Politics strikes back

Last week, I participated in the Anthemis hacking finance retreat. It was my third time and I was happy to see a lot of old friends and get to know a lot of new people.

As usual, there were a lot of great discussions during the three days. One thing was clear though: Politics has made a clear come back. In the past we have discussed politics more as “regulation” or, at most, as a laggard in a fast-changing society. But this time the mood was clearly different.

It “helped” that in the few days we were there the attacks of Nice and the (still very unclear) attempted coup in Turkey happened. It also “helped” that we were right after the Brexit vote and before the republic convention will make the Trump joke into a not so funny one. The mood was generally pessimistic, trending towards dystopian. Somebody made the appropriate comment that we reminded the French second estate summoned at Versailles: politely discussing about the events unfolding outside the doors of our palace, while (possibly) misunderstanding them. The lack of one single Brexit or Trump supporter did smell of croissant.

Politics then. Because we are getting out of a period where economic and technologic developments have been assumed to be sufficient to bring the world forward and heal all problems. A cold sweat awakening for people in this group: of the possible dystopian scenarios, a politically led one (democratically, no doubt) is still the most plausible one.

But for another reason as well. Because it is clear to the most now that solving these same challenges will require more than return-seeking free enterprise. Because there are challenges where the numbers simply don’t add up and where the bottomline can turn black only after accounting for positive externalities.

In this spirit, I was happy to come across a couple of promising initiatives. The first is Code for America, an initiative to bring tech talent to tackle hard (and not investment worthy) public challenges. The second is this profile of the United States Digital Services. Again, these are only american examples (filter bubble anyone) but I am sure there is plenty of similar initiatives and thoughts in other countries.

This is the positive side we need to cling on, and push more. That more talented people will join the ranks of these initiatives and put their brains and hands to work for goals that can only be political in nature.

We might have been awaken to politics by the wrong reason. Let’s turn this into an opportunity to fix things.