PROVIDER OF THE JIGSAW PIECE THAT MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND TODAY’S UNNECESSARILY CONFUSED TRANSITION PERIOD
I am a Geopolitical Strategist, Economist and Author who helps policy makers, business leaders and the public navigate today’s tumultuous – and analytically fascinating – transition period. I have had the opportunity to work with policy specialists, research institutes, think tanks and corporations across three continents. I am moreover a regular contributor to the current affairs debate in both the UK and Sweden (link to regular speech topics here and link to my Chartwell Speakers profile here). Well-known employers include the Swedish Foreign Ministry, OMX (Nasdaq) and Cantor Fitzgerald. I specialise in aligning the strategy of an organisation with key international trends (political and economic). It then follows naturally that I map the technological- and socioeconomic shifts that always drive commercial shifts. I also proactively map key player incentives and the much underreported tactics used, by some of these key players, to try to hinder or misrepresent the shifts just mentioned. Only then is it possible to flush out the fundamentals (substance) from the smokescreen fluff. A necessity if the ambition really is to understand transition periods such as the one playing out in real time. As well as why mainstream thought is often reliably wrong – and far too pessimistic about long term prospects – in totally predictable ways.
I was employed by Cantor during the September 11 disaster (Cantor Fitzgerald was the company most severely affected; 650 colleagues passed). This disaster proved a career turning point for me. Analytically I started to also focus on the threats to a vital society. I have found that groupthink, when idealistic and marketed by the political camp in vogue, has always been much more destabilising to society, long term, than even terrorist attacks. How so? Because external enemies are easy to unite against while easy to spot. Political camps with institutionalised powers, on the other hand, will typically move society into excess terrain stealthily. Since not even the orchestrators will see the big picture effect. “One more small step, right? Why the fuss, don’t you care about these things?”
Many small steps still add up. So overreach will follow through unintended mission creep. Typically dressed up as prudent balance. Given all the good faith involved intellectual confusion will inevitably follow. As well as tribal mudslinging. For the third time in a hundred years we are, in real time, experiencing precisely such a transition period. The key difference between these three periods? Voters have reacted against different flavours of political overshoot. First against right-wing overshoot (1920s), then against left-wing overshoot (1980s) and today against Centrist overshoot. True, many of us have been conditioned to think that Centrism almost always equates balance. This, however, is a major mistake that might make the current transition period seem extra confusing. However, much of this confusion immediately evaporates once acknowledging the Centrist overshoot situation. As well as how institutionalised Centrist groupthink is stifling progress in much the same way institutionalised right-wing groupthink stifled progress in the 1920s and institutionalised left-wing groupthink stifled progress in the 1980s.
CHEER UP, A POSITIVE AND MORE STABLE RESET IS ALREADY ONGOING
Any good news? Oh yes, plenty and it is much underreported. True, there are numerous peddlers of doom and gloom but doom and gloom are the inescapable hallmarks of every transition period. Since those resisting change will always argue that the world as we know it will end unless maintaining the status quo – or even by more-of-the-same policies. When people start seeing through the self-interest the resistance to change enters yet another phase: the phase of moralism. Meaning the phase when we are told that only “baddies” object to the institutionalised mindset. So when “wokery” is used to kill debate it has thousands of moralistic echoes in history. The only original thing about it is that, for the first time ever, “righteous” people are supposed to embrace Centrist hobby horses. Also after having been taken too far. However, this is also the phase of desperation. For those willing to see there is, finally, pushback on every front. Even within academia, the “church” in secular societies. Why is academia such an integral part of the problem? Because if you end up as an academic big budgets and high status is coming your way, most easily, if simply acting as a provider of the intellectual alibis needed by the political paymasters. Also the mutual backscratching situation between politicians and “intellectuals” is old as dirt.
