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Notes From The Festival

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It's Festival season in Edinburgh once again.

And once again we are in this beautiful, Scottish city for a long weekend exploring the major themes of the moment. And over the years we have not lacked for current events. From the debate over Scottish independence, to deep discussion on climate and China's trajectory, Adam Smith's home town remains a place where thinkers can congregate, share and work through big ideas. This is even more the case for those of us visiting from other societies. The long walks in the surrounding hills and the time chatting with visitors from EVERYWHERE provide distance from and perspective on our home countries.

The Scottish Parliament's Festival of Politics officially opens tonight. The speakers have already arrived. The discussions have already begun. Themes are already emerging. Some, like the discussion around Brexit and NATO, are a function of the moment. Others, like automation, are on the near horizon.

A quick list:

1. Globalism vs Nationalism vs Localism: A funny thing happened on the way to the global village. Many people around the world decided that they want decisions made closer to home. Others have begun demanding a more populist-nationalistic response to today's problems. Some want a good deal more autonomy and a good deal less integration with transnational systems. We always knew that public life would be a mix of the global, national and local, but hard nationalism has made an abrupt return. How do these balance? Scotland is itself an interesting case. It is part of the UK, has a local Parliament, is fiercely protective of local custom, but is pro-EU and keen for global engagement.

2. Populism - Nationalism - Authoritarianism: Those were supposed to be relics of the 20th century and not part of the big, bright, beautiful tomorrow. But, here we are. How do democracies defend themselves externally and internally from these potential threats?

3. Acceleration and Turbulence: Life, business and the rate of change are speeding up. And, we are experiencing what Peter Ho in Singapore has called "turbulence." How do we lead and govern through it?

4. Wild Cards: A year ago virtually none of us, neither the speakers nor the audience, thought the UK would vote to leave the EU or that Donald Trump would win the GOP nomination. With all the information we have at our collective disposal, there are still wild card events.

5. Renewable Energy: Just this summer Scotland generated more than 100% of its electrical power needs from renewable wind energy. From wind in Scotland to solar in the US, renewable energy will continue to make gains. The follow on effects of this (like a so-called "utility death spiral" from distributed generation) are still unclear.

6. Automation: What happens when robots and algorithms begin displacing workers at a rapid clip? The automation of factories is an obvious trend, but any job that requires a routine application of linear thinking can be automated away. Some look at the coming rise of automation with alarm at the potential for worker displacement and economic dislocation. Others think these concerns are overblown. And a few argue that it's more than past time that we eliminated drudgery via automation. But, what kind of a new economy does mass automation give us? And how do we make it work for us?

Everyone needs some space and time to mull over ideas new and old. Edinburgh, with its long history as an intellectual hub is the perfect space and the Festival is the perfect time.

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