Jacques Attali is a French leading economist, author, political strategist and public intellectual. Formerly a key adviser to France’s president François Mitterrand, he was then the first president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, founded the nonprofit PlaNet Finance (which focuses on assisting microfinance institutions), and was president of the Commission on French Economic Growth. He has authored more than fifty books, including essays and novels. Privately, he has a passion for music and recently conducted in Jerusalem a performance of Ravel’s Concerto in G. His talk will discuss the current global context, outlining key trends and inflection points, touching in particular on the economic crisis and the parallel governance crisis.
As the author of “Stories of Time”, Jacques Attali knows a thing or two about time. He’s also something of an expert on the hourglasses he collects. At the last Forum de la Haute Horlogerie, however, he focused on some of the big societal changes that are taking place right now, or are on the horizon. He believes that demography and technical innovation have always been the two greatest sources of change in the history of the world. Between now and 2050, the global population is due to reach 9 billion, increasing from 7 billion today, of which two thirds will be living in urban areas and 1.5 billion will be resident in a country that is not their country of origin. The most surprising leap in figures will without doubt be seen in Africa, where the population is expected to double, hitting 2 billion by the end of the 21st century. As a result, the number of French speakers will settle at 700 million, in contrast with today’s 220 million
In terms of technical innovation, just as the invention of the rudder or the printing press triggered significant change in the past, developments in nanotechnology, biotechnology and neuroscience herald the biggest transformations we are going to see in society. But it takes Jacques Attali to point out that the wealthiest are always the first to enjoy the fruits of progress; an elite little club with fortunes growing at unprecedented levels. Jacques Attali believes that if nothing is done, half of the inhabitants on Earth will be living on less than 2 dollars a day in 50 years’ time
Sharing his thoughts on global geopolitical relations, the strategist moves beyond national specifics to outline the role and place of individual freedom in tomorrow’s world, a challenge of fundamental importance. In terms of governance, he regards democracy as a direct expression of individual freedom because it gives each and every person the right to a voice. Economically, it is reflected by the markets: every individual has liberty to spend their capital as they see fit. But the situation is paradoxical: markets are globalised, yet governments still operate at a national level. This dichotomy must be overcome or harmony is impossible and we risk, above all, a tendency to drift towards totalitarianism
But individual freedom raises the principle of loyalty, which is challenged by the desire to defend one’s own, narcissistic interests. Applied to society as a whole, this philosophy of looking out for oneself to the exclusion of all others is illustrated in particular by a drop in the birth rate, spelling potential danger for future generations. The short-term imperative, whether political or economic, kills the altruism required for the long-term vision that society needs. Are we not right to criticise our current leaders for this lack of foresight? Loyalty and trust are part of a balance that it is vital we achieve in the future. Such a balance is the only thing that will enable us to navigate around history’s black holes: those periods of profound change that bring about the unfortunate rise of the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini.
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