SURE, IN EVERY CAMP THE IDEALISTS WILL OFTEN SOUND GLORIOUS BUT IT IS ALWAYS THE REALISTS WHO SAVE THE DAY
I am ideologically independent per definition while a believer in realism and political balance rather than in the individual superiority of any political ideology. Why? Because history leaves little doubt that overreach typically follows any political camp dominating the political scene over a stretch of time. Once the useful realist agenda has been fulfilled armchair idealism will always, due to the way human nature is wired, be concocted and spouted to keep the fight alive. This phase is unfortunate for just about everyone. The movers and shakers in power – those who have often built their political platforms by always consistently pushing for just a bit more – will usually not see that they have transformed into agents of excess. So voters will not be delivered the moderation they typically have been promised . Discontent and voter pushback will then follow. The good news? Even if tribal emotional hysteria is far too often dominating the airwaves a new stable equilibrium is perfectly achievable. Simply because most people in most camps actually do seek the same outcomes. Including key things like a vital democracy, a pro-free markets rather than pro-big business economic set up and an academic and cultural sphere that promotes multidimensional rigour rather than “wokery”. Etc. Meaning most quarrels, believe it or not, concern how to best arrive at a type of society most people want.
A BOOK THAT DETAILS WHY AUTHENTIC MODERATES REALLY DO NEED TO BE WARY ALSO OF CENTRIST OVERREACH
In my latest book, Healing Broken Democracies: All you need to know about Populism, I underpin the arguments made above. The book starts with me interviewing six of the world’s foremost thought leaders in relation to their (book) masterpieces: Daron Acemoglu, David Goodhart, Matthew Goodwin, Eric Kaufmann, Jonathan Haidt and Luigi Zingales. So readers are also offered, on a silver plate, the highlights and key insights of six of the absolutely best current affairs books published during the 2010s. Thereby it is obvious that if only knowing where to look the arguments explaining the populist phenomenon have been readily available for years. Meaning plenty of division and agony could have been spared if leading politicians in many countries had been willing to properly take on board what the thought leaders involved in this project have already been saying for a long time. However, better late than never.
Healing Broken Democracies can be seen as a tribute to the realist doers of society. To individuals from all walks of life set on making things work in practice. Perhaps most obviously society’s realist doers include countless operators on the field of practical reality. People who are often shamefully neglected simply while not as close to power as the career peddlers of idealist groupthink. Included among the realist doers are also those intellectuals who pay heed to the empirical data even when not politically convenient for the politicians pulling the university budget strings. The intellectuals interviewed as part of the book project just mentioned are all model examples of such intellectuals. A key common characteristic of all (experienced) realist doers? They typically know or at least suspect that when political promises lack practical detail – and sound to be too good to be true – the delivery prospects will most likely be dismal. As a direct consequence realist doers tend to seek backtracking from every idealist strand of politics. Again from right-wing idealism, from left-wing idealism AND from Centrist idealism.
NOT ONLY SOCIETY BUT ALSO MOST CENTRISTS ARE FAILED UNLESS SPEAKING TRUTH ALSO TO CENTRIST POWER
True political independence is only possible after having first acknowledged that political overreach typically follows every political camp dominating the political scene over a stretch of time. Such an understanding is necessary to ensure political neutrality against not only politicised group-think in the past but also against politicised contemporary group-think. Meaning only with such an understanding can current affairs commentators – people like myself – stop the malpractice of mainly identifying flaws among the challengers of contemporary – today Centrist – power players. That mistake not only makes complete nonsense of the “speak-truth-to-power” claim. It even does Centrism a disservice while hindering the much needed rethink necessary for revitalisation. After all, also Centrist voters are failed by the Centrist excess politics presently on offer. How so? Because when asked few Centrist voters seek anything but realist, balanced, honest and robust acknowledgement of the trade-offs involved in politics. Or possibly cherry-picking of good thoughts regardless of political origin. This is a far cry from the idealistic – and immorally moralistic – variety that over recent years has actually been delivered. Meaning also most Centrist voters are poorly represented by their supposed representatives.
