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Tesla Cars, Technology, the Market Economy, and the Environment

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Everywhere we remain un-free and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral, for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology.
                                    –Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”

Technology is never neutral, neither does it guarantee a good government either on a purely utilitarian or on an ethical basis…it is conceivable that technocracy could threaten democracy. The global crises of the economic markets demonstrate how right was Croce in not reducing liberalism to a mere economic system founded, in theory, on competition.
                                  –Ernesto Paolozzi, Interview with Mario Scarpa

 

The two quotes above by Martin Heidegger and Ernesto Paolozzi provide us with the essence of the problem that Western Civilization faces vis à vis technology. How are we to conceive of technology? If one conceive it as integral part of science, then the Positivists are on the right track in their assertion that science is the last cycle of a developing progressive civilization, superseding,  and rendering obsolete, the first cycle constituted by myth and religion, the second cycle constituted by reason and metaphysics, and ushering in the third, final and superior and triumphant scientific empirical method as conceived by Francis Bacon. Ever-perfectible science is the culmination of progress as the 18th century, the age of reason, would proclaim via reason and rationality. This explains why the third cycle is superior: it eliminates subjectivity and bias and arrives at the truth via a fail-safe method. The fruits of science, after all, are there for everybody to see. Via science we can now go to the moon and back. Nowhere are those fruits more apparent than in the technological innovations which currently keep on multiplying almost exponentially. It is technology which will save us by a few push button solutions, not religion, not philosophy, proclaim the starry eyed modern positivists.

 

Take the automobile which at first resembled carriages without a horse, almost as a throw back to the 19th century, but eventually became a symbol of inevitable progress for the 20th century, just as the train was the symbol of progress for the 19th century. Is now automotive industry becoming a part of a problem, not of a progress in 21st century? The youngest automotive company in the US and Western Europe is 90 years old. Do we here talk about conservative clubs? Rigidity in the dynamic environment of otherwise very promising 21st century?!

 

The automobile, as well as the train, proved to be problematic for the environment; coal and oil are not clean and environmental friendly. But that too seems to have been solved via the electric train and the electric car. Tesla Motors now produces battery cars that run just as fast, as far and as efficiently as internal combustion cars, are aesthetically pleasing and, most importantly, are pollution free. Who could ask for anything more? Indeed progress is inevitable and unstoppable. When the train arrives in the American prairie, not only the buffalo is to be exterminated to make room for progress and the future, but native American tribes, stuck in the first cycle of development, need to move over also. Those who refuse to enthusiastically welcome the religion of progress, are simply relegated to reservations, or worse, exterminated like the buffalo. So it turns out that despite its claims, technology is not so neutral and value free as the Positivists have claimed; it always implies a choice to use well or to use it for ignoble ends. As Paolozzi well puts it in the above quote: “Technology is never neutral, neither does it guarantee a good government either on a purely utilitarian or on an ethical basis… “

 

The 2012 Olympics opened with an image of a roaring train coming down the tracks. Somebody said in the 19th century that the greatness of England resided in its abundance of coal which allowed the industrial revolution and the building of the English Empire over which the sun never set; to which the poet Matthew Arnold replied that the true greatness of England was Shakespeare. Thus began the war of the two cultures: the scientific positivistic culture vs. the culture of the liberal arts, still ongoing in the 20th century with C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures, a dichotomy that would have been inconceivable to a Leonardo, who was both a great scientist and a great artist.

 

Heidegger begins his Being and Time with the question Why is there something rather than nothing?; a question that any positivist would deride, if for no other reason that he cannot answer it via science nor does he care to answer it. He’d rather look at the cosmos than ask why the unexamined life is not worth living. And yet, neither Heidegger, nor Paolozzi, nor Vico whose masterpiece is titled The New Science, are anti-science luddites. Rather what they are saying is that knowledge and science are never neutral; there is always an interpretation and intentionality; they can be use for good or for evil. What made possible the horror of the Holocaust were people with much knowledge (9 of the 12 Nazis who planned the logistics of the event had Ph.D.s after their names) which was used for evil, so that the train would run on time and the ovens and the extermination chambers would function efficiently. Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society is illuminating in this respect.  Heidegger, on the other hand, paradoxically joined the Nazi party and even worked for it for a short while. So, given that technology is never neutral unless it is in the hands of unthinking automatons, or zombies without a consciousness, the question persists: how shall we use technology in the 21st century? Tesla and its sleek electric motors is a solution of sort, but it is a scientific solution which does not solve the human problem; that problem is encapsulate in these questions: how do we live meaningful purposeful lives and assure our survival and salvation?

