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Are Asia’s economic growth and expansion sustainable?

Posted By Travis B. Kupp, Thursday, February 27, 2020

Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the sustainability of Asia’s economic growth in his second post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

What goes up must come down, or so they say. Asian economies have expanded over the last half-century, especially in the South and East, positioning the continent as the modern leader of global economic growth. Much of the rest of the continent has an imminent opportunity to benefit from this success in exchange for certain concessions. Regardless, the region must now discover how to make this position sustainable in two senses: maintaining its trajectory while weathering societal and political change and addressing the impacts of increased consumption on the environment. Contrary to popular belief, there exists no technological silver bullet to solve for this conundrum.

 

China is the posterchild of Asia’s economic potential. Since opening up to the world in the 1970s, its growing production and trade has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty leading to a massive increase in standard of living and therefore, critically, consumption. India is on a similar course. In both countries, the rise in disposable income for these many millions has created an extremely attractive market for goods and services along with a favorable financial climate for entrepreneurship. A wealthier and better educated populace has led naturally to a rise in more skilled labor and associated jobs. Southeast Asia is set to reap the benefits of this shift as demand for its low-end manufacturing increases.

 

Asia’s growth has led to regional integration and a vast realignment of international economic alliances. If geo-economics is in fact war by other means, then China is rapidly becoming one of the most battle-hardened nations on earth. The state is simultaneously flexing its influence through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), so called “trade wars,” and other significant foreign investments while learning from its mistakes in each area. The BRI may project the benefits of East Asia’s growth more intensely into the Central and Western Asian nations. Then again, it could also entangle China in far-flung conflicts to protect its investments if it does not carefully manage its relationships, especially with its neighbor India.

 

The central importance of China to Asia’s economic hopes presents a major systemic risk. The rest of Asia, and much of the world, has become to varying degrees vulnerable to abrupt changes in the nation. Over the next decade, for instance, China needs to find a solution to its population’s declining birth rate and increased life expectancy. A more favorable policy toward immigrants could help mitigate this looming crisis but may require or introduce societal liberalization that could be politically destabilizing. Sudden regime change, however triggered, would create a significant hurdle to sustained economic growth across the region.

 

The deeper existential risk lies in the impact of growth on the environment. While modern technologies have made significant strides toward lessening the ills of industry, they are unlikely to keep pace with the increasing demand for goods. Environmental concerns only influence consumption patterns in wealthy nations to the extent that they are economically viable to the consumer and do not compromise standards of living. The question then becomes whether the ruling parties of Asian nation states are prepared to sacrifice their economic gains in the name of environmental stewardship. The broad multilateral cooperation required to effectively mitigate climate change and environmental degradation makes it is possible, and dangerously plausible, that continued development may ultimately win out.

 

Asian economic leadership has an uncertain future, but the outlook is not without hope. Even if the Chinese engine of Asia’s economic miracle stalls and internal and external political realignment ensues, it is possible that this could usher in a wave of more sustainable growth, in both senses of the word. New policies, rather than technologies, to address shifting demographics and a changing global climate are likely to be the key deciding factors of what future unfolds. Asia’s economy may have room to grow yet.

 

© Travis Kupp 2020

Tags:  Asia  economics  sustainability 

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What is the face of a sustainable future society?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions sustainable future societies in her eleventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

What is a sustainable society? A sustainable society is one that ensures the wellbeing of human life and nature for present and future generations. It is a society that has the right balance of the economic, social-cultural, political, and ecological dimensions.

 

The economic system is one part of our finite ecosystem constrained by planetary boundaries. Economic growth is simply a translation of the social and natural capital within society into economic gains. The global economy has been growing for decades while the natural capital is continually being degraded at a rate well above its renewal. It is not possible for the economy to perpetually grow in this finite ecosystem.

 

Economic growth is a quantitative increase which does not necessarily lead to an improvement in the quality of life or equity and justice in society. The pursuit of continuous economic growth puts undue strain on the environment with total disregard to future generations. On the contrary, we need development which sustains the wellbeing of humans, cultural values, and the environment. What will a sustainable society look like? Can this be attained?

 

A sustainable society will be characterised by long-termism rather than short-termism. It will be a global society whose members are mindful of the global rather than the immediate local consequences of their actions. It will be a society with a shared economy that pursues development rather than mere economic growth and the common good. Otherwise, everyone will face the tragedy of the commons such as effects of climate change and societal ills.