TRIBELESS UNLESS COUNTING THE EQUALLY NON-TRIBAL SILENT MAJORITY
My refusal to offer consistent support to any ideological tribe is illustrated by the fact that the permanently angry social media trolls tend to take turns attacking me. Those who always(!) swing behind the same tribe regardless of issue discussed. So many tribal left-wingers are upset with me due to my unreserved Brexit (and Swexit) support. Many tribal libertarians are upset by my consistent criticism of the “relaxed” early response in Sweden to the coronavirus (there should be no doubt that thousands of lives could have been saved if Sweden had done like the rest of the Nordics; closed down during the first 4-6 weeks in order to catch up on at least basic protection gear; Sweden has now ended up as the only country in Europe with an exceptionally low population density and a coronavirus death rate that stands out to such a degree that almost 4 out of 5 Nordic coronavirus deaths have taken place in Sweden). Many tribal Centrists are upset by my claim that during recent years their camp has, for the first time ever, moved into the terrain of destabilising excess. As well as tackled the inevitable pushback through neopaternalism. The nature of the vitriol offered is always much the same. Facts are cherry-picked to fit a politically useful – often black-and white – tribal narrative. Pushback hard to dispute is typically ducked through personal – so called ad hominem – attacks. Such classically tribal deception tactics certainly reflect a depressing side of human nature.
Then again, as disheartening as tribal vitriol can be, especially when on the receiving end, it might be the case that social media platforms, at least in one sense, serve as useful anger outlets. Not unlike, in the past, right-wing gentlemen’s club smoking rooms, middle-class coffee-houses and working men’s pubs. If the consistently angry feel empowered after having insulted people they have mentally painted as “evil enemies”, they might refrain from hurting society in more serious ways. This still leaves the risk that some aggressives are encouraged rather than placated by the kinship enjoyed when joining a social media echo-chamber.
Either way, it must never be forgotten that the people who spend time and energy quarrelling on social media represent only a tiny fraction of the population. Since arguably the vast majority of people neither have the time nor the inclination to waste energy on destructive social media exchanges. There is in fact plenty of reason to think that one much misunderstood non-tribal group is more sizeable than ever before: the silent majority. Only the silent majority seems to shift between individual political positions in precisely the same way as I do. Meaning without paying too much heed to if others label these shifts as right-wing (like over Brexit or my pro-free markets rather than pro-big business stance on economics), left-wing (like when decidedly supporting the phase one coronavirus lockdown) or Centrist (like over the general preference for honest and grown-up balancing acts). So given that my opinion cocktail is very similar to the opinion cocktail of the silent majority it is hard not to feel a strong affinity at least to this “tribe of the tribeless”. Yes, this tribe tends to be heckled from all sides – while per definition not as vocal as the traditional tribes – but during elections it nevertheless exercises considerable clout. So, evidently it has two two sides also when swimming against the traditional tribal tide(s). Needless to say I am immensely grateful for all the uplifting support from others who I suspect also often see themselves as more or less tribeless.
INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATION, YES PLEASE, BUT NOT AT THE COST OF DEMOCRACY
I was born and raised in Sweden and studied at the Stockholm School of Economics (M.Sc Economics). During most of the 21st century I have lived in the United Kingdom. This means I am privileged to have experienced, first-hand, not only the political debate and professional culture of two extraordinary countries; but also the way of life in a general sense. I have simultaneously experienced how the political culture has changed quite dramatically over recent decades. The perhaps most influential general change? In both countries mentioned the connection between politicians and the people was, not long ago, uniquely strong. Rooted in the fact that numerous leaders had spent their formative years on the field of practical reality. Leading to a grassroots understanding of real problems. Slowly but steadily numerous politicians in both countries have slided into the type of top-down territory that typically emanates from too much armchair thinking – and distinguishes just about every unsuccessful society.
Then again, if acknowledging that the weaker connection to realities on the ground is a root cause of today’s troubles there is also a natural way back towards yet again more democratic societies. Including a variety of international co-operation that does not look the other way when democracy is eroded. Meaning showing respect for those previously discriminated as well as for those who have not turned out winners during the globalist transformation. Only thereafter are truly inclusive as well as politically stable societies possible. Most people know this. Much of today’s problems are linked to careerists joining forces, subtly and often unknowingly, to try to make us believe that international co-operation is not possible without transferring considerable amounts of money and power in the direction of – again surprise, surprise – themselves. As soon as a critical mass of people has stopped sanctioning such neopaternalism it is perfectly possible for society to move forward constructively. In fact, this process has already started. Not least, believe it or not, through Brexit. Meaning that for those willing to see beyond the doom-and-gloom there are certainly also many positives.