Examination of Witness (Questions 1 -
WEDNESDAY 2 FEBRUARY 2000
1. Good afternoon, Professor Angell. Welcome.
We are very pleased indeed that you have been willing to appear
before the Committee at such short notice. We are grateful to
you also for the written submission which you have put to us.
It is rather unusual for us to receive it in book form. In our
call for evidence we usually ask for a short submission, preferably
on one side. Understandably, as you were not given the opportunity,
you have not managed that. I did have a look at your book last
night rather late so I did not read it all but I read the preface
and naturally I think within the space of two pages of the preface
you got pretty well near to doing a summary. I also read the introduction
and then in good journalistic style I skipped towards the end
and read part of chapter 17.
(Professor Angell) And then you had nightmares.
2. I must admit I did not sleep very well last
A. Good. It worked then.
3. The one thing that I think we can be assured
of this afternoon is that you are going to keep all of us awake.
I understand you have been asked to speak to us for about five
minutes in the first instance.
A. I thought I would summarise my position.
The Times, The Guardian and the Independent
all call me "the Angell of Doom", and you are going
to find out exactly why in the next five minutes. Before we actually
look at the six questions on the table I thought it only right
that I explain my position, where I am coming from because it
is a rather unusual one. As you say, that is why I gave copies
of my book. In The New Barbarian Manifesto I claim that
the socio-economic certainties of the Twentieth Century, the century
of the masses, is actually collapsing. Because of telecoms and
speedy international travel the whole nature of political governance
has changed, its relationship with capital, and even capitalism
itself is mutating. The fault lines are appearing everywhere and
these are going to have awesome effects on politics, business,
society as a whole. The very nature of institutions like work,
the workplace, money, the marketplace, are all mutating. This
will feed back and cause major changes in society. This is not
a nice, neat, tidy transition, it is a severe and a total dislocation
with the past. Because of computerised production and the exportation
of jobs, the structured world of semi-skilled labour that arose
in the industrial revolution is now totally disintegrating. Of
course labour is needed but there is a world full of labourers
out there. Global transaction costs have dropped to a point where
there are now a billion new workers on the global job market.
So why should the world's unemployed all live in developing countries?
The West is going to have to bear its share. The Marxist myth
that labour creates wealth is going to be buried once and for
all in the information age. It is that rare commodity, human talent,
which is the stuff of work in tomorrow's world. Hence, it is a
time of great opportunity but only for an elite few. New technology
has unleashed unstoppable global economic forces which are empowering
what I call the "New Barbarians". IT has liberated them
from the constraint and the mind-set and the moralities of the
collective. It has set the individual free to roam the higher
dimensions of cyberspace. This will have astounding implications
for anyone who can grasp its potential. These New Barbarians ignore
tribal loyalties, they are what Lasch called The Revolt of
the Elites. He was clear that the battle between the individual
and the collective has been rejoined. The collective, the masses,
may have won the battle of the industrial age but the information
age is totally another matter. The New Barbarians will relocate
physically, fiscally or electronically to where profit is greatest
and regulation least. These barbarians choose to give their loyalty
freely and voluntarily. Loyalty is no longer an accident of birth:
it is individual, it is not tribal; it is contractual, it is not
judicial. It is made consciously on the basis of unashamed rational
self-interest. Barbarians know that there are enormous opportunities
for those with the vigour and the vitality, the nerve, to break
free of tribal boundaries drawn in the past, and who have the
vision to redraw their own borders, their own future. These opportunities
will sweep away the old moribund institutions, not in anarchy
and chaos but with new ideas, new moralities, new power structures,
new rituals. They are subsequently laying down the foundations
for new institutions. States must learn that they are now just
another form of commercial enterprise frantically trying to find
employment for their masses. They will have to be run like corporations
and survive economically on the efforts of an elite few, because
no nation state has an automatic right to exist. Not only will
state be pitted against state, but area against area, town against
town, suburb against suburb. Such is the genesis of the new society,
in which the winners in the knowledge economy, I believe, will
reinvent the medieval City State as a "Smart Region",
an electronic ville, an e-ville, at the hub of global electronic
multimedia and transport networks. An independent cosmopolitan
City State of London makes real economic sense. Home rule inside
the M25 motorway. Forget about the Mayor of London, if the House
of Commons wants to help London they should move to Birmingham.
