The Future Retold

It is a BBC documentary yet to be broadcast. But we already have cold sweat streaming down our spine. In the documentary, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has done some science-based crystal ball-gazing and come up with a definite solution for the survival of the human species in the future.
“The human species will have to populate a new planet within 100 years if it is to survive,” says the BBC publicity blurb for the show, adding, “With climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth, our own planet is increasingly precarious.”
A hundred years? In November 2016, speaking at the Oxford University Union, Hawking had given us a 1,000-year time frame for survival. It will be a logistical nightmare for the governments to transport roughly 8 billion people to a new world. James Cameron, is there a film here?
So on his centenary year, science fiction writer and futurologist Arthur C Clarke had it right on the money with his prediction — even though he was off by some 2,000 years. In 1986, Clarke published The Songs of Distant Earth. The story is set on Thalassa, an oceanic planet in another star system, colonised by former Earthlings who have escaped the predicted destruction of the Earth by a solar nova in the fourth millennium.
In February this year, researchers announced the discovery of TRAPPIST-1, a seven-Earth-sized-planets system around a single ‘cold’ star. Nasa said, “This system of seven rocky worlds — all of them with the potential for water on their surface — is an exciting discovery in the search for life on other worlds.” Wrap this discovery with the Hawking advice and you have The Songs of Distant Earth.
The only thing that scientists need to figure out now is how to ferry humans and equipment across 39.5 light years within 100 years. Hawking is not alone in this swell season for predictions. He is in the august company of Tesla boss Elon Musk and Google director of engineering and futurist Ray Kurzweil. Between the three of them, we have a handful of predictions that possibly will stop even the most optimistic futurist on his track.
Musk, also the founder of spacecraft manufacturing and launching company SpaceX, had said that the probable life span of human civilisation would be much greater if we were a multi-planet species. Musk has already warned the high priests of artificial intelligence (AI) that if we let the genie out of the bottle, it will come back to destroy us, calling AI our “biggest existential threat”.
Musk has Hawking as his ‘Be afraid of AI. Be Very afraid’ co-campaigner. In fact, Hawking created another doomsday agent in AI two years ago, when he told the BBC that unbridled development of AI could spell the end of the human race.
Meanwhile, Kurzweil — whose fans say that since 1990 the futurist has made 147 predictions and he is correct 86% of the time — speaking at a conference in Austin, Texas, this month, predicted that 2029 is the year in which “an AI will pass a valid Turing test and therefore achieve human levels of intelligence”.
He went on to add that in 2045, the AI researchers will achieve ‘Technological Singularity (TS)’ — the point in time when all the advances in technology will lead to machines that are smarter than humans. But Kurzweil isn’t afraid of smart machines. Instead, he predicts an unparalleled development of humanmachine synthesis.
In his collection of essays, Profiles of the Future, Clarke unveiled his ‘First Law’: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.” If we replace ‘a distinguished but elderly scientist’ by Hawking or Kurzweil or even Musk, then what they are predicting comes within the range of plausibility.
While the future is largely unknown, our best guesses for it, however counter-intuitive they may sound, can come true. The difference between palmistry and sciencebased predictions is the latter can be tested. So, are Hawking, Musk and Kurzweil right? An honest answer would be ‘Who knows?’
Yes, AI is already making its presence felt by eating up jobs. But whether it will go The Terminator way, we don’t know. Will we attain TS in 2045? If we stretch our imagination maybe. And will humans be destroyed within 100 years? We don’t know.

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Gender Parity in South Asia Possible in 1,000 Years

The way things are going on, and considering the past fifty centuries, the economic and social servitude accepted by women, and witnessing the current rate of progress, it will take South Asia an entire millennium to reach a modicum of gender equality in the workplace. And the fact is that the situation in West is no better.
Recent years have seen a dramatic slowdown in progress towards workplace gender equality worldwide. At the current rate of progress, economic parity between the sexes could take another 170 years to reach. In 2015, that figure was 118 years.
There are dramatic differences between the regions, with the current length of time it will take to close the economic gender gap ranging from 47 to more than 1,000 years.
Regional gaps
In South Asia, progress on closing the economic gap has been negligible.
The region has the second-lowest score on this year’s Global Gender Gap Index, with 67% of its overall gender gap closed.
The Middle East and North Africa won’t see the economic gender gap close for another 356 years at current levels of progress. Overall, it is the lowest placed region, having closed 60% of its overall gender gap.
East Asia and the Pacific will take 111 years to reach economic gender parity, and has so far closed 68% of its overall gender gap.
The gap in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is predicted to close in 93 years. This region has the fourth-smallest gender gap of 70%.
Sub-Saharan Africa will take 60 years to reach economic gender parity, but has closed nearly 68% of its gender gap.
Latin America and the Caribbean, facing an approximate 60-year wait for economic gender parity, have closed nearly 70% of their gender gap.
Western Europe is expected to be the first to close its gender gap, by 2063, or in 47 years’ time. It has now closed 75% of its gender gap, more than any other region.
Country performance
On a national level, 11 countries have closed their economic gender gap by more than 80%. Four are from sub-Saharan Africa (Burundi, Botswana, Rwanda and Ghana) and three Nordic countries (Norway, Iceland and Sweden).
However, 19 countries – 15 of which are from the Middle East and North Africa region – have closed less than 50% of the gap. Pakistan and Syria hold the last two spots.
Why does economic gender equality matter?
The economic gender gap measures things such as how many women are in the workforce and how much women earn compared with men.
For instance, women around the world earn, on average, just over half of what men earn – despite working longer hours, on average, when taking paid and unpaid work into account.
In addition, only 54% of women are present in the global workforce, compared with 81% for men. That’s despite the fact that, in 95 countries, women attend university in equal or higher numbers than men.
The number of women in senior positions also remains stubbornly low, with only four countries in the world having equal numbers of male and female legislators, senior officials and managers.
Women on average are benefiting from only two-thirds of the access to health, education, economic participation and political representation that men have.
“Women and men must be equal partners in managing the challenges our world faces – and in reaping the opportunities. Both voices are critical in ensuring the Fourth Industrial Revolution delivers its promise for society,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.
Overall gender equality – who does best?
The top four performing nations are all in the Nordic region: Iceland (1), Finland (2), Norway (3) and Sweden (4). Rwanda beats Ireland into 5th place, while the Philippines, Slovenia, New Zealand and Nicaragua make up the rest of the top 10.
Earlier this year, the Economist named Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland as the world’s best places for working women in its “glass-ceiling index”, and the Guardian recently ran a piece explaining why Iceland is the best place in the world to be a woman.
This year’s Gender Gap Report finds that progress towards global parity in the key economic pillar has slowed dramatically. The gap – which stands at 59% – is now larger than at any point since 2008.
However: “These forecasts are not foregone conclusions. Instead, they reflect the current state of progress and serve as a call to action to policy-makers and other stakeholders to double down on efforts to accelerate gender equality,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of Education, Gender and Work, and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum.

Global Security & Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is creating new threats – and exacerbating old ones. A lot of attention has focused on the ways in which the Fourth Industrial Revolution will affect how we work, carry out business, or even how we interact as human beings. But perhaps one of the most important impacts – largely because it cuts across each and every one of these issues – is how the technological changes under way will affect state relations and international security.
Unfortunately, as well as being one of the most important elements, it’s also one of the least discussed, at least outside of governments and the defence industry. But as leaders meet in Munich this weekend to examine the future of international security, my message is this: this issue is too crucial for it to be limited to policy circles only. Here’s why.
A new – and potentially less stable – future
For all the opportunities that arise from the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and there are many – it does not come without risks. Perhaps one of the greatest is that the changes will exacerbate inequalities. And as we all know, a more unequal world is a less stable one.
Already, we have seen that widening social exclusion, the challenge of finding meaning in the modern world, and disenchantment with established elites and structures, has motivated extremist movements and allowed them to recruit for a violent struggle against existing systems.
The hyperconnectivity that defines this digital revolution offers opportunities to bridge the gap between previously divided people and nations. But this is not a given. If some people continue to feel left behind by the changes, the same hyperconnectivity could result in greater fragmentation, instability, and volatility.
Changing nature of conflict
While fragmentation persists, the scale of conflict is also changing. Last year we saw how a conflict in one country can have repercussions far away, whether that be through Europe’s refugee crisis, triggered by the war in Syria, or ISIS’s increasingly global reach – in both its recruits, who come from more than 100 countries, and its targets.
And it is not just the scale of conflict that is changing – the nature of conflict is, too. Modern conflicts are increasingly hybrid in nature, combining traditional battlefield techniques with elements that were previously mainly associated with armed non-state actors.
Take cyberattacks as an example. Once a tool used only by lone hackers, they now present one of the most serious threats of our time. Any future conflict between reasonably advanced actors will almost certainly include a cyber-dimension. No modern opponent would resist the temptation to disrupt, confuse or destroy their enemy’s sensors, communications and decision-making capability. And yet for the size of the threat, discussions about this new era of cyberwar are still in their infancy, and the gap between those who understand the highly technical issues – academics and experts from the technology industry – and those who are developing cyber policy is widening by the day.
Beyond the world of cyberwar, the autonomous weapons – sometimes referred to as “killer robots” – could be the next weapons of mass destruction. The worry is that with the pace of technological developments, policy-makers in international security and defence will constantly be playing catch-up, and the regulatory agility required will be wanting.
A coordinated and collaborative response
How then can we respond to these changes in international security? The answer seems clear: as the threats broaden in scope, so too must our response. If everything from social media, to unemployment, to robotics, to income inequality (and these are only the elements I have touched upon here) now have a direct effect on international security, we can no longer tackle these issues in isolation.
While it remains unclear what the future of international security will look like, one thing is certain: it is only by stepping out of our industry, policy and regional silos, and working together, that we will have any constructive role in shaping the direction it takes.

The Arrival of Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party’s Future

These things used to happen on the floor of delegated conventions: a party’s accredited delegates would seem to be heading in one direction, only to stop, stare one another in the eye, and pivot. The Progressive Conservatives in 1976, putting the old-school populist Claude Wagner on top of three ballots only to crown an unsteady new-generation man, Joe Clark, on the fourth. The Liberals in 2006: Ignatieff and Rae, Ignatieff and Rae, then Stéphane Dion roaring up the inside. We told one another such hijinx were impossible any more, with almost all the ballots cast in advance.
Maybe. But this odd Conservative race ended so close that perhaps it’s possible to wonder whether, in the campaign’s last few days, just enough last-minute voters gave Maxime Bernier one last look—and turned away.
His stance against supply management in agriculture, which would have won Bernier a landslide victory if only newspaper columnists and economists were voting, cost him bragging rights in his native Quebec early on: in January four Quebec Conservative MPs announced they were supporting Andrew Scheer because he supported supply management and he just might beat Bernier.
In the campaign’s closing days, John Geddes read Bernier’s policy on health care and realized it would mean the effective end of the Canada Health Act. Bernier’s own staff finally acknowledged as much. There may come a day when a political party wants to pick a fight over health care, but to many Conservatives it was a nasty surprise to discover the day might be so close.
And so on. Bernier’s staff seemed a touch eager to get the victory parade started. Bernier’s Friday night speech at the “leadership event,” next door to a dress-up party at a Toronto airport-strip convention rent-a-hall, fell flat. Bernier had just about zero appeal to the party’s assorted family-values constituencies. None of these problems, by itself, would sink a cocky, dynamic candidate with bold ideas on serious issues. But each was like a sleeve of ball bearings injected into the shoes of a good runner in what would turn out to be a 13-ballot marathon.
So get to know Andrew Scheer. Andrew Scheer’s job used to be about forcing bickering politicians to behave themselves in the Commons.
Maybe that’s why a slim majority of Conservatives ultimately decided the former Commons Speaker was the best man for the job of leading of the official opposition party — because this weekend’s vote has exposed some deep fissures in the party, especially when it comes to social conservatism.
A barrage of balloting gave Canadian politics another prediction-defying result: the defeat of presumptive winner Maxime Bernier and the victory of the mild-mannered Scheer, a veteran MP from Saskatchewan.
If Scheer thought keeping order in the Commons was no walk in the park during his term as Speaker from 2011 to 2015, he’s soon going to learn it’s a lot harder to break up brawls in your own caucus — disputes that have proved to be hugely divisive in Canadian politics in the past.
When Scheer finally took the stage on Saturday night (in front of more than a few Conservatives with mouths agape over this latest reversal of polling fortunes), he offered the usual call for party unity. “We will win when we are united,” he said, praising Stephen Harper, the leader he’s replacing.
But this was not Harper’s old Conservative party gathered at the Toronto Congress Centre this weekend. And it’s not going to look like Harper’s party in the near future, either.
Rather, what we saw this weekend was Harper’s party deconstructed — with all the pieces of the former coalition scattered around in different leadership camps.
It also showed itself to be a party with a lot of members who have lost patience with the old Harper say-nothing strategy for keeping social conservatism at bay. A surge of support behind pro-life candidates Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux throughout the balloting may have tipped things in Scheer’s favour, too.
Earlier this year, pro-life advocates declared Scheer a great second choice, after Lemieux.
Harper kept this awkward assembly together for a decade through iron-fisted discipline — which is much easier to pull off when one has the perks and punishments of power at one’s disposal.
Can Scheer hammer those pieces together after this weekend — with only the perks of Official Opposition to hand out, along with the promise of cabinet spots in the distant future? We’re going to see a interesting display of political management dynamics over the next year or two.
Will Liberals be trying to exploit those divisions at every opportunity? You bet they wlll.
A Conservative policy conference set for Halifax in the summer of 2018 will be a major test of whether Scheer has managed to make his platform acceptable to a broad swath of the party grassroots.
Don’t expect it to be the kind of convention that Harper convened in Montreal in 2004 after he took over the party, when he laid down the law against social-conservative platform promises — laws on abortion or same-sex marriage — that might have cost it support in a general election contest with the Liberals.
Well before the Halifax meeting, though, pundits and observers will be looking for signs of the differences that were not settled after Conservatives left the Congress Centre on Saturday night.
Will Liberals be trying to exploit those divisions at every opportunity? You bet they wlll. Last night, Liberal MP Adam Vaughan was saying already that social conservatives had taken over the party. “This is the old Reform Party once again.”
Harper worked for years to put the Reform Party’s 20th century past behind the new Conservative party of the 21st century. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals (many of whom couldn’t even vote when the Reform Party was around) might not mind reviving the history lessons.
Calgary MP Michelle Rempel was sending her strongest signals yet this weekend, for instance, that her brand of conservatism doesn’t blend all that well with pro-life, social conservatism.
That’s the other thing. This isn’t Harper’s old party — but neither is it the old Progressive Conservative coalition of Brian Mulroney’s time, even if his daughter, Carolyn Lapham, was doing hosting duties on Friday and Saturday.
Every year when he was Speaker of the Commons, he’d welcome organizers and winners of the Maclean’s Parliamentarian of the Year awards for lunch in the Speaker’s chambers. He’d make sure I was seated on his right and he’d spend the hour cheerfully grilling me for political gossip and analysis. He’s deeply political, deeply partisan, and maybe a little young for the Reagan-Thatcher instincts that are so deeply ingrained in him.
He was one of the first members of the Conservative caucus to support Brexit, though I’m quite sure at least two-thirds of his caucus colleagues agreed with him, most quietly. It’s automatic when you get all your Europe news from the Telegraph and the Spectator. He had few clear, memorable policies—his victory will be seen, with some justification, as the choice of a party that has decided not to be too clear or too memorable in what it proposes—but he did get some mileage, in the home stretch, from a promise to withhold “federal funding” from universities that “don’t protect free speech.”
He meant universities that don’t let, say, Ann Coulter speak. He will learn, quickly, to be careful what he wishes for. There are a hell of a lot more universities in Canada where student groups celebrate Israeli Apartheid Day than campuses wondering when Ann Coulter will pop by. Does Scheer intend to protect Israeli Apartheid Day by withdrawing health-care research money?
But he will have plenty of time to figure out the answer to that one. The campaign is two-ish years away. The Liberals were so eager to run against Max Bernier they spent the weekend doing so, using social media and jokey props to remind everyone that Bernier was once kicked out of Stephen Harper’s cabinet for poor judgment. Scheer, in contrast, was elected Speaker by his colleagues, is a consistently strong question-period performer, and brings with him some of Rona Ambrose’s cheerful mien. His preference for leaving third rails untouched—supply management, medicare—means he makes a smaller target than Bernier would have, though have no fear, the Liberals will still find reasons to take their potshots.
He pretty desperately needs a platform. A Conservative MP I know, who didn’t publicly support any candidate, told me he’d be giving his first ballot spot to Scheer because “I’ve had scotch with him in the Speaker’s chamber, I know what he thinks.” Most Canadians haven’t, and the wink-and-a-nod Conservatism Scheer used to rally an extremely slow-building majority within a party of ideologues will not be super-impressive to a nation of distracted voters who do not, as of today, particularly despise Justin Trudeau.
So Scheer will have to operate at two tempos, in two modes. This week in the House of Commons he can be cheerful, cherubic, Dad-jokey and sharp-tongued as he takes the daily battle to Trudeau. But over the next several months he needs to put real meat on the bones of his Conservatism. The job ahead is daunting. Since Confederation, how many prime ministers have come to office with a majority, only to lose the next election? Two: Alexander Mackenzie and R.B. Bennett. Every other PM who got there with a majority on their first try was invited by voters to stick around the next time. “Throw the bums out” is a sentiment that takes time to build. “I’ve got a better idea” offers better chances. If Scheer has better ideas. Up to him now to show us if he does.

Al Walaa wal Baraa : The Concept and its Implications

What is al Walaa wal Baraa? Where does it fit within Islam? How important is it? Then, since it’s a key concept, why isn’t every non-Islamic aware of it? That brings us to Islamo-catatonia. I’ll start by noting that Islam has only 3 core concepts. This one is the second – in other words, it matters a lot. The three essential doctrines of Islam (‘usul-ud-deen’ – ‘essential of the faith’) are:

1) Singleness of God & Final Prophet;

2) Al Walaa wal Baraa;

3) Jihad & Hegira.

The first essential doctrine is the premise of Islam.

The second is the ’emotion’ of Islam. This has been dealt with above.

The third is the ‘method’ of Islam.

The third doctrine is how to implement the ’emotion’ of Islam, through battling the kafirs (non-Islamics – lowest of the low). The ‘method’ of Islam proceeds by a ‘swing’ of advance & retreat. It is fighting & emigration, or fighting & withdrawal to fight another day. Hegira is the insertion period, followed by jihad against the ‘near enemy’. We are seeing the hegira in Europe, Australia and North America at this moment. We are also seeing the ‘near enemy’ jihad in Europe, Australia and North America, but it is only the beginning of this war.

Jihad takes four forms: 1) military fighting (the sword) 2) fighting with the tongue 3) fighting with the pen 4) fighting with money (financing military or other jihads). Muslims must obligatorily participate in jihad, since it is an ‘usul-ud-deen’,’ an ‘essential of the faith’ that is ‘essential for salvation’ and admission to the Islamic paradise. A Muslim who does not participate in the 4 forms of jihad will die a ‘hypocrite’ and go to hell.

No Islamic has put forward a motion, in any Western country, that would mandate making known these 3 concepts to all non-Islamics. The second and third concept certainly don’t make it into school texts aimed at non-Islamics. Instead, throughout the West, there’s attention to stopping so-called Islamophobia and criminalizing freedom of speech about Islam. We’ve all had the word, Islamophobia, drilled into us – without any clear precise definition. We know it’s somehow related to saying something negative about Islam. But what? And does it matter if what we’re saying is truthful? And how does being against “Islamophobia” relate to criminalizing freedom of speech about Islam? Nothing is clear.

On the other hand, very few non-Islamics know the term, al Walaa wal Baraa – though it’s very clear, very defined, absolutely central to Islam, and utterly against something that is a core value of the West: namely accepting, valuing and even celebrating diversity that is not harmful. Why don’t we all know of it? One guess: it doesn’t benefit Islam to have non-Islamics aware of it.

It also, I would guess, makes sense to consider Islamo-catatonia – meaning being catatonic about Islam – not responding, not looking, not recognizing things about Islam, especially how Islam is at least potentially dangerous.

Islamo-catatonia – it’s the freeze response. When there’s danger, humans are wired to respond with: fight, flight or freeze. With Islamo-catatonia, people respond with being catatonic about Islam. In other words they freeze, and freeze out negative knowledge of Islam.

But the fight response is also present, and powerful. It’s just deflected away from Islam. People who are Islamo-catatonic Fight those who are not Islamo-Catatonic, instead of dealing with Islam. Very useful for Islam.

About their own culture, these people tend to show, in the words of psychologist James Hilman, an anaesthetized heart. Hillman writes: “The question of evil refers primarily to the anaesthetized heart, the heart that has no reaction to what it faces, thereby turning the variegated sensuous face of the world into monotony, sameness, oneness” (from the book, The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World).

With Islamo-catatonia, the heart has no reaction to Islam – and to the West it is utterly unloving. Instead, anger, coldness, hatred, numbness. Yes, the West has many flaws. But what about Islam? Somehow nothing about Islam brings forth the same negativity.

Trump comes to mind, as someone who celebrates the West, and particularly his own country. And though the politically correct uphold being non-judgmental, they harshly judge, and rage against, both Trump and their home culture.

And now, time to explore a term vital for non-Islamics to know and understand.

Al Walaa wal Baraa – an easy version:

Al Walaa wal Baraa is the doctrine of adherence and dis-association. It’s the best-supported doctrine within the Quran (and, for those who look further, in the Hadiths and the Sira).

Exactly what is this? It is the doctrine of Islamic apartheid. Muslims are to have their separate socializing, free from the contamination of kafirs (a very negative word for non-Islamics) who tend to weaken their faith and make them adopt the lifestyle of disbelievers. In other words, Muslims are to have a separate, parallel society.

If it were only separation, it would be one thing. But it is not enough for Islamics just to hate kafirs, they must – according to this core aspect of Islam – show disdain, and humiliate kafirs. This is established in the Quran, Hadiths, Sira, and the Tafsirs (Islamic ‘canonical commentaries’).

It is important to note that al Walaa wal Baraa is an essential doctrine – literally “essential of the faith” (usul ud-deen). This means that Muslims who do not believe and practice it cannot go to paradise. They are called hypocrites (murtad) in the Quran.

This doctrine is the opposite of the Golden Rule. Al Walaa wal Baraa is also the reverse of the modern Western concepts of tolerance, and of celebration of diversity. So Islam is inherently intolerant of any ideology other than its own. Islam celebrates uniformity and compliance.

Here is an explanation for children who play “I’m the king of the castle, you’re the dirty rascal.” The king of the castle: that is Islamics. The dirty rascals: that’s everyone else. A difference between the game and Islam is that, in Islam, it’s not fun and games, with sometimes one child and sometimes another being the king. Islamics are always to be on top. Everyone else is always to be hated, ridiculed, humiliated, etc.

Al Walaa wal Baraa – a scholarly version

‘Al Walaa wal Baraa’ – (Allegiance and Disassociation) is an Islamic doctrine that is very similar to apartheid.

‘Al Walaa wal Baraa’ is an ‘essential doctrine’ (usul ud-deen). ‘Essential’ means that all Muslims must believe and practice al Walaa wal Baraa as a condition of being admitted to paradise.

‘Al Walaa wal Baraa’ is a highly developed, well-supported and canonical part of Islam approved by the consensus of Islamic jurists.

‘Al Walaa wal Baraa’ is legally binding and obligatory upon all Muslims.

‘Al Walaa wal Baraa’ is precisely defined by Islamic jurists and is not a nebulous idea

‘Al Walaa wal Baraa’ is an official Islamic doctrine and considered the second most important doctrine in Islam.

Definition of ‘Al Walaa wal Baraa’ from Islamic sources:

The Islamic Concept of al-Walaa’ wal-Baraa’ by Khalid El-Gharib states: “to show enmity to those who show enmity to Allaah and His Messenger.” (i.e. Muslims are to visibly demonstrate their enmity towards the kufaar – non-Muslims)

In a lecture Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal (H.A.) says: “The implication of al-Baraa is that one HATES for the sake of Allah (SWT)…Al-Baraa means to recognize who your enemies are and to HATE them and EXTERMINATE them in their Endeavour to get rid of your Deen, al-Islam…Al-Baraa is to HATE the people who propagate Baatil (falsehood)—the Muslim should HATE them and (at least desire to) KILL them when the time comes.” (i.e. the hatred of Muslims toward the kufaar is for the purpose of ethnic cleansing)

Examples of Baraa from historic Islamic leaders:

Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624) says: “The honour of Islam lies in insulting kufr and kafirs. One who respects the kafirs dishonours the Muslims… The real purpose of levying jiziya on them is to humiliate them to such an extent that they may not be able to dress well and to live in grandeur. They should constantly remain terrified and trembling. It is intended to hold them under contempt and to uphold the honour and might of Islam.”

Book of Emaan, by ibn Taymiyya, states: “… true believers show animosity and hatred towards disbelievers and never support them.”

Abd-Allaah al-Ashqar refers to “Belief in Allah,” by Umar Sulayman,: “The Muslim should regard the Kuffaar as enemies and hate them because of their kufr, just as he hates their kufr (disbelief) itself.”

