Humankind realises since the turn of the 21st century that it faces common, global issues. These issues can be ranked as follows, from the most complex to act upon, because they depend upon the laws of physics and biology and upon geological constraints, to those that could be (but are not) easier to address, because they imply social conventions only: (1) climate change, and more generally the excessive and unsustainable pressure that humankind exerts on the natural environment that supports human civilisation; (2) demographics and the explosion in the number of elderly and chronically-ill people; (3) the social inequalities brought by digital technologies and more generally by fixed-cost integrated systems; (4) the concentration of power in the hands of increasingly footloose multi-national corporations; (5) the rise in poverty and precariousness for large fractions of the population, and, as a consequence of the above, (6) a rising wave of mass migrations and of xenophobic nationalism.
Solving these problems requires political agreements on sharing fairly the costs, benefits and risks of the adaptations that they require from our societies.
The "Western" life-style exerts an unsustainable pressure on the climate and the natural environment that support human civilisation
Humankind depends on natural resources for its livelihood, for its basic, biological life, and for all elements of a human civilisation, in the strong meanings of "human" and of "civilisation".
All humans need food to sustain their biological life. Food is produced by agriculture, in volumes that depend upon available arable surface, and upon yields, i.e. the production per unit of surface.
Arable surface is depleted by erosion1, by urban sprawl, by desertification, and by the rise in sea levels brought by global warming2, that flood the rich agricultural delta regions where the population concentrates (Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Vietnam, the Nile delta in Egypt…). The only recent gains in arable land were essentially obtained to the detriment of primary tropical forests, specifically in Brazil and Indonesia, to grow soybean and oil palm trees, respectively.
The arable land available for human food is additionally constrained by the competition for the use of arable land between (1) direct food for humans (e.g. cereals, legumes, fruits, vegetables), (2) animal feed (e.g. soya)5, which feeds the animals (e.g. cows, chicken, pigs) whose products will be eaten by humans (with a significant transformation loss – specifically in the case of beef), (3) fibre used in textile and clothing (e.g. cotton, wool), and (4) fuel (e.g. wood, liquid agro-fuels used in internal combustion engines).
In addition to these losses in arable surface, agricultural yields are anticipated to deteriorate badly if the global warming continues3, despite massive investment in agricultural bio-technology, and massive input of non-renewable fertilisers (based on the extraction of potassium and of phosphates, and on the combustion of natural gas to capture the nitrogen of the atmosphere). As a striking illustration, in a “business as usual” scenario (where global warming reaches 3.5°C), a recent study anticipates heat waves in France, one of the agricultural breadbaskets of Europe to reach ca. 55°C, i.e. a temperature close to the current heat records of the world-known Death Valley in Southern California (United States of America), over several weeks. Under such extreme temperature conditions, it is doubtful that any of the plants and trees currently present in France will survive, not to mention agricultural crops.
A further reason for agricultural yields to deteriorate is because soils lose organic nutrients and biodiversity4.
If nothing is done, food available for human consumption will decrease over the next decades, frontally colliding with the increasing needs of a growing population (see below) and of a growing per capita consumption, due to an evolution towards meat- and dairy-based diets.
This threat on our future food supply is only the most visible illustration of the fact our current industrial civilisation consumes more renewable natural resources than what the Earth can sustainably regenerate. To be more accurate, our current consumption levels are above 3 of the 9 "planetary boundaries" that ensure the stability of Earth as a set of bio-physical systems: climate change, biodiversity loss and nitrogen depletion6. Said differently, we "use" 1.6 planets7, and only have one available – now and in any realistically foreseeable future.
In addition to this over-consumption of renewable natural resources, humankind also uses vast quantities of materials and energy to provide all the amenities of material life: construction materials (e.g. limestone for cement, gravel for concrete) to build homes and transport infrastructure, metals, glass and plastics to produce the full range of industrial products that we are surrounded with as consumers and as users of technical infrastructure (water, sewage, electricity, telecommunications, hospitals) – and energy to produce and operate them all. Only a small fraction thereof comes from recycled sources of materials8, or from renewable energy sources9.
The fundamental reason for this unsustainable situation is the "Western" lifestyle and consumption pattern, based on individual suburban housing, automobile-based mobility, air travel and meat consumption. It is also due to our current extract – produce – consume – throw away industrial model, also known as the "linear" or "cradle to grave" model, where the external costs of using non-renewable resources is ignored – and quietly passed on to future generations that will find the mines empty – and the landfills full of our waste.
The unsustainable nature of our societies is even more apparent when we realise that this happens at a time when only a minority of 1 billion humans (essentially in Europe, North America, Australia and Japan) reach these excessive consumption levels10. They can in no way be generalised to the remaining 6 billion humans that aspire to be part of the new global middle class, and to reach the benchmark of the "Western" lifestyle against which, in the absence of any desirable alternative, they evaluate their wealth, well-being and social achievement.
