Smouldering vehicles on the streets of Paris, an impulsive incumbent in the White House and democracy in retreat from the rising tide of populism around the world. The liberal order in 2019 is wobbling. Climate change, artificial intelligence and an emboldened China loom large in an ever-expanding list of dangerous developments for the West. But for Thomas Friedman, the core challenge of the future remains the same: ‘Safeguarding a system where an average worker returning an average wage can sustain an average middle-class lifestyle’.
Described as ‘the most influential columnist in America’ Friedman is a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, renowned for sharing his thought-provoking, insightful and often controversial opinions on the pressing issues of the day. From the first Lebanon War to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, he has long been at the forefront of geopolitical and economic upheaval during nearly four decades at The New York Times.
Today, his focus is how the world can survive and thrive in a new era of accelerating change and uncertainty. 2019 presents us with a whole web of challenges because of dramatic changes in technology, demographics, the environment and globalization that are reaching critical mass.
For Friedman, reverting to nostalgic nationalism is not a solution. Neither is doubling down on a globalisation which dislodges the very things which provide people with a sense of belonging. As France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, recently saw in the gilets jaunes protests sweeping France, when people feel their sense of home, job security and social norms are under attack, the result can be a ferocious blowback.
For Friedman real solutions start with decentralising power. The nations with the most nimble cities, the most nimble local leaders, who build adaptive coalitions of businesses, educators and social entrepreneurs will be best placed to suceed locally, nationally and globally in the new era.
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