Truly strategic

Adopting a 30-year time-horizon

To compensate for the natural tendency to focus on the Urgent in place of what is Crucial but a long time away, international strategic assessments must adopt a 30-year time-horizon


The second component of a Holistic Perspective is far less obvious to many people. In addition to interconnecting across space, the massively-complex system we think of as the Global Economy also interconnects across time, often with major delays that span decades. The human mind struggles on the best of occasions to associate cause with effect if two events are geographically separate (for instance, the eruption of an unpronounceable volcano in the middle of nowhere that nevertheless causes chaos at major international airports thousands of miles away). However, extreme time-delays are even harder to process. Smoking may have been proved seriously to damage health, but the connection never feels as real as the idea of drinking strong acid.

Important commodities such as oil, tin and copper may all be rapidly depleting, pension-ages may be unsustainably low, and many national-economies may be addicted to budget deficits that are edging the whole world economy toward crisis; but these issues are not set to go critical for perhaps a few decades. Whereas the threat of a major act of terrorism, even though it might potentially ruin the lives of ‘only’ a few thousand families at most, can feel like almost the worst thing that could happen to a country. It is especially important therefore to compensate for the natural tendency of all politicians, business heads and other leaders to focus on the Urgent (in other words, imminent and local) in place of what may be equally Crucial but is far away in distance or time or both. The easiest way of encouraging this discipline is to force a time-horizon that, other than in professions such as the oil-industry, is rare to consider in the modern world. At the moment, approximately 30-years works well as a window on issues relating to major trends in the global economy because by around 2040 some of the exponentially-driven developments within AI, the ‘supernet’, materials-science and biotech are set to change things so much that to try to forecast much further becomes increasingly pointless.

Yet within that 30-year window it is vital to explore implications of the more likely threat scenarios (which is a key role for collective-action by corporations working with governments and others, as detailed later). For example, as commodity-prices of depleting resources nudge upward, what will be the likely effects on migration away from some countries and into others? And therefore how sustainable are current international border-controls, especially for huge ‘borderless’ zones such as most of the EU.