Our production and consumption patterns are not sustainable, resources are finite, and global warming is caused by humans. All this we know. We must be aware however that these are not theoretical, abstract, long-term considerations. All civilisations collapse11 when they exert a pressure on their available natural resources beyond what these natural resources can regenerate. Our industrial civilisation is no exception, despite the immense and unprecedented resources that we mobilise. Civilisational collapse is the most terrifying prospect possible: the Rwanda genocide of 1994, or the civil war in Syria since 2011, only give a pale image of what a global civilisational collapse would look like. When the biological survival is at stake, for lack of food, any violence becomes legitimate, and war, whether civil war or foreign war, becomes a merciless, total exercise of mass destruction. No form of humanity, nor of civilisation, survive. The current "terrorist" developments in areas plagued by persistent and recent drought related to climate change, such as North-East Syria and Northern Iraq, or the region around Lake Chad, respectively home to Daesh (aka "Islamic State") and to Boko Haram, testify the close relationship between man-made poverty and extreme, nihilistic violence12. Preserving our environment is thus synonymous, in the long term, to preserving the biological and physical substrate of human civilisation.
There is only one way to prevent this dreadful scenario of civilisational collapse from becoming reality: to change our production and consumption patterns, so as to align our consumption of resources with what natural phenomena can sustainably regenerate – as those civilisations that escaped collapse in past human history testify13. This is the very purpose of the COP 21 Paris agreement on climate, and of commitments to reduce global Greenhouse Gas emissions by half compared to 1990 levels (and by 80 to 95% for industrial countries) by 2050, and of all efforts to engage towards a Circular Economy14.
This is a massive change. It will require both enormous investment (in transport networks and systems, in urban planning, in the thermal insulation of buildings, in electricity production facilities, in the design of long-lasting products and of maintenance services, in "Circular Economy" business models), beyond the means of most countries and continents, and revolutions in life-styles (towards frugality, and away from the most wasteful features of the "Western" model), even for the poorer members of industrialised nations. The scale of the investment needs (estimated at USD 6,000 bn / year for infrastructure alone15) means that massive international transfers will be required, way beyond the current (unfulfilled) pledge of a USD 100 bn. / year grant for climate change mitigation and adaptation foreseen in the COP 21 Paris agreement16. It also means that the global financial system will need to be strongly oriented towards these investments, rather than towards ever-increasing liquidity and volatility. The depth of renouncements to be made in terms of life-style (and in terms of aspiration to it), e.g. bearing on air travel, on automotive mobility and on diets based on animal products, demands that they be shared fairly between nations, social classes and generations – with no way for parts of the population to free-ride on the efforts made by others. In these matters, any injustice will be paid by conflicts and by loss of time in the transition.
Considering the pace at which climate deteriorates, and at which natural resources are being depleted, the change will need to be fast, within a few decades – much faster than most civilisational revolutions of the past (which typically extended across a few generations). The clock is ticking, and there is no way to negotiate delays with laws of physics or of biology.
As a conclusion, the fast and thorough transition of our civilisation towards environmental sustainability will induce massive costs, benefits and risks. Sharing these costs, benefits and risks fairly, at a global scale and between generations, is the only way for these changes to happen, and to happen on time.
The population of elderly and chronically-ill people needing care will explode throughout the 21st century
Life expectancy at birth of humans has increased remarkably over the last centuries, first in Europe (e.g. in France, from 25 years in 1750 to more than 80 years in 201617), then globally (from an average of 46 years in 1950-195518 to 70.5 years in 2010-201519). This is good news: longer life expectancies at birth is the translation into a single statistical indicator that health care and life conditions improve over the whole life-span of the population.
Simultaneously, a demographic transition took place, with fertility rates falling globally, from a world average of 5.02 in 1960-1965 to 2.51 in 2010-201520. The fertility rate of 2.1 that renews generations and stabilises the population has been reached in 2017 by all continents except Africa. The main issue for the future is the date at which this stabilising fertility rate is reached by Africa: if it is reached early (2050), then the number of humans on Earth will peak around 9 billion in 2050 (among which 2 billion in Africa), before it decreases21, if it is reached late (2070), then the number of humans on Earth would stabilise after 2100 only, and above 11.2 billions22 (among which 4.4 billion in Africa).
At the same time, the proportion of older members of the population will increase. People over 70 years of age are financially supported by those able to work (be it through formal pension systems, or via informal family solidarity), and increasingly require (health and life support) care services as they get older. This population requiring financial support and care services will represent 1.130 bn. people (i.e. 11.4% of the world population) in 2050 and 1.650 bn. people (i.e. 15.2% of the world population) in 2080, compared to 400 M (i.e. 5.3% of the world population) in 2015, a four-fold increase in absolute numbers and a three-fold increase in relative proportion in the 65 years between 2015 and 208023. This means that the number of people in activity (aged 20 to 69) having to support one elderly person deserving care (the "support ratio") will be reduced from 11.5 in 2015 to 4.8 in 2050 and 4 in 208024.
