Is new technology “transformative” or “disruptive”? I’ve heard this topic hotly debated at meetings both within the World Bank and more broadly. The issue is not just linguistic hair-splitting. Technology optimists prefer the first term and see new technologies, digitization in particular, as an opportunity for low-income developing countries to leapfrog into the 21st century. Moonshot Africa, an ambitious World Bank initiative to connect individuals, firms, and governments in Africa to fast internet is inspired by this vision. Technology pessimists on the other hand emphasize the disruptive effects digital technologies are expected to have on labor markets. Concerns about robots and algorithms replacing human labor increasingly dominate the public debate not only in advanced economies, but also in emerging and developing economies. Against this background, it is natural to ask how these two views are compatible. To be more specific: How will Moonshot Africa create jobs on a continent where job creation is needed more than anywhere else in the world with Africa’s working-age population projected to rise by 70% in the next twenty years?
The gig economy matches businesses to consumers through digital platforms. It serves local communities such as Tutorama, an Egyptian online platform connecting students with local private tutors. In Jordan, refugee women who have limited mobility are able to make a living by selling home-cooked dishes through Bilforon, a food-delivery platform. In 2018, more than five thousand women domestic workers earned income through SweepSouth, a home cleaning service platform in South Africa.
The Middle East and North Africa region have some of the best educated, unemployed people in the world. High-skill university graduates currently make up almost 30 percent of the unemployed pool of labor in MENA, many of them women. In Tunisia, slightly more than half of the working age population is out of work, the vast majority being women. Part of the problem is that, despite some economic growth, not enough new jobs are being created.
Are robots, friends or foes of the future of work? Automation is eliminating some routine jobs but, on the positive side, robots are good partners for workers engaged in tasks that demand analytical, interpersonal, and creative skills, as well as manual physical skills involving dexterity.
We have been living with digital platforms for about a decade now and their impact on changing how we work is beginning to make itself felt. Even so, it merits much greater attention and investigation, but until now the spotlight has been trained firmly on robots and automation.
In 1997, Garry Kasparov, one of the greatest chess players in history, lost a chess match to a supercomputer called Deep Blue. Some years later Kasparov developed “advanced chess,” where a human and a computer team up to play against another human and computer. This mutation of chess is mutually beneficial: the human player has access to the computer’s ability to calculate moves, while the computer benefits from human intuition.
Long one of the world’s most unequal countries, Brazil surprised pundits by recording a massive reduction in household income inequality in the last couple of decades. Between 1995 and 2012, the country’s Gini coefficient for household incomes fell by seven points, from 0.59 to 0.52. (For comparison, all of the inequality increase in the United States between 1967 and 2011 amounted to eight Gini points – according to this study.)
Urban population in Africa will double within the next 25 years and reach 1 billion people by 2040, but concentration of people in cities has not been accompanied by economic density.
Typical African cities share three features that constrain urban development and create daily challenges for businesses and residents: they are crowded, disconnected, and therefore costly, according to a new report titled “Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World.”
There is increasing evidence that labor markets in developed countries are polarizing or hollowing out. On the one hand, the share of employment in high-skilled, high-paying occupations (managers, professionals and technicians) and low-skilled, low-paying occupations (elementary, service, and sales workers) is growing. On the other hand, the share of employment in middle-skilled, middle-paying occupations (clerks, plant and machine operators) is being squeezed. There is ample evidence of polarization in the United States (see Acemoglu and Autor, 2011; Autor and Dorn, 2013; and Autor (2014) for a less technical discussion), and also in Western Europe (Goos, Manning, and Salomons, 2014). Harrigan, Reshef and Toubal (2016), more recently, document the same phenomenon in France, using firm-level data.