Progress in the world economy through people power and innovation
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has brought the world together, although in a somewhat disturbing manner. Every individual on the planet is hoping for relief from the pandemic via a cure for the afflicted and a vaccine for prevention. Notwithstanding the urgency of addressing this immediate problem, the world economy and society should use this challenge to undertake initiatives that last longer and hopefully forever.
The world today is an economic and social marvel compared to just a few centuries ago. An important motivating factor has been the phenomenal growth in the global population, which now stands at over 7.7 billion. Knowledge and innovation have been the basis for new products and processes as drivers of economic growth. In addition, an economy needs support from its institutions. As pointed out by Douglass North in his Nobel Prize lecture on “Economic Performance through Time,” neoclassical theory of free markets and minimal government intervention have no intrinsic capability to design development policies, and political and economic institutions are the underlying determinant of economic performance. Institutions are human constructs providing formal and informal constraints, with rules, laws, and constitutions as formal constraints, and norms of behavior, conventions, and self-imposed codes of conduct as informal ones.
Today, it is true that economic development is a function of sophisticated institutions and high-tech inventions. From a historical perspective, how can one explain the advance (increase in population and income) of a society? At the core is the acquisition of fertile areas and resources, either via conquest or by settling down in an otherwise empty space. This acquisition facilitates the cultivation of land, rearing of livestock, fishing and forestry, mining, and allied activities. Over time, technological and institutional innovations have played a key role, and further progress has been facilitated by international trade and capital movements.
Industrial and innovation revolutions
The industrial revolution could well be defined as a compendium of growth- and trade-promoting improvements and innovations that were unveiled during the early 18th and mid-20th centuries, first in Europe and then in North America. It is fair to say that the burden on humans and their boredom was significantly reduced by machines, ranging from the flying shuttle and spinning jenny to sewing machines and dishwashers.
The pace of innovation changed during the second phase of the industrial revolution. From the 1870s, innovations became much more than aids to merely reduce boredom or physical fatigue. For instance, a key achievement of the new innovations was increased speed in travel and communication. The second phase was also characterized by product improvements that had a salutary impact on the industrial and services sectors. Steel replacing iron and computers replacing mechanical and electrical calculators are some examples. Steel enabled the creation of the now routinely seen skyscrapers, railroads, train coaches, industrial machinery, and modern ships, apart from numerous other applications. The advent of the computer was among the first steps taken to unveiling the information technology revolution, which flourished from the second half of the 20th century.
After the end of the Second World War, an important factor propelling world economic growth was the emergence of a relatively large number of new nations, brought about by decolonization and the political independence of former colonies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The world economy has since come a long way.
The emerging challenges
There are challenges galore facing people, nations, and the world at large. These include:
- violence and terror attacks, with inadequate security for women, the aged, and children, in particular;
- untruths, accompanied by cheating, bribery, and growing unaccounted money;
- climate change and its impacts on low-income nations and the poor, in particular;
- truncated globalization that does not permit the free movement of people to live and work in a place of their preference as per globally and humanely orchestrated norms; and
- numerous dimensions of inequality, particularly in income and wealth, across individuals, families, racial groups, social and religious groups, nations, and the world at large, the worst being the grossly visible inequalities in housing, health care facilities and provisions, and educational institutions and standards.
Inequality, the mother of all ills
Estimates of the Gini ratio, a common indicator of inequality, show that inequality has been rising among developed countries more rapidly in recent years. Inequality relates not only to income and wealth but is pervasive and visible in a variety of ways. In health, for instance, there is a gap between upper- and lower-income groups. With the ever-increasing costs of new drugs, diagnostic tests, hospitals, and medical personnel, all may not be able to have equal access to health care. Inequality is also visible in housing and education. Apartment complexes occupied by low-income families stand in sharp contrast to the lavish and sprawling bungalows of the rich, while government schools and private schools differ significantly in terms of their infrastructure and learning resources.
Such inequalities have come to the fore in the worst manner at the present time. The pandemic has shown most glaringly the suffering of the lower-income classes and those who make a living on daily wages in the unorganized sectors. The incidence and impact of the virus have been relatively most serious and severe in slums and other densely populated areas.
Human evolution: Toward the next stage
What is next in “human” evolution? Is it too much to hope for every human to be a practitioner of the two core values of non-violence and truth as well as kindness and compassion? How can the next phase of evolution bring about a high degree of equality and peace? These will be in the realm of the possible if “evolutionary failure” (EF) is understood and addressed (Rao 2017). EF refers to the lack of significant progress in adherence to the contextual truth and non-violence.
Markets may sanction anything and everything if the price is right. There is no market that can produce truth and non-violence. Instead, there are instances of successfully initiating and developing markets for untruths and violence. This is neither progress nor evolution, and these issues must be addressed upfront.
Intellectuals must cooperate to stop evolutionary failure
What aspect or variable in human evolution can explain the legendry figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther, and Mother Theresa? Should they be considered “evolutionary outsiders,” or should humanity aspire for future evolution to go for an on-course correction to eliminate evolutionary failure and eliminate untruth and violence?
According to an article published by Time in 2008 (Suddath 2008), Alfred Nobel, who invented the deadly and destructive dynamite, was hoping for a war-free world. He was banking on the process of the military might of different nations becoming a deterrent for its use and hoped that “all civilized nations will retreat and disband their troops”. However, nations did not disband their troops. Instead, the world witnessed two world wars. Conflicts continued in one place or another. Gadgets of destruction did not stop with dynamite; the world now has atomic weapons. Continuing discourses and treaties to promote nuclear non-proliferation has hardly yielded their total abandonment.
Time now for Intellectuals for Global Peace and Unity
Close to 1,000 people have received the Nobel Prize since its inception in 1901. Over 290 laureates are now alive. They are a great resource with tremendous global influence, and we believe they should come together as a group as the Intellectuals for Global Peace and Unity, with the objective of designing a definite action agenda for use by all world leaders and policy makers at the national, regional, and global levels.
UNESCO could support the concept of Intellectuals for Global Peace and Unity and bring together the global Nobel laureates and other intellectuals for one or two annual meetings. These meetings could provide invaluable opportunities for helping to formulate plans and implementation strategies as well as monitor time-bound results for freeing global migration and promoting non-violence. These steps are exactly what is needed to steer the world through increasingly difficult times.
Rao, B. 2017. Human Evolution, Economic Progress and Evolutionary Failure. Routledge.
Suddath, C. 2008. The Nobel Prize. Time. 11 December.