Written by Carlota Perez, Honorary Professor at the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, University College London
Current times do not favor optimism. We have been living through turbulent moments, with pandemics, wars, the threat of climate change and the reality of increasing inequality, destruction of jobs, skills, and regions, leading to resentment and populism. At the same time, we have seen giant companies threaten the survival of smaller ones and invade consumer privacy, while the financial world has become a giant global casino, decoupled from the real economy, and disconnected from national spaces. And yet… there is hope.
Previous technological revolutions have also been processes of ‘creative destruction’, as Schumpeter called them, with bubbles and crashes, recessions and even depressions. Yet, eventually golden ages came. But they were not automatic; the context for unleashing them was created by government. It was by tilting the playing field for investment and innovation, while creating the conditions for society to reap the fruits of the new technological potential of the time that the Victorian Boom, the Belle Époque and the post-war Golden Age came to be. The time is now right for a similar transformation; for bringing about the smart, green, fair, and global future that is possible in the information age.
This is not technological determinism. Technology only provides the conditions and the tools; society does the shaping. Markets work much better when they benefit from the synergies of directionality. The post-war policies were strongly oriented towards favoring the consumption pattern of the suburban home, while military procurement for the Cold War funded the high-tech products that would bring the subsequent revolution. The combination worked –but it was all done regardless of pollution and with unthinking use of energy and materials. Today we face the challenge of the resulting damage to the planet.
Fortunately, the information revolution, if well directed, offers a route towards dematerializing production and consumption as well as helping us move towards renewable sources of energy. The shift in lifestyles in the post-war period created jobs in services and retail that made up for the losses to high productivity manufacturing. A move now to sustainable ways of living and producing in a creative, waste-less society, centered on health, creativity, learning, services rather than products and with maintenance and access rather than possession, is possible. It would help heal the planet, while creating the new jobs. Policies encouraging green lifestyles in a circular economy are a centerpiece for a new golden age. A global financial transactions tax to fund the greening of the Global South would be another. Much institutional innovation and imagination will be required.
By acting as boldly as the post-war leaders did, we can -- and must -- set up a win-win game between business and society, between advanced, emerging and developing countries and between humanity and the planet.
Science, technology and innovation can be catalysts for achieving the sustainable development goals.
In the context of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development, the CSTD Dialogue brings together leaders and experts to address this question and contribute to rigorous thinking on the opportunities and challenges of STI in several crucial areas including gender equality, food security and poverty reduction.
The conversation continues at the annual session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development and as an online exchange by thought leaders.