If you find the last posting a daunting read, here is a simpler 800 words speech I gave to international university students attending a model United Nations conference in Taylors college. I delivered the following speech this morning.
International Model United Nations by YB Wong Chen 23 November 2019
Hello everyone and welcome to Subang Jaya. My short speech today will touch on the 3 greatest challenges that your generation will face in the coming decades. They are: A. Climate change
B. Unemployment caused by artificial intelligence
C. Income and wealth inequality
All 3 challenges are somewhat interrelated and yet pose distinctively different problems. The source of all 3 challenges can be traced to a neoliberal economic system that prioritizes shareholders’ interest and the accumulation of unlimited wealth into the hands of small groups of elites.
On the climate change front, shareholders and the corporations they own have consistently refused to price in the cost of carbon emissions.
As a result of corporate greed, the environmental cost is often passed on to the people, to bear. By implementing carbon pricing, essentially treating carbon emissions as a cost of production, we can force corporations to take steps to prevent or reduce carbon emissions. This in turn can help to contain the projected 2-degree Celsius increase by the year 2030.
However to reverse climate change, we will need to do a lot more. We will require a complete revamp of how we organize our economics. Solutions to reverse climate change are available but the political will to do so is scarce. By channeling money, creativity and innovation, we can hope to find solutions. There are simpler solutions, such as planting 1 trillion or more trees. And on the other end of the spectrum, we can also implement the latest negative emission technologies, such as direct air capture plants. It is somewhat ironic that the second challenge that you will face in the coming decades, is actually caused by the same advancement of technology, in particular, the rise of artificial intelligence and robotics. When I was young I used to enjoy reading futuristic comic books and watch sci-fi movies. They often offered two differing world views; (i) one where the future is full of happiness, where people work shorter hours and live meaningful lives, (ii) the other is a dystopian version, depicted in comics such as 2000 AD and movies such as Blade Runner.
Your generation has a very strong relationship with technology. I believe the blind worship of billionaire technopreneurs is a symptom of the erosion of core values of everyone. Your generation lives in social media, you love your hand phones and electronic devices, and yet many are nonchalant about the massive concentration of wealth in a handful of tech billionaires. In fact many of you may openly or secretly aspire to be tech billionaires. However, these are the very same tech billionaires who are developing artificial intelligence to take jobs away from you. Artificial intelligence is expected to be fully developed by the year 2050, so it will happen in your lifetime.
If the current neoliberal economic system continues, coupled with uncontrolled technological advancements, global inequality will give birth to a dystopian future in which, at least 30% of the working population will be unemployed by the year 2050. If you wish to witness what 30% unemployed looks like, you can visit the youths in Spain and Greece.
This brings us to the last pressing problem of inequality. The baby boomers (those born after the war) had a very high level of equality, peaking somewhere in the mid-1970s. Since the 1980s, inequality has steadily grown in the last 40 years. The fact that we had high equality in the 1970s gives hope that it is possible for us to return to that nice equilibrium state, and one of the way to do so is to introduce a wealth tax on the richest 1%.
But by far the most important thing you must do, is to unlearn what we have been taught for the last few decades about economics. You have to challenge orthodox economic thinking that has been systematically built over the last 40 years and chart a new global agenda on economics and politics. Read more the works of Piketty, Ha Joon Chang and Joseph Stiglitz. The challenges that you will face are going to be even more immense than the ones that I have faced and am facing today. The stakes will be much higher with the threats from climate change. As such, you have to start now, you got to start thinking about policies, and you have to be clever to mobilize social media, embrace big data, and learn nudge and behavioral economics. You got to organize and then challenge establishment thinking.
I wish you all a productive conference. Discuss, challenge and argue – only by honest and intellectual discourse can we find the solutions to save the world. Thank you for listening.