Should the IT Industry now be formally represented as the 4th branch of US Government?

Joint blog with Bronwyn Williams

We’ve known for many years about the importance of the IT industry, and in particular its social media arm, in facilitating political campaigning. A few years ago, big data and AI also became prominent political forces. Now, server farms, cloud services and everyday app provision have also entered politics. There is nothing wrong with providing powerful platforms to facilitate politics; the point here is that they are powerful but remain under the control of big IT, not government. These technologies are developing rapidly, and will become more and more important forces in politics, governance, as well as in every field of control and provision of essential services and information. Cash is well on the way to being exclusively digital, phones track us and every aspect of our lives and even smart watches now play roles in medical insurance and services.

The last two elections have shown that IT vulnerabilities are often perceived as almost as important, potentially allowing malign overseas agents to influence opinions via social media or even to directly control or attack electoral software or machines. It makes no difference whether particular instances of corruption or fraud did or didn’t happen – that’s for historians to debate – what matters is that they could have and could in the future.

In this election, we have learned the enormous potential for such malign influences and even more so the enormous power exercised by big IT. We’re well used to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram censoring opinions they don’t like, now censoring all the way through the social media influencer ranks right up to the President, but we have this week seen Google, Apple, Amazon and Stripe acting in synch, as an oligarchy, flexing their muscles to remove entire business – including web hosting and payment processing – from their platforms, effectively denying those businesses the ability to operate. Censoring or removing individuals from posting on social media platforms is one thing (and could reasonably be understood within the frame of general freedom of association). A coordinated attack to deny a third party business the ability to trade is quite another. Such an ability goes beyond a businesses risk towards being a matter of national security – imagine, for example, the digital oligarchy described above joined forces to hold a government service or department (perhaps a national health service) reliant on consumer-facing cloud based third party platforms and services hostage?  

With IT hardware, comms, AI, cloud services, software, apps, social media, audio and video media, gaming, advertising, and extensive control over the retail and distribution industries, big IT now wields so much power over US life and politics that it could be considered a fourth branch of governance, alongside POTUS, Congress and SCOTUS. 

This has happened gradually over many years, and although most aspects of it were predicted well in advance, it is abundantly clear that politics was not and is not ready for it.

We have a conundrum. Freedom of speech, freedom of association and the right to refuse service are all key components of a free and fair society. But what happens when those freedoms come into conflict? Complex messy problems require clever solutions to ensure the cure is not worse than the disease. Simply handing power over digital communication networks and access from powerful private entities to government regulators only further centralises the risk of censorship and propaganda. As recent years have shown, politicians are not infallible, or altruistic. As with all systems, agents will act according to the incentives presented to them to maximise their own power and further their own agenda’s – be that profits, votes or popularity

One suggestion that might offer a middle way out of our Catch22, is to implement a new formal independent agency, representing big IT, let’s call it ITOTUS. It should be a body that includes key members of the main facets of the broad IT industry. It should, like SCOTUS, be staffed by people very expert in their field, and like SCOTUS, theoretically impartial (easier said than done, yes, but theoretically possible) . Its primary purpose should be to ensure a democratic level playing field that provides sound IT hardware and services to the US population without fear or favor, that is protected against political bias, corruption or malign foreign interests. As well as ensuring and guarding security and privacy and access to digital utilities (such as the ability to host a functional website or app and receive digital payments), it might also be the natural body to implement such upcoming fields as AI ethics, robot rights, human-machine convergence.

“one ought to design systems under the assumption that the enemy will immediately gain full familiarity with them” ~ Shannon’s maxim

ITOTUS is already needed, it is just late. The incoming administration will find an IT industry much aligned with its own politics, for now, but they will also soon realise that such alignment will not last for long, and this new body will very soon not only be desirable, but unavoidable.

Whatever path we choose, as citizens or states, we have to do so on the understanding that if not tomorrow (or on the 21st of January) then eventually, the system we design, the rules we choose, and the institutions we establish – be they public or private – will find themselves controlled by our ideological opponents. This is why it makes sense to advocate for an institution with a degree of autonomy from state, church (popular ideology) and business, to guard and tame the leviathan we have unleashed upon ourselves. 
A further question, perhaps, should be whether this oversight capacity should be national or international? After all, the same issues of domestic freedom of speech and trade are only magnified at an inter-state level. A fractured, nationalised global internet is no better for humanity than a fractured bi-parisan domestic internet.

Guest Author bio:

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst.  

Her day job as a partner at Flux Trends involves helping business leaders to use foresight to  design the future they want to live and work in.  

You may have seen her talking about Transhumanism or Tikok on Carte Blanche,; or heard her  talking about trends on 702 or CNBC Africa where she is a regular expert commentator. When  she’s not talking to brands and businesses about the future, you will probably find her curled up  somewhere with a (preferably paperback) book. 


A new voyage of discovery

Well, it’s 30 years since I became a full-time futurologist. I am now pretty much retired, just doing occasional minor consultancy, but I am rediscovering my artistic leanings and experimenting. I have little talent or skill so my expectations are low but that means my personal threshold for amusement and delight is also low. With no need to sell anything, I will just do what I like and enjoy it.

As for futures, well, my brain isn’t dead. It is deeply frustrating watching society and government right across the West squander the enormous techno-social opportunities they have been given, so often choosing the paths into disease-riddled bogs and snake-infest deserts instead of the ones to the beautiful peaceful gardens. My blogs and books have called the fantastic opportunities and warned of the risks ahead but I take less joy doing so as our leaders insist in taking our countries down the wrong paths, so although I will continue to analyse and predict, I will document far fewer of my future insights.

I fear for our children. They will not inherit the world they should have.

Multidimensional government incompetence needs to end

I haven’t written a COVID blog for several months. Some of what government is attempting now half-heartedly and badly echoes some of the advice of my blogs back in March and April, so my disapproval of some of their policies is not on the what but the when and how. Wiser government offering good leadership, backed up by a moderately competent public sector, would have got through with a tiny fraction of the deaths and economic destruction. It may well be the case now that public trust and cooperation have been squandered, leaving fear and coercion as the only still-working tools. The vaccines will help of course, but slow delivery and ongoing public sector incompetence will mean more unnecessary deaths for at least another year. Tens of thousands are dead from COVID who shouldn’t be, as well as perhaps well over 100,000 more who will die from other illnesses due to lack of timely diagnosis and treatment. We, our children and our grandchildren will pay heavily in lingering economic, social, political and cultural damage. It shouldn’t have been like this, it really shouldn’t. That a few other countries have performed almost as badly is little consolation.

Tempting though it is, I won’t present a forensic analysis of past errors. They can’t be undone so there is little point. However, government can still improve on vaccine roll-out.

Firstly, while it was essential to make sure that vaccines were developed quickly, I do not believe it a good idea to guarantee the developers freedom from litigation in the case of bad reactions, not to try to block any debate on the potential downsides of vaccination. Vaccination is one of the most valuable scientific contributions of all time, but trust in its safety and efficacy and hence support for rolling it out depend strongly on the freedom to discuss both sides and weigh them against each other.

Secondly, many retired health care workers who have offered to assist in a speedy vaccination programme are currently being blocked by irrelevant administrative requirements. While there may be debatable value in having some health workers undertaking diversity training or training in guarding against radicalization, it is hard to see why not having undertaken such training should prevent someone from safely vaccinating someone. Barriers such as these need to be removed immediately, since every day lost means lives lost needlessly. Worse, the existence of such barriers is strong evidence of the unsuitability of key administrators to the vaccination programme They should be replaced, quickly. With an estimated quarter of infections happening in hospitals, (as well as the many infected in care homes due to administrators forcing out elderly patients into homes without proper checking) there should be more focus on training staff how not to spread infections. It is surely more important that your nurse doesn’t give you COVID than whether they use an incorrect pronoun or may not be fully aware of some discrimination you may once have been exposed to.