According to the Aqeedah of the Salaf, by Sheikh Muhammad Saeed al Qatani, authoritative Saudi Sharia lawyer and imam at the Abu Bakr and Al Furqan Mosques in Mecca: “The doctrine of al Wala wal Baraa is the real image for the actual practice of this faith.”

Sunday Special: Historical Overview of US Illegal Phone Tapping

The Monitoring of Our Phone Calls? Government Spooks May Be …
http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-monitoring-of-our-phone-calls…spooks…/5338103
Dec 22, 2013 – … that the NSA is tapping directly into the central servers of 9 leading U.S. … In fact, all U.S. intelligence agencies – including the CIA and NSA – are …. store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.
CIA pays AT&T over $10 million a year to tap phone records: report …
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/…/cia-pays-at10-million-a-year-to-tap-phone-records-report/
Nov 8, 2013 – The largest U.S. phone company receives more than $10 million annually from the CIA to provide phone records with possible links to .
The New York Times reports an unprecedented public accounting of cell phone carriers: they responded to 1.3 million demands by law enforcement for subscriber information such as text messages and caller locations. The reports paint a picture of dramatic increase in cell phone surveillance over the last five years.
Congress extends the FISA Amendments Act for another five years and also Obama signs off on the legislation.
2013
The Guardian reports FISA court judge Roger Vinson issues a secret order to Verizon to hand over “metadata”–time, duration, numbers called (without revealing the actual call content)—to the NSA for a three-month timeframe. The Wall Street Journal reports of similar arrangements with AT&T and Sprint.
The Guardian and The Washington Post simultaneously reveal a secret program called PRISM, which was launched in 2009, that grants NSA access to the personal data of millions of people through Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Apple, and AOL. Two days later, on June 8, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence releases a three-page comment citing the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 as legal anchor. On June 21, the government files charges of espionage against Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, for the information leak.
FBI director Robert Mueller admits that the United States employs drones as part of the domestic surveillance program. Speaking before a Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller agrees that still-uncommon drone usage sparks concerns about personal privacy and is “worthy of debate and perhaps legislation down the road.”
The first ruling against the NSA’s surveillance program was handed down on December 16 by Judge Richard Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. He said the program is “significantly likely” to violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches. “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” said Leon. The government has relied on the 1979 Supreme Court case Smith v. Maryland to justify its spying program. The ruling said police can capture information about phone numbers a suspect called without a warrant because suspects cannot expect to keep such information private when using a service of a third party. Leon said that given the changes in technology, the Smith ruling no longer applies to current circumstances.
On Dec. 18, an advisory panel commissioned by President Obama released a 300-page report that recommended 46 changes to the NSA’s surveillance program. The recommendations included: handing authority of metadata gleaned from surveillance to a third party, such as a telecommunications company or a private group; requiring that NSA analysts obtain a court order before accessing the data; requiring that the government obtain a court order before issuing national security letters, which force businesses to hand over private customer information; banning the government from using “back door” methods to gain access to hardware or software; and that an advocate should argue in favor of civil liberties in cases that come before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Currently, these cases are heard in private and only the government presents a case. The report also said the NSA’s surveillance program has not been “essential to preventing attacks.”
2014
On Jan. 17, 2014, President Obama announced reforms to the country’s surveillance program based on the panel’s recommendations. He said that while he believed the activities of the NSA were legal, he acknowledged that some compromised civil liberties. The reforms he outlined include: requiring NSA analysts to get a court order to access phone data unless in cases of emergencies; an eventual end to the collection of massive amounts of metadata by the government; the NSA will stop eavesdropping on leaders of allied nations; officials can pursue a phone number linked to a terrorist association by two degrees rather than three; and Congress will appoint advocates to argue on the side of civil liberties before the FISA court. He did not implement the recommendation about national security letters.
Another report was released on Jan. 23. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent agency, said the NSA program is likely both illegal and unconstitutional and has not proven to be effective in fighting terrorism. The report recommended the collection of the meta data be shut down.
Ties between the U.S. and Germany deteriorated in July amid reports that the U.S. hired a clerk at Germany’s intelligence agency to steal hundreds of documents. Days later, German officials announced they believe they had uncovered a second spy working for the U.S. In response, Germany expelled the CIA station chief from Berlin.
2015
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled in May that Congress never authorized the bulk collection of the phone records of U.S. citizens when it passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act, and therefore the National Security Agency’s program that does so is illegal. The panel allowed the program to continue, but called on Congress to amend the law. In the court’s opinion, Judge Gerard Lynch wrote “knowledge of the program was intentionally kept to a minimum, both within Congress and among the public.” The program was secret until 2013, when it was disclosed by Edward Snowden.
The Senate votes, 67 to 32, to pass the USA Freedom Act, on June 2. The House had previously approved the bill, and President Obama signs it into law. The act ends the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records of millions of Americans. That responsibility shifts to the phone companies, who can turn the data over to the government only when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issues a warrant to search the phone records of individuals. The law also reinstates three provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which expired on June 1: roving wiretaps of terror suspects who change devices, surveillance of “lone wolf” suspects who are not affiliated with a terrorist organization, and the seeking of court orders to search business records.
The US government, with assistance from major telecommunications carriers including AT&T, has engaged in massive, illegal dragnet surveillance of the domestic communications and communications records of millions of ordinary Americans since at least 2001. Since this was first reported on by the press and discovered by the public in late 2005, EFF has been at the forefront of the effort to stop it and bring government surveillance programs back within the law and the Constitution.
Mar 31, 2010 – Court Says Bush Illegally Wiretapped Two Americans … case that they were subjected to warrantless electronic surveillance,” U.S. District Judge … Other cases considered the program’s overall constitutionality, absent any ..
Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal— A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the National Security Agency’s program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration’s effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush.
In a 45-page opinion, Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated a 1978 federal statute requiring court approval for domestic surveillance when it intercepted phone calls of Al Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in Oregon, and of two lawyers representing it in 2004. Declaring that the plaintiffs had been “subjected to unlawful surveillance,” the judge said the government was liable to pay them damages.

The Uncertain Future of Europe

Recently, the European Union celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding treaty, the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community. There certainly is much to celebrate. After centuries of war, upheaval, and mass killings, Europe is peaceful and democratic. The EU has brought 11 former Soviet-bloc countries into its fold, successfully guiding their post-communist transitions. And, in an age of inequality, EU member countries exhibit the lowest income gaps anywhere in the world.
But these are past achievements. Today, the Union is mired in a deep existential crisis, and its future is very much in doubt. The symptoms are everywhere: Brexit, crushing levels of youth unemployment in Greece and Spain, debt and stagnation in Italy, the rise of populist movements, and a backlash against immigrants and the euro. They all point to the need for a major overhaul of Europe’s institutions.
So a new white paper on the future of Europe by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker comes none too soon. Juncker sets out five possible paths: carrying on with the current agenda, focusing just on the single market, allowing some countries to move faster than others toward integration, narrowing down the agenda, and pushing ambitiously for uniform and more complete integration.
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Juncker. With Europe’s politicians preoccupied with their domestic battles and the EU institutions in Brussels a target for popular frustration, he could stick his neck out only so far. Still, his report is disappointing. It sidesteps the central challenge that the EU must confront and overcome.
If European democracies are to regain their health, economic and political integration cannot remain out of sync. Either political integration catches up with economic integration, or economic integration needs to be scaled back. As long as this decision is evaded, the EU will remain dysfunctional.
When confronted with this stark choice, member states are likely to end up in different positions along the continuum of economic-political integration. This implies that Europe must develop the flexibility and institutional arrangements to accommodate them.
From the very beginning, Europe was built on a “functionalist” argument: political integration would follow economic integration. Juncker’s white paper opens appropriately with a 1950 quote from the European Economic Community founder (and French prime minister) Robert Schuman: “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” Build the mechanisms of economic cooperation first, and this will prepare the ground for common political institutions.
This approach worked fine at first. It enabled economic integration to remain one step ahead of political integration – but not too far ahead. Then, after the 1980s, the EU took a leap into the unknown. It adopted an ambitious single-market agenda that aimed to unify Europe’s economies, whittling away at national policies that hampered the free movement not just of goods, but also of services, people, and capital. The euro, which established a single currency among a subset of member states, was the logical extension of this agenda. This was hyper-globalization on a European scale.
The new agenda was driven by a confluence of factors. Many economists and technocrats thought Europe’s governments had become too interventionist and that deep economic integration and a single currency would discipline the state. From this perspective, the imbalance between the economic and political legs of the integration process was a feature, not a bug.
Many politicians, however, recognized that the imbalance was potentially problematic. But they assumed functionalism would eventually come to the rescue: the quasi-federal political institutions needed to underpin the single market would develop, given sufficient time.
The leading European powers played their part. The French thought that shifting economic authority to bureaucrats in Brussels would enhance French national power and global prestige. The Germans, eager to gain France’s agreement to German reunification, went along.
There was an alternative. Europe could have allowed a common social model to develop alongside economic integration. This would have required integrating not only markets but also social policies, labor-market institutions, and fiscal arrangements. The diversity of social models across Europe, and the difficulty of reaching agreement on common rules, would have acted as a natural brake on the pace and scope of integration.
Far from being a disadvantage, this would have provided a useful corrective regarding the most desirable speed and extent of integration. The result might have been a smaller EU, more deeply integrated across the board, or an EU with as many members as today, but much less ambitious in its economic scope.
Today it may be too late to attempt EU fiscal and political integration. Less than one in five Europeans favor shifting power away from the member nation-states.
Optimists might say that this is due less to aversion to Brussels or Strasbourg per se than to the public’s association of “more Europe” with a technocratic focus on the single market and the absence of an appealing alternative model. Perhaps emerging new leaders and political formations will manage to sketch out such a model and generate excitement about a reformed European project.
Pessimists, on the other hand, will hope that in the corridors of power in Berlin and Paris, in some deep, dark corner, economists and lawyers are secretly readying a plan B to deploy for the day when loosening the economic union can no longer be postponed.

Women in Muslim Society

Coffee houses exclusively for men may pique the interest of a foreigner strolling the streets of West-European city quarters inhabited by Muslim immigrants. Stern looks warn off a woman newcomer, sending the message that she’s not welcome. If she happens to sit down, however, an employee soon recommends another coffee house, or simply forgets to serve her. Women are barely seen in Muslim outskirts, and never alone. The public square is for the men. These quarters are dangerous for non-Muslim women without a chaperone: apart from verbal aggression, they can become prey to harassment and abuse.
In the July heat, a Muslim man in France stabbed a woman, who was walking with her three children, only because he did not consider her properly dressed. Recently, there was a similar case in Turkey. On September 10th, 2016, Ali Khamanei, the most prominent religious authority of Shias in Iran, issued a fatwa, forbidding cycling for Iranian women. He reasoned that this was necessary, because a cycling woman attracted attention from the men, thus demolishing the public moral, and cycling was dangerous, because an accident could damage the hymen. It is well-known that women cannot drive a car in Saudi Arabia. During the last few weeks, hundreds of women were harassed on the streets of Cairo at one of the largest religious festivals. Harassment, constraint and subjection are inevitable ingredients of the lives of Muslim women in the Islamic world and in the European Muslim communities alike.
Girls learn from childhood that they should dress by Islamic precepts. This can be a head scarf and a dress that covers hands and feet, a trench coat type of top, called hijab even during the summer, and niqab, or its Afghan version: burqa, which covers the face. In some regions, women should wear this outfit even at home, and they can remove it only for washing and sleeping. In certain countries – in Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, for example –, there is a moral police to see that the Sharia precepts are kept, with special emphasis on pre-marital relationships. These guardians of moral order can follow, stop and arrest couples if they cannot prove that they are married. When exposed, stern punishment awaits the girls: they should break off the relationship, cannot go out, and must accept their first suitor.
The constraints rob women of their freedom of movement. They can only visit certain places approved by the family – for example, shops, malls, schools and hospitals –, and in case someone deviates, that starts a rumour and can damage her reputation. Time spent outside the home is also limited. During the day, when their male relatives are away, they can only leave the house when necessary. They can leave for longer in the afternoon only, but cannot stay out after 6pm, except for extraordinary cases. Islamic precepts require a travelling woman to be accompanied by a male relative – her father, her brother or her son. On weekdays, she is expected to be seen with her husband, or at least with an older woman. Although she may go out alone for a short time, but this is to be avoided for her own safety.
This merciless paternalist system makes it very hard for women to get a job. As 2016 data from the International Labour Organisation show, 36.7 percent of women work in the Arabic countries of the Middle East, and 18.8 percent in North Africa, while this ratio is 56 percent in the sub-Saharan countries. In other words, countries of North Africa and the Middle East are even worse off than the poorest regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Vulnerability to men has been a symptom for generations, and it is still characteristic today. Another form of exploiting women from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia is the plight of domestic workers, or maids, treated as slaves, especially in the Gulf states. Coercing women of poor heritage to prostitution is also common, as seen among Syrian refugees, where it is not rare to sell a daughter to support the large family with no other income. The country of Malaysia is the largest source of the world’s women trafficking, while about eight thousand prostitute work in Rabat, Morocco, most of whom were victims of child abuse, or were forced by the financial situation of their families. Marriage arrangements for a limited amount of time, as customary in Iran, also make women vulnerable.
It is a social requirement for women to stay virgin until marriage, which usually takes place before they turn 20. Nevertheless, if this comes in their 30’s only, virginity is still required, as it is the guarantee of the family’s reputation and religious zeal. This constraint forces women to find loopholes, and choose other forms of sexuality not hurting their virginity, lie, or have a repair operation before marriage. This type of medical procedure is a great source of income for the doctors.
If a woman is raped, the crime can be eliminated if the perpetrator marries the victim. Until just recently, the law of several Arabic countries offered two choices for the perpetrator: imprisonment, or marriage with the victim. This is still the rule in Jordan, and although it removes the shame of the woman’s family, the price is paid by the victim, who is thus confined to a life of misery. Even though the choice to marry in these cases is removed from the law in most Arabian countries, the families of victims will most likely continue to choose this solution anyway, due to social pressure, to avoid a humiliating scandal.
For conservative Muslims living in Europe, the most important religious authority is Ibn Taymiyyah of the 14th century. This religious scholar, regarded as the main ideologist of the Salafist trend – his ideas are often quoted by imams of European mosques – had rather radical views on women. When asked about the marital obligations of a wife, he said: „The wife cannot disagree with her husband, and has to be at his disposal at all times. If she insistently refuses, the husband is entitled to beat her – in such a way that it will not break a bone or leave marks on her body, or can punish her by withdrawing her provision money, and not devoting time to her.” This mentality was not scarce in the 14th century, but the Salafists, making up a substantial community in Europe, still consider this behaviour the norm. Ibn Taymiyya’ devoted and prestigious follower, a Salafist preacher in Egypt, Abu Ishaq al-Huwayni recently said the following: „A few battles against the unbelievers would solve all the problems of Egypt, and the Egyptians would return with lots of money and women.”
What does the Islam say about the dignity of women? Islam ethics hold that a woman’s dignity lies in her modesty and obedience. She is to be quiet and restrained, avoid kind words and a soft voice with men, and disguise her body. She is to reserve her looks and charm for the appointed man. She renders complete obedience to her parents before marriage, and to her husband thereafter. If she does not comply, the above-mentioned punishments can be due, or even divorce, for which the husband’s verbal declaration of intent is enough. On his own free will, a man can marry three other women, and she is to share with them in all things. Additional discriminations include that at the death of a father, the daughter’s inheritance is only half of the son’s, and in case of a divorce, the father has the right to raise the children after the nursing period, usually with no visitation rights for the mother.
Paedophilia is another sensitive matter, and it is a serious problem and a widespread notion in the Islamic world. Although Islamic law forbids it – especially with regards to boys –, there is a loophole. In case of a marriage contract regarding the child – and this can be entered before a girl would even turn nine –, sexual approach is permissible for the adult man. Intercourse is forbidden before puberty, but the girl could be married off afterwards, and there are communities, where even before. In certain societies with lifestyles without much urbanization – in Yemen, Somalia or Afghanistan, for example – a consummated marriage is acceptable for a 12-15-year-old. In urbanized communities, the age limit set by the law is usually 16, but could be brought down to 15 in exceptional cases. There are five Muslim countries at the forefront of the number of child marriages: Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Niger. In Yemen, half of the women are married off by the age of 18, but there are several examples of marriages contracted at the age of 8, as the media also reports about death cases upon consummation. Child marriage is not as common among Muslims living in Europe, but as German authorities report, there are thousands of such cases among those arriving with the latest flow of refugees.
We also hear about honour killings, even in European Muslim communities. If a young Muslim woman starts a relationship with a man without the approval of her family, they can execute her. Over five thousand women have become victims of honour killings in the Muslim countries, and some were conducted in the European Muslim communities. She might only be seen to talk to someone, and be sentenced to death, based on a floating rumour. In Jordan, 80 percent of women who became victims of honour killings were found to be innocent of their accusations.
There was a temporary change in the position of women between 1950 and 1970, when the original urban elite replaced the colonizers upon achieving independence, and thought that the future lied in the propagation of western-type modernization and a secularized lifestyle. But the military defeat of the 1967 war, and the failure of development policies led to Islamic fundamentalism gaining grounds. This ideology said that lack of success was caused by a neglect of Islamic values. Thus, the doors of liberalism soon closed, and the swing of modernization was replaced with shame and guilt. As typical to Muslim societies, women were the main victims of this change. Increasingly poor masses began to swamp the cities, bringing old traditional bigotry. Hijab became the trend again from the 1970’s, bringing the success of rural bigotry over the urban Islam of modernization.
Visitors of Muslim countries or people with Muslim acquaintances can bring the counterargument that they know independent and enlightened Muslim women who do not wear a scarf. Of course, there are such examples, as certain social groups are rather open and liberal. Especially in the families of the upper middle class men with high education, women – rather secluded from the common people – live in relative freedom, primarily because the education of daughters is an important element of social prestige. There are some brave enough to willingly break away from their families, and become free-minded intellectuals in spite of of social pressure or prejudice. Here, we should mention Toujan al-Faisal of Jordan, Taslima Nasrin of Bangladesh, Shirin Ebadi of Iran, and Fatema Mernissi of Morocco. But the number of such exceptions is on the decline. Pluralism is present, but islamization is gaining ground from liberalization. This tendency leaves the sole options of seclusion or escape for women in Muslim societies or in the European Muslim communities.
The Islam ethics is presented as a protection against the allurement of the decadent West in both moderate and conservative discourse. Obscuring the feminine body is regarded a tool of protection. Islamization reached Muslim women living in Europe in the 1980’s. They were usually the second generation of immigrants arriving in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Among first generation immigrants, women from the country wore a scarf, but they remained unseen for society for the most part, since they did not attend school or took jobs. The second generation reached the age of puberty in the second half of the 1980’s. Controversy about schoolgirls wearing a scarf broke out in France in 1989. European societies were concerned about the islamization taking place in the Middle East and in North Africa, because they expected that freedom and education would prompt women’s emancipation in Muslim communities. But the long-awaited change did not come. The scarf became not only became even more popular – about half of women living in the West wear it –, but also became the symbol and the standard of freedom rights. They said that as European citizens, they had the right to wear a scarf. The attire covering the whole body, formerly worn in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, reached the European cities in the 1990’s.
Hijab forms a border between the Muslim woman and society. The one wearing it claims the right of appearance in public space, the same as women dressed in western style. There is a clear controversy in this behaviour: a woman wearing a scarf refuses the society she lives in, but at the same time claims equal membership in it. On the other hand, the attire covering the body makes the woman’s complex identity extremely simple, and she becomes a complying, objectified religious symbol. Refusing society and hiding the feminine subject behind the mask of a so-called Muslim identity is a general phenomenon. With its aid, they can escape the complexity of modern existence, and explain the world and themselves with a simplified narrative, instead of facing reality. This paradox was set forth in the reasoning of a Muslim youth in an argument about burkini: „How can you, with a clear conscience, live on social assistance provided by a non-Muslim country, which money is transferred through banks built on principles in opposition with Islamic laws, and conceal your body to be ridiculed for it?!”
Still, this dichotomy reinforces Islamic moral affluence. Wearing an attire in line with Islamic precepts is a moral asset the community uses for seclusion, and the wearer becomes a member of honour in this community, while the community thrives on sharing the benefits of a faithless and despised western economic system. The system is based on maintained inequality, where the Muslim man stands at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the Muslim woman, with non-Muslims placed at the very bottom. By putting an immoral, prostitute stigma on the non-Muslim woman, the Muslim woman gets rid of her rival, and maintains her sense of moral superiority. This is a return to the beginnings of Islam, when the scarf was first worn by the believers to discern themselves from nonbelievers. In the wake of each conquest, free Muslim women have worn an attire covering the body, which distinguished them from non-Arabic, non-Muslim slaves. This way, burkini does not stigmatize Muslim women, it stigmatizes non-Muslim women. The ambivalence of the Islam ethic of virtue is this: the woman accepts a deprivation of her femininity by her attire, to prove her moral superiority, while being allowed to appear in public places and enjoy bathing. Another consequence of this reasoning is the over-sexualizing of non-covered women, who are deemed as naked and easy to get. The young Muslim man respects the woman in burkini, while yearning for the women in bikini.
So, are veiled Muslim women dangerous for Europe? Wearing a scarf is part of the battle, the Islam discourse calls this the Battle of Hijab. Hijab is the front line, where Islam and the West encounter. In Muslim societies, this battle is won by the Islamists. Wearing a scarf comes with consequences in the smallest details of everyday life for women, not only in their private life, but in their profession, and in the general standards of behaviour. Hijab is a sign of rejecting the western societies and norms, along with the validity of patriarchal society, gender equality and secularism, and a sign of commitment to Islam ethics based on guilt, and the victory of rural common law over urban modernization. It justifies seclusion and separation, which is the theoretical foundation of forming ghettos. A recent opinion poll in France shows that 60% of Muslim men born in France consider the scarf as an obligatory attire for women. Women wearing hijab today are the victims, symbols and weapons of islamization against Europe. According to Islamists, each woman appearing in hijab in a public place wins a battle in the war against the West, by proving that the Islam is able to rule and change the European societies.

