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I would like to go back to the future, please

Some 28 years ago, I became the president of a trade organization called the Area Association of Business Publications in the United States.
Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,

Some 28 years ago, I became the president of a trade organization called the Area Association of Business Publications in the United States. It was a wonderful group of entrepreneurial first-time publishers, overwhelmingly American, who were starting up regional business publications across North America, from Kansas City to New York, and from San Diego to Cleveland. With Northern Ontario Business, I was one of the early members of this group and it was fun to watch it grow from the ground up.

We had a lot of fun and that group taught me a lot about what was best about America: the indefatigable Wild West spirit, the no-holds-barred innovative creativity, and the unabashed optimism of believing you could accomplish anything.

The group remains active to this day, although it is no longer dominated by first-time entrepreneurs.

I tell you this because in the late 1980s, I became president of this group and one of my jobs as president was to make a speech in Oslo to the European Business Press Association. The idea was to share some of our North American best practices with like-minded publishing entrepreneurs in Europe.

The excitement of those days was infectious. There was a wonderful sense of optimism and joy with the Europeans as they we building a new Europe, putting aside the old nationalism that had brought so much despair and destruction over the years. It was a joyful celebration that took me completely by surprise.

I just had not had any sense of this revolution and change in the way people did their business over there.

I still have pictures of that trip and remember fondly the people I met and the exhilarations of the moment — a new faith in humanity.

The astonishing vote in the United Kingdom to tear down 40 years of hard work, growth, compromise and diversity was a very sad day for me. It may or may not be the beginning of the end of that wonderful experiment, but whatever lies ahead the dream is clouded and diminished. The spell is broken. The joy has drained away. The calculus is only economic. A new deal may be crafted to avoid disaster but none of it will have to do with nation-building. It will have to do with survival.

Northern Ontario is both very local and very global. We travel the world managing mining companies, innovating mining products and solutions, exporting wood products, and watching best practices in resource economies around the world. We have more in common with Finland than Sarnia in some ways.

We have a stake in sensible trade agreements.

Mostly though, we have a stake in sanity.

The rise of Donald Trump, the demise of Europe and the potential downfall of the United Kingdom reminds me of those heady days of optimism for me in both America and Europe. I nearly bought a magazine in Kent, England and instead bought one in Manchester, New Hampshire.

It is not easy to watch the stupidity of invading countries halfway round the world, which begets failed states, which begets a desperate and unmanageable refugee crisis, which begets the backlash that sets the world back half a century in what seems like a nanosecond.

The worst problem is that the failed states are ours. With one we share a history and with the other a continent.

The problem is not just racism. The problem is work.

If people do not feel they have a stake in their society why would they support it? Why would they default to their better natures, to generosity or collaboration? It makes sense that they are angry even if it is with the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

Our biggest problem is that the digital economy is driving productivity and stealing work. It is a recipe for disaster.

Our digital economies are eliminating good-paying jobs and concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

Our leading democracies are failing miserably when most is needed from them.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Pogo (1970)