Thirdly, government shows an ongoing fondness for authoritarianism that will leave socio-political damage that will last many years. Social relationships have suffered as people overly fond of rules have become informers. Many important freedoms we used to take for granted will in future depend on the whim of ministers in charge, greatly undermining the consent foundations of democracy. Good leadership would rely instead on strong use of education and skillful soliciting of cooperation. If people were made well aware of the very basics of relevant science – how viruses spread, and how that is likely to be affected by different types of behaviours, or different types of masks – and persuaded to follow well-designed protocols, that would have, and could still, reduce infection rates enormously. Instead, government scientists have fully reversed their position on masks and tried to enforce quite arbitrary and often illogical restrictions, making some areas watertight while opening or ignoring gaping holes. That guarantees maximum inconvenience, social distress and economic damage, while reaping minimal benefit, as evidenced by the remarkable lack of correlation between lockdowns and infection rates.

Fourthly, the NHS has been subjected to worship where admonishment was due. It was clearly not fit for purpose, hopelessly unprepared to deal with a pandemic that everyone knew would one day arrive. Almost a year on, it has almost become a single disease service. Having commissioned the Nightingale Hospitals, and given that most existing hospitals have numerous separate buildings, would it be so difficult to arrange for COVID patients to be treated and still treat other ailments in separate buildings, with separate staff? With so many highly paid administration staff, you might reasonably expect they’d have solved that by now. Many people will die from heart disease, cancer, diabetes or some other disease because they were not seen or treated until too late. Many of us have already lost loved ones due to this problem. It must be fixed.

Fifthly, and I’ll make this the last one for now because I’m reaching my boredom threshold, government needs to stop the enormous economic damage it is causing. Forcing lots of businesses to close forever while allowing infections to spread rapidly by other means is not good management. Killing so many small businesses by refusing them financial support while supporting others will not incentivise those business risk-takers to take future risks. Many business people have had to live on their life savings, while watching others being totally or partially insulated from adverse financial effects. Gratuitously harming entrepreneurial activity over such large swathes of the economy will slow both economic and cultural recovery.

I wrote recently about ongoing harmful effects of poor environmental policy, following green dogma instead of proper system-wide, full life-cycle thinking, so it is not only in COVID that government falls short. Defence of freedom of speech instead of political correctness, pursuit of true equality instead of surrendering to tribal demands and perhaps most of all firming up the foundations of freedom and democracy instead of dismantling them are other dimensions where government needs to perform better. In short, it is too late to undo the damage of the many errors of the past, but not yet too late to stop serious ongoing damage.

Green government is still harming the environment

I wrote an entire book on this topic (Total Sustainability) in 2013 but it’s always a good idea to refresh thinking and things have moved on since then anyway. Like almost everyone, I want to protect and help the environment. However, there has always been a wide chasm between good environmental stewardship and what people call ‘green’, which although claiming to want the same thing, actually has halo polishing, feeling good and virtue signalling at its top priorities. I have no time for greens or their policies at all. Most are thinly veiled socialism, but since the poor are most often the main victims, they don’t even accomplish that well. Green is actually just another word for stupid.

When ‘green’ policies are implemented, the environment is usually harmed. Even if the intention is to help the environment, poor depth, scope and quality of thinking mean that many effects of the policies are missed (or blatantly ignored because of other political objectives). These are then labelled ‘unforeseen consequences’ even though almost everyone else saw them right away.

My book was full of examples, but current UK government is providing many fresh ones. The biggest is the set of policies supposedly intended to reduce CO2 emissions. I’m not a believer in catastrophic human-induced climate change but CO2 is a greenhouse gas so it’s sensible to make sure emission levels don’t become problematic. So the issue here isn’t whether government should or shouldn’t be concerned about CO2 but whether their policies are sensible. They aren’t, and are actually worse than not doing anything at all.

Let’s look at the likely default future if government had never even heard of CO2 and just stayed completely out of the way of normal market forces:

With only existing market forces incentivising R&D, by around 2030, solar power in the Sahara or Mediterranean coast would cost around $30 for the energy equivalent of a barrel of oil (approx 6GJ). Some time in the 2030s or 2040s, fusion power will come on stream at relatively low commercial cost. By 2050, the vast bulk of our energy, driven only by default market forces, would come from nuclear fusion or photovolatic solar. Hardly anybody would still be using oil or gas (even shale gas) by then, because it would simply cost too much. In some areas, hydro or hydro-thermal sources would play a significant role too. There would be a little wind energy production, but not much, since it would find it hard to compete on cost without the market being distorted by government. There would be even less from tidal energy.

At some point, home heating would switch over to electricity, which started off perhaps 50% more expensive than gas per unit. Over time, electricity would fall in cost relative to gas until gas boilers fell out of favour and cheap electricity would be both abundant and convenient. Energy poverty would disappear into history, as very cheap electricity would be available to all.

As heat pump technology developed in parallel, they may well become very economically competitive during much of the period between 2020 and 2050, so that some homes would use heat pumps for heating, powered by cheap electricity.

Meanwhile, electric cars would be slowly developing. Self-driving technology too, and all the associated IT and infrastructure. Eventually, in the 2030s, highly responsive driverless pod systems would start replacing public transport, socially inclusive and cheap to run. It is possible to power driverless pod systems using induction circuits in the road surface, or even to use linear induction moors to propel and navigate them, dispensing with the need for expensive AI, sensors, batteries and motors.

In such a situation, most people wouldn’t bother buying their own cars, choosing to rely instead on cheap public pods, pocketing the huge outlay previously spent on cars. There would be less need for car parks, private driveways and garages, less congestion, fewer accidents, and a far lower environmental footprint. Each pod would effectively be shared by many people, replacing the private cars typically shared by one or two people. Many people would convert their garages into extra living space, and new build homes wouldn’t need driveways, so that could mean larger gardens, bigger homes, or less countryside taken by housing.

This near-utopian market-driven future, that requires no government intervention whatsoever, is barely conceivable compared to the future we’re being brainwashed to expect. It would be extremely cheap, highly socially inclusive, with extremely low environmental impact – low resource use per capita and barely any CO2 emissions. The environment would be in far better shape, and our personal wealth would be similarly improved.

Now let’s look at what green government is doing instead, starting from the same 1990s point where electricity was around 50% more expensive per unit than gas. Government policy giving in to pressure from green groups has resulted in gradual phasing out of new-build nuclear power stations, shutting oil and coal power stations, converting others to wood pellets and putting some gas power stations on part time use, installing some bio-fuel generators and regulating that 3% of car fuel had to be replaced by bio-fuel, while large numbers of wind turbines and solar panels have been installed, greatly subsidised at enormous expense to energy consumers. Instead of being 50% more expensive, electricity is now around six times more expensive than gas.

Other green schemes have offered high levels of subsidy to encourage installation of insulation, smart meters and more recently, heat pumps. Ultimately the cost of these is all passed on to taxpayers and consumers. However, much as car repairs generally cost far more when paid for indirectly via insurance than when paid privately, availability of generous subsidies has resulted in very high prices and profits for the suppliers, rather than encouraging a positive R&D spiral towards low cost, high efficiency solutions. With government handing out many of the big contracts, corruption and well-connected but inefficient companies thrive, while other companies with excellent products but poor contacts may not. A highly distorted market where government picks winners instead of market forces guarantees slower development, higher prices and lower environmental benefits. Some people with the right friends have grown very rich at the expense of increased energy poverty for the rest. In the haste to approve anything that might improve the government’s green credentials, many a grand scheme has proceeded in spite of poor economics or environmental benefit.