Meanwhile, the losers face a bleak future. Far from creating a
Utopia, information technology will spell poverty for the many
and self-governing opulence for the few. The few are what Rees-Mogg
called sovereign individuals. Only those individuals with knowledge,
talent and power to guide this social revolution will prosper,
liberated from taxation, while semi-skilled and unskilled labour
becomes a commodity and worldwide a billion disenfranchised production
workers compete on price against more efficient robots. The Twentieth
Century will be remembered not as a battle between the collectives
of the left and the collectives of the right, but as the domination
of the individual by the tribe, as the control of trade by collective
ideologies. The Twentieth Century is over, welcome to the future,
welcome to the brave new world of The New Barbarian Manifesto.
4. Thank you very much indeed, there is plenty
of food for thought there for us and I am sure that some of my
colleagues will be picking up on that. In the meantime we have
to address ourselves to a number of issues that are immediately
before us that relate to the European Union. We will come back
to some of your points during the course of those. I would like
to try to ensure that we do focus on some of those topics which
have been sent to you in advance. I would like to start off, if
I may, seeking your views on what do you believe are the premises
which are behind the draft Action Plan eEurope: An Information
Society for All?
A. In responding to your questions I see my
role as not giving you answers, but highlighting what I see as
the thinking behind this eEurope document and then asking questions
about whether it is appropriate to this new information age. We
make sense of our world through rituals and institutions. I am
asking can the rituals and institutions born in the age of the
machine, which I think go all through this document, make any
sense in the information age? The problem I have with this document
is that it doesn't pass the "so what?" test. I read
it and I said "so what?" For example, take the emphasis
on the information society. Across the Atlantic they talk about
the information economy and they have a totally different emphasis
on what is going on. I am convinced that the American Dream is
going to win against what I call the collectivist sentimentality
of the information society that pervades such European documents.
There are matters not mentioned therewhere
is the discussion on electronic-cash, for example, which is going
to be a fundamental issue? Governments hate it because it means
they lose control of their economy, but it is going to come. The
real issues are not there. It is a form of sentimentality if you
actually look through it. It is full of truisms, which are mostly
false. "Success in the new economy depends on the consumer's
ability to take full advantage of the opportunities." Nonsense.
Success depends on the creators of the product. The document has
cause and effect totally mixed up.
5. Can I press you to enumerate some of the
issues you believe that should be there but are missing?
A. Let us look at the issues that are here that
should not be. Take, for example, health care on-line. This is
basically saying business should subsidise the welfare state.
Business is about business, making money, making profits for the
shareholders. It is not acting as some cut-price support for the
state. Participation for the disabled is another form of support
for the state. Why? Why is it here? If it makes sense commercially
it will be there anyway. IBM are already producing software that
enable the blind to listen to what is on the Internet. It does
not need a EU programme. The danger I see in these ten groups,
and the first reaction I got when I read this document was, oh
no, ten more gravy trains.
6. Those are the ones. You are taking out health
A. It should only be there if it makes commercial
7. Are you taking out the recommendations regarding
the disabled? Do you think there should be issues there or should
we be leaving it totally to free market force.
A. No, no. There is a real role for Government.
I am quite clear that the role for the Government is to produce
the right people with the right knowledge and expertise, which
are the raw material for the global companies. The state is there
to service the companies and to provide them with an efficient
infrastructure, a minimally regulated market, a secure, stable
and comfortable environment. In a sense there should be some form
of Bill of Rights which prevents Government from taking arbitrary
8. Thank you, Professor, you have quite taken
my breath away. Just on the last point, it is the Government's
responsibility to produce the right people with the right knowledge
and the right expertise? How? DNA cloning or something?
A. The problem is the question of how you filter
out. We have an ideology in this country that everyone is capable
of being educated, I discount that totally. 20 per cent of British
people are functionally illiterate. The idea that somehow they
cannot read books but they are going to use e-commerce is nonsense.
9. That is a very interesting point, but it
is not part of this investigation. If there is 20 per cent of
the population functionally illiterate, it is up to somebody somewhere,
probably the Government in conjunction with business. This does
have an input here because after all it is in businesses' interests
to make people function.
A. Only if they make a business case for doing
it, not as an obligation because they tie into some document.
