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What will responsible capitalism look like?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the responsibility of capitalism in her tenth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Capitalism has been the key driver of global wealth and prosperity. Despite this, it has yielded huge economic inequality and mistrust. This is because the system which is driven by private owners operates to maximise shareholder wealth. The need to generate profits at whatever cost works contrary to the interests of other members of society and the planet. The idea of shareholder supremacy is deeply entrenched within the current corporate culture. Everything else takes secondary priority. The outcome has been huge global inequality and a looming backlash.

 

The cry for responsible capitalism which started after the Second World War is climaxing. The need to conduct business in a manner that is equitable and balances the interests of shareholders, suppliers, employees, customers and the larger society is dire. Despite their benefits, there is a sense of unfairness and being overburdened accompanied by a loathing and mistrust of enterprises. As legal personalities in society, corporates should owe responsibility to others in how they conduct their affairs. Yet this has not been the case. What will save capitalism from itself? What will responsible capitalism look like?

 

Responsible capitalism is not corporate social responsibility. It is not giving a tiny proportion of the wealth generated by enterprises in the form of charity or a gesture of goodwill to society. It is the integration of the needs of the wider society into how business operates, a manner that benefits all stakeholders. Responsible capitalism is an economic system which appreciates the need for harmonious co-existence between enterprises and other members of the community.

 

Left on their own, markets will continue to maximise shareholder wealth at the expense of the rest of society. The 2008 financial crisis is a clear illustration of this. Responsible capitalism will take a greater role by state in regulating the affairs of markets. Governments will need to rise to the challenge by prescribing ways in which corporates should conduct themselves. The UK’s Companies Act 2006 for instance encourages responsible capitalism. These will be in form of policies that ensure fair work terms and conditions and redistribution of the generated wealth through taxation for society’s common good. To whom much has been given, much will be required. Responsible global enterprises will diligently pay rather than seek to avoid taxes to support the communities in which they operate.

 

Responsible capitalism will be enterprises whose strategic purpose is to serve society alongside their investors. This will mean fair compensation to employees and minimising of margins in pricing of goods and services to customers. Responsible corporates will be aware of the planet boundaries and mindful of the impact of their business activities on the environment.

 

In today’s increasingly dynamic and complex world, enterprises will have an opportunity to demonstrate their responsibility by rendering a service to society. They will use their resources to address the wicked problems facing global society for the common good. Their service to society will need to be embodied within their corporate strategies alongside delivery of value to shareholders. Responsible capitalism will take a paradigm shift in corporates’ purpose for existence from maximising shareholders’ wealth to serving society. A realisation that it is in serving society that sustainable value is created for investors. It will comprise enterprises focused on long-term rather than short-term gains.

 

@ Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  capitalism  inequality  society 

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Could the use of personal data decrease inequality?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the role of personal data in decreasing inequality through her new blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The one thing that defines the digital revolution we are in today is the enormous volume of personal data that is generated and collected each day. Data generation is growing at an exponential rate. This is supported by the ever-increasing computational power particularly in mobile devices. The use of smart devices is increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives. Through them, we are leaving a digital trail in almost everything we do. According to the Next Generation Data Analytics report, the big data market is expected to grow from USD 28 Billion in 2019 to USD 66 Billion by 2025. The trend is clearly upward. What does the continued generation and use of personal mean for economic inequality? Can the benefits of big data be made more inclusive?

The key drivers of the big data era are the growing number of mobile devices and related applications, and organisational shift from analogue to digital technologies. According to the World Bank, today more households in developing countries own a mobile phone than have access to clean water or electricity. Furthermore, close to 70 percent of the bottom wealth quintile in these countries own mobile phones. Businesses and governments are becoming smarter each day. They are developing algorithms which enable them to analyse big data and make predictions with a much greater level of precision than would be the case with huge national surveys. This is making decision-making easier.

