The earliest markets for metaphysical reconstruction evolved continually from changing belief systems, religions, creation stories, cultural fashions, and later from science fiction, futures forecasting scenarios. These changing styles of being and behaving are ubiquitously and profitably expressed in the arts: paintings, poetry, fiction books, music, dance and theatrical performances. These markets flourish in all Information-based societies and now dominate all other forms of globalization. In our Information Age value is shifting from material production and trading things you can drop on your foot to digital assets: intellectual property, patents, brands, recipes and reputational “goodwill”, which accountants are still learning to measure. Most mature industrial societies have made the shift and up to 80% of their GDP accounts are for these intangibles. For examples: the value of Coca Cola’s caramel-colored sugar water recipe is carried on their books as a primary asset of up to $70 billion, while Donald Trump’s real estate company morphed years ago into a “branding” operation for hotels, beef, vodka and other products, with others building and owning the actual real estate and producing the products.
Stock markets based on bouncing fiat currencies are ever more at risk of “flash crashes” and crises, as more investors are trading digital assets electronically on private liquidity networks and using cryptocurrencies with no tethers to the real world, as I reported in “Money, is Not Wealth: Fiats v. Cryptos“. Accountants now measure six different forms of capital: finance, built factories and facilities, intellectual capital, social capital, human capital and natural capital, and measure the performance of corporations as the extent to which they enhance or degrade all these six forms, (my visual “Shifting forms of valuation”). GDP is a simple cash flow statement of goods and services transacted in money, measures all public debts, but not the investments they create: public goods (education, municipal services, R& D), infrastructure and other assets, simply because GDP does not have an asset account, as in formal double-entry book-keeping. Education is classified as “consumption”, even though it is the most important investment all societies make in the health and competence of their future citizens. All these shifting forms of metaphysical re-construction are often referred to as “paradigm shifts’, as in Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, (1962). They are creating thriving new markets for consulting firms, marketers and internet platforms re-intermediating our complex societies in new ways. For full disclosure, Ethical Markets Media Certified B. Corporation, which I founded in 2004, is such a digital asset-based enterprise, creating intellectual products based on futures research and scenario-building of possible pathways of technological and cultural evolution.
These often highly lucrative markets for such metaphysical reconstruction are the necessary foundation for new infrastructure and plumbing for the new technologies and economic activities. All human societies are transitioning from the fossilized Industrial Era of the past 300 years to the cleaner, greener, knowledge-richer and more equitable Solar Age I continue to track and document since my “The Politics of the Solar Age”, (1981,1988), now in 800 libraries in 20 languages. Instead of digging in the Earth to produce our goods, we are learning from plants’ photosynthesis how to use the sun’s free photons which have always powered our planet and provide all our food, shelter and very survival.
These tectonic social transitions feedback to expand human cognitive skills and widen our mental and emotional horizons, as described by Harvard-based systems synthesizer, Prof. Joseph Henrich in his monumental “The WEIRDEST People in the World”, (2020). Henrich ransacks human history, religions, cultural styles and economies and focuses on this kind of human cultural evolution which outpaces the slower evolutionary process described by Darwin as evolution by natural selection under changing environmental conditions. Henrich rightly criticizes psychology and economics for their scholars’ cookie-cutter models of human behavior and preferences. These practitioners are blind participants in this same cohort of “Western Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic“ (WEIRD) people acculturated during the Westernized Enlightenment-driven Industrial Revolution. This herculean book is still engrossing me as Henrich focuses on the role of reading and literacy and how these skills actually change our physical brains, expanding our behavioral repertoire and thickening our corpus callosa!
I was stunned, since many neuroscientist I know have commented on how this bridge of tissue linking the left and right hemisphere of our brains: the corpus callosum, affects our cognitive abilities. Some had told me that my own corpus callosum was probably much expanded, as a lifelong author and bookworm! Henrich traces this rapid widening of literacy as stemming from Martin Luther in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517, who opposed the Catholic bishops’ monopolizing access to their Holy Bible and selling of “indulgences” to speed their elites into heaven. Luther demanded that all people be allowed to read the Bible for themselves and that they be taught to read. Thus, Protestant literacy spread with the speed of historic means of human interaction, mostly by proximity to the town of Wittenberg, and people began to acquire expensive hand-written Bibles and learn to read them.
