Just over 24 hours after British citizens who chose to vote voted in favor of the UK leaving the EU, and I read in interesting perspective from Denis Pombriant, a neo-CRM analyst and book author with a solid reputation among the cognoscenti and personal friend of this author.
Rather than pore over the result, which almost all on my Facebook timeline are bemoaning - I was in shock as a long term ex-pat hoping to return at the end of the year - Pombriant holds out the hope that technology can serve to solve or at least point the way to solving some of the problems that Brexit surfaced. On consideration, he makes solid points. He starts with:
It was no secret that the idea of a united Europe would serve as a damper on Europe’s repeated bloodletting of which the twentieth century’s two world wars were a mere sample. But this thinking was merely a good example of fighting, or in this case preventing, the last war.
The big need that Maastricht provided a solution for was commerce...
...A common market serves the original need nicely but the project immediately ran into scope creep, that tendency for a project founded on a good idea to expand until it is more bother than it is worth. Maastricht was like that. On top of a simplified trading system leaders added a political structure and constitution (that was rejected) and a common currency that could only be maintained by micromanaging otherwise sovereign nations’ economies.
While Pombriant doesn't say so directly, he implies, as have many others, that a post-Brexit EU is no longer a viable construct. Some will say it never was but that's by the by. The widely anticipated domino effect from countries like the Netherlands and then France demanding similar referenda cannot be long in the waiting.
Pombriant prefers that rather than wait for a messy deconstruction, technology could act as the mediating influence that solves many of the anticipated economic cost issues associated with a break up of the single market and/or ridding Europe of the Euro. He suggests:
There are apps for this and for many other things that Maastricht attempted to fix and if the apps don’t exist they can be made. Purchasing with smartphones and plastic instead of cash would take care of nasty exchange rate issues in that back end servers would do the conversions. Crossing borders could be as simple as implementing national or even international biometric identification systems like those currently used at airports.
I was thinking there is another 'currency' for that - Bitcoin - or rather the blockchain that could solve many of the trade issues that are bound to arise. But there are three big elephants in the room:
- Wrangling over data and data protection remain important topics over which Europe as a whole has yet to resolve. I wonder whether a threatened breakup would serve to knock some common sense into some of the more intransigent governments once they realize that the power they once wielded over 500 million people might well be reduced considerably?
- The airport systems of which Pombriant speaks are not the most reliable I've encountered although that situation is improving. Notwithstanding, Pombriant thinks there is an alternative answer of which more, later.
- Can business leaders trust politicians to understand the good uses of technology without mucking it up? History does not provide us with a great track record upon which to make those predictions. But then if you believe the market solves all problems, regardless of political persuasion, then the burgeoning fintech industry might be the right place to look.
Pombriant makes the politically charged statement that:
True, the free flow of people across borders would slow but that has not proved to be an unmitigated good thing for the host countries anyhow. Forced to stay home there is no telling what creative solutions local populations and the international community might develop for seemingly intractable problems. If this sounds cruel it is not intended to be, it is simple a realization that moving a population across international borders doesn’t solve that population’s problems, it simply moves them.
We could have a long debate on that statement and it is one that will resonate with Brexit supporters and those in Europe who hanker to leave. However, I am minded of the fact that in the middle aged days of the EU experiment, and, specifically, when the Euro was introduced, countries that were either outside the EU or chose not to adopt the Euro created alternative economies based upon technology designed to leapfrog the infrastructures that existed at the time. Sweden anyone? Oh - and the UK. In parallel, some countries that were emerging from the old Soviet bloc and looking towards Europe have made huge strides in transforming their economies, often with technology leading the way. Here, I am thinking Estonia.
Pombriant concludes with:
In business as in almost any other human endeavor success is measured by how fast and how well you fix your mistakes. Maastricht was a good attempt but it has been overtaken by events and technology’s inexorable march. Time to pivot.
In a post-Brexit world, that may well be the sensible thing to do. Who knows, such a pivot might be just the thing to fundamentally shake up the creaking European bureaucracies that have given diginomica plenty to talk about, while at the same time recasting the much reviled financial institutions at whose doors so much blame has been put.
What do you think? Can this work?