Philosopher / Economist / Futurologist Jacques Attali Fast Retailing Co., Ltd. Chairman and President Tadashi Yanai

Text:Masashi Matsuie Photo:Kinya Ota


How to Shape the Post-Coronavirus World for Our Children

Ten years ago, the social theorist and economist Jacques Attali predicted and warned of a global pandemic in his book.
In a recent piece, Attali highlighted “the Economy of Life” and altruism as the prescriptions for the social and economic crises humanity is facing.
What are the essential factors for a sustainable future? How will clothing change?
Connecting Paris under curfew and Tokyo, the two thought leaders held a two-hour discussion on what is needed in a post-corona world.

“The Economy of Life” and a “Positive Society”

AttaliThis is the second time I have met you, Mr. Yanai. I am glad to have this opportunity to talk about important issues again.
YanaiSo am I, Dr. Attali. So, Dr. Attali, I believe one of the biggest problems the world is facing right now is environmental destruction. Humanity is on the brink of survival, and we must ask ourselves “how much time is there left for us?” This crisis has accelerated even further considering the COVID-19 pandemic (hereinafter “the pandemic”).
AttaliEnvironmental issues are important, as you point out. On that front, it goes without saying that the need to pursue sustainability is crucial, but I do not think that is enough. We must not overlook social issues and issues of democracy. Aren’t our current politics demoralizing people? Are workers treated properly? Are we not making grave mistakes in the way we treat minorities? A sustainable society requires not only the ecological but the economic and political aspects working properly. On top of that, society needs to act with the interests of the next generations in mind. I call such a society a “Positive Society.”
Yanai In “L'économie de la vie (The Economy of Life)”, the book you just published, you wrote that “the Economy of Life” will be important in the post-corona world. You have pointed out that areas such as wellness, education, hygiene, food, agriculture, and clean energy will play a vital role for the next generation.
AttaliExactly. A society that values “the Economy of Life” is a “Positive Society” that values the next generation. And in the area of clothing, clothes will be included as a part of “the Economy of Life” by not only being made of sustainable materials, but also being long-lasting and contributing to wellness and hygiene. Clothes that are discarded quickly will not benefit the next generation. There will be more of a demand for clothing with respect for nature and humanity in the future.
YanaiI feel that the pandemic is certainly changing our lifestyles, as well as the type of clothing consumers seek. Clothing that feels more comfortable, healthy, and that can allow us to express ourselves by wearing it, is becoming crucial. Needless to say, materials and manufacturing processes must be sustainable. At the same time, it will be more important for clothing to play a part in making the environment a better place to pass on to the next generation.
AttaliThat is exactly an action which is in the interests of our next generations. We are the grandparents of all humanity, and we must act like grandparents of humanity yet to be born. In any work, we need to ask ourselves the question: “Is what we are doing part of ‘the Economy of Life’?”
YanaiWith a crisis like the pandemic, we should think positively and change our industries, including clothing, in solidarity with the world.
However, the world is even more divided socially and politically right now.
AttaliClimate change, the pandemic, and conflicts around the world are all major risks hovering above us like black clouds. However, just like in football games, we must analyze the strengths of the opposition and understand the risks when we play. If there is a country politically opposing us, we should start by understanding its culture and respect it. That may provide a way to rebuild a relationship without things quickly becoming hostile. It is paramount to understand the opponent.

“The Economy of Life” and a “Positive Society”

The interview took place on October 14 and 20, 2020, virtually connecting
Dr. Attali’s office and Fast Retailing’s Ariake Office.

Altruism drives problem solving

YanaiAn inward-looking mindset is becoming a global trend, and some only seem to care about their own country or the environment close to them. This is causing problems in many regions in the world. If a country only pursues its own interests, it may lead to conflicts or frictions. Also, there seems to be less compassion for others. Some view the differences in race and ethnicity as a barrier, and do not try to see or think about the differences in culture.
Without a relative perspective, we would end up having a narrow-minded interpretation of the world that only respects our own culture. No positive power will come from such an insular way of seeing. The pandemic hit us when this situation was getting worse. This is an emergency that requires global solidarity, yet we cannot seem to find the momentum for it. Another thing that worries me is that we are losing our willingness to look at things in an historical perspective. The present is made up of an accumulation of what happened in the past. If we do not know or care about the past, we cannot understand the present in a true sense.
Attali It was not as though no one could have ever foreseen conflicts between human beings like WWII. Many people predicted the war, but failed to stop it. The United Nations, the organization whose core mission is to prevent such conflicts, was not created during WWII, but only after it.
Humanity can only learn after experiencing a crisis and ending it in a devastating way. Such a view, however, is too pessimistic. It is the role of rationality and intelligence to create the power to stop devastation before it occurs.
I believe that there are many ways to avoid conflicts and to start acting in order to make the world a better place. This is the fundamental idea and attitude behind the “Positive Society.”
The same can be said for frictions caused by cultural differences or environmental issues, which can be described as conflicts between humanity and the environment. Altruism, a fundamental requirement of the “Positive Society,” is the starting point and drives us to action for solving these issues.
YanaiTurning the idea into actions—this becomes a big barrier in Japan. Historically, Japanese tend to think that it is not for individuals but for the government or the administration to choose the path and act for the future.
There is an ingrained mentality among Japanese that “higher-ups” should decide and solve difficult problems. I believe this is not good enough.
Individuals or companies must start acting on their own, otherwise, things that could be changed will not change. Things may become too late to address if we just wait for the government or the state to make a decision.
We live in a highly globalized society. I believe that decisions and actions that transcend national borders are more likely to spread quickly and reliably if started by individuals or companies.
Attali Companies with the power and position to promote their own values can become leaders in the “Positive Society” and move society forward.
This trend may only accelerate in the future, and I call such companies “Positive Companies.” Altruism must be placed at the core of the corporate philosophy, and corporates must fulfill these responsibilities with their activities. In my opinion, Fast Retailing is in a position to become one of these models. We, as consumers, should also buy products from “Positive Companies” that apply altruism from now on. Shareholders will check to see if they are “Positive Companies.” Investors will choose companies that contribute to the “Positive Society.” Banks financing companies will preferentially choose altruistic companies. Such trends will gradually permeate society and exert their influence on those around it.