Wednesday December 06, 2023

A digitalized future

May 02, 2022

The cumulative and increasing impact of the four greatest transformative forces history has ever witnessed – science, technology, globalization, and brain-power development – is not only extremely disruptive but is assistive, constructive, and productive for marginalized individuals, groups, and the people.

The disruptive potential of these four forces is evident from the economic growth history of Japan. Japan grew unprecedentedly during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s – yet its growth started slowing down during the 1990s. Its GDP stood at $4.755 trillion, $5.7 trillion, and $5.2 trillion in 2005, 2010, and 2021 respectively.

On the other hand, the GDP of China was $191 billion and $360.9 billion in 1980 and 1990 respectively. The GDP of China was $1.211 trillion, $6.087 trillion, and $17.458 trillion in the years 2000, 2010, and 2021 respectively.

So-called economists who essentially are statisticians usually look at headline figures relating to the economy like current accounts, export/import trade balance, the balance of payments, exchange rate, demand-supply, supply chain, etc and find it extremely difficult to dig deeper to understand these disruptive processes; hence, their suggested solutions are by and large defective.

Undoubtedly, the slowdown/stagnation of the Japanese economy and the miraculous rise of China are multidimensional in their entirety. However, one of the most crucial phenomena remains the aggregate impact of the four forces mentioned above.

Policymakers and economists must understand the economic and productive forces before and after the first Industrial Revolution that started unfolding in the last quarter of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th century. The first Industrial Revolution paved the way for the Second Industrial Revolution in the 1870s in the United States and the Third Industrial Revolution in the aftermath of the Second World War.

More importantly, policymakers must avoid making the mistake of treating the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution as a simple evolution of the previous industrial revolutions or an advancement of the scientific and technological revolution (STR) during the second half of the 20th century.

Professor Klaus Schwab, the generally accepted originator of the terminology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also did not appreciate the sea-change and watershed caused by the world wide web whose impact started unfolding during the second half of the 1990s.

The internet and allied tools/technologies commenced a new and unprecedented phase of globalization. Previously in the pre-internet period, globalization meant the movement of capital, goods, to a certain extent services, and the people. It was these characteristics that forced persons and groups struggling for the rights of marginalized people and the backward countries to launch an anti-globalization movement in Seattle in 1999.

Neither the champions of globalization nor those who made the movement of anti-globalization a cause of the oppressed people across the globe could comprehend the new phase of globalization being unleashed by the internet and allied tools. The internet turned the tide without much ado.

Within a couple of years, the erstwhile champions of globalization who imposed it upon the marginalized across the world as an economic and political religion at least for 200 years woke up to the new reality being established by the internet and found globalization as their enemy number one. They started to become champions of anti-globalization. They no more believed in their philosophy of the trade being good for all and became champions of protectionism and economic nationalism.

Unquestionably, the internet and allied tools changed the paradigm of globalization. The new globalization was characterized by the globalization of Information, Knowledge, Research, Innovation, and Development (globalization of IKRID). The smartphone, 3G internet, and affordable and accessible phone sets skyrocketed the pace of this new paradigm of globalization.

The new phase of globalization started equipping and empowering even the most marginalized and disenfranchised people across the globe. The monopoly of the privileged throughout the history of human civilization – and particularly during the 19th and 20th centuries – on the access to information, knowledge, research, innovations, and development stood withered away. A new extraordinary process of brain-power development was inaugurated. The process of brain-power development not only emerged as a new force of transformation but also became an extremely active partner of science, technology, and globalization.

Statisticians lack the capacity and training to understand these forces and their potential for quick transformation, development, and prosperity; hence, the misguided policies and focus of almost all developing countries. For instance, for the last 2-3 decades’ our finance ministers, other policymakers, and statisticians have been officially informing the people in Pakistan and their audience across the world that there was a huge percentage of young people and that they were their biggest asset for economic development. Disgusting it is, isn’t it?

We live in an age of digital technologies and these people fall back on the uneducated, undereducated, unskilled, or semi-skilled majority for their economic development, growth, and prosperity. Not only are these people ignorant, they are also totally blind to the forces of the fast-changing world. Our total exports at FoB in 2010 were around $21.3 billion and in 2020-21, they could not cross the $30 billion mark. Why does this ignorant group of people not understand that merchandise exports will never be able to even finance our imports, what to talk of development and other expenditure?

The solution lies with digitalized transparent governance and an inclusive economy in creating and developing a new corps engaging millions of young girls and boys and other working-age persons to learn digital skills to earn from the global economy as remote workers. What is required is to establish a digital training center in each village and mohalla or union council for girls and boys of all ages not only to train them for the most desired jobs across the world but also to get them profitable assignments. Shun the scepticism, it is 100 percent possible.

The writer is an ex-civil servant, economist, and advocate of the high court. He can be reached at: