Opinion: Creative destruction and the shorter 21st century

Written By: Wajahat Qazi
Delhi, India Published: Aug 03, 2018, 03:53 PM(IST)

File photo: US President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

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The reshaping and rejigging of industries will have a transformational impact on societies and states across the world, of course, with differential impacts and consequences. 

Eric Hobsbawm, the historian of historians, albeit with a certain ideological predilection,  in his book, “ The Short Twentieth Century” dwelt on the 20th century its politics, and then drew out the path breaking  cataclysms that defined and redefined the era. Admittedly, a caricature of the brilliant historians’ book, the macro theme(s) that Hobsbawm dwelt upon and teased out were political in nature. If a similar exercise , in the nature of looking backwards and forward to see what lies in the future is to be undertaken, it would appear that the 21st century might be even shorter its defining attributes would or might lie both in the political and the economic domains, with perhaps the economic , to an extent, overwhelming the political.
Consider the political first.
Post Cold war American unipolarity is or actually has given way to a loose sort of a tripolar world order. The key players in this system polarity are the United States, China and Russia. While America, on account of its omissions and commissions , appears to be in relative decline, China has employed the world system, political and economic, to advance its quest for Great Power status. Russia, playing from an initial weak hand, so to speak, has employed hybrid and even extra systemic techniques to insert and elevate itself into world politics. 21st century world politics will, in all likelihood, be determined by the interplay, grand strategies and approaches of these powers.
While how the overall politics of the world will denoue remains in the domain of the “unknown unknown”, the real drama, so to speak, will lie elsewhere, in the domains of economics, finance , technology and post industrial organisation.  Here a digression might be warranted by way of an introduction of an economist, who will be the defining influence on 21st century economics. The reference is to Joseph Alois Schumpeter who coined the term, “ Creative Destruction”.  According to Schumpeter, “the gale of creative destruction describes the "process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionises the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one”.  
To both the initiated and the uninitiated, Schumpeter’s assertion and definition of the term would resonate powerfully. We inhabit and live in a world where what is novel today is stale and dated tomorrow. The pace of change is such that it not only staggers the mind but decimates the old and the extant. Be it the domain of finance, economics, corporate and industrial organisation, communications, gadgets, manufacturing , services, trade and trade patterns,  retailing, distribution and so on ,all have undergone a rapid revolution over the past few decades. The internet, for example, a novelty in the early nineties, is so ubiquitous now that it has spawned totally new ways of doing business, conducting commerce, trade, communication and even manufacturing. To employ a clichéd example, the internet has rendered the Post Office services almost obsolete and redundant.  It has also enmeshed the globe in a crisscrossing web of communications and technology, rendering older notions and paradigms passé. 
But, while  these are themes that we are all , by now, very familiar with, the real novelty perhaps lies in the world and times that lie ahead which will be determined and carry the ingress of the confluence of technology, finance, economics and communication. Disruptive technologies, which are already, redefining the nature of business and commerce and their boundaries thereof, will become the order of the day  will create conditions where, to paraphrase Andy Grove,” Only the Paranoid will Survive”. This, in turn, will create conditions for a post industrial landscape and societies. Not that manufacturing will disappear but it will assume a new , different form and shape. Firms will not outsource to cheaper locations but will delegate or to employ the same word, outsource many of their functions to Artificial Intelligence(AI). While bits and bytes might have been or still even are the operating buzzwords , it will be algorithms that will be the DNA of businesses, firms and industries. The reshaping and rejigging of industries will have a transformational impact on societies and states across the world, of course, with differential impacts and consequences. 
This portrait of the future drawn here will accrue from the dynamism of capitalism and its Schumpeterian corollary, “Creative Destruction”. Naturally, there will be political consequences. One might be the intensification of tribalism among various peoples of the world, as the new and the unfamiliar will supplant the familiar markers of the old. While the form and shape of this particular consequence cannot be foretold, the negative consequences can perhaps be  only ameliorated by far sighted and prudent policies or  proactive policy grids that not only welcome the changes wrought by post industrial capitalism but cushion their impacts on people. Post industrial capitalism and the gale of Creative Destruction has been unleashed. The genie cannot be put back into the table but as the cliché goes “chance favours the prepared mind”. Let us then gird ourselves and brace ourselves for far reaching change. We are on the cusp of a veritable revolution and a shorter 21st century!

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Wajahat Qazi

Wajahat Qazi is particularly interested in politics, global security and political economy. He is a wanderer and fancies himself to be a wannabe writer.
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