It is clear to every intelligent observer that, in the next 12 months, global economic growth is highly uncertain, dependent as growth always is on two factors (investment and  productivity), which can be characeterised at present in the following way:

INVESTMENT

Right now, the gap between returns-on-cash and returns-on-equity has narrowed to the point that many investors have moved to cash.

In the immediately-foreseeable future:

EUROPE faces financial tightening annd raised risks because of talk of an end to quantitative easing from the ECB, along with developments in Italy, and the UK’s Brexit now utterly mindbending “non-drama”.

INDIA is a stumbling horse, mainly because it is unclear how the current ruling party (which has been extraordinarily beneficial to its friends) will fare in next year’s national elections.

CHINA’s government does seem willing to provide further stimulus … to slow down the deceleration of the economy, but not to enable any acceleration of it – at least, that is the only conclusion one can reach given the smoke puffs that emerge occasionally from Beijing: it is impossible to tell what China will do next or even to know what is really going on in the Chinese economy.

By contrast, the situation in the USA is relatively clear: The fiscal stimulus last year effected a short-term kick in the pants whose effect will dissipate over the next few months, and the outcome of the mid-year elections makes more of that sort of stimulus unlikely in the near future: very few American leaders are likely to supprort the inevitable widening of the deficit that will result.

Sooooo … as far as I can see, a recession in earnings will presage a decline in the real economy – pending (or, rather, when that follows!) productivity growth through the widespread application of new technologies.

PRODUCTIVITY

if the prospects of growth due to investment appear poor in 2018, what about the prospects of growth due to increased productivity by the deployment of new technologies?

This is certainly a huge potential growth-ally, given most really impressive new technologies (e.g. AI and robotics, with quantum computing further away) remain merely on the threshold in most areas of business.

How then are you and I to have any sense of how fast – and perhaps even more important, how effectively – new technologies are being adopted?!

Well, there isn’t really any way of doing so at all, at present,

All we have are substantively meaningless charts such as the one at the head of this blog.

Why is that one “substantively meaningless” in terms of any useful indication of productivity increase for the economy as a whole?

First because it doesn’t indicate anything for the globe as a whole, or even for global regions, on indeed even for nations as a whole… because its rating of countries is on the basis of the “the share of Fintech users in the digitally active population”!

The “digitally active population” is ill-defined (is a child of 5 “digitally active”? Is a grandmother of 90 who use her computer only to skype her family “digitally active?).

Not everyone who is “digitally active” is also financially active (and that can mean anything upwards from “occasionally uses a bank or other debit or credit card”!)

In any case, even if 100% of the whole population of a country used fintech, that wouldn’t amount to much if the country concerned were, say, Afghanistan or Zimbabwe.

That is why we urgently need not merely indices such as we currently have, of “fintech adoption”, but a more fully thought-through “Global Index of New Technology Economic Impact”.

None of the existing Productivity Indexes (Divisia, Geometric, Malmquist, Solow, Tornqvist, Translog…) do a good enough job of precisely what is needed in the context I have laid out above.

What should an adequate new Index do? It should assess the full impact on the global economy of productivity increases by the adoption of the newest technologies (including but probably not limited to AI, robotics, and quantum computing).  Initially, the Index will need to sector after sector, before moving to become genuinely global.  Perhaps start with Financial Services, then go on to Logistics, then Manufacturing, and so on.

At present, I can’t find a sufficient number of people interested in creating such an Index.

All offers of collaboration are welcome.

A friend writes that “FinTech is about enabling greater customer-centricity, while digital currencies are about faster and near-free exchange globally”.

In that sentence, one claim is made about FinTech, while two claims are made about digital currencies.

These claims are simultaneously true and not true.

Let’s take the first claim, about FinTech. Customer-centricity is certainly touted as a key reason for adopting Fintech.  However, in my experience, as customer-centricity can’t be measured, actual business cases for the adoption of Fintech rest on its potentially enabling economy, speed and reach.  In that sense, it is not true that Fintech is about customer-centricity.  In fact, the experience with Fintech so far is that it may even impede customer-centricity, in the same way as most customers don’t like automated voices when they ring in to any office.  It is far more customer-centric to provide human receptionists.

So let’s take the two claims about digital currencies.  One claim is that digital currencies are going to be “faster”.  Well, faster than what?  Presumably, faster than Dollars, Pounds, Euros, etc.

Let’s think about that a moment.  Are Bitcoins (or any other digital currency) really going to be transmitted faster than dollars, pounds or Euros across whatever means of transmission exist in say a year’s time (or ten or a hundred)?

Extremely doubtful, since the transmission of any two digital objects of the same digital size has little relevance to the speed of their transmission – and Dollars, Pounds and Euros have already become primarily digital themselves.

The next claim is that digital currencies will provide near-free exchange globally.  Hmm.  So far, advances in technology have certainly make it possible for digital objects to be moved more and more cheaply.  It is possible that further technological advances will continue to make it still cheaper to transport digital objects and information.  However, I doubt that digital currencies (whether of the Bitcoin variety or of the Dollars and Pounds variety) will ever be “nearly free”: legislative mechanisms always need to be paid for, regulatory arrangements need to be paid for, the cost of generating Bitcoin or any other electronic currency will not be markedly different from the cost of generating electronic Dollars or whatever, and the cost of transmission will depend on the cost of energy as well as the cost of the hard and soft infrastructure involved.

Lastly, we already have experience of things that cost nearly nothing to produce, but we have found that that is not usually in our world good reason to let people have those things for nothing.  Consider water, which is freely given by God, but everything involved in getting water from wherever it is to my location and indeed to my lips costs money. Further, everyone involved in the supply chain needs to be paid something – and usually wants to be paid as much as possible.  If all that is not organised nationally through the taxation system, it will be organised at greater cost to citizens (if for no other reason, than for reasons of economies of scale) by individuals, groups or corporations.

So the reason to use Blockchain and Blockchain-related products (whether FinTech in general or Digital Currencies in particular) is simply, solely and exclusively:  security.  Other reasons are piffle.

Oh and I should say that Blockchain-related products are not yet as secure as they need to be.