This challenge is compound by the fact that the "Western" life-style is not sustainable either at the individual level. The attached sedentariness and over-consumption of energy- and fat-intensive food lead to a range of lifestyle-related (and thus fully avoidable) chronic diseases (i.e. which cannot be cured, and for which the only hope is to delay deterioration): obesity, diabetes, hypertension, colon and breast cancers. These diseases have become the first cause of deaths globally, even in developing countries, above the traditional plagues of infectious diseases: they kill 40 million people each year, equivalent to 70% of all deaths globally25. Before causing death, lifestyle-related diseases produce avoidable handicaps, at massive scale, transforming productive workers into people needing external support – and increasing further the burden to the care and pension systems.
Traditional societies also had a large proportion of people deserving care and support (specifically: education): the children and teenagers. Children and teenagers increase their autonomy and capabilities over time, and can be expected to provide a form of "return on investment" by becoming productive in the future (either at the small scale of the family or at that of the whole social protection system). Education efforts can be considered as investments, and even as highly profitable ones, specifically for infant care and early education26.
The current, and future, situation will be anthropologically different. The situation of elderly and of chronically ill people can only get worse, and providing more or better care does not improve the economic prospects of those providing it: it is a pure cost. The traditional respect and gratitude towards the elderly was self-evident when they were the very few that had survived, and that had experience. It is less so when they are many, and drawing substantial resources (directly or in the form of pension contributions) from those that produce them, and when the older generations cumulate wealth and leisure with security of income and of shelter, while the younger remain stuck in poverty, precariousness and over-work.
Conflicts between generations on how to share the costs of care, and between allocating resources to the education of the young or to the care for the elderly, within countries and regions, and between countries and regions with young27 or old populations28, are thus bound to surge, alongside the fraction of the elderly and of the chronically ill in the population.
Fixed-cost (e.g. digital) integrated systems create fantastic improvements in technical efficiency, but generate massive social inequalities
Once they are set up, technical and institutional systems and infrastructure (e.g. transport, energy or telecommunication networks, software platforms, standards, regulations) are remarkably efficient in their use of resources (raw materials, energy, human work). They epitomise the benefits of productive investment. Resources are spent once (to develop the product or software, to agree on the regulation, to build the infrastructure), the equipment or institution is installed and commissioned, and it delivers its benefits to society indefinitely, at very low additional cost in resources – provided of course that it is properly maintained.
This situation is known in industrial economics as that of "fixed-cost" (or "zero marginal cost) economics. Our technical and institutional systems evolve in this direction, in a process of accumulation of (technical, intellectual, institutional) capital. In one sense, this is good news. The existence of this accumulated capital, and the technical efficiency that it brings (together with vast quantities of available energy) to human work, is what differentiates industrial societies from their predecessors. These highly efficient systems are able to provide remarkably complex and reliable product-service bundles, with a very efficient usage of those resources that have an economic cost, to the short-term benefit of all consumers. Whether some resources are used without being paid for (e.g. environmental resources), whether the quality and reliability of products are subordinated to the immediate turnover of "throw away" business models, and whether the quantity and economic value of products being delivered to customers is a measure of their satisfaction, is another debate.
The bad news however, is that fixed-cost economics, in which value is produced by integrated technical and institutional systems, puts our economic and social distribution system upside down. Classical economics is based on the model of agriculture, where the most fertile land is cultivated first, and the least fertile last, with the assumption that an infinite reserve of even less fertile land is always available. Thereby, each additional unit being produced costs more resources (in human work and others), because it is grown on less fertile land. This situation is known as that of "increasing marginal costs" in economics. Additionally, in this model, production can be easily attached to the work performed: on each square metre of land, the harvest is related to the number of hours worked by the farmer on that square metre. That work is independent from the work performed by other farmers, and of the work performed by that farmer elsewhere on his/her farm. Therefore, the productivity of the work performed on that square metre can be computed easily: it is the harvest divided by the time worked. Under these circumstances, the market mechanism leads to a form of optimum, and determines the price of goods (equal to the cost of the last, least efficiently produced, unit, i.e. the "marginal" unit) and the salary of work (equal to the productivity of the last, least efficient, "marginal" hour of work). This system has been at the root of the social distribution model of the early industrial age, where unit costs remained high enough for the approximation to hold.
None of these assumptions remain valid in the contemporary capital-intensive industrial world of fixed costs and of integrated systems. In this world, (1) marginal costs decrease, instead of increasing, because the fixed cost is divided among a larger number of users; (2) the productivity of work cannot be computed, because the system is not finished until the last element is added to it, so that the value of each element of work can both be considered as being zero (because it is not sufficient to make the system work), and equal to the value of the whole system (because it is also absolutely necessary for the whole system to work – as was epitomised with the small O-shaped ring which caused the space shuttle "Challenger" to blow up upon take off in 198629) – with no means to solve the contradiction. This means that neither prices, nor salary levels, can be defined by standard market mechanisms.
Fixed-costs economics also lead to concentration of power and wealth, because the largest player on any market has a cost advantage over its competitors, so that the situation evolves naturally towards a monopoly.
