The Fourth Revolution – The Nordic Future

In the fourth and last installment of our review and commentary on The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State by Micklethwait and Wooldridge, we examine the authors’ contention that Sweden and the other Nordic nations represent the future for the West’s reinvigoration.

Before and After

For most of the twentieth century, Sweden embraced the Fabian ideal for their society. Marquis Childs called their social experiment the “middle way,” one between capitalism and communism. In the nineteen sixties, Sweden moved left as they broadened the meaning of equality in their society. They applied more government and higher taxes to every problem.

Then it ended. Their politicians did what most world leaders know they ought to do but fail because they lack courage. Sweden reduced their public spending in proportion to their GDP. The government required itself to produce a fiscal surplus over the economic cycle. Swedish politicians reinvented the state while reducing its size. They gave their nation’s pension system a sound foundation, they adopted education vouchers, and revamped their health care system.

Sweden focused on reducing waiting times for hospital procedures and on speeding patients through their stays, which also reduced the frequency of hospital communicated diseases. They published data such as operation success rates in health registries for patients and taxpayers to evaluate. And they charged minor fees similar to those that Lee Kuan Yew initiated in Singapore to discourage healthcare system abuse through elective services overconsumption. Swedish health care is now one of the most efficient in the world. Swedes live longer than most in the Western hemisphere and their health costs have decreased too.

Other Nordic countries have improved to a more limited extent. Yet, all four have triple A credit ratings and debt loads below the Eurozone mean. Their economic experiments seem successful. Indices show that they have superior social inclusion, competitiveness, and well-being.

And they’ve done this by serving the individual, employing fiscal responsibility, promoting choice, and encouraging competition. They’ve eschewed state expansion, pump priming, paternalism, and centralized planning. The Nordic countries have extended the market into the state instead of the opposite.

From There to Here

The Nordic countries show what is possible. They had to change because they ran out of money and continued to change because they found they could provide a better state for their citizens.

In 1991, Sweden plunged into their “black of night crisis.” The banking system seized up, foreign investors abandoned their confidence in the third way, and mortgage rates peaked briefly at 500 percent.

In the early 1980s, the people of Denmark faced a “potato crisis.” It was called this because they felt that potatoes might be all they’d be able to afford for their subsistence. Not only was there a cash shortage but the industries which financially supported government programs were strapped.

Now, countries in the West find themselves at or near the same crises. Western states have promised their peoples benefits beyond their ability to provide. The Nordics prove that the state can be brought under control and can be improved for the betterment of their peoples’ future.

But Big Government

History over the last two centuries seems to show that governments grow larger as they accumulate power and control. The Nordic countries provide a counterfactual: government can be contained while its performance and efficiency increases.

The authors pose the question: “How far can you take [the Nordic experiment]?” They argue that neither diminishing productivity returns in the service and government sectors [Baumol’s disease] nor society’s accelerated aging can prevent success. They claim technology is a solution to both problems.

Baumol stated that systems which boost manufacturing productivity are not applicable to the service sector (of which government is a part). The authors suggest that his disease is simply technological lag. As an example, educational efficiency once depended on increasing class sizes.

Now, with the internet, students with drive and grit can access materials from world-class educators. This sort of teaching is even extending into formal classrooms. Accredited degrees are increasingly available online. As a result, universities are having to reconsider the wisdom of administrative bloat and building monuments.

Technology is delayering management and making workers more productive, disseminating health care and school performance data so citizens can make informed choices, and, increasingly, bypassing government by putting power in citizens’ hands.

Law and order, a very labor intensive government function, is also an example. Instead of harsh sentences, increased warehousing, or even a decreasing cohort of young men, the authors maintain that crime prevention is what led to a decrease in crime worldwide starting in the mid 1990s (but varying across the globe). And this decrease has most to do with technology (e.g., CompStat, increased video surveillance, monitored alarms, etc.). Although community policing (directed by CompStat), a hands on solution, is also necessary.

Technology is even reducing costs in the military. By replacing soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guard and air men with automated hardware and software systems, lifecycle costs such as salaries, healthcare, and pensions are decreased. Operations, maintenance, and personnel costs are an overwhelming proportion of total cost of military systems when compared with initial development and procurement costs.

Technology, in the authors’ view, is taking out costs while increasing efficiency in many, if not all, public sector activities.

But Greying Demography

The authors’ ask: “won’t any gains from treating Baumol’s disease be wiped out by demography?” They note that the Nordics have changed the basis for their retirement systems from totally defined benefits to partially defined contributions. Swedes put some of their pension money into private plans. The government indexes the retirement age to life expectancy and decreases pensions during economic declines.

Delaying retirement increases worker payments into the system, reduces outlays, and enhances economic productivity of older workers through entrepreneurial activity and skills transfer. And Sweden made these improvements with cross party consensus: the “people’s home” survives only if finances are handled competently.

