Threats to Our Prosperity

Question: What are some possible threats to future business \r\nprosperity?

Joe Bower: Our research project involved \r\ntalking with a number of business leaders and showing them some of the \r\nscenarios developed by the World Bank for the long-term future and \r\nasking them what they thought it meant for business leaders.  And I’m in\r\n the middle of finishing with some colleagues a book that we hope will \r\nbe a fantastic answer to your question.  But basically, what we can see \r\nis that the way things are playing out is very uncomfortable.  The \r\nfuture could involve substantial breakdowns so that the people who were \r\ninvolved in our research were very concerned about capital markets long \r\nbefore the crisis.  They saw the volatility, they saw the extent to \r\nwhich the capital markets were drifting away from their function of \r\nserving industrial markets and were simply trading systems, and they \r\nwere very concerned about it’s implication. When you look at any set of \r\nforecasts, what you see is growing in equality of income within \r\ncountries and then across countries really bad.  So that even though \r\nChina and India, by say 2050 or 2040 are expected to have together as \r\nmuch as say 40 percent of the world's GDP, the people in those countries\r\n will still have incomes that are, like, a third of those in developed \r\nnations, on average.

And the averages are a problem because even\r\n if you look at those nations, what you see are... the poor are coming \r\nup, but we’re getting staggering – somebody said China now has 62 \r\nbillionaires, something like that.  Well, that kind of inequality is \r\nvery rough in an age where television makes everything visible to \r\neveryone... on their cell phones.  So, inequality then leads to \r\nmigration.  That can be highly destabilizing. And so we see, for \r\nexample, in Europe, a population that’s shrinking because of age, \r\nWestern Europe, and what do the voters want?  The voters want more \r\nbenefits, they want lower taxes, they want shorter working weeks, and \r\nthey want no immigration.  So, what we’re looking at is... we’re moving \r\ntowards a something that’s going to break down.

And so what is \r\nthe role of business leaders?  The role of business leaders is, as a \r\ncommunity globally, to recognize these problems and to start making a \r\ndifference and interestingly, there are companies that are doing just \r\nthat.  A few are based in the United States, more outside.

Question:\r\n What are some examples of companies making a difference?

Joe\r\n Bower: If you look at... China Mobile is getting most of it’s \r\ngrowth these days by bringing cell phones to essentially a million \r\nvillages, they’re getting down to the village level.  They’ve built a \r\ndistribution system that’s amazing.  With those cell phones, they can \r\nnow provide market information to what are essentially farmers.  They’re\r\n going to probably, if the government will let them, provide banking for\r\n that.  So, it’s a business that’s a solution.  If these people are \r\npoor, bring them into the market system.  And we’re seeing if people \r\ndon’t have homes, find a way to help them build homes, that’s what Cemex\r\n is doing.  And figure out how to distribute to that level and finance \r\nit.

Then if you look at something like IBM, IBM has put the \r\nheadquarters of it’s market facing activities for emerging markets in \r\nShanghai—not in Armonk—and they’re working to provide the information \r\nsystems so that those companies who are trying to do that can do it.  \r\nThat’s where the future of the market is.  Essentially the business \r\nversion of that nightmare that I was describing is: Do you want to spend\r\n your life fighting for the one-third of the market that’s well \r\ndeveloped and in which every company in the world is present and \r\nfighting, or do you want to be a leader developing the two-thirds of the\r\n world’s market that has no competition?  So, that’s taking that big \r\nproblem that I described and saying, “Well, wait a minute, that’s a huge\r\n opportunity.”  And that I think is what’s before us.  We either develop\r\n that opportunity or face some very, very uncomfortable problem. 

Recorded April 1, 2010

Even though China and India are expected to have as much as 40 percent of the world's GDP by midcentury, incomes in those countries will still be one-third of those in developed nations.

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