The Shape of Things to Come: A Novel

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The Shape of Things to Come is a work of science fiction by H. Wells , published in , which speculates on future events up to the year A long economic slump causes a major war that leaves Europe devastated and threatened by plague. The nations with the strongest air-forces set up a benevolent dictatorship that paves the way for world peace by abolishing national divisions, enforcing the English language, promoting scientific learning and outlawing religion. The enlightened world-citizens are able to depose the dictators peacefully, and go on to breed a new race of super-talents, able to maintain a permanent utopia.

Others, such as the withering of state-power and the dissolution of Islam were wide of the mark. As a frame story , Wells claims that the book is his edited version of notes written by an eminent diplomat, Dr Philip Raven, who had been having dream visions of a history textbook published in and wrote down what he could remember of it. It is split into five separate sections or "books":. The Shape of Things to Come was written as a future history. Roosevelt 's failure to implement the New Deal and revive the US economy and Adolf Hitler 's failure to revive the German economy by rearmament causes the worldwide economic crisis to continue for thirty years, concurrently with the war, as described above.

Wells predicted a Second World War breaking out with a European conflagration from the flashpoint of a violent clash between Germans and Poles at Danzig. Wells set the date for this as January — quite close to the actual date of September But where Wells' imagined war sharply diverges from the actual WWII is in Poland proving a military match for Germany — and they engage in an inconclusive war lasting ten years. More countries are eventually dragged into the fighting, but France and the Soviet Union are only marginally involved, the United Kingdom remains neutral, and the United States fights inconclusively with Japan.

The Austrian Anschluss happens during, rather than before, the war. Wells' prediction was widely off the mark with regard to Spain , which the book assumed would manage to stay away from the violent passions sweeping the rest of Europe — where in fact the Spanish Civil War would become the main focus of these passions, two years after Shape of Things to Come was published. Evidently, Wells greatly overestimated the influence of Spanish Liberals such as Unamuno on Spanish society as a whole.

Wells correctly predicted that the coming war would involve both sides launching heavy bombings of each other's main cities his detailed depiction of the destroyed Unter Den Linden closely predicted the boulevard's actual fate in the war. However, Wells was wrong in assuming that land fighting would quickly bog down as in World War I , and that the idea of using tanks to develop a war of movement would come to naught.

Wells predicted that submarines would become the launching pads for "air torpedoes" i. Wells' predicted war ends with no victor but total exhaustion, collapse and disintegration of all the fighting states and of the neutral countries, equally affected by the deepening economic crisis. The whole world descends into chaos: nearly all governments break down, and a devastating plague in and kills a large part of humanity and almost destroys civilization.

Wells then envisages a benevolent dictatorship , "The Dictatorship of the Air", arising from the controllers of the world's surviving transport systems, who are the only people with global power. This dictatorship promotes science , enforces Basic English as a global lingua franca and eradicates all religions , setting the world on the road to a peaceful utopia. When the dictatorship chooses to murder a subject, the condemned person is given a chance to take a poison tablet modeled on the Hemlock given to Socrates. The achievement of a classless society is not via a Marxist Dictatorship of the Proletariat , an idea which Wells completely rejected.

Rather, the working class is massively "pulled upwards" and completely eliminated in several generations of intensive upward social mobility — in effect leaving a humanity entirely composed of "middle class intellectuals". The limited amount of physical labor still needed is performed by the world's youths, undergoing two years of "labor conscription" instead of the no longer needed military conscription. Eventually, after about years of reshaping humanity, the Dictatorship of the Air is overthrown in a completely bloodless coup , the former rulers are sent into a very honourable retirement, and the world state "withers away".

The Shape of Things to Come

The last part of the book is a detailed description of the utopian world that emerges. The ultimate aim of this utopian world is to produce a world society composed entirely of polymaths , each and every one of its members the intellectual equal of the greatest geniuses of the past. The book displays one of the earliest uses of the abbreviation "C. One of the major aspects of the creation of the World State is the abolition of all organised religion—an act deemed indispensable to give the emerging "Modern State" a monopoly over education and the complete ability to mould new generations of humanity.

The abolition of Islam is carried out by the Air Police, who "descend upon Mecca and close down the main holy places", apparently without major incident. Eventually, Islam disappears, its demise accelerated by the decay of Arabic and its replacement by "an expanded English". Some twenty mosques survive, deemed to be worthy of preservation on architectural grounds. The Lebanese-American scholar George Nasser remarked on this aspect of Wells' book: "In the imagined by HG Wells, a self-appointed ruling elite composed mainly of Westerners, with one Chinese and one Black African and not a single Arab member, would establish itself in the Arab and Muslim city of Basra and calmly take the decision to completely extinguish and extirpate the Muslim religion The notion of growth, expressed in the increase of the sum of all traded goods according to market prices, enables the observation of how scarcity is relevant to society.