Heat pumps can provide around 6 times more heat than the electricity put in, but if that electricity costs 6 times more than the gas alternative, there is no overall even on running costs, yet the extraordinarily (and artificially) high installation costs remain. The green incentives that collectively drove the higher costs of both the heat pumps and the electricity have thus resulted in no net financial incentive to switch from gas to electricity, and government is now being forced to regulate against future gas boiler installations.

Meanwhile, the EU requirement to have 3% of vehicle fuel as biofuel provided irresistible incentives for companies to burn down rain forests and forceably displace people who lived in them in order to plant palm oil plantations. Great environmental devastation across much of Borneo, Indonesia and many other countries has resulted, with many poor people suffering enormously.

The very generous subsidising of wind turbines has resulted, as well as huge stress for people and animals living near them, and the deaths of very many birds and bats, in enormous areas of peat bogs being drained, either directly, or as an ‘unforeseen consequence’ of installing roads for their installation and maintenance. Much of the dried out peat has biodegraded, resulting in enormous CO2 emissions. Similarly, subsidising solar panels on rooftops has resulted in wealthy homeowners getting a little richer at the expense of poorer households who have to pay higher energy prices to pay for them. Not only that, it has meant that those panels have been installed on homes in a country which isn’t actually very sunny. The same panel, had it been installed in Africa, would have produced far more much needed energy, saved far more CO2 emissions, and avoided a great deal of the wood-burning that otherwise creates particulates that present a known and serious direct health threat, as well as another direct source of global warming.

I won’t go on, though there are many other impacts that could be listed.

The result of government interfering (very incompetently) has been an enormous rise in the cost of electricity, increased energy poverty, and still increased environmental impact. Heat pumps are nowhere near as cheap or efficient a solution as they should be, and electric heating is now ridiculously expensive. The intermittent nature of wind energy means highly uneconomic use of remaining gas power stations, and lingering demand to reduce CO2 is now encouraging a move back towards expensive nuclear fission stations to fill the gap until fusion comes along.

Even the transport migration to all-electric is jeopardised by the still increasing price of electricity. On latest figures, recharging an electric car battery on a journey can be as expensive as petrol or diesel alternative, but future green subsidies will substantially increase the electricity price.

The only solution to government-induced energy poverty that government offers is enforced installation of smart meters, so that people can see just how much they are having to spend, so may switch off a light now and then. Even here, incompetence reigns. Smart meters are actually a great idea if used wisely. But recent announcements on future smart meters say that energy companies will be able to switch off supply to balance load when the wind doesn’t blow strongly enough. Well, that will certainly encourage people to get them.

With green government declaring itself as a friend, the Earth certainly doesn’t need any enemies.

The New Dark Age, update

with Bronwyn Williams

The New Dark Age is a topic I’ve lectured on often since the late 90s, when I first realized the pseudo-religious nature of many of the ‘isms’ people many subscribe to. I found it rather amusing that they often bragged how they had outgrown religion, but were actually just substituting a new one for old and lacked the personal insight to recognise it. Since 2000, many others have noticed the same and it is now common to note the religious equivalence of many areas of political correctness. My early work in the field isn’t available online, but my first wordpress blog on it in 2011 bemoaned the return of stone age cultures:

My most recent blog on the topic, including a slide set to make it easier to read is at:

Even that was written a few years ago, before people started using that ridiculous term ‘woke’, so it is due an update given all that has happened recently. To that end, I have solicited the assistance of Bronwyn Williams, an insightful up-and-coming futurist from South Africa.

Perhaps the most conspicuous change since 2017 is that science has become even more politicised, to such an extent that it has lost a great deal of the trust it had. Without good science, we can’t progress reliably. If scientific results are only accepted and published when they align with the favoured political narrative, we might as well not bother doing the research, we could just jump straight to the conclusion without doing any – it will still be treated the same by the various branches of media, still get the same grants and political influence.

Even worse, perhaps, is the other, more ironic, side of this slide from science to sciencism, where populations are encouraged to blindly “believe the science” without question. Of course, science that cannot be questioned or tested or falsified is no science at all.

The present breakdown in trust in the intellectual integrity of science can be traced back to the environmental research field in the latter part of the 20th century, became highly conspicuous in the 2000s in the field of global warming, spread rapidly throughout energy production and has now spread to other areas such as biology, psychology and other areas of medicine – and even pure maths. More recently we have seen huge polarisation of the presentation and acceptance of science surrounding COVID treatments and medications, masks, vaccines, even lockdowns. New research in every field is parsed for political correctness before it is presented and will then be rejected, hidden, blocked by social media filters, or spun as fake news if it doesn’t align, announced as a major scientific breakthrough, amplified with any issues carefully concealed if it does. Regardless of any good intentions, that is a very anti-science position – on most social media we are not allowed to say so if we see that the emperor is naked (not if we would allow our accounts to remain open anyway). Sadly, some of those same companies are responsibly for much of the development of AI and automation, and we know from history that problems embedded in computer code can often remain a problem several decades after. Driven by activist positions today, instead of rigorous pursuit of scientific objective truth, they are very likely embedding flaws that will remain for the long term. After all, who fact-checks the “fact checkers” or bias-checks the “bias bounty hunters“?

Politicisation of science has reached the point where you can reliably determine someone’s views on the effectiveness against COVID of face masks or lockdowns by asking what they think of wind farms. Such is the nature of pre-packaged party-pack politics were the values of the faithful come defined as a menu fixe. Science that is just another branch of politics makes no contribution to development. This trend has been remarkably pervasive, with populist capture of once-trusted journals such as Nature, Scientific American, New Scientist and even bodies such as the Royal Society. Most news channels will only report research that supports their political leanings. Science is one of the most important pillars of progress, and its capture and distortion by politics is perhaps the strongest force pushing us further into a new dark age.

It isn’t only in science that large tracts of thinking are blocked. The last few years have seen severe stifling of free speech across large parts of the West, accompanies by equally severe distortion and redefining of language. The perceived truth of a statement now often depends more on the age, gender, background, ethnicity or political affiliation of the speaker than the meaning of their words. Again, this greatly undermines the structural integrity of knowledge and wisdom, lubricating our slippery descent back into the dark ages.

The prominent feature of this caustic cultural environment is the new religion of virtue, a collection of often nonsensical assertions with no supporting evidence apart than other nonsensical assertions, arising from the ever-shifting boundaries of political correctness as its advocates realised people were becoming more resistant to that term. Based primarily on emotion rather than reason, a whole new language has sprung up, the meaning of its words evolving quickly as its endless logical flaws are highlighted, searching for new niches where it can flourish. Like the Spanish Inquisition of old, its weapons are not logical reasoning and gentle persuasion, but oppression and aggression disguised as superior virtue. The law may not yet allow burning heretics at the stake, but destruction of careers and reputations and social exclusion are quite sufficient threats to force most people into line. Denying heretics platforms to speak, or simply shouting them out and intimidating potential attendees of the platform can’t be denied are hardly behaviours we’d associate with civilisation, but they are effective nonetheless. Accusing anyone who still won’t conform of being a racist, Marxist, or fascist can be an equally effective deterrent. Aggressive activism in an environment that doesn’t protect freedom of speech has created a semi-permeable cultural membrane, permitting flow in only one direction. As areas are captured, such as academia, any re-capture is prevented by ostracizing unbelievers and using consequent power to change syllabuses and ban teaching of anything that might resist the march of the new (ironically culturally homogenous, if optically diverse) virtuocracy.