Then you ask, why are they tying in? Then we are back to gravy
10. The point is that it is in businesses' interest
to have a functionally literate work force because otherwise when
a new development comes along if they are not literate they cannot
A. I disagree with that.
Lord Sandberg: So do I.
11. What needs to be done to stimulate e-commerce?
First of all, do you think e-commerce needs to be stimulated by
the European Union in terms of a directive, in terms of a super
national force or do you actually believe it should be up to national
government or the third option, which is, that we could argue
that e-commerce is stimulating itself, it is self-creating and
self-stimulating? Do you think that is where it should be left?
A. This document does put its finger on the
two major issues that will drive e-commerce forward, one is tax
and the other is intellectual property rights. These are the key
issues that have to be addressed that will actually drive e-commerce
forward. The information society, as this document projects, is
actually the old society with e-commerce stuck on top. My prediction
is that it will be a totally different society. Trying to create
this false marriage is actually going to precipitate problems.
It will actually make our society less efficient than what is
going on in Dubai, in parts of India, in Malaysia, even.
12. How can a government, or indeed the European
Union as a collective of governments, manage to sort it out through
tax? You and I know that some e-commerce people do not have to
pay tax at all, they will not have to pay tax. All that you have
to do is say you are based in the Antarctic and that will do.
A. That is the basic problem, that people can
now avoid taxation. There is that possibility, because we earn
money around the world we can leave it elsewhere. The knowledge
workers have to be based somewhere and provided there is a contract
between that somewhere and the knowledge workers they will be
happy to pay tax, but to a certain extent. I am not libertarian,
I do not believe that tax should be scrapped. Tax should be used
for a limited number of things, basically to protect the individual
from the masses, pay for the police, pay for the military, pay
for the judiciary and pay for public health. This document is
ambiguous about public health. Basically public health, I believe,
is about communicable diseases, not cancer, and so on. That is
what the state should pay for, nothing else. That is where I stand
and I think most knowledge workers think the same way because
then they believe they are getting value for money. The only role
of politics and politicians is to guard the guardians of society,
the police, the military and the judiciary. Someone has to guard
the guardians and that is the role of politics.
13. Coming straight from that, the Government
has no locus at all in stimulating or getting involved
A. Like all of these things the answer is yes
and no. The danger is that many of the projects have hidden agendas.
Government is not a unified entity, there are all sorts of turf
wars going on. If you look at this country now the obvious way
forward in e-commerce is to have some form of trusted third party
aspect of e-commerce and yet we are fighting a battle between
the spooks on the one hand and the Department of Trade on the
14. Can you explain that? Define the third party?
A. If I am e-trading with you, I do not know
who you are and you do not know who I am. We go to someone who
guarantees our legitimacy. Maybe this is a role for government
acting in this way, but if government insists on looking at what
you are doing then you are not trusted, so nobody trusts government.
For example, you have the GSM phone. Basically the cryptography
on GSM has been reduced to a point now so the government can hack
into it and listen to what is going on, but hackers can get into
it also. So the GSM codes are now totally irrelevant as far as
encrypted communication is concerned. That is because government
has interfered. These are the issues. Having someone trusted,
somebody who holds my money. It is like a solicitor basically,
but in electronic form.
15. Or Government. Could the Government not
have that role?
A. Do I trust Government? "Trust me, I
am from the Government". That has got a slight little frisson
16. Could business not have that role in certain
A. That is where I see companies like the Telcos
who could take on this role, but the trouble is they have been
corrupted as well.
17. The banks have had that role for years.
A. In a sense electronic banking could be the
way forward with the banks themselves acting as these trusted
third parties when A is dealing with B and neither know one another.
There are no institutions of trust. When we go to the High Street
we have one hundred years of the shop being there, there is an
institution of trust, but when we do things electronically across
the other side of the world we do not know whether there is a
crime going on. Crime is rampant. If you take, for example, Visa.
Fifty per cent of Visa fraud is internet-related but only two
per cent of the business. That is the reality of e-commerce. There
are a lot of criminals out there and therefore it is essential
that we have some form of trust institutions built in. This document
mentions it in passing in some little paragraph. Yet it is the
18. In a sense you are saying there is a requirement
A. Not necessarily government regulation.
Chairman: You are raising a question mark over
who should regulate it.
19. Who should regulate it, exactly?
A. Why should the market not regulate itself?
Why should the company not set itself up to be the regulator?