A new market was created for cheaper Bibles, filled by an enterprising printer, Johannese Gutenberg, who created the first movable type printing press, and began producing cheap Bibles. Thus, Henrich describes how literacy went viral and public schools spread across Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Britain, seeding the Enlightenment scholarship of Adam Smith, David Hume and others in Scotland. He described the WEIRD cohort of the global population as beneficiaries of this literacy and educational transformation. They wrongly assume such human behavioral traits as the universal model of human nature. Instead they miss the tremendous variation in most of the other cultures and societies on this planet, which led to all the mistakes of GDP-led globalization, mal-development, poverty, nativist backlashes and populism we see today.
One assumption of Henrich and of Kurt Anderson in his “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire“ (2017) is that they both take adult literacy rates in the USA in 2015 as given at 100%, whereas more recent surveys by the US Census and the National Institute for Literacy estimate that 32 million adult Americans are still unable to read. Much of this is due to earlier racist policies preventing black Americans from learning to read, as well as suppression of voting rights, inferior schools and assimilating foreign-language immigrants. All this contributes to the chronic unemployment, low self-esteem, and lower quality of available work…all exacerbated by the Covid-19 unfair impacts and evidenced in today’s opioid and other addictions, rural and nativist anger at being left out. These feed tendencies to absorb misinformation and form conspiratorial-thinking sub-groups that distrust science and believe most mainstream information is “fake news”. As I pointed out in “Steering Social Media Toward Sanity”, it is now urgent to curb these monopolistic platforms spreading misinformation, aiding conspiracy groups, propaganda from Russia and other foreign sources poisoning our democracies.
Today’s global digitization requires metaphysical re-imagining and reconstruction if we are to “build back better“. Internet-based disruption from Silicon Valley is still rolling through brick-and-mortar sectors: manufacturing, transportation, construction, finance, insurance, real estate, travel, hospitality, print media, education, medicine, law, public health and services. Meanwhile these digital platform companies are booming and re-intermediating services in new online ways, such as robo-investment advice. All this is still leaving millions unemployed, looking for casual jobs in the expanding gig economy, described by Juliet Schor in “After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win it Back”, (2020). They compete with each other as Uber drivers and bidding for odd jobs and household tasks serving those fortunate since Covid-19, to be able to work from home. Help can come after January 20th, 2021, from the Biden Administration’s $2 trillion-plus plan to accelerate the transition to green infrastructure, renewable resources and the required thousands of new, well-paying jobs.
So, let’s look at this economy-wide transition to the Solar Age, circular economies based on renewables and upcycling all resources back into production, minimizing waste and mining for virgin resources. The opportunities for these expanding markets in metaphysical reconstruction, re-thinking and reshaping whole sectors by innovative designers, futurists and paradigm-shifting consultancies include:
Energy: Re-configuring electricity grids and shifting fossil investments toward all the now rapidly growing solar, wind, efficiency, storage markets with micro-grids, cooperatives and community-owned local consortia, which Ethical Markets has tracked in our annual Green Transition Scoreboard® reports since 2009.
Carbon: Ending all combustion of this valuable resource, leaving fossil assets in the ground and devising the optimal capture of ambient CO2. The are many methods of capturing CO2 for re-use: generating carbon-free fuels for air travel, cement-making, zero-emission buildings, retro-fitting older building stock. Using alternative, plant-based foods and beverages, ending animal-grown meats in favor of meats and fish grown from stem-cells. Saltwater agriculture of halophyte food plants can conserve the planet’s 3% of freshwater relied on by our current wasteful unhealthy, corporate industrial foods and factory-produced animal meats. Nature captures and sequesters CO2 more efficiently than any of the current CCS, CCUS, or BECCS methods touted by incumbent fossil industries.
Efficiency: The envisioned circular economy model is already illuminating the systemic waste in the USA across our entire economy estimated as only 18% efficient. All current energy inputs, beyond this 18% simply burn off as waste heat and pollution, as efficiency expert Skip Laitner explains in “As the Climate Warms? The Economy Grows Colder—Both Driven by the Same Scale of Inefficiencies”, (2020). Current upcycling companies include Terracycle for consumer waste and ECOR for larger-scale total re-design of manufacturing plants using their former waste as inputs for onsite upcycling into new products. For full disclosure, I am a technical advisor to ECOR, with future stock options.
