Geoff Mulgan: Is the disappearance of power in the age of networks a truth, or a fairy tale for the gullible?

Andrew Young — July 21, 2015

In his latest post on the Nesta blog, Geoff Mulgan explores the so-called ‘end of power.’ He begins by laying out the tenuousness of arguments that power is being taken from the hands of those who traditionally hold it and dispersed more flatly among the populous, using the strength of government leaders like Angela Merkel and the concentration of wealth and power in the business world as examples opposing the concept.

He goes on to examine some of the explanations for why the concept is increasing in prevalence – especially among the powerful, like Mark Zuckerberg, a vocal support of Moisés Naim’s book The End of Power – and how the discussion could be distracting us from real, important tasks at hand.

“I’ve heard two, very opposite, explanations. The cynical answer is that today’s powerful want power without the responsibility. By claiming that any concentration of power is at best temporary, they disarm potential regulators, campaigners and legislators who might otherwise try to rein them in. If power really has been dissolved, who can reasonably hold them to account for any of the ills of the world? The intellectuals churning out books along these lines become the equivalent of what Lenin called ‘useful fools’, providing the ideological space for the powerful to do what they want.

A more benign explanation is that we would all like to believe in a world where power is distributed more equally, and today’s new rich, particularly the ones in digital land, are just hopeful idealists who are as vulnerable to wishful thinking as the rest of us. Many of the pioneers of Silicon Valley were very democratic in spirit, and suspicious of hierarchy and rules. They may have started out intertwined with big government, big business and the big military, but soon added an opposite ethos of hacking and opening up. It’s not surprising that many hoped that history was on the side of decentralisation, distributed power and flatter structures.”

Read the full post here.