Dirk Helbing: Decomplexing the globe

Globalization has made the world an over-connected system. And having too many links in a system can create systemic risks, writes ETH professor Dirk Helbing in our "Outlook 2017" – like financial crisis in 2008/9 or populism today. He makes a proposal to decomplex the globe.
9 January, 2017 by
Dirk Helbing: Die Welt entkomplexen
GDI Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute

We all enjoy global exchange for years, with people travelling and goods trading all around the globe. But as fine as it looks – this current globalization approach doesn't seem to work out well. We can see it especially when it comes to global decision making. The concept of one board of people (however you call it, whoever is in it) that would basically take decisions for all the globe, the belief that the very same rules would apply everywhere, that very same solutions could be implemented everywhere – all that doesn't seem to work.

This problem was mostly seen as a bug that can be fixed. But we are about to learn that it’s a systemic flaw, and beyond repair. One solution that fits all, one size that fits all, it simply won’t work. The globalization paradigm has lead us to pretty much over-connected systems. Just like we have experienced it in the financial system a decade ago: Having too many links in a system can create systemic risks. The populism we’re experiencing right now might be seen as a reaction in an over-connected political system: a cascading effect.

Learning this, we’re about to get into a new paradigm: glocalization instead of globalization. Thinking global, acting local. Coming up with local solutions that leave degrees of freedom for local cultures, local approaches to innovation and interactivity. Glocalization is not about cutting our global links – but it’s about declomplexing the globe.

How do we get there? One possibility, maybe not the best but one we could consider and should debate, is pricing links. By linking something you raise the complexity of the whole system, and in over-connected systems this means that you raise the risk. And raising a risk should have a price. So if links are priced – or taxed – people would think before they link: Which links are really important? Important for me, important for my purpose, important for the financial or political or social system.

The pricing of links would also be a possibility to raise some money for the public creation of open data and digital platforms that our societies benefit from. Just as we are spending money on public roads and on all sorts of infrastructure the economy and society needs, we should also spend some money on digital catalysts for our future economy and society.

More from Helbing on this topic:

Globally networked risks and how to respond

The Automation of Society Is Next: How to Survive the Digital Revolution

(Free version)

Dirk Helbing is Professor of Computational Social Science at ETH Zurich, who specialises in issues of decision-making in complex systems.

“Outlook 2017”: These days are not just the beginning of a new year, they carry some transition or even disruption feeling: new conflicts, new actors, new risks. And, obviously, new opportunities. In the context of the “Future of Power“ conference the GDI asks speakers and further global experts, what they think what we are to expect. Their answers add up to our “Outlook 2017“.

Further reads:
Fred Turner: What happens when you free media
Venkatesh Rao: The need for a blue collar cosmopolitanism

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