By Yang Chuyi, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
In the famous 75-year long Harvard Grant Study, it is revealed that the essence of a fulfilling life is about love instead of money, power or achievement. This stunning result has triggered my further thinking towards the happiness level of a nation. What if the numerous numbers, ratios and indicators of economy that we carefully measure and monitor are not as important as we previously considered?
In microeconomic theory, there will be decreasing marginal utility of consumption as well as wealth for an individual. Nevertheless, I argue that there will not be decreasing marginal utility of happiness or satisfaction level. Therefore, I further propose that the happiness level of a nation is not all about economic growth. Besides economic growth, the average national subjective well-being or the happiness level of each individual is another pertinent issue to be considered by politicians and economic decision makers.
Compared with utility, happiness is a more pertinent and subtle measure of satisfaction derived from utility. Therefore, from my perspective, the happiness levels of each individual as well as of a nation are alternatives to economic growth. Though contingent on social economic progress, happiness level or well-being is not a mere function of aggregate economic growth.
By Scott Colvin, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
[T]he increase of wealth is not boundless.
The stationary state of capital and wealth would
be a very considerable improvement on our present condition
- John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy
The world is living in a fantasy.
Like all good collective delusions, this one bleeds the lust from living reality; replacing it with, instead, a more palatable - a more easily consumed - version of the truth.
That fantasy is this: societal strength depends upon economic growth.
For decades, the idea that the success of the economy, as measured in GDP increase, was inherently connected to improvements in society was true - and useful. The machinations of western post-industrial capitalism produced miracles unimagined by those who came before: the possibility of land ownership for common labourers, increases in life expectancy and accessible higher education; the stable fact of a middle class. Growth and prosperity have become so correlated that many feel one cannot be had without the other.
But what if this were not the case? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence - certainly. But what if that evidence isn't as remarkable as it is ordinary and in plain sight? In that case, would you be prepared to accept that long-term societal prosperity required an abandonment of growth as a leading pursuit?more
By Nils Smedegaard Andersen, Chief Executive Officer of A.P. Møller-Mærsk A/S and speaker at the 46th St. Gallen Symposium.
Investment in infrastructure can be an important catalyst for economic growth. It reduces distance to markets, lowers total cost of trade and raises the economic productivity and competitiveness of countries and regions.
Lack of investments in infrastructure since the 1980s is leading to infrastructure and growth deficits in both mature and emerging markets. This and evidence of bottlenecks in emerging and developing economies, and the sluggish global economic recovery, have spurred calls for a step-up in infrastructure investment.
An increase in infrastructure spending and financing in the region of USD 1-3 trillion per year may be needed over the next 15 years.
Today, one third of the annual spend on infrastructure globally stems from private companies. On average, infrastructure investments have a bigger growth impact when private companies are involved with the potential to double the growth impact for every dollar spent. Private companies can play an even larger role, not least in helping governments to realize efficiency savings, and thereby helping to ensure that the infrastructure bill does not exceed end-users' ability to pay.more
By Caroline Poublan, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
When 1929 crisis happened, it hit it all hard for the first time in modern history, leaving the world economy with a decade-lasting headache. That was time when countries realized they didn't have a means to effectively measure their economic wealth. And this is somewhat how, within the painful Great Depression Period, gross domestic product (GDP) was born. This tool based on roughly four parameters was built to assess the production of a nation, reflecting on a sense its economy.
In the late 30s, whilst depression had been soaking in countries for years, Hitler decided to force his ethnic deathly delusion across Europe and burst the world to tears and flames. Churchill's British Empire then gave GDP its first practical utility, using it to assess the limits of resources that the UK could potentially bring on to the war.more
In a world, where many people continue to struggle with the geography of
Africa, Hanna Tetteh puts Ghana firmly on the map. As Minister of Foreign
Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana and Chair of the Council of
Ministers of ECOWAS, Tetteh embodies the successes and challenges of her
country and gives a voice to the West African region.
By Julia Kramermore
By Wodzislaw Kicinski, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
Since 1991 Japanese annual GDP rose on average by a mere 1.1%. Yet in the same period GDP per capita grew in line with those of other advanced economies, life expectancy has increased to a record high, Japanese students remained in the top 10 best performing countries in PISA quality of education study, while air pollution decreased in the country. This does not mean that we cannot call the last two decades lost for Japan, but surely GDP growth does not paint the whole picture.
