Economy 4.0 – A wonderful new Digital World?


Event data

18. 11. 2016
Grüne Wirtschaft
Albert Schweitzer Haus
Isolde Charim, Philosophin, Publizistin und wissenschaftliche Kuratorin am Kreisky Forum in Wien
Manfred Füllsack, Professor für Systemwissenschaften an der Uni Graz
Claudius Marx, Hauptgeschäftsführer der Industrie- und Handelskammer Hochrhein-Bodensee
Volker Plass, Bundessprecher der Grünen Wirtschaft, Moderator

The evening was surprisingly well attended, the room in the Albert Schweitzer Haus was packed. I was very curious about this discussion, above all because I have recently encountered the term „4.0“ with increasing frequency. All areas of the economy, from „Industry 4.0“ to „Middle Class 4.0“ appear to be affected.

But what can we imagine with this ominous „4.0“? Mr Marx thankfully got to the heart of it right at the beginning:

‘4.0’ is a term which is used exclusively in Germany and – borrowed from there – also here in Austria. The rest of the world simply refers to digitalisation.

In the framework of this exponentially advancing digitalisation, we are confronted with an almost incomprehensible flood of changes, which, above all, create fear. And precisely this fear was the „secret“ core topic of this event.

What are we afraid of? Who is afraid? Do we even need to be afraid?

Everyone agreed that everything is changing and at full speed. We live in a time when the whole world is equipped with sensors. We are able to capture everything in real time and to transfer it wirelessly and to file this data to infinite memory in the clouds of this world. The analysis of this data has been an issue for some time.

But where does this lead us?

Everything is going to be fine

Manfred Füllsack stands for the vision that, at the end of this development, work will primarily be done automatically and that we systemically have to, above all, take care of the distribution of the production profits. But he also rightly recognised that this development will ultimately occur at the expense of the middle class. After all, digitalisation no longer affects only routine jobs but rather every form of rationalisable workplace.

At the same time Füllsack points out that many of these developments will ultimately be delayed. Therefore there are still train drivers even if, from a purely technological perspective, they are no longer absolutely necessary.

For Charim, who regularly publishes in the Wiener Zeitung and the TAZ, it was, above all, a question of identity as well as the threatening loss of sovereignty of the individual. For centuries, we have defined ourselves via production work. What we do and what we achieve strongly defines who we are, influences our political views and, of course, politics itself and other countless areas of life.

The development, which we are exposed to through digitalisation, therefore creates a loss of identity from a social point of view. In her pointed philosophical way, Charim observes that it ultimately depends on the social fantasy in dealing with our dystopias to which we virtually succumb.

Because what is needed is a new human image.

Marx, a trained jurist, equally sees the chances as well as the risks in this subject and primarily considers this digitalisation as a tool. Accordingly, it is up to us how we use this tool. He also states that digitalisation leads to a convergence of work places.

Work places are becoming increasingly similar: someone sits – at least for an increasing part of his working time – in front of a computer. In the ideal case, we use the absolute transparency to become more clever. Marx, however, above all questions the quality and the rules of play.

Everything is becoming atomised. This leads to the dissolution of solid structures. Law lags behind such developments by ten to twenty years.

Claudius Marx

Naturally reference was very often made to the preceding „still“ revolutions, which we have also survived, as well as to Fordism and its consequences. While many work places have fallen victim of the development, at the same time new areas of work have been created. Finally Marx pointed out that the people who fall victim to such changes are never – or only seldom – those who could use the new chances.

At the end of the day, the tenor of this evening was, however, „Everything is going to be fine!“

A wonderful new world?

Digitalisation may be one – perhaps even a significant – cause of the problems of our time but I think that we would be making it too easy for ourselves if we indeed assumed that this was the crux of the matter.

Nevertheless: Humanity is facing a massive challenge and the advancing digitalisation is, in my opinion, a significant core topic.

We are lucky to know that we are in the middle of a revolution and, as Charim rightly pointed out, it depends on the social, on our fantasy, how we deal with these massive changes.

The exponentially advancing digitalisation requires huge changes in our world of work, in our social structures and in how we deal with our own identity. At the same time, this development forces innumerable people and families further and further to the economic and social brink. We have to react to this in time!

We will not be able to develop the solutions to these problems overnight. And precisely because of this, I consider it even more important that we deal with these topics in as wide a public sphere as possible, that we show active interest and seek ways as inclusive as possible to meet this „new world“.

We have to shake off our fear of the future. Also, and above all, because there is not ONE universal solution. Also, and above all, because this development can at the same time turn out to be an opportunity or a risk. Or in the words of Joachim Gauck:

It is up to us not to fear changes but rather to accept them as a responsibility.

All in all, a highly valuable evening.


Christian Avgulas

Picture-Source: Bianca Traxler CC BY-SA 4.0


Image Title Author License
cc_biancatraxler-18 Bianca Traxler CC BY-SA 4.0