A brilliantly educational article of Brad Keywell with our compliments shed some light of what awaiting us in the near future. This is positively a world where Human Brilliance, Ingenuity and Skills will always be needed.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about empowering people, not the rise of the machines
14 Jun 2017
The world is changing. There’s no way around this fact.
Billions of people and countless machines are connected to each other. Through ground-breaking technology, unprecedented processing power and speed, and massive storage capacity, data is being collected and harnessed like never before.
Automation, machine learning, mobile computing and artificial intelligence — these are no longer futuristic concepts, they are our reality.
To many people, these changes are scary.
Previous industrial revolutions have shown us that if companies and industries don’t adapt with new technology, they struggle. Worse, they fail.
But I strongly believe that these innovations will make industry – and the world – stronger and better.
The change brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution is inevitable, not optional.
And the possible rewards are staggering: heightened standards of living; enhanced safety and security; and greatly increased human capacity.
For people, there must be a shift in mindset.
As difficult as it may be, the future of work looks very different from the past. I believe people with grit, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit will embrace this future, rather than cling to the status quo.
People can be better at their jobs with the technology of today—and the technology that is yet to come—rather than fearing that their human skills will be devalued.
Human and machine
I’m reminded of chess.
We have all heard the stories about computers beating even the greatest grandmasters. But the story is more nuanced; humans and computers play differently and each has strengths and weaknesses.
Computers prefer to retreat, but they can store massive amounts of data and are unbiased in their decision-making.
Humans can be more stubborn, but also can read their opponent’s weaknesses, evaluate complex patterns, and make creative and strategic decisions to win.
Even the creators of artificial chess-playing machines acknowledge that the best chess player is actually a team of both human and machine.
The world will always need human brilliance, human ingenuity and human skills.
Software and technology have the potential to empower people to a far greater degree than in the past—unlocking the latent creativity, perception and imagination of human beings at every level of every organization.
Power of data, power of people
This shift will enable workers on the front line, on the road and in the field to make smarter decisions, solve tougher problems and do their jobs better.
This is our mission at Uptake—to combine the power of data and the power of people, across global industries.
Here’s what this looks like:
Railroad locomotives are powered by massive, highly complex electrical engines that cost millions of dollars.
When one breaks down, the railroad loses thousands more for every hour it’s out of service (not to mention, there are a lot of angry travellers or cargo customers to deal with).
After the locomotive is towed in for repairs, technicians normally start by running diagnostic tests. These can take hours, and often require technicians to stand next to roaring engines jotting down numbers based on the diagnostic readings.
That’s the old way – or, at least, it should be.
Machines, rather than something to be feared, are the tools that will help us solve the world’s biggest problems Image: Unsplash/Sorasak
When locomotives operated by our customers roll into the shop for routine services, all diagnostics have already been run.
Our software has forecast when, why and how the machine is likely to break down using predictive analytics — algorithms that analyze massive amounts of data generated by the 250 sensors on each locomotive.
Our systems have examined that data within the context of similar machines, subject- matter experts, industry norms and even weather. If there’s a problem, we detect it, and direct the locomotive to a repair facility.
A mechanic can then simply pick up an iPad, and learn in a few minutes exactly what is about to break down, as well as the machine’s history and the conditions it’s been operating under.
That leaves the mechanics to do what they do best: fix it, using their experience, judgement and skill. And the mechanics decisions and actions become data that feeds back into the software, improving the analytics and predictions for the next problem.
So, technology didn’t replace mechanics; it empowered them do their job.
In the same way that chess masters and computers work best together, the mechanic used human skills that a machine can’t replicate: ingenuity, creativity and experience. And the technology detected a problem that was unknown and unseen to human eyes.
In short, when the mechanic and the technology work together, the work gets done faster, with fewer errors and better results.
Multiply this across all industries: aviation, energy, transportation, smart cities, manufacturing, natural resources, and construction.
The productivity we unleash could be reminiscent of what the world saw at the advent of the first industrial revolution. But the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will run much broader, and deeper, than the first.
We’ll have the knowledge, the talent and the tools to solve some of the world’s biggest problems: hunger, climate change, disease.
Machines will supply us with the insight and the perspective we need to reach those solutions. But they won’t supply the judgement or the ingenuity. People will.
The WEF recommends to read more on the same subject:
We took the initiative with compliments to this gentleman, to borrow few excerpts so as to hopefully launch a debate on this report. This started with the premise that :
“The 22 Arab nations spread across two continents, Asia and Africa, have to pull together in a historic movement to declare a shared manifesto that focuses on a unified destiny.
The solution for the region’s problems, as the Arab Youth Survey sees it, must come from within this region, and not from the US, Russia, Europe or even the United Nations.“
Elaborating, ASDA’A BursonMarsteller stated that its 9th Annual Arab Youth Survey 2017 was conducted by international polling firm PSB Research to explore attitudes among Arab youth in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. PSB conducted 3,500 face-to-face interviews from February 7 to March 7, 2017 with Arab men and women aged 18 to 24. The interviews were conducted in Arabic and English.
The aim of this annual survey is to present evidence-based insights into the attitudes of Arab youth, providing public and private sector organisations with data and analysis. It is the largest of its kind of the region’s ‘largest demographic’, and covers the six Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia) the Levant (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestinian Territories) and Yemen. The survey did not include Syria due to the civil unrest in the country.
The key theme running through this Youth Survey 2017 is a sobering one: we live in a region where young people straddle a fault line between hope and despair. A vast, important demographic that is united by religion, language and culture is increasingly separated by access to opportunity. Even today, given the conflicts, security issues and unemployment which sadly mark much of the region, the overall finding looks surprisingly positive: just over half of young Arabs as a whole still believe their nation is on the right track.
Looking at the Survey on a region-by-region, or country-by-country level, however, we see a stark divide between youth in the Gulf states, who are brimming with optimism, and those in the Levant – Lebanon, Jordan, Palestinian Territories, Iraq – and Yemen, who are anxious and disillusioned about the future. The real tragedy of this year’s key findings is that young Arabs are becoming more pessimistic.
“Our best days are behind us” is not a phrase any government should hear from anyone, least of all the very demographic that will be living with the legacy of their rule.
It would be easy to dismiss this divide as the result of the widening income gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ – those that have oil, and the prosperity that should come with it and those that don’t.
Young Arabs realise that while their elders played the victim game and sought intervention and protection from foreign allies, that strategy no longer cuts ice. The world is becoming increasingly inward-looking and globalisation is being challenged:
According to this year’s Survey, young Arabs do not see the US, Russia or other international powers as their biggest allies, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And they increasingly see the UAE as a model country – one that they would not only choose to live in over any other, but also want their own countries to emulate.
