Not a book review: Technology advancement for whom?

October 27, 2019

by Casey Salamanca

One afternoon two well-meaning colleagues recommended a reading for me. Well, actually there were two reading recommendations. But after a five-minute discussion between themselves, they settled with Ha-Joon Chang’s Economics: The User’s Guide published by Penguin Group in 2014. They must’ve really wanted me to read it because one morning, there was a copy on my table. Thank you, fellow book lovers.

So, what do I do when someone is kind enough to lend me a book? I try turning the pages and see what adventures lie ahead. And boy, was I shocked. I really thought that because there’s “economics” in the book title, it would be the perfect sleeping pill for those kinds of nights. Yes, mea culpa, I judged a book by its cover. It was an interesting book about a subject that you thought was best left to experts and economists.

As stated above, this is not a book review. I haven’t finished the book yet, but there is one part that has already struck me. In chapter seven, Chang shared about reading a book published in 1972 saying that the world will run out of oil by the year 1992. According to him, the book turned out to be right. You might be thinking, “But there’s still oil available for consumption.” Turns out that what Chang was referring to is the oil accessible to 1970s technology. Because of technological advancement, it became possible and more efficient to locate and extract oil from areas that would have been inaccessible without the aid of new technology. Advances in technology have also expanded the coverage of what is a resource, like sea waves, now being harnessed as an energy source.

Nobody can deny that advancements in science and technology have done mankind good. But we also cannot deny that these advancements are made to serve the interests of the powerful few who control the global economy and their “fairy tales of eternal economic growth” as Greta Thunberg said. Technology contributed to the efficiency of profiteering. And decades of this endless chase for maximum profit has resulted in inequality, poverty, and environmental destruction and degradation affecting everyone – with the heavier burden passed to the poorest of the population.

So, is technology the culprit? Should we rage against the machine?

No, technology is not the culprit, and advancement in science and technology is not bad. But like other things in the economy, its development and use must be anchored on a program for the benefit of the majority and not just a few, and oriented towards contributing to genuine economic development that is sustainable – that is development that does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs while providing for present needs.

In a recent forum, IBON Foundation launched its People Economics, May Magagawa campaign to push for doable alternatives to the failed neoliberal framework that the current administration still pushes. People Economics is composed of six pillars, one is “Build Filipino Industries” under which it is proposed that national industrialization should be planned. This entails reorienting the country from being import-dependent and export-oriented to building the country’s capacity to produce consumer goods including having intermediate and capital goods industries. To do this, it is necessary to utilize or develop appropriate technology.

But wouldn’t this entail the further destruction of mother earth?

The push for national industrialization recognizes that resources will be used and that there will still be carbon emissions. Definitely, there will be an impact on the environment, but science and technology are crucial in ensuring that this is minimized. For one, cleaner and renewable energy must be genuinely explored, which mean doing away with coal as soon as practical.

The prevailing pattern of production and consumption globally is very beneficial to the few ruling elite but is very unsustainable. They are also the culprits behind the environmental crisis experienced worldwide. But they either deny the existence of such crisis, or deny that they are the ones responsible, or they see that this crisis as another opportunity to profit from.

The Philippines badly needs economic development if it is to address the growing inequality and prevailing poverty in the country. And it can do so sustainably. But as our collective experience proves, the initiative will not come from those benefitting from this unsustainable production and consumption. The push will come from us, because People Economics is our alternative. May magagawa.

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Casey Salamanca

Casey Salamanca is a researcher of IBON. She is also one of the foundation's spokespersons.