contributor perspectives

May 25, 2016 | 08:00 GMT

10 mins read

The Second Reformation: Transitioning to the Economic Era

The Second Reformation will mark the shift from a predominantly political era to one governed by economics.
(SPENCER PLATT/Getty Images)
Contributor Perspectives offer insight, analysis and commentary from Stratfor’s Board of Contributors and guest contributors who are distinguished leaders in their fields of expertise.

In several of my earlier columns, I touch on the idea of a Second Reformation, a second separation of major imperiums. The First Reformation turned on the separation of church from state. The Second Reformation turns on the separation of state from corporation, or state from marketplace. Either will do to communicate the transition from a predominantly political era to a predominantly economic era, just as the First Reformation marked the transition from the religious era to the political era.

I've stated this idea briefly before, but in this column I'd like to both expand on the concept of a Second Reformation and connect it to the work of several other thought leaders whose columns have appeared in this space.

From the Religious, to the Political, to the Economic Era

As these tectonic shifts take place invisibly beneath our feet, no earthquakes cleave the ground asunder. No discontinuity tears the fabric of history. Instead, older institutions live on beyond their shelf life. They do not die, but as Gen. Douglas MacArthur once put it, "they just fade away" into the background.

Churches still stand, and even as we undergo a Second Reformation that thrusts corporations and marketplace mechanisms into the forefront of historical progress, and politics and governments into the background, those institutions of government will no more disappear after the Second Reformation than churches disappeared after the first. Major institutions are not disposed to die. Jobs will be lost if we let old institutions die. Consequently, state-owned enterprises live on in China. Private insurers get the public support of survival under Obamacare, even though a single-payer plan would probably be more efficient.

So the transition to the economic era will carry not only politics but religion in its wake. Economics is first and foremost, but it rides on a chassis forged by politics and religion.

Shifting Bases of Power Over the Eras

The political shambles currently unfolding in the United States, Europe and Brazil represent something other than failures of leadership, or crises driven by isolated events, or cyclical swings to the right. A globalized, interconnected world is going through an epochal transition.

This layered reality is complex. Atavistic tendencies, long hidden from view by more recent regimes, rear their heads like the return of the repressed.

Why This Isn't Exactly "a Swing to the Right"

Witnessing the anger and frustration many feel toward governments, one could be excused for interpreting it as good old conservative fear of big government driving a massive, global swing to the right. But that would be a mistake, and it would miss the interesting affinities between the far right and the far left that revolve less around conservatism than around a witch's brew of those old atavisms: racism, sexism, tribalism, nationalism, isolationism and xenophobia.

Part of the reason so many politicians all over the world rank so low in public opinion is that politics ranks so low in public opinion. The action is elsewhere, in the economy. Politicians can play their parts in this new economic era. But they are bit parts, not starring roles. As American writer Mark Danner recently put it:

"Presidential elections have long been a windfall for television: campaigns raise hundreds of millions of dollars and then deliver that money to the networks in exchange for advertising. In the casually corrupt American political system the candidates serve as bagmen carrying cash from the corporations to the networks."

Parag Khanna and the Second Reformation

Already familiar for his own column in this space and from my distillation of his recent bookConnectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, Parag Khanna understands what I'm talking about.

"The Edelman Trust Barometer reveals a steady decline of trust in government in the West and a steady rise of trust in business worldwide. Respondents desire a new mode of gover­nance in which public and private leaders are more accountable to the people — mainly by being more efficient at delivering jobs and welfare. As states come to depend more on corporations, the dis­tinction between public and private, customer and citizen, melts away. When national citizenship provides little benefit, supply chain citizenship can matter much more."

And further:

"[A] supply chain world is a post-ideological landscape. Russia no longer ex­ports communism; America scarcely proffers democracy; China has abandoned Maoism for hyper-capitalist consumerism. From Africa to Asia — the lion's share of the world's population — it's all busi­ness, all the time."

And finally and emphatically in his very closing pages:

"The shift from political to functional maps helps us overcome rigid moralities that deliver neither justice nor efficiency and adopt a more utilitarian mentality by which governments don't so much own the world as manage parts of it within a global network civilization. . .

This, then, is the emergent global social contract: If we can manage to socialize (or even relieve) the costs accumulated in order to unlock the productive potential of billions of underserved and underemployed people, we will also collectively share in the wealth of a much richer global society. There is no for­mal consensus about what kind of global society we want, even as we are accelerating the construction of it. We should embrace and shape the journey."

Philip Bobbitt and the Second Reformation

In addition to Khanna, Philip Bobbitt understands what I'm talking about. Here's how Bobbitt describes the current transition from the nation-state to what he calls, tellingly, the market-state in The Shield of Achilles:

"In summary, no nation-state can assure its citizens safety from weapons of mass destruction; no nation-state can, by obeying its own national laws (including its international treaties) be assured that its leaders will not be arraigned as criminals or its behavior be used as a legal justification for international coercion; no nation-state can effectively control its own economic life or its own currency; no nation-state can protect its culture and way of life from the depiction and presentation of images and ideas, however foreign or offensive; no nation-state can protect its society from transnational perils, such as ozone depletion, global warming, and infectious epidemics. And yet guaranteeing national security, civil peace through law, economic development and stability, international tranquility and equality, were the principal tasks of the nation-state."