Blockchain: Help for the Poorest

Big Wall Street companies are using a complicated technology called blockchain to further increase the already lightning-fast speed of international finance. But it’s not just the upper crust of high finance who can benefit from this new technology.
Most simply, a blockchain is an inexpensive and transparent way to record transactions. People who don’t know each other – and therefore may not trust each other – can securely exchange money without fear of fraud or theft. Major aid agencies, nonprofits and startup companies are working to extend blockchain systems across the developing world to help poor people around the world get easier access to banks for loans or to protect their savings.
In my work as a scholar of business and technology focusing on the impact of blockchain and other modern technologies such as cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things on poor people, I see four main ways blockchain systems are already beginning to connect some of the world’s poorest people with the global economy.
How does a blockchain work?
A blockchain is a fancy word for a transaction-recording computer database that’s stored in lots of different places at once. The best-known example of blockchain technology is the electronic cryptocurrency called bitcoin, but the concept can be applied in lots of different ways.
One way to think about a blockchain is as a public bulletin board to which anyone can post a transaction record. Those posts have to be digitally signed in a particular way, and once posted, a record can never be changed or deleted. The data are stored on many different computers around the internet, and even around the world.
Together, these features – openness to writing and inspection, authentication through computerized cryptography and redundant storage – provide a mechanism for secure exchange of funds. They can even involve what are called “smart contracts,” transactions that happen only if certain conditions are met – such as a life insurance policy that sends money to the beneficiary only if a specific doctor submits a digitally signed death certificate to the blockchain.
Right now, these sorts of services are available – even in the developed world – only because nations have strong regulations protecting the money people deposit in banks, and clear laws about obeying the terms of formal contracts. In the developing world, these rules often don’t exist at all – so the services that depend on them don’t either, or are so expensive that most people can’t use them. For instance, to open a checking account in some parts of Africa, banks require enormous minimum deposits, sometimes more money than an average person earns in a year.
A blockchain system, though, inherently enforces rules about authentication and transaction security. That makes it safe and affordable for a person to store any amount of money securely and confidently. While that’s still in the future, blockchain-based systems are already helping people in the developing world in very real ways.
Sending money internationally
In 2016, emigrants working abroad sent an estimated US$442 billion to their families in their home countries. This global flow of cash is a significant factor in the financial well-being of families and societies in developing nations. But the process of sending money can be extremely expensive.
Using MoneyGram, for example, a worker in the U.S. with US$50 to send to Ghana might have to pay $10 in fees, meaning her family would receive only $40. In 2015, transaction costs and commission rates averaged 10.96 percent for remittances sent from banks and 6.36 percent for sending money through money transfer operators. Companies justify their costs by saying they reflect the price of providing reliable and convenient services.
By contrast, Hong Kong’s blockchain-enabled Bitspark has transaction costs so low it charges a flat HK$15 for remittances of less than HK$1,200 (about $2 in U.S. currency for transactions less than $150) and 1 percent for larger amounts. Using the secure digital connections of a blockchain system lets the company bypass existing banking networks and traditional remittance systems.
Similar services helping people send money to the Philippines, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Rwanda also charge a fraction of the current banking rates.
Insurance
Most people in the developing world lack health and life insurance, primarily because it’s so expensive compared to income. Some of that is because of high administrative costs: For every dollar of insurance premium collected, administrative costs amounted to $0.28 in Brazil, $0.54 in Costa Rica, $0.47 in Mexico and $1.80 in the Philippines. And many people who live on less than a dollar a day have neither the ability to afford any insurance, nor any company offering them services.
In India, for example, only 15 percent of the population has health insurance. Even those people pay higher relative premiums than in developed countries. As a result, people in South Asia pay a much greater share of their health care costs out of their own pockets than do people in high-income industrialized countries.
Because blockchain systems are online and involve verification of transactions, they can deter (and expose) fraud, dramatically cutting costs for insurers.
Consuelo is a blockchain-based microinsurance service backed by Mexican mobile payments company Saldo.mx. Customers can pay small amounts for health and life insurance, with claims verified electronically and paid quickly.
Helping small businesses
Blockchain systems can also help very small businesses, which are often short of cash and also find it expensive – if not impossible – to borrow money. For instance, after delivering medicine to hospitals, small drug retailers in China often wait up to 90 days to get paid. But to stay afloat, these companies need cash. They rely on intermediaries that pay immediately, but don’t pay in full. A $100 invoice to a hospital might be worth $90 right away – and the intermediary would collect the $100 when it was finally paid.
Banks aren’t willing to lend money in places where fraudulent invoices are common, or where manufacturers and their customers might have inconsistent and error-ridden records. A blockchain system reduces those concerns because these records must be authenticated before being added to the books, and because they can’t be changed.
Those Chinese pharmaceutical companies are getting help from Yijan, a blockchain that is a joint effort of IBM and Chinese supply management company Hejia. Electronics, auto manufacturing and clothing companies facing similar difficulties are the test markets for Chained Finance, a blockchain platform backed by financial services company Dianrong and FnConn, the Chinese subsidiary of Foxconn.
Humanitarian aid
Blockchain technology can also improve humanitarian assistance. Fraud, corruption, discrimination and mismanagement block some money intended to reduce poverty and improve education and health care from actually helping people.
A pilot project in Pakistan is using a blockchain system to help needy families get cash and food.Farman Ali/UN World Food Program
In early 2017 the U.N. World Food Program launched the first stage of what it calls “Building Block,” giving food and cash assistance to needy families in Pakistan’s Sindh province. An internet-connected smartphone authenticated and recorded payments from the U.N. agency to food vendors, ensuring the recipients got help, the merchants got paid and the agency didn’t lose track of its money.
The agency expects using a blockchain system will reduce its overhead costs from 3.5 percent to less than 1 percent. And it can speed aid to remote or disaster-struck areas, where ATMs may not exist or banks are not functioning normally. In urgent situations, blockchain currency can even take the place of scarce local cash, allowing aid organizations, residents and merchants to exchange money electronically.
Blockchains can even help individuals contribute to aid efforts overseas. Usizo is a South Africa-based blockchain platform that lets anyone help pay electricity bills for community schools. Donors can track how much electricity a school is using, calculate how much power their donation will buy and transfer the credit directly using bitcoin.
Future potential
In the future, blockchain-based projects can help people and governments in other ways, too. As many as 1.5 billion people – 20 percent of the world’s population – don’t have any documents that can verify their identity. That limits their ability to use banks, but also can bar their way when trying to access basic human rights like voting, getting health care, going to school and traveling.
Several companies are launching blockchain-powered digital identity programs that can help create and validate individuals’ identities. Using only an internet-connected smartphone, a person is photographed and recorded on video making particular facial expressions and speaking, reading an on-screen text. The data are recorded on a blockchain and can be accessed later by anyone who needs to check that person’s identity.
Without email, phones, passports or even birth certificates, a blockchain could be the only way many poor people have to prove who they are. That could really make their lives better and expand their opportunities.

Blockchain: A new hope, not just hype

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin may have captured the public’s fancy – and also engendered a healthy dose of skepticism — but it is their underlying technology that is proving to be of practical benefit to organizations: the blockchain. Many industries are exploring its benefits and testing its limitations, with financial services leading the way as firms eye potential windfalls in the blockchain’s ability to improve efficiency in such things as the trading and settlement of securities. The real estate industry also sees potential in the blockchain to make homes — even portions of homes — and other illiquid assets trade and transfer more easily. The blockchain is seen as disrupting global supply chains as well, by boosting transaction speed across borders and improving transparency.

Blockchain-the future

Many trends on the horizon offer opportunities that could transform our cities. From self-driving vehicles and the sharing economy through to cloud computing and blockchain technologies, each of these trends is quite significant on its own. But the convergence of their disruptive forces is what will create real value and drive innovations.

Take blockchain and the sharing economy as an example. Bringing these two forces together can potentially disrupt established companies like Uber and Airbnb. The success of these companies is largely due to their ability to make use of existing assets people owned, that had been paid for, but from which new value could be derived.

Effectively, these companies set up digital platforms that harnessed “excess capacity” and relied on other people to deliver the services.

The same applies to other so-called “sharing economy” companies that merely act as service aggregators and collect a cut off the top. In the process, they gather valuable data for further commercial gain.

But can this business model be challenged and enhanced for the benefit of those who are delivering the service and creating the real value? Can technology be used to bypass the third party and allow direct peer-to-peer collaboration within a distributed governance structure? What could a “peer-owned” and “peer-run” marketplace look like?

Blockchain technology could just be the answer.

What is different about blockchain?

You can think of blockchain as the second generation of the internet – a transformation from an internet of information to an internet of value.

Blockchain allows suppliers and consumers – even competitors – to share a decentralised digital ledger across a network of computers without the need for a central authority.

The assets that can be described on the blockchain can be financial, legal, physical or electronic. No single party has the power to tamper with the records – sophisticated algorithms keep everyone honest by ensuring data integrity and authentication of transactions.

But the impacts of blockchain go well beyond financial services and transactions. Its real value is in establishing trust-based interactions and accelerating the transfer of governance from centralised institutions to distributed networks of peer-to-peer collaboration.

The impact can be profound: a centralised institution acting as intermediatory in a transaction of value is now at risk of being disrupted because the same service can be provided on the blockchain through peer-to-peer interaction.

Blockchain gives service providers a means to collaborate and derive a greater share of the value for themselves. Smart agents on a blockchain could do just about everything provided by a service aggregator.

The technology’s trust protocol allows autonomous associations to be formed and controlled by the same people who are creating the value. All revenues for services, minus overheads, would go to members, who also control the platform and make decisions. Trust is not established by third parties, but rather through an encrypted consensus enabled by smart coding.

The transformation has already begun

We already have examples of this technology in action.

Arcade City, a global community of peer-to-peer services, is planning to offer a ride-sharing service on the blockchain. To catch a ride, the user buys digital currency (known as tokens), creates an offer and commits funds for the ride. A driver claims the offer, matches the funds to signal their commitment to provide the service, and picks up the passenger. The blockchain releases the funds as soon as the user acknowledges completing the ride.

Arcade City has a city council, which will overlook the system for three years until it is fully decentralised and up and running.

The same concept of using distributed public record technology can be applied to a wide range of urban applications.

For example, an energy startup in Perth is looking to trial a peer-to-peer technology solution that would allow consumers to offer excess energy, available through their solar panels, on the blockchain. Clever code matches the suppliers with consumers without the need to go through the energy provider.

Still more questions than answers

The blockchain technology and ecosystem around it are evolving rapidly, and are probably raising more questions than answers. How do we establish a system of transparent governance to ensure the longevity of the blockchain? What about security, speed, cost and, more importantly, regulations?

As with other disruptive technologies, there will be winners and losers. If the technology is successfully managed for scalable growth, it could very well disrupt established norms and transform our societies. Large layers of data generated by consumers today, which are controlled by hubs, can become public. In a world driven by blockchain, consumers can monetise their own data to derive greater value.

By knowing when and how to take advantage of this technology, we have an opportunity to transform the digital platforms for tomorrow’s cities. The blockchain becomes the city’s operating system, invisible yet ubiquitous, improving citizens’ access to services, goods and economic opportunities.

Today, the technology is yet to mature. It remains to be seen if the expectations can live up to reality.

But, in many ways, this is quite reminiscent of the internet in the mid-1990s. Not many people would have predicted its significance back then. Had we understood the impacts of the internet 20 years ago, what could we have done differently to create more value?

That is where we stand today with blockchain. The power of this transformation will become more compelling as the hype settles down and we begin to unleash the possibilities.

These uses are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg for a nascent technology whose development stage has been compared to the early years of the internet. “We’re very early in the game,” said Brad Bailey, research director of capital markets at Celent, at a recent Blockchain Opportunity Summit in New York. He likened the blockchain’s current status to the web of the early 1990s, heralding a coming wave of new ideas and uses. “This will impact the world.”

The blockchain technology came about initially as a way to verify bitcoin transactions online and to enable two parties to transact business without having to know or trust each other. It was designed without a central authority in mind, such as a bank or government, to oversee transactions. Essentially, the blockchain is a shared virtual public ledger where encrypted transactions are confirmed by outside parties. In the bitcoin world, these outside parties are called “miners” — computers that solve complex mathematical problems to confirm transactions and earn fees. Confirmed transactions are placed in a “block” and added to the chain. Since the ledger is shared by everyone on the network, it is thought to be nearly impossible to remove or change the data – a premise that turned out to be false in some cases.

Today, the concept of the blockchain has expanded beyond its use by cryptocurrencies. Instead, the benefits of the shared ledger and its seemingly immutable record of transactions accessible to multiple parties are being explored by a variety of industries. Experts said there won’t be a “mother blockchain,” but multiple ledgers with different purposes. Varying versions of blockchains have popped up, too: While the original bitcoin blockchain was open to anyone, some companies’ blockchains are private and “permissioned” — they restrict access to approved parties. The latter approach is preferred by companies fearful of being hit with government fines and lawsuits if they get hacked, said summit participant Sarab Sokhey, chief technology leader of new product innovations at Verizon Wireless. They’ll stay private until the technology matures and industry standards are set.

While the blockchain’s business applications are clear, it has social implications as well. For instance, it can create identities for individuals apart from those sanctioned by governments and not limited by geographic boundaries. The blockchain also allows less-technologically advanced nations to participate in global transactions more easily. “Blockchains are exciting, undoubtedly,” said Saikat Chaudhuri, executive director of the Mack Institute for Innovation Management, which was an official partner for the summit. “It’s much more than about transaction efficiency or flexibility. It’s really beyond that. It could provide an identity to those who don’t have it, or promote financial inclusion. Therein lies the power of this whole thing.”

Nervous’ Financial Institutions

According to a survey by the IBM Institute for Business Value and the Economist Intelligence Unit, one in seven companies it calls “trailblazers” expect to have blockchains in production and at commercial scale in 2017. Respondents were interested in taking advantage of the blockchain’s multiple benefits, which include cost reduction, immutability of records, transparency of transactions and the potential to create new business models. For example, the blockchain would eliminate the need for keeping multiple records at banks and other parties doing currency trades. The survey tracked responses of 200 global financial markets institutions.

The survey also said “trailblazers” were focusing their efforts on the following business areas: clearing and settlements, wholesale payments, equity and debt issuance and reference data. The report added that in recent years, financial institutions have “swarmed to blockchain pilots and proofs of concept” — opening innovation labs, holding hackathons, partnering with financial technology startups, joining consortia and collaborating with regulators.

To be sure, banks have a vested interest in participating. “Banks provide essentially escrow services for the transfer of value, and here comes a technology that threatens to eliminate that service,” said Chris Ballinger, global chief officer of strategic innovation at Toyota Financial Services. “So they are nervous about that, because it’s a huge revenue stream” that could be taken away. How? “With the blockchain, you can run a network that transfers value among untrusted nodes, and therefore you can eliminate the middle man and you can eliminate all the costs associated with the middle man,” he said. “You’re essentially turning assets into something like cash that you can hand to somebody and they will accept. That makes the transfer of assets extremely efficient.”

Another unique benefit of the blockchain is that it separates someone’s identity from the transaction they’re making. In general, a blockchain uses a digital signature – not real names and other personal information – that is activated by a private key or secret code held by the one doing the transaction. Compare that to current credit card or bank transactions, which tie one’s personal information such as a name and address to purchases and other financial activities. This separation improves the security of one’s data. “Today, the payments information and identity are [bound] together. The combined is a tempting honey pot for hackers,” Ballinger said. “By separating the financial information from the identity, there’s no honey pot, no central place to hack, no incentive to go after.”

In December 2015, Nasdaq executed its first trade on a blockchain, through its Linq ledger. The exchange said the blockchain promises to expedite trade clearing and settlement – all the steps needed to transfer the asset from seller to buyer including recording the transaction — from three days to as little as 10 minutes. That’s because the trades remove many manual processes and bypass third parties. As such, “settlement risk exposure can be reduced by over 99%, dramatically lowering capital costs and systemic risk,” according to Nasdaq. Other stock exchanges tinkering with the blockchain include ones in Australia, Myanmar, Germany, Japan, Korea, London and Toronto.

Overstock.com is on the cusp of issuing its first security using the blockchain. “We are in the process of proving out the first public trading of a blockchain security,” said Ralph Daiuto, Jr., general counsel of tØ, a subsidiary of the e-commerce retailer. While the company has kept its clearing firm, it is using digital wallets for the actual transfer of assets in settlement of the trade. “The goal is to shorten the settlement cycle and [avoid] all the ills that can go wrong with that cycle.” He added that the company can cut its equity trading costs by 70% using the blockchain.

Overstock got regulatory approval for its blockchain trade by taking “incremental steps in proving out the technology in use cases and demonstrating we have real-world application for this blockchain technology,” Daiuto said. “It literally has been a monthly, if not a weekly, education process with our core regulators.” It has taken nearly two years of laying the groundwork for Overstock to get to this point.

Real Estate and Smart Contracts

An area of particular promise for the blockchain is the real estate market. “The blockchain solves pretty much every problem in real estate that we have” in terms of fraud, middleman fees and friction, opaque due diligence, slow price discovery, complex transaction process and other ills, said Ragnar Lifthrasir, president of the International Blockchain Real Estate Association. “In many ways, our technology is still in the 17th century – notaries still use seals.” The blockchain promises to simplify and speed up the process while adding transparency to the records.

For example, in selling a house, people still sign paper deeds over to the new owner. It has to be entered into the public record, which means someone physically has to go to the local government office. “It’s a paper-based system that is ripe for fraud,” Lifthrasir said. The blockchain solution is fairly straightforward, using digital deeds. “When I want to transfer the property, I simply transfer it from my wallet to the buyer’s wallet.”

As for putting the property ownership on the public record, he said the list is already on the blockchain so recording it won’t be hard. Lifthrasir added that validation of ownership would be strengthened. “It’s very difficult to deny who owns the property when it’s on a public network.” His startup, Velox, is working with Cook County in Chicago to use the blockchain for transferring and recording property titles. It is also working on a way to show liens on titles on the blockchain.

Within a blockchain, so-called “smart” contracts could be revolutionary. “They programmatically represent a contract,” said Mark Smith, CEO of Symbiont and co-chair of the Smart Contract Council. For example, a smart contract on an auto loan could be linked in real time to payments made by the car buyer. If he misses payments, the contract gets wind of the violation and starts the repossession process. In Delaware, Smith’s company is working with the state to create “smart” records of its public archives to do such things as being able to sunset themselves.

EY’s Australian operations piloted a real estate blockchain ecosystem that is now being used in the market to trade full, and even fractional, ownership of properties. Real estate and financial institutions approved by EY all liked the idea of using a blockchain, but when it came to actual implementation, “fear and uncertainty crept in,” said James Roberts, partner and Australian blockchain leader. EY had to essentially guarantee verification of participants and transactions to build trust. “We decided we would solve the identity problem [of people and institutions]. We would build trust into the system and prove recordkeeping is true and accurate and can be used to transact financial instruments like property or debt.”

EY’s blockchain ecosystem goes through several stages. First, individuals using the blockchain have to be validated using identity checks and even biometrics. They create records on the blockchain using randomly generated unique keys that let EY do further checking against various databases from the government and elsewhere. Next, the transaction is traded on a blockchain exchange. The assets being traded are verified. The entire ecosystem is private and permissioned. Also, EY stores individuals’ unique keys offline for security. Moreover, EY built back-system administrative functions – despite the premise of the blockchain as not having a central authority – to make participants more comfortable in using the system. But to be a viable ecosystem, it needs to scale. “We need millions and millions of people in our system, and that’s going to take a lot of effort,” Roberts said.

Challenges and Risks

Security is still the biggest challenge confronting the blockchain. “The truth is, once you give someone access to a network, many times, more often than not, they can end up very easily getting blanket access to that network,” said Joe Ventura, CEO of AlphaPoint. “This is a huge security problem.” However, if one ends up building many protections to prevent hacks, then it bogs down the blockchain and defeats its purpose in the first place. “Basically, you have to jump through so many hoops simply to pass the message from some party to another party.”

And while blockchain records theoretically can’t be changed, there are ways around that. Smith cited a recent controversial decision by the Ethereum Foundation – the organization behind the open-source cryptocurrency Ethereum – after a hacker exploited a software flaw and took funds. The foundation decided to roll back the clock to give people their money back and created two versions of the ledger. “Imagine if you’re a business and they roll back a day,” Ventura said. “That’s completely unacceptable.” Moreover, by creating two versions, some people were able to exploit it. “People were able to double their money,” Smith said.

As for compliance, at least regulators could have a node on the blockchain itself in which companies define their access to data, said Sandeep Kumar, managing director of Synechron. As such, regulators wouldn’t have to wait days for a bank to hand over documents for compliance. “They can see it as it is happening.”

In the end, each company has to figure out whether a blockchain is suitable. “Is it a blockchain use case or is it a database use case?” said Tyler Mulvihill, director of Consensys. “If you are a company that has a lot of information internally and you don’t transact like a lot of vendors, and not a lot of people need to use your information or do business with you, a database can be fine for a lot of things. It’s when you have a lot of parties that need trust, need access to certain information and need to be audited – that’s where I see the biggest use cases.”

Lies Afflicting Global Capitalism

Languishing at the lower end of the global labour system is the precariat, a social class whose condition of economic precariousness has been ascribed to the rise of neo-liberal capitalism around the world.
The precariat can be divided into three further groups – atavists, who look back to a lost past; nostalgics, who look forlornly for a present, a home; and progressives, who look for a lost future. The last consist largely of those who go through university only to emerge with large debts and little hope of a career or personal development.
It is the first group, the atavists, who have been on the political rampage, supporting Brexit, the triumph of Donald Trump, the Northern League in Italy, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France – and other nationalist populists elsewhere in Europe. Everywhere the populist right seems to be winning politically, basically.
But the progressives have also revolted, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Podemos in Spain, Bernie Sanders in the US, Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, the Alternativet in Denmark and new left-wing movements in Germany, Portugal and Scandinavia.
Meanwhile, the minorities, migrants and refugees who make up the nostalgics are smouldering, and surely cannot go on much longer without hope.
The age of anger
There is clearly a lot of anger out there, a seething discontent over perceived establishments and elites that is fuelling considerable political energy. All three groups of the precariat are reacting in their different ways to the growth of inequality and economic insecurity over the past three decades; all have seen the dismantling of the 20th-century income distribution system that linked incomes and benefits to jobs.
In the interests of competitiveness in a globalizing world economy, governments of all complexions introduced labour-market reforms that promoted flexibility, but accentuated the precariat’s insecurities. They weakened regulations for banks and financial companies, enabling financiers to gain more income while pushing the precariat into greater debt. They strengthened property rights of all kinds – physical, financial and intellectual – that gave an increasing share of income and wealth to asset holders at the expense of everyone else. And they granted tax cuts for the rich and generous subsidies for corporations, while demanding reductions in public spending to balance budgets, cutting benefits for the precariat and lowering relative and absolute incomes.
In each case, the argument was that the measures would boost economic growth, expanding the pie for all to share. Instead, almost all the gains have gone to a small global elite – who have, not surprisingly, pushed for ever more of the same. There has been no quid pro quo.
And the longer this fraudulent prospectus is presented, the angrier all parts of the precariat will become. The ugly political consequences should by now be clear to everybody.
It is not too late for liberal democracies to introduce transformative reforms that would respond to the woes of the precariat while promoting sustainable economic growth and development. But so far only lip service has been paid to the need to do so. Liberal elites must make real concessions or find the values they claim to cherish – tolerance, freedom, economic security and cultural diversity – at grave risk, particularly when it comes to the wrath of the Atavists.
The first thing to do is confront today’s system of rentier capitalism. This is where a growing share of wealth goes to already privileged owners of assets (rentiers), while income from most jobs dwindles in value. John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1936 that the development of capitalism during the 20th century would result in “the euthanasia of the rentier”, as rent-seeking became harder. The reality has been the reverse. Corporations and financiers have used their growing influence to induce governments and international organizations to construct a global framework of institutions and regulations that enable elites to maximize their rental income.
Modern capitalism is based on five falsehoods:
1. The first lie is the claim that global capitalism is based on free markets. Without hyperbole, it can be said that what has been constructed is the most unfree market system ever. Thus, intellectual property has become a prime source of rental income, through market power created by the spread of trademarks (crucial for branding), copyright, design rights, geographical indications, trade secrets and, above all, patents.
Knowledge and technology-intensive industries, which now account for over 30% of global output, are gaining as much or more in rental income from intellectual property rights as from the production of goods or services. This represents a political choice by governments around the world to grant monopolies on knowledge to private interests, allowing them to restrict public access to knowledge and to raise the price of obtaining it, or of the products and services embodying it. Not for nothing did Thomas Jefferson say that ideas should not be the subject of property.
2. The second lie is that strong intellectual property rights are required to encourage and reward the risks of investment in research and development. Yet it is the public, ordinary taxpayers, who bear the cost of much of that investment. A lot of corporate cash cows derive from publicly funded research, in public universities or institutions, or through subsidies and tax breaks. Moreover, most innovations that yield large returns in rental income to companies or individuals are the result of a series of ideas and experiments attributable to many individuals or groups who go unrewarded. And many patents are filed to block competition or head off lawsuits, and are not intended to be exploited for production.
3. The third lie is that strengthening property rights is good for growth. On the contrary, by increasing inequality and distorting consumption patterns, it has hindered growth and made the growth that has occurred less sustainable. Slow and unstable growth builds up economic frustration for millions, not to mention the political risks that come with it.
4. The fourth is that rising profits reflect managerial efficiency and a return to risk-taking. In reality, the increased profit share has gone mainly to those receiving rental income, much of it linked to financial assets.
5. “Work is the best route out of poverty.” This is the fifth and politically most important lie. For millions of people in the precariat, it’s a sick joke.
A war on wages
This is the key. The income distribution system has broken down. Across the OECD, real wages have been stagnating for three decades. The share of income going to capital has been rising and is much higher than it used to be. And high-income earners are taking a greater share of the income going to labour, further hurting the precariat.
Three economic relationships illustrate what is happening to wages. First, it used to be the case that when productivity grew, wages grew in parallel; now, in the US and elsewhere, wages do not budge. Second, it used to be that when profits rose, wages rose; now, wages do not budge. Third, it used to be that when employment rose, average wages did so too; now, average wages can even fall, because the new jobs pay less.
However hard those in the precariat work, they face slim prospects of escaping from a life of economic insecurity. And the longer that remains the inconvenient truth, the greater the danger that they will listen to post-truth authoritarian populists offering to turn back history. The only way to escape this “politics of inferno” is to build a new income distribution system suited to the 21st century