Economic growth is so strongly engrained in our civilisation's idea of progress that even despite concerns related to it, such as environmental damage or economic inequality, we find it almost impossible to imagine general wellbeing without growth. A cult of economic growth has made GDP growth into an objective in itself and marginalised more qualitative features of progress with the current economic system being structured towards "more" instead of "better".
One way to change this is to prioritise development, which encompasses qualitative aspects such as education, health and environment as well as economic growth, instead of growth itself.more
With a rooftop rain-collection system that costs USD 500 per household, Mexican NGO Isla Urbana is trying to fix the water shortage in Mexico City. More such smallscale projects are needed to address a big problem.
By Angel Plascencia & Natasha Silvamore
Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever
"Because we have become global so quickly, politics is changing rapidly in terms of the interdependence between different countries. In the past, you could solve the major issues in the world either within your own country or with a small group of countries. Now, some issues - like security, climate change, and transparency in financial markets - require the cooperation of all countries. Institutions historically designed to deal with that, like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, are based on the old model of how the world functions. We haven't been able to evolve our political system to deal with these more complex problems. Responsible companies, which have a more long-term vision than politicians and work in multiple countries across the world, often deal with these issues on a daily basis. Within their own business model they will have to be more proactive. I call that de-risking the political process. For individual governments, for example, it's very difficult to work on deforestation because there are many different factors involved. But if companies work together and say 'we only want sustainably sourced soy, beef or palm oil,' that sends an enormous signal to governments to start acting. If politicians know there's a big enough group of companies that want that, they are more likely to put themselves behind it. If they don't have that assurance, it's very difficult to move things forward.more
By Tim Robert Schleicher, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
In debating growth, we usually focus on its desirability - and neglect to discuss the underlying core mechanisms. The origins of growth should factor into these discussions in order to achieve a deeper understanding of the subject. One such underlying core mechanism of growth, is the often-elusive interest rate. It is through the interest rate that the concept of growth has embedded itself in society. For now, let us focus on the individual level and try to observe a basic economic rationality by analyzing a loan, and the resulting interest.more
For decades, the developing world's best and brightest have set off to seek their
fortunes on foreign shores. But in recent years, the tide of brain drain has been
turning, with some of these so-called "sea turtles" making the voyage home.
By Chiara Piotto & Natasha Silva
Some species of sea turtle manage to migrate thousands of miles across oceans between foraging and nesting grounds, and seasonally to warmer waters. Then they migrate to nesting areas to breed, usually in the area where they were born.
Encouraging young people to do the same is now one of the biggest challenges in many countries - like China, where emigrants who return home to start businesses or do research are called haigui, or sea turtles. It's the opposite of "brain drain," as researchers call the migration of young, talented people from areas of the world in economic crisis or suffering from a chronic lack of jobs to more welcoming ones. Europeans usually move from east to west, and from south to north. People born in developing countries move to well-developed ones. The migrants look for research or job opportunities, and usually they find them. But with the passing of time, some of them are willing to go back to their native country "to breed in the area where they were born."more
By Lise Pretorius, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
We are in an age of extreme risk and incredible opportunity. On the one hand we are seeing radical breakthroughs in exponential technologies like 3D printing, robotics and artificial intelligence, giving us the sense that we have never been more advanced. At the same time, the majority of global citizens are excluded from the fruits of growth while the side-effects of growth have piled up to critical levels - we are crossing irrevocable ecological limits, entering an age of water risk and extreme climate risk, and seeing a continuous and untenable rise in the gap between the have's and the have-nots.
How do we measure our progress in this context? If I were to suggest that we sum the market values of things extracted and produced within a country - counting equally the likes of missiles, cigarettes, and educational technology - you might think I was mad. Yet this is what we are doing.more
By Lodewikus Lombaard, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
Humanity is cunningly brave, lucidly paranoid and sensibly greedy. This human behavior keeps us fed, differentiates us from the animals and forms our economic growth models. Given how inextricably linked what we are and the way we grow are, I support our current growth models as practical instruments. Growth models stem from human nature, form our business practices and logically evolve into our policies.
