garden of delights by Bosch

2012 EVT: Budget Deficit and Liquidity (The Chronicles of Everstate)

Last week’s summaryIn 2012 EVT, in Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of the modern nation-state), people seek security as they increasingly feel the negative impact of various pressures and threats on their life. Henceforth they turn to their political authorities and even start trying to compel them to provide this security. Through those actions, Everstatans start to remember that, as part of the nation, they are also rulers of Everstate. Yet, the situation is growing worse because the tasks of governance have grown more complex while the governing system and the polity are not yet adapted to the new conditions.

(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab).

Deepening budget deficit and increasing need for liquidity

The first phenomenon driving  Everstatan political authorities’ incapacity to deliver security is a deepening budget deficit and an increasing need for liquidity.

The resources that participate into obtaining the income necessary to govern have started being impacted by the novel threats and by the evolution in general a few years ago. However, this change happened unnoticed by most and is still largely ignored as new pressures are yet to be recognised. In general, the focus of awareness is on forthcoming so-called resource wars*, generated by the probable end of cheap abundance that is likely to affect natural resources such as water, oil or minerals, and the scrambling for components in new substitutes such as rare-earth elements.

Yet, the problem is more complex and also far worse. Some of the resources that used to generate income in the past have dwindled.  For example, when Everstatan industries delocalised, related income disappeared. Meanwhile, changes impacting other resources on the one hand, and the emergence of new resources on the other are not yet integrated within the public framework. All affect income.

Governing bodies should be on the watch and receive adequate warnings regarding the need to take in-depth actions. 

However,  the resources extracted from the polity that have usually generated income are taxes levied mostly on the population, through taxes on personal income and social contributions (direct taxes) or through taxes on consumption (indirect taxes). Hence, the negative impact on resources could not and cannot be directly and immediately felt, and thus goes unconsidered. It is mediated by time and by economic activity as well as by impact of the general evolution of society on the wealth and consumption behaviour of people.

Yet, as new pressures pile, most of them without any awareness and thus unattended, while  resources and ecological conditions evolve, an increasingly larger impact on the resources of the nation is to be expected, unforeseen, thus unmonitored and, consequently, without any kind of planning to face it. Very real consequences on the nation’s income, even if they are delayed, are in the making.

Meanwhile, the simple fact to try to make sense of some of the new pressures, those that are already perceived, comes with a cost. To fight constantly against such new military threats as terrorism or such unconventional dangers as cyber-threats uses a lot of the available resources and related income.

The increasingly numerous extreme weather events that are occurring, if they are not always evaluated in such a way, also takes its toll on resources: damages imply a net loss of wealth, while most events such as floods, tempests, or snowstorms immobilise economic activity. The accumulation of those localised and sometimes hardly noticed events has a direct domestic cost that increases expenditures, while it diminishes income and sometimes reduces resources.** Furthermore, when natural catastrophes and extreme weather events hit other countries, Everstate is also impacted through aid and various contributions, lowered trade, potential global ecological impact of disasters and levy on citizens’ savings (which then become unavailable for domestic borrowing, investment or consumption), with further consequences as reduced contribution to taxes.

Everstate is thus faced with a relative (compared with what would have been, had those changes and evolutions not taken place) lowered income, while more resources to face rising expenditures are necessary and increasingly more so, when those new and rising pressures also mean that the task of governing has become harder, which too has a cost, at least initially.

The nation and its governing bodies thus imperatively need to find new resources and income, as well as related new staff, which increases state’s expenditures, which in turn will increase the need for new resources and then income, until a new balance, adapted to the current and foreseeable future conditions, is found.

Solely keeping the system running as in the past is counterproductive because this directly and immediately impacts governance, lowering its efficiency. Being unable to understand what is happening and thus to find the necessary new resources and income means that a satisfactory way to plan for the increasing tasks involved by governance cannot be achieved. This, too, lowers the overall efficiency. As a result, the security that Everstatans seek cannot be ensured. Furthermore, the system is increasingly unable to do so.

Be it perceived and understood or not, this need for new resources and income is very real and upon Everstate. It implies that cash or liquid assets are demanded by Everstate’s governing bodies. First, they have to pay to face all the pressures  identified, to assume impacts’ costs when pressures are not identified, and to finance the usual tasks of governing, when Everstate’s income is insufficient as new resources and income have not yet been found. A new adapted strategy of extraction of resources (for the income of governing bodies) would reduce the need for liquidity, but it has yet to be designed.

In Everstate, as in many other countries, this situation has lasted for quite a while already. However, Everstate’s government and Parliament have dealt with it as if nothing new had happened. They thus used past recipes. As a result, the budget deficit has become chronic. In turn, as deficit is now regularly bridged by debt, on the one hand the cost of the debt further increases the deficit, while the need to borrow further heightens the need for liquidity.