Investing in Women: Myths Busted

“Women are better suited for baby-making than money-making.” It sounds ridiculous today, but myths like this – based on no scientific evidence – drove the decisions of our forefathers (and foremothers) for generations. Even today, around the world girls and women battle commonly held views and beliefs that limit their opportunities and potential. Myths, like the seven listed below, rob women of their power to advance themselves, their families, their communities, and ultimately, their nations.
The truth is, women around the world are resourceful economic agents, overcoming persistent, gender-based barriers every day. Women have demonstrated they can build informal and formal businesses out of very little capital, create networks to maximize limited resources, all while shouldering the traditional responsibilities placed upon them, duties like child- and home-care. Women succeed in spite of laws, policies and institutions that hold them back, but it is a constant struggle. It is time to create supportive environments for women to thrive economically, and bust these myths once and for all.
1. The myth: investing in women doesn’t pay off
The truth: closing gender gaps will actually lead to an increase in global GDP
A recent McKinsey Global Institute report found that if women play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much $28 trillion or 26% could be added to global annual GDP by 2025. Now that’s a payoff we can all get behind.
2. The myth: gender inequality is not an issue in developed countries
The truth: gender inequality remains high around the world
Although many countries have made progress on some aspects of gender equality, inequality remains high. In the US, there are just 66 women for every 100 men in leadership and managerial positions, and women do almost double the unpaid care work that men do. Meanwhile, in Europe the situation for women is even less promising. Men hold 89% of executive committee jobs at the top 100 companies. There’s work to be done.
3. The myth: women’s income is not used any differently than men’s income
The truth: a greater percentage of women’s income is reinvested in their families and communities
This spending drives improved access to education, nutrition and healthcare – win, win, win. Evidence also shows that it is not merely a woman’s increased income, but rather her control over that income that helps her achieve economic empowerment. A study in Brazil showed that the likelihood of a child’s survival increased by 20% when the mother made financial choices. These key economic decisions, however, are intricately wrapped into cultural norms around gender, age, ethnic background, health or physical status, and overall social hierarchy.
4. The myth: women choose to work less than men
The truth: women shoulder a greater burden of unpaid work, and have fewer paid work opportunities
Women don’t work less than men; in fact, they often work more. The issue is that their work is unpaid and often unregistered – rearing children and caring for the elderly rarely produces a paycheck. In some regions like South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, women shoulder up to 90% of unpaid care work. It’s time to balance the scales.
5. The myth: inequality ends as women’s income increases
The truth: it’s giving women control over income that ends inequality
Evidence shows that it is not merely a woman’s increased income, but rather her control over that income that helps her achieve economic empowerment. When a woman holds the strings to the family purse, that family is more likely to thrive. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Program, which provides cash transfers directly to the female head of households, accounted for up to 25% of Brazil’s reduction in inequality and 16% of its drop in extreme poverty.
6. The myth: women’s groups are not necessary for economic development
The truth: women’s groups – including cooperatives, collectives, farmer groups, business associations and trade unions – are often the only path to sustainable economic development for many women around the world.
Women’s groups can offer a safe haven in which women of limited means can pool and maximize resources, manage risk, innovate and experiment, build skills and capacity, mentor and learn from one another, organize and advocate for rights, share care responsibilities, build confidence, and receive key information on everything from market information to nutritional guidance, family planning and reproductive health.
7. The myth: family-friendly, gender-responsive policies are not worth the investment
The truth: In the US, every $1 invested in family planning results in $7 of savings; in developing countries like Jordan, $1 can result in as much as $16 in savings. The Copenhagen Consensus showed that every dollar spent on modern contraceptive methods will yield $120 in overall benefits.
Companies that invest in family-friendly, gender-responsive policies have found high returns on their investments, including reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. By providing healthcare for women and their children at the workplace, studies in Bangladesh and Egypt point to a $3:17 and $4:17 return on investment.
Harmful myths like these continue to limit women as they seek careers, advance in the workplace, and seek access to capital – especially in the most economically disadvantaged parts of the world. These myths do not just impede women on a personal level, they also hinder our collective progress. The data and research above tell a different story about the exponential power of women. Growth is possible. Prosperity is possible. And it becomes a reality with women in the driver’s seat.
Woman has been the primary source of intellectual inspiration for man. When Muhammad was disturbed by the divine voices echoing in his mind and doubted their authenticity, it was Khadija, his wife, who assured him that those voices were indeed from God. She was not only the first woman to embrace Islam but also the first person to accept it from Muhammad.
When Edison was driven out of the school for being ‘unintelligent’, his mother knew that her son was destined to become great — he went on to become arguably the greatest inventor of all time. Napoleon Bonaparte would have remained an ordinary soldier; his mother’s faith in him made a diminutive man to become one of the greatest military geniuses of warfare.
Interestingly, the Romans and Greeks preferred female soldiers. Alexander had an army of female soldiers, who fought alongside men and were often better cavaliers. Roman historian Catallus observed that when women brandished swords as cavaliers sitting on horseback, they could control themselves better than men because of their anatomical advantage. Cleopatra had female soldiers and female generals in her army. She herself was a good swordswoman. Amazon is a Greek word for expert fighter woman

Relevance of 80-years-old Churchill Essay on Aliens

Buried within the archives of a museum in Missouri, an essay on the search for alien life has come to light, 78 years after it was penned. Written on the brink of the second world war, its unlikely author is the political leader Winston Churchill. Churchill’s name went down in history as the iconic leader who took Britain successfully through the second world war. At the heart of his policies was an environment that allowed science to flourish. Without a similar attitude in today’s politics, we may find we hit a bottleneck for life that leaves a Universe without a single human soul to enjoy it.
If the British prime minister was seeking solace in the prospect of life beyond our war-torn planet, would the discovery of a plethora of exoplanets aid or hinder such comfort?
The 11-page article – Are We Alone in the Universe? – has sat in the US National Churchill Museum archives in Fulton, Missouri from the 1980s until it was reviewed by astrophysicist Mario Livio in this week’s edition of the journal Nature.
Livio highlights that the unpublished text shows Churchill’s arguments were extremely contemporary for a piece written nearly eight decades previously. In it, Churchill speculates on the conditions needed to support life but notes the difficulty in finding evidence due to the vast distances between the stars.
Churchill fought the darkness of wartime with his trademark inspirational speeches and championing of science. This latter passion led to the development of radar, which proved instrumental to victory over Nazi Germany, and a boom in scientific advancement in post-war Britain.
Churchill’s writings on science reveal him to be a visionary. Publishing a piece entitled Fifty Years Hence in 1931, he detailed future technologies from the atomic bomb and wireless communications to genetic engineered food and even humans. But as his country faced the uncertainty of another world war, Churchill’s thoughts turned to the possibility of life on other worlds.
In the shadow of war
Churchill was not alone in contemplating alien life as war ripped across the globe.
Just before he wrote his first draft in 1939, a radio adaption of HG Wells’ 1898 novel War of the Worlds was broadcast in the US. Newspapers reported nationwide panic at the realistic depiction of a Martian invasion, although in truth the number of people fooled was probably far smaller.
The British government was also taking the prospect of extraterrestrial encounters seriously, receiving weekly ministerial briefings on UFO sightings in the years following the war. Concern that mass hysteria would result from any hint of alien contact resulted in Churchill forbidding an unexplained wartime encounter with an RAF bomber from being reported.
Faced with the prospect of widespread destruction during a global war, the raised interest in life beyond Earth could be interpreted as being driven by hope.
Discovery of an advanced civilisation might imply the huge ideological differences revealed in wartime could be surmounted. If life was common, could we one day spread through the Galaxy rather than fight for a single planet? Perhaps if nothing else, an abundance of life would mean nothing we did on Earth would affect the path of creation.
Churchill himself appeared to subscribe to the last of these, writing:
I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilisation here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures.
A profusion of new worlds
Were Churchill prime minister now, he might find himself facing a similar era of political and economic uncertainty. Yet in the 78 years since he first penned his essay, we have gone from knowing of no planets outside our Solar System to the discovery of around 3,500 worlds orbiting around other stars.
Had Churchill lifted his pen now – or rather, touched his stylus to his iPad Pro – he would have known planets could form around nearly every star in the sky.
This profusion of new worlds might have heartened Churchill and many parts of his essay remain relevant to modern planetary science. He noted the importance of water as a medium for developing life and that the Earth’s distance from the Sun allowed a surface temperature capable of maintaining water as a liquid.
He even appears to have touched on the fact that a planet’s gravity would determine its atmosphere, a point frequently missed when considering how Earth-like a new planet discovery may be.
To this, a modern-day Churchill could have added the importance of identifying biosignatures; observable changes in a planet’s atmosphere or reflected light that may indicate the influence of a biological organism. The next generation of telescopes aim to collect data for such a detection.
By observing starlight passing through a planet’s atmosphere, the composition of gases can be determined from a fingerprint of missing wavelengths that have been absorbed by the different molecules. Direct imaging of a planet may also reveal seasonal shifts in the reflected light as plant life blooms and dies on the surface.
Where is everybody?
But Churchill’s thoughts may have taken a darker turn in wondering why there was no sign of intelligent life in a Universe packed with planets. The question “Where is everybody?” was posed in a casual lunchtime conversation by Enrico Fermi and went on to become known as the Fermi Paradox.
The solutions proposed take the form of a great filter or bottleneck that life finds very difficult to struggle past. The question then becomes whether the filter is behind us and we have already survived it, or if it lies ahead to stop us spreading beyond planet Earth.
Filters in our past could include a so-called “emergence bottleneck” that proposes that life is very difficult to kick-start. Many organic molecules such as amino acids and nucleobases seem amply able to form and be delivered to terrestrial planets within meteorites. But the progression from this to more complex molecules may require very exact conditions that are rare in the Universe.
The continuing interest in finding evidence for life on Mars is linked to this quandary. Should we find a separate genesis of life in the Solar System – even one that fizzled out – it would suggest the emergence bottleneck didn’t exist.
It could also be that life is needed to maintain habitable conditions on a planet. The “Gaian bottleneck” proposes that life needs to evolve rapidly enough to regulate the planet’s atmosphere and stabilise conditions needed for liquid water. Life that develops too slowly will end up going extinct on a dying world.
A third option is that life develops relatively easily, but evolution rarely results in the rationality required for human-level intelligence.
The existence of any of those early filters is at least not evidence that the human race cannot prosper. But it could be that the filter for an advanced civilisation lies ahead of us.
In this bleak picture, many planets have developed intelligent life that inevitably annihilates itself before gaining the ability to spread between star systems. Should Churchill have considered this on the eve of the second world war, he may well have considered it a probable explanation for the Fermi Paradox.

Facts are Chaff & Fact-checking is Futile

In these times of mass misinformation, there is a new band of heroes on the horizon. A wave of hoax-slayers and fact-checkers has emerged to fight the contagion, set the record right.
But sadly, they don’t change much. They only rally the already-convinced. In a polarized environment, facts alone do little to persuade anyone. The sides are already taken. If people are swayed by phony videos of cows or soldiers, photos or fudged data about development, they are already leaning that way.
No rumour is going to stick unless it confirms something in one’s experience or existing bias, as social psychologists keep pointing out. Exposing logical errors or fibs doesn’t change that deeper consensus.
We see facts through our tinted lenses, our social scripts and personal history. So merely busting a rumour does nothing to uproot the tangle of presuppositions that made us receptive to that rumour.
Most of us already know this, after the first couple of times we scotch a false story on a WhatsApp group, only to get displeased silence or a tight “forwarded as received”. Then those likeminded people go back to circulating the same kind of information.
Our core beliefs are not open to rational revision. We work with intuitions and mental shortcuts, shaped by our upbringing and experience. For instance, a plantation family in the American south was unlikely to see slavery as unjust. They had to legitimate their own behaviour, and the lifestyle that slavery made possible, by holding tight to the belief that black people were lazy or simmering with violence. It’s the same in India or anywhere else – it is difficult to see your parents as unjust or to face your economic anxieties, so you need some rationalisation.
Our instincts are remarkably stubborn, in the face of contradicting evidence. The philosopher Tamar Gendler suggests a category called “alief ”, as opposed to belief – it’s what makes you shrink from a glass walkway over a canyon even if you “know” it’s perfectly safe. It’s the same with political judgments; knowing is besides the point. It is not just our cognitive bugs that trap us in a flawed or partial view. An ideological belief involves your social identity – your feelings flow with your group’s feelings. If your father is in the security forces, and you’ve felt anxious for him, it may be hard for you to see as the stone pelters do; and vice versa. Cow zealots are not going to be persuaded by the humanity of the Muslim men, they simply don’t weigh lives in the same way you do. There are barriers to accessing any other way of feeling.
Right now, there is a war for the relatively-open minds, and there is a deluge of propaganda at work. WhatsApp messages are reinforced by news television, where anchors act like conductors of mass emotion. It is classic priming, where each word has a cluster of hidden associations. Words like Naxal or liberal or jihadi or martyr are repeated incessantly to create a social meaning, so that the bias doesn’t even have to be stated.
Of course we shouldn’t just submit to these terms. But it isn’t helpful to just see their audiences as dupes or bigots either. The only way to proceed is by addressing the hurts or humiliations behind the hard stances, even if you believe those feelings are unwarranted. If you seek to persuade anyone, you need to recognise that it takes huge effort for anyone to walk out of the mental structures they were born and raised in, where they find community. We all protect our identities; to detach a belief from a person, one needs to sever the link between the attitude and the holder’s self-image. We need to tell the story differently. Point-scoring does the opposite, it makes people descend further into their trenches.
Of course, opinions do change. Maybe art or books or movies can sneakily move you, maybe loving an unlikely person can crack your fortifications. Social groups do sniff something in the air and change direction. Obviously, material reality causes political plates to shift – after a period of bloodletting, people do value mutual tolerance. But in the meanwhile, fervent arguments and facts are a waste of breath.
These lines by Kashmiri poet Ghulam Hassan ‘Ghamgeen’ capture the muddle: “Easy to put a shoulder to a hill and shift its location/ But very difficult to change a mind, not even one.”

The Western Alliance Crumbles- Advantage: China

The Earth’s political centre of gravity has taken another lurch away from Washington and towards Beijing.  The peace of the planet is in the hands of a doddering man-child. Advantage: China.
Donald Trump’s apparent admission that he shared secret information with visiting senior Russian officials has intensified questions both at home and abroad about his fitness to govern.
This latest scandal will add to the unease about Trump already evident among the United States’ 27 allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ahead of their first face-to-face summit with the president next week.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, President Xi Jinping is wrapping up his own summit with 29 heads of states in which he promoted his grandiose ‘One Belt, One Road’ plans. Xi intends to spend at least US$1 trillion on infrastructure projects aimed at reviving the country’s imperial past by making China the hub of commercial and political links with Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Xi has talked for some time about restoring China’s status as the world’s most wealthy and powerful nation, a position it held until the Industrial Revolution started in Europe two centuries ago. And work is already well underway on some elements of his ‘China Dream’, such as a US$57 billion corridor across Pakistan linking western China to the Indian Ocean.
In many of the capitals of South, Southeast and Central Asia, as well as the Middle East and Europe, however, there are qualms about the political influence that will inevitably come with Beijing’s investment and trade.
Many, including some of those leaders who gathered in Beijing on Sunday and Monday, have swallowed their misgivings in the face of what looks like the withering of the age of the American Imperium at the hands of the Trump regime.
China’s Communist Party leaders are masters of taking advantage of other country’s follies, or lapses of attention. Trump’s dumping of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership — which was always as much a security alliance to constrain Beijing’s ambitions as it was a trade deal — created a vacuum that Xi is happy to fill.
The U.S. president’s empty bluster over North Korea’s nuclear missile program and his evident lack of interest in confronting Beijing’s de facto occupation of the South China Sea have convinced many Asia leaders that Washington is no longer a reliable friend or patron.
The extraordinary story of Trump’s boastful blurting-out of classified information last week to visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Moscow’s Ambassador to Washington Sergei Kislyak, will only confirm suspicions that this infantile tenant of the Oval Office is not to be trusted.
Trump’s chatter to the two Russians about sensitive information given to Washington by an ally concerning atrocities planned by the terrorist Islamic State group was first reported by The Washington Post. It was quickly confirmed by other U.S. news outlets. Then, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Trump himself admitted the incident in two Tweets.
“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining … to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism,” he said.
In an unconvincing attempt at damage control, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, insisted to reporters on Tuesday morning that it had been “wholly appropriate” for Trump to share the information with the Russians.
While Trump’s Washington appears to be in a tailspin, Xi’s China has the wind beneath its wings.
On the domestic front, it does Trump’s standing no good that he was displaying excessive chumminess with the Russians the day after firing FBI director James Comey. He got the boot for pursuing allegations about Moscow’s many links to Trump’s coterie and efforts to boost his campaign for the presidency last year.
And Washington’s allies will be alarmed, to put it mildly, that their secrets are not safe with this blustering loudmouth. Since the end of the Second World War, the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing agreement between the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand has been the reinforced steel at the core of the Western Alliance.
If the U.S. president cannot be trusted with friends’ secrets, then no one is safe.
Washington’s NATO allies were already anticipating a struggle as they prepared for their first summit with Trump next week on May 25. News of his gabfest with the Russians will only reinforce the perception among NATO leaders and officials that Trump lacks adult qualities.
During the election campaign, Trump declared that NATO was “obsolete” and went on to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin. Then, during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in April, Trump suddenly asserted that the alliance is “no longer obsolete.”
This was more alarming than reassuring for NATO’s other 27 members because Trump appeared to mean that his own arrival as the head of the organization’s leading member had saved the alliance from obsolescence.
Foreign Policy magazine, an offshoot of The Washington Post corporate empire, is reporting that NATO officials are attempting to stage-manage next week’s summit to take into account Trump’s self-obsession, ignorance and fleeting attention span. The magazine says it has been told by NATO officials that speeches are to be limited to four minutes and that there will be no attempt to produce a joint communiqué at the end of the summit.
While Trump’s Washington appears to be in a tailspin, Xi’s China has the wind beneath its wings.
The One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan was first set out in 2013 and is nothing short of Beijing’s blueprint for building an empire. It sets out the construction of five types of links between China and nations across Asia, the Middle East and Europe that are both physical and political. They cover co-ordinated policies between Beijing and its OBOR partners, the building of infrastructure links such as roads, railways, pipelines, and telecommunications, trade and investment agreements, and financial and people-to-people exchanges.
Much of the money will come from China’s massive currency reserves, which will itself forge ties and obligations with partner states. However, China’s estimate of about US$1 trillion for the projects is probably very optimistic. The global analysis and risk assessment company Oxford Analytica says the final cost could be as high as US$8 trillion.
While many governments are easily seduced by Chinese money that doesn’t come with demands for political reform, as often happens with donations from the West, many of their citizens are not so happy.
There have been riots and demonstrations in Sri Lanka over Beijing’s expansion of the port at Hambantota and similar protests in Pakistan over the corridor project based on the port of Gwadar.
And among governments, India in particular views OBOR with alarm. All India’s neighbours in South Asia attended Xi’s Beijing summit, adding to New Delhi’s concern that China aims to contain India’s economic and regional influence.
India refused to attend the Beijing summit, citing its outrage over the fact that part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through the disputed territory of Kashmir. India’s outrage was further stoked during the Beijing summit when it was announced that China will put up US$8 billion to construct a railway line into India’s northern neighbour, Nepal. This will enhance the already substantial military transportation infrastructure China has built up to its own borders with India, much of it on disputed territory.
The European Union also has reservations about OBOR. EU officials at the summit would not give full endorsement for the scheme because it did not include commitments to social and environmental sustainability and transparency.

Women in Politics

A confession! Yes! I am a self-confessed addict of the ‘Game of Thrones’. I realized it when I was scouting through my little agenda book for missing tasks. Seemed more like an involuntary action (You see! The kind caused by brain fog), the ‘to-do-list’ of each day ended with – ’design a sigil today’.
Of late, my family has been gently reminding me that my gestures at the dinner table reminded of some tactical manoeuvres. I ended up writing ‘snow’ instead of ‘illegitimate son’ in a crime memo pertaining to a murder case. I actually heard ‘wildlings’ when Donald Trump was speaking about the people beyond the wall – a sad reflection of the modern day archetypes.
‘You know nothing is an oft-repeated phrase in my conversations (Though, I would love to say ‘winter is coming’ but it would sound absurd as Telangana is reeling under 40 degree Celsius). And my secret fantasy to have a sigil with a soaring eagle and a roaring dragon is short-lived, as Telangana Police has an emblem already.
What intrigues me the most about this HBO’s hit series is the highly-evolved military strategies, biting wits of Tyrion Lannister, Queen Cersei’s subversive tactics, it’s symbolic commentary on the socio-political scene of our times and more importantly its women -valorous, powerful and rising by the day.
Hailed as a cerebral antidote in contemporary media, Game of Thrones renewed my interest in exploring the lives of the ‘warrior queens’. I began my pursuit with the Roman literature. Queen Boadecia was a conscious choice to start with, as contemporary writings have drawn a strong parallel between her and Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi – our symbol of enduring spirit, exemplary valour, and a martyred past.
Much of our initiation into history comes through media. I wasn’t born when Thames Television made a television series ‘Warrior Queen’ for ITV on Boadecia, the Queen of the British celtic Iceni tribe, who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in AD 60. The 2003 film with the same title did very little to bring out the essence of the military acumen of the Queen.
Boadecia’s husband was a client – king of the Roman Empire, who paid protection money for retaining the kingdom. He died without a male heir and left the region for his daughters by asking their mother to act as the Queen Regent.
The Romans, however, ignored his will, assaulted the Queen and brutally raped the daughters. Regarded as one of the bloodiest retributive battles against the Romans, the Queen led her people to victory and became a legend.
What is strikingly common between these two remarkable women is that they didn’t represent the norm of the day. They registered the most telling moments in history by breaking gendered identities. In spite of the attempts by the British colonial renditions to limit her military prowess by representing her as a bloodthirsty Indian goddess Kali and as someone in a sexual pursuit of British manhood (Ref: The Queen’s Desire by Hume Nesbit – 1893) Rani Lakshmi Bai’s legend still stands strong in questioning the factors limiting women’s participation in public sphere.
History is full of irrefutable evidences like these to speak of such brave hearts, if we care enough to sift through the different shards of the generations gone by.
Kittur Chennamma, the Queen of a princely state in Karnataka, led an armed rebellion against the British East India Company in 1824 and became the symbol of native resistance.
Rani Abbakka was the first Tuluva Queen of Ullal, part of a Chowtla dynasty who ruled over coastal Karnataka in the 16th century. Hailed as Abhaya Rani (The fearless Queen), she was one of the earliest Indian women warriors, to have fought the Portughese quite valiantly.
Epitome of the Kannada Women’s valour, Keladi Chennamma reigned over the keladi Nayaka dynasty for 26 years and repelled the advances of Mughal army led by Aurangazeb.
There’s more. Razia Sultana, Rudrama Devi, Rani Mangammal, Rani Velu Natchiyar, Chand Bibi, Ahilya Bai Holkar, Rani Avanti Bai, Rani Durgavati………
The list is endless of the brave women who challenged the masculine spheres of war and politics and left an indelible mark. Their strong presence in popular culture till this day disrupts the historical narratives to modulate their significance. Yet, we are still debating the ability of women to rule and protect.
By delivering on his poll campaign pledge of a cabinet of parity, France’s new president Emmanuel Macron recently unveiled a gender-balanced cabinet with 11 of 22 posts to be handled by women.
Not long ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed 15 women in his 30 member cabinet in November 2015.
While the French and Canadians are raising a toast to their path to women’s liberation, 21st century India is still battling with the numbers and barely manages to make up a little less than 12% in the 542 – member Lok Sabha and 11% in the 245 – member Rajya Sabha. Gender representation in the cabinet is a mere 18.5% (with only 5 women ministers).
The most disturbing hypocritical binary of our times is that we name our streets on these brave women of India and but we don’t care enough to protect them on those streets. The word ‘Bharat Mata’ often resonates in our political space, but we still have misgivings in letting the ‘matas’ take centre stage.
The current political scenario is that of a bottom-heavy one with more elected women representing at grass roots. Unless women engage in decision-making positions, a more diverse political space will remain a distant dream. The political acumen and the bravery of these women warriors who lived generations ago is a rallying point for us to initiate a change.
If women don’t, no one else will.

