Tuesday, December 29, 2015

'Policy Modelling is like making a middle of the road film of 1980s'

The last time I wrote and published a blog in this digital confession box of mine was in March 1, 2015. Its been quite sometime since then and I didnot publish anything in this confession space. The reason for that was a constant search to frame the title of this blog piece in an accurate way. Such a search needed time, more work in various research projects, assignments, papers. It also needed learning and unlearning from various research work happening in the domain of policy relevant modelling and within all peer networks.

Well, the search is still on and I guess it will continue in near and distant future: however, towards the end of the year 2015, while listening to the soulful music of A.R. Rahman for Majid Majidi's film "Muhammad", I felt that atleast I got an apt title for this confession. And therefore the title of this blog piece was born. As the title also partially sounds like a hypothesis, in the remaining part of this piece, I will make an attempt to justify the hypothesis objectively without drawing any judgemental conclusions.

If we ask a question as a layman that - "What is the objective of a Policy Modelling", what are the kind of answers that come in our mind? Well, one of the primary objective of Policy Modelling is to address the future issues, directions that various agents of any society can and will grapple with. In order to address that, the modelling frame has to understand the past and current stories that are of relevance to the people, agents of any society across the different layers of a society. In order to do that, those agents have to be well defined and understood by the modelling frame. The stories of these agents and what are their needs and requirements for future has to be assessed through facts, data and scientific analysis and not subjectively. In the assessment process thorough mathematical, analytical rigour can come in but at the end of the day, the outcome of the policy model has to tell an appealing story for the agents whose future matter to us. So, for an effective story telling, both scientific, mathematical rigour and relevant future policy story collection and its contextualization within the modelling frame has to go hand in hand.

Doing this will involve meeting and talking to many non scientists, non modellers, the agents at various layers of society whose actions actually matter on ground. It requires observing them constantly and understanding their needs, stakes in a policy. Therefore, if modelling thought process ideology is imagined as a line, then on one side of the line, we have a point where we have lot of technically sound, rigourous mathematical thinking and a group which is constantly publishing them in their knowledge groups and networks. These papers also do have an influence of mathematical abstractions and theories which are important for laying a foundation to any new idea. 

On the other side of this line, we have bunch of models which are simple, back of the envelope type models, telling policy stories for agents in a simplistic way. However, a successful policy modelling is moving more towards the middle of this line which will be a middle point of rigorous modelling frames mixed with simple, effective policy story telling. Such a movement might push all of us to move out of the comfort zone of the extreme corner points of this line and try to understand each other who are on the either side of this middle point of this line. Once a modelling framework is made with this intent, it will immediately involve several non scientists, non modellers, non policy makers in a modelling approach. It will then immediately take a form about which Siedl, R (2015) mentions in the latest paper titled - 'A functional dynamic reflection on participatory processes in modelling projects' (Ambio, 015 Dec;44(8):750-65. doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0670-8. Epub 2015 May 22.)

Drawing an analogy, I felt that such a modelling process and the final model will be like  middle of the road films of 1980s. 'Middle of the road films' ,  is a term with which we all were getting accustomed in India during our childhood days. Those films talked about real issues and touched the lives of the people in a simple way. For instance a film like - "Saaransh" by Mahesh Bhatt which was about the lives of real people who live in the society didnot compromise in terms of the film making rigour. But at the same time it had elements of a simple touching story which can affect the life of a common human being in this country. Therefore, it had the identification element in the film with which people can identify themselves and can like the work and feel about it.

In a similar way, a policy modelling by moving towards the centre point of the line has to create such an identification element with which people, agents of society, non modellers, non scientists and as well as modellers, policy and decision makers from both sides of the line can identify. Only then, policy modelling will lead to meaningful policy outcomes, directions. The film industry in India today has made an honest attempt to bridge the gap between commercial, non commercial, art, middle of the road films. It has happened with funding support, risk taking, substantial efforts of several people coming out of their comfort zones, government policies and constant efforts, hardwork by the people of the film industry. The divides are getting blurred day by day and getting unified.

For policy modelling, within developing and emerging countries, it has to begin too. Let us start by doing policy modelling more and more in the lines of making a middle of the road film of 1980s. Some lights have already started sparkling and more will come soon. Till then, lets wait!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Wait for a "DeGrowth" society in Africa

Today, all across Europe, in several debates, the word degrowth is coming up again and again. Deliberations of the 2nd International Conference on degrowth held at Barcelona stated that as society gets complex, material and energy consumption, inequities increase; the importance of lasting ecological sustainability, social equity will be sensed more and more.

In order to transcend to such a paradigm, societies have to move towards more of localized economies, simpler lifestyles, labour intensive agriculture with lesser energy inputs and larger energy output in the food it produces. Hence, there is a need for reducing energy consumption through all these forms. It can essentially translate to less mechanised forms of production, labour and skill intensive forms of production. Therefore, it doesnot always mean an efficient form of production though it can be ecologically sustainable. Then it can lead to more localization of production and lesser change of hands and transactions which can reduce the gross domestic product. Hence, such a production pattern can still mean that whatever is produced is consumed locally. Therefore, agricultural products donot travel long distances and donot create larger energy intensity till its final consumption point. Though owing to this form of production pattern the GDP can fall, it might not necessarily always mean lesser job creation if they are backed by  job guarantee schemes. Essentially, it has to mean a decoupling of job creation from economic growth path.