Cities: Redesigning streets for pedestrians and cyclists, restoring local neighborhoods as “15 minute communities” with local services all walkable with many more home-based businesses, groceries, laundries, hairdressers and health clinics for preventive care. Banning cars from downtown areas and local communities. Addressing sea-level rise with natural water barriers, dunes, and catchments, as in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, for example. Relocation to higher ground as the last option.
National Parks: Redesigning access and maintenance of forests and natural areas. Shifting funds from no longer appropriate projects to better-designed uses. Managing public early-warning systems predicting longer-term sea level rises. Earmarking former unsafe residential zones for removal of endangered houses and facilities so as to create new parklands and restoring catchment basins.
Transport: Shifting from internal combustion petrol and diesel cars to fully electric vehicles, mostly mass transit and two-wheeled bikes and scooters. Preventing waste of public funds to connect EV charging stations to fossilized grid electricity. Instead, allow markets to continue growing for independent, solar-powered EV charging units, such as those produced by companies like San Diego-based Beam for All (full disclosure, I am an early investor). These units roll of trucks and can be installed anywhere in less than 5 minutes, in regular parking places on every parking lot in every gas station and motel. This can end “range anxiety” without spending millions on denser batteries and endless research.
Food: Ending the global food system’s total reliance on the planet’s dwindling 3% of freshwater. Expanding the 150 start-ups producing healthier plant-based foods and beverages, use of indigenous, regenerative agriculture, local and wild food plants. “Investing in Saltwater Agriculture” and nutritious halophyte crops, which also capture ambient CO2 in their long roots better, faster and cheaper than in forests, which should be re-grown as well. All de-forestation can stop if we employ saltwater crops, as well as kelp farms on shorelines and shut down all animal-grown meat and fish, favoring plant-grown and cultured meat and fish alternatives. Continue shorting the big global meat producers as risky “stranded assets”, which emit 15% of global greenhouse gases.
Mining: End all unnecessary mining, starting with global gem mining which is now obsolete, disrupted by the global artisan sector of cultured gems chemically identical to mined gems, and grown in small laboratories. Adopt our EthicMark®GEMS global standard certifying only gems NOT mined from Mother Earth. Take our pledge at www.ethicmarkgems.com. Shift from mining rare metals and earths from the land, which cause immense piles of toxic tailings and polluting debris, destroying ecosystems, land and biodiversity. Instead, select and collect from ocean floor sites in the Pacific Ocean, the natural mixed metal nodules of these needed rare earth metals: molybdenum, manganese, cobalt and lithium, such as planned by Vancouver-based DeepGreen Company and its Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) indicating efficiency gains of up to 95%.
Education: Move from over-built expensive campus-based colleges to online courses, free to all students worldwide, for rapid up-skilling. Cancel all student debt, so as to enable former students to form families and live less-debt-burdened, more normal lives. Fund free community colleges and local public schools up to advanced degrees, as in most other advanced societies. Re-categorize education in GDP as “investment” in a newly created asset account.
Health: Move away from the sickness-oriented, medical-industrial complex based on chemical and surgical interventions and hospitalization. Re-design toward public health standards, clean air and water, less toxics in products and foods as well as home furnishings and environments. Prevention should be the goal and health care recognized as a human right, funded as an essential strategic public safety service.
Building and Construction: Mandate all new building be constructed with non-toxic materials and to use energy and resources so as to be zero-emission. Mandate upgrading of all municipal and government buildings to highest efficiency standards, as well as offering free upgrades to homeowners which can pay for themselves in energy savings.
Finance: Must be re-oriented away from the obsolete textbook concepts and models which have led to numerous losses, “flash crashes“ and systemic crises. All the current algorithms are still programmed with these obsolete models, concepts, indexes, ETF and robo-investing. Instead, finance must turn its attention to the real physical risks it misses while looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Finance must give up its magical thinking, based on abstractions and faulty macroeconomic metrics such as GDP, “Transitioning to Science-Based Investing”, (2019-2020).
All these above sectors will require this underlying re-thinking, and paradigm shifting so as to avoid mal-investments and further mistaken approaches. This burgeoning market for metaphysical re-construction will be worth several trillions of dollars over the next four years. Shift into sustainable, climate-friendly models based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Watch McKinsey, KPMG and the World Economic Forum compete with all the start-up consultancies now disrupting their markets! Markets have always evolved as human knowledge, technologies and currencies continually evolve, along with our own cognitive capabilities.