CPA Ontario Insights Webinar with Fareed Zakaria on the Digital Divide

Fareed Zakaria against node background

The covid-19 pandemic has led to a boom in digital technology, but risks entrenching inequality, says Zakaria

Technology has let developed economies stay open for business – and in some places keep flourishing – during the Covid-19 pandemic. Companies of all sorts and sizes have embraced technology at a speed that previously seemed impossible.

Digital transformation along with the rapid development and roll-out of vaccines, are the essential positives to come out of the pandemic, according to Fareed Zakaria, the host of GPS for CNN Worldwide, a columnist for The Washington Post, a contributing editor for The Atlantic and a bestselling author.

But the downside of the crisis has been a rapid increase in inequality among people, businesses and economies, Zakaria told CPA Ontario members during a webinar as part of its Insights series.

“This pandemic has shifted the world to an almost entirely digital space where the big get bigger and the small get wiped out.”

While the shift to a digital economy has been positive in many ways, it has exacerbated income disparity by exposing and reinforcing inequalities between businesses and workers who can operate online and those who cannot. Small companies that quickly adopted online business models, such as restaurants that implemented delivery systems, have been able to survive. But a world that favours online businesses has also meant more profit accrues to the biggest companies.

Getting the bottom third of the workforce into jobs again is the most critical economic imperative now, Zakaria believes. Industry can play a critical role in helping this group adjust to the kinds of work that are the norm in the new, digital economy. Businesses, educational institutions and government will need to collaborate on providing practical computer literacy training to workers who lack digital skills.

A lesson of the pandemic, according to Zakaria, has been the importance not just of having effective government but of having effective societies too. This cohesiveness will be crucial as communities think more about how to measure and manage risk in the post-pandemic world. We haven’t fully begun to understand the consequences of prolonged economic shutdowns, says Zakaria. “There is going to be another pandemic,” he says, but “we cannot shut down the world economy again.” In the future, we will need to be more clear-headed in measuring the costs and benefits of our response.