For the same reason smokers smoke disregarding consequences, humanity will stick to current growth models as tools that maximize short term utility. This is because the human collective perceives the future as far away and we are not programmed to forego profits and growth today in the name of an idealistic tomorrow.
I would love to argue that someday growth models will be based on altruistic intentions. However, this wishful thinking is as realistic as hoping that one day humanity will wake up as a species with different characteristics. Although others passionately argue for growth models based on happiness, societal values and other niceties - the reality is that we can't bank benevolence or consume kumbaya's. Our growth models work because they are geared towards obtaining results that are based on survival rather than ethical considerations.more
The key to a nation's prosperity or failure is institutions, rather than culture, education or geography. But institutions come in different flavours, argues economist Daron Acemoğlu in an interview at the last St. Gallen Symposium.
By Julia Kramer
Why are some countries wealthier than others? This question attracted Daron Acemoğlu, Elizabeth & James Killian Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to the field of economics. During the course of his studies, Acemoğlu realised that he could not answer this question without taking politics into consideration. Together with James A. Robinson, a political scientist at Harvard University, he decided to blend these two academic disciplines. After fifteen years of extensive research, their book "Why Nations Fail" (2012) challenged conventional economic wisdom by introducing empirical evidence showing that the economic success of nations depends on functional economic and political institutions.more
By Pallavi Roy, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
Growth is intrinsic to nature and humans. However, as we continue to consume resources, we push the boundaries of the earth beyond tolerance. This is leading to an environmental challenge with calamitous consequences. The current model of economic growth isn't working as it fails to account for different aspects, such as social and environmental wellbeing.more
By Märtha Rehnberg & Emil Stigsgaard Fuglsang, members of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
The economic growth model demands more sophistication than we award it
Dear economic and political leaders,
The term "economy" is originally Greek, and means household management. As a global leader, you share responsibility for the proper management of the household that is our planet, but the majority of you are currently doing a poor job. Under your management, our household is gradually deteriorating because of man-made climate change, and we are leaving an enormous bill for our next residents. When you discuss economic growth, you therefore must accept that we are not growing. Rather, we are shrinking the ability of our household to support the existence of generations to come. Take a pause, and consider the practical and moral implications of this.
Every form of government, regardless of it being social-democratic, socialist, or capitalist, needs growth. Growth means in its simplest form that more things are produced with fewer things being consumed during the process. This is the only way to prosperity which implies a greater abundance of goods and services while fewer resources are used up. If an inventor finds an ingenious way that engines use only half the amount of oil during combustion then human kind has increased its oil resources tremendously. This is an example of growth without the consumption of more resources. Even if one eschews growth, it is still necessary if the society has a growing population. Otherwise, people have to live with fewer things than the generation before them. I will now go on and explain one hindrance to growth in the context of the economic recovery after the Great Recession.more
By Chang Yee KWAN, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
Economic growth is measured by the change in the value of goods and services in a one period vis-à-vis the previous, i.e. 'a growth rate'. A period-on-period increase in the total value of production, or a positive growth, implies that individuals have a correspondingly greater income and consumption opportunities. Discreetly applied, growth rates also offer information on society's levels of productive knowledge and technical progress.
Objectively, there is nothing inherently inappropriate for policymakers to emphasize a want for economic growth. Similarly, critics are valid in concerns of potentially detrimental tradeoffs in a singular focus on growth. And there is no lack of consistent arguments to why each should be supported or refuted.more
By Nazmus Sadat Khan, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
Growth is good, but like many good things on earth, it comes at a cost. It is true that the present economic system has given the world prosperity and moved millions of people out of abject poverty. But the ultimate goal of a growth prioritized social and economic policy should be to achieve sustainable prosperity of its people. It's an enormous task and the challenges each country faces are different.
