Universal and Unifying Aspect of Science

 The history of humankind is often told as the epic rise and fall of great empires, clashes of civilizations and epoch-defining conflicts. But another narrative is possible: a narrative in which human progress is chronicled as a smooth and continuous passage towards betterment for all. This is the narrative of ideas, and in particular, of scientific ideas.

Science is universal and unifying. An apple falls in the same way whether it falls in a 17th-century English garden, inspiring Isaac Newton to develop his laws of universal gravitation; or whether it falls anywhere on earth at any time in history. It is this universality, coupled with a love for knowledge and understanding shared by all humanity, that gives science its power to transcend cultural and other differences.

Many of the ideas that have done much to shape the modern world arose long ago in ancient Greece. It is to the Greeks that we owe the concept of atomism, developed in the early 5th century BC and so important in my own field of particle physics. And it is to scholars like Plato and Aristotle that we owe much of the philosophical basis for scientific reasoning. If we fast-forward to the early Middle Ages, we find that the development of ideas has passed to the Middle East while Europe languishes in a period punctuated by war. It was great scholars from the Middle East that gave us concepts such as algebra, and through translation ensured that the knowledge of the ancient Greeks was not lost. As Europe emerged from the Middle Ages, Middle Eastern contributions to the development of ideas provided a basis for a scientific renaissance in Europe.

Ideas flow between cultures over time, each adding to the sum of human knowledge, and each leading to improvements in quality of life for all of us. While cultures may clash, scientific knowledge moves ever forward.

In post-war Europe in the 1940s, the notion of science as a universal and unifying value, transcending boundaries of all kinds, was put forward by a small group of visionary scientists and diplomats as a way to provide a peaceful future for the continent. As a result, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, was founded in Geneva in 1954. Designed to provide a centre of excellence for fundamental research in physics in Europe, CERN also had a second mission: to foster peaceful collaboration between nations that had recently been at war.

CERN’s founding convention is a work of genius. Deceptively simple, it provides a robust, stable and flexible framework for international collaboration. In the more than 60 years of CERN’s existence, it has been put to the test on many occasions and has been successfully adopted by other scientific organizations. The CERN model for international collaboration is all about recognizing the strength of diversity, the power of sharing, and the benefits that accrue when neighbours work together to achieve common goals.

The net result of all this is that CERN has thrived and has established itself as the foremost institute in the world for research in particle physics. It has been a magnet for scientific talent from around the world. From the original 12 founding member states, it has grown to 22 members today, along with eight associate members, while almost 17,000 scientists of over 100 nationalities come here to carry out their research.

In the 1960s, CERN collaborated with both the USA and the USSR, with the somewhat surprising result that the laboratory played a small but important cameo role as strategic arms limitation talks got underway in Geneva in the 1970s. CERN provided a neutral ground. The CERN model has also proven itself to work in a field in which timescales for the realization of projects are long and continuity is essential. Perhaps more importantly, the CERN model is a template for cooperation in a fractured world.

Just as science was deployed as a vehicle for peace through CERN in 1940s Europe, the same idea is today being applied in the Middle East. The main difference is that while the protagonists of WWII had laid down their arms before CERN came into being, many of the partners on the SESAME project are still in a state of conflict. SESAME is a laboratory hosted by Jordan with Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Pakistan as members. Despite the differences between its members, the ideal of renewed scientific cooperation in the Middle East has endured for more than 20 years since the notion of a CERN for the region was first aired. The laboratory has persevered and produced its first scientific results at the end of 2017.

Science provides a basis for progress and mutual understanding, but it cannot repair a fractured world on its own. Society as a whole can learn from the way science works. As we take steps into an uncertain future, of this we can be sure: whatever we do, science knows no boundaries, and there will always be people ready to reach out across borders to further the sum of human knowledge for the benefit of all. Let’s make sure that the next chapter in human history is based on the narrative of ideas and not the narrative of conflict.

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Sunday Special: The Role of Artists in Development Of Science & Technology

 A general narrative of science and technology shows no relation with art or artists. Moreover, both these worlds are considered to be completely different from each other and seem to have nothing in common. But very few acknowledge or understand that there is a common desire to detect a world beyond appearances, a world that can be achieved through human effort. Also, one might find it fascinating to know that artists over time have found a range of interests in science & technology. To begin with, during the European Renaissance, when knowledge of even our own body was scarce, artists played a role in helping populate a common imagination of it (we have multiple records and stories of artists from this period visiting morgues and hospitals). They have gone further to give a form to our collective imagination of futuristic technologies as well. The drawings of Leonardo da Vinci immediately come to mind as they have been dispersed so widely in the popular media.  But numerous artists (all around the world and of a varying degree of fame) have done this after Leonardo and have developed a fascination with different cultural and scientific narratives.

Fragments of works by Leonardo Da Vinci (sketchbooks), Umberto Romano (“Mr Pynchon and the settling of Springfield”) and Jules Verne (“From the Earth to the Moon”)

How is this fascination to be explained? Why do artist feel drawn to give forms to the unimagined? And what social role does this phenomenon play?

Disciplines which entirely operate within the bounds of rationality like science and engineering are limited by the factual information that actually exists to give a form to their ideas. They are not able to create fiction as easily as others as they feel committed to the “rigour and training” of their field.

This is where artists come in. The word artist here includes poets as well as novelists, painters and filmmakers. All these disciplinary roles possess a capacity to combine their personal vision with tangential extrapolations of factual information. Artists have come to treat this quality of extrapolation as an ordinary act that they perform every day.

Often this extrapolation has a prophetic quality that is not easily explainable. This is usually performed from an analysis of popular culture as well as the latent desires it reflects.  As people intensely engaged in the act of creation, artists have a special insight into popular desire and the eventualities that our choices lead us to.

From the earliest period in history known to humans, curiosity and desire for play (or “artifice for survival”) have brought development of different forms and shapes to a range of materials. This has contributed a lot to our understanding of the basic properties of matter. For example, the artistic desire to mould clay, scrape and chisel stones into imagined forms have taught us a lot about the physical properties of these naturally occurring materials. This knowledge has again helped us in working with these materials in more versatile ways. In fact, even the fireworks used for celebration have inspired scientists to do experiments with chemicals in many forms.

Science is a relatively new creation of the human intellect. Before science started suggesting and responding to our civilisational search for meaning, our approach was essentially holistic. Art has always played a critical role in this holistic approach by transforming philosophies and myths into culturally accessible forms.

Artists end up giving material to scientists for further study as they prototype possibilities and pose questions. Science fiction (both in cinema and in literature) is a good example of this process. Storytellers and Filmmakers speculate on the basis of their reading of popular desire and put together visions of imaginary worlds that seem plausible. These narratives charge the popular imagination and come to symbolise aspects of the future for people in general. Scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs draw from this pool of symbols as they get a sense of what people want as well as what they can focus on actually making. Instant Messaging, 3D Printers, iPad, Google Glass, Flip Phones, Face Recognition… have all been imagined in science fiction first and then have later become a reality too. A quick Google search will lead you to the science fiction work that has inspired these cultural artefacts that have become essentials for us today.

We see innovation as a two-part process that includes both artistic imagination and science and technology experiments in equal measure. Innovation is not something that is possible as a unilateral problem-solving approach.

The arts and the sciences have a complementary nature. It is important to understand that both are ways of dealing with our experiences and lift our lives from drudgery to one that is many degrees more complex and fulfilling.

But, what we see around us today is that the first part of this process – artists and their imagination – is under-valued and under-invested in as a result. The common belief is that just the second part of this process – the geeks, the hackers, the science and technology professionals – is enough. Technology, as a social force is something that we see as a capacity that is both valued and considered investment-worthy in our society. So, our educational institutions, our venture capital funds, our incubators are all focusing on technology as something that will deliver us to the future. But, this is clearly not true.

Both these communities of people and their practices ought to go through a period of parallel growth. They are both equally important for the innovative capacity and potential of a nation. Economies that have been able to invest in both these communities on a parallel basis (and these are rare) have healthy and living cycles of innovation.

In Scandinavian countries and many aboriginal and tribal cultures, this balance can be seen.

In India, an understanding of this cycle (the constant exchange between the art and the sciences) is absent. Some progressive forms of art have started emerging in our collective public life (e.g. street art, residencies and exhibitions in alternative settings, the emergence of the artist as a public intellectual…). But, we have still not managed to articulate for ourselves a specific and localised value of the arts for society. And this has a massive cultural impact:

The artist’s community in India is not thought to be significant in any form in the context of the economic policies, objectives and plans that the country follows. This is primarily because of a lack of understanding at the systemic level about how the arts and the sciences work in a closely linked cycle to lead to innovation in any form.

The numerous artist’s communities and institutions in India do not receive any special support and are not driven by any clear vision or strategy.

There is no commonly agreed-upon way of valuing artists’ work (in all the myriad forms it takes). So, the value of the entities in the artistic eco-system is determined on the basis of its linkages with extrinsic factors.

When diplomatic meetings are staged, more often than not they play out against the backdrop of an artistic event. This is because displaying one’s heritage demonstrates one’s resilience, the depth of one’s roots and a kind of soft power. This soft-power of art is an under-utilised and under-contextualised aspect of art’s potential.

 

Myths Blocking the Role of Women as Peace Makers

 Strengthening the role of women in peace processes has been a priority of the international community since the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in 2000.

Greater efforts by policy-makers, academics and practitioners have been committed to promote inclusive and gender-sensitive peace processes. Nearly two decades after the landmark UN resolution, why is implementation still sorely lagging?

Gender-sensitive mediation can be understood as (i) ensuring women’s participation; (ii) bringing in women’s perspectives that contribute to different understandings of the causes and consequences of conflict; and (iii) peace agreements that are responsive to the specific needs of women and girls, men and boys.

In the report, ‘7 Myths Standing in the Way for Women’s Inclusion’, Inclusive Security captured the pervasive misconceptions that obstruct efforts to make peace mediation inclusive and gender-sensitive.

Five years later, we ask ourselves: do these myths still exist or have they already been retired? Even today,  major misconceptions continue to weaken efforts to make gender-sensitive peace mediation a reality. Drawing on the insights of the discussion, here are six persisting myths standing in the way of progress:

Myth 1: There are distinct ‘women’s issues’

When it comes to peace agreements, concerns about whether ‘women’s issues’ are properly addressed are commonplace. Though well-meaning, the concern is misplaced. Are there really issues that affect only women? What matters on peace and security would not concern women? Conflict affects men and women differently, but this is often taken to mean that certain topics are relevant for one gender only.

Participants in this session discussed how the misconception pervades mediation discourse and practice, and how women leaders are regularly invited to share their views on ‘women’s issues’ as if these would be easily distinguished from other issues.

How many men have been asked to comment on ‘men’s issues’, and what would those be? The language of ‘women’s issues’ may risk limiting women’s political space to contribute and is out of touch with the reality that all issues tackled in peace processes concern men, women and other genders. They may do so in different ways, and appreciating these nuances is at the core of a gender-sensitive approach.

Bringing women in half-way through is, at best, a half-hearted effort and often results in quick-fix measures along the lines of ‘add women and stir’

Myth 2: The peace process starts at the negotiating table

‘We are always too late’ is a sentiment that resonates across conflict-affected countries, from Colombia to Myanmar and South Sudan.

The question of involving women usually comes up when formal talks are convened, long after pre-negotiations, consultations and agenda-setting have already started.

Ironically, this early phase is a time when a broad range of perspectives about the drivers of conflict and peace are most needed. It is also when preparations for mobilization, capacity-building and interest-formation can take place. It was noted that bringing women in half-way through is, at best, a half-hearted effort and often results in quick fix measures along the lines of ‘add women and stir’.

Myth 3: Appointing a gender advisor will fix it all

The appointment of gender advisors to mediation teams has become common practice, which is a laudable development. Presence of gender advisors is not, however, a magic bullet for ensuring a gender-sensitive process.

Too often their appointment seems to be taken as a tick in the box, as if the mere presence of gender advisors guarantees a gender-sensitive process. But the effectiveness of gender advisors’ work hinges on the wider mediation team, and above all, on cooperation with national stakeholders.

Gender-sensitive conflict analysis and mediation are a team effort, in which a dedicated advisor can be a valuable resource—but not the sole author or implementer. Importantly, gender advisors are not there to replace the involvement of women’s representatives from the country in question. Their work is rather to strengthen the channels for engaging national stakeholders.

Myth 4: Women as voices

Another obstacle to women’s participation in peace processes is the perception of women as depoliticized subjects, or mere voices, rather than as actors in their own right.

Women are also repeatedly seen as a homogeneous group with a single voice that talks about ‘women’s issues’. As expressed by one panelist, ‘women have been frequently perceived as voices, but we are more than that, we are agents, not just voices. That role alone strips women of agency and ownership.

This perception is embedded in the language of global peace and security, which tends to portray women as passive, fragile victims in need of protection. The ‘protection’ pillar of UNSCR 1325 has often been the main focus, overshadowing the participation and prevention of conflict aspects of the WPS agenda. Moreover, women’s voices are rarely truly heard; until and unless they translate into concrete provisions in peace agreements and resources for implementation.

Myth 5: Mediation is political magic in smoky rooms

International peace mediation is often portrayed as some sort of ‘political magic’ that takes place in smoke-filled rooms. Participants addressed how this hinders women’s access to peace negotiations.

The ideals that underpin such a narrow view of mediation privilege certain men for appointments.

If military expertise and camaraderie are prerequisites for mediators, options for choosing women to these positions can be limited. It is vital to dismantle the image of mediation as some enigmatic political game played by charismatic, mysterious personalities. The focus should rather be on professional skills and technical expertise, backed by the necessary political mandate and standing.

Myth 6: We just need more evidence

It is frequently argued that more evidence of the benefits of women’s participation is needed, to justify efforts to enhance their inclusion in peace talks. This instrumentalist approach was problematized during the roundtable session.

