With so much attention currently focused on the political arena (most obviously, of course, in the USA with the inauguration of President Trump) it’s easy to become carried away in one’s assessments of the extent to which “politics” drives actual change. Of course, there’s no doubting the scale of the significance of the Trump election, or the Brexit vote, or similar “watershed moments” – but the nature of that significance is somewhat less clear, especially when it comes to the impacts on specific aspects of our lives. It’s somewhat comforting (or perhaps not, depending on one’s affiliation) to think that the person nominally in charge of a country is indeed that – it plays to our natural human desire for order, comprehensibility, justice – but in a world as interconnected and complex as this one, is it not a serious error to overstate the ability of a President Trump, a Prime Minister May and others in similar positions around the world truly to steer a course, rather than simply to keep their ships of state upright in the storm?
Look at the sourcing and outsourcing space specifically. In a number of particular areas President Trump could well have a huge impact: a crackdown on immigration and the offshoring of work, changes to NAFTA, the reversal of the ACA and other policies would affect very substantially certain tranches of the space and those working within them. Likewise, in the UK the way Theresa May is approaching the exit from the EU and the Single Market has deep significance for businesses working in and with the United Kingdom for data protection, for accounting and a host of other areas.
However, when set against some of the macro trends now at play, those policies seem to diminish greatly in importance. How profound a development would a repositioning on offshoring be compared with the automation revolution that threatens/promises to take jobs not outside the USA but away from humans altogether? What does the ACA matter in the face of clinical, diagnostic, pharmaceutical and other technology which promises to revolutionize our entire understanding of medicine and healthcare over the decades to come? Of course, for millions of people what happens to Obamacare is a very big and immediate deal – just as restrictions on immigration may prove to be very significant indeed for many foreign workers in the USA and UK, including those employed in the outsourcing industry. Yet in the grand scheme of things, and over the long term, these are comparatively insignificant events.
In that grand perspective, progress is now determined and driven not by decision-makers in Washington but by scientists and engineers from Silicon Valley to Shanghai, from Berlin to Bangalore. What’s had a greater impact on the day-to-day lives of most people on Earth: Obamacare or the smartphone? Brexit or broadband? What will affect more people more profoundly in years to come: American trade policies or artificial intelligence? Trump can strut and fret upon his stage as much as he likes, but he can’t interfere with Moore’s law. Even if for some staggeringly strange reason he chooses to derail the entire American tech industry, the slack will get picked up elsewhere in the world and the evolution will continue. Policy – even in a country as mighty as the USA – is increasingly a matter of fiddling round the edges, while real change emerges from within and right across the body politic – and from around the wider world.
On the other hand… all the above isn’t entirely accurate. The President of the United States – and his counterparts in Russia and China - does still retain the ability to intervene decisively in the progress of humanity in a catastrophic sense: most obviously militarily, but equally significantly over the long term by derailing any progress being made on climate change and similar threats to our environment. Individuals and their administrations may not be able any longer to steer ships of state to a truly meaningful degree, but they retain the ability to sink them, and the rest of us along with them. So while we observe and adjust to the comparatively minor changes which are coming our way over the next few years as a result of political developments – and by “comparatively minor” I’m certainly not trying to downplay the impact that these changes will have upon many lives – let’s never forget that the shadow of truly titanic, irreversible change still hangs over us a species, and every now and then ponder the wisdom of placing the power to effect that change in such a small number of hands, hands which in many, many other ways are no longer at the tiller of the vessel carrying us into the future.
Jamie Liddell is the Editor-in-Chief of Outsource. He is a journalist with extensive B2B and consumer experience, particularly in the sourcing and international property sectors. A graduate of Cambridge University, Jamie worked as Chief Foreign Correspondent for property media company Blendon Communications before moving into full-time B2B journalism as launch editor of the Shared Services & Outsourcing Network. He took over the helm of the Outsource brand in April 2010 and has since overseen its transformation and evolution into the world's leading publication focusing on the sourcing, outsourcing and business transformation space.