Monday 4 April 2016

The law of unintended consequences

In China and India there are more young men than young women. The problem in China was exacerbated by the one child policy, but in both countries was created by a cultural preference for baby boys. The technological advances that allowed the gender of the unborn baby to be determined and the availability of surgery for abortion did the rest.

The cultural norm had been early marriage. Now with a gender gap, young women could exercise choice. So goodbye to dowries and being second-class citizens. Now better educated, women had real power. The drift towards automation left many young men unemployed echoing Mahatma Gandhi’s warning: “What we need is not mass production, but manufacturing by the masses”.

The surplus to requirement young men drifted, joined gangs, formed bad habits and sometimes turned criminal. A few became the prey of recruiters to terrorist groups where the incentives were money, pornography and drugs.

Their salvation will only come if they are given opportunities to educate themselves possibly through the internet. In rural areas, Satellite TV and mobile phones leap-frogged the traditional route of terrestrial television and landlines. Now the concept of a linked world as imagined by the communication theorist Marshall McLuhan could do the same for education. Online schools and Universities will emerge to teach basic education and higher knowledge.

Technology can also create jobs. Electricity can be made available without a national grid through solar panels and improved storage batteries. Graphene can be extracted from the methane created by cow dung and fabricated into suitable material forms. 3D printing may also be possible, reducing the need for long journeys to an industrial hub.

Others may become economic migrants and in addition to a better life, they will have a better chance of finding a partner. Many societal thinkers believe that migration is not only inevitable but could be a force for good in an ageing Western world. Educated or self-taught, they will find opportunities in the new digital world as explored in Professor Douglas McWilliams new book: The flat white economy.  Immigrants, particularly the skilled ones add to the store of capital and even the others take jobs that the native population don’t want. Imagine the NHS without Doctors and Nurses from abroad.  The digital explosion in London depends on the importation of skills from abroad.

Immigration could actually be beneficial for the ageing West and not the bogey it’s currently depicted to be. In fact it might be a case when ‘the law of unintended consequences’ could be a force for good.

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