 

It will be an equitable society in all aspects such affecting wellbeing and decision-making. It will not be a society where the more economically empowered make or influence policy decisions to serve their own interests. All calibres of society will need to be represented in decisions that affect their welfare, both locally and globally. The south will be as key in global decision-making as the north. It will no longer be a case of the economic powers making decisions that affect the globe. Government policies will discourage and punish behaviours that would lead to ecological degradation and hamper future sustainability of society through levies such as eco tax and economic sanctions.

 

The sustainable global society will espouse a paradigm shift in the value of life. It will be a society where members are valued for their very existence rather than their economic worth. This will drive a sense of equity and a desire to see one’s neighbour living as comfortably as himself. Members of the society will be oriented to change for the benefit of all.

 

Is a sustainable society possible? What will drive it? Who will be its custodians? As demonstrated by the ongoing global youth campaigns for climate change, maintaining the status quo is not an option. Attaining a sustainable society is a social-political problem. Economists have failed us. Building a sustainable society will require a political class that espouses societal values and does not merely serve capitalists. This will be a calibre of leadership that has the will to enforce the right values across all segments of society and to penalise those who act contrary to the tenets of this common good. It will be a political power that works to build society’s moral fibre rather than to erode it. One that is insulated from the current economic system that currently wields undue power over society and lives in present. A sustainable future society is one that includes everyone.

 

© Felistus Mbole, 2019

Tags:  economics  society  sustainability 

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How selfish is self-interest?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Friday, July 12, 2019

Robin Jourdan checks the possibility of replacing individual selfishness by global self-interest in her seventh blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Industrial Revolutions have been instrumental in changing the landscapes of the world for centuries, including social, economic and governance. The first through fourth industrial revolutions mark human history since the Middle Ages. Each era represents certain technological advances: from use of coal and electricity, to miniaturization and digitalization. But, what about tomorrow’s worlds? The quickly approaching 5th industrial revolution focuses on sustainability and humanity in equal proportion to technological advances.

 

Having a presence in the digital world has evolved rapidly in the past 20 or more years: 84% of people could have a digital presence by 2025. In our connected world, digital life is becoming linked to a person’s physical being. This digital representation sets up certain positive expectations. It will also bring along negative concerns like greater perceptions of self-importance.

 

Increased connections create a new kind-of nervous system across the planet. So much that we can experience the pain in other parts of the world. Increased is empathy that any population is more than a collection of workers as an input of capitalism. Instead, they are residents whose dignity, well-being, and health must be considered. Urbanization booms and new technologies introduce advanced engineering, design, and construction. They also contribute to new thinking about sustainability and health in a place. Results intend to support aspirations of humanity, perhaps replacing individual selfishness with worldwide self-interest.

 

The next half century may bring changes to institutions and rules that govern access to justice. Global technical inexperience may shift due to greater awareness of interference and other technology-based insecurities. Prized future technologies will help individuals maintain privacy, own and control their data, and decrease censorship into the latter half of this century. It is unmistakable that recent environmental turnarounds elevate China’s influence today. Beijing has shown that significant pollution reforms are possible and are providing a model for others to follow for decades.

 

Identity politics influence Western economics and policies today. Identity politics can influence social cohesion by giving greater voice to often marginalized populations. Such greater voice amplifies skepticism and dispassionate reasoning; key to strengthening decision-making. Democratic governance, often conflated with unfettered growth and exploitation, sets up unnecessary contention with sustainability. In the approaching 5th IR world, greater voice is given to sustainable systems than ever before. Incentivizing responsible actions that benefit all (including future generations) may help restore trust in both capitalism and democracy.

 

Out of necessity, deliberative and technocratic councils may declare water and air to be of strategic importance to protect them. Though competent, technocratic leadership can appear distant, and challenging to understand. It is further wounded by decisions made at the cost of slow, non-public debates. Gaps in public conversation, give and take can leave a perception of inaction. Coupled with distastefully polarized arguments may cause people to turn to private sector solutions. A danger of this leadership is that it offers a single-minded vision, often built by a charismatic mover-shaker and not by the self-interests of the community. There is a strength from the participation of a wide range of entities challenging perceptions of futures possible.

 

Thriving in a 5th Industrial Revolution world means that technology for its own sake isn’t the blanket nor disruptive answer anymore. New possibilities rely on thinking and communicating differently about futures. Traditional analyses centered on technology, business entrepreneurship, and growth-at-all-costs are incomplete to deliver future success. In a sense, this line of thinking is outdated. By contrast, understanding and articulating futures that include a vision of social justice, environmental and economic sustainability, and widespread cultural change is key. Understanding change maps to possible future outcomes. Impacts on people are why we ponder those outcomes. Though easier said than done — the result: Individual selfishness replaced by global self-interest.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  selfishness  sustainability 

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