The participants stressed the need to normalize a gender balance in peace negotiations: ‘Why do we need to justify our participation all the time? Our male colleagues don’t need to do this.’ Participants argued that the need to justify women’s participation with empirical evidence arises from patriarchal norms. To perceive men as the norm and women as deviations of this norm reproduces male dominance and the perception of women as something extra being added to a natural state of affairs.

This challenges women’s increased participation and reproduces inherent biases. It is thus important to critically evaluate research questions on women’s participation and to rethink the arguments used for it. The preference for a normative approach was emphasized during the roundtable discussion: ‘Women, making up half of the world’s population, should be able to participate simply because it is their right; the gender balance in society should be reflected at the peace negotiation table.’

Debunking the myths about peace mediation

The discussion at the 2018 Stockholm Forum highlighted that it is these persisting myths about women, men and mediation that stand in the way of progress towards gender-sensitive peace processes. The language and the words that we use shape our thinking and our actions. We can start puncturing these myths only by being aware and critical of the way we talk about peace mediation and the roles of women and men therein.

A gender perspective concerns all aspects of society such as economy, social structures, cultural norms, behaviours and relationships. All issues are women’s issues and everything that is addressed in a peace agreement has gendered aspects. This should be acknowledged in policy discussions—in arenas such as the General Assembly—in order to make gender-sensitive peace mediation a reality.

 

Saturday Special: Your Conversation Can Change the Child’s Brain

“It’s not just about dumping language into your child’s brain.” Most parents know that talking to their child helps them develop. But a new study has revealed that it’s how you talk to your child that really matters for their brain growth. Rather than just spewing complex words at them, or showing flashcards in the hope of enriching their vocabulary, the key is to engage them in “conversational turns” – in other words, a good old chat.

In a study of children between the ages of 4 and 6, cognitive scientists at MIT found that such back-and-forth conversation changes the child’s brain. Specifically, it can boost the child’s brain development and language skills, as measured both by a range of tests and MRI brain scans. This was the case regardless of parental income or education.

“The important thing is not just to talk to your child, but to talk with your child. It’s not just about dumping language into your child’s brain, but to actually carry on a conversation with them,” said Rachel Romeo, a graduate student at Harvard and MIT and the lead author of the paper.

The finding adds an important twist to what we know about language and development. In 1995, a seminal study established that children from the wealthiest families hear about 30 million more words by age three than children from the poorest families. The authors of that study argued that the “30-million-word gap” set the children off on fundamentally different developmental trajectories that affected their experiences later on.

Today, there are countless educational apps and toys devoted to filling that word gap and expanding children’s vocabulary from day one. However, trying to inundate children with millions of words may be missing a crucial factor in development: human relationships, and social interaction.

In fact, the MIT study suggests that parents should perhaps talk less, and listen more.

“The number of adult words didn’t seem to matter at all for the brain function. What mattered was the number of conversational turns,” Romeo said.

The children in the study wore recorders at home that registered each word they spoke or heard. Scientists then analyzed these recordings for “conversational turns”, or back-and-forth exchanges between an adult and the child. They found that the number of conversational turns correlated strongly with the children’s scores in a range of language tests. It also correlated with more activity in the area of Broca’s area, the area of the brain involved in speech production and language processing, when the children listened to stories while their brains were being scanned. These correlations were much stronger than between the number of words heard, and test scores or brain activity.

“The really novel thing about our paper is that it provides the first evidence that family conversation at home is associated with brain development in children. It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain,” says John Gabrieli, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT and the senior author of the study.

The study noted that while children from wealthier families were exposed to more language on average, children from poor but chatty families had language skills and brain activity similar to those wealthier children. This was an important finding that prompted researchers to encourage parents from all backgrounds to engage with their children – including interactive chatting with babies, for example by making sounds back and forth or copying faces.

“One of the things we’re excited about is that it feels like a relatively actionable thing because it’s specific,” Gabrielli said. “That doesn’t mean it’s easy for less educated families, under greater economic stress, to have more conversation with their child. But at the same time, it’s a targeted, specific action, and there may be ways to promote or encourage that.”

The idea of learning through social engagement and emotional bonding chimes with other research on how infants learn language. Babies tend to learn by watching and copying the adults they are most attached to, which is why singing and cuddling are much more effective than high-tech educational tools when it comes to development. Later, children learn most effectively through play, for example imaginary role play with friends or adults.

Chatting also requires more complex cognitive skills than only listening, or only talking. According to the MIT researchers, having a conversation allows children to practice understanding what the other person is trying to say, and how to respond appropriately. This is very different from merely having to listen.

Roberta Golinkoff, a professor of education at the University of Delaware School of Education who was not involved in the study, said the study added to evidence that language development went far beyond filling the word gap.

“You can talk to a child until you’re blue in the face, but if you’re not engaging with the child and having a conversational duet about what the child is interested in, you’re not going to give the child the language processing skills that they need,” said Golinkoff.

Global economy faces these risks today

Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, triggering the most significant global financial crisis since the great depression. Lehman’s collapse was not triggered in a day but over a much longer period, with assets of US$680 billion (£518 billion) supported by only US$22.5 billion of capital by the time it went under. As the subprime mortgage crisis began to eat up financial institutions, this once invincible bank was suddenly no more.

A decade later, with many of the world’s leading economies struggling to grow consistently, one would have hoped that the banking industry and its regulators would have learned from what happened. Gordon Brown, UK prime minister at the time of the collapse, doesn’t think so.

Brown believes we are “sleepwalking” into the next global financial crisis. He sees insufficient headroom to resuscitate economies by cutting interest rates or raising public spending. He describes a “leaderless world” in which it looks harder to achieve the global coordinated action that was critical for avoiding even greater disaster ten years ago.

Is there any room for cheer? Here’s my brief assessment of the indicators that will be crucial in any future crisis.

  1. Debt

Global debt recently hit a new record high of 225% of world GDP, amounting to US$164 trillion. The world is now 12 points deeper in debt than the previous peak in 2009, with advanced economies’ ratios at levels not seen since World War II.

This is forcing countries with large fiscal deficits to pay ever more interest to cover their bills. And if they can’t reduce their deficits, they will find it tough to deal with even the lightest economic downturn. Hence the recent call from IMF director Christine Lagarde for countries to fix “the roof while the sun is still shining”, by cutting deficits, improving banking capital buffers and maximising exchange rate flexibility.

  1. Emerging markets

Nervous investors have been heavily selling assets in emerging markets, such that inflows into these countries plummeted to US$2.2 billion in August compared to a high of US$13.7 billion only a month before. The outflow of money has emaciated the currencies of Turkey, Indonesia and Argentina. Meanwhile, the US greenback gets stronger and stronger as investors seek to benefit from the strength of US treasury bonds and other dollar-denominated assets. These changes are bound to affect international trade, heightening the prospect of contagion to other countries.

  1. Trade

The trade tensions between the US and China represent a massive geopolitical risk. These countries have the highest debt piles in the world, US$48.1 trillion and US$25.5 trillion respectively. Any economic fallout from their trade posturing could put global financial markets in a fix.

We are already seeing the impact on the Chinese stock market, which has lost about 20% of its value already this year. There are knock-on effects in Hong Kong, dragging down the Hang Seng trading index to a 14-month low lately. The contagion could soon spread around the globe, including to emerging economies already reeling from the aforementioned currency crises discussed above.

  1. Banking

In the aftermath of Lehman, the world’s major banks have moved from depending on short-term borrowings to building larger capital buffers to help them steer through another credit crunch. Be that as it may, many other banks have still looked vulnerable – especially after the Greek, Spanish and Italian banking crises of recent years. It is a strong signal that regulations are still insufficient to protect the system overall.

Then there is shadow banking – essentially financial institutions which aren’t banks, such as insurance companies or hedge funds, providing banking services such as lending. This grew rapidly after the previous crisis, since the institutions in question are subject to fewer regulatory restrictions as the banks.

A mind-boggling study from the US last year, for example, found that the market share of shadow banking in residential mortgages had rocketed from 15% in 2007 to 38% in 2015. This also represents a staggering 75% of all loans to low-income borrowers and risky borrowers. China’s shadow banking is another major concern, amounting to US$15 trillion, or about 130% of GDP. Meanwhile, fears are mounting that many shadow banks around the world are relaxing their underwriting standards.

  1. Cyber hazards

Some analysts also worry that the next financial crisis could be triggered by cyber attacks on today’s fully digital and interconnected financial system. This has consistently been ranked as the number one concern by respondents to the Depository Trust’s Systemic Risk Barometer since its surveys began in 2013.

In sum, despite the efforts to strengthen the financial system, it looks far from failsafe. Gordon Brown is unfortunately right that the world has not managed to do enough to prepare itself for the next shock, and the growing divisions within the international community make the situation look particularly dangerous. We have not been able to curb the tendency of financial institutions to take on excessive risk, and as Brown also said, there is still not enough of a corrective mechanism for those who act irresponsibly.

JP Morgan is predicting the next crisis will strike in 2020, if not earlier, and this does seem quite foreseeable. So brace yourself and stay prepared, and let’s hope that things don’t turn out as badly as they potentially could.

A Conflicted Country With Many Problems Few Solutions-Pakistan

I watch some channels of Pakistani News to get to know what is happening there and the scary thing is no one really knows. As in the recent case of Pakistani Economist Atif Mian, who is considered one of 25 best in the world. Imran Khan brought him in with much fanfare and when social media and Mullahs objected at first because he is an Ahmadi, and Pakistan does not recognize this sect as Muslim, Imran’s Information minister went on TV with a splendid defense as to how he was the best to help lead the country out of its economic woes and that he would advise on economics, not religion.

But this proved to be not enough for the Mullahs and there was so much outrage and dire threats of anarchy in the country that Atif Mian had to resign and go back to Princeton. Two other Pakistani Economists who were professors abroad, in Harvard and Britain also resigned and left in disgust.

It seems that Pakistan takes a step forward and two steps backwards every time. Conflicted by debates on good Muslim and bad Muslim; good terrorists and bad terrorists; democracy versus martial law; The Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor being very good for the nation or very bad; mullahs screaming about the plight of Rohingyas but strangely silent on the one million Uyghurs imprisoned by the Chinese and the brutality they suffer on a daily basis.

When economists and rational anchors on TV question this the generals say Pakistan can never be defeated as it has the bomb! As if nukes can be turned into dams for the acute shortage of water; or schools for education or medical centres for the poor. It is almost as if a large portion of the society is living in a time warp where they feel that since they follow Islam, Allah will save them but they don’t have to do anything much themselves.

I saw a debate between Mullahs, each one trying to outdo the other on rigidity. The anchor asked them why are you against Ahmadis, aren’t they human beings and Muslims. The Mullahs erupted and said we would rather deal with Hindus and Christians than Ahmadis – they don’t accept Mohammed as the last prophet. Yet one will hardly ever find Christians and Hindus in high positions in Pakistan, whether it be the Armed Forces; the Judiciary; or government. Even in schools, the children get to learn how hated their neighbour is.

Such is the radicalization that is being taught in mosques; madrassas; schools and believed by generations of Pakistanis that it seems impossible to reverse.

On YouTube, I heard Pakistan’s best -known nuclear Physicist, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy give a speech in the US, and his words seemed to describe the change Pakistan has undergone. He said when he grew up in Karachi in the 1950s they lived in a neighbourhood where there were Christians, Parsees and some Hindus. Now when he goes there the diversity is gone there are only Muslims. When he came back to Pakistan after his PhD in the US, and started teaching at a University in Pakistan, the students dressed casually just like anywhere else. But by the 1990s the girls started wearing niqabs and burkhas and young men became equally religious.

One of the saddest events at this prestigious university was when one night he heard shots and when he rushed out he found the Professor who was his neighbour, an Ahmadi, had been shot in his head and chest. He died while Dr Hoodbhoy was taking him to hospital. This was in the university compound where all the professors lived. The next day at his funeral none of his colleagues came and only Professor Hoodbhoy was there.

I found this sad as well as frightening. If the best educated treat their fellowmen like this in a nation, what hope is there for the average person?

I have seen debates between students of physics who want to know how can they acknowledge the Big Bang Theory and evolution when the Koran does not talk about it. It seems they cannot compartmentalize religious belief and science. Somehow the two have to gel.

We had visited Spain in May and our Pakistani taxi driver was envious when we said we came from India. He told us the Indians here have the best jobs. They have businesses; work in banks and in IT and are very well off. We from Pakistan can only be taxi drivers, our education system is poor.

There seems to be a great frustration building up and the religious right are fighting for the establishment of a pure Islamic state and at the same time the rule of law is disintegrating; water and electricity is in short supply; Pakistani exports cannot compete with other neighbouring countries; they need $12 billion just to pay off debts; madrassas proliferate; and the youth have no skills or jobs. And yet the Military Industrial Empire thrives. It is not accountable to anyone and its terror proxies continue to operate in Afghanistan and India.

It will be interesting to watch if China can change Pakistan or if CPEC will eventually be China’s Waterloo. For the moment the terror proxies are ignoring China’s Human rights abuses in Xinxiang, but for how long can the Army rein them in?

 

Weekend Special: Planning a City for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

“Cities magnify humanity’s strengths … They spur innovation by facilitating face-to-face interaction, they attract talent and sharpen it through competition, they encourage entrepreneurship, and they allow for social and economic mobility.” – Edward Glaeser

In his 2011 bestseller Triumph of the City, urban economist Edward Glaeser makes a compelling case that cities magnify humanity’s strengths and make us “richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier”. This is a key reason why one of the defining global trends of the last two centuries – urbanisation – is continuing to gather pace.

For thousands of years humans have created cities, but it’s the First Industrial Revolution, just over 200 years ago, that saw an acceleration of urbanisation. In 1800, only 2% of the world’s population lived in cities. By the time of the Third Industrial Revolution in the 1960s, the global share of people living in cities surpassed 30%. Today’s growth of 60 million new urban dwellers per year will see that share double to more than 60% by 2030.

Not only do our cities attract people, as the world’s productive engines they attract and generate 80% of global GDP, account for the vast majority of patented innovation, and are increasingly shaping national politics and international relations. We are now living in the “Metropolitan Century”, in which cities are at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that, like previous industrial revolutions, will again profoundly change the way we live, work and do business. So how do our cities plan for this changing future?

