Luis Rubio

The agricultural worker at the end of the XVIII century was suddenly displaced by the appearance of the steam engine that substituted for, says Gertrude Himmelfarb,* an average of 50 employees in one fell swoop. It took between twenty and thirty years before the nascent manufacturing industry would absorb that shifted manpower, this despite that the new technology, although terribly disruptive, was very easy to learn. Two hundred years later the world is undergoing a similar situation, but one accompanied by the enormous difference that the new technology -digital and informatic networks- is not easy to assimilate because it demands abilities and capacities that only an adequate educative system can provide.

The maladjustment derives from the technological change that affects all nooks and crannies of life: the economy, society and politics. No space has not gone unturned in an incisive transformation due to changes in the manner of production, instantaneous communications, the social networks and the interconnections linking communities worldwide. The manner of working has been transformed and there is no human might that can stop technologies such as the three-dimensional printers producing entire houses in the site at which they will be anchored or the contrasts in the value of traditional labor force -manual processes- in the face of those who devote themselves to programming the software making the computers function that control more and more productive systems.

The disruption is universal, but there are nations that find themselves in especially propitious conditions for confronting it, while the majority bear up under complex political processes to endure the consequences of the disruption.  Some use the public expenditure to stimulate economic activity, others generate anomalies. For AMLO the easy way out has been to try to take refuge in the former era in which the technological change was not a relevant factor, but the reality has demonstrated that this is not the solution. The antique sugar mill he portrayed months ago as the way out abides in history and only in confronting the digital era will the country get ahead. But what is evident is not always politically conducive.

All of this gives rise to a sea of uncertainty in all ambits, produces drastic changes in the philosophies of government and permanent anxiety with respect to the future.  The common denominator is the abruptness of the technological disruption and its cultural impacts, but every society seeks its own ways of coping with it. It is not by chance that nations that have invested massively in education in the past decades, especially the Asian nations, dominate many of the new technologies and exhibit an extraordinary capacity of adaptation. Contrariwise, societies that have not made these investments undergo diverse types of lurches and convulsions, as illustrated by cases such as that of Trump, Bolsonaro (Brazil), Castillo (Peru), Boric (Chile), Orban (Hungary) and Xi (China). The circumstances of each nation are distinct, what they are identical in is the urgency of coming to grips with the massive challenge that this disruption entails.

Needless to say, not all nations are devoted to what is important and urgent, which is to build the capacity to face this phenomenon head-on. As brought home by previous examples, many are found in denial, attempting to take asylum in an idyllic past or believing that they can erect barriers to impede being swept away by the approaching torrents. The notion that the reality of the knowledge world can be evaded is absurd, but that does not restrain many from dedicating themselves to this, including to be sure Mexico’s president.

The reality is that we have two options: one is to pretend that it is possible not to adjust oneself, which would imply a conscious decision to impoverish the country and close off all opportunity for the future, which is precisely what the current administration is doing. Following that course would require increasingly more controls, more repression and, consequently, fewer opportunities. They can gild the pill with all the dogmas and discourses imaginable, but none of that changes the inevitable trends and their consequences.

The alternative would consist of facing the future in decided fashion, which would involve carrying out all the changes that the country has refused to undertake in matters of education, health, infrastructure and, in general, changes the express construction of a future compatible with the forces that characterize the existing world. Manuel Hinds, a Salvadoran who has applied himself to thinking** about this, proposes the concept of the “multidimensional society” as a vision of facilitating the process of change and adjustment. His idea rings very clear: unidimensional societies have always been pyramidal in nature and incompatible with the digital technologies, the reason why it is imperative to accelerate the development of human capital (education and health),   to strengthen institutions likely to become effective counterweights and to separate the universe of the economy with respect to that of political power in order for each to fulfill their responsibilities and, together, build up economic activity and political stability.

Social networks or a pyramidal society: that is the quandary. On the latter depend development and democracy:  the dilemma is not a lesser one.




*The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age; **In Defense of Liberal Democracy