A Call to Action

There are many ways to improve the state that increase benefits to citizens while decreasing the cost of (and frustration with) government. While the Left argues cutting government will hurt the poor and the Right cries that expanded welfare will collapse the economy, the authors assert that it’s not a zero sum proposition.

Nineteenth century Victorian liberals went after “Old Corruption” in its various forms. Subsidies for the wealthy and middle classes at the expense of the poor are easy to correct via means testing, flat taxes, and repealing funds for government agencies that provide unfair aid where it is not needed (e.g., if I own suitable land that I have no intention of cultivating, should I be paid for not growing tomatoes or some other crop?). It only takes the will to do it.

Rather than take away from the poor, remedying this one situation actually helps the poor. Entitlement programs on which they depend will not run out if we fix who pays in, for how long, up to how much, and who gets to collect and when. There are many other substantive instances of waste, fraud, and abuse that we’re spending trillions on (i.e., not just shrimp on treadmill studies). Fixing these will make the country run more efficiently, benefit those who really need benefits, and increase citizens confidence in government.

Just as Sweden updated their “middle way,” using capitalist competition to efficiently provide socialist services successfully, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western states can shrink government, improve their economies, and restore confidence in Democracy (or the Republic, in our case) while providing the safety nets they’ve promised to those who need them for as long as they need them.

Halfhearted efforts rooted in selective interests just won’t do. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.

RSA Replay: The Fourth Revolution

ADC Author Interview

We here at Mandated Memoranda Publishing, LLC, are gearing up for a book unveiling. Here’s an author interview for the taking. All we ask is that you use the Q & A ‘as is,’ notify us of your intention to use the material, and send us a link ahead of your post via our email address. Thanks.

MM email address

Book Title: A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation

Author: Adolphus Writer

Publisher: Mandated Memoranda Publishing, LLC

Genre: Science Fiction, Christian Futuristic

Publication date: November 19, 2014

Short author bio:

Adolphus Writer holds a doctorate in theoretical physics. After he graduated, he took a job at a large US defense firm applying his creative and analytical skills to pressing problems. He married Ninja (NEEN–yuh) S. Writer after she completed her service with the German Federal Defense forces.

During the economic downturn spanning the first and second decades of the twenty–first century, his job was eliminated and he was terminated. In early 2012, Adolphus established Mandated Memoranda Publishing, LLC as a way to support the lifestyle to which he and his family had become accustomed. He says they like to eat on a daily basis and stay debt–free.

Book Synopsis:

A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation is the old Dickens’ favorite—A Christmas Carol—reimagined. We now face a monstrous egotist who questions the very premise of his existence and ours.

Images:

ADC Book Cover

ADC Cover quarter scale, Copyrighted, All Rights Reserved

Author

Adolphus Writer Picture

Contact information: mandatedmemorandainquiry at outlook dot com

Purchase link: Amazon Kindle eBook exclusively

Website / Blog: Mandated Memoranda Publishing, LLC

Twitter:

Adolphus Writer (@AdolphusWriter)

Other Social Media:

On Goodreads

On Google+

On Facebook

ABOUT YOUR BOOK AND WRITING PROCESS

Tell us a little about your book.

I think the ADC’s preface sums it up well without giving too much away:

We no longer believe in ghosts, do we? I thought not. But we invest our time and attention in the promise of virtual reality for entertainment and, as some might wish it, our evolutionary destiny. Of course, this is only the latest manifestation of our desire to create our own heaven, on our own terms, here on earth.

A Digital Carol is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol retold with new forms and modern perspectives. No longer do we read a tale of a mean miser who, through sorrowful experiences, becomes kindly. We now face a monstrous egotist who teeters between damnation and redemption.

This speculative fiction story’s goal is not to inspire a more joyous holiday or a more generous spirit, but to question the very premise of our existence. Are we too far into the dark night of the soul for anything but drastic measures?

The chapter titles have more flair than the original story, too:

Preface

Chapter 1 – You Disgust Me, Sir

Chapter 2 – Left Behind? No, Wait

Chapter 3 – Why Were You Holding Out?

Chapter 4 – What I Need From You

Chapter 5 – A Long, Long Way Down

Chapter 6 – Ben’s Recovery

Chapter 7 – A Very Good Year

About the Author

How did you come up with the title?

It’s probably obvious: A Christmas Carol becomes A Digital Carol. Dickens’ used the trope of spiritualism popular in his day. We chose Artificial Intelligence (AI) gone awry popular in ours. Neither Dickens nor we advocate for these movements. Although both stories are set during the Christmas season, we changed our title to A Digital Carol to emphasize the modern nature of the reimagined story.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

If it’s stated anywhere in ADC, we’d have to say that the preface hints most directly at our message:

All of us want to create, in some shape or fashion, our own heaven, on our own terms, here on earth. Whether we believe it or not, we, even as the story’s main character: E. Ben Ezer, teeter between damnation and redemption. We hope this story prompts all readers to question the very premise of their existence.