‘He who predicts the future lies, even if he tells the truth.’

This old Arab proverb has never been more accurate. Today’s emerging technological breakthroughs are increasingly converging the physical, digital and biological worlds, the combined results of which are virtually limitless and impossible to predict. No organisation or sector will be exempt from the effects that these rapid and deep changes are producing. In the business world, digital disruption is putting many corporate leaders on a heightened state of alert. The feeling of not knowing when, or from which direction, an effective attack on an established business – or even an entire sector – might come, has created a whole new level of concern.

Similarly, city leaders across the globe are dealing with unprecedented uncertainty when it comes to the longer-term plans needed to ensure that their cities continue to provide the opportunities that “magnify humanity’s strengths”. Planning two years out is hard enough, but when your decisions have a multi-decade horizon, the challenge is magnified greatly. What kinds of jobs will our economy produce? How will our people and products get around the city, and how will we provide our residents with access to healthcare, education and culture? In short, how will the Fourth Industrial Revolution reshape the way we live, work, invest and do business; and, conversely, what opportunities are there for us to proactively shape our future?

Creating structure in uncertainty

First developed by the US Air Force after World War II as a method for military planning, scenario planning was pioneered in the corporate world by Royal Dutch Shell. As a result, the company was spectacularly successful in navigating the highly volatile oil markets of the 1970s.

Scenario planning does not attempt to predict the future, nor does it try to articulate visions or desirable futures. Instead, it utilises the uncertainty in the external environment that a business or city has little or no influence over, but which fundamentally determines the environment in which it will have to operate and compete. Scenarios do not describe just one future, but rather a range of plausible futures that illuminate all the corners of the “playing field”, thereby forcing you to critically assess your conscious and unconscious biases and help prevent you from being blindsided.

This methodology is particularly suited for including a wide range of stakeholders. Through this process, the taskforce can co-create a set of scenarios that were divergent, challenging and which covered the range of plausible futures for 2030.

Though the scenarios are divergent, they are internally consistent narratives about a city’s future. The key finding should negate the concept of  “business as usual” will not cut it and that without significant changes and reforms, a city’s economy will face a future with sizeable challenges, including:

Human capital: the ability of organisations in a city to nurture, attract and retain talent will come under increasing pressure.

Digital disruption: many organisations, as well as entire sectors, will experience significant realignments.

Inequality: A big city runs the risk of a spatial divide, with a well-off inner city versus an outer city that will lack sufficient infrastructure, access to jobs, services and amenities. This will be amplified by the real risk of a digital divide.

Governance:  There should be multiple councils with vastly divergent resources and capabilities, and a reformed governance arrangements fit for purpose in 2030.

‘If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change’

In his classic 1958 novel The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa chronicles the changes in Sicilian society during the 19th-century unification of Italy. These famous words, expressed by book’s central character, Prince Salinas, recognise the challenges of reform, and the need to change an established order – and his old privileged position within it – to provide for Italy’s future generations.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s effects will be far more momentous than the “Risorgimento”. In January 2016, Klaus Schwab wrote:

“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.”

For any city the biggest risk is complacency. This is where scenario planning is highly effective. By exploring the range of plausible futures, we can identify nine Strategic Needs for the city to address now to shape a liveable and flourishing  city in the future, no matter which future plays out. So what do they address?

‘The reason we live in cities today is no different than it was 10,000 years ago’

Carlo Ratti astutely observed that bringing people together has always been the attraction of cities. The nine Strategic Needs that are identified can be grouped into three key “ingredients” that have always effectively brought us together and give cities their enduring success:

  1. People

A city that puts its citizens at the centre of its decision making to “allow for social and economic mobility”, as Edward Glaeser puts it.

  1. Connectivity

A city that facilitates efficient and effective interaction at all levels, within the city and the world outside.

  1. Governance

Effective norms and institutional processes, systems and practices that govern cities.

These ingredients do not change, but the context in which they operate does. In the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must ensure that our city can progress and develop in concert with our changing environment.

What is certain is that without action to prepare, a future will be imposed on us. The cities that can think and act strategically to get the mix of people, connectivity and governance right are going to be the cities that will capture the greater promise of our changing environment.

Veiled, Nay Open, Acceptance of Religious Bias

 It has always been easy for power-seeking Pakistani clerics and politicians to set our simple-minded religious masses on fire. But, as Prime Minister Imran Khan just discovered, jumping on to a man-eating tiger’s back is one thing; getting off is another. The saga of the Economic Advisory Committee appointment of Prof Atif Mian, a distinguished economist at Princeton University, tells of this.

It all began with Imran Khan reaching out for professional help to manage Pakistan’s failing economy. To his credit Imran Khan recognises that competence counts; professionalism is precisely what made his cancer hospital work. And so he went ahead, acting just as any true liberal (Khan says he hates liberals) would — focusing upon merit, and reaching across Pakistan and outside to find advisers like Mian.

To be honest, it wasn’t much of a proposition. The advisory position offered, then rescinded, was salary-less. The committee of 18 unpaid members of the EAC is tasked with conjuring up a wish list but, as with other such government advisory committees, such recommendations are not binding. No one takes unpaid advice very seriously. Even if things had worked out, Mian would not have moved to Pakistan from his tenured university position. Nor, given other professional commitments, could he have spent much time upon Pakistan’s multiple economic crises.

To wilfully use religious sentiment for worldly gain is now firmly part of Pakistan’s political culture.

Nevertheless, the outcry that followed Mian’s appointment showed that many cannot stomach the idea of an Ahmadi being invited onto an official body. For them this is a slippery slope leading down to the unthinkable: a day when Ahmadis would be accepted as normal citizens of Pakistan.

The backlash came from within PTI and from without. The strongest pressure to dismiss Atif Mian came from right-wing and centre-right parties — JUI(F), PML-N, MMA and JI. But even the nominally secular ANP, which lost hundreds of its members to Taliban suicide attacks, hit its political opponent with a religious club. This time around the PPP stayed mum, but then it has plenty of old baggage which it cannot readily explain away.

To its credit, Imran Khan’s team jumped straight in to defend Mian’s appointment. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that, “Pakistan belongs as much to its minorities as it does to the majority”. In another country this would have been considered unremarkable; here it was a veritable bombshell.

A still stouter defence followed: “If you think that we should drown all our minorities in the Arabian Sea, or that they have no rights here, they have no religious or economic freedom, or freedom to live, then this must be your opinion only. Our interpretation of the state of Madina is that Islam means security, peace and moving forward together … Because of these things [persecution of minorities] the entire world makes fun of us.”

Chaudhry’s tweets struck a sympathetic chord with the Minister of Human Rights, Dr Shireen Mazari (Columbia University, PhD thesis on the revolutionary communist thinker Gramsci), who chirped right back: “Exactly. Well put indeed. Time to reclaim space for the Quaid’s Pakistan!”

Almost unable to believe their own ears, liberal Pakistanis danced with joy. Naya Pakistan was for real and not, as they had long suspected, a fraudulent slogan to seize power. We were on the way — at least by a little bit — towards making a country where every citizen would be considered equal to any other. It was not to be.

What’s especially surprising is that we have been here before. Back in 2014, perched atop his container, Imran Khan promised a cheering crowd that he believed in meritocracy and, as an example, would appoint Mian as the kind of expert he wanted to take charge of Pakistan’s economy. Days later, upon being informed that Mian was Ahmadi, he did a swift U-turn. No one I know quite understands why there was a second U-turn and why Mian was again asked.

Still, many hoped, this time it would be different. Now that Imran Khan was prime minister and had power, he would surely take a stand in support of the constitutional rights of all citizens. This after all should be his obligation as the head of the government.

The swiftness of his climbdown surprised everyone because typically a new government feels strongest in its early days. Also, unlike the previous government, the present one has support from the army and a blind cult following. Nevertheless, fear of political opponents exploiting religious sensitivities left it paralysed.

In an attempt to quash the controversy, Imran Khan recorded and uploaded his video message. One sees an embattled man seeking to wriggle out of a bad situation. Looking haggard and aged rather than his handsome self, he swears repeatedly to the end-of-prophethood while jabbing his finger at an unnamed maulana (Fazlur Rahman?) who he accuses of playing religious politics.

Of course, Khan is correct. But, unfortunately, the wily maulana is not the only one playing this game. Had a similar matter come up before Khan became prime minister, what would have been his stance? One recalls the pictures of Imran Khan participating in numerous khatm-i-nabuwat meetings, some addressed by the most extreme of clerics. Where the goal is to obtain or retain political power, he was willing to say or do whatever it took no matter how hateful.

In a few days, the Atif Mian episode will recede into the background. Still, it warns of the dangers ahead. Imran Khan — like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif before him — will have to navigate a minefield where a misstep can cost you a limb or your life. In such circumstances, fearful politicians will make concessions and principles evaporate.

No country is free of prejudices; certain groups of its own citizens are discriminated against. Still, at the very least this is normally deprecated officially and, as in some countries, one sees genuine attempts to create an equalitarian society. Pakistanis in Europe and North America take their freedoms for granted in spite of overtly projecting their identity. Still, they expect respect and mostly receive it. But in today’s Pakistan those with religious beliefs different from that of the majority’s stand little or no chance.

Red Dragon Devours Muslims

Chinese is involved in re-education and setting up detention camps that aim to “cure” Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims of their religion
China’s oppression of Muslim citizens has entered a new stage with news emerging about a system of re-education and detention camps aimed at isolating people the state identifies as Muslims to “cure” them of religion. The main targets are Uighurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang – what they prefer to call “East Turkestan” – with Chinese officials claiming to defend their country against Islamic extremism. The facts instead indicate systematic persecution of religious and ethnic minorities.
Since China announced its Open Up the West campaign in 1999, the mechanics of crony capitalism, as described in a 2016 essay “Lucrative Chaos” by Thomas Cliff in Ethnic Conflict & Protest in Tibet & Xinjiang: Unrest in China’s West, have combined with China’s geo-economic strategy, rising nationalism and authoritarianism to produce an increasingly unequal society in Xinjiang, one marred by ethnic discrimination and managed by a surveillance regime of unprecedented sophistication.
Chinese authorities justify high expenditures on public security by deploying the language of the War on Terror. One official recently made the hyperbolic claim that the crackdown is meant to prevent Xinjiang from becoming “China’s Syria”. Such rhetoric once earned China the tacit support of the US and the UN, but international concern has increased following revelations of mass incarceration.
The PRC’s crackdown in Xinjiang has sent up to 1 million people into the camps, mostly Uighurs and Kazakhs, and many more have been disappeared. While the majority of those detained or sentenced to re-education are ordinary Uighur men, some high-profile cases have emerged, including those of a prominent anthropologist and the “Uighur Justin Bieber,” along with eyewitness testimony from former detainees and camp workers. Mounting evidence from official PRC documents and satellite imagery of prison camps confirm the programme’s existence and suggest its scope and extent – and has been presented to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the United Nations.
Chinese representatives deny the allegations, claiming instead that many Uighurs have been sent to vocational training schools or arrested for minor crimes. Coincidentally, many of the so-called vocational schools feature guard towers and razor wire, while the alleged crime rate has increased sharply: 21% of all arrests in China in 2017 were made in Xinjiang, which accounts for 1.5% of the nation’s population.
Economic factors discourage international outcry. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would seem to be a natural ally to the Turkic-speaking, mostly Sunni Uighurs and once referred to the situation in East Turkestan as “genocide.” Instead, Turkey has strengthened economic ties with China through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Other Muslim countries have been largely silent for similar reasons, prompting frustration among diaspora Uighurs. Some in the diplomatic community indicate that simply raising the issue of Muslim rights is enough to end productive discussion with Chinese counterparts and thus preclude negotiations on trade or security.
Nevertheless, countries around the world can expect to host more Uighur and Kazakh refugees in the near future as those abroad become aware of the consequences of returning to China, where any foreign contact is cause for suspicion. Germany ended Uighur deportations to China this year, and others may follow suit. Kazakhstanis are increasingly aware of imprisonment of their own citizens in Xinjiang, and testimony from a camp instructor suggested that many Chinese Kazakhs have fallen victim. All of this may contribute to popular resentment among China’s regional allies, if not actual policy change.
A Han Chinese activist once warned that “Xinjiang is a snapshot of China’s future,” in that the oppression of Islam would lead to more religious persecution elsewhere. A conflict recently arose over a mosque in Ningxia, where the religious institutions of the Hui – Chinese-speaking Muslims – were long thought to be safe from interference and even supported by the state. Just as China once assumed the time was ripe to curtail minority languages and culture in Xinjiang, so it seems to assume citizens will accept a general assault on Islam.
China may be overplaying its hand and missing the point: In Xinjiang, “Project Beauty” punishes Uighur men and women for sporting veils, beards and long skirts and propagandises dressing in a way the government considers harmlessly “ethnic” rather than “religious”. Similarly, officials in Ningxia have chosen to emphasise what is deemed “national” architecture over the community’s organic relationship to Islam.
The PRC’s ethnic policies in Xinjiang have long produced the opposite of their stated intended effects and will continue to do so. Official corruption and workplace discrimination have long denied Uighurs the economic benefits of resource extraction and development. The regional government has attempted to alleviate the pain of development with inconsistent and ham-handed efforts at cultural assimilation – a near-textbook example of how to create popular discontent and even encourage the anti-state Islamism that China has claimed to combat all along.
In another sense, Xinjiang is an extreme form of China’s emerging surveillance state. Citizens in east China, particularly those who live and work in massive factories, already experience similar techniques of discipline and surveillance, such as the use of biometric data to track citizens. Xinjiang party secretary Chen Quanguo, who first experimented with his “grid-style social management” system in Tibet, has demonstrated the continued efficacy of combining technological surveillance with forcing citizens to police one another. Such techniques could be deployed elsewhere, wherever the party-state desires control and the companies producing security technology seek profits. The outlook is grim.