This suggests a solution: that good governance could be the UAE’s newest export. The soft power of the UAE is one of the Middle East’s greatest assets – and one that doesn’t just enrich the UAE but the whole region, through the promotion of stability and prosperity.
National and international complexities mean that a one-size-fits-all model would be unrealistic. But some aspects of the UAE model are universal: empowering youth, and focusing on enabling positivity, happiness and tolerance – increasingly in short supply across the region – would be a strong start.
The Arab Spring of 2011 is behind us, and last year’s Survey showed us youth were increasingly disillusioned with its legacy. But revolutions can take a long time for their full effects to become apparent. For better and for worse, the region is very different today than it was six years ago. It’s easy to concentrate on the ‘worse’ – the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya, the refugee crisis and continued instability in Iraq, to name just a few. For better, though, we see that nations are waking up to the new reality and finally preparing their economies for the future. In Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar we see younger generations taking more prominent roles in government; in Egypt we are seeing the return of a measure of economic and political stability; in Iraq and Syria we see Daesh in retreat; in North Africa, outside of Libya, we see relative stability; and across the region we see young people increasingly rejecting the message of extremism.
Twelve years ago, long before the Arab Spring provided a wake-up call to autocratic regimes, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, sent a clear message to Arab governments: “You must change, or you will be changed.”
So what is the solution?
The 28th Arab League Summit, held in Jordan in March this year, pontificated for the nth time on the same issues, and came out with no solution. While it may sound utopian, the only real solution that has the chance to offer a candle in the sea of darkness is one led by the spirit of youth and the courage to be positive.
We in MENA-Forum accept all the report’s findings as a true picture of the current situation. For a start we would join in applauding such initiative to try and cover such a diversely endowed region by nature and millenary culture. We would nevertheless have to note that misunderstanding is however still prevailing sadly in most of its hot spots where it would certainly be difficult to extricate a happy opening for each and every side to be happy with.
There are some cities you visit and wish you could move there tomorrow, because the quality of life on offer seems so appealing.
Whether it’s down to lots of easily accessible amenities and open space, low levels of traffic and pollution or plenty of opportunities for enjoying a life outside of work, everybody values particular aspects of urban life in different ways.
As such, the idea of ‘liveability’ is a contested one and will differ wildly in the eyes of different groups of people: young students, families, expats and the elderly – to name just a few. It’s given rise to numerous indices – in fact there are now more indices covering the issue of liveability than any other area, and each varies significantly depending on the author and audience . . .
We often think of ‘magnetism’ as a human quality, as well as a physical phenomenon. Cities also have the power to draw people to them.
The Global Power City Index (GPCI) ranks the world’s most important cities according to their ‘magnetism’, that is, their perceived power to attract creative people and businesses from across the globe, and to “mobilize their assets” to boost economic, social and environmental development.
In the 2016 report (the first GPCI was released in 2008), London kept its No.1 spot for the fifth year running, despite a slight drop in its overall score. Ratings in the ‘economy’ category fell, but the UK capital was strong on ‘cultural interaction’, with an increase in the number of overseas visitors and students.
The report notes that data was gathered before the June 2016 Brexit vote. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show the number of foreign visitors to the UK increased by 3% in 2016, and in the three months to December this figure was 6% higher than the same three months in 2015. The plunge in the value of the pound following the referendum result has given London a tourism boost, but the long-term effects of Brexit remain unclear.
New York maintained its second place on the GPCI, also for the fifth year in a row. NYC turned in another set of strong results in the categories of ‘economy’, ‘research and development’ and ‘cultural interaction’.
Image: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Tokyo leapfrogged Paris to move into the top three for the first time, having been fourth for the past eight years. Its improved ratings were due to a number of factors, the 2016 report says, including a cut in Japan’s corporation tax rate, a rise in the number of visitors from abroad and more direct flight connections to overseas destinations. Tokyo’s ‘livability’ score also received a boost from lower housing and general living costs (in US dollar terms).
Paris’s lower ‘cultural interaction’ ratings were due to a fall in the number of overseas visitors, international students and foreign residents. The report says the November 2015 terrorist attacks are likely to have had an impact on these figures.
Singapore held onto fifth place, despite experiencing a decrease in its overall ratings because of slowing GDP growth and a decline in total employment.
Two more Asian cities, Seoul and Hong Kong, were ranked sixth and seventh, while three European capitals — Amsterdam, Berlin and Vienna — rounded off the top 10.
In this article written by Maëlle Gavet, COO of Compass and published by the WEF of Tuesday 7 February 2017. It is question of Democracy in the fourth revolution and how authorities in any given state ought to fulfill their mission, i.e. :
To regulate: pass laws, preserve and protect democracy;
To “redistribute” so as to uphold a social contract with its citizens;
To invest in critical infrastructure and non-market projects;
To protect all citizens and uphold the rule of law above all.
That was the way it was up until the advent of the on-going Digital Revolution . . .
Amid the waves of populism currently engulfing many Western democracies, it’s all too easy to forget the core purpose of governments; what the men and women who roam the corridors of power, and the civil service who support them, are actually supposed to do.
In my view, governments have four overriding (and somewhat overlapping) duties.
The first is to regulate: to pass laws, preserve and protect democracy, limit corruption, and strike the right balance between ensuring stability and allowing citizens to run their own lives. When (widely) unforeseen events, such as the 2008 financial crisis, take place, their task is to steer the oil tanker of government through the ensuing storm and reduce the impact on households and businesses. Failure to do so invariably brings administrations down – a sign that democracy, for all its flaws, is functioning and, if the need arises, the electorate can still kick incumbents in the teeth.
A democratic government’s second role might loosely be termed “redistribution”: to uphold a social contract with its citizens, whereby the poorest and most vulnerable are protected. This strand of governance encompasses everything from resourcing and maintaining a viable health service to providing support for the unemployed.
The third is investment in critical infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports) and education (from nurseries to universities), as well as those areas that cannot be left to the mercy of the markets alone – scientific research, the arts, sports, historical monuments and national parks, for example.
The fourth, and some might argue the most important responsibility of government, is to protect its citizens and uphold the rule of law. Without police, a functioning court and legal system, a military and agencies to safeguard people against everything from global pandemics to natural disasters and from homegrown terrorism to external aggression, society in any meaningful sense cannot exist. That Western societies do not descend into riots and mass lawlessness is testament to the fact that representative democracy by and large works.