It can also translate to more informal jobs which are skill intensive and doesnot relate, translate to migration. More cooperative forms of  labour production, job sharing can emerge. However, all these possibilities are not connected to the modern westernized industrial society that we have been exposed to. Moreover this industrialization process itself has promoted ecological destruction and resource extraction from parts of Africa owing to constant rising demand for material and energy. However, the continent showcases and posits to us that here lies an opportunity in the continent if we as a civilization have to move towards a degrowth society.

Africa presents to us the future.

Reliance of Africa on agricultural products show that the continent can move on a path which is agriculture dependent and relies more on conservation of natural resources. This agriculture based economic path can be dependent on export crops like beverage crops, spices, other tree crops, intensive peri urban farming , rainfed farming. The path can be cushioned from sustained industrialization and materialism so that material and energy consumption is balanced while Africa grows.

However, while the economy charts out this path, growth of the middle income class will be inevitable in Africa from now onwards to future. Size of the middle income class will increase by 10 times to 68% of the total population in 2050 from a current level of  12% (Source - Africa 2050 Publication).

Such a growth will also mean a rise in aspirations of the middle income class and so it is more important for the continent to posit to the world the new paradigm of degrowth. This rise of middle income class in Africa would mean an increase in annual per capita incomes by 1.9% which will reach a level more than $6000 by 2050. The other scenario is, if by 2050, per capita income of Africa is lower by more than $10,000, then around 900 million people will not be able to reach the middle income class (Source - Africa 2050 Publication). However, they can still sustain a less material and energy intensive lifestyle with a larger reliance on informal and organized labour intensive agricultural production. It will also entail a sustained income generation from the informal sector which are not material and energy intensive. If Africa can do this and prove this to the world, then a quarter of the world population can show how economic activity can be restructured and reoriented in a different way  without making the same mistakes which has been made by the modern, western industrialized society.

Therefore, if a degrowth scenario is followed by a balanced material and energy consumption, it has to then mean that Africa might have  to grow less than 1% annually, and the per capita income in Africa in 2050 will be around $4000 (2010 US Dollars PPP) (Source - Africa 2050 Publication). However, it doesnot necessarily entail that the quality of life will not prosper in this continent even with such a growth paradigm. Such prosperity can emerge from employment generation and skill development which can thereafter in future lead to a less material and energy intensive growth. Measures to generate them can come from strong job guarantee, social security schemes, health safety nets, informal skill driven economies.  

However, loci of job creation has to be spread to rural areas and should not be city oriented. Gini Coefficients have to be brought down in 66% of the African countries to reduce inequalities and enhance social safety nets. Earning of the richest 20% of the population has to be distributed to the poorest 11% of the African population.  Savings have to be increased within the people to bring down inequality. This can ensure that countries can create larger prosperity by bringing better income distribution without following energy, material intensive high growth path.

Africa has a still growing population and between 2031 and 2051 it will account for 75% of the total growth in the labour force. Such a growth can lead to a labour intensive economy with inclusive innovation that will constantly include poorest segments of the population and not essentially be a material, resource, energy intensive technological innovation. In the next 40 years, Africa’s population will increase to 2.7 billion and the youth population will increase to 500 million from around the current levels of around 260 million. This increase complemented by extensive skill development will provide a degrowth path. Such a skill development will mean revitalization of technical, vocational skill development for youth through public private partnership, upgradation of skills of craftsmen, modernization of traditional apprenticeship systems, development of partnerships between schools, training providers, employers for training and lifelong learning, access to better secondary education creating a bridge between school and labour system, strengthening the labour intensive diversification of economies of Africa with a focus on rural urban migration, worker productivity particularly in the informal sector. Additionally, enhanced productivity of women (higher income earning) with a higher educational and vocational training, reorientation of the wage policies should also be thought of as some of the key complementary measures. 

Once these steps are taken along with degrowth measures, poverty can be tackled in the continent by contextualizing needs of the people of the continent to various political, cultural, religious and ethnic needs. This contextualization can be done by means of designing a social contract theory in the lines of Rousseau that binds them together though it gives them a freedom to make their own choices.

Freedom given should not however mean that it leads to a choice of lifestyle, which enhances the exhaustion and export of resources from Africa without sufficient development for the local people. It should mean a path for the continent where it is not exposed to resource exhaustion, depletion and the continent is decoupled from volatility of global commodity prices. In persevering such a path, the continent should not strive for competing resource uses. Further, any resource usage through the means of a technology has to be backed up by larger efficiency enhancement in the technological processes. Natural resources in Africa need to be managed carefully, sensitively by learning from success stories like Botswana and other countries. This will help in saving Africa’s resources which will automatically ensure a larger saving of some of future world’s resources owing to high endowment of natural resources in this continent of future.