Technology = progress?


Ever started the day scrolling Facebook/Instagram/Twitter? Procrastinated for longer than you’d care to contemplate staring at post after photo after tweet of hollow vanity? Imagine what someone your age in the 1980s would think if you’d shown them a snapshot of 2015? Face after face locked to screen – not unlike the kind of dystopian nightmare Orwell wrote about. And, have you ever considered the fact that self-checkouts and ticket machines, ‘convenient’ though they may be (apparently), might actually be costing peoples’ jobs – as store after store, station after station, replace man after woman with machine?

I’m no nimbyist technophobe, and like everyone else I’m guilty of being dependent on technology in ways I wish I wasn’t. But I want to challenge the narrative which for so long has been fed to us unquestioned – that all technology is ‘progress’. Is it?

Technology is a tool which can be progressive. Social media has the power to unite swathes of people cross-continent for a common good – its role in revolutions in recent times cannot be diminished. Advances in medical technology have revolutionised our health, and there is no doubt that the internet has made a mass of knowledge, previously the reserve of few, widely accessible.

It can be progressive, but not in and of itself. A recent study by Oxford University concluded that technological breakthroughs endanger 47% of total employment – is that progress? Almost half of the UK without a job, possibly the worst employment crisis in history? Ever more advanced machinery is replacing hands in industry and manufacturing, Amazon is seriously considering replacing its courier services with drones and the likes of Google and Tesla are working on ‘self-drive lorries’ because they are ‘safer’ (human error is the primary cause of road accidents). The number of jobs that would threaten is frankly scary.

Ask yourself, to whose benefit is the replacement of labour with technology? We are told is that it is for our benefit – the consumer. No more long queues at shops, garages, airports; saving us time, money and oh so much stress – hurrah! But how often do we actually save time by using a self-checkout? How often do we find that there is no option on the touch screen which answers our query? We want to speak to a human, capable of empathy, but there is no one to be seen. It certainly isn’t for the benefit of workers, so whose benefit is it for?

For the companies. For McDonalds, for Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, the car manufacturers which choose robots over workers. So that they may employ less people and more technology to do a more efficient job, create better products and ultimately increase their profit margins. Cast your minds back to the industrial revolution, and it was the same old story – mechanisation meant reducing the cost of labour and increasing profit. Only, the technological revolution is going at a rate wildly faster than the industrial revolution and so the impacts of this cost-cutting formula are magnified.

We see this not only in labour-saving technology, but in the technology that we all buy into and love. The iPhone 5c comes out, followed by the 5s, then the iPhone 6, and now the 6s – each one convincing us that we need it more than the one before. But do we? Or do Apple just need our money? We are told with products like smartphones that our lives will be simpler, less complicated. Yet somehow I think that the barrage of texts, emails, and never ending streams of social media makes for a far more complicated existence – a world which we are never really logged out of.

If ‘less complicated’ means not having to interact with other human beings then sure, life’s less complicated. No more awkward small talk with our neighbour on the train, or asking for directions (Google Maps has it covered) or approaching that guy or girl across the bar (Tinder).

When I look at the technological revolution up to now, I feel a sense of waste. Take electric cars, a technology which has been talked about for many years, with the capacity to potentially offset the worst of the climate crisis. Yet all these years later, despite countless models of iPhones coming and going and so much ‘technological advancement’ in that area, electric cars have barely been developed. A technology with the power to do real good is shunted aside in favour of technology which makes our consumerist dominated lives ‘easier’ and has the potential for greater profit margins.

We don’t have to accept this narrative as truth. Is the latest iPhone going to bring me lasting happiness? Probably not. Who says machines should replace workers if it means that 47% of our jobs are going to be obsolete in the future? What kind of blind logic describes that as ‘progress’? I’ll take standing in a queue for an extra three minutes thank you very much.

Image: skeeze via Pixabay

One thought on “Technology = progress?

  • But nations need manufacturing = to keep people occupied ,besides in Agriculture,especially in nations like Pakistan

    Solution to Manufacturing in Pakistan

    Some people lament the “lack of manufacturing capacities” in Pakistan.Had the Pakistan state pushed for manufacturing capacities a few decades ago – it would have had the “NPA disaster of the Hindoo Nation”.The Aggregate of the NPA in the Banking,NBFC,CHit fund,Co-operatives and Unorganised sector,in Hindoosthan,would be around USD 300 billion USD (at the minimum) – which is enough to destroy Hindoosthan. An Oil shock or a 15 day full-scale conventional war,will destroy Hindoosthan – simply by the “geometric expansion of NPAs” and the “physical annihilation of manufacturing”,in North Western Hindooosthan.dindooohindoo


    There was no point in manufacturing in SAARC, a few decades ago, as everything was being sold by PRC,at half the total cost of the importing nation,and there was no skilled labour and management expertise in nations like Pakistan,at that point of time.The costs in PRC have now matured and stabilised and the tastes of the Pakistani consumer have stabilised and matured.

    Current Tenor

    The situation is ripe for manufacturing in the current times – with the benefit of obviating FX outflows and smuggling and boosting indirect tax revenue.