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Economy

The Covid After-Effects and the Looming Skills Shortage

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coronavirus people

The shock of the pandemic is changing the ways in which we think about the world and in which we analyze the future trajectories of development. The persistence of the Covid pandemic will likely accentuate this transformation and the prominence of the “green agenda” this year is just one of the facets of these changes. Market research as well as the numerous think-tanks will be accordingly re-calibrating the time horizons and the main themes of analysis. Greater attention to longer risks and fragilities is likely to take on greater prominence, with particular scrutiny being accorded to high-impact risk factors that have a non-negligible probability of materializing in the medium- to long-term. Apart from the risks of global warming other key risk factors involve the rising labour shortages, most notably in areas pertaining to human capital development.

The impact of the Covid pandemic on the labour market will have long-term implications, with “hysteresis effects” observed in both highly skilled and low-income tiers of the labour market. One of the most significant factors affecting the global labour market was the reduction in migration flows, which resulted in the exacerbation of labour shortages across the major migrant recipient countries, such as Russia. There was also a notable blow delivered by the pandemic to the spheres of human capital development such as education and healthcare, which in turn exacerbated the imbalances and shortages in these areas. In particular, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) shortages can mount up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.

In Europe, although the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years, this increase appears to be insufficient to cover the needs of ageing populations. At the same time the WHO points to sizeable inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries, whereby there are 5 times more doctors in some countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is even more acute, as data show that some countries have 9 times fewer nurses than others.

In the US substantial labour shortages in the healthcare sector are also expected, with anti-crisis measures falling short of substantially reversing the ailments in the national healthcare system. In particular, data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), suggests that the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.

The blows sustained by global education from the pandemic were no less formidable. These affected first and foremost the youngest generation of the globe – according to UNESCO, “more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. On top of the adverse effects on the younger generation (see Box 1), there is also the widening “teachers gap”, namely a worldwide shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030”.

From our partner RIAC

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Economy

Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake to Boost Malawi’s Economic Recovery

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Lunzu market in southern Malawi. WFP/Greg Barrow

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries including Malawi have struggled to mitigate its impact amid limited fiscal support and fragile health systems. The pandemic has plunged the continent into its first recession in over 25 years, and vulnerable groups such as the poor, informal sector workers, women, and youth, suffer disproportionately from reduced opportunities and unequal access to social safety nets.

Fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine acquisition—alongside widespread testing, improved treatment, and strong health systems—are critical to protecting lives and stimulating economic recovery. In support of the African Union’s (AU) target to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population by 2022, the World Bank and the AU announced a partnership to assist the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative with resources, allowing countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million Africans. This extraordinary effort complements COVAX and comes at a time of rising cases in the region.

I am convinced that unless every country in the world has fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, we will not stem the spread of the pandemic and set the global economy on track for a steady and inclusive recovery. The World Bank has taken unprecedented steps to ramp up financing for Malawi, and every country in Africa, to empower them with the resources to implement successful vaccination campaigns and compensate for income losses, food price increases, and service delivery disruptions.

In line with Malawi’s COVID-19 National Response and Preparedness Plan which aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the population, the World Bank approved $30 million in additional financing for the acquisition and deployment of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. This financing comes as a boost to Malawi’s COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness project, bringing World Bank contributions in this sector up to $37 million.

Malawi’s decision to purchase 1.8 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines through the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) with World Bank financing is a welcome development and will enable Malawi to secure additional vaccines to meet its vaccination target.

However, Malawi’s vaccination campaign has encountered challenges driven by concerns regarding safety, efficacy, religious and cultural beliefs. These concerns, combined with abundant misinformation, are fueling widespread vaccine hesitancy despite the pandemic’s impact on the health and welfare of billions of people.  The low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern, and it remains an uphill battle to reach the target of 60 percent by the end of 2023 from the current 2.2 percent.