These evolutions, which were present since the first Industrial Revolution, have accelerated dramatically with the digitalisation of economy and of productive systems. Software is the ultimate fixed-cost good (producing one additional copy costs zero), and the ultimate integrated system (it does not work until the last line of code is written). The owners of digital monopolies (software companies such as Microsoft, telecommunications operators such as America Móvil, on-line platforms such as Google, Facebook, Apple or Amazon) become obscenely rich30, while workers are reduced to a global precariat, lured into obedience by the hope of winning in the lottery economics of "app" development.
Digital technologies, in addition of being vectors of concentration of wealth and power, are also, like all previous drivers of industrial revolutions, a factor of enormous labour productivity gains. Digital technologies (robotics, artificial intelligence) perform tasks (including intellectual tasks) much better than humans, and will increasingly be doing so in the future. Even management consulting firms predict that an enormous 45% of human tasks could be performed by existing, demonstrated digital technologies31. If even institutions with such close corporate relationships as business consultancies make gloomy predictions, when their political interest would rather be to hold an assuaging discourse, then reality is probably even worse.
In previous industrial revolutions, the improvement in productivity has systematically been compensated, and above, by increases in production volumes. Instead of producing equal quantities with less hours being worked, the tendency has been to produce more by keeping the number of hours worked constant – thereby creating an addiction to growth of our productive systems. With this digital industrial revolution (the 3rd or 4th, according to interpretations), this flight forward becomes impossible, not because of the digital technologies themselves, but because any increase in quantities being produced bumps into the physical, biological, climatic and geological limits outlined above. The digital industrial revolution, contrary to the previous ones, is thus set to massively reduce the number of hours being worked by humans.
The accumulated capital of integrated systems, networks and institutions, with features of fixed-cost economics, and the prospects of massive reductions in the number of hours being worked because of digitalisation, have caused, and will continue to cause if nothing is done, enormous unemployment and massive inequalities of income, of wealth and of personal safety, reverting 150 years back to Victorian levels. This has dramatic and negative consequences on violence, political radicalisation, physical and mental health, and learning capacities32. The issue becomes that of the sharing among humans of the fantastic value, labour productivity, and technical efficiency being created by the (digital and others) integrated systems, with no simple mechanism, such as that of the market, to guide us. It is thus a fully political problem, in which we must agree on what "fairness" means, for all of us.
Multinational corporations concentrate power, to the detriment of workers, suppliers and governments, and evade their (tax and other) obligations
Multinational corporations have grown into the major loci of power of the contemporary world.
By leveraging the technical efficiencies of scale brought by fixed-cost economics, and by accumulating immense productive capital of all sorts (equipment, scientific & technical knowledge, processes, software, trademarks), they have out-competed their smaller competitors in terms of cost, quality and ability to extract high prices from their customers. They have also set up entire eco-systems of smaller, dependent suppliers, so that their real power over societies goes way beyond their visible workforce and activities. As an illustration, 50 major multinational corporations (Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Coca-Cola, Nestlé…) manage 60% of global trade, but employ directly only 6% of the 117 M people that actually work for them, while the remaining 94% are located in the deep and opaque layers of successive sub-contractors, mainly in the global South, making some of these multi-national corporations among the largest employers world-wide, with up to 10 M workers depending on a single company (Wal-Mart)33.
These international value chains present deep power inequalities. Some companies, located at the nodes in the value chain where the processes display most of the fixed-cost features identified above, build monopsony (or monopoly) positions, and extract from their suppliers (resp. from their customers) a rent based on their position of power in bargaining for price and for legal terms & conditions in the contract. When bargaining with multiple, fragmented suppliers (resp. customers), the multinational corporation can threaten to choose one or the other, at no cost, while the supplier (resp. the customer) has no other choice than to conclude a contract with the corporation – or none at all. Building coalitions of suppliers (resp. of customers), in an attempt to counterbalance the bargaining power of the multinational corporation, is currently forbidden by competition law that prohibits cartels.
These unequal power relationships between suppliers and customers epitomise when relating to the most fragmented of all suppliers: the worker providing his/her labour. The traditional answer to this unequal power relationship on the labour market, between concentrated employers and dispersed workers, has been collective bargaining, whereby workers built stable and legally recognised coalitions – the trade unions – to bargain salaries and working conditions collectively, in an explicit (and hard-won) exception to competition law. These collective bargaining institutions, where they exist, are being fiercely combated by corporate interests, by legal lobbying in favour of de-regulation, and too often also by borderline "trade union busting" methods. An essential weakness however of the trade union movement is that its collective bargaining is performed at national level at best (and often only at the scale of the company, or even of the establishment) – whereas multinational corporations operate trans-nationally, and can play workers against each other across borders. European and international trade union (con)federations exist, but their role is essentially that of coordinating national actions, with no capacity to take and to enforce decisions (e.g. on trans-national collective bargaining).
Multinational corporations not only play suppliers or workers against each other. They do the same with governments, and have the law changed, rather than obey the law themselves.
