South Africa and ‘AI-styled political correctness’

The boom of artificial intelligence in the workplace seems to go hand in hand with the decline in farm work (and other manual labour) – a detrimental outcome for countries such as South Africa, which suffers from severely low employment rates. Shawn Hagedorn offers his opinion on this new AI era, stating that it should be viewed as “an opportunity to educate the world about how South Africa’s overindulgence of ‘woke’ ideals has led to opportunities for our young adults being crushed.” However, he also delves into how the latest AI tools can be utilised constructively to “help offset dismal education outcomes to increase the number of school leavers that get jobs.” For more, read the article below. – Carmen Mileder

Can AI help SA?

By Shawn Hagedorn

Asking ChatGPT to identify the most profound change of the last 200 years yields a lengthy response about the Industrial Revolution. An AI-styled political correctness seems to preclude a simple reference, such as the decline in farm work from 80% of all jobs to 2%.

Whereas the industrial era spurred a massive migration away from farm work, the emerging AI-induced workplace disruptions are arriving amid recent headlines such as “Michigan Cites Racism in Decision To Ban Term ‘Field Worker’”. Words and free speech are important. So are jobs.

South Africa’s indulgence of woke-framed politics has produced a truly horrific job market for school leavers which is likely to continue to further deteriorate for many years. This should provoke much caution among public commentators and voters here and in distant lands. Perhaps it will even need to help offset a new brand of wokeness promoted by AI bots.

Societies had always been grounded by a rough pragmatism enforced by survival pressures. Then, starting in earnest about ten generations ago, the politics of might-is-right began losing out to the enshrining of individual rights such as free speech and property rights. This sparked rising prosperity which expanded lifespans. 

More recently, rights which protect individual liberty and promote prosperity have been eroded to favour groups deemed to be “at risk.” This has happened in many jurisdictions to varying degrees. Our government’s embrace of such thinking has been recklessly emphatic, and the results have been devastatingly negative.

Biases

The debates about cancel-culture issues which rage across many parts of North America and Europe will now expand to address biases – whether perceived or real – in the AI algorithms which have begun to infiltrate the workplace. This should be seen as an opportunity to educate the world about how South Africa’s overindulging of ideals has led to opportunities for our young adults being crushed.

The breadth and diversity of our government’s failures have impeded our daily activities to such an extent that we haven’t yet grasped the steadily compounding consequences of our youth unemployment crisis. We don’t even track the most critical statistic, the number of our young adults who have remained unemployed for so long that they have no realistic prospect of ever being meaningfully employed. If we were tracking this, we would realise that the numbers are rising sharply with no reasonable prospect of a reprieve in the near- or medium-term.

In many parts of the world, it has never been easier to create jobs. The Federal Reserve Bank in Washington has been raising interest rates aggressively, yet the US unemployment rate has barely budged and is still solidly below 4%. Demand for labour has remained strong in countries ranging from Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. While each of these countries is grappling with its particular challenges, they all focus on achieving high productivity.

Conversely, our policies prioritise achieving more equitable outcomes through redistribution. As a consequence, our youth unemployment crisis is as entrenched as it is obscene. This traces directly to government policies hostile to growth and commercial principles. Even property rights, the bedrock of successful economies, is ridiculed as a source of inequality by our ruling party.

Families progressed by learning

Working in the fields was never attractive. Nor was there ever a pain free transition path. Skills had to be learned to get better jobs and to survive in urban environments. Families progressed by learning to save and to invest in the next generation through education and intergenerational wealth transfers.

No viable economy has ever prioritised redistribution ahead of growth to the extent that our post-1994 government has. Due to the prevalence of persistent unemployment among school leavers, a majority of our young adults are likely to become permanently marginalised.

Those in prosperous countries who promote or resist cancel-culture politics can learn much from our failed experiment with over indulging redistribution focused policies. Many of their economies are so robust that it is difficult to see the damage such policies inflict.

It is not unreasonable to suspect that some sort of new era is unfolding. We should consider how many societies have flourished spectacularly, notwithstanding substantial missteps, over the past several generations, and then contemplate the dismal prospects of South Africa’s teenagers. With such a perspective in mind, we should then explore how the latest AI tools might help offset dismal education outcomes to increase the number of school leavers that get jobs.

While life is easier and fairer than it has ever been; life is neither fair nor easy. As the saying goes, ‘life is what you make of it.’

  • The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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