Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Of financial Tsunami, recision and technology

Like the lava of an active volcano, the on-going global economic violence, which erupted in the second half of last year in the United States of America, the headquarters of capitalism and market economy, has become a monumental catastrophe sweeping away a whopping 51 million jobs world-wide according to the CNN survey.

There seems to be unanimity of opinion that the crises are unprecedented; no replica of it in History -not even the Great Depression of the 1930s. This will probably be the first time in living memory when the world will be contending with the twin-problems of untold financial famine vis-à-vis economic recession of this magnitude simultaneously.

Further more, no one knows how messy it will get before it starts getting better: are we actually at the beginning of the end, as Wilson Churchill, one time British Prime Minister once asked - or the end of the beginning?

Suffice to say that this is made in America crisis – even though the whole world is catching cold. It will be recalled that the chain of events arising from the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the re-capitalization of AIG, CDOs, the merger between Citi and the Bank of America, the Madoff fraud juxtaposed with the sub prime mortgage crisis served as the immediate cause.

But by benefit of hindsight, the remote causes of this systemic failure could partly be linked to the rapacious greed of the business elite (the CEOs) and their irrational exuberances. Sadly enough, the US has not found the right formula with which to solve the current complex economic quadratic equation.

I will explain. When the Asian Tigers bubble went burst in the 1990S the three solutions prescribed by the ‘doctors’ of capitalism from the US to the then Japanese and Korean leadership were: one, do not throw good money against bad money, that is, allow all the sick companies and banks to die a natural death. Two, raise the lending interest rate. And three, increase consumption. That was then.

Now that the chicken has come home to roost and the ‘doctor’ is sneezing contagiously, it is amazing that the ‘doctor’ is administering the exact opposite of what it once prescribed: throwing tax payer money (good money) to save (bad money) the likes of AIG, GM, and Chrysler motors among others. Two, reduce the lending rate to below one percent. And three, reduce consumption. Even then the world leaders that gathered in Davos failed to come up with concrete actionable steps that can take us out of the woods.

This is a session of job losses; it poured on week4 of 2009: Caterpillar Company uprooted 20,000 of their staff in one day; the Japanese foremost computer maker, NEC shifted 20,000 staff into the labour market, while 19000 jobs were fumigated to death by Pfizer, ING bank sent home 2,500; Microsoft deleted 5000 jobs in one day; Phillips ‘electrocuted’ about 10,000 jobs; Intel, the Chips maker, interred 7000 jobs, while 5000 jobs were crushed by Honda car, UK. Boeing dropped 10,000 staffs; and Kodak offloaded 4,500 staff. ; About 20 million jobs in China and another 10 million in India are now history. The list is endless.

Almost all the FORTUNE 500 companies are bleeding. The crisis had consumed one European leader while the charismatic French President, Nicolas Sarkozy is sweating because of the on-going workers strike in his country. The French’s fear that bread may soon disappear from the table in France if a quick solution is not found to stop the rain of job loss is real.

Recall it was shortage of bread that led to the French revolts of 1830, 1884 and 1871 In Britain the new .slogan as people demonstrated on the streets is: ‘British jobs for the British people’.

Already, Americans are groaning. Just a few days ago, an American, Ervin Lupo killed his entire nuclear family in five minutes. when he shot dead his three girls and two boys together with his wife before he turned the revolver on himself. Reason? Lupo and his wife were among the thousands of Americans that were badly beaten by the Week4 2009 rain of job losses.

In his suicide note, Lupo called his family situation as tragic: ‘so after a horrendous ordeal, my wife and I feel it better to end our lives and why leave our children in someone else’s hands’. Another Lupo must not happen in the States otherwise the kitchen may get too hot, too early for President Obama.

Suddenly, economists have started taking another look at the viability and sustainability of American brand of capitalism in the New World. Is this the end of capitalism as a system as Karl Marx earlier predicted? True, Marx had earlier predicted that Capitalism in the ultimate analysis will go into self-liquidation as a result of apparent contradictions and lopsidedness in the distribution of income.

Some economists are advocating for social market economy- the Germany brand of capitalism.

President Sarkozy is calling for ‘moralization of capitalism’ with emphasis on entrepreneurship, work, and corporate governance. All said the videos of recession which we are watching life daily does not signify the demise of capitalism as a system. However, the unbridle globalization which has created bigger inequalities among nations and peoples, and therefore, makes it possible for the Americans and Europeans to eat themselves to obesity at the expense of the rest of the world should be reviewed with dispatch.

Where does all this leave Nigeria? The fact that we have not been badly hit like the Americans, the Europeans and the Asians in this crisis should not be celebrated by our rulers as a sign of sound economic heath. Rather, it epitomizes how inconsequential Nigeria and Africa economies are. The G20 nations control 86% of the world economy. We are not yet connected to the global economy grid.

FORTUNE 500 companies use Nigeria as a dumping centres not a production base. It is tantamount to deceit for CBN leadership to submit that the ‘fundamentals of Nigeria economy are strong’- one wonders from which Hymn book they are singing. Ours is a‘boju-boju economy’ (hide and seek): nothing is real-what you get is what you get and not what you see or hear.

The symptoms of grave illness are very glaring on our economy. With 70 per cent graduate unemployment rate, a dying real sector, a feeble financial sector, and a shrinking Oil sectors- we do not need a soothsayer to tell us there is fire on the mountain. All motion, no movement.

Going forward, for Nigeria to join the train of globalization it must transit from a manually-driven, oil-based economy to a technologically-savvy, knowledge –based economy with accent on productivity and accountability. We must come up with new set of values and principles that reward honest handwork, innovation and entrepreneurship and punish rent-collectors.

We need to re-define our relationship in the context of the emerging new globalization; a situation where we sheepishly open our doors to all sort of imported junks from China and India to the detriment of local factories should be reviewed. We are still lackadaisical and ad-hoc in our approach to the development of ICT in Nigeria.

Outsourcing can generate thrice the amount of dollars we make from oil annually if we remove the economic, cultural and attitudinal barriers that make cost of doing business in Nigeria prohibitive. The nations that will thrive in this chaos are the smart ones with vibrant middle class, leadership that are frugal and forward- thinking.

To become an outstanding outsourcing destination, Nigeria must infuse information communication technology in its DNA. Time to wear our thinking cap is today!

•Akano, CEO New Horizons, is a Leadership coach and seminar presenter on Innovation & Winning. timakano1@gmial.com / timakano@newhorizonsnigeria.com.
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