about the future, and tools like Superstruct will give regular folks new ways to participate and join in.