Those of my generation will probably have read Alvin Toffler's 'Future Shock' some time back in the '70s. This was a time when there was a three-month wait to have a telephone installed by a government department, the GPO, under the control of a cabinet minister. A manager at British Leyland, the national car producer, would allocate new cars to dealers on a pot-luck basis; Didsbury might get half a dozen new Austin Maxis with mustard bodies and red upholstery, whilst Halesworth was sent six with green bodies and blue upholstery. Steel was made in areas that no longer had access to cheap labour, coal, iron ore, limestone or electricity and each nation in Europe had its own national washing-machine manufacturer. As Toffler's unlikely predictions played out in the decades that followed, steel production moved to places with cheap factor costs, car buyers could customise their new purchases on the production line, half of Europe's washing machine makers closed to achieve an optimal economic scale and the GPO stopped prosecuting people for fitting their own extensions.
Then came the shift from mainframe to desktop, from IBM to Microsoft. Then the internet. Then freedom from the copper network prison. All the time economic efficiency has increased and we're moving closer and closer towards markets endowed with that caveat of economic theory 101, 'perfect information'. Consumer markets on an individual basis are now growing globally; in the past year I have ordered online from China, the US and New Zealand, in addition to more frequent online purchases from mainland Europe, to my own economic advantage. Courier and delivery systems are maturing as shops in my London village have become parcel drop-off and pick-up points, making waiting-in for a parcel as much a thing of the past as waiting three months for a telephone.
All this has been achieved without government direction, irrespective of the EU, in the face of import tariffs and quotas (the sheer volume of international parcel traffic overwhelming the system; it's easy to monitor the import of 10,000 shirts from the US, almost impossible to police parcels containing two or three shirts each).
I'm not yet sure why all of this is important, but it is. We're living through a period of massive change in the way the world works - a change that has huge implications for the way in which we choose to be governed, in the way we protect ourselves and our economic interests, in the balance between individual and collective. All this is seen through a glass, darkly; I have no Alvin Toffler at my elbow to predict the direction things will take. It's exciting, though.