How much of the book is realistic?

All of it. Of course, at least as of this writing, everything is greatly exaggerated in the story. We have a growing economic divide, jobs automated away, AI demons, Wars, and cries of over–population. We’ve recently experienced a worldwide financial crisis that may not be over. We have wars and rumors of wars raging in places most of us cannot find on a map. We have various elites that view the majority of us as low information and hardly worth the investment (e.g., look at real wages, job statistics, and offshored corporate income). We also have philosophical movements that put agrarian gentrification for the privileged above economic prosperity for all. I could go on as could you.

What is your writing process?

Get to the computer every morning and type until bed time. Yeah, right, as if that would happen. It’s the goal, but we only have that leisure on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays. The rest of the week is broken up by appointments.

Prior to starting a manuscript, we do a lot of daily reading on relevant topics to establish our mindset and a reservoir of facts from which we draw. As the writing progresses, we do less reading each day.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?

We used to use advanced copy readers for early critiques. However, your friends and acquaintances shouldn’t be put on the spot when it comes to bald criticism. And, it’s this kind of criticism that you need. We’ve decided, from now on, to go to paid editing early in the development process.

Several shops offer quick turnarounds and direct communications. Pay the money and get the best you can afford. We chose to do three collaborative editing sessions before a final copyedit phase. I feel we have a better product for it.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Our collaborative editor for our second and third sessions recommended reading 120 pages from The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives by Lajos Egri. Specifically, she recommended the chapter on ‘Conflict’. We read most of the book, actually. The author’s drama principles are useful; his science and philosophy are forgettable.

How long did it take to write your latest release?

Our first manuscript iteration is dated mid–November 2013. We sent the manuscript off for the first collaborative editing session June 2014. We received our manuscript from our third collaborative editing session October 2014. The manuscript is about 21,500 words.

Do you have a favorite line or scene from your latest release?

I think this exchange captures the initial mood of the story:

“No one anticipated the unfortunate events that have taken place, sir. They would rather die than subject their families to these horrors.”—Solicitor for community charity

“Perhaps it’s best that they do die. It reduces the surplus population. We have no need of them all anymore. Not one of them. Worldwide.”—Eli Benjamin Ezer

Eli Benjamin Ezer (also known as E. Ben. Ezer) is our main character. Honestly, I didn’t like the name Scrooge and each of his new names has an interesting meaning. The solicitor reappears later in the story (as his counterpart does in the original story).

ABOUT PUBLISHING AND MARKETING

What are the future plans for you and this book?

After we get the copyedited manuscript back, we’ll generate a PDF file and submit it for reviews at: Kirkus Review, Books and Culture, Publishers Weekly, and Red City Review.

In parallel, we’ll kindlefy the manuscript and post it to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for sale by the end of November 2014. We’re already on Goodreads and plan to hold an event prior to Christmas.

If the reviews are fair to middlin’ or better, we’ll request ADC become a Kindle Single and solicit reviews from newspapers to which we subscribe.

What have you learned during your self-publishing journey?

How to quickly generate clean HTML from Microsoft Word and accurate Amazon KF8 files from the HTML. We have yet to figure out Kindle for iOS to our dismay.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I can remember standing up in class, at age seven, and declaring I wanted to write a book about nuclear energy. I read widely in fiction and non-fiction throughout my schooling and afterwards. I had always planned on writing and publishing after retirement. The economic downturn merely accelerated the schedule.

Have you published anything else?

Mandated Memoranda Publishing, LLC has published Tiānmìng – Mandate of Heaven  as a Kindle edition in June 2013. It is an everyman’s spy adventure – a reluctant journalist’s tale of economic calamity, geologic catastrophe, geopolitical power shifts, and the beginnings of a hands–on surveillance state.

Our second Kindle Edition is Tragic Wonders – Stories, Poems, and Essays to Ponder which presents faith in Christ as a plausible alternative through brief narratives of realism, thriller, and science fiction. It was published on Amazon in December 2013.

What’s next for you?

We plan to release a fourth Kindle edition: Who Shall Be God, a fictional account of the struggles between two families, the Stadists and the Libertas, who live in an east coast US city, north and south of the 38th parallel, respectively. It will be published on Amazon in late 2015 or early 2016.

Our fifth planned Kindle edition is due in late 2016 or early 2017. The working title for this book is China Dream. It’s still in process, as is the dream itself. However, could it turn into a nightmare instead?