Governments now have access to a mass of large-scale data sets, and new data sources on previously ‘unknown’ populations. They are using big data to cost-effectively make predictions that enable them to provide better services to their citizens. For instance, healthcare professionals can use big data to calculate someone’s chance of suffering from a given disease and thus provide timely or preventive treatment. Big data has been used to increase financial inclusion, improve education, respond to epidemics, and mitigate the impact of natural disasters. Businesses on the other hand are using data freely collected from individuals to provide services and products that are more targeted at their clients. Using algorithms, they can more accurately anticipate behaviour. They are driving our future behaviour. This form of surveillance capitalism is making data companies much more profitable and driving the inequality between them and the rest of society.

The role of technology companies in making connectivity work for everyone in future is likely to remain. Yet the reality is that business decisions on investments are driven by the need to optimise returns. Thus, despite the dividends highlighted here, a digital divide between the rich and the poorer in society who cannot afford the latest technology is likely to persist. The poor and the digitally excluded have less or incomplete data which makes them excluded from services whose design is informed by machine learning. Additionally, the algorithms can be discriminative and biased. For instance, health insurance services algorithms use historical data which could have biases. Credit scoring algorithms use residential location and type of work which could further entrench one’s economic situation. These could sustain the prevailing global inequalities.

The economy of the future will be digital. Based on the current trajectory, big data and machine learning is likely to increase. As the revolution of big data and artificial intelligence takes root, there will be loss of jobs. The poor in society who do not have the requisite digital skills to engage in this big data economy are likely to be disadvantaged and excluded economically. This could increase global inequality. The digital divide between the richer and the poor could be closed by addressing the non-digital or analogue elements behind it. Adapting the skills of workers to the digital economy, the nationalisation of data, and effective regulation of business to ensure digital inclusion would help address this digitally driven inequality.

© Felistus Mbole, 2019

Tags:  data  inequality  technology 

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Is globalization fuelling inequality?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Friday, June 14, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program investigates the impact of globalization on inequality in her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

The wind of globalization has been blowing for decades and digital technology is fuelling it. The world is more interconnected today than at any other point in history. There has been a significant increase in free trade and cultural exchange. Cross-border trade deals between both private sector players and national governments form part of everyday news. What are the economic implications of this massive level of interconnectedness? What does globalization mean for inequality?

 

Technology has created a connected world where opportunities are shared. Globalization is the integration of markets. National boundaries have become more porous to goods, services, capital, and people. While some boundaries remain physically closed, this does not hinder flow of capital, services, and data. Social media applications like Twitter has particularly accelerated movement of information. The last couple of decades have especially seen a marked growth in cross-border exchange of human capital. The increasing use of sophisticated technology has generated need for specialised skills which are globally limited. Organisations are able to hire such technical services globally. Supported by internet connectivity, technical service providers do not need permits to work in particular countries. They can permeate national boundaries by providing their services virtually.

 

Who are the winners and losers from globalization? Globalization doesn’t seem to be benefitting everyone. Currently, there are an anti-globalization campaigns and policies in countries that view themselves as benefiting the world at the expense of their national interests. Offshoring of certain aspects of business to developing countries has enabled them to participate in global supply chains, positively contributing to their economic growth. On the other hand, labour has tended to flow from the less developed to developed countries and capital in the opposite direction. Developing countries have therefore benefitted most from globalization compared to the more developed ones. The effect has been decreased inequality between the global north and south.

 

Nevertheless, it is only the economically productive developing countries that benefit from joining global supply chain. The less productive ones that are simply an end market for goods manufactured in other countries. For instance, India and China are big beneficiaries of globalization currently. However, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to lag. The less skilled segments of the population, both locally and globally, are being left behind economically, widening the inequality divergence. Globalization is clearly a tide that is not lifting all boats.

 

What does this mean? The perceived inability of globalization to create mutual benefits could lead to political tensions between countries as seen currently between the United States of America and China. Trade wars and related conflicts could emerge if these perceived imbalances are sustained.  Trade has been shown to be the greatest driver of economic success and thus the convergence between developing and developed economies. Policies aimed at enhancing human capital through broadened access to quality education and healthcare, and reducing barriers to trade could reduce global inequality.