Meanwhile, Everstatans’ quest for security in those gradually more difficult conditions also contributes to increase the demand for liquidity as people still need the now lacking or diminishing resources. Thus, the demand for those resources does not recede. On the contrary, for some of them, it increases as usage of those resources is fully integrated within the developed way of life of Everstatans and its expected improvement. For example, some of those resources have to come from further way or, when possible, have to be created or transformed out of other resources, which implies a further demand for liquidity. This situation also contributes to intensify the demand for understanding and meaning, as Everstatans, as any human beings, need to make sense of their perceived new hardship, so contrary to the promises of the materialistic normative order in which they have lived all their lives.

To be continued

* See, among others, Michael T. Klare, Resource wars: the new landscape of global conflict, Henry Holt, 2002.

** See, for example, Holly Riebeek, “The rising cost of natural hazards,” Nasa Earth Observatory, March 28, 2006, accessed April 14, 2011; Munich RE NatCatSERVICE: Natural Catastrophes in 2010, 2011, Geo Risks Research, NatCatSERVICE ; and corresponding press release, accessed April 14, 2011.

The Red (team) Analysis Weekly No32, 26th January 2012

No32, 26th January 2012

Domestic and international tensions are increasingly entwined in a pattern that is not likely to recede soon. Positively, an effort has started to tackle our very outdated models. Meanwhile our chessboard and the frontiers of plausibility are being redrawn to include space and cloaking.

Click on the picture below to access No32

National security Horizon Scanning January 26, 2012

garden of delights by Bosch

2012 EVT: Seeking Security (The Chronicles of Everstate)

Last week’s summaryIn 2012 EVT, in Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of the modern nation-state), the population’s discontent increases – and is bound to continue to do so – as a result of various pressures and threats, most of them inevitable, imperfectly identified, and not understood. Indeed, Everstatans feel both directly and indirectly the impact of those pressures, which affect their sense of security and thus generate discontent.

(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab).

Everstatans seek security

Everstatans continue to seek a security that is appearing as increasingly distant and elusive.

They turn to their political authorities, expecting them to deliver this security. Indeed, Everstatans believe that their government, their state (which assists the ruler in its tasks) and their national representatives, being their legitimate political authorities, should ensure their security. This fundamental belief is inscribed in their collective history, not only as a country, but also as part of the human species (Moore, 1978). Furthermore, Everstate is part of the normative order called liberal democracies. Thus, as Everstatans have elected their representatives and their government, they are even surer of their right to be well governed, i.e. to see their security ensured.

However, most of the time, they have forgotten that, as citizens on the one hand and as part of the collective body of the nation on the other, they are also a part of the political authorities. As such, they not only have a role to play but also a duty to assume it. They cannot just sit there and relinquish their power and responsibilities, all the more so that their security is at stake. This forgetfulness is not a specific trait of Everstatans but widely shared with most of their fellow citizens in other representative liberal democracies.

Initially, Everstatans exerted their power in a rather negative and passive way, witness the growing abstention during elections that had been going on for decades and other worrying weak signals of alienation. Now, their grumbling grows louder and is a first still inchoate way to act to make sure their government, their state and their national representatives consider their demands. Furthermore, other actions, more visible, such as strikes and demonstrations – sometimes with some violence - also take place with an increasing frequency while creeping unrest and rising lawlessness settle in some very specific areas.

As all those actions originate from different groups of citizens and take various forms with different purposes, for most observers, including Everstatans, they appear as unrelated, dispersed and thus of no consequence. Worse still for those witnesses, when a protest movement seems to be a bit more constructed – e.g. the Occupy Everstate movement, part of the global Occupy/Indignados movement – it starts with a specific demand, linked to the impacts having generated dissatisfaction, then, when satisfaction is not obtained, the scope of the discontent in terms of content increases, usually giving rise to another supplementary revendication. This leads most to completely discredit the various movements of protest, all the more so that the new very real pressures Everstate has to face are still very imperfectly perceived and measured. Indeed, seen from the surface, the protests are sporadic, actively involve relatively few people, flare up and then recede. However, imperceptibly, overtime, the overall level of tension increases, the number of people likely to be actively involved in protests rises, while the scope of discontent widens.

Wrong answers

As the responses of Everstate’s government, state, and Parliament generate dissatisfaction, it seems that they are increasingly unable to answer the population’s demands, which stem from the real situation, the citizens need for security and the beliefs they hold.

Things are however more complex than a sudden incompetency or, more absurd, malevolence, as some extremist Everstatan conspiracy theorists try to promote.

Everstatan political authorities, indeed, have  to provide a governance that has become progressively more complex and thus difficult Governance implies more tasks, many of them novel. Security must be delivered to citizens  in overall conditions that have changed. The various pressures for survival and military threats as well as their intensity demand attention, resources, policy and successful responses. Meanwhile, the evolution of resources available, as well as their rising complexity, for example all those related to the virtual and mobile world, again ask for fully novel policies and practice.

Logically those new tasks require new staff as well as new resources and income, past ones having become ill-suited, insufficient or even exhausted.