Sunday Special: Today’s Vision Forecast Tomorrow

Star Trek and Star Wars show how visions of tomorrow mirror contemporary hopes and desires, revealing as much about us as our future. The following graph illustrates this thought. The upper section shows average productivity growth in the US over four discrete periods. Productivity is an imperfect yet still useful measure of how a society is evolving, for it defines how rapidly an economy can grow without rampant inflation. The lower section visualizes, on two levels, how society is dreaming about progress: the blue line represents our perception of technological change as accelerating or decelerating. The orange line represents the predominant reception of technological change as an opportunity or threat.
Both the perception (is it happening?) and the reception (is this good or bad?) of technological change are strongly correlated with productivity growth, in part of course because technology is a key driver of productivity growth. Yet, with major innovations showing up only after some time in productivity statistics, major shifts in the economic climate are normally first attributed to other factors. That is why there is a lag before people appreciate technological gains.
In the post-war decades, productivity grew on average at 2.7%, which means living standards doubled over that time. Technological change was seen as an enabler of societal progress and, along with new economic and societal freedoms, the dreams of future technological possibilities – from flying cars to colonies on Mars – grew bigger and bigger.
With the Nixon Shock, things changed. Average productivity growth dropped to 1.5% from 1970 until 1994, which meant the time needed for living standards to double increased from 25 to 45 years. This first shifted the reception of technology from a force for good to a potential threat. As the malaise continued, the perception of technology as an accelerating force in human evolution dropped, too. “Progress” was replaced by “innovation”, a smaller and more neutral term with no connotations of moral and social improvement.
Hyper-globalization and the fruits of technology
It took another shock, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, for people to regain their confidence in technology. In the hyper-globalization era of the 1990s and 2000s, average growth almost recovered to post-war heights. The fruits of the digital revolution began to show, and technology was seen again as a force for good, spreading the economic virtues of capitalism and the political values of the West across the planet.
But then the financial crisis of 2007-2009, and the rise of economies with little love for Western values, complicated the picture, and again we find ourselves imagining technologies dark side. From Her to Ex Machina to the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, our current fantasies take us to an unsettling world where human civilization and in fact the very definition of being human is under threat.
“We believe in innovation, but have given up on progress”
While this narrative is a vast simplification of modern economic history, it helps to make sense of how people think about technology. Average productivity growth since the global economic crisis is down to just over 1%, lower than after the Nixon Shock. It’s no wonder that our dreams have taken a darker turn. We believe in innovation, but have given up on progress, and the possibility of moral and social improvement. The defining feature of our days is that we feel like we live in an era of incredibly innovation, mostly thanks to staggering breakthroughs in science and technology; but, at the same time, we feel like there are insurmountable limits in the form of economic, political and environmental risks.
We must pay attention to this common sentiment, not as sci-fi enthusiasts, but as citizens and leaders. Dreams can make us go out and spend, start businesses and build factories; but they can also put fear in our hearts, make us lock our doors and save our resources. They can blind us from reality and cover up political horror but also inspire us to great achievements. “Longing on a large scale is what makes history,” writes novelist Don DeLillo.
Our real challenge is not the proverbial fight between man and machine, recounted so many times since the Luddite era. It is on the one hand the struggle against cynicism and apathy, the toxic by-products of trust that were squandered in the crises of our decade; on the other, it is the struggle with prophets who promise that technology will solve all problems. On both ends, it is the struggle with a technological discourse that discounts our ability to shape a better future; a discourse that makes us passive subjects in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Saturday Special: MODI (Making of Developed India)-A History Lesson

The more you study India’s history the more you have to marvel at our infinite capacity to fight among ourselves. Ashoka, the last of the great Mauryan emperors, fought the savage Kalinga battle circa 260 BCE; the deaths of over 300,000 people and the savage bloodshed he witnessed filled him with remorse, and about two and a half years later he embraced the young Buddhist religion.
Ashoka began to propagate his views on dharma, good deeds and governance through his rock and pillar edicts. As one account puts it, “By dharma, as Ashoka repeatedly declared, he understood the energetic practice of the socio-moral virtues of honesty, truthfulness, compassion, mercifulness, benevolence, non-violence, considerate behaviour towards all, ‘little sin and many good deeds,’ non-extravagance, non-acquisitiveness, and non-injury to animals. He spoke of no particular mode of religious creed or worship, nor of any philosophical doctrines.”
It took more than 2,000 years after Ashoka’s death in 232 BCE for his edicts, which were inscribed in languages as varied as Kharoshti, Greek, Aramaic and Brahmi, to be deciphered, foremost around 1837 by the polymath English administrator James Prinsep whom I have written about before. In many of his edicts Ashoka signs off as Piyadassi, the beloved of the gods.
After Kalinga, Ashoka focused on being a beloved, benign monarch, but Mauryan society was not happily homogeneous. Historian Romila Thapar quotes Megasthenes, the Seleucid ambassador, as recording seven castes based on occupation: philosophers (who were exempt from taxes), farmers, soldiers, herdsmen, artisans, magistrates and councillors. No subject was permitted to marry outside his or her caste.
In free, democratic and modern India, we are now beholden to scholars like Braj Bihari Kumar, an obscure anthropologist who as named earlier this month as the new chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). Kumar was quoted as writing in Dialogue, a journal he edited (I couldn’t access it on the internet) that caste and untouchability were the cause of slavery and forced conversions by India’s Muslim rulers. “A point, needing emphasis, is that caste in the present form, untouchability and intra-Hindu societal exploitation are entirely non-Hindu factors,” Kumar is quoted as writing.
In actual fact, caste appears to have been present in India long before the first Muslim invaders ever reached the borders of what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) describes as Akhand Bharat (Greater India).
Some of the history I brushed up on recently was about how caste, class and religion have divided Indians into untenably small principalities, fiefdoms and mini-kingdoms, and bred both complacency and indifference to inimical forces.
For instance, the Chach-nama, a Persian chronicle of the seventh and eighth centuries, describes the conquest of Sindh, and the defeat of the Hindu king Dahir by the Umayyad general Muhammad bin Qasim in 712 CE. This was the eastern-most edge of the Arab empire that engulfed the Iberian peninsula, northern Africa, and onwards through present-day Afghanistan to Sindh. The Indian dynasties who controlled much of the peninsula then – the Rashtrakutas, the Pratiharas and the Palas – were too busy fighting one another for control of the northern kingdom of Kannauj to pay heed to the mlechchas (unclean ones) as they referred derisively to the foreign invaders, who eventually consolidated their hold over their conquest. (Present-day Kannauj is represented in the Lok Sabha by Dimple Yadav, the bahu of the once-mighty caste-based ruling clan in Uttar Pradesh).
Kalinga is the historical name of Odisha. It is ruled by the Biju Janata Dal, long in power in the impoverished eastern state, and Narendra Modi has his eyes on that prize as he faces his own, democratic, battle there in 2019 state assembly elections, the same year he hopes to win a second term himself as prime minister.
Before he gets there, however, as Modi surveys the landscape three years into his first term, the question most Indians will be asking is, what Big Things does he have in store for them?
The biggest danger the unchallenged Modi faces is his own self. He could pull another rabbit out of his hat, like he did with demonetization, but how much shock and awe can the populace take? You can be sure he is carefully weighing his next move, just as he did all those years as an RSS pracharak, travelling widely, working quietly, accumulating friends and connections, and listening very carefully all the while.
There is not likely to be any threat from the fragmented opposition. One senior politician I spoke with said with the Congress party melting away like a Himalayan glacier, it is tempting to cite the TINA (there is no alternative) factor. But that was said of every strong leader since independence, “and an alternative power structure emerged by and by. Nature abhors a vacuum”.
Right now, Modi has the option to strengthen governance, really start to fix the country’s major economic problems, and reinforce our institutions. Sadly, none of this seems likely: the next two years will see a number of state elections. It will be very easy to succumb to the temptations of populist event management.
On governance, there is no sign of the Lokpal, and the ink-black world of political party finances has if anything become more impenetrable. On the economy, there is a depressing laundry list. Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya blithely promised 10 million jobs in the next two years (he said the same thing in January). Dattatreya’s ministry estimated, as of 2015, that 12.8 million Indians enter the labour force each year. Meanwhle, the twin balance sheets problem – banks wobbling under mountains of bad loans, and indebted businesses unable to step up investments – is nowhere near a hard-nosed resolution.
On April 21, Modi spoke to an audience of senior bureaucrats on Civil Service Day, exhorting them to be more courageous and less litigious. The television cameras caught at least two worthies yawning as the prime minister spoke. A few weeks earlier, Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian, speaking at a book discussion on Rethinking Public Institutions in India, said the Four C’s – the Central Vigilance Commission, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the courts – had paralysed decision-making.
Bureaucrats had absolutely no discretion to take bold decisions, Subramanian said. “The honest bureaucrat is risk-averse,” he said.
Both Subramanian and Modi noted the high rate of inter-departmental litigation clogging the courts. “You work for the same government,” Modi reminded the bureaucrats.
Underlining the alarming weaknesses in India’s institutions, the book I referred to, edited by Devesh Kapur, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Milan Vaishnav, notes that as the population rocketed to 1.2 billion by 2011, the size of the government shrank from 19.1 to 17.9 million. In the two decades to 2011, the size of the Indian Administrative Service dropped by 10%. The combined strength of the IAS and the Indian Police Service was less than 11,000, with a 28% vacancy rate. India’s diplomatic corps was smaller than Sweden’s. The list goes on.
Will Modi be able to tackle these, and a hundred other challenges? No question, if you listen to apostles like Information & Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, who was quoted the other day as saying “The dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has transformed the nation and put it on the fast road to development with the mantra Reform, Perform and Transform. MODI (Making of Developed India) movement was the story that is spreading all across the country.”

War Of Opposites: Hinduism’s Eclectic Nature v/s Hindutva’s Treatment of Dissent as Sedition

I am in search, in this surcharged environment, of the ‘asli’ (true) Hindu. There is a wide chasm between Hindutva and Hinduism. Hindutva is a political ideology with intent to capture power. It is in no way related to Hinduism, which is a way of life. Hindutva today is nothing but Hindu fundamentalism. It has no relationship with core Hindu philosophical tenets.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a follower of Swami Vivekananda. The latter’s enunciation of the core values of Hinduism might help in resisting the denigration of Hindu values through the ideology of Hindutva. In 1893 – at the World Parliament of Religions – Swami Vivekananda, when commenting on various religions, stated “each must assimilate the spirit of the other, and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.”
Hindutva is an ideology practised by RSS pracharaks who hold the reins of power and the self-proclaimed vigilantes who seek to represent its moral force. Both are attempting to destroy the individuality and the spirit behind those who embrace other religions.
For Swami Vivekananda, “Help and not fight”, “Assimilation and not Destruction”, “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension” should be the banner of every religion. Events of the recent past suggest that Hindutva’s essential characteristics are fuelling disharmony and discord.
Swami Vivekananda’s dream was to harmonise Vedanta, the Bible and Quran, because he believed that all religions are but expressions of Oneness and that each individual has the right to embrace his religion and choose the path that suits him best. Those who espouse the cause of Hindutva have not understood this meaning of Hinduism. If we continue along this path, the ‘asli’ Hindu might develop traits that have no resemblance to the tenets of his religion.
Swamiji’s prophetic words about food and eating habits have a definite bearing on protagonists of Hindutva entering into the kitchens of our households. Swamiji said “There is a danger of our religion getting into the kitchen…. Our God is the cooking-pot, and our religion is, ‘Don’t touch me, I am Holy’ … If this goes on for another century, every one of us will be in a lunatic asylum.”
These thoughts enunciated at the end of the 19th century should have guided mankind when embracing the 21st century. What we are witnessing today is ideologues of the 21st century harking back to 18th century mindsets. Our governments are now going to decide on our food habits.
Over the years, the Indian mind symbolised the spirit of tolerance. Many religions and cultures have flourished here. Christianity and Islam have found ample space to walk the path they wish to take. Diverse ideas and thoughts have been freely exchanged. Hindu intellectuals flourished within the courtyard of emperor Akbar. Sufi mystics have influenced lives of people over centuries. Yet, Hindutva seeks to efface the past and to build a divisive future.
The eclectic nature of Hinduism is lost on muscular Hindutva preachers. Even its diverse cultural dimensions are not fully appreciated by those who carry the badge of a pan-Indian cultural identity. Hindutva has a fascist, nationalistic and hegemonic dimension. Its diktats are patriarchal and casteist. The idea of a monolithic Hindu religion is unsuited to the inherent diversity of the people of India.
Hindutva as a movement “bristles with rage” at the “slightest criticism”. The ‘asli’ Hindu is merely a community without a sacred scripture or a founder. What needs protection are the values inherent in the diversity within Hinduism; not the values that Hindutva seeks to impose. Hindutva must not encourage the wanton loss of human lives in an attempt to protect the ‘holy cow’.
Hinduism, a loosely knit faith in which all can flourish is antithetical to the concept of a narrow set of beliefs, doctrines and practices. Both pantheism and agnosticism are part of the Hindu religion. Millions of Gods and Goddesses are part of the Hindu faith. The Hindutva narrative has no appetite for multiple strands of faith, schools of philosophy and diversity of tradition.
Violence and untruth have no place in the practice of Hinduism. Mahatma Gandhi’s fundamental beliefs rested on two pillars: ‘non-violence’ and ‘Truth’. RSS and the Hindutva they espouse believe in rumour mongering.
The spate of violence recently unleashed has made us insecure. Our prime minister’s silence on statements offering ransom to behead a chief minister is disturbing. Those unwilling to embrace Hindutva are asked to leave the country. The violence at Una, Dadri and the most recent incident at Alwar are all examples of levels of intolerance not witnessed in this country for years.
Dissent is treated as sedition. Those responsible for law and order silently watch Hindutva brigades create disorder. Events in JNU and University of Hyderabad vitiate the environment of learning by stirring passions. Networks in the social media have become platforms of abuse hurled by those paid to do so. Security forces are sent to academic campuses and protagonists of Hindutva are given a free run for attacking protesting students.
Yoga symbolises discipline. Hindutva elements espouse the cause of yoga and have demonstrated levels of indiscipline not seen before in recent times. Cultural superiority through Hindutva is confused with what represents true culture.
The ‘asli’ Hindu is silent. It is time for him to stand up and make his presence felt.

Story of Indian Army : From an Ummer Fayaz to a Wani

Is the Indian Army an occupation force in Kashmir? Over the last three-and-a-half decades that the army has been deployed in the Valley, this question has taken many meanings and forms, ranging from marauding, ruthless troops to being a force of stability in a difficult, violent situation.
Today, when the situation in the Valley is being compared with the late 1980s and 1990s when the army moved in large numbers, what’s easily forgotten is the interregnum. The army is, today, a part of daily life in Kashmir. New generations of Kashmiris have grown up living next door to military camps while the army, too, has learnt more about dealing with the Valley.
Here to Help
It has sought to wean off the occupation force tag through institutional responses, making the point that it has robust and fair mechanisms to deal with errant actions, regardless of rank and order.
To this end, it has shown willingness to open itself up to public scrutiny and debate where needed, trying to protect its operational privileges in the Valley guaranteed by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa). But behind this iron wall, the one narrative that the Indian Army has worked hard to cultivate is that of its own ethos rubbing off on local life. The army has always lived in this strong self-belief that regardless of what anyone says or does, as an institution, it has always won the hearts and minds of people in insurgency-hit areas.
So, when the Naga regiment does well in Kargil operations, it becomes a moment of glory for this narrative —a story of how the Nagas, identified with insurgent groups, were recruited, trained and equipped to fight for India.
Lt Ummer Fayaz represented that part of the narrative in Kashmir for the Indian Army. Which is why his killing has hurt the army more than all the sloganeering and assertions of it being an occupation force. In other words, Fayaz symbolised all that the army believes it has got right in Kashmir. The constant internal refrain within the army is that the last three decades have seen many of the likes of Burhan Wani in the Valley capturing the imagination of a particular generation at that time but never an alternate hero.
Wani also had his impact on this generation of Kashmiris. He became a poster boy of the Kashmiri struggle all over again with the Pakistan establishment highlighting his case in capitals across the world.
This time, however, India, too, has a Kashmiri face in Fayaz, one that the army believes is a result of its efforts. When close to 20,000 young men turn up at its recruitment fairs, the army views it a statement of confidence.
The belief among the forces appears quite strong that left to their own, Kashmir’s youth will take up employment opportunities in large numbers. So, the parallel with the past may be appealing but the situation on the ground is clearly not in the same league.
The Indian Army is not only well-entrenched but it also believes it has an effective story to stand for and fight for, one that it has nurtured and protected despite political upheavals in the last three decades.
Service Before Self
What does this add up to? Fayaz’s killing is bound to strengthen the military’s resolve even further. It will dig its heels in and want authority to deal with any violent situation.
The test for the government will be on whether to provide that legal comfort within the Afspa by way of fresh legislation or amendment after the recent Supreme Court order on allowing first information reports (FIRs) to be registered on encounters.
Yes, the Valley is probably set up for difficult times given the acrimony between India and Pakistan. But Fayaz’s killing has changed the complexion of the pitch completely.
The Indian Army believes that it’s own story is on test now and it simply cannot let things slide back. Essentially, the Indian Army locates itself within the country’s democratic narrative and is increasingly using those tools to register protest or to counter allegations of excess, or, for that matter, even to address veteran welfare issues.
This is a gradual but impressive evolution of a colonial army into a democratic civilian controlled one, quite different from some of the other armies in the subcontinent that shares the same roots. So, when described as an occupation force in the Valley, the Indian Army has tried to respond with its own reach-out.
After all, just like those who pulled out an unsuspecting Fayaz from a wedding, there was also an insider who helped the Army and gave up Wani. And, to that extent, for the army, the battle lines in the Valley are drawn between the idea of Fayaz and the narrative of Wani — a cause they believe is worth fighting for.

How Iran sees the World: Anti-Americanism Remains Iran’s Credo

Iran is having presidential elections today when incumbent Hassan Rouhani stands for re-election. The world would watch as Rouhani was instrumental in the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted some economic sanctions and he is currently seen as a reformist invested in an economic revival. His main rival Ebrahim Raisi is a cleric who runs the country’s largest charitable foundation and was part of a tribunal that oversaw the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
The campaign was heated with Rouhani even accusing the powerful revolutionary guards of trying to sabotage the nuclear deal. Whatever the outcome, it would be prudent to understand that Iran is only looking for a truce beyond which it does not really care about the US narrative. A journey into Iran and access to government, the foreign office, media and most significantly the clerics who control the system, forces one to recognise that Iran believes it is the only stable country left in the region because it has blocked out the US.
In the days of the Shah, the US had a strategic relationship with the Imperial Republic of Iran, its single largest arms purchaser. Ever since the 1979 Islamic revolution anti-Americanism has been sustained by the regime that’s now been in power for close to four decades. A well evolved doctrine unambiguously holds the US responsible for the wars that have destroyed the region in pursuit of strategic control of an oil rich area, plus the need to destabilise nations that question Israel.
The official itinerary for this visitor did not include a visit to the US embassy in Tehran, abandoned since January 20, 1981 when American diplomats were allowed to leave the country after being held hostage for 444 days. But it was worth it to go off schedule for a while. The painted signs on the walls of the embassy still say in Persian “Oh Amrika, we will crush you under the soles of our feet.” There has apparently been no strategic decision to indulge in the niceties of removing such slogans.
In the badly maintained garden of the embassy there are a few posters in English that mock the US (“Human rights only for Whites?” and “United States of Saudi-Israeli America”). A sign calls it the “Museum Garden of Anti Arrogance”. The building itself is called 13 Aban Museum, marking the day on the Islamic calendar when students took over the embassy. Inside, rooms and equipment have signs such as “secret and spying section of Embassy”, “document destroying room” and so on. As for the presidential elections, there is fair voting but all the candidates are allowed to contest after being cleared by a Guardian Council that works under the Supreme Leader (the constitution gives a religious jurist the custodianship of the people). Ali Khamenei has been Supreme Leader since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 and beyond the presidential debates, there is also the quiet realisation that eventually a successor to the Supreme Leader will have to be found.
This is done by an Assembly of Experts, a body of religious scholars who are voted in for eight year terms. Haj Abul Qasim is a member of this influential body besides being head of the Jurisprudential Research Centre of Social Systems in Qom, the centre of Shia scholarship in the world. His views are clear and here are some samples: There are dangers to letting the West into Iran as the strategy of imperialist powers is to penetrate. They talk of freedom but bring war to the region. The threats Of Amrika do not trouble us much as Iranians get united against them. The talk of a Shia Sunni divide is being pushed but there are many things that unite us and it is best to focus on the fact that many Sunnis are also in the fight against imperialist powers.
Finally, to a question on whether Iran should spend its resources within its boundaries as some Iranians argue, a firm reply is given: The Iranian system considers itself tasked to challenge the borders established by imperialist powers. Anyone who says we should only look at ourselves is going against Islamic teachings. If a Muslim hears a cry for help from another human being and does not rise to help him, he is not a Muslim.
Iran has indeed survived an eight year long war with Iraq (then an ally of the US) and economic sanctions and is still influential enough to openly back Hezbollah in Lebanon, the embattled Syrian regime in Damascus and the Iraqi regime battling Islamic State (IS). The Iranian foreign office suggests that even if the president of Syria has to go, the successor cannot be dictated by Western powers in alliance with the Saudis. The state media believes the Saudis and US see IS as a strategic asset in the region and only pretend to fight it.
Towards India there is goodwill as a country that stood by Iran in spite of the sanctions. Civilisational links are mentioned. Iran believes it has given India an opportunity in developing the Chabahar port that could be our gateway to Afghanistan and central Asia. They ask why we are so slow in moving on the ground. They point to the commonality between the two nations. Iran, says the head of the chamber of commerce, is strong today because the economic sanctions also forced it to develop a “resistance economy” and stand on its own feet. Just as Hindustan once did, he adds.

Post-globalisation

The political economy of the world is changing again. Where is it heading, and who will arbitrate its direction? What will be its new ground norm? Will states reclaim control over their markets? How will it impact multilateral institutions, nations, non-state actors and individuals across an uneven world?
These questions have been around for a while and it will be some time before their final answers take shape. Their relevance, nevertheless, has grown with the recent (and significant) change of administration in the US. Social forces, akin to those responsible for the ongoing political turmoil in western Europe, now control the levers of state power in the US, which has set the ideological agenda of the global capitalist economy since the Second World War.
Across the West, the winds of social change have blown away entrenched economic, political and moral distinctions between liberalism and conservatism, left and right, populism and authoritarianism. There are now strange hybrids — erstwhile conservatives who adopt LGBT causes, and proclaimed liberals who support rabid nationalism — that defy categorisation, and many see the roots of a new kind of fascism sprouting from this mishmash.
These new identities are, in turn, reshaping the political landscape of Western democracies. In their bid for survival and relevance, many political parties are trying to align themselves with the pernicious populisms being espoused by demagogues and debutante parties. In many cases, their leaders have had no qualms in ditching their old worldviews and embracing the new reality and its champions.
Can Western populists really redefine the world’s economy?
Such a transition took place in the 1980s in the US and UK when political parties to the left of centre moved away from welfare-ism to adopt the free market economic agenda of globalisation, popularised by Reaganomics and Thatcherism, to remain relevant. However, the current challenge is far greater and broader, with racial, cultural and religious undercurrents that are more treacherous than its economic dimension.
The West had triumphantly proclaimed the rise of political liberalism intertwined with free market economics as the ‘end of history’, the final iteration of government. As it is, this victory has been short-lived, and the West is now gearing up to embark on another ideological journey. Their populist leaderships would naturally aim to reconfigure the global economy in accordance with the priorities of the social groups who elected them — constricting the free flow of goods, capital and particularly labour across borders, and replacing globalisation with a new ideological paradigm they pledged would reboot their stagnant economies. The question is whether they can steer this new ideological shift and transmit it to the rest of the world, as was done in the past through Bretton Woods Institutions and other means. There are at least three major factors that make this a challenging task in today’s world.
First, the rise of competing centres of power and prosperity in different parts of the world, brought about by two major historical developments, decolonisation and globalisation, which radically transformed the world’s political and economic landscape after the Second World War. There are many large nation-states outside the western hemisphere that possess the military and economic clout to set their own domestic and regional political economy agendas and assert their power in case the need arises. Many are actually hostile to the new economic and political ideas being peddled by the West’s ascendant social groups and perceive them as serious threats to world peace and prosperity.
Second, the West itself is a house divided. Its internal dissonance is at its worst since the Second World War. More than any other force, globalisation has eroded its social and political cohesion by creating economic winners and losers amongst states and individuals. It has also nurtured a critical mass of individuals who staunchly believe in liberal values (openness, tolerance and diversity) as the way forward for their societies and are willing to engage in political activism. Mired in domestic troubles, Western states are mostly looking inwards. They are interested in putting their own house in order rather than projecting their combined power to the global arena.
Third, the digitisation and global outreach of communication, business and knowledge networks. This great innovation of our times, a gift of globalisation, has eliminated the distinction between ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’ when it comes to building ideological resistance and disseminating alternative viewpoints. Similarly, global production and consumption value chains have created interdependencies, which can only be calibrated through the convergence of ideas across borders. It is difficult to subsume such complexities in ideological agendas that serve the interests of particular groups or states.
The world beyond globalisation may actually be without a hegemonic ideology, with powerful states pursuing their own agendas.
 

Trump is Not Nixon

The opposition to Trump is pathological. “Can you believe the world we live in today? Isn’t it crazy?” Indeed it is, Mr Presi­dent. And guess who would qualify as the pri­mary piece of evidence in making this case.
The quotation above comes from Donald Trump’s recent tête-à-tête with Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to Washington respectively. A photographer for the official Russian Tass news agency witnessed the encounter, but all American media representatives were excluded.
It was, however, The Washington Post rather than any Russian outlet that on Monday reported a far more serious faux pas. Apparently, during the chat Trump revealed to the Russians a piece of highly classified information that had not been shared even with the closest US allies. It related to the militant Islamic State group’s planned use of laptop computers to wreak havoc on aeroplanes — and presumably accounts for the laptop ban on some flights to the US.
Sharing such information with all nations that might potentially be affected would, of course, be the decent thing to do. Equally, it might not be wise to do so in a manner that risks compromising the source. But perhaps that’s too fine a distinction for Trump, who is also quoted as having boasted during his meeting with the Russians: “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.”
The adjective ‘Nixonian’ has given Trump cause for concern.
It’s almost as if he can’t believe his luck in being thrust into a prime position. He’s not the only one. Talk of impeachment has been ramped up since last week’s peremptory dismissal of James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who had lately been seeking extra resources for probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian state. Should it come to pass, no one would be particularly surprised to find it being declared, in a 4am presidential tweet, as the greatest impeachment ever, with the highest conceivable television ratings.
Comey’s public intervention on the eve of last year’s presidential election, when he declared that Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton was under investigation once more for email abuse, after having been cleared of inappropriate intent for using a private server during her tenure as secretary of state, likely played a not insignificant role in boosting Trump’s chances. Even though Comey stepped back just days later to declare no grievous offence had been committed, he offered not the slightest hint that the Trump campaign was simultaneously under a far more serious investigation.
Comey’s public statements last year, initially welcomed by Trump, led to comparisons on the Democratic side of the fence between him and J. Edgar Hoover’s disgracefully relentless pursuit of civil rights beacon Martin Luther King Jr, including the suggestion, around the time King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, that he should commit suicide. King refused to bow — even though he felt sufficiently intimidated to suspend direct contact with reputedly communist associates — and was assassinated in 1968, shortly before Bobby Kennedy suffered a similar fate.
Kennedy was attorney general under his brother, John F. Kennedy, when he approved the FBI’s wiretapping of King. Neither brother was a fan of Hoover’s, but dismissing him was out of the question, given how much he knew about the Kennedys’ sexual dalliances. The trove of information to which he had the keys meant that the proto-fascistic Hoover effectively became the FBI’s director-for-life when it was constituted in 1935, after having presided for 11 years over its predecessor, the Bureau of Investigation. His overall tenure added up to almost 47 years, during which the FBI did not restrict itself to fighting crime but also substantially undermined American democracy.
Things changed, to an extent, after Hoover. It was, after all, FBI associate director Mark Felt who turned out to be Deep Throat, the secret whistleblo­wer who served as the primary source for Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, whose reports sealed the fate of the Nixon presidency. And Comey more than once cited Hoover’s crusade against King as a partisan abuse of FBI powers.
The adjective ‘Nixonian’ and the phrase ‘worse than Watergate’, meanwhile, have been bandied about sufficiently in recent days to give Trump considerable cause for concern, not least after he undermined the White House narrative about Comey being fired on Department of Justice advice and suggested his conversations with the director had been recorded.
Trump heads out later this week on his first foreign foray as president, with Saudi Arabia as his first port of call, followed by Israel and the Vatican, after which he will attend Nato and G7 summits in Brussels and Sicily respectively. It’s bound to be a most entertaining journey, and his hardworking minders will no doubt be on red alert. But chances are that the question of whether he’ll ultimately be led out of the White House by men in dark suits or men in white coats will only be reinforced in the process.