Of course the degree to which democracies prioritize these four areas varies profoundly. The United States under Donald Trump, for example, is set to spend heavily on infrastructure and defense, while slashing the government workforce (indeed, at the time of writing, he had already ordered a federal hiring freeze). Meanwhile, nations such as France, Finland, Belgium and Denmark devote far more than the OECD average to social services.
Yet, however they spend their budgets, broadly speaking, Western societies, led by the US, were built on the same premise. Namely that governments and major corporations must work together to build long-term stability. Across the past century, as the Stratechery’s Ben Thompson describes, this unwritten contract meant that – via trade treaties, military and police protection, investments in infrastructure and research – governments ensured the development and acquisition of markets for businesses. In return, the private sector provided stable full-time jobs, financing health insurance and pensions for their employees.
At least that was the way it used to work.
Digital changes everything
For all its upsides, the digital revolution – which has done so much to transform our daily lives – has not so much disrupted this decades-old model as upended it. The implicit understanding and partnership between governments and businesses has become unworkable, threatening the very fabric of democracy.
To understand why, it’s first necessary to consider the particular characteristics of lean digital businesses that set them apart from the traditional corporate world, which is itself scrambling to adjust. There are five of them; together, they are game-changing.
First is what we might term “non-localization”. Whether it’s the companies themselves, their headquarters for tax purposes or the teams who build and run them, locations no longer matter and borders are irrelevant. Digital businesses, like talent and money, are fluid and can now base themselves anywhere. Not so long ago, if you wanted to market your product or service in India, you needed a distribution network, an office and employees there. Today, you can build a thriving SaaS product in India, from London, Amsterdam or Palo Alto. Or as a startup in Paris or Stockholm, you can outsource your entire back-office or sales team to India, without even getting on a plane.
Next, many internet businesses are simply platforms or marketplaces (think eBay, Uber, Airbnb, and Etsy), which connect demand and supply, or buyers and sellers. While the battle still rages as to whether Uber is an employer or merely a facilitator for self-employed “entrepreneur” drivers, there’s little doubt on which side the firm itself comes down. Similarly, even those celebrated billion-dollar tech unicorns that do employ staff require far fewer than “traditional” tech corporations. Founded over a century ago, IBM, for example, had over 377,000 employees in 2015; Google, less than two decades old, has a rather more modest workforce of fewer than 16,000. Meanwhile, WhatsApp had around 35 employees when it was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014. What a fully-automated digital business 20 years from now might look like, we can only imagine.
The network effect digital businesses enjoy creates a winner-takes-all environment, while the consequent and ever-expanding data deluge enables such companies to drive efficiencies and do far more with less. The net result of fewer successful companies employing ever-fewer people is of course a hugely reduced tax base – with the burden of healthcare and pensions falling on individuals, and ultimately, increasingly, government. Furthermore, the fact that these companies are not tied to any particular geography and can base themselves wherever is most tax-efficient (in fact, governments are scrambling to offer incentives to attract these corporations) explains why corporate taxation rates across 28 G20 and OECD countries have plunged from an average of 45% in 1983 towards 25% today.
Corporate tax rates, 28 G20 and OECD countries, 1983-2015
Image: CBT Corporate tax ranking 2012, Oxford University
As a result, the aforementioned contract between corporations and government is slowly splintering; few would doubt who holds the whip hand today.
The list of obligations it is increasingly difficult for governments to fulfill looks set to grow. The squeeze on corporate tax revenues and the coming impact of AI/automation on jobs makes it harder for government to tax and regulate businesses and, as a consequence, hamstrings its role as redistributor. Meanwhile, rising numbers of participants in the gig economy – and according to the McKinsey Global Institute, 20-30% of the labour force in the US & EU-15 are now classified as independent workers – make protecting workers’ rights evermore fraught and complex.
Nor can governments continue to effectively protect their citizens’ privacy. The explosion in the number of data-brokers (there are at least 4,000 data broker companies worldwide and the industry is estimated to be worth some $200 billion), who gather, repackage and resell data derived from publicly available records and online activity, means that private corporations are increasingly straying onto what was traditionally government turf. Areas such as security, censuses and healthcare are just another market opportunity for digital companies who, by definition, prioritize profit over the public good.
And the fact that many hundreds of millions of people have freely handed over their private data to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and countless others – who have a great deal of freedom to use this data as they see fit – merely emphasizes how governments, who are hardwired to regulate existing behaviours rather than future ones, are reduced to playing catch up with businesses who can – and do – outmaneuver them at every turn.
Slipping into irrelevance
All of the above factors are steadily converging to create a perfect storm for the very notion of Western liberal democracy. As the power of tech companies continues to grow, the corresponding legitimacy of governments starts to leach away. After all, how can a government enjoy the trust of its people if it can no longer fulfill its fundamental obligations? Put even more starkly, if it cannot serve its citizens, or adjust to the hyper speed of the digital economy, then government itself is in danger of slipping into irrelevance.
Indeed, if things do not change, then I believe two extreme yet entirely plausible scenarios may soon see the light of day. In the first – and arguably we are already starting to see this – governments, hemorrhaging power, will start to assert their authority in a very aggressive way. With their backs to the wall, they will become increasingly authoritarian, pandering to tides of popular anger by blocking immigration, stigmatizing minorities, vilifying opponents (and I include the free press here), nationalizing businesses, and beefing up security laws, including, in all likelihood, forcing tech companies to create backdoors with which to collect information on all citizens “in the public interest”.
In the other scenario, governments will become mere gatekeepers, as they grow increasingly algorithmic, with policy shaped by data and public services outsourced to private businesses and the slipstream of the marketplace. Under such circumstances, it is all but certain that regulatory oversight of corporations will be dramatically scaled back, in effect ripping up a government’s contract with its people.
Image: REUTERS/Jason Redmond
4 main areas to be addressed
Yet, while we may be edging closer to such doomsday scenarios, there is still time for reform. Going into any depth on the necessary steps would require several thousand more words. So, at a high level, I’d argue there are four main areas which urgently need to be addressed.
As money equals power, the first is “solving” corporate taxation. This is an issue which politicians are fond of talking about, but rather less inclined to confront. Why? Because they run headlong into difficulties with the very employers they rely upon to create and maintain jobs for their populations.
In an era where corporation tax rates are in free-fall, certain tech giants have deeper coffers than many exchequers and digital multinationals have become ever more adept at tax avoidance (as opposed to evasion), governments of all stripes need to work together to forge a global response and secure this income stream for the long term. This is likely to involve moving to a destination-based cash flow taxation model, where the location of sales supersedes that of operations. Some tentative steps have been taken in this direction, but meaningful implantation is still a pipedream.