And further:

"The transition to the market-state is bound to last over a long period and put into conflict the ideals of the old and new orders. It should be emphasized that just what particular form of the State ultimately emerges from this process cannot confidently be predicted. It is a failure of imagination, however, to assume that the only thing that will replace the nation-state is another structure with nation-state-like characteristics, only larger. It is in some ways rather pathetic that the visionaries in Brussels can imagine nothing more forward-looking than equipping the E.U. with the trappings of the nation-state."

And finally and paradoxically:

The market-state will live within three paradoxes: (1) it will require more centralized authority for government but all governments will be weaker . . . (2) there will be more public participation in government, but it will count for less, and thus the role of the citizen qua citizen will greatly diminish and the role of the citizen as spectator will increase; (3) the welfare state will have greatly retrenched, but infrastructure security, epidemiological surveillance, and environmental protection . . . will be promoted by the State as never before."

Just as Khanna avers, "There is no for­mal consensus about what kind of global society we want," so Bobbitt casts the future of the market-state in the form of three scenarios whose outlines bear remarkable similarities to American Wild West capitalism, the European welfare state and East Asian managed economies. It is ours to choose, or as Khanna says, "embrace and shape the journey."

Ian Morris and Luc de Keyser on the Second Reformation

Where Bobbitt and Khanna offer us imaginative projections into alternative futures that might follow the Second Reformation, my other colleagues in this space take us deep into a distant past where some of those old atavisms took shape. In "The Retreat of Patriarchy," Ian Morris describes the evolution of gender roles from hunter-gatherer bands 15,000 years ago, through the transition to agricultural societies around 10,000 years ago:

"In nearly every society documented since the invention of farming, categories of labor have been sharply divided between the two genders, with men toiling in fields and workshops while women stayed home. This was no accident: Women were well-positioned for domestic work because it could be combined with child care, while men were well suited for work outside the home, much of which called for brawn."

Sexism is a kind of throwback to those centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution, when brawn counted for more than it does today.

"Unlike the foragers' division of hunting and gathering activities, the farming societies' allocation of work gave men near-total control of wealth creation, which in turn gave men significant economic leverage over their wives, daughters and sisters. A woman's economic dependence didn't end there; her well-being heavily depended upon marrying a man who not only was able-bodied but also had accumulated the capital needed for farming, either through years of saving or by inheritance. Either way, men tended to be ready for marriage around 30 years of age, while the mates they tended to prefer were teenage girls with long childbearing years ahead of them. As the inheritance of material resources came to play a bigger and bigger role in society, paternity became a life-and-death issue, and the strict policing of girls' premarital virginity and wives' fidelity replaced the rather casual sexual attitudes of foragers."

In his column in this space a few weeks ago, Luc de Keyser takes a similar perspective:

"Since the dawn of the agricultural revolution, humans have banded together into increasingly large tribes to better protect the growing amount of resources they produced. The same tribalism lies at the heart of many conflicts playing out today. In the Middle East, identity politics are the double-edged sword that have determined which states stand strong or fall into chaos; in the United States, societal divides are defining this year's presidential election more than ever."

Emergent Affinities

Over the past year and a half, we authors of columns in this space have pursued our ways quite independently. Chosen by Stratfor's editor-in-chief, David Judson, to fill the space formerly occupied by Robert D. Kaplan, we were picked for reasons best known to Judson, who marked the transition with a column of his own.

While we've enjoyed several teleconferences spanning time zones from California to Europe, we have yet to meet face to face, and we make no overt effort to shape our messages into the Procrustean bed of some party line. But affinities are emerging.

We seem to share a sense for the deeply sedimented layering of the human condition. We see geopolitics since the First Reformation as sandwiched between a religious layer going back many millenniums, and an economic layer that assumes prominence with the rise of the Industrial Revolution. These "layers" are deeply intertwined, quotation marks called for because layering provides a simplifying image for a more complex reality. These "layers" can be analytically delaminated, but not in reality. And it is precisely these historically evolving interrelationships between geopolitics and religion, and between geopolitics and economics, that make the ongoing evolution of geopolitics so fascinating to us.

Jay Ogilvy joined Stratfor's board of contributors in January 2015. In 1979, he left a post as a professor of philosophy at Yale to join SRI, the former Stanford Research Institute, as director of research. Dr. Ogilvy co-founded the Global Business Network of scenario planners in 1987. He is the former dean and chief academic officer of San Francisco’s Presidio Graduate School. Dr. Ogilvy has published nine books, including Many Dimensional Man, Creating Better Futures and Living Without a Goal.

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