“Unchecked, Moody’s warns, chronic iniquity will retard the nation’s creditworthiness by, among others things, laying the seed-bed for social and political unrest.”
In last month’s Promontory, I looked back indulgently to an era when news programs were limited to 22 minutes long and the country’s three broadcasters shut down after midnight—which, given what 24-news has done to our national cognition, is looking better with every election cycle.
This month, mindful of the fact that he who embraces the past for the sake of it risks becoming an artifact himself, I will meditate on two evolving—but starkly divergent trends of the future.
From Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) comes a fascinating look at the coming tech-utopia thanks to secular breakthroughs in data harvesting and Artificial Intelligence (AI), among other applications—the turbine for which is 5G, the next phase of the world’s telecommunication standard.
“We believe the world will transform at its fastest pace in human history over the next five years,” according to Thematic Investing: Transforming World – The Next Five Years, the creative energy of which “will accelerate even further over the next five years because of the exponential growth in computing power and the rise of a global, connected world.”
Unlike its predecessors, 5G will be uniquely endowed with enough speed, capacity and connectivity to transform the way we work, shop, travel educate and create. Consider how a single sector of the economy—auto production and its related industries—may metamorphose if duly enabled by 5G. As electrical vehicles gradually expand market share—42% of total auto sales by 2030, BAML estimates—so too will the culture of auto transport become more communal, as ride-hailing, car-sharing and multi-modal transport integrating cars, buses and bicycles become a dominant fashion of mobility.
At the same time, relators will mine new opportunities as parking garages and filling stations go the way of the drive-in theatre; auto suppliers will spin-off new technologies as will the battery, mining, utilities, software and semiconductors sectors. But beware OF the new paradigm’s Darwinian sensitivity: “old energy (oil & gas) and those automakers that are slow to adapt will be most at risk of disruption.”
We will, in the future as rendered by BAML, witness a quantum leap in Big Data and AI and leverage such innovations as wireless cloud-based office computing, Virtual and Augmented Reality applications—the latter of which can digitally replicate not only what beings see but also what they touch and smell. Tactile internet, which will intensify the speed and depth of computing across a spectrum of industrial, social and business uses, is also an exciting prospect within this rapidly growing sector.
As BAML puts it, “We see traditional industries jumping on the Big Data bandwagon and creating value by analyzing vast amounts of their data. Technology, semiconductor and software companies are poised to transform employment trends across the world.”
Compare this heady herald to the near-dystopic outlook from Moody’s, the Wall Street rating agency and brain trust. It focuses on the looming consequences of income inequality in America, which like so many of our fiscal challenges, has been neglected in Washington in direct proportion to its importance.
Unchecked, Moody’s warns, chronic iniquity will retard the nation’s creditworthiness by, among others things, laying the seed-bed for social and political unrest. For example, growing hiring bias toward specific job skills may restrict affordable access to education, while vertiginous levels of student-loan debt will weigh on future wealth accumulation among young adults.
“Income inequality could negatively affect economic growth and its sustainability,” according to the report. “Greater inequality can also be associated with weaker government institutions, undermining the sovereign’s overall institutional strength.”
Moody’s dates America’s concentration of income—which it notes is unique in the developed world—to the mid-1990s and the advent of the globalization of trade and labor, as well as technological automation. The 2008 financial crisis worsened the inequity gap until the share of pre-tax income received by the top 1% had risen from 13.3% in 2009 to 14.6% in 2011, according to a recent survey by the Congressional Budget Office.
Wealth concentration will likely obligate higher federal outlays to support lower-income households that Moody’s says is unlikely to be offset by revenue raising measures following recent tax cuts. Social tensions will continue to rise, “leading to a more fractious political landscape that increases political risk, and with it a less predictable policy environment.”
Read together, the BAML and Moody’s reports seem to be written for eras as estranged from each other as The Gilded Age and some Post-Modern Xanadu. Perhaps 5G, with its leveling energy, can unravel the concentrations that interested parties like Moody’s—if not Congress—are so concerned about.
After all, what’s the point of building a new telecommunication standard in Xanadu if only a handful of people can afford to live there?