 

Globalization is a good thing. As the ageing economies such as Japan and parts of Europe start to fall short of the labour that is needed to drive their economies, Africa will be experiencing its demographic dividend. The world’s labour can be developed and effectively harnessed and distributed to benefit everyone. This is only possible if the wind of globalization continues to blow unabatedly.  

 

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  economics  globalization  inequality 

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What is driving inequality?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Friday, May 17, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program investigates the causes of inequality in her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Global inequality has been on the increase for decades. There are fewer people living in poverty today yet global society is probably more economically unequal than at any other time in history. This trend poses obvious threats such as lack of social cohesion and sub-optimal economic performance. What is driving this inequality? What does this mean for the future?

 

There has been a continual shift from agriculture to other sources of livelihoods, accompanied by urbanisation.   The economic opportunities created by this shift require more skilled labour than agriculture. This has made it harder for the less formally educated to engage economically. If they manage to find employment in industry, the disparity between their pay and that of the more skilled is stark. The trend is likely to worsen as urbanisation increases.  

 

The constant today is the rapidly accelerating change in technology. Currently, skill-based technology is a key driver of income and economic growth. Sadly, the poor who have less skill are not benefitting as much from this technologically driven economic growth. The inequality gap thus continues to widen. The situation is likely to be sustained into the future unless remedial action is taken.  The introduction of simpler forms of technology such as use of mobile telephony presents hope.  

 

Closely accompanying this technological change is globalisation. Technology has enabled economic integration at a speed which was unimaginable a couple of decades ago. In pursuit of greater efficiency and effectiveness, organisations can open business offices in faraway countries for both production and distribution of goods and services. Offshoring of production to low-income countries creates employment opportunities, improving incomes and decreasing income disparities across states. This could, however, generate income disparities in the target country as the more skilled get a premium on their labour. A reduction in trade barriers and emergence of regional trade agreements has also played a role in expanding globalisation. Globalisation and technology are self-enforcing. Firms and individuals who have the resources to take advantage of globalisation and technology benefit most from it. This further compounds the inequality gap.

 

Another driver of inequality is government policy. Countries that have reported decreased inequalities have implemented policies that promote redistribution of income through social protection transfers and progressive taxation.  A significant share of national revenues in such states is spent on public services such as education and healthcare, and infrastructure. Sectors which support the livelihoods of the majority such as agriculture in agrarian economies are sufficiently funded. Such policies empower most of the citizens rather than benefiting a small minority. Although an effective driver of equality, government policy is highly subject to political will. Public corruption on the other hand acts as a tax on the poor. 

 

What does this mean for inequality? Not much can be done to slow down globalisation or the rapid change of technology. These trends are not negative in themselves. They present opportunities for realising a more equitable and sustainable society. Technology such as digital infrastructure can be used to effectively deliver public goods such as health and education at scale. In addition, progressive taxation and a clamp on public corruption could create a more equal society.

 

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  inequality  rights  society 

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What are the threats of growing inequality?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program warns about the threats of inequality in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

A widely held belief is that the defining factor between the wealthy and poor members of society is their level of hard work. This is underpinned by the view that the poor can pull themselves out of their situation by their bootstraps. The proponents of this theory find it easy to justify growing global inequality. They probably feel secure in their status and are little bothered by the growing level of inequality. Are they truly secure or is this just an illusion? Let us examine the threats that growing inequality poses to society.

 

The global economy has witnessed growth for decades. This growth has been accompanied by increase in inequality in most regions and individual countries within these regions. If Piketty can be believed, the underlying factor to this is that the return on capital is greater than overall economic growth. While per capita growth has been sustained, there has been a more proportionate distribution of this growth among the various wealth segments.  The profit share often surpasses the wage share of GDP growth.

 

It would appear that economic growth will be sustained despite the inequality. So why bother? This is not the case. Growing inequality is potentially harmful to social cohesion. People find it hard to connect with those noticeably different from themselves. Inequality could result in natural tensions between the various economic groups. It could lead to tensions between the rich and the poor who feel disenfranchised.  It could also lead to loss of trust in the government and public institutions. The poor could begin to feel that the government has failed them or does not care about their plight. Inequality could be a threat to democracy and the rule of law as witnessed in the Arab uprising. Wealthy elites who assume power could implement policies to entrench their own interests at the expense of the poor.

