The clash between Protectionism and Industry 4.0, Digital and Sharing Economy

The forces that will rule the world are financial, migratory and technological. In the technological field numerous innovations are transforming both the industrial and energy sector: it is what we call and will call industry 4.0. Very soon workers’ lives and, therefore, our lives as well, will never be the same. We are talking about the digital revolution: digital and Sharing Economy, 3D printing, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, meta and big data management, navigation algorithms, autonomous vehicles, as well as the incredible computing capacity of forthcoming quantum computers.

In order to better understand what is happening, it is enough to observe the concrete realisations of Elon Musk’s “visions” already being produced: ranging from self-driving electric cars to Space X aerospace industry with rockets that nail re-entry landing, moving forward to completely autonomous “solar houses”.

Yet it is not enough. There is still hot controversy in Rome about taxi drivers opposing Uber. Uber is a company based in San Francisco that provides a private transfer service through mobile software application (app) that puts in direct connection passengers and drivers. An unacceptable competition for old automotive transportation systems. But with Uber, Amazon, Airnb, Alibaba etc. the “ubernisation” of trade is already taking place. Certainly the current risk is that of the birth of digital monopolies which destroy already existing ones or that international companies don’t follow the local laws. “The New York Times” writes how Uber Deceives the Authorities Worldwide. Denying such a risk however, is not fruitful and people should better resign themselves and fight back with the same weapons. In the past Bow and arrows were unable to have the supremacy on firearms.

The French economist Guy Soman believes that the protests against the American app are similar to the ones carried out back in the 1800s by Luddites, who sabotaged the first factories to stop the Industrial Revolution. But such a change transformed craftsmen into machines at capitalistic enterprises’ disposal, the new digital revolution will change our relationship to work and will allow new job positions.

This is going to be our future and the one politics, culture and trade will have to confront. The industry4.0 lives thanks to broadband connection with hubs, suppliers and customers that make up the industrial chain. Anything can be relocated. Just think of the new Facebook data center opened in Lulea, in the North of Sweden to reduce server cooling costs. The labour market and vocational training is on the verge of being overturned.

That still is not enough, as labour robotics will replace human labour also in developing countries where multinational corporations have already relocated in order to cut costs. This will not necessarily result in an increase in the unemployment rates. As said already, new opportunities will arise, as well as new figures and working positions. To make an example, going back to Uber, in the UK the company has chosen an Italian startup to provide its English drivers with a supplementary pension and financial advising services for asset management.

Although Bill gates is of the opinion that robotics activities should be taxed in order to cope with the loss of jobs and therefore of taxes concerning employees’ wages, Milena Gabanelli takes a different stance: “Artificial intelligence will not completely eliminate the different types of jobs, but rather enable employees to fulfil them more efficiently, decreasing the number of necessary personnel.”

What do our politics and citizens know about all this revolution in the 4.0 industry? Almost nothing.
Actually the manipulation of populist systems seem to be completely blind in front of the evolution and the achievements of such forms of progress.

The nationalist parties at the moment have a popular support more or less in all western nations. These parties promise to bring the work to their constituents. The “forward-looking” populist leaders – like Le Pen and Trump – promise of rehabilitating the national economy, challenging globalization. They are convinced to restore local production. But they do not realize that the labor at home will decline gradually because it will realized by machines and digital and sharing economy.

The protectionism wanted by Trump thought, as well as being a method multiple times disavowed by history, will be inefficient because digital future is very close. In the ‘900 prohibition became famous for allowing the smuggling and illegal production of alcohol, but especially the economic crisis of 1929. But there are other examples, and other countries that have experienced financial default because prohibition. In the 90s in Argentina, for example, they were issued heavy taxes on imports. This stimulated the realization of local establishments, with old and not competitive products. So it was born the illegal market and smuggling that led to default whole country. And you could mention many other examples where you tried inultilmente to block free trade.

This experience should make us wary of populist recipes. Certainly there are substantial differences between Kirchner, Brexit and Donald Trump, Marine Lepen, but the election results of 2016 there remember how it is seductive the populist and protectionist idea and how the human being has instinctively afraid of change and thus he is inclined to follow, in periods of uncertainty, the conservative parties.

May not like it, but we can not stop the progress, we must manage it, this is the reality. The policy has a decisive role and it can not refuse to understand the evolution of society. The industry 4.0 should be the starting point for any political program with the job like end point. We must protect current workers but we can’t deceive them and it is correct if we open way about future workers. Anyway, digital transformation and industry 4.0 make it possible to advance the production system, the economy and employment of a nation. But it must be well understood, known and guided by a political class ready for change.