Development of the world’s economy began as an agrarian society, shifted to an industrial society following the 18th century’s Industrial Revolution and evolved into an information society thanks to the appearance of computers in the latter half of the 20th century.
Information technology produced a lot of technical innovations and, as part of the process, increased financial activities by taking advantage of the growth of international liquidity and brought about a finance-oriented economy with the United States playing a leading role.
Financial instruments that were diversified in the U.S. expanded beyond the manageable limit, causing housing mortgage collapses and the fall of Lehman Brothers. This plunged the world economy into recession. Chaos spread to Europe and, with the financial collapse of some countries, led to the euro crisis.
Recently the U.S. economy has entered a recovery phase and the European economy has come out of its worst time with some favorable signs returning. But the world is still groping for a new growth model to replace the economic society led by financial activities.
A new model should be an economic society driven by the pursuit of human values. That’s because there are six trends for attaching importance to values now mounting in the world.
The first of the backgrounds for the new trend is globalism taking root around the world. Globalism has been taking root since the end of the East-West Cold War. What lies at the root of this development is the drive for securing peace beyond political confrontation. Peace awakens people to become conscious of human values. At the same time people tend to share information through the standardization of markets and are inspired to have desires appropriate for humans.
Second, there is a changing demographic situation. Among the advanced countries, the trend of a declining and aging population deepens people’s interest in their health and functions as seen in Japan. In developing countries the improvement of people’s lives from the standpoint of linking a population rise to economic growth becomes a political goal.
The third factor is the increase of income levels. As income levels rise, people come to have an urge to participate in social affairs and aim to improve the quality of their lives.
Accordingly, their desires become diversified and they tend to have higher levels of cultural desires.
The fourth factor is an expansion of the concept of humanism. The expansion of globalism and the improvement of income levels cause the idea of humanism to permeate the world. International cooperative activities aimed at eliminating poverty, combating infectious diseases and diffusing education, as under the United Nations Millennium Project, raise the awareness oriented toward humanism.
The fifth factor is the activation of intellectual activities. The advance of electronic information and communications technologies is conducive to the advent of an information society and the diversification of innovations.
The “ubiquitous society,” in which people are connected with the Internet anytime and anywhere to get various services, tends to accelerate the interchange of economic entities and expand new frontiers. Intellectual creation is made possible by heightened intellectual activities of humans.
The sixth factor concerns the protection of the global environment. Recent global warming, and air and water pollutions in such countries as China and India are instigating people to make efforts to protect the Earth, because these problems pose a danger to the Earth and human beings themselves. People who have become materially rich are now finding a value as humans in their coexistence with nature.
Lately, as seen above, there are incentives for placing an emphasis on human values. The question arise as to what are the main elements that form an economic society led by human values.
The first of these elements is people’s orientation toward health. How to prolong their healthy lives is a major task worldwide. If this is possible, the labor shortage due to a population decline will be eased and people’s medical costs could be lowered . In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to implement comprehensive approaches not only to improve medical technologies but also to promote sports, advance food culture and improve child rearing.
The second element is a high level of social ethics. By means of this, the order of society is maintained and the safety and security of lives ensured. Through this, enterprises can continue their activities boldly based on the rules of the society and people can give full play to their talent. And enterprises and people can expand their exchanges of innovative ideas.
The third element is active cultural activities. What supports them are people’s yearning for “beauty,” their rich sensitivity, exchanges with different cultures and the desire for cultural creation. People around the world adore excellent cultural activities. Recent advances in technologies tend to raise the potential for new cultural developments through the fusion of culture and industry, as seen in the “Cool Britannia” and “Cool Japan” campaigns.
The fourth element is rich intellectual creation. This will surely help bring about technological innovations, the advance of science and knowledge and the growth of the economy. The basis of these improvements is the power of humans rich in creativity. Together with the rise in the overall intellectual level of society, the nurturing of a “new elite” that can serve as leaders in the world’s various fields is indispensable.
The fifth element is people’s coexistence with nature. This process should be supported by creation of a living environment which abounds in nature and an industrial system that does not place undue pressure on the environment.
“An economic system led by human values,” I believe, is the very system that human beings should pursue in the 21st century. I hope that the wisdom of mankind will be concentrated on the work to achieve this cause.
Shinji Fukukawa, formerly vice minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and president of Dentsu Research Institute, is currently senior adviser of the Global Industrial and Social Progress Research Institute.