In this framework and because of it, three related phenomena are at work that drive the political authorities’ current incapacity to deliver security and thus  the rising population’s dissatisfaction, while also directly adding to the discontent: a deepening budget deficit and an increasing need for liquidity, a creeping new appropriation of public resources and a weakening of the strength of central public power to the profit of various elite groups, and finally the use of an out-dated normative model leading to misunderstanding and disconnect as long as the demand for new understanding is not satisfied.

To be continued


Moore, B., Injustice: Social bases of Obedience and Revolt, (London: Macmillan, 1978)

The Red (team) Analysis Weekly No31, 19th January 2012

No31, 19th January 2012

Moves on a dangerous chessboard: On the current – unsurprising now – chessboard of serious financial and economic crisis, tension with Iran, and resources and energy difficulties, further signs of concern appear as actors, old and new, from citizens to governments through private companies, from China to the US through Romania and Germany, assert their positions, power (capability to act) and strategies in an array of undisguised moves.

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2012 EVT: Rising Discontent (The Chronicles of Everstate)

Last weeks’ summaryEverstate (an ideal-type for our very real countries created to foresee the future of the modern nation-state) is part of the international liberal order and ruled under a democratic parliamentary regime. Lately, its governance started being less efficient and as a result began to fail to ensure the security of Everstate’s citizens. Meanwhile, its economy showed sign of losing efficacy and its powerful elite groups fought hard to keep their status although they do not believe to be really at risk. The various degradations and tensions have started being felt and registered by the population. However, most Everstatan actors considered those as temporary crises and difficulties that will be shortly solved. At worst, some envisioned a serious crisis that would last a few years, maybe a decade of slow growth before everything went back to normal. Are they right? What does the future hold for Everstate?

(The reader will find detailed explanations on the methodology applied to this post at the bottom of the text and can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab). 

Dissatisfaction and tension of the population

Confronted with various mild but growing inefficiencies in terms of governance and economy, Everstatans are increasingly dissatisfied. They perceive the overall security provided by their political authorities as having started to decrease. At the beginning, it was imperceptible. Now, their discontent increases and cannot be ignored anymore. Indeed, more and more people feel relatively deprived as they contrast what they remember about their past satisfaction, what they had sought to achieve and what they now manage to obtain, whatever their efforts.

First, obvious new external military threats have arisen from foreign groups trying to implement their own state power. Those threats are widely labelled and known as “terrorism” or sometimes “radicalization” and have been partly solved through various efforts, notably those made in the areas of domestic security and law enforcement. Other threats have emerged from states that are considered as unfriendly, indeed at times dubbed “rogue states.” Both have started introducing an element of permanent and pernicious fear and unease in the population.

Then, the satisfaction of the population is affected by other factors that are not yet perceived and even less considered, integrated and successfully dealt with by Everstate’s political authorities.

The evolution of society has, over time, affected the ecological milieu, which has given rise to new types of pressures. In Everstate and in international settings, the reality of those pressures is still debated, which often leads to ignore or minimize their importance. Among those controversies, we find the end of cheap energy, notably oil-based energy, the safety of nuclear energy, food and water availability, climate change, the increase of various types of pollution, and the return of the fear of deadly pandemics. Furthermore, because those pressures are new or have not been felt for centuries, the existing normative models do not consider them. Those models, indeed, focus on other matters, those issues that were crucial when the norms were constructed. Considering the importance of normative models and related thinking, the lack of possible concern integrated within the normative model also contributes to minimise the perception of and interest in those new pressures.

Meanwhile, natural uncontrollable catastrophes such as earthquakes or volcano eruptions, linked to the fate of geography, are still hitting societies blindly. Everstate fears no volcano on its territory, but some areas, by the seashore notably, are prone to earthquakes, although no severe one has occurred for more than two centuries. Typhoons and hurricanes, floods and droughts are still devastating worldwide, but Everstate’s climate makes such happenstance quite impossible. And yet… an increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events started being registered a few years ago (e.g. Munich-Re, 2010). Although the scientific understanding of many of those phenomena is still imperfect, a similar trend was registered in many countries of the world. Increasingly, it was identified as related to those changing conditions brought about by human activity.

Furthermore, previous evolutions have affected natural resources. Those that are finite have now been used by the population and thus are obviously not available anymore. Those that are considered as renewable have also sometimes been altered in a way that makes them unavailable for a specific location. For example, if water is fundamentally a renewable resource, the depletion of groundwater in some areas, or pollution, which can only be removed over centuries, in others transform water for specific areas and lapse of time into a finite resource. Such shortages directly impact the population, as people cannot benefit from those resources anymore, be it in terms of direct use or because whole sectors of activity disappear leading to unemployment and general impoverishment. Furthermore, by bearing upon the overall ecological setting, they contribute to create new kinds of pressure for survival. Meanwhile, other potential resources are emerging but are not yet fully integrated into ways of life. Thus, they cannot fully take the place of the past, used resources, when replacement is possible. They cannot either help face the whole range of new pressures for survival. So far, in Everstate, no complete shortage in response to a need had to be faced. On the contrary, in a still recent past as when coal mines were closed, whole sectors of activity have been swept away.

