Chris Kutarna says this is the best time in history to be alive. We’re healthier, wealthier and better educated than at any other time in history…so why are we so miserable?
Kutarna is a Fellow at the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University. He argues we’re experiencing a second Renaissance—an amped-up version of the first Renaissance which swept through Europe from 1450 to 1550.
The Economist isn’t quite so dramatic; it says we’ve entered the Third Industrial Revolution, the age of digital manufacturing.
I prefer Kutarna’s characterization because it recognizes we’re in the throes of significant social, technological, economic and political disruption.
We’ll bring this conversation back to Alberta politics in a second, but first a little background.
The first Renaissance started in Florence in 1450. The second Renaissance started around 1990 and isn’t tied to a specific geography, being fueled by events like the end of the Cold War, the emergence of the World Wide Web and globalization.
The Gutenberg press revolutionized the speed with which ideas could be communicated across Europe but the speed and breadth of communicating via the internet leaves Gutenberg in the dust.
Renaissance 1.0 saw advances in science and technology that changed the way Europeans viewed the planet (hello New World), the heavens and themselves. The second Renaissance pushed the frontiers of science and medicine, automation and robotics to the point where we no longer treat the human body we transform it at the molecular level; we no longer view the night sky with telescopes we map the universe with computers and digital cameras.
The first Renaissance saw the rise of charismatic leaders like Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican friar who came to Florence with a plan to make Florence great again. He promised that pious living and a renewed belief in God would oust the corrupt Medici, save Florence from the Turks to the East and the French to the West and deliver to each of his followers wealth and power beyond their wildest dreams.
I don’t need to draw you a picture, do I.
We can’t keep up with the changes brought by Renaissance 2.0 but we do know the gains and losses haven’t been equally distributed.
Those who own the banks and the factories win, those who don’t lose. The computer technology that enhances our lives is used by the state to limit our freedom.
We’re 26 years into the cycle and we’re fed up. We refuse to do what’s expected of us.
Britain chose Brexit. Germany, France, Belgium and Austria rejected the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership. The Republicans chose Trump and many Democrats prefer Bernie Saunders.
Canadians rejected the status quo as well. They chose Trudeau over Harper and Rachel Notley over Jim Prentice (remember him?)
Who is in the best position to govern?
It’s been a little over a year since Albertans replaced the Progressive Conservatives with the New Democrats, but many Albertans think they’ve made a colossal mistake and want to unite the right in order to reinstate the Good Old Boys and bring back the Good Old Days.
If we are indeed embarking on the second Renaissance this would be a terrible mistake.
Alberta’s government needs a clear vision and exceptional courage to meet the challenges of fundamental global change.
The Notley government has been in power for just over a year. It’s demonstrated it has the vision and discipline to take the long view.
It shored up the energy sector by implementing forward looking policies like the Climate Leadership Plan to reduce greenhouse gasses and repair the sector’s reputation. At the same time the government cut the industry some slack on the Royalty Review.
The government offered incentives to value-added industries like petrochemicals and plastics and encouraged the development of the renewable energy sector.
It’s diversifying the economy by supporting other sectors. The food industry recently overtook refined petroleum products as the largest manufacturing sector in the province.
It turned the conservative tax model upside down by increasing corporate taxes and introducing a progressive income tax regime favouring middle and lower wage earners.
It increased the minimum wage.
These strategic changes will improve Alberta’s economy over the long run while insulating Albertans from changes imposed on Alberta’s economy by forces beyond its borders.
What has the Opposition done?
The Wildrose spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing the ND’s economic and social policies but has yet to produce any viable alternatives. They lack a long term strategy and their short term policies are incoherent. (For a scathing review of their beer policy, the “6-Pack Plan for Alberta Beer Producers and Consumers” policy, check out this blog by beer industry insider Jason Foster).
The Progressive Conservatives wisely refuse to support the Wildrose’s antiquated social policies, choosing instead to criticize the ND’s economic policies.
Both parties repeat the same mantra—“cut taxes, balance the budget”.
This isn’t a vision for the future, it’s a return to the status quo which fails to address the challenges Alberta faces today—a one-trick pony economy and deficits in healthcare, education and infrastructure.
What can we do?
The second Renaissance is happening right before our eyes.
Luckily Alberta elected a radically different government with the foresight to address 21st century challenges with 21st century policies which will ensure the benefits and the losses created by rampant change are borne by all Albertans.
Now is not the time to reinstate the Good Old Boys and bring back the Good Old Days. They failed to deliver when they were in power and there’s no reason to expect anything has changed.
Kutarna says there’s a long and interesting history waiting to be written. Let’s make sure we’re the ones writing it.