China can’t win the world with easy money

Indian politicians and diplomats fear China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to finance and build massive infrastructure projects in 78 countries, controlling infrastructure running through Asia and Europe. China believes this will help it dominate the 21st century.

Asia needs a lot of infrastructure. India itself is a partner with China in the New Development Bank and Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. But BRI is far more ambitious, planning giant projects. Many are turning into white elephants. This is sparking a financial drama in Pakistan.

In worst-case scenarios, BRI will become a debt trap for borrowers who cannot repay Chinese loans. Indian diplomats fear this debt trap will make borrowers Chinese puppets, or at least give China strategic footholds (like naval bases) in these countries. Maybe so, but I suspect most borrowers will turn against an overweening China, not to it. Indeed, an over-ambitious BRI could blow up in China’s face, causing such massive loan defaults that China’s own financial system staggers.

Malaysia has just reneged on two major Chinese-financed projects worth $22 billion, calling them scams. It will not be the last.

In Pakistan, China is financing giant infrastructure projects called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), costing $62 billion. Serious Pakistani analysts now fear the CPEC is a debt trap.

Today, Pakistan’s coffers are empty. It seeks $12 billion from the IMF. But US spokesman say they will not allow the IMF to lend money to Pakistan since this will rescue Chinese banks that made dud loans that Pakistan cannot repay. Trump is determined to scotch Chinese attempts to become economically dominant, and so has denied it a free ride on the global financial system. This is bad news for Pakistan and China. If the IMF shuns Pakistan, China will surely provide rescue funds in the short run. But this will damage the credibility and prestige of the BRI.

The IMF is the lender of last resort across the globe, rescuing many bankrupt countries. The BRI was supposed to provide additional finance, over and above traditional sources. Suddenly Trump’s action shows that borrowing from China can cut you off from the global financial system.

Many countries resent tough loan conditions of traditional financial institutions. China has offered them easy finance with little risk assessment for gigantic but dubious projects.  It has no global tendering — all contracts go to Chinese companies, which can inflate costs. Easy Chinese money once seemed manna from heaven. But the implosion of Chinese projects in Sri Lanka and Malaysia shows easy loans can become burdens. Trump now warns that countries in a Chinese debt trap may lose access to international financial institutions.

Conditions for CPEC projects are opaque. The Financial Times says the return on equity is sometimes a whopping 34%, not the 17% normally assumed (which is anyway very high). The profit is guaranteed by the government regardless of project success or failure. Any failure can bankrupt the borrower.

This reminds me of Enron. It rushed into developing countries, offering to build huge infrastructure. It demanded high returns, guaranteed by governments regardless of project performance. Many countries including India and Argentina agreed. But when borrowers found the guarantee cost exorbitant, they reneged. A multitude of such defaults and fiascos ultimately busted Enron. That’s a warning to China.

In Sri Lanka, the Chinese-financed Hambantota port was a white elephant, unable to repay Chinese banks. China wrote off a billion dollars, in return for a 99-year port lease. Indian diplomats see this not as a financial debacle but a strategic Chinese triumph, getting a naval base by luring Sri Lanka into a debt trap. But Sri Lanka says it will not allow Hambantota to become a naval base.

Countries are prickly about sovereignty. Even the US in its prime faced local hostility to its bases in Asia. So will China if it tries to gain military bases through debt traps.

Moreover, Trump’s stand on Pakistan now indicates that BRI finance can sink borrowers, by reducing their access to traditional institutions. This will make BRI much less attractive, hitting China’s strategic ambitions.

Repeated BRI fiascos could endanger even the mighty finances of China. It already has the highest debt/GDP ratio in the world of over 300%. The 2008 financial crisis showed that even the richest nations can be felled by bad debts.

The grander BRI tries to be, the greater will be its risk of failure, financially and strategically. The more modest BRI is, the greater will be its chances of economic success. But the less will be its chances of strategic success and domination.

Rule of Law Ensures Happiness of People

Nations that ensure the rule of law are also home to happy people. Policy-making must strive for the larger satisfaction of the people with public institutions they have to regularly approach

Not more than 30 per cent people approach the courts in India. There is a visible decline in civil litigation, which suggests that a large number of people in the country are living with unresolved conflicts. Happiness has come to be accepted as a goal of public policy. And this discourse has given a fillip to a new narrative where the interconnections between law, governance and happiness are being searched. Why do these connections matter? Experiences from several nations confirm that the countries with higher GDP and higher per capita income are not necessarily the happiest countries and there exists a link between the state of happiness and rule of law.

The World Happiness Report (WHR) 2018, which ranked 156 countries, placed India at the 133rd place on the index of global happiness. While India’s performance on this can be attributed to several factors, there’s no denying the fact that there is an intrinsic relationship between law and people’s happiness. The WHRs, over the years, confirmed that people tend to have poor mental health, a low score of subjective well-being and poor perception about the governance and law and order, despite high income levels.

The curious question in this discourse is how the law is linked with happiness. In an environment in which laws are gradually becoming reactive, regulatory and penalising, this question needs some probing.

Jeremy Bentham said the object of the law should be the maximum happiness of the maximum number. Going by popular perceptions, laws and legal regimes are the distributors of unhappiness in many ways. We have about 3.3 crore cases pending in various courts in the country. How does unhappiness emanate from these cases? Each case is not a mere number — it involves tension, anxiety and deprivation to all those associated with it. A group of people — family members, relatives, friends and others of the parties involved — are necessarily affected because of such cases. If we presume that there are about 20 persons in each case belonging to one or the other parties, we get a number of about 64 crore. Interestingly, none of them would be in a state of happiness on account of being linked to the case. Inevitably, the criminal justice administration for these people is a source of unhappiness.

Moreover, not more than 30 per cent people approach the courts in India. There is a visible decline in civil litigation, which suggests that a large number of people in the country are living with unresolved conflicts. This too dents the state of happiness in general.

Criminal justice has far-reaching consequences for the lives of people — it brings difficulties when it does not act, it causes turbulence when it does. Millions of accused, victims, suspects, witnesses and others have poignant tales about the actions and inactions of the criminal justice administration. The satisfaction level of people is far too low in this country when it comes to the police and courts.

The relationship between crime and happiness offers some interesting insights. Vesna Nikolic, a noted victimologist, says that making people happy is the best crime prevention. Do happy people become victims less often than unhappy people, and if so, why? Do happy people commit crimes, or do people commit crimes in order to achieve happiness? The connection between crime and happiness is understandable from the experience of Bhutan, which introduced Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of good governance. The data show that a great majority of the Bhutanese population are happy (of whom 41 per cent are extremely happy), and only 4 per cent reported being victimised by crime over the last 12 months. Further, the crime rate in Bhutan is extremely low. A negative correlation between crime/victimisation and happiness is observed.

The World Reports on Happiness in selected countries and their crime and victimisation data present remarkable trends. The impact of criminal victimisation on happiness is often negative. Analysis from six nations, namely, Finland, Denmark, Philippines, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka shows that at least one of the four crime variables share an inverse relation with the happiness score of the respective nation. This leads to the conclusion that individuals living in nations with high crime rates are less happy and satisfied than individuals living in nations with a comparatively lower crime rate.

Does rule of law make you happy? The countries scoring high on the Rule of Law Index, a measure used by the World Justice Project, are those who are higher on the index of happiness as well. Among these countries are Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands and Austria. The fact that happiness ought to be part of the agenda to improve rule of law, and vice versa, is a new thrust in the emerging policy discourse in many jurisdictions. The institutionalisation of a happiness framework as a measure of achievement for policy goals is now being debated. Madhya Pradesh has set up a Happiness Department to achieve such objectives.

It is probably time to change the narrative — to shift the discourse of policy making towards the larger satisfaction of the people with the public institutions they have to regularly approach for various purposes.

The ideologies promoted by the government also have an effect on the overall satisfaction of the people. Besides poverty, unemployment and other issues of sustenance, the outlook of the government on religion, gender, sexuality, etc. also determine the contentment of the governed. For example, in India, increasing incidents of cow vigilantism, communal and gender bigotry, ultimately make the society intolerant and dissatisfied. It is, perhaps, time to turn the narrative of law, policy and development, towards building a happier society.

Digital Technology Altering Childhood

When even tech veterans such as Napster founder Sean Parker critique how smartphones are affecting childhood development, you know a shift is coming. In 2017, Parker warned that social media “literally changes your relationship with society, with each other…God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” Parker has two young children, so he’s surely familiar with the universal tactic of handing over a screen to buy a moment’s peace – the so-called “digital pacifier”.

The Council of Europe recently issued recommendations on children’s rights in the digital environment, building on GDPR’s legal framework, which establishes the limits of children’s consent to use of their data. There’s more awareness than ever that technology in childhood needs to be policed properly, by both governments and parents. To help you weigh up some of the issues involved, here are five ways in which the screen is reframing children’s lives.

  1. Physical changes

The evidence is still anecdotal, but it’s likely that technology’s ubiquity from the earliest years onwards – a fifth of children aged three and four have their own tablet – is reshaping our bodies. Short-sightedness has doubled since the 1960s, and obesity is increasing. Only half of seven- and eight-year-olds get the recommended daily hour of exercise in the UK. Spine surgeons have reported an increase in young patients with neck and back pain, likely related to bad posture during long periods of smartphone use. But with the increasing number of apps and devices to monitor physical activity levels, the solution could be digital, too.

  1. Rewiring the brain

The addictive design of many video games and apps could be rewiring children’s brains. Many of them are structured around “reward loops”, which regularly dispense incentives, including a biochemical dopamine hit, to keep playing. Autoplay functions on YouTube and other video websites reinforce these rhythms.

“Almost all digital interactions, social media particularly, are deliberately designed to make an individual want to undertake the cycle again, immediately and repeatedly, whatever the time of day or night”, stated a recent landmark report on Digital Childhood by the UK-based 5Rights foundation. It believes that tech companies need to adjust the design of their products for children – for example, by switching off Autoplay.

  1. Space, not time

Amid the hand-wringing about cognitive decline, it’s worth remembering that perhaps technology is just making children different to us. Even early studies of the effects of video games suggested they improved spatial reasoning. While verbal skills, logical argument and attention spans may now need more offline encouragement, most toddlers will benefit from accelerated hand-eye coordination and image recognition abilities, as well as the general digital literacy that is now essential to growing up.

  1. The definition of childhood

Just as the pressures of industrialization created the concept of “childhood” in the Victorian age, and post-war consumerism gave birth to the idea of the “teenager”, the digital era is shaking up life boundaries once again. While the first year of high school may be regarded as a default age for a child to receive their first smartphone, 39% of 8-to-11-year-olds already have them.

Entry into the world of social media suddenly gives immature children a relatively independent space in which to test out “risky behaviours” that they can’t necessarily understand or cope with, according to the 5Rights report. The collision between incongruous age groups and behaviours that social media entails means that both children and adults need to understand their respective responsibilities under the new digital compact.

  1. Crowdsourcing mental health

There has been much discussion of the growing sense of inadequacy and loneliness fostered by social media, and its impact on young people’s mental health. Teenagers who spend more than three hours a day online are 35% more likely to be at risk of suicide, according to a recent US study. But perhaps that’s confusing cause and effect. The last decade has seen a growing awareness of and sensitivity to mental health issues. Much of this discussion is being held by young people in the environment that is most natural – as well as discreet – for them: the internet.

There’s no doubt that the new digital frontier is drastically redrawing childhood, threatening tender bodies and minds. But perhaps we can meet these challenges if they are handled in the spirit of the internet’s original precept: free and frank discussion.

Shaping the Modern Career Landscape

The career landscape of the 21st century, characterised by work interruptions, opt-outs, and temporary contingent work assignments, requires that we think differently about linear careers. Until now, much of the career literature has been based on men in the twentieth century who had linear careers in a single corporation or industry. However, men and women in the 21st century have unique career trajectories, sometimes fulfilling the ideal of a linear career, but more often characterised by opt-outs, contingent employment contracts, and part time work.

The Kaleidoscope Career Model (the KCM) addresses the unique features of male and female careers, and takes into consideration the non-linear aspects of contingent work. The KCM posits that needs for authenticity, balance and challenge over the course of a career will be present but arise at different intensities across the life span.

The three parameters

Authenticity is defined as an individual’s need to behave and demonstrate their attitudes in accordance with their genuine inner selves, which may be in contrast to the behaviour they exhibit to survive in work surroundings. The parameter of authenticity represents the individual’s need to be true to oneself and one’s values. Often authenticity is displayed through behaviours resonant with personal or work strengths or involvement in activities for personal pleasure that genuinely reflect the inner nature of that individual. Authenticity also is manifest in refusing to go along with “politics” in organisations, following one’s passion for art or culture, or simple speaking truth to power.

Balance, defined here as a parameter of the model, represents work-family management and integration efforts on the part of employees to create a work-life intersection that constantly adjusts attention to both domains. To meet a need for balance, individuals may choose certain contingent career assignments that allow them to restrict work hours or slow down career progression to integrate family life with work. Sometimes individuals leave a job in a corporation and find work in a smaller local firm to spend more time with family members. There are several ways to rebalance work-family management priorities, such as adjusting work time through part time employment, opting out of the workforce temporarily, taking turns with spouses, arranging workloads in accordance with family situations, or finding ways to meet both demands simultaneously.

Challenge refers to the need to participate in intrinsically motivating work, to grow and develop one’s skills, and to make progress in one’s career through lateral progress, skill based programs, or linear advancement. Challenge refers to an individual’s need for stimulation, learning, and skill growth to increase personal capabilities. Challenge may be represented in a variety of ways: one’s desire to climb the career ladder, discovering opportunities to retrain and develop a new skill set, or a new set of job tasks.

While all three parameters may remain active over the course of one’s career, the model suggests a dynamic, interactive, contextual paradigm such that one parameter may rise to ascendency at a given point when dealing with a career transition. In other words, individuals may consider one parameter as the impetus for their next career move. If balance is fitful, perhaps it is time to slow down and take a job elsewhere in a smaller firm. If challenge is missing, it may be time to switch careers. If authenticity is needed, finding ways to speak truth to power or develop hobbies or outside interests might be of value. This does not mean that the remaining parameters have little influence; instead, during times of transition, one parameter may rise, but the remaining parameters represent motivations to find a better person-job-career fit as well.