At the same time, evolution has generated new capabilities that are progressively used against society in a deadly and damaging way. Thus, new threats appear. Everstate and its allies have so far labelled those threats as unconventional, which definitely underlines their novelty, even in terms of thoughts. A few of them – but by all means not all as they permanently evolve –  have been identified and range from cyber-security (linked to the digital and communication technology and their use) to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

As long as Everstate has not designed the way to deal (through governance) with those new multiple pressures, the degree with which those pressures impacts society progressively increases, while the level of satisfaction of the population decreases. Now, this way cannot even start being imagined because those stresses are not fully registered and thus even less understood. Indeed, the Everstatan system, as the system of other countries, was built to deal with other – past – pressures.

Thus, dissatisfaction is bound to increase for some time in Everstate. This discontent itself, feeds progressively into a domestic escalation spiral. In turn, it increases incrementally the degree of pressure that is exerted on Everstate as a whole.

Meanwhile, Everstatans continue to seek a security that is appearing as increasingly distant and elusive…. to be continued.

How to? Application of the methodology used to construct the narrative.

The variable that will serve to start the narrative is “pop level of satisfaction (sec) s3,” i.e. level of satisfaction of the population regarding security for the third phase or step of our dynamic model. To help the reader understand the methodology, the words corresponding to an influencing or influenced variable or node for the main narrative will be in bold in this post.

When needed, to obtain more information on those nodes, we shall display the corresponding ego network that will hep nourishing and constructing the narrative.

In terms of outline, we start with the variables causing what we try to narrate (the discontent of the population), looking first at those linked to s2 (the previous step, temporally), then moving to s3. Once all the causing variables have been seen, then one progresses to the impact variables, which will allow us moving the story forward, with the exception of groups of variables, both influencing and influenced, for which the story is clearer if told as a group or system, e.g. the first paragraph. The task of detecting those groups of variables is eased by the use of network visualisation tools as those groups are literally shown by the lay-out (here Force Atlas).



Munich Re, “Extreme Weather Events – Signs of climate change?” 5 August 2010:

“These facts show that global warming is playing a significant role in the rising number of extreme events. Analyses performed by Munich Re’s natural catastrophe database, the most comprehensive in the world, substantiate this increase: the number of extreme weather events like windstorm and floods has tripled since 1980, and the trend is expected to persist.” [my emphasis]

The Red (team) Analysis Weekly No30, 12th January 2012

No30, 12th January 2012

Sitting on a powder keg: The signals of the last weeks are growing stronger. Tension with Iran continues to increase, and impact on oil prices could starkly affect the economy – and financial markets and trade and supply – while uncertainty regarding the economic situation in China and India rises. Meanwhile, inequality and perception thereof in the US and Europe also increases and related new opposition actors, namely Anonymous and Occupy, strengthen heir position. In the meantime cyber- tension does not abate and involve all actors mentioned…

Click on the picture below to access No30

Garden 2 new size

Everstate: Setting the stage (II)

Last week’s summary: Everstate (An ideal-type for our very real countries created to foresee the future of the modern nation-state, to which we now attribute values to be able to develop the scenarios) is a middle-range power located on the Eurasian land mass and part of the international liberal order. It is ruled under a democratic parliamentary regime and obeys an array of norms and their institutional administrative offshoots at international, regional and national level. Its governance is thus complex. Lately, it started being less efficient and as a result began to fail to ensure the security of Everstate’s citizens.

(Click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab).

An increasingly inefficient economy

Meanwhile, the economy was starting to be less efficient. True enough, Everstate, with its still fair governance, inheriting a past positive economic situation was still receiving its share of foreign direct investments (FDI), while also investing in other countries, thus being fully part of the enmeshed globalised world.

Yet, the growth, upheld by the normative order as main objective, panacea and ideal, tended to increasingly stall and chronic unemployment had slowly started to settle in. Meanwhile, poverty had not been eradicated and was again on the rise, while inequality decupled. However, the normative model still justified the resource repartition and, for example, those who were poor tended to be seen as lazy, worthless and as social misfits, who did not want to enter the system and work.

Most analysts and analyses were focusing on old ways to understand economics, which had been so useful in the past, revisiting debates and quarrels over Keynes, Hayek, Marx, and others for example. Yet, most failed to find explanations and solutions to the current degrading efficiency and slowing growth. Meanwhile, obvious factors were most often overlooked.