Wahhabism, meet Han-ism

With Beijing elevating the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative’s political visibility through heads of government summit this week, India needs to craft a sharper policy position. Over the past two years, New Delhi waited and watched as China sought political buy-in from Asian powers for OBOR. India subtly communicated to China that a trans-regional project of this magnitude required wider consultation.
When Beijing chose to sidestep this request, India articulated concerns – at the highest level, no less – regarding its own sovereign claim on those regions of Jammu & Kashmir that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would traverse.
China’s wanton disregard for Indian sensitivities suggests the debate on OBOR’s economic potential is now academic. There cannot be any serious discussion on India joining or not joining OBOR unless New Delhi feels its political sovereignty – the very basis of governance – is respected by the project. Far from this, CPEC (the life and soul of OBOR) threatens India’s territorial integrity in a manner unseen since 1962.
China, through its economic corridor with Pakistan, has proposed a dramatic redrawing of demographic and geographic boundaries. It is undertaking an unabashed, confrontational and neo-colonial smash and grab in south Asia.
It is capturing key real estate in the wider region. Beijing is building islands in South China Sea, contesting territorial claims of neighbours in the East China Sea, and even aspires for greater control of the Malacca Straits. It has bankrolled its way to political supremacy in central Asia. It now seeks to build overtly economic but covertly military facilities and bases through the CPEC route – in Gwadar but also Gilgit-Baltistan.
Islamabad is willing to offer such stations in return for Beijing’s protection and money. The most obvious attempt is to engineer a political solution to the Kashmir dispute by changing “facts on the ground”.
If China managed to do this in the South China Sea by constructing entire islands in disputed waters, CPEC will create permanent or semi-permanent projects that will change the nature of the economy and society in Gilgit-Baltistan. The region will be swamped by Chinese and Punjabis who will exploit its location and pillage its civilisation for common benefit.
Not only would CPEC run roughshod over the sacred Panchsheel principle of “mutual respect”, it would also destroy any chance of a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute. In effect, Pakistan and China are suggesting that it is conceivable Jammu & Kashmir (and Gilgit-Baltistan and presumably Ladakh) can be segregated into separate units that merit unique economic, political and military engagement.
CPEC also triggers concern that economic concessions by Pakistan will lead to ceding of territory, for which the 1963 Sino-Pakistani agreement is a precedent. Ironically, China’s involvement in economic activities in contested territories goes against the grain of its own policy on FTAs between Taiwan and third parties.
By investing in CPEC, the UK and EU are complicit in this design. In effect, European money is being used by China to limit Western political leverage in Asia, and assist Pakistan to continue to sponsor anti-India radicalism.
China’s hardline approach in Xinjiang province offers a clue to what CPEC could do to Gilgit-Baltistan. The 2000 census said while the native Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang remained the largest ethnic group at 48%, Han Chinese made up 40%. This was an astonishing turnaround from the overwhelming 90% majority Uyghurs enjoyed in the 1950s.
Han Chinese are said to dominate the province today, as they are economically better off and awarded the best jobs and highest positions. Uyghur culture and customs have been suppressed. There are restrictions on fasting during Ramzan, Muslim baby names are labelled “extremist” and even the length of beards is regulated.
Is Gilgit-Baltistan the next frontier for such demographic re-engineering? In 1974, Pakistan abolished a rule that prevented non-locals from buying land in Gilgit-Baltistan. This Shia-dominated region saw rampant Sunni expansionism and settlement of people from all over Pakistan. “As of January 2001, the old population ratio of 1:4 (non-locals to locals) had been transformed to 3:4,” suggests the South Asia Intelligence Review.
CPEC will make Gilgit-Baltistan the meeting ground for a volatile osmosis of two supremacist projects: Wahhabism and Han-ism. Both aim for complete social domination of communities. This would not only alter the region’s demographic composition but also reduce Gilgit-Baltistan to a tinderbox of ethnic, religious and sectarian conflict, with grave security consequences for south and central Asia.
And finally China’s brazen disregard for concerns of sovereignty cuts to the heart of its bilateral relationship with India, which had long been premised on respect for principles of non-intervention, territorial integrity and peaceful resolution of disputes. If that basis no longer holds, Indian policy makers must seriously revisit the benefits of joining China-led multilateral initiatives. Some would even question the political viability of Brics going forward.
CPEC will create domestic pressures on India to incubate sub-conventional support for oppressed peoples in Gilgit, Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. It could intervene more directly in highlighting such issues in Balochistan, another CPEC waystation. While India’s $2.5 trillion economy brings limitations to any response, these steps will act as a benchmark for the future.
For now, India may resist the race to the bottom, ie confront violations of sovereignty with proportionate counter-violations. But policy planners in Beijing should not test India’s ability to impose Himalayan hurdles on the belt and road.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s $500 Billion Push To Reshape The World In China’s Image

Led by President Xi Jinping, China could pour over $500 billion into 62 countries over 5 years. China is one of the few countries in the world today with money to spend, and Xi Jinping is ready to write some cheques.
China’s president was host almost 30 world leaders in Beijing on Sunday at the first Belt and Road Forum, the centerpiece of a soft-power push backed by hundreds of billions of dollars for infrastructure projects. More than 100 countries on five continents have signed up, showing the demand for global economic cooperation despite rising protectionism in the U.S. and Europe.
For Xi, the initiative is designed to solidify his image as one of the world’s leading advocates of globalization while U.S. President Donald Trump cuts overseas funds in the name of ” America First.” The summit aims to ease concerns about China’s rise and boost Xi’s profile at home, where he’s become the most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping died in 1997.
The Belt and Road Initiative “will likely be Xi’s most lasting legacy,” said Trey McArver, the London-based director of China research for TS Lombard, an investment research company. “It has the potential to remake global — particularly Asian — trade and economic patterns.”
The strategy also carries risks. The initiative is so far little more than a marketing slogan that encompasses all sorts of projects that China had initiated overseas for years, and major world leaders like Trump, Angela Merkel and Shinzo Abe are staying away. How Xi answers a range of outstanding questions will go a long way in determining its success.
Key to reducing uncertainty will be addressing the concerns of strategic rivals like India, Russia and the U.S., particularly as China’s growing military prowess lets it be more assertive over disputed territory. Chinese moves to spend more than $50 billion on an economic corridor passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, build a port in Djibouti and construct oil pipelines in central Asia are all creating infrastructure that could be used to challenge traditional powers.
“China needs to recognize that the way it perceives the Belt and Road Initiative is not necessarily the same way others will,” said Paul Haenle, a former China director on the U.S. National Security Council who now heads the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing. For countries like the U.S., he said, “it’s impossible not to view the BRI through a geopolitical lens — a Chinese effort to build a sphere of influence.”
Excess Capacity
In September 2013, when Xi first pitched the plan at an obscure Kazakhstan university, he focused on the Eurasia landmass. Since then, it has repeatedly changed names and expanded to include the entire world, with the main goal of rebuilding the ancient trading routes from China to Europe overland and by sea.
One key driver was economic: China wants to spur growth in underdeveloped hinterlands and find more markets for excess industrial capacity. With more than $3 trillion in international reserves — more than a quarter of the world’s total — China has more resources than developed economies struggling to hit budget targets.
The plan gained steam last year when populist movements spurred a backlash against trade and immigration in the U.S. and Europe. Brexit raised questions about the European Union’s viability, while Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership gutted the biggest U.S. push to shape global economic rules.
Trade Champion
“It was very disappointing, and it makes us feel that there is a big vacuum that Belt and Road can help to fill,” Cheah Cheng Hye, chairman and co-chief investment officer at the Hong Kong-based Value Partners Group. “So all of sudden, we begin to appreciate this Chinese initiative.”
Xi wasted no time filling the void. With exporting nations looking for a free-trade champion, he told the global elite in Davos, Switzerland, to resist protectionism and join China in boosting global commerce.
The U.S. and Europe “almost unwittingly” created space for Xi to push China’s interests, according to Peter Cai, research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. “China is offering an alternative to the U.S. version of globalization,” Cai said. “In the Chinese case, it’s globalization paved by concrete: railways, highways, pipelines, ports.”
Draft Communique
This year, five European countries — Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, France and Italy — openly voiced support for the initiative. On trips to China in February, Italian President Sergio Mattarella proposed plans for the ports of Genoa and Trieste, while French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve attended the arrival ceremony of a freight train from Lyon.
The summit will feature the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Greece’s Alexis Tsipras and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. The U.S. will send Matt Pottinger, a special assistant to Trump and senior director for East Asia on the National Security Council, according to State Department spokesman Justin Higgins.
A draft communique circulated before the event combined a commitment to open markets with endorsements of China’s diplomatic goals, Bloomberg reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the document. It also generated some controversy among Beijing-based diplomats who said they didn’t have enough time to vet the document, underscoring the initiative’s potential to cause conflict.
$500 Billion
China has invested more than $50 billion in Belt and Road countries since 2013, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Credit Suisse Group AG said this month that China could pour more than $500 billion into 62 countries over five years.
Some previous Chinese ventures abroad have turned sour. While China’s no-strings-attached approach to investment is generally welcomed by developing countries, they often have poor credit ratings and questionable governance. China has struggled to recoup loans in Venezuela and Africa, and several projects in Central Asia have spurred protests. Announcements with big dollar signs often fail to materialize.
Nonetheless, Chinese scholars see the sum of Xi’s plan as bigger than any individual project. It represents a “profound change” in how China interacts with the world, according to Wang Yiwei, director of at Renmin University’s Institute of International Affairs in Beijing, who has written three books on the initiative.
“China has moved from a participant of globalization to a main leader,” he said. “It’s Globalization 2.0.”
n a recent speech to a think tank, the Chinese ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, who has also served as ambassador to Pakistan, invited India to join the One Belt, One Road project and reassured New Delhi that for all of China’s close ties with Pakistan, China seeks stable and prosperous ties with India too. Mr Luo’s comments come ahead of a major OBOR summit in Beijing, which India has declined to attend, and build on recent attempts by China to align India’s so-called Act East policy with OBOR. For Pakistan, there are vital lessons to be drawn from the Chinese overtures to India. First, China’s policy of putting trade ahead of disputes, and not just verbally emphasising but working practically for regional connectivity, is something that Pakistan must seriously consider emulating. Second, Pakistani policymakers’ reflexive argument that China is Pakistan’s friend first in South Asia ought to be reconsidered in the light of the very sensible formulation by Mr Luo of a ‘China first’ policy — national interest rightly trumping the more irrational hopes of even close allies.

China’s OBOR – More Dangerous than Old Colonialism

Today as more that 100 countries meet in Beijing, let us realize that it is an homage paid to a new upcoming lord. China’s vast ambitions will be on display next week when it advertises its epic One Belt, One Road (Obor) initiative in front of an impressive international audience with leaders and delegates from 138 countries, representing a formidable geographic and political spread. The scale is audacious, the idea troubling.
So where in the world is America on this big play by China? Answer: Partly hawking private business opportunities to the Chinese and partly engaging in a very public bromance with President Xi Jinping with a small helping of ‘unpredictability’ on the side.
Last week, Nicole Kushner Meyer, the sister of Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, was in Beijing telling the Chinese how an investment in her family’s luxury apartment complex could help them get ‘investor’ visas at $500,000 a piece. They should move quickly before the rules change or the price goes up.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meanwhile, spoke to anxious US diplomats about Trump’s foreign policy. The speech was remarkable for its deeply appreciative portrait of China. It was all but a bow to the ‘new type of great power relations’ that Xi has been asking for some time.
Point of note: Tillerson did not once mention India in his 6,500 word-long speech — not in the context of Asia, Asia-Pacific, the wide, wide world or the universe. It was a scratch-your-head moment. A strategic partnership that was meant to fix the future and balance the power of China surely deserved a definitive iteration by the US’ chief diplomat in his first real speech.
Folks, so there you have it. Some say India must exercise ‘strategic patience’ because the US focus always rests on allies and adversaries, and India is neither. And every US president begins with a China-first policy.
Trump’s bromance — albeit a little more passionate — has been every president’s first instinct ever since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger opened the floodgates. Jimmy Carter campaigned on the promise not to kowtow and have real relations with Taiwan, but the Chinese stared him down. Ronald Reagan, too, backpedalled on Taiwan.
Bill Clinton famously proclaimed during his campaign he won’t sup with the “butchers of Beijing”, only to become China’s most high-powered advocate. He was prone to telling Indian diplomats that China was where the real action was, India was a sideshow. Barack Obama dreamed of a G-2 for the first two years and then pivoted. New Delhi has been patient with America’s regular flirtations. But patience is not a good enough answer to Obor.
As Aparna Pande of the Hudson Institute says, “The Indian Ocean region is critical to India’s security and economy Apart from having long-standing historical, cultural, religious and commercials ties with countries in the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions, India has faced threats from land-based empires in ancient and medieval times, while during the colonial era, the conquerors — Dutch, Portuguese, French and the British — came to India via the sea.
US officials insist — and rightly so — that the strategic convergence with India on the perils of Chinese assertiveness can only grow, and that the fundamentals of India-US relations are strong. But they look away when asked to square the comforting view with Trump’s ostentatious admiration for Xi and the daily accommodation of China.
Last heard, Trump was dithering on an arms package for Taiwan to avoid hurting Beijing’s feelings and jeopardising its help on the North Korea crisis. It’s another matter that Xi has done nothing concrete to earn the many free passes. In fact, so emboldened is Xi that ahead of the April summit, he reportedly demanded Trump sack Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, as a price for Chinese help on North Korea.
This is the background against which China is set to make its biggest geopolitical play, a plan unprecedented in scale and worrisome in scope. Even in its most benign avatar — if Chinese characters are to be believed that it’s all about connectivity, stupid — it still gives Beijing unprecedented influence on the political economy of 65 countries.
India has been arguing for some time that the strategic implications of Obor and its subset, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), are immense not just for India but for the wider world. The truth is, Obor is not Globalisation 2.0 but Dominance 3.0. If colonialism was about super exploitation and western dominance, Obor could be both Chinese dominance and resource extraction with far greater planning and penetration.

Creativity- the Driver of Next Industrial Revolution

Growth in the first industrial revolution was driven by engineering, the second through electricity and production lines, and the third by technology and information. The modern economies that will undergo a fourth industrial revolution will not be those that worship machines, but those that support human creativity. When we understand how people think and work best, we will be compelled to put our workers’ well-being first in the name of both health and economic productivity.
For centuries, human health has been systematically traded for economic growth. The word labor originated in medieval Europe during a decline in slavery and widespread adoption of money, and symbolizes the monetization of human skill: “productive work, especially physical toil done for wages.” Its modern definition, and how we perceive productivity, came about through the process of industrialization.
The first, second, and third industrial revolutions
In the mid-17th century, the nature of work changed when rural, agrarian societies shifted to become urban and industrial. Economic growth meant going underground for energy and into factories for manufacturing. The detrimental effects to workers’ health in these industries are well documented: In the name of financial gain, miners and factory workers were subject to hazardous conditions that often resulted in illnesses, physical pain, and early death.
The first industrial revolution presented economic opportunities fraught with dangerous labor. The tradeoff of well-being for economic benefit was clear: Employers knowingly ran businesses that paid workers not just for their time, but also for their health.
Employers knowingly ran businesses that paid workers not just for their time, but also for their health. Over time, machines took over from humans in dictating the pace of production, and working hours soared. Rising demand outpaced supply, meaning that businesses could maximize profits by manufacturing around the clock. An extensive study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) into working hours explains how the concept of “working time” in early industrialization was based on the perception that hours spent outside work were regarded as “lost time.”
Through these developments, the perceived dichotomy of work and life emerged: Work is the time dedicated to economic gain, while life is the time spent on our mental and physical needs. Four hundred years later, our contemporary culture of “living for the weekend” is a reflection of how this form of exchange became an accepted aspect of our existence.
The fourth industrial revolution
Western countries now firmly in throes of the third industrial revolution successfully shifted from manual to skilled labor. Yet the mentality that time spent outside work is “lost” hasn’t changed. The ILO study points out that even a recorded decrease in working hours is shaky because of the institutionalization of overtime and out-of-office work, such as mindlessly replying to emails on your phone.
One example of how businesses and organizations are trying to create a more effective workforce is not actually based in work, but in the office spaces in which it is conducted. The new wave of “fun” workplaces that are now standard in high-tech companies is a continuation of finding solutions to the wrong problem; the aim of such designs is often to encourage longer work hours and company loyalty. Facebook went as far as offering workers $10,000 to live closer to the office.
However, the link between an employee spending more time in the office and being more productive with their time is rather tenuous. Workers might clock more hours and stay longer at a company if the surroundings are comfortable, but the assumption that this makes them better at what they do is unfounded.
Another design-based example is open-plan offices. In the push to lower overheads—and under the false assumption that it would encourage better working practices—private rooms were traded for non-divided workspaces. This resulted in environments that increase stress, particularly due to noise. Stress has become the dominant cost to human health at work. A 2016 report found that stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill-health cases in the UK and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.
Studies carried out as early as the 1970s have shown that stress can be beneficial for performing simple or familiar tasks, but detrimental to ones requiring complex, flexible thinking. The prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain associated with executive function, which contributes to decision making, predictions, and many of our highest cognitive processes related to learning and imagination. Increased levels of catecholamine released during stress harms the performance of the prefrontal cortex, including persistent loss of these functions from chronic stress. Naming just one aspect of how working conditions affect us cognitively, there are many more that stem from our environmental and social context.
As robots increasingly take on manual labor, we will need to foster what differentiates human from machine (at least for now): creativity. Evidence that psychological and physical well-being is paramount to creative thinking will turn the historic exchange of human health for economic growth on its head. As Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum writes, “I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production.”

Climate Change & Redistribution of Life on Earth

Last year in Paris, for the very first time, English sparkling wine beat champagne in a blind tasting event. Well established French Champagne houses have started buying fields in Britain to grow grapes, and even the royal family is investing in this new venture.
At the same time, coffee-growing regions are shrinking and shifting. Farmers are being forced to move to higher altitudes, as the band in which to grow tasty coffee moves up the mountain.
The evidence that climate change is affecting some of our most prized beverages is simply too great to be ignored. So while British sparkling wine and the beginning of the “coffeepocalypse” were inconceivable just a few decades ago, they are now a reality. It’s unlikely that you’ll find many climate deniers among winemakers and coffee connoisseurs. But there are far greater impacts in store for human society than disruptions to our favourite drinks.
Dramatic examples of climate-mediated change to species distributions are not exceptions; they are fast becoming the rule. As our study published last week in the journal Science shows, climate change is driving a universal major redistribution of life on Earth.
These changes are already having serious consequences for economic development, livelihoods, food security, human health, and culture. They are even influencing the pace of climate change itself, producing feedbacks to the climate system.
Species on the move
Species have, of course, been on the move since the dawn of life on Earth. The geographical ranges of species are naturally dynamic and fluctuate over time. But the critical issue here is the magnitude and rate of climatic changes for the 21st century, which are comparable to the largest global changes in the past 65 million years. Species have often adapted to changes in their physical environment, but never before have they been expected to do it so fast, and to accommodate so many human needs along the way.
For most species – marine, freshwater, and terrestrial species alike – the first response to rapid changes in climate is a shift in location, to stay within their preferred environmental conditions. On average, species are moving towards the poles at 17km per decade on land and 78km per decade in the ocean. On land, species are also moving to cooler, higher elevations, while in the ocean some fish are venturing deeper in search of cooler water.
Why does it matter?
Different species respond at different rates and to different degrees, with the result that new ecological communities are starting to emerge. Species that had never before interacted are now intermingled, and species that previously depended on one another for food or shelter are forced apart.
Why do changes in species distribution matter?
This global reshuffling of species can lead to pervasive and often unexpected consequences for both biological and human communities. For example, the range expansion of plant-eating tropical fish can have catastrophic impacts by overgrazing kelp forests, affecting biodiversity and important fisheries.
In wealthier countries these changes will create substantial challenges. For developing countries, the impacts may be devastating.
Knock-on effects
Many changes in species distribution have implications that are immediately obvious, like the spread of disease vectors such as mosquitoes or agricultural pests. However, other changes that may initially appear more subtle can also have great effects via impacting global climate feedbacks.
Mangroves, which store more carbon per unit area than most tropical forests, are moving towards the poles. Spring blooms of microscopic sea algae are projected to weaken and shift into the Arctic Ocean, as the global temperature rises and the seasonal Arctic sea ice retreats. This will change the patterns of “biological carbon sequestration” over Earth’s surface, and may lead to less carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere.
Redistribution of the vegetation on land is also expected to influence climate change. With more vegetation, less solar radiation is reflected back into the atmosphere, resulting in further warming. “Greening of the Arctic”, where larger shrubs are taking over from mosses and lichens, is expected to substantially change the reflectivity of the surface.
These changes in the distribution of vegetation are also affecting the culture of Indigenous Arctic communities. The northward growth of shrubs is leading to declines in the low-lying mosses and lichens eaten by caribou and reindeer. The opportunities for Indigenous reindeer herding and hunting are greatly reduced, with economic and cultural implications.
Winners and losers
Not all changes in distribution will be harmful. There will be winners and losers for species, and for the human communities and economic activities that rely on them. For example, coastal fishing communities in northern India are benefiting from the northward shift in the oil sardine’s range. In contrast, skipjack tuna is projected to become less abundant in western areas of the Pacific, where many countries depend on this fishery for economic development and food security.
Local communities can help forge solutions to these challenges. Citizen science initiatives like Redmap are boosting traditional scientific research and can be used as an early indication of how species distributions are changing. Having local communities engaged in such participatory monitoring can also increase the chances of timely and site-specific management interventions.
Even with improved monitoring and communication, we face an enormous challenge in addressing these changes in species distribution, to reduce their adverse impacts and maximise any opportunities. Responses will be needed at all levels of governance.
Internationally, the impacts of species on the move will affect our capacity to achieve virtually all of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including good health, poverty reduction, economic growth, and gender equity.
Currently, these goals do not yet adequately consider effects of climate-driven changes in species distributions. This needs to change if we are to have any chance of achieving them in the future.
National development plans, economic strategies, conservation priorities, and supporting policies and governance arrangements will all need to be recalibrated to reflect the realities of climate change impacts on our natural systems. At the regional and local levels, a range of responses may be needed to enable affected places and communities to survive or thrive under new conditions.
For communities, this might include changed farming, forestry or fishing practices, new health interventions, and, in some cases, alternative livelihoods. Management responses such as relocating coffee production will itself have spillover effects on other communities or natural areas, so adaptation responses may need to anticipate indirect effects and negotiate these trade-offs.
To promote global biodiversity, protected areas will need to be managed to explicitly recognise novel ecological communities, and to promote connectivity across the landscape. For some species, managed relocations or direct interventions may be needed. Our commitment to conservation will need to be reflected in funding levels and priorities.
The success of human societies has always depended on the living components of natural and managed systems. For all our development and modernisation, this hasn’t changed. But human society has yet to appreciate the full implications for life on Earth, including human lives, of our current unprecedented climate-driven species redistribution. Enhanced awareness, supported by appropriate governance, will provide the best chance of minimising negative consequences while maximising opportunities arising from species movements.

On Sidelines of Talaq Debate: Is Polygamy constitutionally valid? Is it un-Quranic?

