European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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18 December 2017

Two narratives, one future


In a recent Foresight Brief, ETUI General Director Philippe Pochet attempts to draw together the narratives of two major trends which will determine what the future will look like in the coming decades: climate change and the digitalisation of the economy. They have both been subject to separate analyses, but so far there does not seem to have been any unified approach to reconciling these two ‘alternative futures’.

The author argues that each of these two narratives have two versions, in which changes are seen either as a result of a radical evolution or of a revolution involving a paradigm shift. In order to overcome the disconnection between the different narratives, Philippe Pochet suggests ranking them, putting the environmental transition in first place as it is “crucially important, and failure to achieve it will leave us unable to turn back the clock”. The new technological revolution, on the contrary, is “merely the third, fourth or fifth technological revolution of capitalism”.

The two narratives share the conviction that there will be a break with the past, and they are both “rooted in an unshakable faith in the merits of technology”. The concept of “life-long learning” that the European Commission has been putting forward for quite some time now is another area of common ground between the climate change and technology narratives.

There are crucial differences between them, however, when it comes to the preferred level of action and the trade-off between competition and cooperation. The political alliances of stakeholders also vary according to which narrative is being looked at: digitalisation is based on capitalist platforms while climate change requires large sections of the population to reach a “broad and lasting consensus”. 

Pochet argues that we are currently witnessing a transition to green capitalism which has happened “much more quickly than expected […] and it could be argued that investments will snowball, R&D efforts will intensify and there will be a cumulative impact as more and more people get on board”. One obvious example of this is the production of electric cars, which are said to become no more expensive than conventional cars within the next eight years. In other words, capitalism is already undergoing a double transformation: green and digital.

In order for trade unions and other social actors to gain influence in the debate on our future, Pochet argues that in the short term they should try to form broad alliances, preferably in large cities, to build “an increasingly powerful force for change”, with the issue of inequality as an important common focus. In the longer term, “a commitment to placing the issue of redistribution at the top of the political agenda” is crucial.

Download here the full text of the Foresight Brief.

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