The evolution of society towards more complexity affected not only governance but also economy and its efficiency. Its impact on the initial resources available was also playing a part: for example, science, production models, socio-political models, changes in ways of life, and demography had profoundly altered not only agriculture but also available resources such as land, water, seeds, and food resources. Furthermore, the evolution of society coupled with the evolution of resources had strongly impacted the ecological milieu, for example through biodiversity impacts and climate change, which in turn affected directly the efficiency of the economy. New resources could emerge that had been unheard of previously, e.g. biofuels, or massive influx of jellyfish that altered the whole life of Everstate’s seashore. More generally, resources also displayed a trend towards an increasing complexity, with consequences on the economy. Similar dynamics were at work in any sector, including the emergence of the very new (in terms of human history) virtual world.

Changes in the economy’s efficiency had effects on the security provided to citizens, would it be only directly through a more uncertain material security. Indirect effects, in as much as governance seemed unable to favour a return to the security ante, were also to be expected, with time. However, those consequences were still deemed as temporary and relatively minor in terms of scope (the number of people being affected) and intensity. Citizens had started expressing the fact they felt those effects, but only through relatively mild discontent (mostly without any violence).

Another impact, initially mainly unnoticed, was that the demand for liquidity had started to grow. Indeed, the still existing economic growth needed liquidity, as well as the usual functioning of the economy. More importantly, the gap between lowered efficiency and stable or increasing needs had to be bridged by something and it was by liquidity.

The powerful Everstatan elite* under threat?

As for all elite groups, Everstatan elite power stemmed initially from their search to protect and increase their status and privileges, their resources and income. Then, obtaining and maintaining this power promoted the search for even more power, in a relentless dynamic.

Becoming part of elite groups is obtained throughout time and space by holding mastery or power over something that is needed by one’s polity. Three major areas can be identified that generate and then maintain elite power: understanding, knowledge and skills, specific (material) resources (e.g. land for a long period of human history), and, last but not least, liquid assets or liquidity.

The dynamics, in essence, run as follows: a polity needs specific resources (e.g. energy), understanding and skills (e.g. how best to see the economy function, or how best to manage the state apparatus according to the ongoing socio-political model), and liquid assets, with variation in terms of content, quantity and timing. When the need appears or increases, then those who possess the corresponding resource find themselves in the position to become crucial to their polity. The less numerous those who master this resource, the higher the power and related status they will get in return.

Status itself can also be considered as a symbolic resource of a specific kind that is hard to obtain but, once reached, favours mastery over the rest. Similarly, elite groups derive income from their various masteries that help them, if wisely used, to maintain their mastery then power. Finally, elite groups also develop coercive powers – when coercion is not the primary resource over which they have mastery – that help them achieving and maintaining their power.

The stronger the elite power, the stronger the elite bargaining position when negotiating with the ruler of the polity for those resources they master, which, in turn, leads to a rampant and hidden appropriation of the public domain, as is the case for Everstate. Furthermore, Everstate being a modern nation-state, organised according to a democratic regime, the tension occurs directly between elite groups and the nation, the real ruler of Everstate.

In Everstate, the rising demand for liquidity, notably, had enhanced the elite power of lenders and of the various financial actors, while the rising economic inefficiency had similar effects on economic actors including pundits.

Most notably, in Everstate as in most other countries, new elite groups had started rising, for example those linked to the virtual world.

Any new demand that would emerge would lead to the rise of a new elite group.

However strong the position obtained by entrenched elite groups, they may also disappear. Indeed, what creates them may lead to their demise, as resources become plentiful or disused, as skills and knowledge once scarce become widespread or as understanding suddenly fails.

Yet, elite group will not willingly accept their own disappearance, and will use any means to keep their power and status. At best they will promote changes in a bid to uphold their mastery over crucial resources. At worst they will block changes and fully involve their remaining means of power (income, coercion, status) in contests spurred by the discontent of the nation, playing an active role in polarisation and radicalization of society, favouring escalation towards conflict and finally most often ready to engage in wars.

The situation had definitely not reached this level of tension in Everstate as our story begins. Yet, the changes at work could let expect that some elite groups’ power was challenged, and could eventually lead to their demise, but no full awareness of this phenomenon had yet taken place. Notably, pro-active elite involved in economic efficiency, governance-related administrative and political elite, and knowledge and understanding institutions meant to provide explanation and models and related elite groups were most probably at risk.

The various mild degradations and tensions had been felt and registered by the population, sometimes involving protests under various forms, from abstention during elections to strikes and demonstrations, by the various elite groups, the government and the state. However, most Everstatan actors were most often considering them as temporary crises and difficulties that would be shortly solved, while everything would go back to normal. At worst, some envisioned a serious crisis that would last a few years, maybe a decade before everything went back to normal.

Are they right? What does the future hold for Everstate? Whatever happens on the shorter term, will it have impacts on the medium then longer term, and which ones? How will Everstate fare if or when confronted to tragic events, considering decisions taken during the first years?

To be continued next week…


* Along many scholars having worked on this topic, and on sub-issues, and who have informed the building of the overall map, I am more particularly greatly indebted to Thomas Ertman for his enlightening and masterful understanding of state-building. All mistakes and misunderstandings remain my own. Thomas Ertman, Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997). For a review of Ertman’s book, see, for example: Ariel Zellman’s Review: Birth of the Leviathan by Thomas Ertman.


