Govt and Society Out of Sync, Politicians Unprepared for Next Industrial Revolution: Blair
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair thinks politicians are hopelessly unprepared for the next Industrial Revolution and says he wants to convince leaders in technology and politics to rewrite the social contract for the digital future.
He is also calling for “focusing on technology as the biggest single topic that policymakers need to engage with” at a time when the government and the society “are [currently] out of sync”.
“There’s not a lot of help for [politicians] out there,” Blair said speaking to a group of Silicon Valley founders and executives hosted by the startup fund and accelerator Y Combinator. “If they’re not educated — what you’re ignorant about you fear, and what you fear, you want to shut down.”
The remarks came amid the social and political upheaval in the West reflected by the rise of far right and criticism faced by the policymakers for ignoring the people not benefitting from globalisation.
Similarly, Blair, in an article published by www.techcrunch.com, discussed the effects of the Industrial Revolution and current situation in detail. “The Industrial Revolution dramatically re-ordered the sociology of politics. In the US, the Populist Party in the United States was founded as a force in opposition to capitalism, wary of modernity. In the UK, the profound economic changes reshaped policy: from the Factory and Workers Act through to the liberal reforms of David Lloyd George, which ultimately laid the ground for the welfare state, the consequences were felt for the whole of the next century.”
“Today, another far-reaching revolution is underway, which is causing similar ripple effects. Populists of both left and right have risen in prominence and are more successful than their American forbearers at the turn of the 19th century, but similarly rejecting of modernisation. And in their search for scapegoats to sustain their success, tech is now firmly in their firing line,” Blair warned.
The former prime minister is critical of the fact that the state apparatus are unable to adapt to the present-day needs. “The risk is that it sets back progress in an area that is yet to truly transform public policy. In the UK at least, the government machine looks little different from how it did when Lloyd George announced the People’s Budget in 1909.”
“Yet, today, very few are even asking the right questions, let alone providing answers. This is why I’m focusing on technology as the biggest single topic that policymakers need to engage with. Through my institute, I’m hoping to help curate the best thinking on these critical issues and devise politically actionable policy and strategy to deal with them. This will help put tech, innovation and investment in research and development at the forefront of the progressive programme. And we do so in the belief that tech is – and will continue to be – a generally positive force for society,” Blair added.
He is stressing the need for focusing on the people. “The shifts that have and will occur in the labour market as a result of automation will require far more thinking about governments’ role, as those who are likely to bear the brunt of it are those already feeling left behind.”
“This should be a New Deal or People’s Budget type moment; a seismic change in public policy as we pivot to the future.”
“At the highest level this is about the role of the state in the 21st century, which needs to move away from ideological debates over size and spend and towards how it is re-ordered to meet the demands of people today.”
According to Blair, the key questions are: how can tech be used to enable people to live their lives as they choose, increase their quality of life and deliver more opportunities to flourish and succeed?
“Achieving this will better align government with the pace of change that has been happening in society. As it stands, the two are out of sync and unless government catches up, the belief and trust in institutions to be seen to working for people will continue to fall. Populism thrives in this space. But the responsibility is not solely on politicians. It is not enough for those in the tech world to say they don’t get it.”
Blair seeks help from the technology sector. “Those working in the sector must help them to understand and support policy development, rather than allow misunderstandings and mistrust to compound. Because in little more than two decades, the digital revolution has dramatically altered the shape of our economies in society. This can continue, but only if companies work alongside governments to truly deliver the change that so many slogans aspire to.”