Value economy over knowledge economy

Column by Oscar Wendel, conference manager for Logistics Middle East.
Logistics, COMMENT, Business Trends


Column by Oscar Wendel, conference manager for Logistics Middle East and the Construction Group at ITP Publishing

There is an overwhelming trend to speak obsessively about the move towards a knowledge economy that will dominate future job markets. However, if you look at the US, a majority of the unemployed have some form of college education, and the US Bureau of Labour Statistics estimates that seven out of ten growth occupations over the next decade will be in low-wage fields such as service jobs.

This is not a pessimistic observation about our economy, it is more of a reassurance for the world’s economies; the demand in the market remains centred on the need for people to simply do things that need doing. That nobody is particularly thrilled about having these jobs does not change this reality. The countries that are able to act on delivering a “value economy”, and not solely focusing on a pipedream of a work force in the “knowledge economy”, will have major advantages in being able to create the most valuable asset of all: social stability through means of gainful employment.

This challenge is common across the globe, and the solutions required are probably similar. It is about providing answers for the age-old questions of why and what. These are the two main areas in which we define our sense of purpose and who we are.

What is different in our day and age compared to just a generation and even longer ago is that there is no longer as strong a correlation between working and surviving. For an ever-growing global urban population, the basic human needs of survival are catered for, and what used to be seen as luxuries are now considered to be necessities. Most people can afford coffee in the morning, transportation in motorised vehicles, cigarettes and smart phones. Significant improvements in lifestyles and personal well-being require radically-increased spending power. However, instead of this being something positive, it is proving to be a cause for social incitement and upheaval around the world.

Maslow famously argued in his Hierarchy of Needs that, once a person is able to fulfil his or her basic needs, they will aspire towards self-actualisation. But now that the fight for survival has largely been removed, it is having the ironic implication of becoming another human tragedy. Our essential needs (and more) are no longer earned, but are instead provided for, and are now expected, as a minimum human right. Meanwhile, self-actualisation is being confused with fulfilling impulsive urges for consumption of luxury goods, the desire for instant gratification is self-perpetuating. This is fuelling an existential angst, in that we no longer have clear answers as to the why and what of our lives.

It is said that it is not the attainment of happiness that gives us satisfaction, but our pursuit of it. If this is so commonly agreed to be true, why is it being ignored? While it may be controversial to postulate, is not the value and product of a population’s work activities secondary to providing a task to complete, and some form of duty and responsibility that offers a sense of purpose, identity and self-worth? If you disagree, you only need to look at the consequences of pursuing happiness per se.

Having expectations that are in line with our achievements, and feeling a degree of control in influencing this balance are central to our sense of justice and personal satisfaction. I see this as the most valuable consequence of what is referred to as democracy. That is, rewards are not random or dictated by favouritism. Seen from this perspective, any group, regardless of their relative affluence or welfare, can be made to feel disadvantaged, dissatisfied and oppressed. Is this not what we are seeing today?

The priority on any nation’s agenda should really not be to increase the academic skills and intellect of populations. The work ahead of us is really not about increasing the skills and growing the intellect of populations. The correlation between intelligence and work ethic is unpredictable at best.

Yet, it is not a question of being ‘either/or’. The logistics sector offers a good example of the inflection point between the knowledge side and the delivery aspect. There is no limit to the demand for faster and better services, and meeting these demands requires continued improvements in processes, equipment and professional operations staff on the ground.

There is no question that new technology offers limitless ways for improved solutions for delivering services. Yet, in the end, actually delivering value that is of any use to a whole population comes down to the work ethic and pride of the individual. What is needed first and foremost is the reinstatement of the basic work ethic of national work forces to serve in the ’value economy’. It is vitally important that there is a greater understanding of the fact that economies thrive on the basis of services being delivered to a higher overall standard, services with an explicit spelt-out function and purpose. Societies can really only thrive in a context where the output of a nation’s work force serves as much of an economic function as it does a social purpose.

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