Anderson, Benedict, Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, (New York: Verso 1991).

Ertman, Thomas, Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Robert Taylor, The State in Burma, (London: Christopher Hurst, 1987) – notably for the separation between public and private domain, see p.66.

Zellman, Ariel, “Birth of the Leviathan by Thomas Ertman” Blog post

The Red (team) Analysis Weekly No29, 5th January 2012

No29, 5th January 2012

For a while now, we have been documenting the rising tension with Iran, which is now a crisis with, beyond direct security impacts effect on oil prices and trade and the economy. Meanwhile weak – and strong – signals regarding the worsening global food situation and related impacts, the continuing and deepening Euro zone problems, global economic crisis and consequences on China, and the rise of a global new opposition movement pile up. Also, a crucial scientific discovery regarding the coming temporal cloaking device (possibility to hide events)…

Click on the picture below to access No29

garden of delights by Bosch

Everstate: Setting the stage (I)

For explanations regarding the methodology used to develop the narrative, see the post “Constructing a foresight scenario’s narrative with Ego Networks.”

Geopolitical situation*: Everstate, a middle-range power

As a medium state power located on the Eurasian land mass, Everstate had not seen its geopolitical position fundamentally altered since the end of the Cold War, and even since the end of World War II. However, recently, some tensions had begun building up and Everstate had to start contending with them as they could easily transform in very concrete new external military threats.

What had contributed to maintain its geopolitical position were different factors. If the impact that its ecological setting could have had on its geopolitical position was remote and long forgotten, it nevertheless still played a part. Similarly, its continental climate, soften for the southeastern part by the influence coming from the sea, was not seen as a factor influencing geopolitics anymore. The harshness of the snowy and mountainous North had long been perceived as a bounty for tourism. The large river crossing the country from Northwest to Southeast was seen from the perspective of  industry, trade and tourism and no longer as a possible way in for invaders. Finally, it had been centuries since the rich agricultural eastern plain had not attracted invaders or greedy neighbours looking for rich lands.

Everstate’s army was efficient, considering military techniques, expertise and previous experience, even if its size had been reduced. The previous period of peace, as well as the evolution of society and the size of the population had led to this downsizing. The defence forces could thus carry out with success very specific and targeted missions, but not deploy extensively and exhaustively.

In Everstate, central order was relatively strong. The governance was quite efficient although some areas were starting to be less effectual. As a result, evidence of discontent, so far apparently limited to complaining and grumbling, had started being recorded, letting believe that the security of citizens was not anymore fully ensured. We were, however, apparently quite far from civil war and major domestic escalation of violence, which could   impact the geopolitical situation. Furthermore, as none of the latter events had occurred for the last century or so, they were deemed to be impossible: people had become unable of such actions because of the comfortable life they had enjoyed for so long.

At the beginning of this second decade of the 21st century EVTEverstate was well in line with the most common winning international norms. This gave the country international legitimacy and implied that it did not have to face any major normative war with the dominant order. Its society was modern; it believed in material well-being, constant improvement thereof and in the virtues of constant and rising economic growth; it obeyed the law of the market and of capitalism, economics being quite foremost.

Meanwhile, the old traditional monotheist religions still existed but their institutional and political role was marginal, as most of society was mainly concerned with other matters, more materialistic than spiritual. Nevertheless, as in other countries, some tensions existed between small groups of one or the other monotheist religion and sometimes flared up.

Everstate’s governance starts displaying a creeping loss of performance

Governance was thence still quite efficient, with nevertheless a slow, creeping loss of performance.

The state was organised according to a formal and rational-legal bureaucracy, upheld by a legal apparatus. It was subdivided administratively according to both geography and major domains of interest (defence, foreign affairs, homeland security, agriculture, trade and industry, tourism, finance, etc.) related to the security of Everstate, as identified throughout the previous ruling periods.

Everstate was governed under a democratic parliamentary regime. As a result, Parliament was involved in political decision-making, would it be only through the restraining power it exerted over the executive. The political game that was played within Everstate’s ruling elite was classical, involving not only the search for power of the nation’s elected representative, but also the too often forgotten effort of the nation, this imagined body of citizens (Anderson, 1991), to also protect its power.

As part of the international society and obeying to its norms, Everstate was a full member of the various international institutions that upheld those norms, from the United Nations, to the organizations of the Washington Consensus (IMF, World Bank) and to the World Trade Organization (WTO) (Watson, 1992). Everstate, as many other states in the world, was also a member of a regional institution, a Regional Union of independent and sovereign democratic states, it had joined freely in the decades following World War II. The Regional Union is neither a Federation, as the United States, Canada, India or Germany, for example, nor a Confederation, but something different, in the making. Its mission, shape, organisation, membership, areas of exclusive or only shared competence and consultative responsibility are being continually reworked and redesigned through various treaties and pacts. It adds one more layer of complexity to the overall governance of Everstate.

