Future shock


ONCE upon a time all you needed was chicken, a wise man and a strong stomach. The wise man slaughtered the chicken, read its entrails, told you what the future held, pocketed the cash and left.

Now you have to spend £20 or more, have a grasp of preReformation church history, a knowledge of the major historical perspectives (Whig, Tory, Marxist etc) and enough spare time to fight your way through 400 odd pages of densely written argument.

That is not to say that Mr James Dale Davidson's and Mr William ReesMogg's The Sovereign Individual. The coming economic revolution. How to survive and prosper in it. (Macmillan, £20) is boring. Far from it, it is a rollicking ride through the great events and ideologies of the past and present combined with a warning of the shape of things to come.

The basic argument propounded by Mr Davidson and Mr ReesMogg is that the era of the individual is at hand. Not in the free marketeer economic sense but a true sovereign individual responsible for all aspects of well being and independent of outside - read state control.

As the means of wealth production become more and more diversified because of the explosion in information technology and steamroller effect of the Internet the nation state is becoming redundant. The foundation of the industrial era has outlived its usefulness.

These developments allow the individual to step outside the artificial boundaries imposed by the state for work and wealth creation and to retain the wealth generated as it can be hidden in cyberspace beyond the reach of the tax collector - the major prop of tea nation state.

Mr Davidson and Mr Rees Mogg argue that the nation state is an out moded cultural grouping. It is wasteful, inefficient and detrimental to individual well being yet is accepted because people have not yet grasped the potential of cyberspace.

Once this occurs, the nation state as we know it will cease to be a relevant entity.

However, the authors warn, the nation state and all the groups that have benefited from it - the bureaucratic, political, trade union, military and judicial classes - will not give up without a fight.

They warn of increased repression and widespread unrest before the inevitable happens. Just as the agricultural age gave way to the industrial, so too will the information age triumph.

One of the more interesting analogies used in the book is comparing the nation state to the Catholic Church prior to the reformation. According to the author it was a self serving, bloated and corrupt institution with little thought for those it was designed to serve. Along came Luther to explode its conceits and the Reformation began.

There is one hole in this seamless argument - the counter reformation which enabled the church to regenerate itself and retain status, power and relevance. But why let that get in the way of a good narrative?

Marx, in a roundabout way, would agree with Mr Davidson and Mr ReesMogg. His central tenet, the withering away of the state after the triumph of the proletariat, will come to pass but instead of the communalism he espoused there will the ultimate capitalist - the sovereign individual.

And if you want to survive and prosper you have got to be part of the information technology elite. To debase James Connolly's maxim it is a case of "educate that you may be wealthy."