Of the three issues relating to Muslim personal law in India — triple talaq, nikah halala and polygamy — coming up soon for hearing before a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court, the first is an easy-to-pluck low-hanging fruit. Muslims who are hoping for a verdict that declares these practices not only unconstitutional but also “un-Quranic” confidently cite unambiguous verses from the holy scripture on the issue of triple talaq and even nikah halala.
But on the issue of polygamy, they dither in taking a head-on stand against the ulema’s centuries-old, male-centred interpretation of the Quranic injunction.
The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan’s affidavit in support of Shayara Bano’s petition, for example, seeks the declaration of triple talaq and nikah halala as un-Quranic, but is silent on the polygamy issue. Numerous articles penned in recent months by Muslims for the print media have also remained focused on triple talaq (instant divorce). The odd comment piece on polygamy by a Muslim has, if anything, sought to justify the practice among Muslims through a dubious reference to the plight of Hindu “mistresses” who are “denied the right that a second wife enjoys among Muslims”.
Even the late Bohra reformist, Islamic scholar and a tireless champion for gender justice, Asghar Ali Engineer, remained opposed to a total ban on polygamy since the Quran permits it under certain conditions. Over 20 Muslim majority countries have outlawed triple talaq in recent years. Many have also imposed strict court-supervised conditions before a husband takes a second wife. But most have yet to take the final step: Monogamy.
The ulema’s theological defence of polygamy hangs on a single verse of the Quran which reads: “And if you fear that you may not be just to the orphans, then you may marry whom you please of the women: Two, and three, and four. But if you fear you will not be fair, then only one, or what your right hand possesses (slaves)” (4:3).
The patriarchs of Islam forget to remind their flock of two other relevant verses of the Quran which read: “You will not be able to treat all women equally even if you wish to do so” (4:129), or, “Allah has not made for any man two hearts” (33.4). It has been left to women (some men too) scholars of Islam such as Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas and others to point out that the continued justification of polygamy is not a Quranic licence but a convenient male construct.
In her book Quran and Women: Reading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, Wadud points to the verse preceding 4.3 to argue that both verses are specifically about the treatment of orphans, justice to orphans. Wadud challenges the ulema’s blinkered notion of “treating all women equally”.
“In fact, as far as they are concerned, the only measurement of justice between wives is material: Can a man equally support more than one wife? This is an extension of the archaic idea of marriages of subjugation, because (this criteria of) fairness is not based on quality of time, equality in terms of affection, or on spiritual, moral and intellectual support.”
As relevant is the context of the revelation of these verses. The male members in the then-miniscule Muslim population which was counted in hundreds was seriously decimated in the battle of Uhud. This created a major gender imbalance and the very survival of Islam’s followers was at stake. Wadud, among others, systematically demolishes the common justifications in support of polygamy of which there is neither mention, nor sanction in the Quran.
First, there is the financial argument. Since women are financially dependent on men, those who can afford it may marry more than one wife. This is not an argument based on the Quran. Besides, it is no longer true in today’s world that only men engage in paid work.
Two, the argument regarding women’s inability to bear children. This too finds no mention in the Quran. Moreover, with the advance of medical science, it is easy to establish whether infertility has to do with the husband or wife. Also, in today’s world, there are multiple options — adoption being only one of them — for a couple to raise children even if the wife is not able to conceive.
Three, the argument that men have a stronger sexual drive than women. This not only lacks Quranic sanction but, as Wadud argues, it is un-Quranic. “It is clear that the Quran does not stress a high, civilised level for women while leaving men to interact with others at the basest level”.
Four, it is pointed out that the Prophet himself had multiple wives. In a paper titled, ‘There are Worse Things Than Being Alone: Polygamy in Islam, Past, Present and Future’, Heather Johnson makes two points. One, all but one of Mohammad’s wives was a widow. “From all accounts his marriages were inspired not by lust or greed but rather by compassion and diplomatic design. Each of his wives came from a different clan or tribe, his marriages to each was a political alliance.”
Two, Johnson quotes verse 33.50 of the Quran to point out that certain permissions were specifically, “Only for thee (Prophet) and not for the believers (at large)”. In the mid-1990s, two judges from a division bench of the Dhaka High Court had ruled that in the modern context, the only possible interpretation of the Quranic injunction on marriage was monogamy.
It is another matter that in the changed political dispensation in Bangladesh a few days later, the Supreme Court had quashed the high court order. Whether our Constitution Bench should limit itself to the constitutional validity of triple talaq, nikah halala and polygamy, or whether it should also examine them in the light of Quranic teachings, as some petitioners have pleaded, may be a debatable question.
The point, however, remains that there are today Islamic scholars, women and men, who consider the current-day practice of polygamy as un-Quranic, in letter and in spirit.

Islamic State threat to India: Serious but Manageable Challenge

The so-called Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Daesh, is back in the news in India. Recent reports suggest that Indian IS fighters were killed by US forces in Afghanistan, and the Telangana police has been accused of trying to lure and entrap potential IS sympathisers. This raises the question of how big a challenge IS poses to Indian interests and national security.
To investigate, we assessed all Indian citizens confirmed to have affiliated themselves with IS. This includes those who attempted or succeeded in travelling to Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan as recruits, as well as propagandists, recruiters, funders, conspirators and other sympathisers. While acknowledging that this comprises only a sample of actual IS affiliates in India, a few tentative conclusions can nonetheless be drawn.
First, only 142 Indian citizens (132 named) can be confirmed to have affiliated with IS in some way. This suggests that IS has made only scant inroads in India, relative to Europe, North America, Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, and Australia – let alone West Asia and North Africa. In fact, some of these Indians were radicalised abroad, including in the US, UK, Singapore and Australia.
That said, the numbers of Indians linked to IS has steadily grown. From only one confirmed individual in 2013, the numbers grew to six in 2014, 35 in 2015 and 75 in 2016. The trend may now be plateauing, with 25 in the first four months of 2017. The IS challenge is a serious one, but does not yet appear to be on par with other countries or with other terrorist challenges facing India.
Second, certain states in the south and west appear particularly prone to IS-inspired radicalism. We identified 37 recruits or sympathisers from Kerala, 21 from Telangana, 19 from Maharashtra, 16 from Karnataka, 15 from UP, six from MP, five from Tamil Nadu, four from Gujarat, three each from Uttarakhand and Bengal, two from Jammu & Kashmir, and one each from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Rajasthan.
The fact that over three-quarters come from just five states suggests that localised responses may be more beneficial than any national policy. Additionally, with the exception of UP, these states represent among the most prosperous and best-networked parts of the country. This is in line with similar trends elsewhere, with more liberal or developed countries (such as Tunisia and Morocco among Arab states, or Australia, the Nordic nations, France and Belgium globally) among the most vulnerable to IS-inspired radicalisation.
Third, India appears to have a relatively good track record of countering the IS threat. 85 of 142 known IS sympathisers from India (60%) have been arrested or interrogated, while two returned home, although successful cases are probably overrepresented. A significant number of those Indians who have been arrested were intercepted at Indian airports, and several were caught in transit before being deported back to India. Of those that were not arrested or apprehended, 11 have been confirmed killed: six in Syria, three in Afghanistan, one in a police encounter in India, and one in either Iraq or Syria. This means at least 43 are active or at large, although many of these have been reported (but not confirmed) killed.
Finally, despite many cases of self-radicalisation, IS often tends to graft onto pre-existing organisations. About one-third of the reported Indian IS sympathisers have affiliations with other groups, including the Indian Mujahideen (IM), Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), or IS-inspired groups such as Junood ul Khalifa fil Hind (JKH). IS radicalisation also tends to spread through family, school or neighbourhood ties, often coalescing into cells, such as Ansarul Khilafa Kerala.
As IS is defeated as a state – a self-proclaimed Caliphate with defined territory and a military – it could very well morph into a global network, akin to al-Qaida. This presents a new kind of challenge for India and the world. Without unnecessarily exaggerating the threat, details available in public about IS recruitment and propaganda can be a valuable way of anticipating its future challenge to India’s national security.

Good-bye, Age of “Politically Correctness”

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “Politically Correct” as “someone who believes that language and actions that could be offensive to others, especially those relating to sex and race, should be avoided.” Lessons are given to diplomats, sportspersons and corporate managers on how to speak, behave and act when they go to another country so as not to offend their hosts. By way of example, criminals are called “unsavoury characters” while “Clumsy” is referred to as “uniquely coordinated”!
The question that is now being asked in various quarters is whether what is politically correct for one group of people is necessarily correct for another?
Paul Krugman wrote that “the big threat to our discourse is right-wing political correctness, which – unlike the liberal version – has lots of power and money behind it. And the goal is very much the kind of thing Orwell tried to convey with his notion of Newspeak: to make it impossible to talk, and possibly even think, about ideas that challenge the established order.”
President Trump is redefining the ways he will engage with world leaders and influential people much to the chagrin of so many politicians, journalists, commentators and those who did not vote for him. His tweet on his forthcoming meeting with the President of Mexico “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting” must have sent shock waves in the diplomatic establishment of USA who are probably used to working through the labyrinthian corridors of diplomacy to set up meetings and where a cancellation of a meeting is deemed to be a diplomatic slap in the face. Why Trump chose to speak to Prime Minister Modi before he spoke to the “more important” leaders of Russia, China, Japan and other European Nations is another example of how he is his own man who will govern the way he chooses to. On the other hand, crude cartoons and statues, insulting posters at rallies and abusive comments against the democratically elected President are telecast over major media channels without for once thinking whether these are politically correct!
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines unabashedly used very flowery undiplomatic words on President Obama and has not shied away from stating his scorn on drug abusers and proudly claiming how he killed people or how he stated “he should have been first” when asked a question on rape. The Philippine law makers shrug off his comments and simply say “Get used to this language”.
Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of the Union Territory of Delhi in India, does not bat an eyelid before he hurls abuses at the democratically elected prime minister of the country or the election commission. He is cheered on by the liberal and intellectual media who would accept such statements from him but not from other political parties. Comments are made by political leaders across parties about religion, economically weaker sections of society and women which are normally frowned upon by most people. Yet no action is taken or is it that no action can be taken given that there will always be a constituency to whom such comments will appeal.
Are these leaders and so many like them around the World saying things that the people want to say themselves but are afraid to for fear of castigation?
For too long the political and media elite have defined the way we should speak and be spoken to. How long will this small group of powerful individuals influence the way we speak and behave. There are no longer any holy cows in dialogue and communication. The mobile phone has changed the way we spell and the social media is changing the way we express ourselves.
With social media empowering the masses, trolling, which hitherto was seen as politically incorrect (exceptions were always made for a few super start journalists), the new age political leaders have understood the importance of “talking” directly to their voters through Twitter and Facebook and there is nothing anyone can do about this.
President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 said “I’m here to tell you that we are going to do those things which need to be done, not because they are politically correct, but because they are right.”
So is the age of being “Politically Correct” over?
Does our right of “Freedom of Speech” conflict with the very definition of political correctness? Should we now be looking at whether the content of the speech is truthful and correct rather than analyse each word spoken for whether it offends some people? Should we fall prey to moral policing of our acts and communication simply because it happens to offend a few people?
If there is an elephant in the room, should we not feel comfortable in talking about it? Should we really suppress our concerns, dreams, worries, feelings, fears, aspirations, hopes and anxieties? Should we stop asking questions about another culture simply because we “may” offend someone?
We are witnessing a paradigm change in the manner in which we will hear our leaders speak in the future. We are seeing a new normal being defined in speech and communication. Let us judge these comments based on the content and not based on who has spoken these and how these comments were delivered.

The World is Fragmenting, Unity Needed

The world economy is fragmenting. We have seen the election of a crude mercantilist president in the US, the Brexit vote in the UK, protracted pain in the euro zone and the slowdown of growth in China. The immediate challenge facing the global economy is a lack of growth; a challenge exacerbated by the absence of policy coordination.
Leaders must confront four long-term challenges that face the world economy; challenges which require deep international cooperation just when the prospect seems uncomfortably out of reach.
Climate control
First, the environment: the scientific consensus is that a global warming of 2°C creates a high risk of catastrophic climate change. Yet even if each country meets the plans agreed at the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015, warming is projected to reach 2.7°C by 2100. Of particular concern is access to water. Around 2.7 billion people suffer from water shortages for at least a month each year.
The portents for the environment are not good. President-elect Trump has rowed back a little on his stance that climate change might be a hoax, but has still filled his new Washington with climate change sceptics and he wants to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
We also have to acknowledge that the world is getting older – in part, a reflection of economic growth over the past two centuries. This demographic shift creates challenges for both governments and businesses. First, it raises the “dependency ratio” – the share of the population not in the labour force relative to the share in the labour force. This puts pressure on those in work to provide for others.
Second, it increases the pressure on pensions and health care. The King’s Fund estimates that healthcare will comprise about a quarter of the US economy by 2040.
Many countries are going to have to grapple with how to provide for the elderly – an especially tough challenge for those who want to reduce the role of the state. Letting people die may be the de facto solution adopted in the US if Trump repeals the Affordable Care Act.
The rise of the machines
Since the industrial revolution, new technology has generated economic growth which both destroyed and created jobs. But is this time different? Recently, the deployment of robots has accelerated rapidly, creating the potential for future productivity growth. But why employ low and semi-skilled workers if you can use a machine that will be a much cheaper alternative in the long-run?
It is estimated that 47% of the US workforce is at risk of losing their jobs because of automation. Trump, the self-annointed “greatest job producer God has ever created”, will need divine intervention to bring back enough jobs from overseas to make up for the impact of technology.
The risks are even greater for the newly industrialised countries – it is estimated that 77% of the Chinese workforce and 69% of India’s workforce are threatened by automation. New jobs will be created, but will they be of sufficient scale to compensate for those that are destroyed? While many workers will lose their jobs, the big winners will be those that profit from owning machines and this will further increase inequality.
It is no shock, then, that the WEF’s annual global risks report identifies rising income and wealth inequalities as threats to social stability.
Global capitalism unleashed has benefited the few while the majority have been left behind. As in the past, inequality and marginalisation have led to the rise of populism with strong strands of xenophobia and racism. This is a not a new phenomenon – similar trends developed in the 1930s – with catastrophic consequences.
Global challenges need global responses, but fractures are emerging in the world economy. Major countries are lurching towards protectionism and isolationism. And we may not even have yet reached “peak populism” with the French presidential elections . Probably the best we can hope for is  the rapid decline of post-truth politics and an eventual escape from the policy sewer. Only then, will there be the opportunity to forge the effective global cooperation required if we are to face the challenges which demand our attention right here and now.

Remembering Tagore: the bard who celebrated life

On Tagore’s 156th birth anniversary — 76th since his death — let’s have a look at the birth of his birthday song. Though he had initially rejected the idea, the love of his students had forced Rabindranath Tagore to write and compose his birthday song “He Nutan, Dekha Dik Arbar…”
Rabindranath Tagore, it is believed, did not leave any human emotion untouched in his works, especially in his poems. Be it nature, love, separation, celebration, devotion, patriotism or simple imagination, the bard has a song for every occasion. No wonder then, Bangla films are heavily indebted to Tagore, having extensively borrowed from his vast collection. And it comes as no surprise that a film as recent as Sankhachil has ‘Rabindranath Tagore’ on its credits as a lyricist.
It would have been, therefore, awkward if there were no Rabindrasangeet for his followers and admirers to sing in his memory on his birthday after he is gone. And the poet did not disappoint. Though he had initially rejected the idea, the love of his students had forced him to write and compose his birthday song. For the last 76 years now, Tagore has been invoked on his birthday, ‘Ponchishe Boishakh (25th of the month of Baisakh)’, with “He Nutan, Dekha Dik Arbar…” — a song especially written for the occasion, by the man himself.
It was the first week of May 1941. Santiniketan was preparing to celebrate its founder’s 80th birthday on May 8. His health had begun failing since the previous year. Two days before the mega event, former disciple Shantideb Ghosh came to meet him. Tagore sought to know from him what the plan was for the big day. “I understood he wished that the day be celebrated through music and dance,” Ghosh later wrote in his book ‘Rabindrasangeet’.
Shantideb Ghosh had been handpicked by Tagore to be a teacher at Santiniketan and was sent across India and abroad for musical education for the purpose. In his memoir, he wrote how he tried to suggest songs that could be performed on his birthday.
“You decide on what you want to sing, why will I choose songs for my birthday?” Ghosh quoted Tagore as telling him in reply.
The poet was then requested to pen a song especially for the occasion, but he refused fearing criticism and suggested names of some contemporary poets to do the job. Ghosh and others, however, managed to prevail and Tagore eventually gave in to their request.
Almost two decades prior to that, he had written a poem, ‘Ponchishe Boishakh’, which was part of his Purabi collection. Tagore made some changes to some of its lines and set it to tune, Ghosh wrote in Rabindrasangeet. The date was May 6, 1941, two days before his birthday that was celebrated with much fanfare.
Tagore’s rather peculiar, bordering on the eccentric, tastes often threw the household into a state of panic. (Express archive photo) Tagore’s rather peculiar, bordering on the eccentric, tastes often threw the household into a state of panic. (Express archive photo)
That was the last birthday he celebrated, and ‘He Nuton…’ became his very last poem, according to Ghosh. The poet passed away exactly three months later in August 1941.
It was Shantideb Ghosh who had prepared the notation for the special song and a recording was released the same year by Kanak Biswas, according to Dr Suman Ghosh, a senior lecturer in Film and Screen Studies at Bath Spa University, UK, who previously taught Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
“To me, the song brings out Tagore’s love of life and his celebration of living. In this song — as in many others — he uses the sun as a metaphor for himself. He is very clearly conscious of his own mortality in this song; the ability to celebrate living also represents his unending capacity to look beyond the imminence of his own death,” says Dr Ghosh.
Rabindranath Tagore during his tour of the West in 1921. (Photo: oldindianphotos.in) Rabindranath Tagore during his tour of the West in 1921. (Photo: oldindianphotos.in)
He believes the wider reason for this song’s significance is because of its quest to look for the permanence of human existence in a world torn apart by World War II. “Surrounded by death, this song is a yearning for life. Surrounded by destruction and the possibility of his own end, this song is a call for a new beginning. Surrounded by mortality, this is his final defiant call for the human values that are immortal,” adds Dr Ghosh, who researches and writes about art-house traditions in Indian films and about their impact on contemporary cinema.
In her book ‘Baeeshe Shrabon (22nd of the month of Shravan, the day Tagore died)’, Nirmal Kumari Mahalanobis aka Rani Mahalanobis gives a detailed description of the event marked by songs, dances and staging of a play — Bashikaran.
Among the highlights of the play was the character played by Banamali — Tagore’s old domestic help who quite efficiently and confidently played the role of a servant — writes Mahalanobish, wife of Indian Statistical Institute’s founder Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, who attended the event.
“See how good he (Banamali) is. Staying with me, he even learnt to act,” she quotes Tagore as saying after the function.
It’s Ponchishe Boishakh on May 8 and time for Tagore admirers world over to once again sing the song set in morning raga Bhairavi, invoking the rising sun — the song that welcomes the new dawn, praying for the auspicious moment of birth to return once again, displacing all morning haze and mist — like the rising sun.

Writers need to say things that people don’t want to hear

A politics built on sycophancy is the first sign of a rotting democracy. Aren’t our political mavericks aware of the fact that fanatics seek to plunge society into darkness, that they are against human rights and women’s rights, and consider that any opinion contrary to theirs must be silenced? Writers across the world are being persecuted, whipped, tortured, murdered, incarcerated and exiled. Apart from dictators, even so-called democratic governments are no longer interested in freedom of expression.
Whenever I try to point out the significance of such a fundamental right, I am informed that even freedom of speech must have its limitations and cannot be used to hurt someone’s sentiments. Wouldn’t it be extremely difficult to ensure that you never hurt someone’s sentiments? People keep hurting us, intentionally or not, by words or deeds. Our world is populated by a multitude of opposing mindsets. They clash and hurt each other but also have an inbuilt mechanism to manage hurt.
Unfortunately, Islamic bigots use the excuse of injured sentiments to cause further mischief, refusing to listen or be placated. It is a moment of crisis for democracy when citizens are robbed of their right to speak openly. Social change makes it necessary that a few feathers will be ruffled. Progress cannot be achieved without hurting religious sentiments.
A lot of people had been outraged when the crown and the state were forcibly separated in Europe. Galileo’s and Darwin’s views had upset many pious people of their times. The superstitious are routinely offended by the advancement of science. If we stop expressing our opinions because someone will be hurt by them, if we curb the growth of scientific knowledge, if we forcibly try to stall the march of civilization, we will end up inhabiting a stagnant quagmire instead of basking in a raging cascade of knowledge and plenitude. Freedom of speech is the freedom to say something someone else might not like to hear.If you disagree with a writer, you have a right to respond — in words — but you have no right to attack, threaten or hack someone to death
Those who never hurt another’s sentiments do not need freedom of speech. A state that chooses to side with those who seek to oppose such freedoms, instead of ensuring that they are brought to book, will be responsible for its own eventual annihilation. Some time back one such draconian law against freedom of speech was abolished by the Government of India.
I was among those who had worked towards this goal and our success was a significant acknowledgment of the systematic persecution many have had to go through because of such laws. I have had to face it too, which is why I am glad to have been part of such a reform initiative.
The world is constantly vigilant that no one hurts the sentiments of those who are opposed to human rights and women’s rights. When will the world learn to see all as equal? When will it learn to stop pleasing extremists and begin according some much-delayed respect to reason and humanism? This crisis is not India’s alone; it is being felt across the world. It’s not so much a battle between two faiths but a war between two opposing worldviews— the secular and the fundamentalist, the progressive and the prejudiced, the rational and the superstitious.
Between awareness and ignorance, freedom and enslavement. In this fight I know whose side I am on; I am forever in favour of my opponents’ freedom of opinion even if I do not wish to support or respect it. My lack of support does not mean that I will attack my opponents during their morning jog, or shoot them in public, or hack them to death. I will instead express my opinions through my writings.
If someone does not like what I have to say, they have the right to respond in kind — in words. They do not have the right to kill or threaten me. This is a basic condition for freedom of speech, which many fanatics wilfully choose to ignore. The narrow-minded zealots, aided by their political appeasers, will forever seek to plunge society into darkness and chaos, while a handful of others will strive for the betterment of society and to have good sense prevail.
It’s always a few people who seek to bring about change; that is how it has always been. I hope no one is exiled for being different ever again.

Is Indo-Iran Honeymoon Over?

For major regional partners that consistently declare a strong friendship based on civilizational ties, India and Iran seem to have hit a bumpy patch – one that has the potential to expose serious differences between Tehran and Delhi, as the sheen of Prime Minister Modi’s May 2016 visit to the Iranian capital wears off.

While Iran drags its feet on awarding a crucial contract for gas exploration in its Farzad B offshore field to ONGC Videsh, India has decided to cut back on oil imports from Iran by 3 million tons (roughly 25 percent) in the current financial year. (India imports over 6% of its oil from Iran, making it Iran’s second-largest customer of crude oil)

Now, the already tense situation has taken yet another unpleasant turn, with Tehran retaliating by reducing Delhi’s window of payment for crude purchases from 90 days to 60 days, and reportedly cutting freight discounts offered to Indian state -owned oil companies by the National Iranian Oil Company. Both benefits have made Iranian crude attractive to Indian companies in the past, and in fact, Iran has consistently given oil to India on credit earlier, too.

On their own, as global crude prices fall, these developments seem to be routine: tough price negotiations between two regional heavyweights aimed at ensuring both get the best deal possible. While Iran is looking for strong, competitive bids on a gas field that India has dragged its feet on for at least seven years, India is driven by a search for the best prices for its fuel imports that supply 80 percent of its energy needs. India was wary of inviting western sanctions against ONGC Videsh Ltd if it went ahead with developing the gas field. But against a wider backdrop of global developments where India is fighting hard to offset China’s regional expansionism via the Belt and Road Initiative by working on its own trade and connectivity routes, and a relatively sanctions-free Iran is suspiciously eying Delhi’s overtures and warmth towards a belligerent US President and his unambiguous treatment of Iran as a rouge, terror sponsor, could the recent sparring be more than just negotiation tactics?

During Prime Minster Modi’s visit to Tehran last year, India committed $500 million towards the Chabahar port project amid much pomp and ceremony, and along with Afghanistan, signed a trilateral agreement for the construction of key road and rail links connecting the port. Iranian scholars who study bilateral ties argue that Delhi’s dragging its feet since then is encouraging voices that call Chabahar a sister port to Pakistan’s Gawadar to look for ways to involve both Pakistan and China in future phases of its development. In fact, soon after PM Modi’s visit to Tehran, Iranian diplomats ruled out exclusivity for India in Chabahar. During that visit, retired Iranian diplomats at the government-backed Tehran think tank, the Institute for Peace and International Studies, said other countries were welcome to bid for future phases. They brushed off suggestions that China’s inclusion in Chabahar would be a thorn in India’s side, saying India and China must find ways of “changing their mindset” and not use Iran’s development as a pawn in their battles for regional supremacy.

As Beijing plans its massive Belt and Road Initiative conference next week, they argue that Tehran faces fewer problems with the Chinese, eager to edge India out of its regional sphere of influence. Iranian commentators are quick to point out that Modi’s visit to Iran in 2016 took place after many other major international players. Chinese President Xi Jinping was the first major leader to visit Tehran once its new nuclear deal with world powers including the US, Germany and Russia was signed – a fact not lost on Tehran.