After the financial crisis, most of the developed countries have struggled to achieve economic growth. To battle this problem they reacted with heavy artillery: expansionary monetary and fiscal policy of unprecedented size. Every pro-growth economic policy has its tradeoffs. Due to increased government spending, government debt increased. Lower interest rates and quantitative easing were supposed to increase inflation as well. Surprisingly that's not how it worked. In fact Europe, Japan and many other developed countries are struggling to raise the inflation rate and avoid deflationary pressure. It was initially believed that high debt is hampering the growth process, but many recent studies including mine, do not find enough evidence that high debt is causing lower growth. All these are encouraging developed countries to go for more pro-growth policies. This might work in the short run, until problems like inequality and climate change kicks in with greater strength.more
By Julian Slotman, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
Since the recent economic crisis European policy makers have fallen down a rabbit-hole into a place where no-one has ever been before. Suddenly they had to nationalise financial institutions and tackle the sharpest drop in productivity since the Second World War. Unemployment and public debt levels soared while people grew accustomed to the continuing flow of miserable news about the economy. After years of recession the economies of most European countries now seem to be expanding again, whether due to quantitative easing, cheap oil, or rebounding demand in developing markets. This finally allows us some time to think about the nature and desirability of growth.
When thinking about growth, one might wonder how it has become to be considered natural in the first place. Indeed, it is often argued that from an historic perspective growth is only a very recent phenomenon. One could also observe that too much growth, the kind that makes your head hit the ceiling, may have a lot of very unpleasant consequences. Many would subsequently suggest sharing the cake in some way or another to compensate the ones who did not get to enjoy the fruits of growth. Such observations do not, however, undermine the argument in support of economic growth.more
By Natalie Feder and Rolf Bachmann, St. Gallen Symposium
At the 1st St. Gallen Symposium Singapore Forum held on 23 January 2016, a number of prominent Singaporean thought leaders provided interesting insights on the topic of the 46th St. Gallen Symposium (11–13 May 2016, Switzerland), "Growth - the good, the bad, and the ugly".
During the five decades since it achieved nationhood, Singapore has undergone an unparalleled process of radical change that has transformed it into a thriving global technology, manufacturing and, above all, financial hub. Along the way and despite its small size, it has overcome many challenges, showing a remarkable ability to turn weaknesses into strengths and flourishing in a way few would have imagined two generations ago.more
By Likki-Lee Pitzen, GWS Global Warning System and member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
We all know 2015 is the year the UN will formally announce the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). For the first time, the SDGs include climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability as goals for all countries. Great! So governments and businesses finally taking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports serious means our world economy will grow sustainably and all will be good, right? Oh, no, no. The SDGs are a good way to start. But what really threatens the prospect of a sustainable future is the way we look at economic growth and the reasons why we see it as a sacrosanct panacea. Economic textbooks teach us to measure growth, the rise in the quantity of goods and services, through GDP, the monetary value of all goods and services produced in a country. Yet the GDP is a simple calculation, devoid of any qualitative differentiation - i.e. asking whether people are consuming more guns or butter. As a measure it is greatly limited: When we use GDP as an indicator in the quest for growth, we cannot tell how our society and economy are growing.more
By Moritz Schnorpfeil and Rolf Bachmann, St. Gallen Symposium
Beijing stands still these days -- symbolically speaking. After declaring the "red alert" for the first time in history, schools suspended classes, industrial plants limited production and half of the cars have been banned from the streets. This is falling together with an economic slowdown, a rising demographic tension and very recently, a heavy tumbling of stock markets.
It seems that there is a need to reconsider the economic path China has taken so far, a need for change. Acknowledgment, of course, is a first step. The government, companies and all seem to have become aware that the situation escalated.
The private sector certainly has to play a key role in driving a new Chinese economic growth. In order to handle the consequences of more and more people living a "modern" life, new technologies will be key to enable the transformation to happen at a compatible pace.
Furthermore, entrepreneurs striving for a change of businesses, processes and habits, a growing service sector and sustainable and the respective financial capital allocation will be crucial. But will this be enough to compensate for the manufacturing sector and to handle the bad and ugly side of China's growth? Another question that arises is whether society and culture can change quickly enough to adjust to the rapid development of new technologies? Or does technology have to be even faster, easier and fulfilling more of the people's needs?more
By John Soroushian, member of the St. Gallen Symposium's global Leaders of Tomorrow community
Growth has lifted humanity from the caves to the cities and given us civilization. Yet today it is scapegoated by its critics for causing many societal ills. Growth's critics rightfully sound the alarm on environmental and social problems. But their criticism of growth misses the real issues of poor policy and misguided public values.