In their investment decisions (or in their decisions to close / wind down a location), they create (or destroy) jobs and economic activity, so that Nation-States, regions and cities compete against each other to convince them to settle in their constituency (or to "restructure" somewhere else). In this international beauty contest, some nations, regions or cities engage into constructive strategies of building up competencies, infrastructure and a market with demanding, forward-looking requirements. Too many however, engage in a downward and suicidal spiral of tax exemptions, subsidies, and dismantling of social and environmental regulation – the "race to the bottom". They do so under the constant pressure of corporations that threaten them to destroy jobs (and corporate tax base), if these governments to not follow their calls for lowering corporations' immediate costs, taxes and regulatory obligations – whatever the long-term consequences may be for the environment, public health, social cohesiveness or the education level of the population.
The most visible aspect of this destructive behaviour of corporations (and of the very rich and obscenely rich) is that of tax avoidance and of tax evasion34. While the former is formally legal, and the other is illegal, the fact that gigantic cash-generating machines such as the US-based Internet giants Google or Apple pay taxes at a rates orders of magnitudes below those that even the lowest paid cleaning person does35, has caused widespread, and legitimate, outrage.
Multinational corporations incur widespread, and deserved, criticism also because of their disproportionate capacity to influence law-making by lobbying. Whereas it is legitimate that they, like any stakeholder, have the opportunity to express their wishes and constraints to a legislator that may be unaware of them, it is far less legitimate that they dominate the technical (and political) debates on all subjects where their interests are at stake. Figures of this corporate dominance exist where it is most visible, and made public by welcome (but still very imperfect) transparency institutions36, in the centres of political power such as Brussels or Washington, DC, and show that corporate interest representatives outnumber those of other interests in society combined by a factor of 337. The dominance of corporate lobbyists is not only quantitative. It is also technical and intellectual. Because of a lack of qualified civil servants (itself fuelled by an anti-State and anti-tax rhetoric), corporate lobbyists become the players that have the greatest technical knowledge of the policy field to regulate, and end up being in the insane situation of regulating themselves, situation epitomised in the regulation of the financial system38.
By playing polities against each other at all scales (from municipalities to full Nation-States), by their hold on regulatory and taxation policymaking, multinational corporations have evolved towards a situation where they can privately appropriate the value added by society (e.g. by public investment in science and technology39), mutualise their losses and evade their duties and obligations.
This hollows out public budgets. It is a negation of democracy, of the rule of law, and of the principle of equality in rights. It generates, among all other members of society, a legitimate, and dangerous, feeling of helplessness and of dispossession of one's individual and collective future.
Ordinary citizens and workers are thrown into poverty and precariousness, and thus deprived of concrete means to participate in political decision-making
Symmetrically to the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of multinational corporations, recent policies world-wide, and specifically in the European Union, led to a massive surge in poverty and precariousness.
Under the fallacies of “attracting foreign investment” (using the low-quality arguments of lower costs at any price, instead of those of a well-trained work-force and of quality infrastructure), of “restoring public finances” (by unilaterally reducing expenditure, and not increasing taxation), of “flexibilising the labour market to facilitate recruitment” (whereas the greatest obstacle to recruitment is the lack of demand), governments in the European Union and beyond have engaged since the 1980s in a programme of systematic dismantlement of the social infrastructure that made our societies cohesive. Public services and networks (hospitals, schools, railways, telecommunications) have been abandoned or transformed into highly lucrative private oligopolies skimming the market for the highest-value customers, and leaving the others without proper service. Social security systems are being dismantled: healthcare payments are restricted and risk being conditioned by patients able to prove (via digital monitoring systems) “healthy” behaviours that are de facto inaccessible to the poor; pension payments are increasingly devolved to private insurance companies that select low-risk, high-yield customers and leave the others to be taken care of by what remains of public budgets; beneficiaries of unemployment payments are subject to a permanent suspicion of fraud and of insufficiently active job-seeking, which elicits frequent and arbitrary payment interruptions by the administration. The rights of trade unions have been systematically undermined: the right to strike has been restricted, the collective bargaining institutions that enable a fair discussion between employers and employees regarding the sharing of the economic value added have been reduced in scale, from sector to company or even establishment level, thereby reducing the bargaining power of trade unions (and creating the destructive competition on wages between firms in the same sector that sector-wide collective bargaining was designed to avoid). The relation between worker and company using this work is increasingly reverting to the early 19th century model of a purely commercial contract, thereby destroying the accumulated experience of 200 years of labour law: bogus self-employment, crowd- and platform work, “zero-hours contracts”, temporary agency work, involuntary part-time work are on a sharp rise, whereas the stable employment contract is massively branded by businesses as a relic of the past.
This infrastructure of public services, social security, trade unions and labour law in the European Union constituted the “capital of those who haven’t any”, the foundations assuring decent living conditions to all citizens, decent wages and working conditions to all workers. They enabled even those with the least education, or with the least family or social support, to have their basic needs fulfilled, and to consider their future, and that of their children, with a form of confidence. They were the basis of the European social and economic model. Their systematic destruction, to the benefit of large corporations, has led to the creation of a large social class of people which are both poor and alternating between precarious jobs and unemployment – the global “precariat” as a contemporary avatar of the 19th century proletariat.