PM Modi signed a historic deal with Iran to develop the Chabahar port
Iran’s strategic heft, due mainly to and oil and gas power, has long been a major consideration for India’s foreign policy makers. Yet, it was only after the landmark nuclear deal between the P5 1 and Iran in 2015 under the Obama administration, and the subsequent lifting of Iran’s international pariah status, that India finally inched forward on the much-awaited Chabahar port project, 13 years after it was first agreed upon. But today, America’s threat to review the very deal that brought Iran back into acceptability poses a conundrum for Delhi that is eager to both ensure warm ties with the new US President, as well as continue its strategic and economic engagement with Iran.

New Delhi finds itself in a spot. The message between the lines is that as he plans his meeting with Donald Trump later this year, Prime Minister Modi might be cautious to avoid any steps that could raise eyebrows in Washington. Adding fuel to the fire, some in Tehran say that like the United States, India has “problems with the Islamic world, and Iran is an Islamic state.”
Now, as Iran readies for a Presidential election on May 19, and the Ayatollah backs hardliners who accuse President Rouhani of pandering to foreign interests, especially to modernize its oil and gas sector, India has its own list of complaints – accusing Iran of reneging on its promises, even though Delhi has been a steadfast partner throughout the sanctions regime.

Delhi’s anger is understandable. Iran is refusing to budge on the gas field India covets even after ONGC Videsh has revised its development plan and costs. In addition, Iran’s President Rouhani recently reiterated support for “trusted brother” Pakistan as he announced the completion of the Iranian section of a pipeline to carry natural gas to Pakistan.

Whether the Iranians are expressing their displeasure over the slow progress at Chabahar, or India is doing the same for the delays over the Farzad B gas field contract and being cautious before a crucial US bilateral, the result is a gridlock for the moment. Iran has nearly 10 percent of global oil and over 18 percent of global gas reserves, and as its oil minister said, is confident of other customers for its resources if India cuts back. But while Iran argues its case, Tehran must also realise that India of late has pursued aggressive diplomatic engagements with other oil and gas rich countries in the gulf- Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other GCC countries, and can offset the shortfall from Iranian crude by increasing imports from these.

Delhi will not hesitate to use its new-found leverage with Iran’s Sunni neighbours to push for a better deal for itself. Hard fought price negotiations, indeed.

Much-Hyped Democracy Declining

Democracy is in decline.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) latest Democracy Index 2016 shows 72 countries experienced a decline in democratic values last year. Countries with declining levels of democracy outnumbered those becoming more democratic by more than 2 to 1.
The EIU’s Democracy Index measures the state of democracy by rating electoral processes and pluralism, the state of civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture in more than 160 countries worldwide. The EIU’s ranking shows the average global democracy score in 2016 fell to 5.52, down from 5.55 in 2015 (on a scale of 0 to 10).
Norway leads the world’s democracies
Norway leads the Index as the world’s strongest democracy, followed by Iceland and Sweden. New Zealand comes fourth, with Denmark in fifth and Canada and Ireland in joint sixth place. Switzerland, Finland and Australia round off the top ten of “full democracies.”
Less than half the world lives in a democracy
The report finds that less than half (49%) the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, and only 4.5% reside in a “full democracy.” This is a steep decline from 2015, when it was just under 9%.
The US is now a flawed democracy
This dramatic decline is primarily down to the US having been demoted to a “flawed democracy,” in the classification of the EIU – as a result of low public confidence in the government. The report stresses that this was strongly in evidence prior to the presidential election that saw Donald Trump become president. Similar trends were also in evidence in many other developed economies.
Political participation increases as Britain shows the EU the red card
While disenchantment with political elites has led to a rise in populism, it has also sparked renewed political participation. In the EU referendum, 72% of the UK population turned out to vote, compared to an average of 63% in general elections over the past decade. This reversed a trend toward growing political apathy. The UK also saw a marked increase in membership of political parties. As a result, Britain’s democracy score has gone up from 8.31 (out of ten) in 2015 to 8.36 this year, placing it 16th among the “full democracies.”
Eastern Europe questions the benefits of democracy
The former communist bloc in Eastern Europe has experienced the most significant regression recorded since the Democracy Index was launched in 2006. There is widespread disenchantment with democracy, with 18 countries in regression on its democratic trajectory and the remaining nine stalling to various degrees.
Estonia ranks the highest, at number 29. However, the EIU points out that there is not a single country which achieves ‘full democracy’ ranking, even though 11 of the countries surveyed are EU members. The most noticeable decline was in the rating of electoral processes.
Democracy wavers around the globe
Sub-Saharan Africa is beating Eastern Europe when it comes to political participation but is still on the backfoot in terms of putting in place formal democracy. The region has made very little progress and its rating has been flat, suggesting that it still has a long way to go to improve aspects such as pluralism, the functioning of government and civil liberties, amongst others. Mauritius tops the regional list and is also the only country in the region to be considered a full democracy.
Latin America has been ahead of the curve in terms of dealing with populism, having seen off a wave of left-wing populist support over the last decade. Last year saw the region supporting centre-right, pro-market candidates stepping into office. However, Uruguay is the only country to make it into the list of “full democracies,” at number 19.
After achieving significant headway over the past decade, Asia’s score stagnated in 2016 (5.7), and is still lagging behind Latin America (6.3), Europe (8.4) and North America (8.6). Japan is the highest rated, at number 20, which also makes it top of the list of flawed democracies.
In the Arab countries, the backlash from the Arab Spring is still very noticeable. Even Tunisia, the poster child of the uprising, has slipped by 12 places in the global ranking, putting it toward the bottom of the list of flawed democracies.
Is there a silver lining?
The EIU report confirms that the quality of democracy has receded in the world as more and more of the electorate has been left disenchanted. However, it would appear that there is a silver lining in the increased political participation this has led to in many parts of the world.

Humanities for Innovation: The Heart of Technology

Students in the US vie for placements into top universities. Increasingly, they’re choosing universities known for engineering. Perhaps due to the 2008 financial crisis, or the rising cost of college and burden of student debt, or growing fears of machine automation that will erode all but technical jobs, students are flocking to STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math. Like an IIT in India, it’s seen as a golden ticket to a future of singular relevance, and of vocational and financial security.
But having spent years on the fabled Sand Hill Road, where venture capitalists consider the winds of innovation, and place investments in entrepreneurial companies showing grit and promise, I was struck by a counterintuitive reality. The greatest secrets in Silicon Valley are not coded into ones and zeros buried deep in the technology stack, or in some warehouse full of humming servers.
The conception that tech companies are monoliths, singular entities comprised of IIT and MIT grads is false. In fact, many of the top technology startups are run by ‘fuzzies’, the Stanford University term given to majors of the arts, humanities and social sciences.
Susan Wojcicki, a history and literature major, runs YouTube. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg studied economics. Former Snapchat COO Emily White studied studio art, while current CEO of data analytics Palantir earned his PhD in neoclassical social theory.
It’s not just executives with newly minted MBAs who hail from non-technical fields — often, it’s the founders themselves. One of the fastestgrowing startups in the world is Slack, an email alternative to workplace communication. Its founder, Stewart Butterfield, was both an undergraduate and graduate student of philosophy. And he’s not alone.
Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, and Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, are also both philosophers. If you think political science majors are lacklustre, well, they founded Pinterest and Thumbtack. And what about that English degree? Look no further than Salesforce and Alibaba.
Well-known venture capitalist Marc Andreessen talks about “software eating the world”. Our new technologytools are being applied to every industry and problem imaginable. But the widely overlooked reality is that to reshape industries and bring new tools to bear on old problems, companies require a balance of passions, curiosities, methods and styles. The quote might be reframed as ‘software is feeding the world’ by unlocking new potential.
While we look to science, technology, engineering and maths education as the baseline for relevance in our future economy, we overlook the fact that we need both human and technical. As technology touches more of our lives, this is the very time when the humanities help contextualise why we build, for whom, and with what aims.
If a product draws us in, but the human cost is less time or attention paid to family, what are the ethics? If Facebook’s news feed prioritises certain information algorithmically, is that lack of objectivity more troubling than editorial bias in a newspaper? Who’s in the room helping code how an autonomous vehicle might navigate an impossible set of choices in a crash?
These inquiries are as moral as they are technical, nuanced and profound. There are no right answers, but there are important questions. How do we train structured thinking in ambiguity, and an ability to inquire deeply into what is not obvious? The French philosopher Voltaire told us to judge man by his questions, not by his answers. Increasingly, if you want an answer, you might ask a machine. If you want a question, you’ll have to ask a human.
Machines and automation will take on rote manual and cognitive tasks. Our comparative advantage becomes our soft skills, creativity, communication and ability to solve complex problems. These abilities develop from broad exposure to ideas that stretch the mind rather than narrowly prepare and prescribe our youth for employment. The answers to these questions are not found in multiple-choice exams, or by acing the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE).
While we lionise our techies, the leaders of tomorrow’s technology companies might well be those with the breadth of passion and curiosity to inquire into the way the world works, and uncover the fundamental problems to which tech can be applied. They may be the fuzzies. So, as we focus on developing those leaders, we ought to embrace the humanities alongside STEM. Because our strongest companies are those that balance the fuzzy and the techie.
Universities like Stanford that aim to bring together the arts and engineering, to bridge C P Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ once and for all, are those poised for success in tomorrow’s economy. As we develop more deep-learning artificial intelligence, we need equally deep-thinking humans.
We need more titans of industry like Anand Mahindra who embrace the value of the humanities alongside entrepreneurship. His endowment of Harvard’s Mahindra Center for the Humanities is an example of how others might also lead the way. The humanities are very much at the centre of our technological world.

End of Enlightenment?

‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness belong to the 1776 Declaration of Independence from Britain: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
America’s founding fathers derived these ideas of equalitarianism from Europe’s then-bubbling cauldron of the European Enlightenment. Thomas Jefferson’s phrase “all men are created equal” is perhaps one of the best-known and profound sentences in the English language.
But truths once self-evident to Americans are no more evident to very many today. They elected a president who sees differences between men as more important than their equality. Had America’s judiciary not struck down his executive order banning Muslims from setting foot on America’s soil, I could not have delivered the lecture. Europe — from where the Enlightenment sprang — is witnessing the emergence of exclusionists like Marie Le Pen and Geert Wilders. This phenomenon begs an understanding.
Some blame this on terrorist acts perpetrated by certain Muslims. Indeed one must not dismiss the importance of fear. Terrorism terrifies. Crazed fanatics piloting airliners into skyscrapers or driving trucks into holiday crowds scare everyone out of their wits. But how seriously should one take this threat, and where did these monsters come from?
Truthfully, we all stand guilty. All scriptures contain a radical strain but whether or not that tendency gets developed and amplified depends on political circumstances. A significant part of today’s organised terrorist groups — though by no means all — originate from the actions of the US and its allies. There would be no Taliban or Al Qaeda but for Ronald Reagan’s obsession with the ‘Evil Empire’, and no IS but for George W. Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq.
Terrorism alone does not explain why the US is drifting away from its wonderful enlightenment ideals.
Even so, terrorists — unless they somehow seize nuclear weapons — are not an existential threat to humanity. The number of victims of terrorism is small compared to wars, traffic accidents, killings by deranged individuals, etc. Terrorism alone does not explain why the US is drifting away from its wonderful Enlightenment ideals.
Among the real reasons is growing economic inequality. To profess equality of humans is one thing, to enforce and protect this principle is yet another. When differences of wealth and power become astronomically large, grand assertions lose meaning.
Example: A popular — but absurd — Urdu couplet tells of Mahmood (sultan) and Ayyaz (slave) magically becoming equals as they pray side by side. But could King Salman al-Saud — just back after traveling to Indonesia with 505 tons of expensive luggage — and a Javanese Muslim peasant become equals even if that poor chap somehow got within praying distance alongside the monarch?
The US is faced with an equally absurd situation. Extreme income inequality is imperiling its future, and a decent life for citizens is ever harder to achieve. American CEOs draw seven-digit salaries, workers just five-digit ones. University education is increasingly restricted to richer sections of society. Forty-eight years ago in Boston I could do a weekly average of 20 hours of menial labour and cover nearly half of my university education. Today the same number of hours would not pay for even an eighth.
The upsurge of angry populism is actually fuelled not by terrorism but by America’s losing out in the global race. This is the conclusion reached by a global investment firm (GMO) which recently carried out an extensive data-driven study of this phenomenon. The report details how neoliberal economic policies are leading the US towards disaster.
Arising in the 1970s, neoliberalism has four key economic signatures: the abandonment of full employment as a desirable policy goal and its replacement with inflation targeting; an increase in the globalisation of the flows of people, capital, and trade; a focus at a firm level on shareholder value maximisation rather than reinvestment and growth; and the pursuit of flexible labour markets and the disruption of trade unions and workers organisations.
The upshot: the US has increasingly become a winner-take-all society. According to Forbes, the combined net worth of the 2016 class of the 400 richest Americans is $2.4 trillion, up from $2tr in 2013. The New York Times reported that the richest 1pc in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90pc. An angry populace is vulnerable to hate-spouting demagogues who blame everyone — Chinese, Mexicans, and Muslims.
This is only going to get worse because the days of American hegemony are gone, as is its absolute dominance of the world’s economy. When crises threaten, people everywhere tend to retreat into their comfort zones. Resurgent tribalism, aggressive nationalism, and religious fundamentalism become more attractive. But these can only provide solace, not solutions.
It would be tragic if the US were to fail its own constitution. Many countries are not even formally committed to accepting the equality of their citizens, and many more sharply discriminate between them even while professing not to. Pakistan’s constitution explicitly distinguishes between Muslim and non-Muslim, Iran officially espouses vilayat-i-faqih (guardianship of Islamic jurists), Saudi Arabia prohibits all places of worship on its soil except mosques. Although Israel lacks a constitution because of a conflict between its religious and secular forces, legally, as well as in practice, it privileges Jews over non-Jews. And India, which was once committed to secularism, is now turning into a state for Hindus run by Hindus.
How can the future of humanity be protected against this return to primitivism? No magical force drives history; there is only human agency. We must therefore educate ourselves into rising above accidents of birth, think critically, examine facts before forming opinions, keep widening the scope of our knowledge and, above all, act compassionately. To fight for universal humanism, world citizenship, and for the Enlightenment spirit is the only option for a world where boundaries are increasingly irrelevant.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Its Meaning & Implications

We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.
The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.
Already, artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translate or invest. Impressive progress has been made in AI in recent years, driven by exponential increases in computing power and by the availability of vast amounts of data, from software used to discover new drugs to algorithms used to predict our cultural interests. Digital fabrication technologies, meanwhile, are interacting with the biological world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, and architects are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit.
Challenges and opportunities
Like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world; technology has made possible new products and services that increase the efficiency and pleasure of our personal lives. Ordering a cab, booking a flight, buying a product, making a payment, listening to music, watching a film, or playing a game—any of these can now be done remotely.
In the future, technological innovation will also lead to a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency and productivity. Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth.
At the same time, as the economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have pointed out, the revolution could yield greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labor markets. As automation substitutes for labor across the entire economy, the net displacement of workers by machines might exacerbate the gap between returns to capital and returns to labor. On the other hand, it is also possible that the displacement of workers by technology will, in aggregate, result in a net increase in safe and rewarding jobs.
We cannot foresee at this point which scenario is likely to emerge, and history suggests that the outcome is likely to be some combination of the two. However, I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production. This will give rise to a job market increasingly segregated into “low-skill/low-pay” and “high-skill/high-pay” segments, which in turn will lead to an increase in social tensions.
In addition to being a key economic concern, inequality represents the greatest societal concern associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The largest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital—the innovators, shareholders, and investors—which explains the rising gap in wealth between those dependent on capital versus labor. Technology is therefore one of the main reasons why incomes have stagnated, or even decreased, for a majority of the population in high-income countries: the demand for highly skilled workers has increased while the demand for workers with less education and lower skills has decreased. The result is a job market with a strong demand at the high and low ends, but a hollowing out of the middle.
This helps explain why so many workers are disillusioned and fearful that their own real incomes and those of their children will continue to stagnate. It also helps explain why middle classes around the world are increasingly experiencing a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction and unfairness. A winner-takes-all economy that offers only limited access to the middle class is a recipe for democratic malaise and dereliction.
Discontent can also be fueled by the pervasiveness of digital technologies and the dynamics of information sharing typified by social media. More than 30 percent of the global population now uses social media platforms to connect, learn, and share information. In an ideal world, these interactions would provide an opportunity for cross-cultural understanding and cohesion. However, they can also create and propagate unrealistic expectations as to what constitutes success for an individual or a group, as well as offer opportunities for extreme ideas and ideologies to spread.
The impact on business
An underlying theme in my conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses.
On the supply side, many industries are seeing the introduction of new technologies that create entirely new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains. Disruption is also flowing from agile, innovative competitors who, thanks to access to global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales, and distribution, can oust well-established incumbents faster than ever by improving the quality, speed, or price at which value is delivered.
Major shifts on the demand side are also occurring, as growing transparency, consumer engagement, and new patterns of consumer behavior (increasingly built upon access to mobile networks and data) force companies to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services.
A key trend is the development of technology-enabled platforms that combine both demand and supply to disrupt existing industry structures, such as those we see within the “sharing” or “on demand” economy. These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by the smartphone, convene people, assets, and data—thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services in the process. In addition, they lower the barriers for businesses and individuals to create wealth, altering the personal and professional environments of workers. These new platform businesses are rapidly multiplying into many new services, ranging from laundry to shopping, from chores to parking, from massages to travel.
On the whole, there are four main effects that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has on business—on customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation, and on organizational forms. Whether consumers or businesses, customers are increasingly at the epicenter of the economy, which is all about improving how customers are served. Physical products and services, moreover, can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value. New technologies make assets more durable and resilient, while data and analytics are transforming how they are maintained. A world of customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration, particularly given the speed at which innovation and disruption are taking place. And the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, finally, means that talent, culture, and organizational forms will have to be rethought.
Overall, the inexorable shift from simple digitization (the Third Industrial Revolution) to innovation based on combinations of technologies (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) is forcing companies to reexamine the way they do business. The bottom line, however, is the same: business leaders and senior executives need to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams, and relentlessly and continuously innovate.
The impact on government
As the physical, digital, and biological worlds continue to converge, new technologies and platforms will increasingly enable citizens to engage with governments, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent the supervision of public authorities. Simultaneously, governments will gain new technological powers to increase their control over populations, based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control digital infrastructure. On the whole, however, governments will increasingly face pressure to change their current approach to public engagement and policymaking, as their central role of conducting policy diminishes owing to new sources of competition and the redistribution and decentralization of power that new technologies make possible.
Ultimately, the ability of government systems and public authorities to adapt will determine their survival. If they prove capable of embracing a world of disruptive change, subjecting their structures to the levels of transparency and efficiency that will enable them to maintain their competitive edge, they will endure. If they cannot evolve, they will face increasing trouble.
This will be particularly true in the realm of regulation. Current systems of public policy and decision-making evolved alongside the Second Industrial Revolution, when decision-makers had time to study a specific issue and develop the necessary response or appropriate regulatory framework. The whole process was designed to be linear and mechanistic, following a strict “top down” approach.
But such an approach is no longer feasible. Given the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s rapid pace of change and broad impacts, legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree and for the most part are proving unable to cope.
How, then, can they preserve the interest of the consumers and the public at large while continuing to support innovation and technological development? By embracing “agile” governance, just as the private sector has increasingly adopted agile responses to software development and business operations more generally. This means regulators must continuously adapt to a new, fast-changing environment, reinventing themselves so they can truly understand what it is they are regulating. To do so, governments and regulatory agencies will need to collaborate closely with business and civil society.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will also profoundly impact the nature of national and international security, affecting both the probability and the nature of conflict. The history of warfare and international security is the history of technological innovation, and today is no exception. Modern conflicts involving states are increasingly “hybrid” in nature, combining traditional battlefield techniques with elements previously associated with nonstate actors. The distinction between war and peace, combatant and noncombatant, and even violence and nonviolence (think cyberwarfare) is becoming uncomfortably blurry.
As this process takes place and new technologies such as autonomous or biological weapons become easier to use, individuals and small groups will increasingly join states in being capable of causing mass harm. This new vulnerability will lead to new fears. But at the same time, advances in technology will create the potential to reduce the scale or impact of violence, through the development of new modes of protection, for example, or greater precision in targeting.
The impact on people
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. It is already changing our health and leading to a “quantified” self, and sooner than we think it may lead to human augmentation. The list is endless because it is bound only by our imagination.
I am a great enthusiast and early adopter of technology, but sometimes I wonder whether the inexorable integration of technology in our lives could diminish some of our quintessential human capacities, such as compassion and cooperation. Our relationship with our smartphones is a case in point. Constant connection may deprive us of one of life’s most important assets: the time to pause, reflect, and engage in meaningful conversation.
One of the greatest individual challenges posed by new information technologies is privacy. We instinctively understand why it is so essential, yet the tracking and sharing of information about us is a crucial part of the new connectivity. Debates about fundamental issues such as the impact on our inner lives of the loss of control over our data will only intensify in the years ahead. Similarly, the revolutions occurring in biotechnology and AI, which are redefining what it means to be human by pushing back the current thresholds of life span, health, cognition, and capabilities, will compel us to redefine our moral and ethical boundaries.
Shaping the future
Neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which humans have no control. All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution, in the decisions we make on a daily basis as citizens, consumers, and investors. We should thus grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.
To do this, however, we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril. Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.
In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.

Guaranteed Minimum Income, the Likely Robocalypse & Capitalism

Ontario is planning to pilot a guaranteed minimum income program this spring. So far, the policy debates have centred largely on the practicality of GMI as it applies to low-income Canadians.
But with a systemic labour market shock creeping over the horizon, Ontario’s pilot may offer important insights into how developed economies might tackle the inevitable spread of automation.
Technology is transcending human labour. Automation has placed manual labour on a path to obsolescence, and as technology engulfs the entire economy, even specialized, knowledge-based labour will gradually be supplanted.
Given the advent of diverse technologies — from neural networks to autonomous cars — the notion that we can ‘retrain’ workers to adapt to the new economy is a fantasy. In every sector, established companies that employ tens of thousands will succumb to disruption from digital competitors that employ just dozens.
These technologies are unlocking immense productive efficiencies — but by eroding the intrinsic value of labour, they also will sap the purchasing power of consumers. This is the fatal flaw in the system: New products and services won’t spur growth if no one can buy them.
The economic woes of the working class do not reflect a failure in the creation of wealth, but a breakdown in the way we trade for goods and services. In order for individuals to participate in a capitalist economy in the first place, they must sell their labour. But in an economy where labour is intrinsically less valuable, corporations and their shareholders share an incentive to hoard cash rather than hire workers. Capital grows while consumer demand shrinks.
Indeed, from 2007 to 2015 cash holdings by American non-financial companies increased from approximately US$750 billion to nearly $1.7 trillion, and it’s no coincidence that Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Oracle claimed the largest cash reserves, holding a combined $500 billion in cash and cash equivalents.The accumulation of cash, and the derivative concentration of wealth, isn’t just irrational. It’s a sign of a capitalist economy in a state of atrophy.
At its conceptual core, money is merely a mechanism to facilitate what we otherwise would call ‘barter’. Nobody needs money as a thing in itself. What we want is what money can buy — food, shelter, entertainment. This may seem obvious but it’s an essential philosophical distinction. Money is merely the go-between in the act of trade — the means, not the ends.
Understood in this way, the accumulation of cash, and the derivative concentration of wealth, isn’t just irrational. It’s a sign of a capitalist economy in a state of atrophy, rendering scarce the means through which we consume, notwithstanding our actual productive wealth as a society.
Demand, rather than production, will be the primary economic challenge of our time. Corporate tax cuts won’t help. Neither will deregulation, walls or tariffs. This new reality emerges not from poor trade policies or foreign antagonists, but from a structural shortage of demand in First World labour markets and an ever-declining equilibrium clearing rate for wages.
The only solution that looks viable now is the guaranteed minimum income.
As individuals, we have two key attributes within the broader framework of a capitalist economy: We possess some measure of intrinsic economic value, and we have economic wants and needs. We participate in an economy by monetizing our intrinsic economic value — we sell our labour, and we use the proceeds to purchase the goods we want and need. But when machines eliminate the demand for our labour, we have no inherent first-order mechanism through which to participate in the economy. We need some measure of liquidity to ensure continued demand in consumer markets, notwithstanding demand in labour markets.
The particulars of a guaranteed income regime will evolve with new technological realities (Bill Gates’ recent tax proposal is an interesting one). The goal here should not be to dissuade automation, but to normalize and expand the revenue governments collect from it.
The underlying framework for a guaranteed income program is financially and fiscally sensible, and the system has the potential to unlock a new era of growth in the developed world. It would allow individuals to consume freely, and would require relatively little bureaucratic oversight.
Technology holds the potential to increase our productive capacities exponentially. Ensuring a minimal demand benchmark in the economy will be vital, if only to blunt the economic and subsequent political impact of the mass labour disruptions we can see already on the horizon.