By F. E. Ogbimi
The passage, Ecclesiastes 1: 9-11, 18: said, ‘What has happened before will happen again. What has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new in the world. Look, they say, here is something new! But no, it has all happened before, long before we were born. No one remembers what has happened in the past, and no one in days to come will remember what happens between now and then. The wiser you are, the more worries you have; the more you know, the more it hurts.
Europe had agricultural economies and experienced mass unemployment, low productivity, prevalent poverty, diseases and other unhappy situations for centuries. The inappropriate solutions proposed by governments and leaders then are the same being proposed by African governments and leaders, regional and world bodies for the same problems in Africa today.
All through the 1500s, English farm families were dispossessed and forced to look after themselves as best as they could. The proportion of England’s population that was destitute rose dramatically. By the end of the 16th century, many thousands of common people were forced into begging, stealing and prostitution. A common belief in an agrarian economy, is that the real solution to unemployment and poverty, is to provide land for able people to farm and make a living themselves. This thinking probably influenced the actions taken by individuals and government concerning England’s poverty and unemployment problems during the early 1600s. It was during the early 1600s that charters were first issued for establishing colonies in the New World – the Americas. Such ventures were probably perceived as solutions to the problems of the English poor, but they were not. The healthy and able-bodied poor could be sent to the colonies where people were in short supply and there was uncultivated land. That was the beginning of how the English poor (area boys?) were exported to America. Sufferings and poverty continued in Britain for many more centuries. The general grievance, civil wars and military rule in England during the period 1640-1688 had a lot to do with unemployment. Thus, entrepreneurship and self-employment in agriculture did not solve the problem of unemployment in agrarian Britain. The British experience was typical of European nations. Britain did not establish a public educational system till after it had achieved Industrial Revolution (IR) and fought the two World Wars. Britain only had apprenticeship scheme. That is, though European nations did not have formal educational systems, they experienced mass unemployment for many centuries. European nations’ experiences suggest that it is not inappropriate educational systems that produce mass unemployment.
Britain achieved the first modern IR in the period 1770-1850. When Britain achieved the IR, adult male and females in the nation were not enough to fill available job openings. Consequently, employers of labour had to resort to employing children to work for many hours in the day. This is the basis of the scandalous child-labour in Britain during the early times of the European industrialization. History, therefore, demonstrates that rapid economic growth and industrialization are the solutions to mass unemployment and poverty.
The American experience was not quite different from the European one. Virginia, the first colony set-up in the New World by British businessmen and the crown was in 1606. By the 1770s, thirteen colonies had been set-up. The colonies revolted against the crown in 1775 and fought the War of Independence in the period 1775-1783. Assisted by many other European nations, the colonies won the war and the United States was born. The destitute of colonial America was faced by a system of relief that was similar to the one in Britain under the English poor law. The American War of Independence subjected the Americans to severe hardship. During the early 1800s, America was a village-nation; over 90 per cent of America was made up of villages which had no contact with each other; the mother, father and children worked to provide food, shelter and clothing. America achieved IR during the period 1850-1900. Western and Eastern nations toiled for 2000 (two thousand) years and longer before achieving the modern IR. The United States was a special case. The Americans transformed a wilderness into a World Power in about 300 years. There is a lot to learn from the experiences of other nations.
Growing economies demand employment of all categories; stagnating economies experience mass unemployment. Employment (in quantity and quality) is the engine that drives the economy; employment is the blood of the economy. The levels of entrepreneurship and self-employment are inversely related to national productivity. That is, the higher are the levels of entrepreneurship and self-employment (especially in agriculture), the lower is the national productivity of a nation. Entrepreneurship and self-employment are atomized production. They prevent a nation from enjoying the economies of scale, otherwise linkage effects. They are survivalist activities in nations operating below the poverty line. Entrepreneurship and self-employment do not create enough wealth to raise a nation above the poverty line. Nations with many people in entrepreneurship and self-employment are invariably poor nations.
Americans displayed fully the versatility of an educated people. The New England States and Pennsylvania were the first to establish public school systems to educate all young people. Following the discipline of the mind by education, the young American began to acquire one type of skill after the other, never contented with any single type and always learning. It was also in the states where sound and systematic education and training for acquisition of skills had been practised longest and where knowledge, skills and competences were most developed that the greatest manufacturing occurred first.
The USA fought a civil war 1861-1865. At the end of the 19th Century, Americans looked back at the thirty-five years after the civil war with amazement. The entire nation seemed to have been transformed in their life time. All around them were huge new cities, large population, a bewildering array of new machinery, a vast railroad network and thousands of new factories, mills and mechanized farms. In just about 300 years, from 1606 when the first colony was established in the New World till 1910 when it was clear that the USA had achieved the modern industrial revolution, the nation achieved more than European and Asian nations achieved in 2000-3000 years. European and Asian nations neglected education and training for that long.
Mao Zedung, is the father of modern China. In 1949, the Chinese economy was in chaos. The Russians on whom the Chinese had depended for a long time had quarreled with them and they had stripped Manchuria, the most built-up city of everything. The transport system was in ruins and the currency worthless. The Chinese used the resource they have in abundance, people. ‘Let the people walk on two legs,’ said Mao Zedung, the Chinese leader, ‘let the native skills and local materials supplement modern technology’.
Ogbimi writes from Lagos.
Mao probably meant to link more directly learning activities in educational institutions and working/learning in artisans’ and craftsmen’s work settings in the economy outside the campuses of educational institutions. Everyone in China (then divided into communes) worked together. The Great Leap, 1958-1961, was also based on the principle of the educated and the traditional people working together. That was how the Chinese having drifted during the period 1000 B. C.-1949, 2949 years, commenced accelerated scientific growth and industrialization to become the fastest industrializing nation in the world.
Lee Kuan Yew is the founder of modern Singapore. He became Prime Minister at the age of 35. He was a lawyer. He did not transform Singapore because he merely stayed long in office or because he was a lawyer. He did the right things that build a nation. In an interview he granted Michael Bociurkiw, in Forbes Global, Magazine, October 30, 2000, p.35, the interviewer asked, ‘One journalist described Singapore a “nice house in a rough neighbourhood.” Can you explain that analogy?’ Lee Yew said, ‘We can’t prevent the neighbourhood from going wrong from time to time. We can only prevent ourselves from going wrong. -In the early days the NSTB (the National Science and Technology Board) figured that because of the low percentage of research scientists and other knowledge workers in Singapore, it needed to quickly build up a capability for knowledge generation. Investments were made in the areas of science and technology. In less than 10 years, the number of research scientists and engineers rose from less than 28 per 10,000 workers to about 70, close to the 75 that most developed economies have. Now, there is a strong base of science and technology covering diverse areas.’ Developing the indispensable scientific capabilities, again, was the primary basis of the Singapore miracle. African nations, including Nigeria need industrialization, not entrepreueurs.
Ogbimi writes from Lagos.