Creative industries are source of value and of a healthy democracy and need to be protected - Al Gore’s “The Future”

In his latest book “The Future” former Vice-President, Al Gore emphasises the need to compensate for the work done by individuals. There is a decoupling of “gains in productivity from gains in the standard of living for the middle class”, which needs to change as “This trend is now nearing a threshold beyond which so many jobs are lost that the level of consumer demand falls below the level necessary to sustain healthy economic growth.”

Many copyright based activities fall within this category, such as newspapers, book and photography stores, and the work of creators themselves. There is a battle between those who want information to come for free and those who depend on payment for it to make a decent living and thus contribute to the development of a healthy sustainable economic growth; “Between corporations whose business models depend on the ability to protect intellectual property contained in computers connected to Internet and competitors who seek to steal that intellectual property by using other computers also connected to the Internet.”

Although Gore paints a disturbing picture of technology running out of control and decision making governed by short-termism and hijacked by self-serving elites, who have appropriated to themselves the value of the work of others, he also points out the role that recognising the value of creative contribution can play in securing in the development of a more encouraging future.

Gore examines six drivers of change ranging from a deeply interconnected global economy (World Inc.) and a planet-wide electronic communications grid linking billions of people to expanding amounts of data (Global Mind), through to a new and dysfunctional relationship between power of human civilization and Earth's ecological systems. He also includes a new balance of power shifted to the East, rapid unsustainable growth in population, with accompanying over consumption of resources, coupled with distorted short-term metrics for economic activity and a revolutionary set of biological, biochemical, genetic and materials science technologies. He shows that these six drivers are propelling society towards a future over which it has increasingly less ability (and even willingness) to shape in the common good and in which elites have taken over the levers of power and even determine the democratic choice.

The interaction between World Inc. and the Global Mind is particularly disturbing for the creative industries. Despite the fact that the rise of the internet has stimulated a revival in reading (most of the content is written), Gore regards digital information as the key strategic resource of the 21st Century and notes that “The value of information often expands with the number of people who share it, but the commercial value can often be lost when its initial owner loses exclusivity. The essence of patent and copyright law has been to resolve that tension and promote the greatest good for the greatest number, consistent with principles of justice and fairness”. He believes that the unprecedented speed and depth of the technological change that is the basis of the Global Mind is transforming the fundamental link between how people play a productive role in life and how they meet their needs. It is undermining “their work, their careers, their opportunities to exchange productive activity for income to meet essential human needs and provide a sense of well-being, security, honor, dignity, and a sense of belonging as a member of the community”.

Gore points out that the print industries (including journalism) are particularly threatened and while at the same time being cornerstones to democracy. So as they are weakened so the democratic deficit is increased. He notes that “there are as yet few business models for journalism originating on Internet that bundle together enough revenue to support the salaries of reporters engaged in the kind of investigative journalism essential to provide accountability in a democracy”. He puts into context the frequently cited “Information wants to be Free” by quoting the full passage from technology thought leader Stewart Brand – "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it is so valuable. On the other hand information wants to be free because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have the two fighting against each other."

This battle is crucial to the well-being of the creative industries, which, Gore believes, are not only powerful ambassadors of the fundamental values on which we build our societies but also vital to the health of democracy. He argues that the reliance on old metrics of growth, such as GDP, which no longer correlates to the interests of the general public but rather to those of a narrow elite, and on short-term strategic thinking is jeopardising our ability to steer the future into a path that benefits society as a whole. Worse still, that elite has “enlisted politicians in the effort to paralyze the ability of government to serve any interests other than those of the global machine, recruited a fifth column in the Fourth Estate, and hired legions of lobbyists to block any collective decisions about the future that serve the public interest.”

The creative industries have a leading role to play in providing the fuel for prosperous future. Al Gore gives a wake-up call to society to make sure that it recognises the value of that creative contribution and protects and shares it accordingly.