Guess what? All that populist resistance to free trade seems to be working: The volume of global trade stopped growing in the first quarter of 2016 and actually dropped in the second — marking the first time since the Second World War that trade volume declined during a period of economic growth (The New York Times).
Don’t expect that to change any time soon, writes Binyamin Appelbaum: The Walmart revolution is over, India’s trajectory is different from China’s, and the only thing that’s spreading round the world right now is resistance to lowering trade barriers.
One big problem is that when free trade was riding high, its benefits, in Western democracies at least, went mostly to the very rich. The economy globalized, and all we got was this lousy pay cut! Another problem was that politicians and policymakers oversold trade’s benefits in the first place. Says economist Dani Rodrik: “If the demagogues and nativists making nonsensical claims about trade are getting a hearing, it is trade’s cheerleaders that deserve some of the blame.”
Last week policy shapers from Washington DC traveled to San Francisco to meet with representatives from across Silicon Valley to promote the Blockchain Trust Accelerator. The event was chaired by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Albright currently serves as Chairman of the National Democratic Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that promotes democracy around the world. The initiative is also sponsored by New America, a technology think tank, and by Bitfury, a full-service Blockchain technology company.
Blockchain, the core technology behind Bitcoin, is receiving a lot of attention from the financial sector and beyond (both Debby Hopkins of Citi, and Bruce Aust of Nasdaq mention it in our Shift Dialogs series). Blockchain’s distributed encryption creates a public, audit-able transaction ledger without any intermediaries. The reason why blockchain works for a currency like Bitcoin is because it cannot be manipulated or gamed. In other words, it provides canonical records that cannot be corrupted.
This functionality has captured the imagination of policy makers because of the obvious benefits for tasks like property records, voting, health care records, identity, market clearance, etc. Blockchain can help assure these transactions are done with transparency and without manipulation.
The energy industry is on the cusp of a revolution. Solar power prices continue to fall, monolithic power stations look financially foolhardy, and electric vehicles and better battery storage are no longer just a dream. Last year’s Paris Climate Agreement also injected fresh urgency into efforts to tackle climate change. And consumers are sick of paying over the odds to heat and power their homes.
Energy suppliers are well aware of the impending disruption to their industry. According to the PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Global Power & Utilities Survey 2015, 97% expect to see a medium to very high level of market disruption by 2020, 73% anticipate major or very major business model transformation by 2030, and 60% say their main home market will be more than ‘50% transformed’ by 2030.