Next, labour laws need an urgent reboot so that they take into account that the on-demand economy is no passing fad, but a sea change in the way people transact. Anyone who doubts the staying-power of the gig economy should consider the way urban lives have changed over the past few years. Millions have grown used to summoning a car, a restaurant-cooked meal or a flat-pack furniture assembler to their door with a couple of taps of their phone. Regulating this growing industry out of existence may be popular with a few incumbents (such as taxi drivers and hotel chains), but would be a major blow to innovation and unlikely be supported by the population at large. That’s why governments should work together to rebuild social protections with on-demand platforms, rather than despite them.
Borrowing heavily from an analysis by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), I’d suggest a couple of options for better supporting on-demand workers. One is to create a new category of worker, which would fall somewhere between full employee and freelancer, with associated protections. Another is to revisit each labour law, in turn, to adapt them to the new reality, focusing on the law’s original intention rather than fixating on whether a worker is an employee or not (we need to get over that distinction, and fast). In the meantime, as the ITIF suggests, lawmakers could introduce temporary exemptions for the gig economy, while these laws are debated and revamped.
In our previous article Smart Cities to better our Lives we discussed how the concept of circular economy will change the face of major cities and how it will affect our lives. This article written by Antoine Frérot, Chairman and CEO, Veolia Environnement and published on Wednesday 18 January 2017 is of capital interest for the future of all cities of the world, and especially of those in the MENA region. It is really the Face of Major Cities and how it will affect our Lives that is reviewed by this author.
Increasingly populated, increasingly spread out, increasingly in competition with each other, cities are facing unprecedented challenges. The digital revolution is one of the huge challenges that they must face, but so is the fight against social exclusion: being centres of wealth, cities also attract the poor. Can both these challenges be dealt with at the same time? In other words, can the intelligent city be more inclusive?
If a city wishes to be inclusive and to ensure that its citizens benefit from the promises of urban life, it must first facilitate everyone’s access to essential services.
In developing countries, public authorities are engaged in a race against time with population growth. By optimizing the operation of existing infrastructures and better managing periods of peak demand, digital technology allows cities – at least to a certain extent – to serve more people without building new drinking water production plants or new thermal power stations.
However, digital technology can never make up for the lack of basic facilities. We should remember that in Sub-Saharan Africa, only a third of the population has access to electricity, though electricity is one of the keys to development.
In developed countries, poverty is becoming more widespread. It forces cities to invent solutions to maintain access to essential services for people who already have such access but are in danger of losing it due to insufficient financial resources. In Europe, 13% of homes are in a situation of energy insecurity. By equipping the public networks of Prague and Warsaw with sensors and expert systems to collect and process data, we have optimized urban heating, which has made it possible to keep prices under control; this is tangible progress for people on low incomes. Information management – and thus digital technology – are central to energy efficiency. Cities combat energy insecurity through energy efficiency, and the digital revolution provides them with additional weapons to fight this battle.
In addition to public network initiatives, deploying intelligent technologies in homes helps private individuals to control their expenses. In Nice, which was voted the fourth smartest city in the world in 2015, we have equipped apartments with sensors to monitor consumption of water, heating and electricity. This has led to bills being reduced by between 10% and 15%. This gain might appear to be small, but it means a lot to families on modest incomes! The inhabitants can thus reduce their bills and landlords of social housing can reduce their bad debts.
The number one priority for beating inequality
The inclusive city is also a city that provides jobs for the people who live there. Somehow, it has to find a way to integrate or re-integrate the unemployed into the world of work.
Digital technology can help cities with this task, through original partnerships between local councils, companies and associations specializing in getting people back to work. In 2015, Veolia joined up with Ashoka, the world’s leading network of social entrepreneurs, to stimulate the creation of financially viable outreach organizations dealing with subjects such as the intelligent city, the environment and eco-communities.
In the social entrepreneurship incubators of Mexico, Lyons and Toulouse, promising start-ups whose businesses are based on digital technologies have already been launched. They focus on extremely diverse objectives, such as training young people without qualifications how to code apps, educating people so as to prevent families on low incomes getting into debt, and so on.
Thanks to digital innovation, local authorities can promote new kinds of cooperation with and between their citizens. This is vital where inclusion is concerned, because poverty in assets and poverty of connections usually go hand in hand. By facilitating the process of putting the population in touch with the life of the city, and participating in it, digital technology stimulates collaborative activities and strengthens every connection: among the population itself, and between the population and local councils, urban service operators, associations and companies.
By making cities more resilient, digital technology also contributes to making them more inclusive. When a natural disaster or major industrial accident occurs, vulnerable populations are at risk of sliding into poverty or unemployment. In 2005, New Orleans was ravaged by floods. In 2016, in partnership with Swiss Re, the world’s second largest reinsurer, and the Rockefeller Foundation, our Group carried out an audit of the electrical supply for this city’s water and sanitation network; its purpose was to limit the risks of interruption of those vital services and to speed up their restoration in the event of an incident. Due to their power and their flexibility, digital technologies are great assets for managing crises, reducing their impacts on the population and avoiding the aggravation of social divisions.
When technology takes the jobs
Accessibility of essential services, proximity, extension of relationship networks, professional training, and protection of vital infrastructures, the environment and public health, in all these areas which make a city a supportive city, digital technology provides solutions. On the face of it, the intelligent city and the inclusive city can therefore be combined in a harmonious whole.
The only problem is that in a number of industries, the increasing power of digital technology results in a huge loss of jobs, which are replaced by computers, automation and robots. On the one hand, digital start-ups stimulate economic growth and create high added value services and thus jobs, many of which are at a high level; on the other, by improving productivity, re-configuring production circuits from top to bottom and reducing the role of intermediaries in commercial relations, digital technology can undermine entire business sectors. There are various forecasts that assess the number of jobs that could be lost due to the fourth industrial revolution, from a few million to several tens of millions. Whatever uncertainties remain, these figures demand an active response in order to supplement digital innovation with social innovation, because the latter can mitigate the impact of the former on jobs.
This is where political and economic leaders must step in, to promote the adoption of business models that support job creation. What is important is not the technology in itself, but the more effective solutions that it can provide to the challenges encountered by cities. It is the duty of city Mayors, acting together with business leaders and civil society, to refocus digital technologies on their region’s priority needs, and in particular on employment and the reduction of inequalities, whenever necessary. Otherwise, “digital disruption” could well be accompanied by “social disruption”.
Digital technology provides cities with an opportunity to reinvent themselves. It makes large cities more attractive to investors, and thus better placed in the inter-urban competition. Nevertheless, while these economic and cultural changes take place, politicians must make inclusion a priority. They have a key role in managing the digital transition and introducing systems of governance to compensate for the failings of digital technology. For example, tender procedures launched by cities relating to smart cities should take more account of social criteria such as the net creation of jobs, training or apprenticeships. Selection of the lowest bidder, which still happens all too often, is incompatible with an ambitious social policy.