Under these conditions, people focus 100% of their attention and energy on short-term, small-scale issues of immediate concern to them: finding food to feed them and their children for the next day, finding work, avoiding being thrown out of their home. They are in a permanent state of stress.
This worsening of the condition of the most vulnerable class in the population has further increased economic and social inequalities, from the bottom of the social scale (whereas the concentration of wealth and power in multinational corporations described above widens it from the top).
This deterioration in the economic and social condition of vast populations also has negative consequences on participation in democratic processes.
As the Athenians of the 5th century BC already identified, constructive participation in democratic political or social processes requires a capacity to broaden one’s perspective from the individual to the collective, from the immediate to the long-term calendar of public policies. It requires also some free time to gather information, to engage in a thorough discussion with others, to convince and to be convinced.
These requirements are in exact opposition to the situation of poverty and precariousness that recent policies, based upon free-market ideology, made to large fractions of the population, in the European Union and more broadly in the world. Poor and precarious populations are thus not only deprived of economic and social welfare, they are de facto deprived of their civic rights, and of their capacity to participate in political decision-making. This results in massive abstention rates in political elections, and, more dangerously, in a deep erosion of the legitimacy of democracy itself.
One important consequence of these phenomena is that international and intra-national migrations have become a major policy challenge
All the challenges described above generate conflicts and poverty. Conflicts easily take the form of extreme violence, since their protagonists are in the desperate situation of having “no future”. Poverty threatens life itself, when the agricultural capacity of whole regions is destroyed by extreme climate events (droughts, floods, hurricanes, rise in sea levels). Violent conflicts and life-threatening poverty cause people to flee, by the thousands, and – increasingly – by the millions.
As a result, the world counts as of 2016, 22.5 million refugees40, i.e. people seeking protection in another country against explicit violence against them (due to persecution, political, ethnic or religious conflicts, or war), an increase of 3.4 million (i.e. 17 %) compared to the previous year. Additionally, 40.3 million people are Internally Displaced People, i.e. they have fled violence or persecution by being displaced within their own country, an increase of 6.9 million (i.e. 20%) in one year41. In addition, 21.8 million people have been forcibly displaced by sudden-onset extreme weather disasters (floods, storms, drought) every year from 2008 to 2016, and can be described as climate-displaced persons42. In 2015, the world counts a stock of 244 million international migrants, i.e. people residing in a country different from their country of birth, of which 85.3 million migrated from the global South to the North, but 90.2 million from one country of the global South to another43. In addition, a stock of 50 million irregular international migrants is estimated to exist globally.
Whatever its cause (political violence and persecution, climate-related disasters or poverty), an influx of population from abroad stresses the available resources of the host country (water, food, energy, homes), but also increases its available labour force, and hence its production capacity, specifically when the well-educated migrate, in a "brain drain" phenomenon increasing the polarisation of development between countries and regions. As a result, migrations have risen to a major policy challenge, for the rich countries of the European Union, but even more so for the immediate neighbours of conflicts44 or of climate disasters.
The global issues of the 21st century are political problems, and can only be solved by political agreements at large scale
All the issues described above are global, because they are built on global inter-dependencies: (1) the communications and transport networks connecting people and places with information, energy, material and population flows, (2) the industrial value chains connecting suppliers and customers that need each other, and (3) the scientific knowledge of physical, biological and geological inter-relations between phenomena (regarding the climate, water, mineral or biological resources) distant in time or location. These global inter-dependencies have connected and unified geographic areas and peoples that were previously separated. As a result, all humans are inter-connected and inter-dependent. No place, not even the most remote island, can pretend to remain isolated from them.
We contend that these global issues are essentially political problems:
the adjustment of our production and consumption patterns to the regeneration capabilities of our environment, and the transition towards a sustainable, frugal and circular model is a matter of agreeing on the sharing of the costs, of the benefits and of the risks;
the demographic transition towards societies that are fair to all generations, when the elderly and chronically ill represent a substantial proportion of the total population;
the sharing of the productivity and efficiency gains brought by fixed-cost integrated technical systems, and specifically by digital technologies;
the transfer of political and economic power away from the multinational corporations where it is concentrated, and towards the dispersed majority of the weaker members of society
the fair management of migrations, of their root causes and of their consequences.
They are political problems in the sense that the only, but immense, difficulty is to find an agreement between stakeholders subject to enormous inequalities in terms of income, wealth, education, access to resources and to communication networks, and political empowerment, across national, linguistic and cultural boundaries, and even across time, between us and future generations.
