Let’s move to sharing and caring

Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
My View - The Sun Daily
January 29, 2019

AFTER the unprecedented “launch” of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) at the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, the 2019 version saw the Fourth Social Revolution being floated as a counterbalance to the 4IR. Unlike in Malaysia, where 4IR is embraced with open arms with little opposition if any, globally it generates heated debates in view of the “rising global inequality” (not unlike Malaysia’s B40).

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, in a report highlighted concerns about wealth inequality – just 26 people own more than the poorest half of humanity.

Others across the globe who showed equal concern have been trying to address similar issues that could bridge the “wealth gap” alongside the 4IR.

However, what are deemed as workable solutions to tackle the issues seem limited. Instead, the issue could worsen if, as observed by some, big business continues to aggressively pursue excessive profits which “often leads to large-scale wealth extraction from communities, often without corporations putting back.”

Author and social entrepreneur Hilary Cottam warns that without a change in attitudes, the 4IR “would keep misfiring”.

She says that without remaking social systems, “we can’t make the transition to the new economy; we don’t have a healthy, skilled workforce, we don’t have consumers earning at a level that can demand the goods of the next revolution.”

This is something that Malaysian 4IR enthusiasts have not voiced out in their rush to jump onto the 4IR bandwagon.

Klaus Schwab, the man behind the 4IR, now sounds a belated warning about the emerging “battle between robots and humankind” as the future unfolds in what is dubbed as globalisation 4.0 (another digit to contend with!).

“We are now in some ways in a battle between robots and humankind,” Schwab says. “We don’t want to become slaves of the new technology.”

That this is a possibility could be a reason why some blame globalisation as not delivering, if not a “failure” – leading to the argument for “a remoralisation of globalisation – to create a values-based approach”.

This is not the usual language of WEF that speaks more of value (read price) rather that values (virtues).

To para-phrase, globalisation 4.0 “has to be more human-centred” which sounds very much like an afterthought (or copycat) considering that Japan has long advanced the idea of “Society 5.0” concept that places humans (beyond machines, let alone robots) at the centre of the “revolution” without compromising their quality of life and dignity.

This is a far cry from what is often predicted as outcomes from the dehumanising “disruptions” due to the 4IR by not only dislocating millions of workers, but also in the words of Schwab: “Unprecedented pace of technological change (which) means that our systems of health, transport, communication, production, distribution, and energy – just to name a few – will be completely transformed.” Or else.

Namely, “we will have to move from a narrative of production and consumption towards one of sharing and caring”, just like what Oxfam has been saying all along as a way to avoid wealth and power being handed to a handful of (western) global elites. But to no avail.

UNDP laments yet another concern when its administrator, Achim Steiner, restated what Sir David Attenborough cautioned on the very first day of the Forum (see Comment, Jan 28).

It is about the “ecosystems” in relation to (over)consumption and (over)production patterns, and their impact on the economies of the ailing planet caused by pollution and unsustainable development through unfettered globalisation and businesses.

“Unfortunately, the entire economy today thrives on the destruction of nature,” admitted Steiner. Adding on to the worries heaped by the 4IR and its uncertainties.

There may be some hope at the end of the tunnel looking at the bold approach announced by the prime minister of New Zealand at the forum.

“We need to address the societal well-being of our nation, not just the economic well-being,” Jacinda Ardern said recently.

This means from this year, her government will present a “well-being budget” to gauge the long-term impact of policy on the quality of people’s lives.

She is sensitive enough to discern: “Our people are telling us that politics are not delivering and meeting their expectations. This is not woolly, it’s critical.”

For example, unprecedented wage stagnation (sounds familiar?) is hollowing out living standards for the majority of people and fuelling populism.

According to the New Zealand government website, the 2019 budget will use different measurements this year.

“The Wellbeing Budget will broaden the budget’s focus beyond economic and fiscal policy ... The government will measure and report against a broader set of indicators to show a more rounded measure of success, as a country and as a government.”

More interestingly she argued for a shift beyond short-term cycles and for seeing politics through a lens of “kindness, empathy and well-being”. Ours could be: mesra, peduli and sejahtera. This certainly sounds like a far more exciting bandwagon to jump on compared to the so-called 4IR. Anyone?