If growth were merely the ever-increasing exploitation of finite natural resources to create perishable goods without technological advance, there would be reason to limit it. But growth represents far more than that. Growth can also be a team of nurses learning to better collaborate, a doctor improving her services through empathy, or a teacher finding innovative ways to unlock human potential. These activities are both desirable and sustainable.
Furthermore, if governments and people were driven by a growth at all cost mentality, there would also be reason for concern. But this is not and has never been the case. If it were, funding for basic research and early childcare would skyrocket at the expense of elderly care. But the reverse is true. Policies favored by powerful political constituencies generally trump pro-growth ones. And these constituencies tend to be motivated by a variety of factors beyond growth, including self-interest, compassion, ideology, and fairness.
By Johannes Berchtold
Governments repeatedly get trapped in arguments over wealth distribution. When growth points upwards, discussions over who gets what share die down. But as soon as growth shows signs of slowing down, the dogfight over the scraps starts. When growth is stagnant, wealth is a zero-sum game: Whoever wants a bigger slice of the cake has to take it away from someone else. This isn't the case in growing economies. As much as they may differ, from debt-ridden South European countries to heavily subsidized economies in South-East Asia, from saturated societies in Northern Europe to protectionist economies in Latin America, when economic fortunes fade, people suffer. They suffer most where political decision making is entrusted to a small elite, where economic institutions serve only the few and where people have been denied progress and prosperity. Where this happens, wealth distribution has been built on the wrong foundation in the first place.more
By Johannes Berchtold
Before 1750, subsistence-level income was the rule. Wealth creation on a broader scale kicked in only after a period of sustained economic growth. Today's wealth is effectively the result of two hundred years of steady economic growth. Because the human lifespan covers just a fraction of this centuries-long period, it is easy to forget that growth has neither been self-evident in the past, nor can it be assumed for the future. The bottom line is: we cannot take today's wealth for granted. Where there is no growth, there will be no wealth. This might sound obvious, but it is a truth we need to be reminded of, not only when it comes to distributing wealth but also when it comes to appreciating the roots of wealth.more
By Johannes Berchtold
In economically sluggish times, one wonders where the next wave of growth will come from - and what kind of growth it will be. It will most likely not come from traditional industries, as good management and automation might be trimming them down. Likewise, demographics and the anticipated rise of a middle class in developing economies do not seem to unlock much growth potential in the short term. Hence, we should not look for more of the same, but for what could be truly new.
That leaves technology to do the job. And this essentially means progress. Great waves of economic growth have always been driven by innovation, once inventions had been refined and reached the stage where they became transformative. If that happens, technology can become a prime force for boosting economic growth. But we are not there yet. Innovation is, in reverse, growth-driven. It is hard to think of a society that does not want to grow and still keeps on innovating.more
By Johannes Berchtold
Economic growth is the most powerful single determinant that has ever entered political and economic language. Lack of growth hamstrings governments and the private sector alike; questioning growth challenges the fundamentals of today's political and economic system; abolishing it in turn demands alternatives even the concept's most ardent critics have not come up with so far. One thing is for sure: as with any other dominant idea, the concept of economic growth is out there to be appreciated, to be questioned and to be reassessed in the light of today's global economic development. This is why the 46th St. Gallen Symposium will shine a spotlight on growth and look at it from all sides - the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When India reported double-digit growth in 2010, the excitement was monumental. So was the collapse a year later. After disappointing forecasts for US growth in April this year, the Fed put a much-anticipated interest rate increase on hold again. Sensing popular discomfort with globalisation, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's first act in office was to commission a high-level report looking into what he thought would be the limitations of economic growth.
These examples show three things: first, economic growth measured in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) matters a great deal, sometimes more than we are aware of; second, economic growth rates are relative; and third, growth is by no means an unquestioned imperative any more.more
By Hasmik Grigoryan, Analyst at the Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation and member of the Leaders of Tomorrow community
The freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are fundamental rights in a democracy. These rights are also enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia.
News about the social movement that started in Armenia in June 2015 instantly spread around the world and was covered by world-famous TV channels, newspapers, and web portals. Demonstrations in Yerevan sparked after the decision by Armenia's Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) to raise the prices of electricity by 16.7%, effective from the beginning of August. The protests became known as "Electric Yerevan" and went viral in the social media. The Electric Networks of Armenia is a monopoly owned by Russia.