Despite all its promises, and despite all the bewilderment that it generates, technology will solve none of the issues described above. The most clever "clean" technology can only take off and substitute a "dirtier" one if the regulatory and economic conditions (1) give a price to environmental externalities, and enable it thereby to gain economic advantage over its competitors by saving natural resources, and (2) protect it from misleading "green-washing" claims by its competitors. The "smartest" automobile traffic management system in a city is powerless against the fact that the engine of a car consumes ca. 100 kW of power, while that of a bicycle only ca. 100 W, i.e. one thousand times less! The most advanced home care robot will not solve the issue that its design, construction and operation draws resources for an old or chronically ill person that could have been used to educate a child or a teenager. Technology becomes part of the problem, when the rules that govern its benefits (specifically those regarding Intellectual Property Rights on patents, software, trademarks, models, access to data…) lead to concentration of wealth and power, and not to its distribution.
An agreement means that the rights, obligations and prohibitions that it contains are considered as legitimate by all parties, and that an institution exists to enforce it once it is officially adopted (e.g. signed).
Reaching agreement has been the essential problem of human societies, starting with the small groups of hunters-gatherers we all originate from. It happens whenever sovereign entities (individuals, tribes, Greek polities, feudal principalities, modern Nation-States) gather to solve common problems or issues. On the one hand, every entity wants to remain free from any obligation and of any prohibition, and wants to maintain its rights, liberties and honour intact. On the other hand, generalising this behaviour to all entities means that they exert unrestricted violence against each other. Peace is a fragile state, permanently threatened by the smallest provocation, and only painfully restored after exhausting and bloody cycles of vendettas and revenges45. In stages of increasing scale, and generally after painful and protracted conflicts, entities of smaller size have relinquished part of their sovereignty to entities of larger size, where their rights, obligations and prohibitions are protected and enforced by the rule of law, and not by the brutality of what classical European philosophers called the "state of nature". The penultimate occasion when this happened in Europe was at the end of the Thirty Years war (1618 – 1648), which had costed 5 million lives in Germany alone. The resulting peace treaties, known as the Westphalian Treaties, established the order of sovereign Nation-States, theorised by Thomas Hobbes in his "Leviathan" (1651, revised 1668), and under which we continue to live – with some evolution towards supra-national order since the bloodbaths of the two world wars 1914 – 1945 (United Nations, European Union).
The task that humankind is confronted with is to reach the many political agreements required by the global and high-stake issues of the 21st century, in a legitimate, i.e. democratic, process, at the unprecedented scale of the whole world.
In order to achieve this, we need to set up a trans-national democracy, i.e. a democracy transcending national boundaries. This is the mission and purpose of the Cosmopolitical Party.
1Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO): "Status of the World's Soil Resources. Main report", 2015, downloadable at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5199e.pdf, of which the main findings are accessible at: http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/357059/icode/
2Wong, P.P.et. al.: "Chapter 5: Coastal systems and low-lying areas." In: "Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 361-409 Downloadable at: https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg2/WGIIAR5-Chap5_FINAL.pdf
3Porter, J.R. et. al. "Food security and food production systems". In: "Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A. Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 2014, pp. 485-533. Downloadable at: https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg2/WGIIAR5-Chap7_FINAL.pdf Scientific research converges towards a deterioration of yields after 2030, with worse deterioration in developing countries (see Figure 7-5).
4Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO): "Status of the World's Soil Resources. Main report", 2015
5Manceron, S. et al. "Feeding proteins to livestock: Global land use and food vs. feed competition". OCL 2014, 21 (4) D408, downloadable at: https://www.ocl-journal.org/fr/articles/ocl/abs/2014/04/ocl140020/ocl140020.html
6Rockström, Johan et al. "A safe operating space for humanity", Nature 461, 472-475, 2009, accessible at: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v461/n7263/full/461472a.html
7Based on the "Ecological footprint" concept, available at: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/
8Recycled content for metals varies between 1% for lithium (used in batteries) or Erbium (used in the laser amplifiers of optical fibre telecommunication networks) and 40% for iron: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), "Recycling Rates of Metals. A Status Report", 2011, downloadable at: http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/8702/-Recycling rates of metals: A status report-2011Recycling_Rates.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y
9The global share of renewable energy (hydroelectric power, wind turbines, solar photovoltaic and thermal panels, geothermal) in the total energy mix – not only that of electric production – is 13.2%. Source: International Energy Agency: https://www.iea.org/about/faqs/renewableenergy/
10e.g. United States: 8.6 global ha/person, to be compared to the figure for Mali: 1.3 global ha / person and the world average: 2.87 global ha / person (2013), cf. http://data.footprintnetwork.org/countryTrends.html?cn=5001&type=cdPC
11Diamond, Jared. "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", Viking Press, New York, 2005, with a summary available at: http://www.jareddiamond.org/Jared_Diamond/Collapse.html
12Nett, Katharina and Lukas Rüttinger: "Insurgency, Terrorism and Organised Crime in a Warming Climate. Analysing the Links Between Climate Change and Non-State Armed Groups". Adelphi, Berlin, 2016 https://www.adelphi.de/en/publication/insurgency-terrorism-and-organised-crime-warming-climate
13Diamond, Jared. "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", Viking Press, New York, 2005, chapter 9