    Exanple of “As-Is” Import

    Let us assume that a product is being imported at a cost of USD 1000/piece or per ton CIF,with the Tariff rate of say 35% – wherein the actual compliance with duty,is only 10%.In this case,the profit which accrues to the trader or maker o/s Pakistan is not taxable in Pakistan,and the same applies to the sea freight and the freight forwarder’s commission.Since, the CIF cargo is misdeclared at Port Qasim – it is obvious that the sale of the said item,in the wholesale and retail market,would be w/o tax.

    Exanple of “Proposed” Manufacture – Case 1

    If the said item is made in Pakistan, the Marginal cost would be say,650 USD and the Total cost (including non cash and amortised costs) would be around USD 900. However, the manufacturer would need to import the materials or the item/component in CKD/SKD condition.Since,this will be a bulk import,in industrial packaging,it would be at a lower cost,and the importer would pay the merit duty applicable – as there will be no duty evasion,no smuggling, no corruption, no hawala and the
    USD outflow can be deferred.

    The indigenous cost in Pakistan such as salaries,purchases and power – would be subject to indirect and direct tax (and TDS) which cannot be avoided.In addition,the power consumption will provide a proximate estimate of the actual production of the factory.

    If the manufacturer has paid the import duty on material imports and has no captive DG set for power – then the sales of the products will have to be on record.Let us say that this factory is in State X , and he sells to a dealer in state X at the 1st point.Ideally the states should have a 1st point tax – and then all sales in the same state of the “said invoice” (of the 1st point of sale) will be exempt from indirect tax.If tax is at the last point – then that last point will never come and the Revenue deptt will keep on doing reconciliations.If there is a multi-point tax,there will be avoidance (as no one will pay tax on financial value addition),and the state will have to prove the sale at each
    point.So full indirect tax revenue will be realised on the mode of “1st point tax”.In any case, the factory will have all the data w.r.t the last point retailer as part of its CRM and its Dealer/Retailer incentives and Dealer management plans

    Exanple of “Proposed” Manufacture – Case 2

    If the manufacturer decides not to import the materials and purchases the same from local sources (who are the illegal importers) and does not use Grid Power or does not use metered Grid Power – the he would sell the products “off the record/books”.However,in this case, there will at least be some manufacturing in the state and the FX outflow would be “far lesser than before”.

    Fiscal Levy Model in Exanple of “Proposed” Manufacture – Case 1

    In the 1st case, the state should levy the import duty on the material or component imports,in a manner,such that the total taxes accrued to the state,across the supply chain of the manufacture for the unit,and its extended supply chain and staff = 35% (which was the original import duty on the finished product)

    In other words,the aggregate of the understated components, as under:

    Import duty on material/component import
    Tax of staff salaries of factory
    Indirect tax on local purchases
    Cess and Duties on SEB power purchases
    Tax on sale of Products
    Profit tax on producer and supplier of local purchases
    Cross Subsidy benefits to state on SEB purchases

    Should be around 35% of the finished goods price (NSR),which was the original import duty on the finished product

    Fiscal Levy Model in Exanple of “Proposed” Manufacture – Case 2

    In this case,for those products where there is no “on record manufacturing” in the nation, an import duty on materials equal to current deemed duty (hawala charges bribes and the actual duty paid) plus a small premium,can be imposed, to bring the downstream sales of the finished products into the indirect tax net (on the mode of the 1st point sales tax).Once the imported materials are “on record”,then the “downstream production” will also be on record.

    However,if the production is viable only by power theft,avoiding pollution taxes,doing hazardous manufacturing and evading the indirect taxes on sale of finished products – then the said production can be shut down – by licensing the production to the original manufacturers on a sole license basis with direct tax holidays.

    Alt Manufacturing Strategy

    In the Alt, based on import data from Pakistani ports and the export data from load ports, if the overseas manufacturers or traders are offered “sole manufacturing and sales rights”, in Pakistan or parts of Pakistan (by law or by banning imports or charging high duties/TBT etc.), the overseas suppliers will be glad to set up or partner with,local partners to set up manufacturing capacities,for all types of consumer goods (at the minimum)

    In addition, there will be several types of manufacturing which overseas suppliers/bankers/ entrepreneurs will be glad to outsource to Pakistan on account of pollution effluents, environmental issues,hazardous chemicals,requirements of water,obsolete or phased out technologies in USA/EU,labour intensive technology,2nd hand machinery on the books of cash strapped banks etc – who will be glad to relocate to Pakistan.

    Export Interface

    It would be reasonable to assume that the “VA norms” of various trade treaties applicable to Pakistan,would qualify the COO of these manufactured products,as Pakistani and thus,would qualify as “Nil Duty/Concessional Duty access” to export markets (even ignoring, the financial value addition)

    The manufacturing hubs of the abovesaid products can be located near Ports and also near the SEZ/EOU and within the DTA of the EOU (to lower logistics costs) – so that the manufacturers can offload excess capacities to SEZ and EOU on CMT/Job work or where the suppliers manufacture semi-finished products which are sold to SEZ and then exported – and this is treated as a Deemed/Physical export for the DTA Manufacturer


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