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THE POLITICAL CHALLENGE OF INNOVATION*

26/08/2013 | Comentários (0) | Por: Altamir Tojal

The image of an "emerging country" disguises old "underdeveloped country" realities that still persist.

Good news, old ills

In the past few decades we have witnessed the dissemination of production processes in which the value of knowledge and the intensification of cooperation and communication networks are prevalent.

Although this introduces some good, new things, it also conserves and revives society’s old ills, reminding us of the also long-standing challenge to do something new that is better than the traditional way, or to at least avoid that problems are invented faster than our capacity to solve them.

And almost always this challenge is more political than technical.

It seems there is no doubt that in the center of the present process of change there is a major economic expansion taking place, deriving from the wealth being generated by technological innovations.

Knowledge, information and networking are now the main sources of value generation.

With the new economy, which some call cognitive capitalism, labor is becoming less material, new values, new categories of thought and even another lexicon are appearing, different for those we have inherited from modernity.

We are dealing here with a set of mutations that produce what psychologists and philosophers call the emergence of a new subjectivity, with the dissemination of more independent behavior, increasing autonomy for individuals, greater social mobilization and wagers on the possibilities for renewal of political organization.

But there are some points that are obscure in this process.

Despite the great generation of wealth, the fast circulation of information and the accelerated production of knowledge, extreme poverty persists, wars do not end, totalitarian regimes threaten us and fundamentalisms are expanding.

On the front line of technological innovation, large corporations are expropriating to their own benefit the information, knowledge and collective labor in the large cooperative and communication networks.

Our privacy increasingly is being spied on and violated by private organizations and the state.

The predominance of financial logic is intensifying, dictating rules for both governments and societies. Knowledge has become the new economy's most important raw material. However, finance remains as its chief measure.

Within the production transformation process itself, post-Fordism has also meant the return to the pre-Fordist forms of work exploitation. Laborers rights are threatened and suppressed. People are also working harder, under worse conditions, and with fewer guarantees in societies that already had achieved more civilized standards of citizenship.

Emerging countries

We know that one of the most important aspects of the new economy is globalization and, within it, the emerging countries.

Capital flows and new management systems are redistributing the planet's production and wealth. The emerging economies are becoming stronger. Opportunities are multiplying in formerly stagnant countries whose immense populations were condemned to poverty.

In parallel with the economic and social gains occurring in the emerging countries, an important portion of the rich countries are confronting a prolonged period of recession and unemployment. The social and productive models that in recent decades resulted in improved welfare and higher standards of citizenship are now in checkmate in the developed countries, mainly in Europe.

We also know that, in this scenario of globalization and expansion of emerging countries, advanced technologies coexist side-by-side with archaic production systems, sustained by precarious labor conditions.

Processes related to successful emerging country models, such as the expansion of the BRICS, should be judged not only for their evident economic results and social progress, but also by the combination of technological advances and outdated social relationship ways.

Thus, the image of an "emerging country" disguises old "underdeveloped country" realities that still persist.

This is not only an issue of having enough time to achieve all of the stages that are necessary to distribute results and opportunities to everyone. It also is about the permanence of political systems that were designed to maintain the traditional concentration of the benefits, even during times when there are high rates of employment and with the adoption of transfer of income programs.

Nevertheless, models of emerging economies, whose competitiveness, at least in part, is supported through this dynamic of technological advances and reduced social protections, are sometimes presented as examples to societies that have been capable of making opportunities more democratic, expanding rights and producing the cultural and economic bases that today make major technical-scientific expansion possible.

It is clear that one cannot reduce the growing political and economic importance of the emerging countries, mainly the BRICS, to a "social dumping ground."

In countries like Brazil, a process is underway of expansion and distribution of income as well an increase in rights.
Besides this, we are seeing an increase in the competitiveness of companies in different sectors, thanks to productivity gains that have been achieved in equality of conditions with global market competitors.

But it is legitimate to suspect that there is interdependency in the asymmetry of the situations of the two groups of countries: the emerging countries with more fragile systems of social protection and the rich countries that are facing a prolonged process of economic difficulty.

