This is not an impossible mission. It calls for a change of the conventional frame of mind…
It can happen if we cooperate more than if we demolish each other
History is made up of ups and downs. There’s no escaping it. In the 1850s, the Industrial revolution set in in the advanced economies, starting with the UK. Although it heralded a long period of a life-transforming era the world over leading to the modern comforts, it began with a serious disruption.
Real incomes fell sharply for a decade in the 1860s; a terrible financial crisis tore down confidence and hopes of those lower down; almost everyone was overtaken by the disruption caused by technological revolution with the spinning machines, the steam engine and the telegraph. Little was it realised during the depressing decade that it was the beginning of a new phase of history that would minimize the importance of the agricultural society, shift production over to machines and mechanical transport, enhance prosperity for all and end up extending the very lifespan of individuals. It took ten long years for despair to give way to better hopes.
The same can be said of modern globalisation. The vast integration of the world it has caused, accompanied by unprecedented technological changes, has caused important shifts. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and reforms undertaken by Deng Xiaoping in China, a third of humanity has integrated the global labour force. Extensive supply chains linking up producers and suppliers in different parts of the world have disrupted economic activity the way it was conducted before, just the same as in the 1860s. And we have also had our financial crisis of 2007, nine years running. Little is it realised now, as in the 1860s, that the disruptive forces now in operation are harbingers of a higher stage of intense integrated economic activity across humanity.
Why? Because widespread uncertainty, mistrust of each other, and enduring inequality have cast doubt on the world’s ability to extricate itself from all this mess. Short of overturning the negative effects of the last ten years of slow growth, people have started looking for factors which might be responsible for their prevailing sad plight – low wages, insecure employment, dominance by large corporations and a feeling of being abandoned by politicians to their own lot.
An integral part of this drama
We should not make the mistake of believing that we would be immune from the re-configuration of forces this situation is giving rise to worldwide. Nor should we make the error of believing that replacing one set of politicians by a new set is what will give Mauritius the resilience it needs to adapt to this very challenging global situation. Or, that nudging up or down the interest rate is what it takes to make the economy perform better.
Something hugely transformative is at work globally. We need to adapt to it fast at the risk of missing the boat. New skills are required to empower workers to this emerging environment in which automation alone risks snatching away tens of thousands of classic jobs. Even so, production units – especially small and medium enterprises – are clamouring (unfortunately, the noise made in progressive places is not even being heard over here) to be set on a par with similar producers worldwide who are receiving and meeting orders online in real time. Service skills will no longer be what they were barely a few years ago.
A breakthrough on to a higher platform is under process in the rest of the world. Technology is at the heart of this new revolution. The situation calls for the apt drivers to man it competitively and cooperatively with others across the world, without which government will not be able to generate for itself the resources to meet in a balanced way new infrastructure costs, welfare benefits, unfunded basic retirement schemes.
Will our youth who have gone to other countries come over to nudge us up to the required higher stage of development in this globally changing framework? Not evident, if we are finding it difficult to give decent jobs even to those in Mauritius who are qualifying from school and university. Not evident, if we don’t consolidate the exceptional local traditional joie-de-vivre and beautiful lifestyle, our daily discourse now being limited to crimes, drugs and failure of politics. Indulging in this latter kind of stuff has landed advanced economies in a path-reversing individualistic course.
What should government be doing to elevate us from out of this situation of constantly complaining about things not going well? It should attend to and eradicate the failures people are generously pointing out. It will be petty on its part if it took the usual course several governments have taken in past and present times to deny government publicity to those (the Mauritius Times is one such example) who dare inform it where it is going wrong. Not only the central government, equally so high-profile parastatal bodies which adopt a similar degrading attitude, as if the parastatal were not a public body, open to all!
Which structural policies?
Beyond overcoming this kind of petty-mindedness in public policies, a government should firmly address structural issues which need to be remedied if we want to catch the train of international development before others overtake us.
What are the structural policies? Essentially making for growing the supply side of the economy. How?
An economy leaning towards services should invest a lot to impart lifelong learning skills to young people by enlisting services of those who are operating at the very edge of this brave new world. Bring a Sam Pitroda here. Instead of passively witnessing diseases affecting our agriculture and livestock and seeking explanations when the harm has already been done, it should finance aggressively research and development to help us cut the edge rather than be in the skin of a victim. Professionalism helps.
It could also constantly improve the quality of its core institutions. We were strong when core institutions were strongly managed, not after politics interfered to deplete the best of our human resources in them in the name of anything but meritocracy. High-profile Mauritians operating in other places will shun it if they aren’t convinced they can give the institutions the mission they deserve and be able to deliver on that.
A firm assertion of the rule of law and strengthening of the country’s regulatory institutions should also be part of those structural policies. Erratic application of policy will end up destroying whatever we have successfully put in place. Other structural policies include making more dynamic our labour market, re-actualising our trade and investment framework for real and raising our competitiveness by all means in the face of demanding global markets. But real, not theoretical.
All this is not an impossible mission. It calls for a change of the conventional frame of mind hoisting cronies and punishing those pointing out our shortcomings. It can happen if we cooperate more than if we demolish each other. It can also happen if we preserve our prime asset which is the beauty and peacefulness of our landscape. We can then reverse course and let one success build upon another. Certainly not a Herculean task.