Considerations

Mainiero & Sullivan found that the KCM was enacted differently by men and women. Two major patterns were identified: the alpha kaleidoscope pattern, characterised by challenge in the forefront, and balance and authenticity trailing, and the beta kaleidoscope pattern, which suggested balance as the primary motivator while challenge and authenticity remained active, but at lesser levels. While most individuals “want it all” when they begin their careers, at midlife the sharpest divergence of the parameters between men and women appear.

In our most recent study, we attempted to examine more closely the parameters at midlife for men and for women. We found that there was variance in the three parameters across five segmented career stages by gender, with balance increasingly important in full mid career (15-25 years in the workforce) for women but of lesser importance for men. Authenticity showed a similar pattern for men and women, with authenticity rising for women and declining for men in very late career. Challenge remained consistent for men and women, declining in importance over time.

Several authors have written about the drain in women’s ambition over time. The KCM describes this differently. According to the KCM, both men and women seek challenge, balance, and authenticity over the course of their careers. But at midlife, while in transition, the difference between the parameters may be sharper, and more individuals (especially women) may prefer the beta kaleidoscope pattern, with a focus on balance in mid career, to the alpha kaleidoscope career pattern that is marked by strong challenge as well as secondary balance and authenticity.

While gender remains an important contextual factor associated with career patterns women face a double bind that is exacerbated by persistent socialised gendered schemas and may simply be enacting an updated self employed, short term horizon carer model by choice. Therefore, firms should be mindful of the changing dynamic and fluid aspects of career development in this new age of portfolio careers, protean careers, and boundaryless careers that suggest that men and women may have different needs at different points in the career cycle.

Asia Has A Bright Future

 The challenges that South-East Asia faces are emblematic of the major global issues that world leaders have agreed to act on. Despite consistent economic growth over last few decades, the region is facing rising income inequality and wealth concentration, discrimination, food insecurity, ongoing human rights challenges and environmental degradation.

On the surface this paints a gloomy picture, but there’s a lot to be positive about. The region’s leaders have agreed that inclusive growth is a priority and that inclusive economies need inclusive businesses.

While at a nascent stage, we’re witnessing the potential for business model transformation in the region. From initiatives to promote social and environmental sustainability in the Cambodian agriculture and garments sectors to inclusive businesses working with poor communities in Thailand and Laos, to fair trade social enterprises whose profits are ploughed back to producers, a vibrant spectrum of more equitable business models is emerging.

Oxfam is working with entrepreneurs in the region, helping them structure their businesses so that people and planet sit ahead of, or alongside, profit. Here are three reasons why we’re excited to be promoting fairer business models in South-East Asia.

Closing the gender gap

Pervasive gender inequality means that, on average, women in Asia earn only 70-90% of what men earn and are more likely to be paid below the minimum wage.

Yet in the social enterprise sector, South-East Asia is leading the way on pay parity and leadership opportunities for women.

A study by the Asian Development Bank estimates that, if female workforce participation rose from 57.7% to 66.2%, the Asian economy could see a 30% growth in income per capita in just one generation. Promoting fairer business models could help unleash economic growth and contribute to a fairer society.

Ethical consumers

Businesses who develop market-based solutions to social and environmental challenges are pushing against an open door – South-East Asian consumers are more concerned about these issues than their neighbours (especially the richest ones). They’re putting their money where their mouth is: 64% of consumers in the Asia-Pacific region are willing to pay more for products from companies “committed to positive social and environmental impact” – more than 20 points higher than in Europe and North America.

Customers and NGOs are often cynical of PR exercises. To be successful, responsible practice must be an integral part of doing business, not a bolt-on. Merely sticking a green label on a product is likely to attract accusations of “greenwashing”.

Pulling public-policy levers

Governments in South-East Asia are increasingly working to support and enable social enterprises, co-operatives, fair trade and inclusive business to thrive through public policy. Examples already underway in the region include:

  • In Viet Nam, there is a new legal form designed specifically for social enterprises.
  • In Singapore, the Ministry of Social and Family Development has developed support, advice and guides for social enterprises.
  • In Thailand, the government has created a Social Economy Office and masterplan. There are tax exemptions for some social enterprises.
  • In March 2017, the Malaysian government launched a Social Outcomes Fund designed to provide finance for social enterprises to deliver preventative interventions and social services that support marginalized communities.

While there’s a long way to go, efforts by ASEAN governments to promote social entrepreneurship are considered among the world’s best.

The bottom line

While there is a lot to get excited about, we can’t ignore the tremendous challenges in the region. Inclusive and fairer business models are still the exception rather than the rule. Social enterprises often work at a small scale, with little leverage to influence big business.

Too many businesses in local Asian or global supply chains, especially in the garment and agriculture sectors, are reliant on paying poverty wages and abusing labour rights to make a profit. This is a flawed model from the start.

With our report which accompanies the World Economic Forum’s annual ASEAN meeting in September, Oxfam aims to inspire business leaders to transform their organizations using more socially and economically inclusive models. Whether their starting point is human rights due diligence, ensuring fair value and wages to small producers and workers or switching to a model that puts people and planet before profit, we’re there to support companies committed to fairer ways of doing business.

Indifference to Facts Becomes a Cultural Phenomenon

Showing great feel for language that encapsulates the dominant discourse of society, the Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as the Word of the Year 2016. If a choice has now to be made of the term that has captured the public consciousness in the last two years, it would most probably be “fake news”, the constant, never-ending refrain of Donald Trump when referring to the media. He can justifiably claim credit for this banal term resonating so deeply across the world at a time of grave crisis for democracies due to the loss of credibility of the political class and the media.

Today’s Frankenstein monster with its lethal arsenal of entertainment, manipulated news, propaganda and plain rubbish has supplanted the traditional social and cultural institutions as the primary mineral resource for our politics, our prejudices, in fact our world view. It is no surprise, then, that the world over, the media is largely controlled by the state-corporate nexus. So great is that stranglehold that Amy Goodman has contemptuously referred to the mass media as “stenographers to power”.

Disinformation, distortion, exaggeration and plain falsehoods pervade cyberspace, cable, newsprint and the air waves, mainly sourced from our politicians and media. A frightening new dimension has been added by the ubiquitous social media. In our licentious surreal world of “anything goes” news, reporting, tweeting and commentary where it is becoming almost impossible to sift truth from fiction, the indifference to facts has now assumed the proportions of a cultural phenomenon. People now freely choose news and views that align with their identities and world view, the truth be damned. It would be no exaggeration to state that our country today is a truth-impaired, “fake news” Republic (no pun intended).

We are in a dangerous place. The universal liberal values of tolerance, inclusion and equality are under grave threat in the face of a creeping majoritarian impulse that is not only undermining our hard-fought freedoms and values but dividing our people by targeting those who are seen as inimical to the right-wing ideal of a supremacist Hindu Rashtra of Hindutva. A deepening cultural mutation is destroying institutions vital to the democratic project. For Muslims and Christians, the country is a minefield of uncertainty, anxiety and fear. They feel under siege in a social environment that has undermined the country’s core values and transformed the land of Buddha and Gandhi that was deeply inclusive and tolerant of all groups and justifiably proud of its “unity in diversity” into a polarised, predatory majoritarian state.

A particularly worrying feature of the present times is that violence against vulnerable sections, which used to be unplanned and sporadic in the past, has now become cold-bloodedly strategic. In these dark times, we need a fearless, honest and independent media more than ever before, but what we have is a largely submissive fourth estate that has been equivocal and even complicit in its response. Instead of focusing on the real issues of the people, large sections of the media are guilty of acting as conduits for government propaganda and feeding the self-delusion of the powerful.

The ubiquitous social media has become a prime instrument of political and cultural power. It has also, unfortunately, been a lethally effective participant in this erosion of social cohesion and solidarity. It is being used with deadly effect to spread the poison of hate and violence. Permit me to give you an example. Earlier this year, a Facebook post listed the names of 100 interfaith Hindu-Muslim couples and called on Hindus to hunt down the Muslim men mentioned as “it is a matter of Muslims taking over our blood and taking over our wombs… the wombs that would (otherwise) give Hindu children”. Facebook responded to the uproar by taking down the offensive page within a few days but took many more weeks to track down and delete the thousands of approving copied versions that swept across cyberspace. The account of the author of the offensive post was suspended but he has resurfaced with a new account. Similar hate-mongering posts inundate cyberspace with sickening regularity. Significantly, the right-wing storm troopers not only have a near monopoly on hate-mongering posts on social media but also over the venomous trolling threatening opponents with lynching, rape and other forms of retribution. Considering that some senior functionaries of the ruling party are actively abetting and even participating in the hate-mongering, can the ruling dispensation absolve itself of complicity in this pervasive bigotry plaguing cyberspace that has so divided our society?

It is true that across the world the cosmopolitan spirit is being throttled by hyper-nationalism, xenophobia and racism. There is a clear tectonic right-wing shift and a deep distrust of the liberal values of tolerance, inclusion and equality as one country after another has become an “illiberal democracy” where a shrill nationalism has subsumed democratic values. But in democracies like the US, a vibrant media is leading the charge against the governing elites’ bigotry, falsehoods and attacks on immigrants and other vulnerable sections. Sadly, in our country, there are but a handful of newspapers, TV channels and fact-checking websites ploughing a lonely furrow, dissenting and exposing the undemocratic ways and venality of the political elite and corporate buccaneers. The rest have failed in their responsibility as conscience-keeper and whistleblower of society.

The great crisis that the world faces today is the crisis of truth. And it is the media, in tandem with the politicians, that has seriously undermined the value of truth as the quintessential obligation in all human interaction. Stephen Colbert, the American comic, has coined a deeply meaningful term “truthiness” to describe what people think is right and true even if unrelated to facts, essentially falsehood masquerading as truth.

Increasingly, “truthiness” has pervaded our thinking. There is now the very real danger that the power of truth has been irreparably diminished by an enveloping “truthiness” engendered by the media and the political class.

Technology is fine, but we also must learn to value nature

 Technology is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, relate to one another and to the external world. The speed, breadth and depth of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent and is disrupting almost every sector in every country. Now more than ever, the advent of new technology has the potential to transform environmental protection.

The hunt for new smarter ways to support our development has always been a key driver of technological advancement. Today as our civilisation faces a new unprecedented challenge, technology can play a crucial role in decoupling development and environmental degradation.

Let’s be clear. No human technology can fully replace ‘nature’s technology’ perfected over hundreds of millions of years in delivering key services to sustain life on Earth. A productive, diverse natural world, and a stable climate have been the foundation of the success of our civilization, and will continue to be so in future. A fundamental issue in previous technological revolutions has been the lightness with which we have taken for granted healthy natural systems like forests, oceans, river basins (all underpinned and maintained by biodiversity) rather than valuing these as a necessary condition to development.

Consumption of natural resources exceeds the regeneration

On 1 August, the world hit Earth Overshoot Day, the point in our calendars when we tip into consuming more natural resources than the planet can regenerate in a year.

Global Footprint Network, an international non-profit that calculates how we are managing ― or failing to manage ― the world’s resources, says that in the first seven months of 2018 we devoured a year’s worth of resources, such as water, to produce everything from the food on our plates to the clothes we’re wearing – a new unwanted record.

At present, we are using resources and ecosystem services as though we had 1.7 Earths and such an ecological overshoot is possible only for a limited time before ecosystems begin to degrade and, ultimately, collapse.

As global biodiversity continues to decline steeply, the health and functioning of crucial ecosystems like forests, the ocean, rivers and wetlands will be affected. Coupled with climate change impacts which are evident in warnings from scientists and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events worldwide; this is going to be disastrous for the ecological balance of the planet and for our survival. Earth Overshoot Day is a stark reminder of the urgent actions individuals, countries and the global community must take to protect forests, oceans, wildlife and freshwater resources and help achieve resilience and sustainable development for all.

We have a critical window of opportunity between now and 2020 to put in place commitments and actions to reverse the trend of nature loss by 2030 and help ensure the health and well-being of people and our planet.

Not just doom and gloom, the risk is real

The failing of natural systems is not without consequences for us.

Every day new evidence of our unsustainable impact on the environment is emerging. The last five years have been the warmest five-year period on record, the Arctic warmed much faster than predicted and the UN estimates that in the last 10 years, climate-related disasters have caused $1.4 trillion worth of damage worldwide.

In just over 40 years, the world has witnessed 60% decline in wildlife across land, sea and freshwater and is heading towards a shocking decline of two-thirds by 2020 if current trends continue. This has happened in less than a generation. A blink of the eye, compared to the hundreds of millions of years some of these species have lived on our planet.

Forests are under pressure like never before with unabated deforestation and at sea, 90% of the world’s fish stocks are overfished. All indicators point toward our planet being on the brink.

Why does this matter? It matters because we will not build a stable, prosperous and equitable future on a depleted planet.

The ‘battle of technologies’

It is time to focus on the solutions which we know exist or have the potential to be developed and this is where technology, along with behavioural change, can help us reboot the health of our nature and planet.

From the high seas to the depths of the world’s most dense forests, technology can transform how we identify, measure, track and value the many services and resources nature provides us with.

Blockchain to revolutionize the commodity markets

Earlier this year, WWF in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand joined forces to stamp out illegal fishing and slave labour in the tuna fishing industry using blockchain technology. “From bait to plate”, the advances in blockchain technology can help consumers track the entire journey of their tuna – and potentially other agricultural commodities and fish – revolutionizing systems of certification and traceability. We can also use satellite data and cost-effective GPS tracking devices to ‘see’ and understand global fishing and global vessel traffic.

Remote sensing in planning and monitoring

On land as well, remote sensing plays an important role in planning, monitoring, and evaluating impact on the ground. It has enabled WWF to monitor the developments of extractive industries in socially and ecologically-sensitive areas, including World Heritage sites.