This weaponising of virtue has resulted in many people, companies and other organisations falling in line with the ethical hegemony, sometimes even at the expense of losing many customers. As if making a sacrifice to the secular gods might just make someone else the target of their wrath instead.

This all coincides dangerously with the spread of surveillance technology, AI, and increasing tribalism. As one tribe gains control, and since that control can be more effective, the other feels more threatened, so emotions are reinforced, tribal lines strengthened, divisions deepened. Now, thanks to ubiquitous technology, the virtuocracy has the means, motive and opportunity to track and trace the virtue-compliance of other individuals and organisations. It’s no secret your passenger Uber and AirBnB score can penalise you (financially) for bad (moral) behaviour.

Now, we are seeing “citizenship grades” (reminiscent of Chinese-stye social credit scores) appearing in Californian schools – and potentially business-destroying guilty-until-proven-innocent Yelp ratings for businesses deemed (by legitimate customers… or malicious competitors) for moral, cultural or political transgressions.

In such an environment, where neighbours are incentivised to report neighbours; employees, turned whistleblower against fellow employees, employers and customers; trust – the very fabric of society – breaks down and social cooling, where everyone is incentivised to wear a social mask, perform a social ritual or publicly confess to a set of social beliefs they do not really believe in, sets in.

Cooperation suffers, and with it speed of progress. Progress slows and even reverses. Darkness takes hold.

If the dogma of the virtuocracy were different, it might not matter so much. But the “virtue” we are being pushed to adopt is divisive, tribalist, intolerant, racist, anti-capitalist, anti-equality, anti-science, anti-liberty, anti-thought. It replaces objective reality with a fantasy constructed from nonsensical assertions. We cannot possibly have a flourishing society based on such ethereal foundations, where something is true simply because it is asserted by a member of the self-appointed “right” side of history. If we do not act soon and effectively, descent further into the new dark age will be inevitable and it will take decades to recover.

In short, the progress into the new dark age has accelerated dramatically since my 2017 blog. The forces pushing us that way are stronger, barriers to our descent dismantled.

Where something is true simply because it is asserted. If we do not act soon and effectively, descent further into the new dark age will be inevitable and it will take decades to recover.

In short, the progress into the new dark age has accelerated dramatically since my 2017 blog. The forces pushing us that way are stronger, barriers to our descent dismantled.

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. Semi-retired and has relinquished four former professional fellowships, but still a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and life member of the British Computer Society.


Generation Bee – joint piece with Tracey Follows and Bronwyn Williams

Generation Z have only recently started getting media headlines as their first members reach adulthood, and a few journos are starting to talk about generation Alpha, still young kids now. But this a futures blog. What about the generation after alpha? Generation Beta? No of course not. Nobody wants to be beta. The alphas got lucky, but betas won’t want to be labelled second class to their predecessors.  So they won’t be called Beta. We think that Generation Bee is appropriate and we’ll explain why. It has a nice ring to it, and still fits the alphabetic naming sequence that began with Gen X.

Nobody ever remembers the exact dates of the various generations, and they aren’t written in titanium anyway; different sources differ. But here is a nice helpful chart from CMglee on Wikipedia showing the vague boundaries:

Generation Alpha

The Alphas are already here, some 6 or 7 years old now. COVID might define much of their lives, interfering so much with their education and their teens, suffering the consequences of social distancing damaging their emotional development, huge debts and high unemployment, holding back many of their parents, dampening leisure opportunities. By the time they reach adulthood, we’ll have had over a decade of recovery so although much debt will remain, the worst will be history.

Generation See

The Bees will start around 2028, give or take a year, and will run through to around 2044 if we take the typical 16 year generation duration, so Generation See should start in 2045. That’s a very convenient late marker because 2045 is when a lot of futurists such as me think we’ll start getting early direct brain links that increase our IQ, sensory capability, memory, and give us the first experiences of sharing minds and thoughts with other people telepathically. We might think of that next generation as the first transhumanists, with a higher ability to understand things hidden to their entire human ancestry. We’ll preemptively call that 2045-2061 generation Generation See, appropriate to their superhuman senses and capabilities offered by their bio-enhanced & hybrid AI brains, staying with the C alphabetic successor.

Generation Bee

So, back to generation Bee then. What will characterize them? Not quite superhuman yet, though with a few minor IT-enabled brain enhancements and smart drugs improving capabilities during their development. Some will have limited genetic modification, mainly having disease-related genes edited away, but possibly some positive enhancements that have been shown safe, and some that were picked from a multiple choice of embryos with different genes.

It’s possible that the Bees will be the first to make Mars their home, or at least visit in a meaningful way. They will be nomads by nature, like Gen X. Feeling somewhat alien in their home environment, never settling and pretty ambivalent about where home IS, they will be happy to wander anywhere in the hope of making their fortune, including space. Unlike their Zoomer parents who were conspicuously equality activists, Bees will be out to make the best of themselves, and to do their best for themselves. We might think of the exploration of space as a new gold rush.

In political and economics terms, they will have spent their childhood suffering the self-inflicted austerity of their Zoomer parents, their sanctimonious puritanism, their socialism, their defeatist degrowth and seeming determination to carry on living in unnecessary poverty long after the economy could have recovered so as not to make too much environmental impact. The Bees won’t experience any global warming and will wonder why, they won’t see any need for economy in a thriving world full of resources and high technology that allows things to be made with barely any environmental impact. Their Gen X and Millennial Grandparents will remember how they were as kids, spoiled rotten with loads of toys and computer games and they will be spoiling their grand-kids just as every generation of grandparent does. This will contrast heavily with the attitudes and behaviors of their Zoomer parents and will make the Bees determined to shed the austerity and grab back a life of plenty. The Bees will be rebels, they will want to return to prosperity. They will reject green dogma, reject the idea that they need to lead lives of austerity when the world can easily offer all they want and more. They will have a renewed work ethic, rebelling against a socialist world, demanding profits for their efforts, and will make a highly enthusiastic return to capitalism. They will have renewed enthusiasm for acquiring both things and experiences. They will become as busy as bees.

Having grown up in a thoroughly networked world accustomed to mature social networks, they will work together across distances instinctively, unlike the Alphas whose social networking went through generations of failed experimental legislation in futile attempts to curb political interference. By the time the Bees enter their teen years, augmented reality will be mature, and so will AI, operating at human-like levels across broad fields. Their friends and AI friends and partners will be there with them all the time. They will share realities, navigate city overlays, have their own secret signage and symbology, use multiple role avatars to denote functions. They will work cooperatively like bees, address new markets as intuitively and effectively as bees discovering a field of just-opened flowers. They will have their own information system, build new ideas and construct cellular organisations that other generations can’t even see. They will think together as effectively as a hive mind, because they’ll be so closely interwoven and connected they will essentially be a hive mind. Bees is a very appropriate name indeed. But it goes still further. When they face opposition or resistance, they will be more able to join in attacking their target than any previous generation. Their cyber-armory will be instant and a strong deterrent, as painful as a bee sting.

Having been brought up in this multiverse, where there is no single reality, no one real world, with many alternative real and virtual worlds competing for attention and immersion, their explorative mindset will spur them on to treat space as just another virtual frontier.

