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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 18-04-2018 19:18

Eight minutes from our future

CIPPEC's executive director shares thoughts on the dilemmas facing Argentina, including the future of education, work, politics and our cities.

If the sun ran out right now, it would take us eight minutes to realise. Afterwards, we would be left in the dark.

That is the amount of time it takes for sunlight to travel through space and get to us. Eight minutes is the measurement of the distance there is between the sun and the earth, between a phenomenon and its impact on us. Eight minutes is also a period of time: the time we have to intervene between causes and their effects.

We cannot stop light from the sun. In the same way, we cannot stop the enormous transformations that are going on in the world either.

Climate change, for example, is a fact, and even though we have managed to alleviate global warming somewhat, its impact will be long lasting. It is a planetary phenomenon, one which threatens to worsen if we do not intervene immediately. Think of the floods that devastate our cities more and more. Or of the seven million tonnes of harvest we lost as a country thanks to drought.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is another relentless phenomenon. Digitisation is affecting and will continue to affect our economies. It will do so at an unprecedented speed: it took 10,000 years to go from hunting and gathering to agriculture, but the next phase of productive transformation will only take 15 years.

These transformations, this immediacy, will also affect politics. Power is mutating; it is becoming more complex. Just as Moisés Naím wrote, it will be easier to acquire power but also easier to lose it. This is why political parties all over the world are bewildered, without a compass or a map. Look at what we discovered over the last few weeks: electoral campaigns take place on social media – but in our laws they only exist in radio or television.

These changes affect the whole world. With all the complexities they imply, they are also an opportunity that only countries who have used their eight minutes between cause and effect to act will be able to take advantage of.

These topics will not only be resolved at a local level. In many different aspects, distinguishing between domestic and foreign politics has become obsolete. A security policy isolated from global actions against drug-trafficking, for example, will be a bad policy. Our decisions are becoming more interdependent and the room for manoeuvre is smaller than before. This is why we need to take more precise and coordinated decisions – because, if we do not solve the structural problems that exist, what is today an opportunity may become a conviction.

What are we going to do in Argentina to reduce our technological lag – which is estimated to stand at eight years according to the World Bank – that underlines the enormous differences between sectors? How are we going to redefine our social protections to guarantee rights when automation can lead to even greater informal employment? Are our institutions prepared to regulate these changes and respond to new problems?

A central challenge will be how we implement reforms in secondary education. A study carried out by CIPPEC shows that in Argentina there will be 500,000 young people who do not start or drop out early from middle school.

The future is playing out every day in our classrooms – and not only there. At this moment there is a young person crossing Plaza Italia on his bicycle, with a thermal backpack. He makes deliveries for a digital food platform. Figures from the INDEC national statistics bureau shows that one out of every three jobs is informal, unregistered. What is also worrying, apart from this, is that the new labour market is much more complex than the former and it requires a new battery of policies. Political, trade and business leaders are facing an enormous challenge ahead.

Our societies are changing. Estimates indicate that in 25 years Argentina will be a country with a greater number of people who need care than people who work and produce. Therefore, the demographic bonus will be converted into debt and we will face great challenges in terms of economic capacity and taxation. Twenty-five years can seem like an eternity today, but reverting a demographic trend is like changing the course of an ocean liner in one minute.

The Legislature plays a central role in anticipating these problems. For example, this year there will be a reform on parental leave. In reality, Argentine legislation gives 90 days to a woman when she is a mother and two days to fathers. The strengthening of this system not only promotes gender equality but also serves to lighten the burden of care work at home undertaken by women, the group who are most disadvantaged when participating in the labour market, hunting for good jobs and holding on to them. Women will find their jobs less affected: this will result in greater economic growth and more female leaders.

Reverting the demographic bonus also requires recognising another priority: early childhood, something to which we still owe a comprehensive approach. Even though poverty has been reduced, 40 percent of children in Argentina are poor according to INDEC’s figures. This is an unsustainable situation in the present and in the future.

The future lives today in cities, which are becoming larger and more widespread. According to figures from our Digital Urban Laboratory, urban areas in Argentina grew two times quicker than the population over the last 10 years, which wears down the ecosystem and requires better transport and energy infrastructure. This is why we need to promote land management programmes to achieve more compact, sustainable and integrated cities. The transformations taking place are dizzying but some of our institutions are not only absent from the present, they seem to have remained in the past. Now, they must respond to the demands of citizens. Reforming justice, for example, is a task that needs perseverance but it is essential. There are no 3D printers for institutions. They need to be built.

We all know that an effective State needs to compete with strategic public office posts, stimulate senior management and evaluate policies. However, in 35 years of democracy, we still haven’t managed to safeguard the bureaucratic structure of the State in election cycles, a prerequisite for any policy that is to be sustainable.

Cities, education, work and politics are all transforming in leaps and bounds. This year the T20, the public policy group of the G20 led by CIPPEC with CARI, will present to the G20 nations ideas and proposals to navigate this time of uncertainty.

The light that left the sun eight minutes ago has already reached the earth. Like many of the great transformations that have already been unchained, its impact will have an effect on us, sooner or later, whether we like it or not. It is our responsibility to see it before it gets to us, and to act accordingly.

What is leadership, if it is not getting ahead of the present and anticipating change? Those who have taken on positions of leadership in the government, in businesses, in trade unions, in courts, in journalism… at some point you managed to see the changes in your time, you anticipated them and acted.

Now we need you to do it again.

* Julia Pomares is the executive director at the Centre of the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), an independent, impartial and non-profit organization that raises awareness and offers recommendation to create better public policies to encourage equity and growth in Argentina. This is an edited version of a speech Pomares delivered during the organisation’s annual fundraising dinner, which was held earlier this week.

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Julia Pomares

Julia Pomares

Julia Pomares is the executive director of CIPPEC.

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