Who pays the price for a resilient economy?

March 7, 2022

Europe is trying to develop a resilient economy that is less dependent on other regions for its supply of energy and other critical resources. Because of that, the EU plans to invest tens of billions of euros in semiconductor production, Portugal and Serbia are looking to develop lithium mines, and the Netherlands aim to invest massively in hydrogen production facilities. This newfound spirit of industrial politics will result in economic growth, develop local employment and, hopefully, make our economy less vulnerable to global political unrest.

However, the question remains whether we are willing to pay the price that comes with these ambitions. In part, this price relates to the monetary costs of making our own chips, batteries and fuels. That is, we are swapping super-efficient global markets for more expensive local supply chains. Yet, there is also a social price we have pay and this may – in many cases – prove more difficult to swallow. In both Portugal and Serbia, people have fiercely protested mining plans as they would have an enormous environmental impact. The same goes for objections to (large-scale) solar and wind projects impacting valuable ecosystems.

Whether we choose to reshore specific value chains or not, we have to come to terms with the fact that, over the past centuries, we have grown used to an economic system in which others paid the social costs of our progress. Now, we have to decide whether we are willing to carry the burden of progress ourselves.

Burning questions:
  • Homemade computer chips and batteries will be more expensive than those from low-income countries. Are (permanent?) subsidies the logical route to offset these costs or will Europe raise tariff on imports?
  • What kind of narrative could European citizens convince of the need of more local production, even when it results in ecological damage, safety hazards or other threats to people’s wellbeing?

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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About the author(s)

Fascinated by the interplay between technology and society, Sjoerd has studied the role of different actors in the innovation and implementation of new technologies throughout his career. At the thinktank, he is mainly involved in research and consultancy projects for clients, and strategic and thematic research for sister company Dasym. Among other themes, Sjoerd frequently writes and speaks about the power and danger of digital technology, as well as sustainability in both technological and institutional innovation.

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