I recently went to the launch of Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna’s book, the Age of Discovery, at Bloomsbury. The book and subsequent article by Ian Goldin in the Guardian, draws parallels between our current age and that of the Renaissance – the last time an “information super spreader” (in that case printing) allowed ideas to travel “farther and faster than had ever been possible”. It shows how in the last 25 years since the advent of the internet, we have seen revolutions in technology, demography, health and economics similar to those of the Renaissance and these are also accompanied by “a flourishing of genius [that] accelerates us even more.”
As in the Renaissance, however, there is also a downside to
“the connective and developmental forces that fuel human imagination […] Humanity’s gains in this age, while great, have been and will be greatly uneven […] disillusionment is spreading rapidly, and it is rotting away the social bargain upon which humanity’s overall flourishing depends.”
The book finishes with recommendations to allow us to harness the benefits (and avoid the downsides) of this New Renaissance.
With interesting evidence presented by ricocheting between the 15th and 21st Century, it’s a highly recommended read, particularly while we’re in the midst of the current unedifying, evidence-light referendum contest. Here are some of my favourite bits of data from the book:
– Trade is now twice as important to the global economy as it was 25 years ago –the combined value of annual cross border goods services and money flows has risen from just over 20% of global GDP in 1990 to 40% today – in money terms from about $5 trillion in 1990 to $30 trillion today.
– Traded goods accounted for only one 1/7th of global GDP in 1990 , in 2014 it is one quarter – ie, one out of every four dollars worldwide comes from selling goods to other countries – the value of that merchandise is $19 trillion in 2014 vs $3.5 trillion in 1990.
– In 1990 all of the world’s top ten container ports were in the developed economies, by 2014 fourteen of the top 25 are in the developing world and 7 of the top ten are in China. Shanghai (the world’s busiest port since 2011) did not even appear in the top 25 in 1990.
– Cross border financial flows are up from $1 trillion in 1990 to over $12 trillion in 2007 – now down again as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, but $4.5 trillion of debt and equity still crosses borders annually.
– Between 1990 and 2014 the worldwide total of international tourist arrivals rose from 440 million to 1.4 billion visits. Since 2011 international flights have outnumbered domestic.
– Globally some 17 million people migrate to a new country each year. In the UK in the first decade of the 21st century immigrants paid in, via taxes and other public goods some $150 billion more than they took out via state benefits. Natives over the same period withdrew a net $1 trillion.
– Extreme poverty is a far less common picture than it was 25 years ago …between 1990 and 2014 real per capita incomes rose in 146 of the 166 countries for which data available and global real GDP per capita in 2014 crossed $8,000, almost 40% higher than 1990 levels.
– In 1980, 44% of the global population was illiterate now it has fallen to one sixth – in just over a generation humanity has added three billion literate brains to its ranks – among the youth illiteracy is just 10% and dropping.
– In 2015, a greater share of humanity 95% has access to at least a 2G cellular phone coverage than to electricity (82%).
“We live in a golden age, for more people in more places than ever before now is the best time to be alive […] But massive challenges remain – there are still nearly one billion people who live on under $2 a day.”
Ian Goldin is Director of the Oxford Martin School and Professor of Globalisation and Development at the University of Oxford. Chris Kutarna is a Fellow of the Oxford Martin School.
Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance by Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna – 19 May 2016, Bloomsbury