The Paradox Of Technology And The Cost Of Progress

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In the last 15 years, people around the world have changed dramatically due to one single phenomena – the Internet. The internet has radicalized and changed human life as we knew it in more ways and means than any other invention since the wheel. Assuming generational leaps occurring in shorter time-frames, it has spawned from a single-celled organism to a complex entity almost similar to a human embryo into a fully functional human being in about the same time-frame. With its growth, the peripheral effects can be observed everywhere and none more so evident that in society and the manner in which it embraces this technology.

The important thing to remember about technology is this – it reduces effort to do something.

The question no one asks – what is the job cost for applying technology?

Technology is a paradox especially for labour intensive economies. Each machine we employ eats into the job profile of 10x the human factor. While we calculate benefits of automation, we fail to compute the issue of job cost in automation adoption. There is also the argument that technology also creates employment, vide a different paradigm, BUT the actual economics of scale are not positive – the number of jobs created in contrast to the jobs made non-existent is huge.

Does this mean we should disregard technical advances and regress? Many people and even some organizations around the world support this hypothesis – but, such a philosophy would be self-defeating and flawed at a granular level.

Perhaps, for India today, technology must come with a structured adoption economic policy towards employment-generation supported by administrative reforms. The vaunted Digital India Programme by the current administration is a tremendous initiative towards such objectives, but the government (both central and state) must envisage parallel development of administration-aided job creation. Schemes directed mainly at rural or BPL trend lines cannot support growth initiatives unless employment generation is structured across the board. Similarly, fiscal support for small businesses is ineffectual in the long run, if the free market policies cause such businesses to fail eventually due to unceasing and constantly increasing competition.

The “Make-in-India” label requires a degree of import substitution – at the risk of undertaking economic and political backlash, the central administration has a dire necessity to amend the free market policies currently prevailing. An interesting case study in the benefits of economic policies overcoming political and social inequalities and even armed rebellion could be perceived from the Assam government. In the early 1990’s, there was the emergence of armed insurrectionists in Assam, i.e. the ULFA cadres. It was a time of civil unrest, dearth of political and socio-economic stability as many would remember.

In a stroke of genius, (whether planned or not planned) the government’s appeasement policy towards surrendered militants brought about a massive reformation of the region, including social growth and revenue generation. It must be remembered that one of the main causes of the rebellion was unemployment and lack of development in the region. The original surrendered militants were issued licenses for earning a living, such as wine-shops, transport etc. It was simply a question of demand and supply as the combat-trained “SULFAs” rapidly took over the criminal under-belly of the region and started generating revenue for themselves. With revenue-generation came the need for peace and stability for said revenue to continue generating. Within a span of a few years, the ex-militants soon found peace in fat-bank accounts and from then onwards, the socio-economic development soon progressed. Today, Guwahati, the capital city of Assam is hardly recognizable from its 90’s avatar and is one of the more cosmopolitan of tier-2 cities. There are no rebellions of fat men, after all.

Similar to Assam from the late 1980’s – 90’s, unemployment is on the rise. Not everyone can crack an IIT exam and get placement jobs paying in the lakhs. A vast majority of graduates, high school pass-outs don’t get through to top tier universities or even reach colleges most of the time. A free market is a vicious state at the best of times and not every person is an Ambani or a Gates, especially in India. Technology in India can also ferment rebellion if unresolved. It is imperative to consider alternatives beyond government subsidies, MSME’s or NREGA’s. Socialism is as much a part of capitalism if understood in the correct perspective.

 

Debashish Goswami

Image Source: https://mediaindiagroup.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/indo-french-tech-summit-2013.jpg

The Viewspaper

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