The power of the ruler (the nation and its representatives) was neither weak nor strong. However, as, by comparison, the power of various elite groups was relatively strong, then, some appropriation of public power was taking place. Because the separation between the public and private domains had been achieved for some time, this appropriation of public power was either hidden as rampant corruption and nepotism or taking new forms that were still difficult to unmask and name. The appropriation of public power had direct consequences on governance as it lowered its efficiency and perverted its objectives.

The nation-state’s income had been slowly but steadily growing over the past decades. However, it had to be seen in the light of the necessary expenses that seemed to grow uncontrollably faster. Indeed, as society had lived at peace and developed over the last 60 years, it had grown more complex. Conditions had changed, from the way to live and relate to each other with urbanization and digital and communication technology, to food availability and quality, to health behaviour. Meanwhile new threats had emerged. This led to a more complex situation in terms of governance. While governing implied more tasks and more complex ones, it became more costly. Hence, a few decades ago, the various resources extracted for governance and for ensuring the security of the citizens had started to be insufficient. This phenomenon was accentuated by the appropriation of public good and power by elite groups.

If the legitimate monopoly of violence of the state was still there, it was nevertheless weakening as it had started being affected by the reduction of overall available resources. Even if such events were thought to be improbable by most, any evolution involving rising grievances up until an escalation towards civil war would be affected by this weakening monopoly of violence. In turn, if such an unlikely and unfortunate spiral started, it would further impact the army’s performance, the monopoly of violence and governance.

The legitimacy of Evertstate’s political system, inherited from past dynamics, was still strong and its impact was thus positive. As a result, despite a security to the ruled – or the citizens – that was starting to be less than perfect, no risk of strong rising discontent and polarisation was thought to be possible.

To be continued next week…


* We shall not here dwell in-depth on the nodes (variables) containing s4. Indeed s4 concerns the future and will be developed with the rest of the scenario.


Anderson, Benedict, Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, (New York: Verso 1991).

Ertman, Thomas, Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Taylor, Robert The State in Burma, (London: Christopher Hurst, 1987) – notably for the separation between public and private domain, see p.66.

WatsonAdamThe Evolution of International Society: a Comparative Analysis, (London: Routledge, 1992).

Zellman, Ariel, “Birth of the Leviathan by Thomas Ertman” Blog post.


Constructing a foresight scenario’s narrative with Ego Networks

In many foresight methods, once you have identified the main factors or variables and reach the moment to develop the narrative for the scenarios, you are left with no guidance regarding the way to accomplish this step, beyond something along the line of “flesh out the scenario and develop the story.”*

Here, we shall do otherwise and provide a straightforward and easy method to write the scenario. We shall use the dynamic network we constructed for Everstate – or for another issue – and the feature called “Ego Network” that is available in social network analysis and visualisation software to guide the development and writing of the narrative.

Ego network

An ego network is, basically, the network that surrounds or is centered upon a single variable or node, called, in this case, an “ego.” This network will be the backbone of our narrative.

The depth of an ego network is the length of the path between the selected ego and a linked node or variable. An ego network of depth 1 will thus display all variables or nodes that are linked to the selected ego by only one edge (link, arrow), either incoming or outgoing. If we take the example of the network centred on the ego “country’s geopolitical position s3” (reminder: s3 means step 3 in our dynamic mapping), which is the first variable we shall use to set the stage for Everstate, then we obtain the graph above.

An ego network of depth 2 would show all variables linked to the ego with a path between each variable and our ego equal to a maximum of 2 edges (for an ego network centered around variable A, examples of paths of length 2, or 2 edges are A->B->C and D->F->A). Always using the same example, we would have a much larger graph for an ego network of depth two, as shown on the left hand side.

Save for rare exceptions, we shall use ego networks of depth 1. The analyst can try different depths for her/his ego network and choose the depth that allows her/him to tell the clearer story.

Working with Ego Network in Gephi

Once the overall graph is constructed, it is extremely easy to obtain any ego network with Gephi.

In “Overview,” as shown on the screenshot below, select “filters” on the right hand side, and choose “Ego Network” in the section “Topology.” Then drag with the mouse “Ego Network” in the bottom right hand window “Queries.” In the “Node ID,” enter either the name of the variable you want to use or its ID, here 34. Then press OK and filter. The ego network redraws itself automatically in the “Graph” window. You can then apply any layout (bottom left hand window).

The complete network is accessed by clicking again on filter. One can then change ego or variable, or proceed with other tasks.

It is best to re-run the usual layout between filtering for two different ego networks to be able to benefit from the best possible visualisation for each ego network.

Using Ego Network to write the narrative

With one ego network

To start telling the narrative for a scenario, then one needs obviously to begin with a variable to which a value will have been attributed.

Continuing with the same example, we have set as variable “country’s geopolitical position s3” the value “medium range power,” as explained with the previous posts (Revisiting influence analysis and Variables, values and consistency in dynamic networks). This variable will be chosen as ego for the Ego Network (depth 1).

