Many are calling the 21st century the “Asian century”. But Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, contends the US will dominate the “networked century” in a recent Foreign Affairs article. Much of the modern world is governed by networks, and converting these networks into economic growth will be key.
This is fairly intuitive: Personal and business networks have long been codified by websites such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Terrorist groups are decentralized webs of “sleeper cells” within larger networks. Across instantaneous cross-border communication, webs of association are increasingly important.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Yet “network power” is perceived as analytically “soft” and distinct from the “hard” power, which nation-states wield. This is a mistake. While the nation-state still matters, a 20th-century world of “billiard ball” states clashing with one another—as depicted by political scientist Arnold Wolfers—has become obsolete.
What does network power mean for India, and how can it take advantage of it?First, supply management chains must be reconceptualized as “value webs,” where firms partner with one another to collaborate on designing goods. The hierarchical system in an outsourcing model, for example, must be replaced with collaborative, nimble and connection-focused models.
Second, a premium should be placed on high-skilled labour as technology in a networked world may undercut cheap labour. Slaughter notes that Nintendo, the video game manufacturer, reshuffled its Chinese factories back to Japan—despite the high labour cost. In Japan, Nintendo uses automated factories, employing fewer workers.
But networks are not limited to supply chain management. Innovation, a driver of economic growth, requires collaboration. Wiki projects, for example, demonstrate one important conduit of innovation: individuals clashing, constructively, with one another. Such an environment requires what Slaughter calls a “culture of creation”. A truly open society in India, with trust and transparency, is key.
Finally, Indians must be “living links” in an integrated world. Immigration, study abroad programmes and travel should be fostered so the global class of Indians continues to grow.
Slaughter writes that “the gap between those who are connected to global networks and those who are excluded from them will sharply multiply existing inequities.” Such a prognostication cannot be ignored.
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