Economic disconnect caused by Technology and Welfare disconnect


SOUTH AFRICA’S YOUTH are experiencing an economic disconnect. A generation faced with a world without jobs, a massive debt burden, and an economy that has failed miserably to gear itself up for the third-wave technologies that Asia and the West have embraced decades previously.

While you were out striking, marching or simply shopping, the world evolved, from a bipolar economy, dependent upon China and the USA, to a multipolar universe — an economy without a centre. The rise of the Information Economy — based as it is on information freedom, has been coupled with successive innovations. The Third Industrial Revolution has produced a ‘post-scarcity economy’, where having a ‘China on ones Desktop’, a 3D printer capable of printing anything, is considered de rigeur.

Successive waves of innovation have seen — the virtualisation of the economy, the dematerialisation of assets and the Internet’s proverbial death-of-distance. Pop-up factories, makerspaces, friction-free digital copies and the ‘Internet of Things’ are all buzzwords and terms which the youth are invariably going to meet on their free education journey. In the future, your neighbour will hand you a copy of an open source motorcycle, just so the two of you can go for drive. When you return, you will recycle the vehicle into any number of other open source devices.

We are rapidly approaching an era in which robots self-assemble and produce the goods, which we buy with our wages, which are in turn given to us, via a more efficient means of production and redistribution of wealth. This is an alluring proposition. Holland for instance had moved to end labour in mining. Machines are replacing humans wherever they are found, and the full automation of society is only a matter of time.

Now, Let’s talk about the welfare disconnect

Although the country is one of the few nations on the continent to have implemented a social security programme, this programme is geared towards the elderly, disabled and child-care grants. Thus the youth of today, are born into social security — their parents are recipients of state welfare not because they are citizens, but because they have children.

Once a child is over the age of 18, this grant falls away. The double-whammy of unemployment and poverty kicks in. Some 25.5 percent of the population is unemployed and this figure is worse when the youth and first-time job-seekers are concerned, rising to 63%.

Today’s student unrest is a direct result of the situation where a pupil, having generated income for his or her family, simply by being a child, turns into a liability on becoming a young adult and tertiary student. In most cases, such a person is forced to fend for him or herself.

This is an enormous shock to both the youth and the family.

So far as social security in South Africa is concerned, we are a nation which has the cart before the horse. Instead of paying families to have children, we should be paying people to stop working.

South Africa’s youth can work and play, just about anywhere there is an Internet connection or icafe, but getting connected to the Net is not sufficient to enable jobs and free education. There are other necessities, common to first world economies which we lack as a nation, and without them, being merely connected, is simply not good enough. In fact, a job, as an end in itself, may not necessarily be all that desirable, the same way that owning anything in an economy based upon abundance, is not the alpha and omega.

Fixing the disconnect

Exactly how is the country to going pay for free education, and range of services? How are we all going to live in a world without jobs? These are the questions foremost on people’s minds, as the country sobers up to the events of the past weeks, which saw the unprecedented storming of parliament and storming of the Union Buildings.

South Africa as luck would have it, already has a ‘sovereign wealth fund’ with a massive R1.5 trillion rand invested, and certainly the youth need to be tackling finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and education minister, Blade Nzimande on why they are suffering in the face of so much wealth.

Instead of a Public Investment Corporation (PIC), benefiting one privileged generation who just happened to be in power during the 90s, let’s make the public investment more inclusive of all citizens, and all generations, and recommit the fund to its Public goals, since the ruling party appears to have lost the distinction between what is public and what is private, funding Nkandla, and government pensions for party insiders.

PIC should rather be redirected to funding a social wage for all citizens, one which includes free education, health insurance and a basic income grant. Instead of a party wage, we could have a social wage reducing the worst affects of poverty and mitigating the coercion inherent to the job market, even one that is Internet-enabled, while providing free education.

Moving South Africa from a coercive labour market to a voluntary labour market, could easily be achieved by removing the compulsion, violence and necessity to seek employment.

A job should not be a requirement in order to survive or be a South African citizen.

Labour should never be compulsory, or forced under the barrel of a gun. As Marikana has proven, people are willing to die for their freedom, and this message is now being taken up by students, who rightfully are demanding free education. The same generation will soon be demanding social security, a social wage for life.

Only the most productive labour and most capable persons would enter the wage economy. One has merely to look at social democracies in Europe to see what a social wage economy looks like:

The State disburses funds, seeing an immediate benefit to the fiscus, via the value added taxation system, which recoups the money spent, in a virtuous cycle.

Citizens with a social wage, are able to purchase the necessities of life and thus avoid the worst pitfalls of extreme poverty.

There are compelling reasons for embracing wealth redistribution in this way.

Alaska for example, pays its citizens to purchase services that would normally be gained from the state, from the private sector. In this way, the state avoids creating enormous bureaucracies which are costly and unsustainable by their very nature, and avoids the cost escalations that come from tenderpreneurs, and mega projects, whose only aim, is to keep people employed, in a world in which labour not leisure is the goal.

Societies with some form of social wage, whether social security or social welfare, produce more scientists, artists, musicians and thinkers. They are better equipped to innovate and create. They experience stability and longevity, both in terms of health extension and the extension of the period in which these societies exist, and remember.

[This is a condensed version of the previous five part series on the economy: Fix the Economy Stupid and Provide Free Education]

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