 

Inequality also has economic consequences. Employment income is a key factor of inequality. Growing inequality means that those at the bottom of the economic pyramid in society would effectively experience a sustained erosion of their disposable income. They would not be able to invest in their personal development and that of their children through quality health and education. This would in turn decrease the quality of labour available in the economy. Their ability to contribute to the economic growth of their nations would also be impaired, further widening the inequality gap.  The end result would be a degradation of the supply side that perpetuates itself in a negative feedback loop.

 

What does this mean? Effective engagement of all sections of society is necessary for sustained and strong economic growth. There is a need to enable each citizen to contribute to and benefit from the economic growth of their country. This can be attained through investment in public goods and services such as health, education, and infrastructure. If the national cake is not shared, it is unlikely to grow as fast as it potentially could. It could even stagnate.

 

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  inequality  rights  society 

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Is growing inequality sustainable?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program warns about the increased inequality in her second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members. 


Economic inequality is growing globally. The richest one percent of society owns 45% of global wealth and are on track to owning two-thirds of the world’s wealth by the year 2030. In 2017, the wealth of the world’s poorest 50% was equal to that of only 42 billionaires compared to 380 of them in 2009 according to OXFAM. What does this mean for society? Is this level of inequality sustainable?

Society largely comprises owners of capital and the providers of labour. Governments regulate the relationship between these two parties and provide public goods and services. Today, the global economy is larger today than ever before. The growth is far from proportionately distributed. The incomes to workers have not increased as fast as returns on capital, widening the inequality gap. The situation has worsened since the 2008 financial crisis. This trend will be sustained based on the current trajectory.

Income is a key component of economic inequality. Since around 1980, income inequality has been increasing in almost all regions globally but at different rates. The same variances are also evident within the regions and countries. The core twin drivers of this change have been education and technology. The gap between skilled labour and unskilled labour wages has been growing for decades. Advancement of technology has led to increased demand for skilled labour, putting a premium price on it. Variances in levels and types of education can account for as much as 60% of the difference in wages. A higher level of education leads to increased productivity and indirectly to faster diffusion of technology through innovation. Both factors contribute to faster economic growth. The higher the divergence in levels of education, the greater the income inequality.

The World Inequality Report looks at the proportion of the national wealth held by the top ten percent of society. It ranks Europe as the most equal society today at 37% and Middle-East the least equal at 61%. Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, and India are in-between at 55%. The rate of growth in inequality is decreasing in Europe but rising in the USA. It has remained relatively constant in Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, India and Asia in the last three decades. The rapid increase in income inequality in the USA is due to massive educational inequalities and a non-progressive tax system.

Is growing inequality sustainable? Based on the current trajectory in the use of technology and divergence in access to education, inequality could rise to alarming levels. It could lead to precarious levels of distrust between the wealthy and the poor. Globalisation will allow capital to flow across tax jurisdictions. It is likely to make redistribution of income through heavy taxation untenable. Advanced inequality could result in polarisation of society into wealthy elites and the poor in future. It could lead to a highly dissatisfied class within society and cause political, economic and social upheavals.

How can this potentially volatile situation be avoided? Public and social institutions, and policies shape inequality. Progressive tax systems and public investments in human development such as quality education and healthcare have shown promise to minimise further widening of the economic inequality gap. Their impact is amplified by creation of employment opportunities. Strong labour unions and government regulations are crucial in ensuring that these factors work in harmony to decrease inequality.

Two key questions beg answers: Will governments be able to develop and implement the right policies? Would higher taxation levels be acceptable to capitalists whose core motive is to maximise returns on capital? The time to fix inequality is now rather than when political, economic, and social catastrophes set in. Tackling inequality will require the political will of governments and the good will of capitalists.

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  economics  education  inequality 

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