New Straits Times
NAVIGATING A POST-COVID LANDSCAPE
How we manage this moment can make or break us as a nation
WE are living in a moment of enormous change — a conflagration of potentially monumental events is taking place that will alter the structure and operation of the global economy for the next and future generations.
Any government that does not stay abreast of these events will find itself playing catch-up to the detriment of their populations. The Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying measures necessary to protect public health remain an ongoing challenge.
For nearly two years, the standard operating procedures in the retail sector, tourism and hospitality, offices and factories have been severely disrupted. Consumer activity has shifted to online platforms. Henceforth, digitalisation of whole economic fields has accelerated dramatically.
This coincided with the already rapid trend towards automation, and the use of artificial intelligence and robotics to maximise efficiency and profitability in a wide range of businesses.
While it has long been anticipated that the increased use of technology in the private sector would result in massive job losses, Covid-19 lockdowns and related restrictions have unavoidably sped up this process as many companies are left with no option but to lay off staff and replace them with creative technological solutions for the survival of their businesses.
In other words, many of the jobs lost due to Covid-19 are unlikely to be recovered once the pandemic is over. This reality provides the background for what the World Economic Forum (WEF) refers to as “the Great Reset” or a comprehensive reshaping of the global economy.
But it is believed that this transformation will be incremental. The pandemic has made all this really sudden and almost certainly irreversible.
When Mark Zuckerberg announced the rebranding of Facebook as Meta, he introduced the world to a concept that has already been taking shape for many years — that of the Metaverse. If and when this concept fully actualises, we will see the opening up of an entirely new frontier for economic activity — essentially, a whole parallel world existing in cyberspace ripe for exploration, trade and commerce.
Yet another potentially gamechanging development has been the recent creation of the natural asset companies (NACs) set to become vehicles for the capitalisation of nature itself and are expected to add US$4 quadrillion to the stock market as natural resources and processes are placed under the management of NACs and made available through initial public offerings for investors.
These remarkable events are taking place amid the irresistible drive to respond to global concerns about climate change. We have even seen the idea floated of implementing Covid-style “climate lockdowns” due to the beneficial environmental impact of movement restrictions witnessed since the onset of the pandemic.
The tectonic economic shifts all occurring at once can be bewildering, but one thing is certain — the world will never return to the way it had functioned just two years ago.
We are entering a very different landscape today and we cannot afford to approach this new world the same way we approached the world as it was.
The emerging picture of the global economy is one in which considerable segments of the traditional workforce will be obsolete while international governance is increasingly going to be implemented within a framework of the public-private partnerships between national governments and multinational corporations as per the 2019 memorandum of understanding signed between the United Nations and the WEF.
Remote work will be standard and the virtual world will become, perhaps, the largest arena of commercial activities. The traditional paradigm of the developed and developing world is no longer applicable. Today, the whole world is developing.
Leaders in Malaysia, from the public and private sectors, must carefully assess the country’s options for navigating what is perhaps the greatest watershed moment the world economy has experienced in more than 400 years.
We are undergoing what has been called the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) and it is not hyperbolic to say that how we manage this moment can make or break us as a nation. Industrialisation movements of the past empowered some and devastated others. Today’s changes will inevitably result in similarly decisive outcomes.
We cannot afford to allow events to happen to us, to merely be swept away in the wake of others. We must master new dynamics, map the landscape, prepare and train our people, identify and seize new opportunities and forge a path towards shared prosperity through innovation, creativity and foresight to propel Malaysia into a prominent position in what the world will become.
The farsighted thinking of former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has led to the establishment of the Digital Economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution Council despite the mammoth tasks and hurdles he faced during his premiership at the onset of the pandemic.
The improvement in Malaysia’s capability to optimise the 4IR technological advancements will ensure growth of the digital economy in line with the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 and intensive digitalisation cutting across all aspects of the economy and life.
The writer is chief executive officer of Institut Masa Depan Malaysia, a Kuala Lumpur-based independent think tank that brings together experts in government and academia to provide quality research, policy recommendations and analysis on a full range of public policy issues guided by the shared prosperity values