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The Raging 2020s: Companies, Countries, People – and The Fight for Our Future

Alec Ross, New York Times best-selling author and former senior advisor of innovation for the State Department, closed out the 2021 Conference on Thursday. Ross took the stage with Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto, and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber, to share his newly released book, “The Raging 2020s: Companies, Countries, People – and The Fight for Our Future,” discussing the intersection of business, government, and everyday people.

Ross, who spent six years working for the Obama administration, presented some key themes from his book, including the intersection of government and citizens, and the web-work of collaboration between the two.

“It’s a web-work of collaboration and exchange between the private sector, government, and citizens,” said Ross.

And while the system is interconnected, Ross noted that if you scratch at the surface of this collaboration and exchange, you can begin to see the flaws. At the core of his book is “the quiet interplay we see in just our normal day, some of what we see, increasingly is that the social contract seems not to be working. There seems to be a loss of equilibrium in the relationship between government, citizens, and businesses.”

The forces behind this dis-equilibrium are a key element of the book. The decade we are currently living through can be compared to that of the roaring 20s, a time marked by war and sickness, but also spectacular innovations in literature, arts, and the economy, that ended in economic collapse.

“This decade of ours, the 2020s, is one where we are in this moment of remarkable transition and the choices that we make over the next few decades are going to determine if this decade ends up raging like anger, or raging like a great party,” said Ross.

But this moment of transition is not unique to our country, moments like this have occurred frequently throughout history. Take for instance the period of industrialization, when technology-enabled work to go from farm to factory. And what made industrialization work was rewriting the social contract.

“As we transition from our industrial economy into an increasingly technology-rich, knowledge-based economy…all of us have to be life-long learners,” noted Ross. “We have all to be continual learners, but our model of education is still rooted in the norms of the first 20 years of the 20th century.”

Essential to this transition will be the innovation within our public policy, and the data that is the raw material of today and tomorrow’s economy. In our current and future economy, those who control and own the data, and can harvest meaning from the data will be those that will create the industries of the future.

Noted Ross, “90% of the world’s data, since human beings have been on two feet was created in the last two years.”

And the pandemic has only accelerated digitization and industries that we were once thought of as historic or old, are being propelled forward with the help of data.

“In the last 30 years, the richest one percent has grown 21 trillion dollars wealthier, while the lowest 50 percent has lost 900 billion dollars,” said Ross. “Middle class is stagnated – this is what is at the heart of a lot of the rage out there.”

And what Ross offers in his book are the differing elements that go into this, and draws out key themes across labor, taxes, and capitalism.