In this observational form of the economy, economic growth is the predominant means to overcome scarcity via investing in markets with optimal returns and trading monetized goods via the price mechanism. With this self-observational form of the economy of modern society, it becomes clear that we are dealing with a growth economy — economic growth is hegemonic and orients all economic activities towards more growth Schmelzer, It should be added that we are dealing with the form of the modern economy, an economic system unfolding over a period of several hundred years and coming into full force in the 20th century Luhmann, If we wanted to observe the economy in pre-modern times like the economy of Roman Europe, it would look rather different.

Markets how we come to know them were nonexistent before the 11th century Casson and Lee, ; money in the modern form of bank money was unknown Ryan-Collins et al.

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Instead of money, we would probably see property of both land and people as the contexts of the problem of scarcity. In using the Brownian notation, we can formalize, in a single picture, very precisely what is happening in such a complex system like the economy without having to explain the whole story in detail in sequential sentences. Whoever is familiar with this notation understands what is shown.

At the same time, the core ideas of the cross, being both a description of what is there as well as an operation to move from one side of the distinction to the other, enables us to understand this form of the economy as a dynamic interplay of contexts, referring to each other and changing each other simultaneously. One is the context of the other, yet all influence each other. You can, of course, focus on a specific sequence; e. There is no causality assumed in form theory. Rather, it offers analytical flexibility when applying the indicational notation.

In his article on The form of the firm , Baecker a continues drawing crosses around organizational issues, thus giving a form-theoretical model of a company. In order to establish a point of departure incorporating the contextual changes already underway in the economy, we chose to reconstruct the form of the firm slightly differently, placing more emphasis on the economic contexts detailed in the form of the economy.

In doing so, we enable the form of the economy to change along the lines of other contextual changes in business, technology, the natural environment and society, revealing the nature of the post-growth economy. This will also change some of the reentry operations; that is, it changes the foci of observations in the economic reasoning of a company. We substitute X with its own underlying equation, thus changing the equation for the form of the firm. This is a generative step, though nothing truly new is added. We merely rearrange the form of the firm with a stronger focus on the economic contexts between the organization and society.

The following description shows how this rearrangement unfolds, step by step. First, we start with the product as the basal operation of the firm. Any firm, be it predominantly economic or not, aligns itself around the production of its product. This defines the firm more than anything else. Production of the product then implies technology as the context of the product. The distinction between product and technology is reentered i. Through work, technologies and technological knowledge are oriented towards the creation of a product and, moreover, demanding some form of organization as the context of work Scheiber, Organization, understood as a nexus of decisions that is distinguishable from other nexuses of decisions i.

Work in the modern economy is always work in a, more or less, hierarchical organization that defines goals, outcomes and operations of the work process. The entire field of operations research is focused on the relation of technology and product in an organizational setting Schmenner and Swink, Drawing the next distinction enters the economy into the equation. We have chosen to start with scarcity as the core problem of the economy, thus making scarcity the core problem in the environment of the organization.

The question of scarcity is translated into the question of the business case of the product. How can we sell the product that is our business?

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If you view the interrelation of product, technology and organization from a business perspective, you construct the form of strategic management. Strategic management is then clearly visible as the reflexive operation that converts scarcity into business. Reentering scarcity into the product creates the need for accounting as self-observation Ahrens and Chapman, It is interesting to note that accounting is not as fundamental as organizing for work or developing a business strategy.

In the hierarchy of nested contexts in the form of the firm, however, accounting is hovering above all of them. This dominance of accounting in the form matches the empirical world of companies and their decisions quite accurately, where there is a dominance of accounting over most other functions Burns and Vaivio, ; Kaplan, The difference towards money as the medium of economic transaction and the relation to the product via prices is sheer necessity.

Only from an environment of monetary calculations can accounting derive its importance, only through accounting money, calculating costs and prices, can the product be made sensitive to a resource-scarce environment.


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Where do all the products go? The next distinction answers this question: markets, understood as the inner environment of the economy in which all communication about exchange of goods and the valuation of their property rights occur Viskovatoff, The prices with which accounting relates scarcity to products are negotiated on markets, and through this process, investment decisions become both necessary and meaningful.

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Through calculating returns on investments, a company can decide what products to develop and manufacture for what markets. Return-oriented thinking, be it internal to the company or external via investment funds and banks, even trumps accounting in the firm of today. Products then become the vehicle for investments, while organizations are mere containers of investment processes and their associated returns. Introducing society as the final distinctions, we observe that it most likely does not relate to the company and its product by corporate culture, as Baecker suggested, but by plain and simple growth.

Growth of sales, growth of market share, growth of accounting and investment measures, most prominently cash flow and return on investment follow logically from the form we constructed here. The form of the growth economy inserted into the form of the firm leads to companies that are obsessed with growth, just like the rest of society van Griethuysen, The final distinction drawn by Baecker, extending somewhat the form of the economy, is the human individual.

get link The individual here can be the customer, the NGO activist, the worker, the manager or whatever individual or group might be a stakeholder, even the most distant relation Freeman, Instead of philosophy being the reentry here, thus reminding us about everything that is not economical or firm-oriented, we relate it to the firm and its product via consumption. Within a firm of the growth economy, the individual cannot be observed outside a consumptive relation with it. Individuals consume as workers, as activists, as managers, as politicians from the actions of the firm.