From economic leadership to social leadership
Thanks to digital technologies, information becomes knowledge, and knowledge becomes the power to act more and to be more useful: the power to improve the quality of urban services and to lower their costs, which makes them more affordable; the power to respond more rapidly and effectively when incidents occur, and thus to strengthen urban resilience; the power to better inform and better train; the power to increase the interactions among the population and reduce the phenomena of social marginalization… Digital technology is not opposed to inclusion, but does not automatically promote it; it is both the solution and the problem. Everything depends on the social support that is provided, on the policy choices made, and on the economic decisions taken. This is also how one can recognize cities and businesses that are leading the way, ahead of the rest: in their capacity to pursue ambitious social targets in a difficult competitive context.
Because just like cities, businesses cannot escape issues of solidarity. No business can prosper for long in a city that excludes. Businesses must also mobilize on the subject of inclusion, and many of them are making great efforts to do so. To contribute, within their capabilities, to respond to the urgent appeals received from the cities where they operate – even if doing so diverts them from their traditional activities – is one of the conditions of leadership.
Equinix Inc., a global interconnection and data centre company, has unveiled its 2017 predictive insights on its industry. It is part of its 7 Bold Predictions for the Connected Enterprise and must be noted that the IT industry has already impacted our daily life and further development are seen to bring in more transformation that will trigger significant changes for several industries in this new year.
Equinox one company amongst those in the ICT industry has a spread across 40 global markets, and has key data-driven insights into the key drivers that are pushing enterprises to succeed in the digital economy.
We reproduce the first 3 Equinix’s 2017 predictions that are part of :
As things change quickly, we’re taking advantage of our special perspective at the center of it all to predict what you can expect in 7 Bold Predictions for the Connected Enterprise. We’ll be exploring these predictions in more detail in the coming days, but these previews will get us started …
Enterprises are increasingly relying on cloud infrastructures, and a convergence of multi-cloud deployments is emerging as the way forward. The appeal of multi-cloud deployments is that they combine best-of-breed solutions and services from different cloud providers, while at the same time solving old, entrenched pain points like vendor lock-in, lack of flexibility and prohibitive costs (just to name a few). We predict that 2017 will be a tipping point for multi-cloud convergence, where multiple clouds across the enterprise – data, applications, infrastructure and personal clouds – will fundamentally change the way people and businesses operate.
The convergence of multiple clouds demands a natural extension of corporate boundaries for today’s digital business to where users and data reside. Those boundaries, where the physical and virtual worlds meet, is “the digital edge,” and in 2017, it will become a critically important place for the enterprise to grow and expand its market presence. It’s where companies manage real-time engagement with customers. It’s where SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) technologies engage together. And it’s where the on-demand insights enabled by the big data explosion will need to be enabled and managed. We also believe the geographically distributed expansion of data centers along the digital edge will be essential to handling it all.
As more companies turn to multi-cloud deployments to support their business around the globe, they’ll face challenges managing solutions across different cloud environments from different vendors. A management structure will need to be in place early to avoid a situation where smaller operational issues quickly accumulate and cause bigger problems. In 2017, companies will do that by using carrier-neutral colocation facilities to deploy a system of interconnection nodes, an “interconnected fabric,” to create a sort of central nervous system that links and synchronizes their cloud environment. This will mark a shift to a more responsive, user-centric approach.
The Conversation produced this article that is a very commendable effort of Tom Garner, Research Fellow, School of Creative Technologies, University of Portsmouth. The author elaborates on the near future of all things robotic and The World 2017’s Top Technology Trends .
We reproduce this brilliant piece for the benefit of all with our best wishes for a New and Prosperous Year for each and everyone.
If you want to make predictions for the future, you need to find the trajectory of events in the past. So to work out what shape digital technology will likely take next year, we should look back to the major developments of 2016. And the past year’s developments point to a 2017 shaped by the next phase of virtual and augmented reality, the emergence of an internet for artificial intelligence and the creation of personalised digital assistants that follow us across devices.
One technology in particular has dominated the news throughout the year and made the birthday wish-lists of children and adults alike: virtual reality. VR began to bloom commercially in 2016 – with HTC, Oculus (owned by Facebook)and PlayStation all releasing their latest headsets. But 2017 will almost certainly be a pivotal year for VR, given its rather precarious position on the “hype cycle”.
This is a research methodology for predicting the commercial dominance of an emerging technology as it matures and goes through periods of increasing hype, sudden disillusionment and eventual success. Presently VR is on the precipice of the “peak of inflated expectations”, where the hype exceeds the reality and quality comes second to novelty.
In the hype cycle model, the peak of excitement is followed by an inevitable fall (the “trough of disillusionment”), as consumers realise the gap between what they expect and what they actually get. Here is where opinion is divided on VR. For some this will be a gentle dip, while for others the drop will be a portent to collapse.
The big question splitting these opinions is whether the consumer reaction to the VR games and applications currently being released will be the wrath of disillusionment or the mercy of patience. The more convincing assertion is that mobile phone-based VR platforms (with their greater ease of use, lower cost and wider range of games and applications) will help stabilise VR throughout 2017.
But stability is not the same as success. VR also has the problem that its consumer appeal is primarily recreational, limited largely to games and 360-degree videos. So far it has had relatively little impact on social or functional applications such as providing an interface for social media.
The same cannot be said for its more versatile but currently less well-known cousin, augmented reality. AR – which involves overlaying images of the real world with additional graphics or information – has enjoyed much success of late as a gaming platform, particularly thanks to the release of Pokémon Go.
Yet AR functionality already goes beyond games, and it is an ideal delivery mechanism for limitless forms of digital information. Concepts include heads-up displays attached to cyclists’ helmets that provide them with a 360-degree field of view and also alert them to potential dangers by tracking overtaking vehicles. But also applications such as visual overlays that can virtually redecorate your entire home without a single lick of paint.
The real future of AR however is in it’s potential to give us a new and improved means of accessing content and services we already cannot do without. As Microsoft’s HoloLens and Google Glass have alluded to, 2017 could see us using AR to check our emails, posting on Facebook and discovering the best route to our meeting place across town, with all content delivered straight to our eyes. Not a single aversion of our gaze or break in our stride required.
Current investment in the sector is prioritising advances in relevant underlying technologies such as depth-sensing camera lenses and physical environment mapping systems. This suggests that the industry is readying hardware to ensure these exciting ideas can materialise. It doesn’t mean that all ambitions of AR will be realised in 2017, but they are tantalising possibilities, depending on whether the underlying technology can make them a reality.
