Spain. A country for the future?

During the coming weeks, my colleague (and co-author) Isabel F. Peñuelas and the author of this blog are going to be sharing some of the ideas we have put together in a draft paper1 with the tittle of this post. In June, we’ll do it in two (perhaps not so) distant contexts: Reimagining futures, Universidad de Alcalá, Spain, and Empowering Futures – Long-Term Governance, Democracy and Futures Research, University of Turku, Finland

The paper2 is the result of three converging forces:

  • The relentless determination of my co-author. She wanted to write it!
  • The opportunity to review and summarize some interesting ideas (many of them shared in this blog during the last 10+ years) capturing what we know and we don’t know about the economics of technology and innovation, culture and society, and collaboration, governance and the challenge of collective intelligence.
  • Our vision of (some of the) possible futures that we may be facing and/or provoking with our decisions and actions, or their lack thereof.

Our review summarizes the state of the art knowledge on:

To draw a very stylized sketch of future global scenarios over the next 25-50 years, we have chosen to concentrate on three key dimensions:

  • Socio Techno Economic Transition to Sustainability (STETS)
  • Global Geopolitical Dominant Paradigm (GGDP)
  • Technological breakthroughs (TB)

With three main possible paths for each of the two first dimensions (STETS and GGDP) and only two (yes/no) for the possibility of a single technological breakthrough (similar to the transistor or antibiotics in the XX century) we end up with (3 x 3 x 2 =) 18 possible (not all equally probable) scenarios.

Let’s imagine you have to play in this Futures Game. In order to do it, you have to understand the levers you can operate and how your decision to pull them can contribute to a given output. The levers you control depend on the kind of agent (player) you are in the game.

Who are the “meaningful” players in the Futures Game?

Not (only) nation states, that’s for sure. In fact, there are plenty of meaningful players, not necessarily tightly coordinated, with the capability and the means to participate and influence on the evolution of a given region or society.

  • Governments and administrations (countries, cities, regions)
  • Political parties
  • Public and non-governmental Organizations
  • Private Firms, particularly Corporations
  • Personalities (Elite)
  • Emergent Autonomous Organizations (charter cities, global citizens movement...)

However, just to illustrate the possibilities and the challenge this game presents we have chosen our own country, Spain, as a representative player. One of the reasons for this work (the paper) is our obsession to understand the reason/s why technology and innovation have never played the key role they have played in other cultures and countries (UK and USA), and the role they play in the vision of the “entrepreneurial nation” adopted by Spanish government in 2021.

Therefore we have looked back and forth and we have found a beautiful metaphor which captures the essence of the difficult choice a decision maker faces in front of the scenarios suggested in the table above.

The metaphor is inspired by the choice Isabella I of Castile faced in 1492 when she decided to fund Christopher Columbus expedition, as suggested by the brilliant Lewis Mumford in The Pentagon of Power.

Broadly speaking, then, two complementary kinds of exploration beckoned Western man. While they were closely related to their point of origin, they moved in different directions, pursued different goals—though often crossing—and at last merged into a single movement, which increasingly sought to replace the gifts of nature with those more limited fabrications of man which were drawn from a single aspect of nature: that which could be brought under human domination.

One exploration focussed mainly on the sky and on the orderly motions of planets and falling bodies, on space measuring and timekeeping. It was concerned with abstract symbols, rational systems, universal laws, repeatable and predictable events. The other boldly traversed uncharted oceans and even burrowed below the surface of the earth, seeking the Promised Land. It dwelt on the concrete and the organic, the adventurous, the tangible.

Spain (Isabella) chose the second kind of exploration. Very likely, it was not an uninformed nor a bad bet at all. It was the right choice at that moment.

Are we facing a similar choice —an invisible dilemma— today?

We think that’s the case. If we are entering (or just inside) what first Kenneth E. Boulding, and then the Global Scenario Group and Paul Raskin termed A Great Transition, today’s Isabella (whoever she is/represents) is facing a similar decision in front of the limited levers/options she has at reach. In the paper we detail them briefly in the context of our present “new” Futures Game.

My intention is to offer a glimpse of two interesting questions in two future posts. One will be related to the temptation of playing the role of the free rider: “Let them invent” is a litany we are very familiar with in Spain. The other will be a brief description of Isabella 2.0’s dilemma.

Keep tuned. (Or you can read our draft paper2,3).


(1) The paper has just entered the long and winding road of peer reviewed publishing, which very likely will force us to cut our most controversial and some provocative reflections. That’s (part of) the reason for this post, and two more “WE” plan to publish in the coming months.

(2) Jariego, Francisco J., and Isabel F. Peñuelas. ‘Spain. A Country for The Future’. SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY, 8 May 2023.

(3) Informed comments are welcome.

Featured Image: Madrid Nuevo Norte

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.