We’re also partnering with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) and UCLA to develop an algorithm that enables the detection of deforestation from palm oil expansion using remote sensing data, and we’re exploring the potential to expand this technology to other commodities.

Drones and crowdsourcing help monitor forest health and detect illegal logging

Protecting the world’s forests means ensuring land—in the right places—is protected or restored as well as healthy, providing people and wildlife what they need to survive, like clean air and water, food and jobs. And that’s where drones come in to play, acting as our eyes on the forest. And it’s not just WWF that is using this technology.

WRI (World Research Institute) has developed Global Forest Watch (GFW), an online forest monitoring and alert system that uses crowdsourcing, to allow anyone to create custom maps, analyse forest trends, subscribe to alerts, or download data for their local area or the entire world.

Thermal imaging to combat poaching

Every night, park rangers patrol the pitch-black savanna of Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. They search for armed poachers who spill across the border from Tanzania to hunt for bush meat and ivory. For years the number of poachers overwhelmed the relatively small cadre of rangers. Technology is now helping to turn the tide. Thermal imaging video cameras enable rangers to catch poachers at record rates and deter many more from even making the attempt.

Beyond direct interventions to stop poaching, WWF also uses technology to go after wildlife traffickers. To that end, we’re working with a coalition of leading e-commerce and social media giants in the US and China to root out the sale of illicit wildlife products on their platforms.

AI to track wildlife

It is hard to think of technology and nature together but even advances like Artificial Intelligence (AI) that could not be further removed from the natural world are helping conservation efforts.

In China, WWF and tech giant Intel are harnessing the power of AI to help protect wild tigers and their habitats, while also protecting countless other species as a result while helping carbon storage, vital watersheds and communities in the area.

An engaged public is critical

We have to pursue novel applications of technology, and to make people aware of the challenges facing our planet and what we’re doing to solve them.  We need to leverage Apple’s augmented reality tools to launch the “WWF Free Rivers” app that invites people to experience the importance of free-flowing rivers for nature and for humans, and demonstrates how ill-conceived economic development endangers them both.

The possibilities for technology partnerships to reboot nature are endless. Our challenge now is to scale this work beyond a few test sites and into all of the places we are working to protect the planet. More than technology, we need a fundamental shift in mindset and understanding of the role that nature and biodiversity plans in our lives and businesses.

If we continue to produce, consume and power our lives the way we do right now, forests, oceans and weather systems will be overwhelmed and collapse. Unsustainable agriculture, fisheries, infrastructure projects, mining and energy are leading to unprecedented biodiversity loss and habitat degradation, over-exploitation, pollution and climate change.

While their impacts are increasingly evident in the natural world, the consequences on people are real too. From food and water scarcity to the quality of the air we breathe, the evidence has never been clearer. We are however, in many instances, failing to make the link. Alongside the technological revolution, what we need is an equally unprecedented cultural revolution in the way we connect with the planet.

 

The alien in his home

When VS Naipaul passed away last month, I found myself, it seemed, among a tiny minority of people who had not helped the great man haggle over the price of a Persian carpet, or watched him turn away a perfectly decent bottle of white wine in Berlin, or discussed Japanese paintings and Indian miniatures with him in his idyllic English home.

I never got the chance to meet with Naipaul, but for my generation of English-speaking Indians reading him was an essential rite of passage. To be considered literate you had to be familiar, at the very least, with A House for Mr Biswas and Naipaul’s famous non-fiction trilogy on India. (The literary-minded ventured deeper into his oeuvre.) With the possible exception of Salman Rushdie, it’s hard to think of another post-colonial writer in English whose words have meant as much to as many Indians.

You would not guess this from the frigidity of official India toward Naipaul. Take, for instance, the correlation between the Nobel Prize and India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna. The physicist CV Raman won the Nobel in 1930; twenty-four years later India included Raman among its first batch of Bharat Ratnas. Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Her Bharat Ratna followed in 1980. The Swedes awarded Amartya Sen the Nobel for economics in 1998. As if on cue, his Bharat Ratna duly turned up the following year.

In Nelson Mandela’s case the order was reversed. The South African’s Bharat Ratna came three years before his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, a rare case of the judges in New Delhi beating Stockholm to the punch. But so far Mother India has shown no such appreciation of the man Patrick French, Naipaul’s official biographer, once described as its “doubly displaced son.” Naipaul had established himself as one of the twentieth century’s foremost writers long before he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2001. But the odds that he will ever snag a Bharat Ratna appear vanishingly slim.

That India’s Nehruvian establishment would be allergic to Naipaul should come as no surprise. Even before visiting India from his native Trinidad, Naipaul took a dim view of India’s first prime minister. “From Nehru’s autobiography I think the Premier of India is a first-class showman with a host of third rate supporters,” he wrote in a letter to his older sister. The first two books of Naipaul’s India trilogy – An Area of Darkness (1964) and India: A Wounded Civilization (1977) – count among the most searing portraits of India’s failed experiment with socialism.

Later in life, Naipaul famously warmed to his ancestral homeland. “India: A Million Mutinies Now” (1990) predated economic liberalisation, but uncannily prefigured the possibilities it would open up, in particular for a striving middle class touched with ambition.

Despite this turn, Naipaul remained firmly on the wrong side of most of India’s intelligentsia. Perhaps the playwright Girish Karnad’s peevish rant at the 2012 Tata Literature Festival in Mumbai best captures the dominant strain of Indian anti-Naipaul opprobrium. Karnad attacked the festival’s organisers for giving Naipaul a lifetime achievement award despite his alleged “rabid antipathy to the Indian Muslim.” (Never mind that Naipaul was married to a Pakistani Muslim, or that he hardly needed a literature festival’s imprimatur to validate his work.)

It’s easy to dismiss the caricatured version of Naipaul presented by some of his critics, but at least their responses to him are easily comprehensible. Why would India’s clannish leftist intellectuals choose to celebrate an author who spent a lifetime gleefully shattering their most dearly held pieties?

On the face of it, the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s failure to honour Naipaul is much more intriguing. After all, it would only take a little cherry-picking from his biography to conjure up an authentic intellectual hero for the Hindu right.

As French recalls, Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was named for a Chandela king, from the dynasty that built the Hindu temples of Khajuraho. Under less than ideal circumstances – first in Trinidad and then in England – he preserved a sense of himself as a high-born (Brahmin) Hindu.

The destruction of the Vijayanagar Empire by medieval Islamic armies moved Naipaul deeply. His mistrust of religious conversion – Christian and Muslim alike – sprung from a Hindu sensibility. Most controversially, Naipaul saw merit in the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid. As he put it, “one needs to understand the passion that took them on top of the domes.”

But if you look more closely Naipaul is in fact as awkward a fit for BJP as for Congress. Viewed through an Indian political prism, his life’s central quest – to become a great man of letters in the heart of the Empire – seems outdated to the point of quaintness. Naipaul was faithless in a religious sense; it’s hard to imagine him getting worked up over the food on his neighbour’s plate. He remained famously aloof from the din of day-to-day politics. He voted only once: for Margaret Thatcher.

Moreover, as French points out, in a time of intellectual relativism Naipaul stood for “high civilization, individual rights and rule of law.” In an India marked by low rent hagiography and hysteria about imagined enemies, these hardly seem like qualities in demand

Bring nature back to our cities

A project from Milan created all four seasons in one room to spark conversation about nature integrating into major cities.

Ever since the ancient Greek poet Theocritus wrote his pastoral idylls romanticizing rural life, people have been pondering how to build cities that are in concert with their natural surroundings. But with rates of urbanization growing exponentially around the world , the need for greener cities has never been more urgent. Fortunately, innovation and technology can help strike this long-elusive balance.

Bridging the urban-rural divide has long been a focus of city planners. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, European cities experienced unprecedented growth as huge numbers of people moved from the countryside to newly booming metropolises. As these cities grew, they become overcrowded and polluted, which inspired a new generation of thinkers to search for solutions.

One of these visionaries was Britain’s Ebenezer Howard, who in 1898 coined the term “garden city” – which he defined as residential communities built around a mix of open spaces, parks, factories, and farms. Soon, London was surrounded by leafy suburbs designed to keep high-quality housing and abundant green space in equilibrium. Howard’s mantra was to bring the city to nature.

A few decades later, on the other side of the Atlantic, Frank Lloyd Wright conjured up Broadacre City, an imagined suburban development balancing the built environment with the wild. And back in Europe, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, an architect and designer known as Le Corbusier, was sketching visions of utopian cities that seamlessly enveloped the natural world.

And yet, while each one of these ideas was revolutionary for its time, they failed because they relied heavily on the automobile and promoted urban sprawl. In fact, most early urbanization in the West was characterized by development patterns that crashed against nature, connected not by green spaces and parks, but rather by endless ribbons of impervious pavement. As planners recognized the shortcomings of twentieth-century remedies, they sought to reverse the equation: how can nature be returned to the city?

New York City’s High Line, an aerial greenway built from a converted rail bed that opened in June 2009, was one of the first projects to capture this new ambition in urban planning. From London’s (now defunct) Garden Bridge to Seoul’s Skygarden, projects are being designed to better incorporate nature into the urban fabric.

Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay is among the more ambitious efforts. At the park’s Supertree Grove, photovoltaic cells harvest energy from the sun, and rainwater is stored in the steel trees’ “canopy” to feed vertical towers of foliage. Dehumidified air is even collected to help cool adjacent buildings.

Meanwhile, in Germany, a startup called Green City Solutions is building mobile moss-covered walls to clean polluted air and help lower urban temperatures. The company’s CityTree concept– essentially a natural filtration system – is being tested from Mexico City to Milan.

We are even witnessing a boom in urban agriculture, as advances in hydroponic and aeroponic farming techniques make it easier to grow vegetables in confined spaces. While cities will never replace rural areas as the world’s main source of nutrition, a higher percentage of food can be cultivated in urban areas. New ventures like Freight Farms in Boston and InFarm in Berlin are already harnessing these technologies to bring urban farming to more people.

As innovative solutions like these take root, urban planners are turning their attention to even bolder endeavors. One concept that my colleagues and I have explored is custom-designed urban ecosystems and climates. In Milan, we recently unveiled our Living Nature exhibit, a 500-square-meter (5,381-square-foot) pavilion that can recreate four seasons simultaneously under the same roof. The goal of the project was to spark conversation about sustainable design, and to illustrate the surprising ways that nature will be integrated into the cities and homes of the future.

More than a century ago, the French geographer Élisée Reclus astutely predicted that people would always need “the dual possibility of gaining access to the delights of the city …and, at the same time, the freedom that is nourished by nature.” Reclus’s ideal was visionary, if premature. But today, thanks to new technologies and bold thinking, the urban-rural divide in city planning is slowly closing.

Use science of decision-making to change the world

Daniel Kahneman, the psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics, credits some recent public policy successes to the application of behavioural science. He helped establish this field and its “nudge” approach to changing the behaviour of large groups of people. Nudge economics has had a profound influence, everywhere from No 10 Downing Street to the world’s largest corporations. Changes such as automatically enrolling people in pension or organ donation schemes and requiring them to opt out, rather than requiring them to opt in, change behaviour, arguably leading to positive social benefits.

Kahneman, however, is among a number of voices calling for new approaches to behavioural science that broaden perspectives in a field dominated by economics. Behavioural scientists helped move economics out of its “rational actor” rut, where the complexities of humanity were too often reduced to that of a utility-maximizing homo economicus. Now it is vital that behavioural scientists sustain and expand their openness to new influences and approaches, especially from those experienced in transcending disciplines and sectors.

Many of these approaches are emerging from university research, and pioneered by university start-ups. They are also being fuelled by the availability of increasing quantities of data on social behaviour and activities, some of it produced by social media – for example, the analysis of Twitter feeds or information from health- and fitness-measuring devices. The need to provide policy-makers with clean, structured and linked datasets has led to a greater role for data scientists, improving opportunities for quantitative analysis in the social sciences.

Since the early 2000s, the idea of “nudging” behavioural change has become widespread. There are many examples of how insights from academics – most notably Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s bestselling 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness – have encouraged people to make better choices for themselves and society. The UK government formed its Behavioural Insights Team, also known as the “Nudge Unit”, in 2010, headed by the psychologist David Halpern. Successes in improving social policy outcomes and cost-effectiveness led to a growth in demand for advice in other countries and the Team recently became independent, working in partnership with the UK government’s Cabinet Office while providing advice to policy-makers in the US, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

Questions have arisen about how valuable this approach is when attempting to change the behaviour of large groups of people and dealing with highly complex problems. New ways of nudging are being explored, involving deeper insights from psychology and using the opportunities of novel digital technologies. Here, new start-up companies are offering research-based solutions to problems as diverse as saving Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and encouraging healthier eating among UK supermarket shoppers.

Many previous approaches to nudging favour problems characterised by single choices or events, such as picking a salad over a cheeseburger in a school canteen or completing a tax form, where there is a specific group to be addressed – students or taxpayers – and a single strategy to bring about change, e.g. a different tax reminder that stimulates a better response. Variants of these efforts to change behaviour are tested by randomised control trials, and often have clear and usually economic measures of success. These constraints limit the applicability of the nudge approach to large complex problems, where solutions are likely to be multilayered and trials aren’t always feasible.

Environmental threats

Take the case of the world’s largest reef system, the Great Barrier Reef, which is roughly the same size as Germany and home to more than 1,500 species of fish. The Reef is under extreme threat from climate change, and also fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides in run-off from farms and cane growers in the adjacent hinterland.

Using psychological insights from behavioural science, a university start-up, Behaviour Innovation, is changing the practices of the cane growers and improving the quality of the water flowing into the sea. The company started by recognizing how behaviour unfolds in a system of influences, including the individual, their social group and the broader socio-geopolitical system. Its research found that cane farmers were very keen to adopt changes that improved water quality, but existing government schemes blamed them for their practices, questioning their identities and professionalism as farmers. They were also poor at keeping records, which constrains behavioural change. Based on their scientific research, Behaviour Innovation has introduced a number of positive reinforcement strategies, leading to the much greater adoption of practices of immediate benefit to the Reef.