Internet of Robots
The other area where we are likely to see some fascinating research developments moving into commercial applications is artificial intelligence and machine learning. And the application most likely to dominate 2017 is the Internet of Things, the connection of millions of ordinary devices, from cameras to kettles, to the internet.
The concept of the Internet of Things champions our seeming desire for constant connection, with the physical objects we use everyday all linked together in a glorious (or terrifying) chain. 2017 could be the year we’ll all be telling our telling our barista coffee machine at home to prepare us a chocolate fudge Café Cubano from five miles away, using a bespoke interface in our car as we’re driving home.
Or perhaps not. But this ethos of interconnectivity is already reaching the realm of artificial intelligence with Cloud Robotics. These systems allow robots that have been optimised for different tasks to work on specific problems individually, but to pass solutions between each other.
The robots use the cloud to share the data, enabling it to be analysed by any other robot or intelligence system also connected to the same network. One robot teaches something to another, who in turn develops it and passes it forward in a collaborative effort that could massively increase the learning potential and connectivity of machines.
Personal digital assistants
All of these trends comes together for our final 2017 prediction: the rise of humanised digital technology in the form of intelligent personal assistants. These are essentially human-emulating data hubs. They use advances in artificial intelligence to capture and interpret our data, the Internet of Things to operate everything around us, and the advances in augmented reality to project themselves convincingly into our mobile world.
This will provide a single, naturalistic interface between us and our digitally connected universe. It is the next iterative step for the likes of Siri, Cortana and Alexa: an intelligent assistant able to travel with us wherever we go, across every device we use, to assist us in nearly every aspect of our lives.
In solidarity with Doha News, we reproduce this article of Medium.comthat is clearly about an act of blocking the free exercise of the profession and mission of journalism in its latest form of expression, i.e. E-Journalism.We also “believe in the importance of a free press, and are saddened by this fact that Qatar, home of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom and Al Jazeera, has decided to take this step.”
Doha News is scaling back — for now
It’s been five days since authorities in Qatar blocked access to dohanews.co inside the country.
We’ve since come to understand that this was an intentional act, in part due to issues with our licensing.
We’re continuing to speak to officials this week to see how we can resolve the problem.
At the same time, we reject the idea that our news website should be blocked over licensing concerns — this is a clear act of censorship, and a fairly unprecedented one in Qatar.
In the interest of protecting our team, we will be reducing the number of articles we publish until we can resolve the problem and get dohanews.co unblocked.
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Bill on retirement: urgency to reform pension plans . . .
It is that time again of the State Pension Review at all levels in Algeria. A Bill on Retirement schemes is currently under discussion; it is about the review and reform of the State Pension national plan prior to be voted in and applied as of January 1st, 2017.
Because of the demographic structure, and the prevailing rentier type of economy of the country, the pension funds are entirely dependent on this legislation. It is a very sensitive issue whereby the importance of transparency in the decision process and especially of a supporting social dialogue that should be maintained at all times.
The value of the currency, the Dinar and the employment rate that are for more than 70% dependent on public expenditure mainly supported by hydrocarbons and their derivatives exports revenues, are making it for the State Pension Funds somewhat difficult to meet the demand. Due to a drop in the oil price, 2 years back, these Funds were reported to be on the brink of collapse. Although the troubles that plague the State Pension Funds system get the most attention, similar dangers now threaten many other kinds of Social Security funds.
The Algerian population was 40.4 million on January 1st, 2016. In the local ‘Office National des Statistiques’ (ONS), a study published as at end of 2015, the active population was 11.932 million inhabitants. The unemployed population in the same period was 11.2% with a rate of 29.9% for the youth; 9.9% for the male and 16.6% for female. Still according to the ONS, the structure of employment by sector of activity brings out a third sector (trade and services) in progress at 59.8% of the total workforce, followed by Construction at 16.6%, Industry at 13.0% and lastly Agriculture 10.6%. The breakdown according to the legal divide highlights a dominance of the private or mixed sectors, with a relative share of 58.8% of total employment, including the informal sphere which, according to the Department of Labour would concern 25 to 30% of the country’s population. Salaried manpower is the dominant form of employment with 65.3% in the formal private and public sectors but with wage disparities and also significant observed differences between genders. Female employment is characterized by a greater concentration in the public sector (61.2% of total employment).
What is the share of the Public Service ?
According to the Public Service directorate, the number of officials as at January 1st, 2015 is 2.020.296 comprising 1.608.964 full-time (79,64%) and 411.208 (20.30%) contractual agents. Central administrations of the State is made of 313.171 agents or 15.50%, decentralized services 813.725 agents or 41,57%, 312.009 territorial administration agents or 15.4%, the public administrative bodies have 449.268 agents or 22.24% and scientific and technological institutions 105.999 agents or 5.25%.
The youth or the under 30 years old represent 274.074 agents, the 30 to 40 years 735.756 agents and 41 to 50 years 668.725 agents, the 50 to 59 years 92,580 and the more than 60 years only 20.944 agents.
By sectors, the Interior represent 29,22%, Education 29,34% with a number of 297.394 on a total of 592.831 agents, Public Health 13.19% with a number of 138.581 out of 266.525 agents, Higher Education 8.50% with a number of 95.118 out of 171.761 agents, 4.15% for Finance, 2.80% for Vocational Training, Justice with 2.16% and all other sectors are of 10.64%.
In comparison, Morocco had in 2015, 900,000 functionary staff for 35 million inhabitants, (ratio 25.7), Tunisia for 11 million inhabitants had 630,000 officials (69.3) that according to the IMF, for 2013, Tunisia had 44 employees for every 1,000 people, while Morocco had a ratio of 27 staff for the same number of inhabitants. Algeria unlike its neighbours had a ratio for 2015 of 50.5 far behind the European standards. But a global ratio that can veil effectiveness must therefore calculate the optimisation of the value of public service, which creates no value, except in education and health however indirectly according to a recent UNDP report and this in order to bring the State to the citizen.
What is the situation of pensioners before the current law?
Under the current system, any person who has cumulated thirty-two years of activity may, if he or she so choses, go into retirement without waiting for the legal age of 60 years. According to figures of the national State Pension Fund, 246,503 Algerians have benefited from this pension regardless of age, out of a total of 1,740,281 recipients as at December 31, 2015. So Algerian insurance plans other exceptions at the start in 60 years, as older people more than 50 years old with 20 years of activity that can benefit from a ‘proportional retirement’, or women who may apply for their retirement at age 55. The amount of the retirement pension cannot be less than 75% of the guaranteed national minimum wage (DZD18,000 per month since January 1ST, 2012). There is however some exception in so far as senior functionaries of the State and all former members of governments and the armed forces who could benefit from a pension up to 100% after a minimum of 10 year service.
