THE BLOG

Why Law Can No Longer Control Society

28/11/2017 15:55 GMT

In the grand scheme of things, the 42 years that I have been alive is really not a long time. However, the rate things have changed in my 42 years, compared to the pace at which evolution has previously developed, is rather shocking.

Ray Kurzweil, one of the world’s leading futurists and winner of multiple awards around technology and innovation, explains that the whole of the 20th Century is equivalent to 20 years’ progress at today’s rate of change. It’s worth pointing out the amount of change that happened in the last century was no pitiful feat – it brought us the space exploration, the microwave, the internet, the red button, the rise and fall of Kodak and Blockbuster, the mobile phone and so many more devices and items that our lives today wouldn’t be the same without, not to mention sliced bread!

So, let’s just contextualise Ray’s leap for a second. In June 2010 Uber launched in San Francisco, arriving in London two years later in June 2012. Five years later it is now valued at a sweet $68 billion. In just the last five years we have seen the drone move from a military device to one which is now available to the mass populous, with over 300,000 sold in the UK in 2015 and around 2.5 million sold in the US in 2016. This unmanned air vehicle has become such an intrinsic part of our modern lives, this year saw Amazon deliver their packages by drone. If this rate of change shows no signs of stopping, then we better buckle up and get ready for the challenges that lie ahead because there’ll be many and I’m scared we can’t keep up… very scared.

I’m fearful because this degree of change directly opposes the structural politics and underpinning of our society. Politics aims for any law to pass into effect within a year, noting that this is an aim, not a requirement. But, look how quickly things are moving. It means the laws that govern the land cannot keep up with the movement of the world it attempts to rule.

Let’s have a look at just how out of step things are within the context of my two above examples. It took Uber seven years to reach a valuation of around $68 billion. Meanwhile, in 2015 in the UK, two drivers challenged the status quo of Uber and the “gig economy” by disputing that they were self-employed. The landmark case asserted that these drivers were Uber workers and so entitled to the associated rights of being employed by a company. The ruling was passed in their favour in October 2016, and still over a year later, nothing has changed. Furthermore, despite Uber losing their licence as a private car hire operator in London in September 2017, it is estimated to take up to two years in court for anything to actually happen, meanwhile they continue to operate as they always have done.

What about the drone that crashed into a BA plane over Heathrow, which was carrying 137 people? At the time of the crash in April 2016, there was nothing illegal about this situation because no laws had been implemented – although the problem had been discussed in the House of Lords. It wasn’t until June 2017 – over a year later, that the government announced drone legislation. Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean laws have been enshrined, but merely that the first stepping stones are being laid.

Let’s look at the Budget too, the framework of financial plans for the year, which impacts both individual lives and the business landscape. Despite the Budget being announced in November, it won’t be introduced till the start of the following tax year i.e. April 2018. In a financial world, or even in a broader general world, where change is at its fastest rate and uncertainty is the only certainty, five months is an awful long gap for something to be talked about before being actioned. As we’ve seen, society is far outstripping the structure which surrounds it, our processes are becoming irrelevant. More to the point, my observation is that we are waiting for the action before we react.

We need to make governance relevant again, by ensuring policies and laws are forecasting ahead and not merely reacting. We need to align the pace of change with the pace of what is legally possible, or else I’m scared what kind of societal drone crash we’ll be in for.

I’ll always fondly remember the story of the tortoise and the hare from my childhood, as my parents would relay the fable to me so I would think about the intention of my actions. While it is a lesson I’ve always taken on in my personal life, it is only recently that I have come to realise how relevant it is to the wider world. Politics needs to understand that right now the hare is just jumping too quickly for the tortoise to even think – the race is over before they are even at the same start line.

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