Tackling obesity

Nearly 60% of European men, and two out every three American men, are obese or overweight, with severe consequences for their health through increased incidence of cancer, coronary artery disease, diabetes and strokes. This public health crisis, which affects men and women, young and old, invites innovation in our approach.

DNA Nudge is a university start-up using a nudge method to improve the eating of supermarket customers. Using expertise in DNA testing, health and medicine, engineering and data science, it aims to nudge grocery shoppers into making healthier food purchases. It offers a proprietary, nutrition-focused genetic test to learn more about how each individual metabolizes food. Via an app, users can find comprehensive explanations of each of the genetic traits they have been tested for, along with personalized food product assessments and recommendations. By simply scanning the barcode of a food or drink product in a supermarket with a mobile phone, the app instantly shows whether it is a good match for each individual. The company’s database contains more than 190,000 products and 12,000 brands to choose from. Every time an item’s barcode is scanned, a proprietary algorithm takes into account thousands of parameters in order to make an instant recommendation.

The app can be personalized, so if users wish to avoid any ingredients (such as gluten, artificial colours and sweeteners) it will suggest suitable alternatives. Progress in building healthier habits can be tracked weekly, monthly and yearly, and algorithms nudge users if they are purchasing too many unhealthy foods and too few healthy ones. It’s compulsive, and uses “gamification” to make healthier behaviour enjoyable. The company is using an individualized solution that adds collectively to dealing with a major social problem.

But does even this advanced approach go far enough? Obesity is a deeply complex societal problem, driven by economic and cultural expectations, inequality, rural-urban divides, city design and regional diets, among many other complicating factors. No app or clever policy intervention can offer a universal solution.

Such multifaceted social and environmental problems need a variety of approaches, or experiments, to seek solutions that often involve changing the behaviour of large groups of people. Universities provide many of the scientific options with the potential to assist. As with the cases of Behaviour Innovation* and DNA Nudge, university start-ups can provide the mechanisms for translating scientific knowledge into practical solutions.

Universities have assisted the development of both companies in other ways. Behaviour Innovation has relied on dozens of psychology student interns from the University of Queensland to conduct its research and develop its services, some of who become full-time employees upon graduation. DNA Nudge benefited from a consulting project by students on Imperial College London’s MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management. The student team identified, investigated and evaluated several potential strategies for the company’s product features, pricing models, distribution channels and promotional activities, and making recommendations.

The nudge approach, initiated by psychologists and now associated with economists, is extending in exciting new directions. University research and spin-offs are at the forefront of this movement. Using insights from psychology and data science, we are arriving at new ways of amending the behaviour of large groups of people and improving social and environmental outcomes.

Behavioural science has had a decade in the spotlight, and it is only just getting started. It has the potential to make us all healthier, wealthier and happier. If the field remains open to new influences, especially those emerging from university spinouts, its future is bright.

 

Artificial Intelligence- application & use in healthcare

One of the biggest impacts of new technology – and perhaps the most life-changing – will be felt in healthcare.

Diagnosis of illness will be fast and efficient, and medicine will be highly personalised. Wearable technology will be the norm, and we’ll know we are sick before we even get a single symptom. Meanwhile, new drugs will come to market at breakneck speed as clinical trials get faster and more accurate.

Ultimately, we will become our own doctors.

AI is already being used in healthcare, and these seven examples offer a glimpse into our medical future.

1.Detecting skin cancer

AI can now diagnose skin cancer more accurately than experts.

A recent study, published in the Annals of Oncology, showed an AI was able to diagnose cancer more accurately than 58 skin experts. The AI had been trained using images of skin cancer and the corresponding diagnoses. Human doctors got 87% of the diagnosis correct, while their machine counterpart achieved a 95% detection rate.

The extent to which a doctor can confidently recognise melanoma depends on their experience and training. This means that diagnosis – and therefore outcomes – can vary.

The AI technology could reduce the number of false positives when symptoms are being assessed, meaning fewer people would undergo unnecessary treatment. It could also help reduce the overall wait times for patients who need surgery.

2. Eye health

Our eyes are the window to our soul, so the saying goes, but they’re also a window into our health. Picking up eye problems early can significantly reduce the chance of sight loss.

Several programmes are looking at how to combine existing medical knowledge about our eyes with AI tools.

Google DeepMind has teamed up with Moorfields Eye Hospital in London to work on diagnosing two major conditions that cause sight loss: diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Together, these eye diseases affect more than 625,000 people in the UK and over 100 million people worldwide.

Algorithms have been trained using thousands of eye scans, then set to work detecting potential issues, allowing doctors to recommend the right course of action in a fraction of the time it would normally take and with a greater degree of certainty. DeepMind says that 300,000 UK patients a year could be helped if the system is given the go ahead for general use following the completion of clinical trials.

3. Drug development

AI is not new, but it has been thrust into the limelight in recent years because of the increased computing power we now have.

AI can scan through data at a hyper-fast rate that is impossible for humans to match. One of the ways this data crunching could revolutionise healthcare is in the development of new drugs.

The technology can analyse data drawn from a wide variety of sources, such as clinical trials, patient health records and genetic records, and help predict how a drug might affect a person’s cells and tissues, leading to better trials and paving the way for a personalisation of their medicine. This more streamlined process could bring drugs to market much faster.

4. Knowing when someone in a coma will awaken

When doctors are trying to decipher how much a patient’s brain has been damaged by trauma, they use a coma scale. After performing a series of tests, the doctors give the patient a score.

That score reflects the patient’s prognosis and may play a part in decisions regarding the use and possible withdrawal of life-support machines.

In a Chinese trial, an AI system trained on brain scans came up with its own score, which was very different to that given by the doctors. One patient was given a seven out of 23 score by doctors, but after the technology analysed his brain scans, the AI gave him 20. A score of seven indicates such a low likelihood of recovery that the patient’s next-of-kin would be given the option of withdrawing life-support. But true to the AI’s prediction, the patient eventually woke up.

The AI got nearly 90% of cases right, by tracing brain activity invisible to the human eye, such as tiny changes in blood flow to the brain. The system is an integral part of the hospital’s daily processes and has helped diagnose more than 300 people.

5. Read CT scans

AI’s ability to read both medical images and medical records could save the vast amount of time that radiologists and cardiologists spend diagnosing disease.

Radiologists have to examine hundreds of images a day to diagnose illnesses, but eye fatigue from doing so can lead to mistakes.

IBM is developing an AI system that would assist radiologists by sifting through millions of images and comparing them to other data on the health of the patient.

The software is in an advanced stage of testing and preparation for commercial use, and the IBM team behind it are working to refine its accuracy.

6. Recognise depression

More than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression, according to the WHO.

AI could transform the way the illness is diagnosed, and provide technology-based treatments.

For instance, California-based MindStrong has recently published a paper showing that their technology could pick up the signs of depression and other mental disorders, by analysing how people use their smartphones.

“The data from a smartphone can yield insights into how we are thinking, feeling, and behaving,” says Dr. Thomas R. lnsel, the company co-founder.

Their proprietary technology analyses how people type – their taps, scrolls, and clicks – to predict a range of cognitive traits and mood states.

Artificial intelligence is also showing promising signs in being able to help alleviate the symptoms of depression. A recent trial involving Woebot, a chatbot that has been designed according to the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy, showed that it was effective in treating the disorder.

In the trial, 70 participants aged 18-28 years old, received either two weeks (up to 20 sessions) with Woebot, and or were directed to the National Institute of Mental Health ebook. For those in the Woebot group, depression symptoms significantly reduced over the study period.

A Business Insider journalist who tested Woebot found it to be “surprisingly helpful”.

7. Robot doctors

Doctors spend years in training, learning all about the human body and the vast number of illnesses and disease that can befall it. They also need to keep track of up-to-date research published in medical journals and medicine development.

Researchers in China showed how a robot could help doctors retrieve this information, by remembering it all for them.

In their test, the AI robot – which had absorbed the contents of dozens of medical textbooks, 2 million medical records, and 400,000 articles – passed the medical license exam test in a fraction of the time of its human peers, and with better accuracy. The robot, called the iFlyTek Smart Doctor Assistant, achieved a score of 456, significantly higher than the mark of 360 required to pass the exam.

However, the robot won’t be taking on hospital round duties any time soon, rather, it is designed to assist doctors as they attend to patients.

The megatrend that will shape our working future-Gig Economy

 You may be a talented public relations consultant looking for new clients to build a freelancing business, or a senior manager at a multinational company, dealing with complex budgets, deadlines and a plethora of new projects. These and many other kinds of scenarios have created the opportunity for the gig economy to grow, and quickly.

Freelancing is at the core of the gig economy, allowing companies to outsource project work efficiently. It enables more individuals to prosper in an age when a job for life is no longer assured, and when more workers are seeking an entrepreneurial path.

The gig economy is one of the megatrends that will redefine the world of work. By 2025, more than half of workers in the US will be freelancing, according to estimates. More than a third of millennials are already working independently in France.

Due to economic and lifestyle changes, companies and workers need to be more flexible, as does the labour market overall. Workforce recruitment providers need to present responsible solutions that offer freelancers more stability and provide companies with the very best independent talent.

One big social challenge posed by this megatrend is how to give independent workers access to rights and benefits comparable to those enjoyed by people with an employment contract. We need to ensure that this new trend for flexibility does not come at the expense of the quality of working lives, and that companies can reap the benefits sustainably.

There are groups of freelancers, especially in some lower-paid professions, who face a difficult existence from one task to the next, with little in the way of social protection. Others can find it hard to access bigger organizations for work, or they can end up wasting time on administrative tasks. Likewise, many companies are struggling to harness the promise of the gig economy, as it is not built into their DNA. They need to shape a culture of working in different ways and exploring creative workforce solutions.

The Adecco Group is helping firms and workers navigate the gig economy by investing in new services and digital ventures, from supporting start-ups to joining forces with tech industry leaders. With the help of Microsoft, the organization has created a digital platform called YOSS, to connect companies and freelancers. The brainchild of French entrepreneurs Guillaume Herrnberger and Romain Trébuil, YOSS has grown from an idea to reality in less than a year through the Adecco Group’s “digital start-up incubator” arm “AGX”.

One thing YOSS does differently is to offer freelancers the ability to opt in to the social benefit and insurance system. YOSS gives companies a secure, fast and reliable way to adapt to more flexible procurement of specialized skill sets and expertise. The platform provides a range of “on demand” services for freelancers (including benefits such as insurance, legal and accounting advice) so they can focus on their work and maintain a balanced life.

In a world where we are becoming familiar with seeing established industries disrupted by new, creative ways of working – a trend that will likely continue – we expect the freelancing and gig economy to grow to three times the size of the temporary staffing market. Its potential is huge, and its opportunities are endless. Are you ready? Is your organization ready?

Belief in the Unbelievable- science of superstition

The number 13, black cats, breaking mirrors, or walking under ladders, may all be things you actively avoid – if you’re anything like the 25% of people in the US who consider themselves superstitious. and over 70% in South Asiua belong to this category

Even if you don’t consider yourself a particularly superstitious person, you probably say “bless you” when someone sneezes, just in case the devil should decide to steal their soul – as our ancestors thought possible during a sneeze.

Superstition also explains why many buildings do not have a 13th floor – preferring to label it 14, 14A 12B or M (the 13th letter of the alphabet) on elevator button panels because of concerns about superstitious tenants. Indeed, 13% of people in one survey indicated that staying on the 13th floor of a hotel would bother them – and 9% said they would ask for a different room.

On top of this, some airlines such as Air France and Lufthansa, do not have a 13th row. Lufthansa also has no 17th row – because in some countries – such as Italy and Brazil – the typical unlucky number is 17 and not 13.

What is superstition?

Although there is no single definition of superstition, it generally means a belief in supernatural forces – such as fate – the desire to influence unpredictable factors and a need to resolve uncertainty. In this way then, individual beliefs and experiences drive superstitions, which explains why they are generally irrational and often defy current scientific wisdom.

Psychologists who have investigated what role superstitions play, have found that they derive from the assumption that a connection exists between co-occurring, non-related events. For instance, the notion that charms promote good luck, or protect you from bad luck.

For many people, engaging with superstitious behaviours provides a sense of control and reduces anxiety – which is why levels of superstition increase at times of stress and angst. This is particularly the case during times of economic crisis and social uncertainty – notably wars and conflicts. Indeed, researchers have observed how in Germany between 1918 and 1940 measures of economic threat correlated directly with measures of superstition.

Touch wood

Superstitious beliefs have been shown to help promote a positive mental attitude. Although they can lead to irrational decisions, such as trusting in the merits of good luck and destiny rather than sound decision making.

Carrying charms, wearing certain clothes, visiting places associated with good fortune, preferring specific colours and using particular numbers are all elements of superstition. And although these behaviours and actions can appear trivial, for some people, they can often affect choices made in the real world.

Superstitions can also give rise to the notion that objects and places are cursed. Such as the Annabelle the Doll – who featured in The Conjuring and two other movies – and is said to be inhabited by the spirit of a dead girl. A more traditional illustration is the Curse of the Pharaohs, which is said to be cast upon any person who disturbs the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian person – especially a pharaoh.

Numbers themselves can also often be associated with curses. For example, the figure 666 in a licence plate is often featured in stories of misfortune. The most famous case was the numberplate “ARK 666Y”, which is believed to have caused mysterious vehicle fires and “bad vibes” for passengers.

Sporting superstitions

Superstition is also highly prevalent within sport – especially in highly competitive situations. Four out of five professional athletes report engaging with at least one superstitious behaviour prior to performance. Within sport, superstitions have been shown to reduce tension and provide a sense of control over unpredictable, chance factors.

Superstitions practices tend to vary across sports, but there are similarities. Within football, gymnastics and athletics, for example, competitors reported praying for success, checking appearance in mirror and dressing well to feel better prepared. Players and athletes also engage with personalised actions and behaviours – such as wearing lucky clothes, kit and charms.