Nevertheless, the base of calculation for a normal superannuation in Algeria is based on the last five years, or on the best five years. According to some other source close to the Ministry of Labour, the annual payments of the State Pension Fund in 2015 reached approximately 2,700,000 beneficiaries, of which 1,700,000 receiving pensions and allowances, and the remaining 1 million concern reversions, i.e. post-decease of this type of benefit recipients. The Executive Decree on non-employees working for their own account and affiliated to the National Fund of Social Security (CASNOS) does not change regarding the age of retirement for this category of workers. Article 9 of the Executive Decree of November 14, 2015, stipulates that without prejudice to the provisions of articles 8 and 21 of the July 2nd Act, the base used for the calculation of the retirement pension is constituted by the calculated average plates of assessment of the best ten years. And according to this Decree, the non-salaried person engaged in an activity for his own account and having not met “the working conditions and contribution required by the regulations and the legislation, is entitled to a validation of years of insurance within the limit of five years, in return for cash contributions. Future of sustainability of pension plans is linked to a new model of growth creating value; including the segments are a new policy of employment, management of the social security and taxation. With regard to employment policy past and present has been to prefer the distribution of employment income (wages paid without productive counterparties) employment, that is to say implicitly helping raise unemployment. Such plans can slide along for years hiding their growing internal deficits with accounting tricks.
As for the new project of pension funds, the Government sees a way to counter the risk of bankruptcy of credit unions, others some see it as a social injustice, by the fact that there is no standardization of different pension plans. For the Government, the proportional retirement without age requirements constitutes a threat to the financial equilibrium of the State Pension Funds and must, therefore, make its transformation. For the Department of Labour, employment and social security between 1997 and 2016, nearly 890,000 retirees were the beneficiaries of retirement before age 60, or 52% of the total number of direct pension served by the national system of retirement, with an annual financial burden of over DZD405 billion.
The ratio of the number of workers contributing to a pension is currently at 2 for 1 while the standard to ensure the viability of a pension system is at least 5 paying asset for 1 retirement. The national pension system serves more than 3 million pensions for an annual global expenditure of more than DZD870 billion. According to Prime Minister A. Sellal, in a statement to the Algerian Press Service, said: “The number of contributors to a pension has declined significantly since 1980, a situation that required a reform of the national pension system, with the review of the age of retirement. In 1980, seven workers contributed to one retired person. Today, they are less than three to contribute to each pensioner”. To the Government, the pension system is based on the principle of intergenerational solidarity, which can ensure that the more than 3 million pension and that the concern of the State, through these new legislative measures, is to ensure the right of future generations to the retirement pension and the sustainability of the financing of the State Pension Fund. As such, the amending and supplementing of certain provisions of the 1983 July 02 Bill essentially, is concerned with the maintenance of the minimum age of retirement of 60 years for men and for women at 55, to allow workers to voluntarily pursue their activity beyond the age of 60 years, within the limit of 5 years. As a matter of fact, these plans did presumably hide for years their growing internal deficits with accounting tricks.
What for the independent unions that oppose the project,
Beyond the deficit of the State Pensions Funds, which seems to be in the chronicity, the financial situation of the CNAS is not as pretty and if reimbursements are not revised downward by taking drastic measures the Social Security fund risks bankruptcy. The unions highlight the ONS data, according to which more than 4 million employees (mainly from the private sector are not reported to social security, which would give 10 million employees affiliated with CNAS, and not 6 million as is the case at present but don’t advocate not operational solutions to integrate the informal sphere which paradoxically with the housing crisis acts as a social valve).
Social Security, which seems to be paying out more than it takes in, the Minister of Labour, efforts are made in this direction where in 2015, 153,000 employers meet their obligations with Social Security and have respectively reached 1,600 and DZD300 billion.
Moreover, these unions advocate reviewing the Special Pension Fund (FSR) for the former ‘Executives of the State’. A list, however “limited” was drawn with initially the Presidency, Ministries, Heads of Military Regions, Members of the Supreme Court, Ambassadors, Heads of public enterprises, etc. This will now incorporate also the Deputy Directors of Departments, Judges, and other Executive Directors and Secretaries General of regional governorates. The status of a Member of Parliament for instance stipulates that a subscriber, who completed 20 years of service, could claim, regardless of age, a pension equal to 100% of compensation perceived in his capacity as an MP or of the more favourable remuneration, indexed to inflation rate.
Without going into controversy on such a sensitive topic, and taking into account both the financial situation of the country and that of the new global changes, it is to rearrange the collective practices and reduce the nock-on effects on employment by increasing income inflexibility and working conditions by continuing training programmes so as to allow adaptation to new techniques and organizational arrangements.
It is desirable that a decentralisation of the management of education in a comprehensive way in order to play the regional competition and its adaptation to the needs of society, with four major centres of excellence and avoid this myth of one University per one governorate.
The other axis of social cohesion is that of a new social security management. The financing of social protection continues to be sitting largely on social contributions absorbing the gains of productivity at the expense of employment and direct wages. To recognize that with the decline of the employee due to the increase in unemployment, this weighs on behalf of social security, the deficit being covered by medium-term loans that will be supported by future generations.
Also the sustainability of the system may be threatened in the medium term and requires deep structural reforms. In case of the sharp drop in the price of oil continuing and development being hampered further, one must think of long-term and not short-term measures. Equity has changed and access to employment should be a priority because the current social protection tends to increase unemployment. It is therefore not a change in the type of contributions that will solve the problems but instead in the mastery of both total expenditure and in the reimbursed one.
Also the whole of social security spending should not grow in volume, faster than the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This rationalisation of expenditure does not mean blind restriction in order to cover the needs of the targeted poorest. As for the tax system, the level of direct tax in a company could be a way of measuring the degree of membership of the population; there is in any case an urgent need for a new policy, because the tax system is at the heart of the notion of fairness in the country.
The fact that to date, no precise time quantified survey did highlight the links between the distribution of national income between social classes, the evolution of the inflationary process and the consumption model, would be essential information. An effective tax system must find the way to collect revenue with disrupting the least possible the mechanisms that lead to an economic optimum, assuming a mutation of the welfare state.
In summary, the purpose of the pension funds is not unique to Algeria, globalization would require of many countries to wrench out turnarounds as a factor of adjustment to international competitiveness. Urgent reform for the benefit of future generations is needed, putting by the emergence of productive businesses for its sustainability. And most importantly, austerity must be shared; the officials leading by example.
