Living in a Turbulent World

We need a new paradigm of life, work and governance
Living in a Turbulent World
"The warning bells are ringing fast after the world financial crisis. The pandemic has only authenticated the warning." [Representational Image]Flickr [Creative Commons]

Policy analysts have sounded early warning about the type of world we are inheriting. The warning bells are ringing fast after the world financial crisis. The pandemic has only authenticated the warning.

The state is abdicating its responsibility to provide welfare and jobs to people and countries are witnessing major ‘Employment crisis’. This has sharpened the socio-political fault lines more so in countries where state itself has a divisive and polarising agenda.

The degree of ideological and economic obfuscation is such that even the normally influential middle class talks of economic uncertainty. In a recent international conference hosted by Delhi University, I got the opportunity to listen to German philosopher Thomas Poggee from Yale University , who also is director of Global Justice Programme.

There were other scholars arguing the case for Global Justice, Universal Basic Income (UBI) and Global Citizenship. These themes have come into the centre stage of academic discourse in all parts of the world and in some universities we have global justice projects being undertaken by scholars.

Each crisis warrants a response. The countries in global south are witnessing four crises that deserve candid analysis.

Employment Crisis

In India, and other countries ofthe world, there is a serious “Employment crisis”. The Productive jobs are to be created for seven to eight million people per year and every one will not get a job.

Recently a security expert warnedaboutsources offuture security threats andunfortunately counted ‘educated unemployed’ as one such category.

The US sociologistJack Goldstone has identified an expanding population of higher educated youth facing limited opportunities to obtain elite political and economic positions “as one of the key conditions for violent social conflict.”

The poor education standardslead to more unemployment and labour inefficiency and can be matter of concernfor state and the citizen.

Three influential reports viz, World Economic Forum Report-Future of jobs (2018), “McKinsey Report” and “International Labour Organisation Report-Future of work” 2015 (ILO) provide a grim picture about the future of work, and by extension of ‘Employment’.

The communities and countries need to ponder upon these trends and decide about the future course of action. The WEF report points toward main drivers of change - hi-speed mobile internet, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and cloud technology.

As a logical corollary to this, companies and businesses in order to stay relevant to market mantra shall adopt newer technologies. They may also modify their geographical base of operations.

The global average skills stability is 58 percent and 42 percent of the workforce skills need to be changed /enhanced. By 2022, 54 percent of workforce shall require re-skilling and the danger is that companies would prefer to abandon them and hire altogether new force keeping in view market attraction for fresh human resource.

The McKinsey’s Report 2017 clearly points out that 60 percent occupations will have at least 30 percent of their work activities to be automated. The survey of 46 countries scenarios 35 percent of work activities to be displaced and in this, advanced countries to be more affected.

Demand for high wage occupations grows and demand for low and middle wage occupations decline. Be that as it may, there is informalisation of labour and quite unstable job market. More than 90 percent of the Indian workforce will be in bad jobs which are insecure jobs with all bad consequences.

The ILO report hence clearly states that the turbulence of our times – economic, social and political - makes the achievement of social justice very much an agenda for today. Perceptions of unfairness may lead to more instability in societies. Hence the ideas viz., Global Justice and Universal Basic Income find acceptance among policy analysts.

Welfare Crisis

Second challengefacing us is the “welfare crisis”, and in a country like India slow growth, rising poverty, and shrinking middle class have further added to it. The state has primary responsibility to cater to the welfare of the people and also fasten its response keeping in view twenty first century vulnerabilities.

LateSukhmo Chakarvarty had sounded a note ofcaution-“market is agood servant but a bad master”. The fact is that market is cruel. It looks at people as winners and losers. It only rewards winners.

The business of the business is only business. Adam Smith wrote: “it is not from the benevolence of butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner but from their regard to their own interests”.

The new welfarism of India’s right doesn’t prioritise the supply of public goods such as health and primary education. It also doesn’t prioritise safety nets. It subsidizes public provision of essential goods and services normally provided by private sector such as bank accounts, cooking gas, toilets, housing,water and cash.

These are tangible and create immediate impact on people’s voting pattern and choices. The politically conservative regimes leverage it with identity politics and appropriate the redistributive policies of the left. This is partly the reason as to why politics has become 365 day affair. Liberal economist has given in to illiberal society and they need to examine their own culpability in creating identarian politics leading to split societies.

It is significant to note that during Covid 19 the general tendency of the people, and particularly of the margins was to return to the family and community for protective cover. In my part of the world unemployed, non-skilled, elderly, and people suffering from lifelong diseases find protection in the family or in some cases in community as well.

True, that state too came in a big way in all parts of the world to aid and rescue people during the pandemic. However, India has not ratified international labour organization’s convention on domestic workers bill 2017 and its legal regime is awfully conservative.

Socio-Political Crisis

Third,is the socio-political crisis and how it is taking heavy toll of states and societies. The rise of populists, in many countries around the globe, is largely grounded in the crises discussed above. The economic and employment crisis and retreat of the state from its welfare agenda has pushed the regimes in power towards exclusionary politics.

Jan-Werner Muller in “what is populism”? points out that populists are anti-pluralists who claim they alone represent people. Muller says populist governance has three attributes: hijacking of the state apparatus, corruption and mass clienteleism , and suppression of civil society.

Today, as we look at the turbulence in our societies we need to recall views of Dr Ambedkar who was a great theorist of radical democracy.

He put equality and fraternity at the heart of democracy. The western democracy foregrounds liberty. Ambedkar claimed that democracy is “associated living” in which revolutionary changes in the social and economic life are brought about without bloodshed.

Dr Ambedkar also cautioned that democracy is a plant that cannot grow everywhere”. In 1962 Nehru said that “people seem to go mad”.

He wrote to G B Pant: “this election business is making me lose my faith in India’s democracy”. What emerges from the above discussion is that state needs to play the balancing act. It is horrific to know that during the pandemic, 230 million Indians have fallen back into poverty.

The role of the market cannot be underestimated in contemporary times but the abdication of responsibility by the state is not acceptable to those who lag behind and who are also potential voters in the political market place.

Education Crisis

Lastly, we need not shy away from discussing the crisis in our education system. Economist Paul Samulson said “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws if I can write its economics textbooks”. There is now an industry thriving on educated unemployed.

The cheating syndicates, influential patronsand predatory coaching centers are adding to the troubles of an Indian parent.

I always wonder why a university cannot be established in the environs of historic buildings in the middle of a city like downtown Srinagar, where the faculty and the students remain connected to people, arts and crafts.

Funds are not the only requirement for establishing a universitybut more essential isorganisation and the culture.

Nearly half of all undergraduate students - who make up for 80 percent of the total number of students - are enrolled in the least employable disciplines.

Unemployment brings with it delinquency, gangs, drugs, and violence. We need to see the writing on the wall and align ourselves and our mental attitudes to changes taking place within and without.

The “era of procrastination will inevitably lead to the era of consequences” said Winston Churchill forewarning against policy inertia and policy paralysis.

Political systems, economic architecture and cultural mores are on trial. We need a new paradigm of life, work and governance. The strength of the weak is the sovereign not the market.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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