Government leadership remains fundamental as the country continues to address vaccine hesitancy by consistently communicating the benefits of the vaccine, releasing COVID data, and engaging communities to help them understand how this impacts them.

As we deploy targeted resources to address COVID-19, we are also working to ensure that these investments support a robust, sustainable and resilient recovery. Our support emphasizes transparency, social protection, poverty alleviation, and policy-based financing to make sure that COVID assistance gets to the people who have been hit the hardest.

For example, the Financial Inclusion and Entrepreneurship Scaling Project (FInES) in Malawi is supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises by providing them with $47 million in affordable credit through commercial banks and microfinance institutions. Eight months into implementation, approximately $8.4 million (MK6.9 billion) has been made available through three commercial banks on better terms and interest rates. Additionally, nearly 200,000 urban households have received cash transfers and urban poor now have more affordable access to water to promote COVID-19 prevention.

Furthermore, domestic mobilization of resources for the COVID-19 response are vital to ensuring the security of supply of health sector commodities needed to administer vaccinations and sustain ongoing measures. Likewise, regional approaches fostering cross-border collaboration are just as imperative as in-country efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. United Nations (UN) partners in Malawi have been instrumental in convening regional stakeholders and supporting vaccine deployment.

Taking broad, fast action to help countries like Malawi during this unprecedented crisis will save lives and prevent more people falling into poverty. We thank Malawi for their decisive action and will continue to support the country and its people to build a resilient and inclusive recovery.

This op-ed first appeared in The Nation, via World Bank

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Economy

An Airplane Dilemma: Convenience Versus Environment

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Mr. President:  There are many consequences of COVID-19 that have changed the existing landscape due to the cumulative effects of personal behavior.  For example, the decline in the use of automobiles has been to the benefit of the environment.  A landmark study published by Nature in May 2020 confirmed a 17 percent drop in daily CO2 emissions but with the expectation that the number will bounce back as human activity returns to normal.

Yet there is hope.  We are all creatures of habit and having tried teleconferences, we are less likely to take the trouble to hop on a plane for a personal meeting, wasting time and effort.  Such is also the belief of aircraft operators.  Add to this the convenience of shopping from home and having the stuff delivered to your door and one can guess what is happening.

In short, the need for passenger planes has diminished while cargo operators face increased demand.  Fewer passenger planes also means a reduction in belly cargo capacity worsening the situation.  All of which has led to a new business with new jobs — converting passenger aircraft for cargo use.  It is not as simple as it might seem, and not just a matter of removing seats, for all unnecessary items must be removed for cargo use. They take up cargo weight and if not removed waste fuel.

After the seats and interior fittings have been removed, the cabin floor has to be strengthened.  The side windows are plugged and smoothed out.  A cargo door is cut out and the existing emergency doors are deactivated and sealed.  Also a new crew entry door has to be cut-out and installed. 

A new in-cabin cargo barrier with a sliding access door is put in, allowing best use of cargo and cockpit space and a merged carrier and crew space.  A new crew lavatory together with replacement water and waste systems replace the old, which supplied the original passenger area and are no longer needed.

The cockpit gets upgrades which include a simplified air distribution system and revised hydraulics.  At the end of it all, we have a cargo jet.  If the airlines are converting their planes, then they must believe not all the travelers will be returning after the covid crisis recedes.

Airline losses have been extraordinary.  Figures sourced from the World Bank and the International Civil Aviation Organization reveal air carriers lost $370 billion in revenues.  This includes $120 billion in the Asia-Pacific region, $100 billion in Europe and $88 billion in North America.

For many of the airlines, it is now a new business model transforming its fleet for cargo demand and launching new cargo routes.  The latter also requires obtaining regulatory approvals.

A promising development for the future is sustainable aviation fuel (SAP).  Developed by the Air France KLM Martinair consortium it reduces CO2 emissions, and cleaner air transport contributes to lessening global warming.

It is a good start since airplanes are major transportation culprits increasing air pollution and radiative forcing.  The latter being the heat reflected back to earth when it is greater than the heat radiated from the earth.  All of which should incline the environmentally conscious to avoid airplane travel — buses and trains pollute less and might be a preferred alternative for domestic travel.

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