Therefore, the long-term solution would definitely involve a new social model and thus a profound revision of the current political, social and economic policies that with the drastic fall in the price of oil are now threatening the sustainability of the current State Pension Funds model. The reality is to reconcile a deep social justice, while not sacrificing any economic efficiency.
See (1) – Finance Act 2017-“what are the impacts on the economy and the purchasing power of the Algerians.
-Interview of Dr A. MEBTOUL, International Expert by the Spanish Press Agency (agencia EFE) at its request on 27/11/2016 (the EFE, founded in 1939, is the main news agency in Spanish and the fourth largest worldwide). The interview will also feature in the American Herald Tribune in due course.
Stabilisation of the MENA with Governance or lack of it becoming more and more of a world problem that does not seem to diminish overtime but on the contrary, increase the world leadership worries to the point where nowadays, solutions are gradually pointing to the real source of all the current troubles, e.g. governance. Everyone however knew sometime back that the trends in demographics, economics, internal security and justice systems and social change would invariably lead towards how much governance, could affect the whole region together with each and every nation. Today’s situation would illustrate the critical role of governance, social change, and justice systems in dealing with each nation’s specific problems. Here is a Brookings article on the subject of governance that sadly seem to be the common denominator of all the countries of the MENA.
Yesterday, I released a new report on the future of governance in Arab states.
This may seem like an inapt, or even irrelevant, moment to argue for the imperative of improving governance in the Middle East. After all, the region is facing unprecedented turmoil: civil wars that have displaced millions of people and killed more than half a million; vicious extremist movements that massacre civilians, conduct terrorist attacks, and oppress those under its rule; and, of course, the United States and its allies are now invested in a new war in Iraq and Syria fighting ISIS.
I just came back from the Halifax International Security Forum and the only discussion of the Middle East there was framed around terrorism, ISIS, civil war, and refugees. Those are the urgent problems that are seen by many governments around the world as a threat to international security, and that are driving global attention to the region.
But ISIS and civil wars are symptoms of a broader deterioration in the region—they are not the disease. Beginning in 2011, the Middle East endured the breakdown both of states, and of a state system that had lasted for about the prior half-century. That old Middle Eastern state system had advantaged American interests and those of U.S. regional partners, and the United States defended it resolutely. That order is now gone, and the region is in turmoil. The breakdown of that old order is what led to the civil wars in Yemen, Libya, and Syria, and what enabled the rise of ISIS.
We need to understand why and how the Middle East broke down in order to effectively deal with the urgent security challenges that this breakdown generated, and how to return stability to the region. Otherwise, as my colleague General John Allen has noted, the war on terrorism will never be won—instead, we will be fighting ISIS 2.0 and ISIS 3.0 on and on into the future.
In the new report, I argue that the regional breakdown transpired primarily because of failures of governance. The paper analyzes the “how” and “why” of those failures in order to illuminate the future of stable governance in this disordered region, and to suggest policies that the United States and others might pursue to achieve what this paper calls “real security.”
THREE FACTS ABOUT THE MIDDLE EAST’S DISORDER:
1) The regional order did not break down primarily because of external invasions, or top-down decisions, but because of forces within states and societies, pressures that built up over many years. I told part of the story of this breakdown in my 2008 book, “Freedom’s Unsteady March“: the story of how the bureaucratic authoritarian model in the Arab world began to weaken—how the clientelism, the ideology, and the coercion on which these states relied to survive became less and less effective in a globalized world.
The Arab states of the last half-century rested on a particular social contract: a patronage system in which citizens gave their consent to the regime, and in exchange the regime provided all kinds of economic and social goods to people.
The Arab states of the last half-century rested on a particular social contract: a patronage system in which citizens gave their consent to the regime, and in exchange the regime provided all kinds of economic and social goods to people: not just security but healthcare, education, social services, and jobs. In Egypt, for many years, the government promised all university graduates a civil service job, which was essentially a lifetime sinecure. An Egyptian friend of mine, who spent many decades working for a state-owned newspaper, described to me that on Fridays he used to come to work with a plastic bag because the newspaper used to give each of the workers in his office a chicken to take home for dinner. That was the corporatist state, the old social contract in action.
Over time, these inefficient patronage systems became especially challenged by the emergence of three major forces: a massive demographic bulge of young people on the cusp of adulthood; the penetration of a globalized economy; and a radically new information environment generated first by satellite television and then by the internet and mobile technology.
As a result of these three forces, states became not just inefficient, but increasingly ineffective, at providing the goods that citizens expected. And so by the early 2000s, those Egyptian university graduates had to wait to get their promised government job for an average of eight years. Young Egyptians spent eight years driving taxis or pushing food carts while waiting for that job to come at last. And when you are young, in a traditional society, and you have no permanent job, you can’t afford to get your own apartment, you can’t get married—in other words, you can’t become a fully adult person—you remain stuck.
2) Previous efforts to reform the social contract often made things worse, not better. It’s crucial to realize that no one, in the run-up to the Arab uprisings of 2011, was unaware of these problems. In the 1990s and 2000s, many in government, the private sector, and civil society, both in the region and in the West, were talking about the need for “reform.” The Europeans had the Barcelona Process, the United States had the Freedom Agenda.
But when Arab governments attempted to adjust the social contract in their nations in order to accommodate the impact of globalization and the rise of youth, they did not develop a more inclusive social contract that could establish a solid and lasting ruling coalition. Instead, they negotiated adjustments with political and economic elites. They made reform commitments to the World Bank and the IMF. They sold off state assets to those with access and wealth. They reduced government hiring without freeing up the private sector for real growth. They brought new business cronies into ruling parties instead of opening up politics to wider participation. The resulting adjustments further empowered select groups while further excluding others, exacerbated inequality, increased state capture by elites, and thus generated more and more widely held grievances against these regimes.
Consequently, discontent and protest increased, and the forces of globalization and technology meant that governments were less able to use patronage and ideology to keep people in line. Left with few effective tools, Arab governments saw increased expressions of dissent and fell back on coercion to suppress them. And this breakdown in the social contract between ruler and ruled, this cycle of dissent and repression, is what produced the Arab uprisings of 2011.
3) Finally, to understand the challenges that the Middle East faces today, we have to understand the consequences of how certain states broke down. When the protests came, many governments responded poorly, in ways that exacerbated societal divisions, and further weakened and in some cases collapsed state institutions. Some governments responded particularly badly, in ways that generated violence, enabled the growth of terrorist movements, and has morphed in at least three countries into outright civil war.
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