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The Invisible Hand 4.0

In a Ted Talk, Simon Anholt, a policy advisor, provides an interesting perspective on nations which may be particularly relevant in today’s context. Mr. Anholt argues that, in a globalized world, a nation-based structure is totally outdated. Rather than looking inwards, nations and their governments should look outwards, beyond their own prosperity, growth and competitiveness. Nations should seek to establish themselves as “good” countries, with “good” defined as a form of generosity (or the opposite of “selfish”) vis-à-vis other countries.

Mr. Anholt and his team have developed a sophisticated “goodness” index based on a wide array of parameters, resulting in a global ranking. Notwithstanding the structured approach, the ranking remains largely arbitrary and the underlying concept can be portrayed as naïve, if not, as the ultimate insult, anti-capitalistic.

And yet. With the “Fourth Industrial Revolution in progress, the world is about to endure a new fight between labor and capital on a grand scale. The global economy should benefit from it, as it typically did from technological advances in the past. However, income disparity may rise—not only between the wealthy and the poor, but also amongst countries worldwide. Our research team has established a ranking of countries set to benefit from these industrial trends (mostly developed economies) versus those set to lose out (largely emerging economies).

To make matters worse, the global flow of capital has structurally collapsed since the Great Financial Crisis, suggesting that countries with a current account deficit (i.e. a trade deficit, essentially) may face a “war for capital” to finance their economies2. The fundamental globalization trends spanning the last decades are at risk, as outlined in “Peculiar Powers” last July (see below).

The issue is that this fourth industrial revolution is hitting the world at a time when its political and economic systems are experiencing a deep crisis. There is a new world in the making which truly requires new perspectives, new behaviors and, fundamentally, new forms of political and economic leadership. It is time to explore novel concepts, including the fantastic.

By striving for “goodness”, nations would facilitate the transition towards that new industrial world. They would also draw admiration and, as a by-product, attract business. Like for nations, “good” corporates, i.e. those which would contribute to smoothing the industrial transition whilst embracing change, would invite talent and business. In addition, in an increasingly virtual economy where the value of ideas rises relative to the value of the physical products, corporate brands may become even more important1. There is thus significant value for any corporate to invest further in its brand, including in its “goodness” positioning.

Are these revolutionary, anti-capitalistic thoughts? No, on the contrary. First, as mentioned above, being “good” may attract business. Second, science has recently demonstrated that generosity drives happiness3, something which anyone who has attended the Burning Man would appreciate. So if being “good” not only attracts business but also drives happiness, it may just represent a new development phase of capitalism, or in other words, an upgraded version of Adam Smith’s invisible hand—the Invisible Hand v4.0.


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