Brazil

Brazil has become a global standout as one of the main emerging economies.

The country has gone through nearly two decades of positive changes, ushered in as a result of the victory over hyperinflation and, thereafter, expanded through social policies.

Together with economic growth, millions of Brazilians escaped poverty and today represent a new middle class with more access to consumption, education and citizenship rights.

Nevertheless, doubts lately have been appearing about the sustainability of the growth model, stemming mainly from the low quality of education, infrastructure limitations, the deficient management of public finances and the threat of the return of inflation.

We Brazilians generally are optimistic, but we are now beginning to be uneasy about the difficulty of resolving the chronic challenges of society and the recent economic threats.

We know serious problems exist in our public governance and we are suspicious about our model, which is very dependent on consumption stimuli.

Our institutions, our public services, our citizenship rights need to be improved.

Not only wealth but also opportunities are still poorly distributed in Brazil, a country that continues nourishing social inequality.
Democracy, stable currency and citizenship are values that are happily "naturalized" in the developed countries. But for us, for quite a long time, they represented distant dreams and immense challenges.

I am from a generation that confronted 20 years of dictatorship and coexisted even longer with inflation rates that reached 30% per month. Reconstruction of democracy and stabilization of the economy "never seem to reach" where we were, but finally have arrived.

We watched the failure of innumerable plans to fight inflation and many Brazilians did not believe any more that they were free from that disgrace, finally having a trustworthy currency.

Some had to pick up arms on behalf of liberty and against the injustice of misery. Today we live in a democratic environment, with less poverty and more citizenship.

Brazil's participation in technical-scientific production is still modest on the global scale. However, we are able to perceive, in the more successful economic and social processes that are underway in the country, the virtuous cycle of innovation.

The "engineering" of fighting inflation advanced through “Made in Brazil” creativity and knowledge.

In the same way, our public policies for the transfer of income to those who were poorer also advanced, even though these are still rudimentary tools, susceptible to political manipulation.

In the field of production techniques, there is a growing number of successful innovations, mainly in agriculture and the energy sector.
There is still a long way to go before the country reaches the standards of the rich nations.

Nevertheless, we are pleased with the achievements of the past decades. And we still trust in our ability to preserve them, overcoming the difficulties that persist and those that are emerging and worry us.

Invention of solutions

We were witnesses to consecutive decades of economic growth with stability in Europe, which continues to be a model that is admired in Brazil and the entire planet.

Therefore, we should root for Europe to recover, because we understand that victory in Europe is the victory of economic development with social justice and democracy. That is what we want for our country and for humanity.

More than rooting and wanting, we must bet that the developed countries will find, within this democratic tradition, the solutions for the difficulties. And this also is the bet we are making to counter the doubts regarding the sustainability of the emerging countries.

This is a bet on democracy, on culture, on knowledge and, therefore, on human capacity to invent solutions for big problems.

A big challenge is also linked to this gamble – perhaps the biggest one of all – which is the capacity of the global society to mobilize the immense scientific and technological power for battling the extreme poverty that affects many millions of people.

Jeffrey Sachs, the respected economist, has staked his prestige on a study he published, entitled "The End of Poverty," in which he seeks to demonstrate that the current generation has the opportunity to do away with extreme poverty, and this necessarily must be undertaken in partnership with the richer countries.

Along the same line of thought, in a study published in a recent issue The Economist shows that, for the first time in history, humanity has the knowledge and the tools to eliminate poverty in the world.

“Will the sun rise tomorrow?” thinker and poet Octavio Paz once asked, in the 1980s, in the face of the outbreak of this process of change ever faster which we continue to experience under the label of post-modernity, for the lack of a better name.

Time is a secret and the future always holds out some surprises despite our willingness to examine it and mold it.

Amid doubts and uncertainties, I choose to close this provocation with the good news that world was capable of reducing extreme poverty in the past few years, despite the worst global crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s in the last century.

We are increasingly producing more means to resolve large problems. The challenge, now, more than ever, is political.

* Altamir Tojal: Notes to the “When Innovation Creates Systems Forum”. Lucca, Italy, June 26h, 2013.



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