They will have been born after the crisis that we are going through now -the health, economic, political and societal crisis – so they will hear stories of ‘lockdown’ and ‘killing granny’ as if they are folklore and will perceive it historically as a collective madness and cult-like behaviour. Seeing this obvious widespread human liability to such failings, they will want to draw new boundaries between themselves and others – just for their own protection.

Technology development may well make it safe to take psycho-active drugs that today are dangerous. Bees will develop new legal frameworks for drug taking and hallucinogenics, which will be seen as just another type of experience that can lead to greater individual expression and personal and functional improvement. They might do their very best work under the influence.

Some of these drugs will work with trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or even be carried in micro-capsules that allow their release to be controlled electronically via networks, enabling synchronization of drug release in a large group. Some capsules may also have capability to electronically stimulate nerves or brain regions, creating pleasure both chemically and electronically.

One thing’s for sure, the Bees will throw the best parties the world has ever seen.

About Tracey Follows


twitter: twitter@traceyfutures

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Forbes contributor: tracey follows 

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. Semi-retired and has relinquished four former professional fellowships, but still a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and life member of the British Computer Society.


Millennials get their revenge on the Boomers

I’ve been concerned about increasing generational conflict for many years. Some of it is justified, some isn’t, but in an era of fake news and conspiracy theories, it’s hard to resist having some fun with the idea. There’s too much reality right now. In any case, reality counts for little while perception is everything, and if your bubble tells you to feel aggrieved, that’s a lot easier than doing actual research on the figures. So here goes. Don’t take it too seriously.

The boomer generation had an easy ride through life, buying their big houses cheaply and getting fat index-linked pensions from their late 50s, lazing around on golf courses, while millennials and zoomers are having to pay too much for their homes, won’t get the nice pensions and will have to work far longer. Also, the boomers trashed the environment and wrecked the climate, filled the world with nuclear weapons, and did nothing to reduce racial or LGBT oppression. They even forced the UK to leave the wonderful EU, so now all our businesses will die and it won’t be long before we’re all on minimum wage with nothing to eat but recycled cardboard. Millennials are having to fix everything, absorb all the debt and pay all the bills, and won’t even inherit anything until we are old and grey.

So, payback time then. What mechanisms are available to punish the horrible boomers and restore fairness for millennials.

Sadly, we can’t just go and murder them all, well not unless we defund the police first anyway. We could try that, and see how it works, maybe some scope for experimentation with different approaches. A few manipulated riots and who knows how many we can get rid of?  We could do with some sort of  Logan’s Run style carousel, where the over 60s are ceremoniously terminated. Too obvious in that form, but applying some basic PR gumption,how about a system that allows them to be killed for their own good, with us making the decisions of course? So we needs a nice name that sounds compassionate and caring. How about Liverpool Care Pathway?, Yeah that’ll do, maybe we can tweak that now and then if people start to get wise to it. Perhaps design a nice form and smile sweetly while asking them to sign it so they suspect nothing. After all, a nice doctor from the wonderful NHS, what could possibly be wrong. They’ll assume DNR is just another medical term, like check blood pressure or something. Most of them won’t know what resuscitate means anyway. “Do not resuscitate”, they’ll think we mean not to wake them too early in the morning, let them lie in a bit or whatever. They grew old trusting the NHS so won’t suspect a thing. So, a couple of forms and we can get rid of quite a few of the old scroungers.

Oh look, a virus, that kills old people. Who’d have thought? If anyone suspects it was commissioned by Obama funding research in the Wuham virus lab, adapting a bat virus for human transmission, we can just dismiss that as a conspiracy theory – the Chinese are good at hiding stuff anyway so there won’t be any proof, they’ll just disappear anyone that might give the game away. Nobody would ever believe it and the media will all help to keep it quiet. So all we have to do is let it come over in planes and ships, not do anything at all to stop if until it’s everywhere and boomers will start dropping dead. If we say we need space in hospitals, we can chuck lots of infected boomers out of hospitals into old folks’ homes where they’ll infect loads more. Keep feigning incompetence, make sure the infection gets all the best chances of spreading, keep the old people in homes and delay any promising medications for any that get to hospital and before you know it, tens of thousands of them will be history. Think of all the pensions and benefits and the huge care and medical costs we’ll save. And all the inheritances that will be passed on years earlier.

But there will still be millions left, so we’ll need more viruses every few years.

Meanwhile, we still need ways of transferring their money. Boomers have loads of savings and investments so we need a way to transfer that to the state so we can have low taxes but still get all the good things. Taxes would work, but they’re too obvious. This idea of printing money is pretty good though. Let’s call it quantitative easing so people won’t pay attention and will just get bored if they investigate. So we borrow loads or money and increase public services, but then print loads of money to pay off the debt instead of raising taxes. That means any existing money is diluted, so its value falls, but the debt is worth less. Magic! Sure the existing money is worth less, but the boomers have most of that, we don’t have much yet, so they pay, and we don’t, our taxes stay low and the boomers pay. Serves them right. Everyone sees inflation of course, but the we will get pay rises to keep up, but the horrible boomers that didn’t work in the public sector probably won’t have their pensions index-linked, so will see their pensions worth less and their savings evaporate as the value transfers to the state, keeping our taxes low. In fact, while we’re at it, if we can persuade them to swap their pensions for cash, let’s call it transferring out, the quantitative easing will work much faster so we can get their money even quicker. The public sector boomers will still get their index linking, but we’ll still get their savings, and they’ll carry on voting for the left too – what’s not to like? So, suppose we do £1 Trillion of QE, that’s a decent start, but probably won’t even get any headlines. 15k per capita if it was everyone paying, but 50% don’t pay net tax and most of the rest only pay a bit, so that’s like a £50k Boomer tax, £100k for a couple. And we can do that every few years, and most will never notice, they’ll just carry on whining about increasing prices and we’ll just carry on making fun of them.

So we get to legally kill off a lot of them, and as for the survivors, we get to take their pensions and their savings. Best of all, we still get to make them feel guilty about how awful they’ve made it for us.

Revenge is sweet!



Post-lockdown tribalism

Locked at home, people have spent more time on the net. Dismayed by MSM unithink and government data-picking, they have discovered new news sources. In a sense, they’ve built extensions on their bubbles – same architectural style, just more space to move in.

Humans are tribal in their basic nature. For hundreds of thousands of years, we lived in small groups, looking after each other and treating other groups as competition for the best access to resources. Those groups were 20-100 people typically. People would have a strong bond with their family members, a fairly strong bond with other tribe members, and often hostility to others. In spite of political correctness making it fashionable for some to pretend that we’ve left tribalism behind, it’s clear that those same people have retained strong tribal allegiance to their tribe and are hostile to those not in it. In fact, many surveys have shown that those most vocal about loving everyone are more likely to dislike others who aren’t like them than  other people, so they haven’t evolved above tribalism, they’ve just become more adept at hypocrisy.

Tribalism transformed into a hybrid of physical and virtual almost 30 years ago for a few, 20 years ago for everyone. The left-right divide has certainly flourished (though it has evolved and lost some of its former class correlation) with people forming stronger allegiance to similar groups in far-away countries than to neighbors who hold differing political views. Thanks to the net, it is easy to get all the news you can consume without ever leaving your comfy media bubble. Market forces have followed the customer, and media has become ever more polarized, reinforcing the trend in a positive feedback loop.

Lockdown has reinforced some of that existing tribalism, and created more dimensions for variation, so identity is evolving. Some of the divisions are becoming very obvious as we start to exit lockdown.

