"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
Technology and Development
One of the key points from Thomas Piketty’s landmark study, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, is that the world is returning towards “patrimonial capitalism”: a state in which the economy is dominated by inherited wealth.Linked to this phenomenon is a particular form of financialization, with its emphasis on “shareholder maximization” and “leveraging”, as argued by, for example, Ronald Dore. Finally, numerous authors, but most notably Tim Wu, Jamie Bartlett, Scott Galloway, Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake have highlighted the specific issues that the current high-tech sector, with lack of supranational governance, raises.Looking forward, there is cause to believe that while absolute poverty may be reduced around the world, many of the poor may not be able to further close the gap.
Ralph Hamann identified three risks for developing countries with regards to the “fourth industrial revolution”, namely: a) “worsening unemployment”, b) “increasing concentration of wealth”, and c) “bias baked into algorithms”.This is not a comprehensive list, as major issues (e. e.g., how people have access to the internet), are not included.In the global debates – for example, on the future intellectual property governance – ignore the interests of the poor in developing nations.
Within the development sector, the attention regarding technology has been on how to increase investment in the digital sector in developing countries and on how to increase access to connectivity, digital skills, and “e-services”.This has focused a lot on infrastructure questions and market context, often through close cooperation with large technology multinationals. There has been some attention on governance in the “developing” country but not on a global level nor on the impacts of the “intangible economy” mentioned above. The same limitations can be seen in initiatives such as the World Economic Forum’s “Internet of Things (IoT) for Sustainable Development Projects” or the UN’s Commission on Science and Technology for Development: governance, in particular from a pro-poor perspective is limited.
Living here in Niger, with regular power cuts (we have the luxury of a generator), the heat (a data center would need some serious cooling), challenge of education (high demographics, limited investing in the sector) and relative isolation (no access to the sea, surrounded by “complicated” states make it hard to imagine cabling), it is hard to be optimistic regarding Niger’s future role in the digital economy of tomorrow.Mobile technology is one source of optimism – even some of the beggars have smartphones… The high level of up-front investment needed to be a technology player is of course a significant issue in such a poor country.
2.3.2019, Niamey, Niger.
 Numerous publications by Ronald Dore, but in particular his 2008 article, “Financialization of the global economy”.
 Tim Wu, “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age”.
 Jamie Bartlett, “The People Vs. Tech: How the internet is killing democracy (and how we save it)”.
 Scott Galloway, “The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google”.
 Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake, “Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy”.
 Ralph Hamann, blog on the www.conversation.com, “Developing countries need to wake up to the risk of new technologies”.
 For example, in the Sustainable Development Goals, that drive the current development agenda, “information and communication technology”, under SDG 9, has access to internet and mobile network as targets.
 For example, see the EU-AU Digital Economy Task Force.
 For example, see the A4AI (Alliance for Affordable Internet).
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Online encampment of A. S. Barry. Disparate and not-so-disparate thoughts on international relations, development, writing, and life.