Thousands of people gathered in Freedom Square on 19 June led by the "No to Plunder" social movement in order to protest the government's decision. The march in the city unexpectedly grew into a mass sit-in in the center of Baghramyan Avenue - about 100 meters away from the Residence of the President. The protests were dispersed early in the morning of 23 June, when over 200 peaceful protesters were detained. The dispersion triggered a larger wave of demonstrations: people stayed in the central street day and night.more
When a technology pops up, a window of opportunity opens to transform our world, to address the truly big issues of our time be it environmental degradation, social inequality or global health. This is a brief yet defining moment that terms how a technology is applied in our homes and organizations, which market players will dominate its development and control its distribution. An attempt to disrupt our world with technology is defined right here, by those present and their abilities. Up until now, this space has naturally and in large been taken up by providers of technology and early adopters. It is them who have defined originality in technology and its disruptive potential, and it is them who finally have moved quickly to build the institutions suitable to promote its widespread application in society. But, as technology is increasingly embedded in society so should the discussions be regarding its purposeful application.more
By Véronique Herry-Saint-Onge, a member of the Leaders of Tomorrow community
The 21st century is seeing an incredible power shift and power dynamic with the rise of cities as socioeconomic and political actors on national and world stages. Around the world, municipal orders of government are typically the smallest order of government, often depending on another order of government for revenue or growth.
However, as more and more of us now live in cities, cities are facing increasing pressures and challenges that need to be addressed. According to the United Nations, more than 54 percent of the world's population now lives in urban centers, a number that is projected to grow to 67 percent by 2050. As urban centers grow, they also become important economic drivers. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that currently the top 100 cities in the world are responsible for 38 percent of total global gross domestic product (GDP), and that the top 600, where a fifth of the world's population resides, generate 60 percent of global GDP.more
By Katharina Schramm, Graduate Student in Accounting & Finance, University of St. Gallen
Aldous Huxley was fascinated with elites. In his novel Brave New World (1931) he creates a society of Alphas ruling over Betas, Deltas, Gammas and Epsilons in a caste system state order. The rules of society are simple. 1. Stability is valued over anything else - particularly anything that could engender fractures to the citizens' superficial sense of happiness. 2. The state religion is Fordism, modelled after the principles of Henry Ford: History is bunk, what counts is efficiency. 3. Truth and science are replaced by Soma, a drug for emotional emergencies to alleviate feelings like guilt and shame. 4. No guilt - no responsibility.more
By Clément Pairot, member of the Leaders of Tomorrow community
Forget the smart cities full of technologies and monitoring: let's live in frugal cities.
The Misleading Dream of Smart Cities
Nowadays, most of the urban players promote the concept of 'smart cities' that is supposed to echo with sustainable development. This marvellous marketing concept is linked with the trend of the 'internet of things' that would like to connect all our daily-use objects to the internet, and make numerous promises. For example, you will be able to manage your heating system even far from your house, traffic will be managed by a smart signalisation system and you will share energy production inside your neighbourhood.
However, this concept is still vague and not inclusive enough (from social and economic standpoints). Pretending to solve the question of carbon emission, the defenders of the so-called smart cities usually forget to include many aspects to verify if they are truly sustainable.more
By Laya Maheshwari, graduate student in social policy and planning, London School of Economics and Political Science
Thinking of big ideas is tempting. It is an unbeatable addiction to imagine a magic pill or silver bullet -- finding that one thing we are doing wrong but can correct with a single change and consequently improve circumstances drastically. And everyone loves big ideas: They are flashy; they grab attention. A big idea gets its creator headlines, funding grants, TEDTalks, and -- who knows? -- maybe even a Nobel Prize. When was the last time a book about a small, boring, potentially insignificant idea turned into a bestseller?
The task of changing the world, the present would have us believe, is one of high stakes, requiring massive ambition and offering large rewards. And there is no room for those who cannot dream big.
However, this essay will articulate a different argument. It operates on the premise that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Something that fits the format of a TEDTalk (i.e., one groundbreaking approach that challenges conventional dogma and exposes miraculous truths about society) may be simplifying the problem itself. It wonders what are the ramifications of big ideas: Are they worth the hype? And it suggests that perhaps the next big idea should be an acknowledgment of the fallibility of big ideas.
A Big Idea Gone Wrongmore