Financial effect

The first obvious split is around the effect of the lockdown on personal financial well-being. Some people have remained in full employment, on full pay, and a few have even become wealthier. A somewhat less fortunate group have been furloughed, and receive 80% of their previous pay, but with less outgoings on travel, catering and office attire have still been very comfortable. By contrast, many other people were made redundant early on as their company owners realized potential losses lay ahead and many others have followed. At the same time, many business owners have had to borrow heavily to pay staff and meet ongoing fixed costs, so have seen their savings badly depleted, debts growing and wealth based on the value of their company greatly reduce. Many other self-employed have received little or no state support, being on too high income to qualify or taking their income as dividends. So, even though all these groups went into the same lockdown, they have experienced it very differently in terms of financial effect.  Someone who has lost a great deal through no fault of their own, but because the government effectively closed their business, will exit lockdown with very different attitudes to those who sailed through it having a fully paid holiday in their back garden.

Public v Private Sector

That split correlates very strongly with working in the public or private sector. Just as in the 2008 crash, the public sector has been protected while the private sector takes a huge hit, but nevertheless is already managing to moan loudly about possibly not getting quite as generous pay rises as usual. Public sector unions are already making it hard to return to normal economy by linking returning to work to meeting pay demand and other unrelated conditions. Private sector employees who have kept their job at all will be grateful to have survived, very often noting that many of their colleagues haven’t. The public-private divide was already a major stress-line, but will now be an even stronger foundation for tribal conflict. Loud demands for pay rises for highly insulated public sector employees with secure jobs, higher pay and gold plated pensions will not go down well with people who have been suffering real hardship and whose wealth has been heavily depleted, especially when the main reason given for the lockdown was ‘to protect the NHS’, poster child of the badly managed public sector. With teachers and lecturers similarly playing the virus for every advantage and with local councils increasing taxes to make up holes in their budgets as no private sector company possibly can, this fault line could well become a quake.

For or against lockdown

Another lockdown tribal split is between those who want lockdown to end soon and quickly, many of whom always thought it too extreme a measure to deal with a virus which kills relatively few people, and those who are quite comfortable in lockdown and want it to continue. This split also correlates with the public-private divide, though many who want it to continue work for big companies and can easily work from home. A small number in the continue lockdown camp are simply lazy and are now too used to getting near full pay for doing nothing and now see going back to work as an extra 37.5 hours a week for no extra pay.

Now that we’re seeing lockdown being gradually lifted, tribal divisions are becoming even more pronounced. A lot of people are not only strongly resistant to going back to work, but also fiercely critical of people making the most of lockdown being lifted, especially those going to pubs or to beaches. Much of the criticism seems to hold a degree of snobbery, looking down on the sorts of people who go to the pub or the beach as inferiors with obviously poor characters. It is like a new class war. By contrast, many of those doing these activities just want to get back to some sort of normality and argue (with strong statistical justification) that the incidence of the virus is now so low that there is only a very small risk.

NHS Worship and #blacklivesmatter

Another tribe is the NHS worshippers, a peculiarly British phenomenon, engaging in the tribal ritual of going outside to clap in unison. Their elevation of the NHS is pseudo-religious and strongly resistant to new information showing that more than half of the UK’s deaths can be attributed to NHS failings. This has some similarities with the tribalism around the Black Lives Matter that surfaced four years ago and recently resurfaced. Last time around, people outside the tribe would often insist instead that all lives matter. This time, the antagonism has increased, but with more social media use now, it has become all-out hashtag warfare – #whitelivesmatter, #whitelivesdontmatter, #bluelivesmatter, #allblacklivesmatter and even #nolivesmatter, each with their own distinct tribal identities. That is rather similar to the non-NHS worshippers pointing out that supermarket shelf packers, checkout assistants, bus-drivers and many other workers are equally important to nurses and doctors for the survival of the nation.

Even before lockdown started to lift, anti-racist protesters in the #blacklivesmatter tribe started to demonstrate, right across the West, acting as an attractor for the usual far left anti-capitalists, but also creating a quite new trend of pulling down statues and demanding ‘decolonization’. As expected, some small opposition gathered from right wing groups, but what was more surprising was the lack of opposition from the large but very silent majority. It seemed to be accepted that this was as much a symptom of lockdown fever as support for anything in particular, but amplified by a significant degree of self-radicalization with people gazing at screens all day looking at propaganda from their bubbles.

COVID Victim-hood & Immunity Passports

Some people have lost loved ones, others have suffered tremendously themselves, others suffered varying degrees of symptoms, some were infected but had no symptoms, and most were not affected directly at all. Shared suffering can often be a factor in bonding, so COVID status will be a tribal factor.

Add to that immunity passports, certificates that someone carries COVID antibodies, and therefore the holder can access various places and activities closed to non holders. Holders and non-holders will have very different privileges and that is certain to cause tribal tensions.

Personal and Business Growth

Many people have used to lockdown situation to take courses, learn new skills, start new businesses, read lots of books or otherwise self-actualizing. Others have taken the opportunity to take stock of where they are in life, to better figure out who they are, what they want, and who they want to be with. Many of us have just carried on and tried to cope as best we can, not expecting any more than getting through it in one piece. When we get back to anything like normality, there will inevitably be some readjustment in social pecking orders in the many tribes to which we all simultaneously belong. Some people will have joined new tribes, some will change tribes, some will change employer, or even change friends.

Business tribes will also see changes in pecking order. Some companies will have done rather better than others, sometimes by pure luck or local circumstances, or by having different client bases, sometimes by better management. Status in business peer groups will inevitably change as a result.

Political tribal piggybacking

Many people have used to opportunity of the crisis to push various political views. There have been quite a few, and some have tribal-style behaviours and  allegiances. One that sprung up almost immediately after lockdown was mentioned was UBI (Universal Basic Income). In the weeks following, this has been overtaken in magnitude by the demands of environmentalists, often insisting for no reason in particular other than opportunism, that any solution to the virus or rebuilding after emerging from lockdown must also include sustainability and carbon reduction. In some cities, such as London, there are extremely rapid moves afoot to embed climate activist solutions before the opportunity evaporates. A good many even more tangential demands to migrate to non-growth systems or even to socialism have been piggybacked too. Authoritarianism has flourished, with many rules and personal tracking systems put in place superficially to control the spread of the virus, but with strong suspicion that they will be left in place ‘to control crime’ long after the virus is history. Privacy groups have fought against these systems but have been losing. Nonetheless, the freedom/privacy/rights tribe will fight afterwards with the many who favor an authoritarian society.

It remains to be seen how strong these new facets of tribal behavior remain as the lockdown moves into memory, and how they will interact. As with most things during the current crisis, things are changing too fast and too deeply to make accurate predictions yet. All we can really do at this stage is to spot some of the various factors that will interact.

Global tribalism – a newer, colder war

With increasing discussion about the origins of the virus, two opposing viewpoints exist, with those who believe the virus originated in a research lab (whether accidentally or deliberately) dismissed as stupid conspiracy theorists by those who want to believe it originated in a wet market. There seems remarkably little tolerance of a middle ground where it might have originated in either but more evidence is needed. However, what started off as a simple discussion about its origins has evolved into a new cold war. What was the USA versus Russia now has China as its new focus, with Russia reduced to a secondary role. This new even colder war divides the world into a more united West v a more united East. Although unconnected, the virus has caused Chinese telecoms involvement in the UK to be cancelled, general suspicion of 5G, and a greatly increased trade war. The level of distrust of China has greatly increased, though those who list the lab origin as conspiracy theory seem strongly to want to exonerate China generally from any blame, using the tried and tested racism slur where they can squeeze it in.

