It’s not really the END of power. More the end of the effectiveness of a type of power that prioritizes scale and concentration.
Moises Naim has had a front-row seat to this transition, between his tenure as Venezuela’s trade minister, serving as editor-in-chief for Foreign Policy magazine, time as an executive director at the World Bank, and his scholastic work with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
He sees three big trends that change the way power is held:
- More – “When people are more numerous and living fuller lives, they become more difficult to regiment and control.”
- Mobility – These people move around a lot more and have access to faster, less costly ways of moving information, money, and values.
- Mentality – As a result, people’s expectations have changed as they see the possibility for more prosperity, freedom, and personal fulfillment and start demanding changes.
As a result, Naim argues:
- Automatic deference to authority can no longer be assumed since jurisdictions are now porous and the populace is more numerous, healthier, and better informed.
- Moral claims and dogma are challenged and universal values begin to take precedence.
- There is a growing awareness of alternatives and ability and propensity to switch
- Niches become profitable
- The incentives to accept the status quo become weaker and the cost of loyalty increases.
The bulk of the book further details how this works in various areas: business, religion, politics, and the military get particular focus.
Naim also speaks to the ever-increasing amount of information and the growing challenge to filter and sort that information.
Essentially, power (as we traditionally understood it) is decaying, spreading, and becoming more ephemeral. Naim is of two minds about this trend. On the one hand, “The undeniably positive consequences of the decay of power include freer societies, more elections and options for voters, new platforms for organizing communities, more ideas and possibilities, more investment and trade, and…more options for consumers.” On the other, Naim fears that these trends have “simultaneously made our problems bigger and more complex and weakened our mechanisms for addressing them.”
Ultimately, he seems to want the old forms of power back. He fears disorder, alienation, impatience, de-skilling and loss of knowledge (because, Naim argues, no small firm can match large internal R&D), and the banalization of social movements (because we can “participate” with just a click of a mouse).
Naim’s solutions to mitigate the risks involved in this new de-centralization of power include:
- Stop ranking each other. Focus on interdependence.
- Be on the lookout for the “terrible simplifiers.” We need to be skeptical of those who loudly offer “easy” solutions.
- “Bring Trust Back” Naim sees this as changing the way political parties organize and operate and in how they screen, monitor, hold accountable and promote/demote their leaders.
Personally – I see this as a pattern throughout. Are you trustworthy? Is your organization (no matter what type) promoting the trustworthy?
I was a little disappointed to see that he concludes his book by focusing on strengthening the political parties and political system. Naim, maybe inadvertently, spoke to a much larger move towards networked, agile societies that rely on collaboration and interdependence to thrive. I’m not so sure he meant to do that. I would have liked to see a more robust discussion of ways to work with the More, Movement and Mentality revolutions he identified.
My sense is that he sees this re-defintion of power and how it works as a bad thing. Naim at least made a go at providing “solutions” to what may not necessarily be problems. If nothing else, it starts the conversation around how best to maneuver in this new world.