14"In a circular economy the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible; waste and resource use are minimised, and resources are kept within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, to be used again and again to create further value." in European Commission, "Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy", 2015, downloadable at: http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/jobs-growth-investment/circular-economy/docs/communication-action-plan-for-circular-economy_en.pdf
15New Climate Economy: "The sustainable infrastructure imperative", 2016, downloadable at: http://newclimateeconomy.report/2016/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/08/NCE_2016Report.pdf
17INED (French national demographics institute), 2017: http://www.ined.fr/fr/tout-savoir-population/graphiques-cartes/graphiques-interpretes/esperance-vie-france/
18United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2004), "World Population to 2300", Table A.4, p.185), downloadable at: http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/trends/WorldPop2300final.pdf
19United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). "World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables". ESA/P/WP.241, table S.12 p.45), downloadable at: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Publications/Files/Key_Findings_WPP_2015.pdf
20United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). "World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, DVD Edition", downloadable at: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/DVD/Files/1_Indicators%20(Standard)/EXCEL_FILES/2_Fertility/WPP2015_FERT_F04_TOTAL_FERTILITY.XLS
21United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2004), "World Population to 2300"
22United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). "World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision - Special Aggregates, DVD Edition", downloadable at: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/DVD/Files/2_Indicators%20(Probabilistic%20Projections)/UN_PPP2015_Output_PopTot.xls
23United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). "World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision - Special Aggregates, DVD Edition", downloadable at: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/DVD/Files/3_Indicators%20(Special%20Aggregates)/EXCEL_FILES/4_Ecological/Population/WPP2015_SA4_POP_F09_1_PERCENTAGE_OF_TOTAL_POPULATION_BY_BROAD_AGE_GROUP_BOTH_SEXES.XLSX
24United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). Graphs accessible at: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Graphs/Probabilistic/PSR/20-69/70plus/
25World Health Organisation, Noncommunicable diseases Fact sheet (Updated April 2017), accessible at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs355/en/
26Cleveland, G.; Krashinsky, M.: "The Benefits and Costs of Good Child Care: The Economic Rationale for Public Investment in Young Children. A Policy Study. Monograph No. 1", Toronto Univ. (Ontario). Centre for Urban and Community Studies, 1998, downloadable at: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED435452.pdf
Cleveland, G.; Krashinsky, M.: "Investing in Early Childhood Education and Care: The Economic Case", International Encyclopedia of Education (Third Edition), 2010, Pages 63–68, available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780080448947011714
27e.g. Niger, with a support ratio remaining above 25 until 2070
28e.g. Japan, with a support ratio at 2.8 in 2015, and stable around 2 until 2100
29 NASA - "Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident", 1986, accessible at: https://history.nasa.gov/rogersrep/genindex.htm, Chapter V: The Contributing Cause of The Accident"
31Chui M. et al. "Where machines could replace humans—and where they can’t (yet)", McKinsey Quarterly 2016 n°3, pp.58-69, downloadable at: http://www.mckinsey.com/quarterly/digital-newsstand/2016-issue-3-mckinsey-quarterly
32Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. "The spirit level. Why equality is better for everyone", Penguin books, 2010, the main messages of which are accessible at: https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/spirit-level
33International Trade Union Confederation – ITUC: "Scandal. Inside the global supply chains of 50 top companies", Frontlines Report, 2016, downloadable at: http://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/pdffrontlines_scandal_en-2.pdf
35Apple paid an effective a corporate tax rate of 0.005% in 2014 in its Irish operations covering its whole European business, which had generated over USD 22 billions in profit. cf. European Commission, Decision on State Aid implemented by Ireland to Apple, C(2016) 5606, full text downloadable at: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases/253200/253200_1851004_674_2.pdf, press release available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2923_en.htm
36e.g. the Transparency Register of the European Commission and Parliament: http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/homePage.do
37Indicator: number of meetings with the European Commission in Brussels in 2015. Cf. Transparency International : "7,000 and counting Lobby meetings of the European Commission", (2015), downloadable at: http://transparency.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Lobby-Meetings-European-Commission-1.pdf
38Finance Watch: "Representation of the public interest in banking" (2016), downloadable at: http://www.finance-watch.org/ifile/Representation%20of%20the%20Public%20Interest%20in%20Banking%20-%20A%20Finance%20Watch%20Report%20-%202016.pdf
39Mazzucato, Mariana: "The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths", Anthem (2013), a summary of which is accessible at: https://marianamazzucato.com/entrepreneurial-state/
40 Among which 17.2 million protected by the United Nations High Commissariat for Refugees (UNHCR) and 5.3 million Palestinians registered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
41UNHCR "Global trends. Forced displacement in 2016", downloadable at: http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/5943e8a34/global-trends-forced-displacement-2016.html
43International Organisation for Migration (IOM): Global Migration Trends Factsheet, 2015, downloadable at: http://gmdac.iom.int/global-migration-trends-factsheet
44One inhabitant in 6 in Lebanon is a refugee, the highest proportion world-wide.
45Diamond, Jared: "The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?", Viking books, New York, 2012 - http://www.jareddiamond.org/Jared_Diamond/The_World_Until_Yesterday.html