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11/30/10

Thinking Out Loud

Shifting winds bring sea change...

At the turn of the last century, around this time, the powers of the world were pretty content with themselves and the balance of power they had set up. They were pleased with the old order of things, monarchy, aristocracy, merchant, peasant or translated into more modern terms of the day, dynasty, privileged class, merchant-industrialists, labor. This was particularly true in Europe, Great Britain, Russia and the Ottoman Empire which dominated the world for the most part, with the outstanding exception of the United States of America.

Great Britain, France and Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and the Turks had struck a balance of power that was tenuous based on an old order of the previous century that had been meant to preserve the past into the future. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had contributed to this by their nine children and 42 grandchildren married across Europe to bind the empires by family ties.

What no one counted on was the technological change brought on by the railroad, telegraph and telephone, electricity, automobiles and industry. These were the tools of disruption that changed everything and in a sense ultimately World War I.

In August of 1914, waiting for the Guns of August (apologies to Barbara Tuchman), knowledgeable people waited on the beach after the assassination of the Grand Duke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, to see what would happen. Their world was not just at the brink of a calamitous war all over Europe and it's empires, but on the edge of the world as they knew it.

It occurs to me that we are the frontier of such a time one hundred years later. The old order is no longer effective although scrambling to still piece it all together while perceptive and discerning people are waiting for the bubbles to burst. This time the main technological event is the science, technology and the internet from which most of our innovation now emanates. That's not to suggest we are heading towards a traditional world war but that we are at a boundary of time when the world is changed forever due to a change in the balance of international powers. It is precipitated by technological change born out by history and the world in an ever-repeating cycle of necessary change.

Although no guns may be fired, although that is quite possible with recent militaristic rumblings across the sphere, we are at a minimum on the front of an economic world war. The economic ties of the European Union are collapsing, China and Asia are struggling with the balance of capitalism and socialism, Mexico is crumbling in a full-scale drug war and the economic tensions of the Middle East are legion. The entire world is mired in debt and insolvency and it would be wise to reflect on history and recognize what any upset in balance of power usually brings globally.