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Which Future Do You Choose?

March 25, 2021 by Twan van de Kerkhof

We are on the threshold of a new society, having the choice between a scenario characterized by equality and democracy, in which citizens jointly build a better future, or a scenario in which global elites divide and rule and build a coalition of the winning. The latter “is the society that my book aims to prevent, with the ultimate aim being to develop an alternative society with citizens at the centre”. Bob de Wit, a professor at Nyenrode University and a critic of the Dutch Covid-policies, is clear about his preference in his new book.

De Wit describes how the world has evolved from Society 1.0 (agrarian) to 2.0 (trade) to 3.0 (industry) and is now moving towards Society 4.0. “Digital technologies are changing our society and economy at least as fundamentally as machines changed societies and economies in the industrial revolution.” The World Economic Forum, part of the global elite that De Wit frowns upon, called this the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Major changes in technology and commerce thus lead to paradigm changes in society and those never go smoothly. “Historically, periods in between societies have often been very turbulent. The transition to a new and unknown societal structure requires optimism and perseverance, especially because strong resistance can be expected from societal actors for whom the change is unfavourable”, in this case the current elites. “In such times, relatively minor events often work as a catalyst for major societal change.” Covid-19 could turn out to be such a driving force.  “I consider the ‘corona crisis’ to be the catalyst for a social revolution that will uncover fundamental societal malfunctions.”

De Wit predicts that the power of labor will decrease significantly. “Over time robots will gradually replace human labour. A serious decline in employment is expected, which will not be compensated by new work resulting from the digital wave.” The power balance between capital and labor will change, resulting in more inequality. “The future distribution of created value will resemble that of a feudal society, in which all created value was captured by the ‘one percent elite’.”

The author paints a bleak picture of a potential future in which large companies, that he calls corporate-states, are running the show for their own benefit. “Global companies are gaining more and more power at the expense of governments and national interests and, without a strong countervailing power, will most likely continue to do so. The global arena will then consist of large corporate-states, and a few large nation-states”, combined with NGOs such as the UN and global charities that are lacking democratic control.

In his “elite reset society” elites divide and role without serious countervailing power from citizens, even forming a world government, capital controls society, and there is an abyss between haves and have nots.

In his “glocal citizens society” communities are owned by citizens, who make decisions on a decentralized and self-organized basis, a just-right inequality exists: not too little, not too much, there will be a basic income and we will live in harmony with nature.

I don’t share the mistrust that De Wit has of large companies and the glocal citizens scenario is too much motherhood and applepie for me. But the book has made me think about our future and the roles of companies, nation states, international organizations and citizens in letting that future emerge. It forced me to reconsider some of my biases and therefore is definitely worth reading.

Bob de Wit. Society 4.0. Resolving Eight Key Issues to Build a Citizens Society. Vakmedianet, 2021