Then one uses one after the other linked variables to tell the story, each time attributing a value to that variable. Cross-consistency will need to be checked mentally and the analyst will have, of course, to remember the values s/he attributed to make sure the overall story is consistent and logical.

Here the first variables affecting our ego are “country geopolitical position s2,” “geographical location” “ecological setting” “new external military threats s3.” Thus, the corresponding narrative, as shall be fully seen in the post “Setting the Stage,” runs as follows (variables are inserted between brackets for the sake of explanation):

“As a medium state power [country’s geopolitical position s3] located on the Eurasian land mass [geographical location], Everstate had not seen its geopolitical position fundamentally altered since the end of the Cold War, and even since the end of World War II [country geopolitical position s2]. However, recently, some tensions had begun building up and Everstate had to start contending with them as they could easily transform in very concrete new external military threats [new external military threats s3].

What had contributed to maintain its geopolitical position were different factors. If the impact that its ecological setting could have had on its geopolitical position was remote and long forgotten, it nevertheless played a part [ecological setting]. Similarly, its continental climate, soften for the southeastern part by the influence coming from the sea was not seen as a factor influencing geopolitics anymore [geographical location, ecological setting]. The harshness of the snowy and mountainous North had long been seen as a bounty for tourism [geographical location, ecological setting]. The large river crossing the country from Northwest to Southeast was seen from the perspective of industry, trade and tourism and no longer as a possible way in for invaders [geographical location, ecological setting]. Finally, it had been centuries since the rich agricultural eastern plain had not attracted invaders or greedy neighbours looking for rich lands [geographical location, ecological setting].”

We can now move to the next group of influencing variables :

“Everstate’s army was performing, considering military techniques, expertise and previous experience, even if its size had been reduced [army’s size and performance s3].” Etc.

One then describes all the values for each variable, paying attention to the types of links, either cause or impact.

Moving from one ego network to another

When one sets the stage for the ideal-type (here Everstate), then one moves from one criteria initially selected to another, using each of them as ego, while the related network is used to develop the narrative. There is thus no difficulty regarding the choice of the next ego network.

Once this task accomplished, then one starts a new phase of the scenario building, really telling the story.

The variable that must be chosen to begin narrating the story depends upon the understanding the analyst has of the overall dynamics for the issue at hand. In our case, I chose, as shall be seen in a later post, the variable “pop level of satisfaction (sec) s3”  (the level of satisfaction regarding security as felt by the population – step 3) because it is crucial for understanding the overall dynamics of a polity. However, another analyst could have chosen to start with another variable. As no variable has been removed from the graph, all variables will be used anyway.

The variable is then used as ego, as explained previously. One starts with the influencing or causing variables. For each causing or influencing variable, to obtain details on this variable and thus better develop the narrative and explain the dynamics, the analyst will be able to use it as ego network. This will allow her to better flesh out the story.

Once causing variables have been detailed and a coherent story developed, then the analyst must move to the impacts or consequences. Each impact will be used as new ego, and a new paragraph or part written using the network of this ego.

The process is repeated until completion of the scenario.

Exception: groups or clusters of variables

For some variables that appear as tight groups or clusters, it makes more sense to develop a narrative including both influencing and influenced variables. In those case, then one shall tell the story for the whole group in one or two paragraphs. The task of detecting those groups of variables is eased by the use of network visualisation tools as those groups are literally shown by the lay-out (here Force Atlas).

Ultimately, it will be up to the analyst to decide how to tell the story according to which outline and how to handle the variables for the best possible result.

As we progress with the Chronicles of Everstate, the reader will become familiar with the method. To help the reader, the first post dealing with Everstate’s future, “The Chronicles of Everstate (2011 EVT – 2012 EVT): Discontent” (to be published on January 15), will also serve as example. It will recall briefly the methodology and the words corresponding to an influencing or influenced variable or node for the main narrative will be in bold.

Ego networks, an analyst’s weapon

Using ego network to develop the narrative is not only a support but it also helps ensuring that neither influencing factors nor impacts are forgotten. It allows fighting against many biases and gives a structured framework and outline to the analysis, thus assisting the analyst.

It will facilitate verification, revision and discussions among various analysts.

Furthermore, assuming the model has been developed scientifically, it can be used as proof or evidence of the validity of the scenario, which is crucial to obtain the trust of policy-makers and decision-makers, or more largely of all potential users of the strategic foresight scenarios.

* For example: Andrew Curry & Wendy Schultz, “Roads Less Travelled: Different Methods, Different Futures,” Journal of Futures Studies, May 2009, 13(4): 35 – 60; Jerome C. Glenn and The Futures Group International, “Scenarios,” The Millennium Project: Futures Research Methodology, Version 3.0, Ed. Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. 2009, Ch 19; Tom Ritchey, “Morphological analysis,” The Millennium Project: Futures Research Methodology, Version 3.0, Ed. Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. 2009, Ch 17.