Humankind is now facing a global crisis. Perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come. They will shape not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture. We must act quickly and decisively. We should also take into account the long-term consequences of our actions. When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive e but we will inhabit a different world.
Looking at the period AD, It was a static world till 1830. Nothing changed, the world GDP and inter-country GDP too, remained static. In a period not impacted by colonial rule, massive trade and new technologies, India and China dominated the world. They dominated because they had the maximum primary resources, which attracted exploitative trade from the west and also colonial rule.
We entered a new phase of rapid changes thereafter, also with the onset of first industrial revolution in the UK and Europe in 1760, and the second in the US in 1900. First and second industrial revolution changed everything, particularly the countries where the new technologies were discovered, and used. The UK grew from 1 per cent to 5 per cent of world’s GDP, and the US from 6 per cent to 35 per cent in 100 years, after having remained static for ages (particularly after 1 AD). India and China fell from 50 per cent to 5 per cent in about 100 years from 1860 to 1970.
Now comes a miraculous reversal in 1970 (I have explained in detail in my book, “Containing the China Onslaught”).
Both countries started new policies after being independent, used the IR 3.0 technologies and India and China came back to 30 per cent of world’s GDP in 2010, in just about 40 years, without the help of any indigenous technology.
What helped these poor countries was globalization, as predicted by Bhagwati (In Defence of Globalisation), and the connected world described by many, and particularly explained well in Parag Khanna’s “Connectography”). Globalisation helped the ideas and technologies flow to the backward areas, and the connected world facilitated easy transmission.
IR 3.0 technologies were only useful, if they were made available to the whole world. The post 1950 period belonged to IR 3.0. It was also in US interest to help China (so they were convinced by Deng to Nixon and seven US Presidents, may be through deception, after their post 1980 collaboration).
We now move to IR 4.0, machines interacting with machines and 5.0, machines talking to men etc. and robots, which are also based on communication technologies, and the trend should continue.
But suddenly and from nowhere, has appeared Covid-19, bringing in another BC and AC (before and after COVID-19, after before and after China/Communication technologies), and also Trump and Xi, all unpredictable, and we do not know where they would all take us.
Trump’s tariff measures against China, are bringing in unpredictable anti-globalisation, and a technology war against China. China was merrily producing most of world’s demand in many sectors, and to facilitate their movement, had launched BRI. But now with the resistance of USA and many other countries like India and Japan (for BRI), none is sure where these products would land, and at what price, and how they would be impacted by anti-globalisation forces..
Due to amendments in Politburo’s rules of 2015, Xi was anticipated to rule, almost forever, with Chinese Aambassador brimming with confidence in US that China was so powerful that no one could touch, and a US ambassador-designate to India also saying that China was so powerful that they had to be smothered with kindness, to convince them to change. So now Xi’s future is uncertain, and there is opposition. Maslovian forces are also catching up with leaders like Deng’s son recognized as pro-democracy.
COVID-19 and the new tariff agreement between China and the US has turned every thing on its head. Suddenly where is the powerful China now that it has signed an unfavourable tariff agreement with the US, and perhaps COVID-19/maslovian forces have added: “Anger inside China is growing. There stands not an emperor in his new clothes but a clown who is stripped of his clothes but still wants to be an emperor.”
“Atleast 175,000 people left Wuhan just on that day when Wuhan outbreak happened. The departures from Wuhan accelerated over the next three weeks. About 7 million people left in January, before travel was restricted.”
And we have the 2020 Presidential elections in the US, almost fighting a US-China war. Where has the support of seven US Presidents after Nixon, to China vanished now. We will soon know the results, but the world has changed and the new world would never be the same again. We do not know whether this would mean growth to India with its digital DNA or whether Covid will bring unanticipated reversals like the reversals of 1830/19501970/1980 described earlier, and this time impacted by COVID-19, the biggest unanticipated change of only a few weeks.
Or maybe, the world would go with, “But most economist still believe that despite reverses in COVID-19, China, India and the US will rule the world in 2050:
“Lindsey Galloway BBC, 23 March 2020: Brexit, coronavirus, and trade tiffs may be making economic headwinds, but despite immediate challenges, the world economy is projected to keep growing at a rapid pace over the next few decades. In fact, by 2050, the global market is projected to double its current size, even as the UN forecasts the world’s population will only grow by a modest 26 per cent.”
All new technologies lead to faster changes/disruptions. Admittedly, IR 4.0 and 5.0 will help those who implement fast/efficiently. Where would COVID-19 take the competing countries, only the next few weeks will tell?.
(The writer’s opinion is personal. He is a former Secretary to the government of India and TRAI Chairman)