After the sales

The warehouses are full, shops are desperate to get rid of surplus stock, and customers are eager to make the most of the inevitable sales to refresh wardrobes and indulge in some much missed retail therapy. The sales starting now will be the best and longest and deepest sales ever. Shops will all have to offer deep discounts because everyone else will too, and there is only so much space in wardrobes. Inevitably, much of the stock will not be sold, however deep the discounts. Many people will still be hiding in their homes long after lockdown is lifted, only venturing out when they have to. Social distancing in shops will make them less appealing, scarier, and deter some potential customers. More importantly, although most people have kept their incomes and some have even managed to save and pay off debts, many others have lost their jobs, lost their savings, lost their spending power.

The result is all to obvious. Even if lockdown were lifted tomorrow, greatly reduced revenue and deep discounting will barely cover basic costs for many shops, and won’t for others, so there will be a long list of retail deaths to follow those we’ve already seen. A few healthy retailers will be able to buy weaker competitors and move into better stores, making the most of greatly reduced rents. With fewer retailers occupying more of the market, choice will soon dry up. They will have to cut costs too, and even after companies have been bought and merged, vast numbers of staff will be laid off, many shops will close, and with few ready to snap them up, high streets will soon look very sparse indeed. Fewer shops mean less temptation into town, less foot traffic, fewer people buying coffees and already frail high streets will shorten. Boarded-up shops at the end of high streets may soon be converted to accommodation.

It will be a very long and slow recovery from there to get back to anything like we saw before lockdown. It is not at all obvious why there would be a ‘V shaped recovery’. A very slow, weak recovery is more likely.

Online will do better. Many people will still be afraid or unwilling to go into town and put up with bleak social distancing, and no changing rooms. So lots of customers will carry on shopping online, and the retailers who have survived and upgraded their online presence will keep more of the market. But how healthy will that market be? People will still want new things, but social lives will not return to normal right away, with clubbing and eating out reduced, and lots of people will continue to work from home, so won’t need the same quantity of office outfits, especially since there is nobody to show off to. So although shopping online will keep much of the market gains it has made, the size of the pie will remain smaller. Retail will have shrunk, many retailers will have vanished, and there will be less choice. Warehouse-based automation will require far fewer staff, and many of the jobs lost will never return. With less competition, and costs of investments in infrastructure and tools to do online needing to be recouped, prices will soon start to rise.

The future of retail seems likely to be short term sales to dump old stock and get some cash flow, followed by rapid shrinkage, frantic retailer M&A activity, high street shrinkage, and many end-of-street properties switching from retail to accommodation. In the years following, as people gradually return to normal life, new retailers will gradually spring up, and a very slow recovery of the high street might occur, or it may well be that new business in the high street will only be enough to offset ongoing transfer to online.

It’s worth noting that in parallel to these changes, technology will continue to develop. Automated delivery will accelerate. Rapid custom manufacturing will reduce in cost, and if prices are increasing elsewhere, will become more competitive. As customers start expecting clothes to be made the their precise measurements and customisation, the relationship between customer and manufacturer may well be simplified, with retailers falling in importance. If so, the long term for retail looks even bleaker.

Retail, is just one industry. We should expect major changes in every industry as a consequence of lockdown. The world will not return to how it was before. Recovery will be slow, and the final destination will be quite different.

Some lingering impacts of COVID

COVID and lockdown will one day be history. Some of its effects will linger for a long time. Here I will look at just a few that spring to mind.


Millions of people worldwide have been infected by the coronavirus Sars-CoV-2. A quarter of a million have died from it. Overlooking the platitudes about each being a personal tragedy, in the grand scale of things it isn’t very many, just 1 in 31,200 people, perhaps eventually rising to 1 in 20,000. At some point in the future humans may have to cope with a plague that kills as many as 1 in 4 people. We’ve known about the huge pandemic threat for decades, especially how fast it can spread around the world and in our big cities, but it has still caught some countries unforgivably unprepared.

Governments have behaved very differently. Some, like South Korea, did the sensible things at the outset, restricting its means of entry, tracking down and isolating people with symptoms and those they had been in recent contact with. Others, like the UK, watched as large numbers of infected people entered the country, allowed them to infect lots of other people, allowed large sports events to continue, infecting many more, and took no actions to limit people being crowded together in transport systems, such as in London underground and airport passport control. Only once infection rates were already sky high and many people were dying did government act and because they were far too late, the only option they were left with was lockdown, effectively shutting down much of the economy for months.


Easing Lockdown

Lockdown can’t last forever, since the economy takes a big financial hit every day. In the UK, the headline cost is £2.5Bn but that needs to be doubled to account for the interest costs in the decades paying it back, and it will be decades. £5Bn per day is a lot. Government still refuses to say when they will start to lift it, even saying that discussing it is too early. It is therefore realistic to assume it will stay in effect for a few more weeks, 10 weeks total with a gradual lifting over several more, we could optimistically assume an effective economic shutdown of 13-15 weeks. Lockdown may start to be lifted gradually for some small sectors such as DIY/garden centres in the next week or two, and in restricted form with extra spacing in restaurants and pubs later. People will be slowly encouraged to return to work. My prediction is that a return to work in cities will cause another large rise in infections, and government will panic and reintroduce lockdown for a few more. Government seems locked in to a mode of thinking that forces everywhere them to treat everyone the same, so the concept of having different controls in areas of different risk seems beyond them. A more sensible approach would be to restrict travel between areas of different infection rates and greatly restrict use of public transport in cities to limit cross-infection.

The UK government expects the economy to bounce back very quickly, everyone united in wartime spirit, all pulling together, the economy leaping back on its feet and everyone enthusiastically rebuilding every sector, leading to an even bigger and better economy that will easily pay back the debts built up. The future will be even brighter than before.

That is naïve at best.


For sure, there are a few winners

With most of us working from home, the big IT companies have done well so far. People have needed buy more IT kit and more subscriptions to more products and services. Getting involved in development of COVID tracking apps and AI assistance will create extra revenue streams for the likes of Google and Apple, while simultaneously giving them more of our intimate data and grater market control. With huge cash reserves and increasing income, they are perfectly placed to buy up many other companies and further increase their scope and power. Other rich people and companies in other sector with good reserves can similarly capitalise, increasing market share and breadth at the expense of those less well placed or able. The rich will get even richer, by eating the poor (albeit it not quite literally). So there will be some winners.

We might even spin the coming turbulence as a weeding out of the economy, allowing greater efficiency, enabling engagement in new technology, new systems, throwing away the old and putting in the new, steering us towards the lands of milk and honey. But it is mainly just spin.


Massive redundancies ahead, but entrepreneurialism has also taken a big hit

With a gradual lifting of lockdown, sectors gradually being reintroduced, social distancing very gradually eased, and some groups such as older and vulnerable people kept isolated for months longer, the economy will not bounce back quickly. Many companies are already going bust, their staff made redundant. Very many more will follow. Business owners in some sectors have received government grants, but most have had to take out loans or use their own money to keep their businesses alive, hoping for an early end to lockdown. A prolonged lockdown will find many of those companies running out of money and going out of business. Many people have been furloughed, but that is only a holding stage before redundancy if their company isn’t restored to normal working soon, and for many that furloughing will soon become a redundancy notice. There will be millions of redundancies, and a lot of previously comfortable or wealthy people now poor or very much less wealthy. Very many small businesses have found they were excluded from any government support. Self-employed people using Limited Companies would only have received compensation on the small part of their income taken as salary so would have seen incomes reduced enormously, other self-employed earning more than the £50,000 threshold would also have been abandoned. Having been burned badly by government, those businesspeople will think hard before deciding to take on such huge personal risk again, knowing it is they themselves to will have to bear the risk of government reintroducing another lockdown. It seems fair to assume that a lot of entrepreneurs have already made that personal assessment and will pull out and close their companies while they still have enough wealth left to survive. Their staff will be left jobless, and they will not be rushing to rebuild. Large market segments will be left empty, full of potential, but with very few entrepreneurs willing to take big personal risks to address that potential. Of course, some dead or dying companies will be bought out by better-funded competitors, but with such high risks and so little guarantee of survival, the enthusiasm to do so might be limited.

