Our economic prosperity and quality of living standards have been progressing due to the increasing utilization of ideas. These ideas have been making better usages of labor and natural resources. Hence, there has been a decreasing role of labor in making and using products. However, appropriate technology encourages labor-intensive alternatives–and less use of ideas. Hence, the thesis of appropriate technology is inappropriate for uplifting developing countries.
Appropriate technologies are a labor-intensive alternative to modern industrial innovations for developing countries. As human labor takes the role of providing energy, they are energy efficient, environment friendly, and locally autonomous. Is it a proposition of promoting the idea of taking developing countries back to the preindustrial age? Does it entail that the plan of appropriate technology is inappropriate for uplifting developing countries?
Some of the examples of appropriate technologies are hand-powered water pumps. Besides, universal nut sheller, self-contained solar lamps, and passive solar building designs are also examples. Proponents of appropriate technology emphasize the technology as people-centered. But if technology innovations do not keep growing and becoming cheaper in serving the purposes increasingly better, how can technology be people-centered?
If a technological approach is not scalable, how can it be relevant to economic development? How can a preindustrial age approach be a better alternative to technology transfer or more capital-intensive technology from industrialized nations to developing countries? Hence, there appears to be a fundamental gap in thinking about technology’s role in driving economic development and being people-centered.
Industrial revolutions in perspective for understanding that appropriate technology is inappropriate for uplifting developing countries
Our ancestors used their art form of knowledge, institutive ideas, and skills of tinkering and Craftsmanship in innovating solutions to get their jobs done in the preindustrial age. More or less, all major communities were self-sufficient in innovating and making those artifacts. They used to use their own muscle, domesticated animals, the water flow of local rivers, and locally available wind flow to power those machines. Hence, those practical solutions were sustainable and environmentally friendly. However, those solutions did not allow them to make produced outputs increasingly better and also cheaper.
They were relying on natural resources, labor, and intuitive ideas. Although per capita natural resource was far higher in those days than what we have today, their economic prosperity was far less. Moreover, they were also working harder and also longer periods than we do today. But their quality of living standard was lower. Why do we observe such a sharp contrast? This is because they had far less—and poorer quality–the supply of ideas in making use of natural resources and labor.
Industrial revolutions emerged due to the creation and exploitation of the Flow of Ideas
The advent of the first industrial revolution had been due to the fact that scientists in England became successful in transferring an intuitive understanding of the functioning of the steam engine into scientific knowledge. Subsequently, technologists and Engineers started exploiting this supply of scientific knowledge into a flow of ideas. Hence, this flow of ideas led to the design and development of increasingly more effective and efficient steam engines. Consequentially, that flow of ideas in the form of increasingly better and cheaper steam engines led to growing Wealth creation from the same amount of natural resources and labor. Furthermore, the trend continued in subsequent industrial revolutions. Hence, the flow of ideas out of science in making better utilization of natural resources and labor is at the core of economic prosperity and uplifting of quality of living standards.
Inherent incapability to open endless frontier of growth
We produce economic value out of natural resources, labor, and ideas. Due to the growing population and depleting natural resources, our per capita natural resource stock has been eroding. On the other hand, we would like to supply less labor for having a better quality of life. Thus, increasing the supply of ideas is our sole means of addressing this conflicting situation. Instead of empowering developing countries to create the capacity of creating the flow of ideas for increasing the wealth creation capacity, the appropriate technology thesis encourages developing countries to rely on labor. Moreover, it also discourages to befit from imported ideas—in the form of technology transfer and import of capital machinery.
By closing or narrowing the door of increasing idea supply, how can developing countries keep growing with their depleting natural resources? This thesis of labor-intensive appropriate technology runs the risk of slowing down the development progression—let alone opening the endless frontier of growth.
Relies on tinkering and craftsmanship for having makeshift solutions—going back to the preindustrial age
As explained, the development of an alternative to state-of-the-art industrial solutions through makeshift arrangements out of tinkering and craftsmanship gives the impression of self-dependence and sustainability. However, this is an attempt to go back to the preindustrial age. Well, the argument could be that having something is better than nothing. At best, it could be an intermediary stage. However, this focus should not be relying on tinkering and craftsmanship for creating a path of continued prosperity. This is not going to happen. We must craft a way of linking it to the flow of ideas out of scientific knowledge, technology advancement, and engineering.
Appropriate technology is inappropriate for making innovations increasingly better and cheaper
Many of the industrial innovations that we have been using did not show up in their current form. Invariably, they emerged in primitive form. However, they are people-centered. The whole purpose of innovating them has been to help people get their jobs done by making them increasingly better at decreasing costs. All these products are evolving for being more useful and less energy-consuming through the addition of a flow of ideas. The creation and addition of the flow of ideas by turning intuition into science have been at the core of making them increasingly suitable to serve people’s purposes better.
Appropriate technology is inappropriate for supporting competition force
Appropriate technology solutions are rigid. Due to the lack of flow of ideas, they are not amenable to progression for being better and cheaper. Hence, profit-making competition does not take off in diffusing them. This is one of the underlying reasons for their slow diffusion and localized usages.
Appropriate technology is inappropriate for creating quality jobs
Instead of scientists and engineers, appropriate technology solutions require tinkerers, craftsmen, and technicians. As a result, appropriate technology is inappropriate in creating quality jobs for science and engineering graduates. On the other hand, the mainstream industrial economy creates quality jobs for them. It demands the flow of scientific knowledge and the flow of ideas for making their outputs increasingly better and cheaper. Hence, the focus should be on engaging science and engineering graduates to create ideas and effectively and efficiently implement them with engineering to create economic value.
Appropriate technology runs the risk of offering a misleading impression
The apparent impression that appropriate technology is appropriate for developing countries appears to be misleading. This approach of harnessing technology for development is highly inappropriate. This is a thesis of taking developing countries back to the preindustrial age. The more prudent approach should be on creating the pathway for creating the flow of ideas and transferring them into economic value. In certain cases, appropriate technology solutions could be an intermediary step–at best. Instead of making it labor-intensive for turning industrial solutions energy efficient, we should figure out alternatives. One of the ways could be to engage a growing number of science and engineering graduates in redesigning industrial products with ideas for requiring less labor and energy.
In a nutshell, the underlying thesis of appropriate technology runs the risk of blocking developing countries’ progression. Instead of creating economic value out of the flow of ideas, it keeps increasing dependence on labor and natural resources. Therefore, it’s fair to say that appropriate technology is inappropriate for uplifting developing countries—let alone opening an endless frontier of growth.