In the firm of the growth economy, philosophy is replaced by consumerism Miles, The revised form of the firm can then be depicted as in Figure 9 and used as an analytical device for understanding corporate reality. You can zoom in to certain context like the relation of product, technology and organization when you are concerned with OR issues, keeping in mind the other context that may influence decisions about reorganizing the firm; or the relation of markets, money and scarcity in order to make sense of investment decisions, pricing strategies and accounting measures; or the seemingly distant relation between the individual, your organization and scarcity, thus understanding that all business strategy has to aim for a business case fixed on consumption of a product.

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They have been changing for quite a while, with the development of information technology and the deregulation of global markets. At the same time, ecological aspects from the natural environment have been marked in communication as limits, barriers, new forms of scarcity, as well as new business opportunities in the guise of green and clean tech.

Especially the advent of the computer, understood as a system of connected networks of algorithmic computing capabilities, most notably the internet, has stirred discussions about a new economy beyond mere speculative bubbles Kline, This is, of course, highly speculative, but it is an empirically substantiated and theoretically well-informed speculation. In other words, our speculation is the result of abductive reasoning Queiroz and Merrell, The argument, based on Luhmannian system theory, is as follows: as society consists of and is driven by communication, any lasting changes in the dominant distribution medium will alter the process and content of communication and, following from that, will alter society and the way society is structured.

The proliferation of printed books from onwards created an overflow of communication that was unprecedented. New forms of order emerged and engaged in a Darwinian struggle for the survival of an order that best fitted this new world of communication. Functional differentiation became the order of the day up to the present, society was structured in a heterarchical manner with separate yet connected realms of politics, economy, science, law, religion, education and so on Luhmann, If the buzzwords of the business and tech world have any meaning, they have it within such a theoretical framework.

Let us start with the inner core of the form of the firm, with its product, technology and organization. This form has been dominant throughout the 20th century and continues to dominate in our day. However, the changes depicted by such labels as Wikinomics or Starfish point in a different direction. But networks in the automotive sector are not networks in the next economy.

When you fully incorporate the computer as system as the backbone of your organization, in fact as the very foundation on which all your value-creating activities rest, the logic of value creation itself changes Afuah, ; Sytch and Tatarynowicz, It is no longer work in the Taylorist sense we are looking at, but collaboration between value creators bound only by the idea of providing a specific solution.

Some of these collaborators may be bound by traditional work contracts or similar formal agreements, but this most likely will not be the only type of arrangement Paskewich, Collaboration becomes even more important, as the nature of technology also changes. When we speak of technology, we imagine installed hardware, the tangible results of technological processes. Today, however, technology is increasingly embedded into social arrangements, creating and shaping these arrangements while being recursively influenced by it Reichel, b.

The potential of social innovation Mulgan, can be utilized only through such a collaborative relation. Therefore, innovation, be it technological or social, understood as changes in social practices, will comprise the new context of the product. Reentering networks into the distinction between products and networks requires a different kind of observation than business.

What is a business? It is a specific answer to a specific economic question dealing with scarcity. The specific answer of a collaborative effort in a diverse and dispersed network combining technology and social innovation will not just be about economics and scarcity.

Diversity here means also diverse values and motivations to engage with the process of value creation. The entire field of social entrepreneurship Beckmann, is oriented towards solutions to societal problems from which a business can be derived as a means to solve these problems. Looking at this new inner core of the firm, as depicted in Figure 10, you can immediately spot the tensions of transformation from organization to networks; from work to collaboration; from business to solutions. If these tensions resonate with you and your organizational environment, you are on a trajectory of change that can hardly be fought, just dealt with.

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Contrast the classical form of the firm with this new inner core, and see where the tensions could be resolved. What is the solution you are aiming for?


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  5. For whom is it a solution, and with whom do you have to collaborate in order to deliver? Where is the locus of value creation now, and what does this mean for your management skills and capabilities? How does this particular piece of art work? How does it function as a radically constructed whole? Or how does it not, and why? I think this third type of criticism is the most complex of the three, the one that rewards the most re-reading, the one that soars above mere book reviewing this was about that, and it was good , and speaks to what it means to be alive right now in this crazy, kooky world we live in, etc.

    The highest needs the lowest and both need the middle, the way a roof needs a flat foundation built on solid soil and good strong studs, spaced a precise 16 inches apart. Instead, the pieces of culture he includes in The Shape of Things to Come are approved simply by the act of including them in his analysis. For reasons I will attempt to illustrate, this blind spot turns out to be a crucial flaw in this book. He then sets up his thesis, which is provocative and convincing: He says that the template of America can be found in the Children of Israel from the Book of Amos; America is a nation based on a covenant, a nation based on an idea.

    But unlike Israel, which made its pact with God, America has made its pact with itself.

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