The post-lockdown economy will therefore have very high unemployment, a lot of dead companies and a shortage of willing entrepreneurs. Many low and medium income people will be on welfare, many previously wealthy people now unable to afford their previous luxuries, with reduced income and reduced savings. Older people with high savings might remain locked up for much longer, greatly delaying their much-needed cash injection.


Looking forward to the sales?

Most people on lockdown have been on full or 80% salaries and many seem to believe they will be unaffected; some are even asking for lockdown to continue much longer until it is totally safe. They have saved lots of spare cash and are eager to go back out and spend, and for a short time that will offset the impacts of the many others on much lower incomes, but it will be a short term boost. While they may reasonably expect to encounter lots of closing down sales and fill their wardrobes, it may come as a shock to them that many of the places they want to spend at will no longer exist. Beyond clearance sales, any remaining outlets will have higher infrastructure costs to cope with social distancing, some will have to pay higher prices on the markets and all will have to repay large bills, so they will have no choice but to greatly increase their prices. Those high prices might well deter much of their enthusiasm, and even in areas where prices don’t sky-rocket, buyers will soon catch up with their spending. So there will be some clearance sales, some high prices, a lot of companies closing down, much merging and acquisition activity and a huge amount of shrinking, with national chains closing many of their outlets.

In short, a lot of turbulence for several months while the post-lockdown economy settles down. All of that is already guaranteed, the only remaining question being how much worse it will get as lockdown lingers. Not quite something to look forward to.


Some secondary effects are obvious too:

Again, most people have remained employed, on full pay of 80%, and many feel unaffected economically. However, at a cost of £5Bn per day, national debt during a 15-week lockdown will increase by £525Bn, let’s say £500Bn since accuracy here is impossible. The economy will also have shrunk significantly. Many dead companies will take years to replace. Lost savings will greatly impede recovery in luxury sectors. Even supermarkets will not be safe, even though they sell essentials. Sainsbury’s has just announced that although it made a lot of extra sales during the panic buying, it has taken a £500M hit overall, already. Other supermarkets likely have been similarly affected. With several million more people unemployed and on universal credit, sales of absolute basics may remain, but premium brands will have reduced markets. Premium brands normally account for much of the profits, so it will be harder to cross-subsidise basic prices. Prices across the board are likely to rise, especially as other costs are increased.

Prices will also rise in restaurants, pubs, bars and coffee shops, where people will need to be far more spread out. Rents and rates may fall somewhat, but prices will still need to go up. This will ripple through into hotel and tourism costs, where air travel will also be much more expensive, a double hit.

We can therefore expect to see much higher prices for many of the things we buy, especially on the high street. In many town centres, cascading effects of closing stores and high prices elsewhere will lead to less footfall, less income and even more closures and redundancies, for at least several months after lockdown is lifted. That means less business rates and car park income for councils, leading to higher council taxes for us all. Combined with many closures of business right across the economy, government income will also be greatly reduced. Money available to pay public sector workers their traditionally generous premium over their private sector counterparts will not be there. With severe austerity ahead, public sector wage rises will be squeezed badly, except perhaps for NHS staff (annoyingly, probably even the administrators whose incompetence got us into this mess) and MPs, who will likely be able to keep their extra expense allowances.

Income tax and many hidden taxes will have to rise a lot to make up for greatly reduced income to government, while costs will remain higher than normal for some time. Faced with massive extra debt, we can also be certain government will resort to printing money, or quantitative easing as they call it, effectively stealing from people’s pensions and savings even more than a decade of near-zero interest has already done.

In short, everyone will have to pay higher taxes, higher local taxes, higher inheritance taxes, higher VAT, higher prices, and have their cash reserves eroded away by inflation and quantitative easing. Even if you’ve worked from home on full pay throughout, you are still going to take a big financial hit. Your pay will not rise as fast, but your outgoings will accelerate and you’ll get less for your money.


The UK will tumble down the world tables

The UK government has made some very bad and expensive decisions. With very many dead and badly wounded companies, and some sectors barely functioning, with a lot of missing and broken links, our economy will be greatly reduced in size, our national debt will be greatly increased, and the severely ill economy will be far less able to recover quickly than government assumes. For many years, the UK will be much less prosperous than it was. We started the COVID crisis in early January in 5th place in the global wealth table. By not doing anything but watch until March, the UK government and its poor advisers have badly damaged our economy. Many other countries that made better decisions earlier will have overtaken us. I have no models to predict how far we will fall, but it will be several places at least.


Social gains and losses

After months of near solitary confinement, most people will be looking forward to seeing their families and friends again. Lots of hugs and kissed are ahead. We will almost certainly value our friends even more, and feel closer as a result of being kept apart so long. How long that will all last is anyone’s guess. A month? A year? We’ll see.

On the downside, lots of relationships are breaking up or suffering due to the stresses of living together constantly. Many marriages will die, many children will see their parents split up. There have already been lots of mental breakdowns and suicides and there will be many more. Some people will suffer many years from mental problems arising from this crisis and the lockdown. Even though children have been virtually immune to the direct effects of COVID, many of them will suffer mental effects for years, perhaps the rest of their lives.

There will be some lingering resentments. Some people have been able to work normally, still going out and meeting colleagues, still having lots of social interaction. Some have worked from home doing their normal job. Some have been furloughed so are at home doing no work but remained on full pay, others on 80% of pay. Imagine if you work for a company with 50 workers and 25 of them are at home furloughed, being paid the same or 80% while you still have to go to work and risk being infected for no extra pay. You might well feel resentful. Bad feeling between workers or between neighbours treated very differently by the state might last for a long time.

Young people will face economic consequences for decades to come. Given that the people most vulnerable to COVID were older people, and that the economy was wrecked to protect them, they may well feel justified resentment to older people, especially since many of those older people were the Boomers who younger people already considered to have had an easy go in life. Inter-generational conflict will inevitably rise, permanently.

Immunity passports could cause issues too, creating two tribes, clean and unclean. Some people want them because they imagine they’d be in the clean camp and can use their passport to resume normal life again, while laughing at the others held in captivity. It’s pretty obvious they are not a good idea, but our leaders may well add them to their already long list of bad decisions.

Privacy is threatened by the NHS COVID tracking scheme. As with many previous NHS decisions, they have gone for centralisation in spite of history repeatedly showing that is the wrong way to go. They are also sharing all their data with GCHQ. Once they have an extra means of gathering masses of personal data, they are unlikely to relinquish it, so privacy loss may well be permanent. Such schemes might even be adapted and extended as future crises of various kinds emerge.

The police will also see a lingering drop in respect as a result of their sometimes questionable behaviour during lockdown.

Perhaps the biggest cost though is the knowledge that our government is quite prepared to put the entire population under house arrest on the flimsy recommendations of proven inaccurate computer models and advisers new to their posts. We used to think the UK superior to countries like China who would treat their people in such a way. Now we know as fact that our country really is no better.