Famous sportspeople often display superstitious behaviours. Notably, basketball legend Michael Jordan concealed his lucky North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls team kit. Similarly, the tennis legend Björn Bork, reportedly wore the same brand of shirt when preparing for Wimbledon.

Rafael Nadal has an array of rituals that he performs each time he plays. These include the manner in which he places his water bottles and taking freezing cold showers. Nadal believes these rituals help him to find focus, flow and perform well.

Walking under ladders

What all this shows is that superstitions can provide reassurance and can help to reduce anxiety in some people. But while this may well be true, research has shown that actions associated with superstitions can also become self-reinforcing – in that the behaviour develops into a habit and failure to perform the ritual can actually result in anxiety.

This is even though the actual outcome of an event or situation is still dependent on known factors – rather than unknown supernatural forces. A notion consistent with the often quoted maxim, “the harder you work (practice) the luckier you get”.

So the next time you break a mirror, see a black cat or encounter the number 13 – don’t worry too much about “bad luck”, as it’s most likely just a trick of the mind.

Ancient China tells us about today’s technology

As machine-learning algorithms come to dominate decision-making in business, politics, and society, the pressure to make more personal data available will steadily increase, and privacy protections will be eroded. If we do not take the reins of these new technologies, they could lead us toward a political system we did not choose.

Around 1200 BC, the Shang Dynasty in China developed a factory system to build thousands of huge bronze vessels for use in everyday life and ritual ceremonies. In this early example of mass production, the process of bronze casting required intricate planning and the coordination of large groups of workers, each performing a separate task in precisely the right order.

A similarly complex process went into fashioning the famous army of terracotta warriors that Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, unveiled one thousand years later. According to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the statues “were created using an assembly production system that paved the way for advances in mass production and commerce.”

Some scholars have speculated that these early forms of prescriptive-work technologies played a large role in shaping Chinese society. Among other things, they seem to have predisposed people to accept bureaucratic structures, a social philosophy emphasizing hierarchy, and a belief that there is a single right way of doing things.

When industrial factories were introduced in Europe in the nineteenth century, even staunch critics of capitalism such as Friedrich Engels acknowledged that mass production necessitated centralized authority, regardless of whether the economic system was capitalist or socialist. In the twentieth century, theorists such as Langdon Winner extended this line of thinking to other technologies. He thought that the atom bomb, for example, should be considered an “inherently political artifact,” because its “lethal properties demand that it be controlled by a centralized, rigidly hierarchical chain of command.”

Today, we can take that thinking even further. Consider machine-learning algorithms, the most important general-purpose technology in use today. Using real-world examples to mimic human cognitive capacities, these algorithms are already becoming ubiquitous in the workplace. But, to capitalize fully on these technologies, organizations must redefine human tasks as prediction tasks, which are more suited to these algorithms’ strengths.

A key feature of machine-learning algorithms is that their performance improves with more data. As a result, the use of these algorithms creates a technological momentum to treat information about people as recordable, accessible data. Like the system of mass production, they are “inherently political,” because their core functionality demands certain social practices and discourages others. In particular, machine-learning algorithms run directly counter to individuals’ desire for personal privacy.

A system based on the public availability of information about individual community members might seem amenable to communitarians such as the sociologist Amitai Etzioni, for whom limitations on privacy are a means to enforce social norms. But, unlike communitarians, algorithms are indifferent to social norms. Their only concern is to make better predictions, by transforming more and more areas of human life into data sets that can be mined.

Moreover, while the force of a technological imperative turns individualist Westerners into accidental communitarians, it also makes them more beholden to a culture of meritocracy based on algorithmic evaluations. Whether it is at work, in school, or even on dating apps, we have already become accustomed to having our eligibility assessed by impersonal tools, which then assign us positions in a hierarchy.

To be sure, algorithmic assessment is not new. A generation ago, scholars such as Oscar H. Gandy warned that we were turning into a scored-and-ranked society, and demanded more accountability and redress for technology-driven mistakes. But, unlike modern machine-learning algorithms, older assessment tools were reasonably well understood. They made decisions on the basis of relevant normative and empirical factors. For example, it was no secret that accumulating a lot of credit card debit could hurt one’s creditworthiness.

By contrast, new machine-learning technologies plumb the depths of large data sets to find correlations that are predictive but poorly understood. In the workplace, algorithms can track employees’ conversations, where they eat lunch, and how much time they spend on the computer, telephone, or in meetings. And with that data, the algorithm develops sophisticated models of productivity that far surpass our commonsense intuitions. In an algorithmic meritocracy, whatever the models demand becomes the new standard of excellence.

Still, technology is not destiny. We shape it before it shapes us. Business leaders and policymakers can develop and deploy the technologies they want, according to their institutional needs. It is within our power to cast privacy nets around sensitive areas of human life, to protect people from the harmful uses of data, and to require that algorithms balance predictive accuracy against other values such as fairness, accountability, and transparency.

But if we follow the natural flow of algorithmic logic, a more meritocratic and communitarian culture will be inevitable. And this steady transformation will have far-reaching implications for our democratic institutions and political structures. As the China scholars Daniel A. Bell and Zhang Weiwei have noted, the major political alternative to Western liberal-democratic traditions are the communitarian institutions that continue to evolve in China.

In China, collective decisions are not legitimated by citizens’ explicit consent, and people generally have fewer enforceable rights against the government, particularly when it comes to surveillance. An ordinary Chinese citizen’s role in political life is largely limited to participation in local elections. The country’s leaders, meanwhile, are selected through a meritocratic process, and consider themselves custodians of the people’s welfare.

Liberal democracies are not likely to shift entirely to such a political system. But if current trends in business and consumer culture continue, we might soon have more in common with Chinese meritocratic and communitarian traditions than with our own history of individualism and liberal democracy. If we want to change course, we will have to put our own political imperatives before those of our technologies

We Need to be Responsive to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Around the world, the ground appears to be shifting beneath our feet as we hurtle through a period of unnerving change, marked by disturbing weather patterns, xenophobic protectionism, mass migration, failed states, science denial, cyberterrorism, a loss of faith in institutions and many other factors.

What’s more, global energy markets are in flux. Supply chains are dauntingly complicated. And in most industrialized nations, societies are ageing, which raises tough questions about who will pay for the extended retirement of so many people.

At the same time, the power of technology, with its abundant promise, has accelerated due to dramatic gains in data storage, processing power and algorithm-driven analytics. Month after month, new systems, applications and business models surface and then explode into the market, offering radical new solutions in domains such as health and transport, even while disrupting long-established businesses and throwing countless people out of work.

In a fraught period that has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, governments, civil society and the private sector have a duty to ensure that nations such as Canada are prepared for this new world and its dizzying challenges. Amid so much flux, one point is certain: we can either catch this competitive wave or be swamped by it. Because shift happens.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Founder and Executive Chairman, Professor Klaus Schwab, the first three industrial revolutions set the stage for the fourth: the early 19th century era of rail, mechanization and steam; the electricity and mass production revolution in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and the emergence of semiconductors, computers and networks since the 1960s. The exponential acceleration of computing technology that has marked this phase is inflicting massive change on long-established industries, professions and institutions, including the structures of government.

The technologies driving these changes – big data, machine learning, blockchain, the Internet of Things, advanced materials, quantum computing and 3D printing – are complex, esoteric and profoundly disruptive. To those of us operating in sectors being remade by these innovations, the pace can feel as if we’re perched on slippery stones in the middle of a rapidly moving river, looking for a way to cross.

Shift will happen everywhere, from routine shop floor work to the tasks performed by professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants. Large companies will continue to find themselves toppled by fleet-footed start-ups that begin with little capital and few hard assets but plenty of technical savvy.

Historically, such periods of technology-driven upheaval have brought productivity gains, investment, growth, improvements in quality of life, and increases in longevity and health. There’s no reason to believe that the Fourth Industrial Revolution, like the three that preceded it, will fail to deliver these same long-term benefits, especially in a world where billions of people still don’t have electricity.

Yet some of these technologies, especially those that automate routine tasks, may trigger job losses. That future is around the corner, in fact. A recent McKinsey & Company study predicts that almost half the time workers spend on their jobs can already be replaced with existing technologies.

The transition period we’re entering is extremely fluid – and frankly, scary. Everyone needs that next paycheck, a safe place to sleep, money for groceries. If Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies yield chronic unemployment, will political and social unrest follow? We only have to look at disenfranchisement of un- or underemployed American blue-collar workers to understand why we’re living in a period of rising nationalism, xenophobia, and protectionism.

The alarming job-loss scenarios have also prompted warnings and calls for corrective policy. Tesla founder Elon Musk wants governments and civil society actors to ensure that machine learning systems are deployed ethically. Microsoft founder Bill Gates wants governments to tax robots to compensate for mass worker displacement.

Canada may be better positioned to weather the storms brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Demand for Canada’s natural resources and its excellence in agriculture and mass manufacturing has kept the economy strong. The country’s financial institutions are stable. Its debt-to-GDP ratios are low by international standards. The public still embraces immigration and believes in both the need to reduce inequality and in trade as a means of building wealth. Unlike the US and the UK, Canada’s politics and public institutions aren’t under attack.

Yet in other ways, Canada may be vulnerable, with stubbornly low productivity and innovation lagging behind other industrialized countries. Right now, a group of Canadian start-ups are building world-class technology, but they are struggling to find the talent and capital necessary to scale internationally. To survive the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Canada will need to produce, retain and attract more of the right kinds of talent, incentivize corporate Canada to make the same kinds of investments in technology that they have long made in natural resources, and support these companies as they scale into globally competitive businesses. The ability of countries to produce and sustain national champions will be central to their ability to survive the shifts coming at them.

Our governments, in turn, must create the conditions that enable firms to bring these kinds of innovations to their customers. But they also have to internalize the lessons of shift by acknowledging the chasm between their own limitations and the dynamism of this emerging world.

Shift-minded policy-makers should borrow ideas and technologies from innovation-oriented companies to make government services as flexible, fast, and competitive as those offered by the private sector. They also have to develop new ideas for providing a safety net for those caught in the dislocation of shift.

So far, Canadian governments have embraced the rhetoric of innovation, and they’re investing tax dollars to that end. But more needs to happen for policy-makers to change how they operate and provide better services to citizens.

That transformation begins with trust. Currently, many industrialized nations are experiencing a decline in public confidence. Anti-government populism has its roots in the roiling forces that are flourishing around the world. In this climate, governments must rebuild their credibility before they can propose policies that will enable innovators to compete in a shift-driven world.

While regulators look for ways to enable instead of obstruct, public agencies should be strengthening the innovation ecosystem with their procurement dollars. Governments should modernize their operations so residents can interact with public services in ways that reflect the digitally driven economy. We badly need to marshal our innovative know-how to close the gap between what consumers can get in the marketplace and what they expect from their governments.

It’s crucial for innovators and investors to be at the centre of this global upheaval. It’s just as important for governments to set the conditions that will allow these players to compete and create wealth. When they do, everyone will realize benefits. These will come not just in the form of improved productivity and growth, but through the cultivation of globally oriented tech companies that are unleashed to generate new jobs, services and sources of wealth to sustain the societies finding their way through all the shift.

Saturday Special: Why Kautilya is Ignored in Pakistan’s Historical Consciousness?

 Mohra Muradu was one of the 18 monasteries – Jolian, Dharmarajika, Sirkap, and Pipplan being the other important ones – that constituted Takshashila – the world’s first known university and a powerhouse of academic knowledge.

It is to be noted that although the word ‘university’ was not invented back then, Takshashila, which was formed in 7th century BC, functioned very much like a university.

The Buddhist sacred scriptures, the Jatakas, mention Takshashila as a centuries-old centre for learning. It was here that the Mahabharata was first said to be recited.

The rise of Gandhara, a kingdom in the northwestern region of present-day Pakistan, had a significant impact on Takshashila’s growth. The university offered 63 courses that included Vedas, astronomy, philosophy, surgery, politics, warfare, commerce, music, archery, and other performing arts.

According to other Buddhist texts, such as the Pali Canon, Brahmin princes and students migrated from far distances to enroll at Takshashila, and its alumni include a thorough list of notables: Jatopil, the commander in chief of Banaras; Jivaka, who cured Buddha; Parasasenajit, the ruler of Kosala; Panini, a great grammarian; and Charaka, a famous physician.

But perhaps the institution’s most noteworthy alumni is the legendary political philosopher and thinker, Chanakya, better known as Kautilya, the author of Arthashastra, often compared to the Italian mastermind Machiavelli and his book The Prince.  And, Kautilya is just one of many people Pakistan has made a pariah without realising what they stood for.

There is a popular South Asian adage: “jo gur se maray, usay zehar kyun do”. The saying originates from an intriguing interaction between a prince, Maurya, and Chanakya, back in 330 BC.

Maurya was on a stroll one day when he noticed an odd sight: Chanakya, on his knees, pouring honey on to the roots of grass. Maurya approached him and inquired of his purpose, to which Chanakya replied that he was sweetening the roots.

Apparently, Chanakya had tripped over the grass while walking. He decided it was much better to uproot the grass permanently so that he never stumbles over it again, rather than removing it temporarily.

And so he was sweetening the roots, because the colonies of ants under the soil would sniff out the nectar, find it, and nibble through the roots, rendering the grass dead for good.

Impressed by Chanakya’s wisdom, Maurya henceforth hired him as chief advisor for state affairs. This laid the foundation for a long and enduring relationship between Chanakya and Chandra Gupta Maurya – one which helped establish a state so powerful and vast it stretched across the entire Indian subcontinent and lasted for nearly 150 years.

It became the largest (in terms of geographical expanse) and the most glorious empire Indian history has ever witnessed, even larger than the Mughal empire.

Not many are privy to Chanakya’s indissoluble relationship with what’s today Pakistan. Born in the suburbs of present-day Taxila, young Chanakya’s burgeoning intellect had him quickly noticed, and for his studies he was admitted to Takshashila, where he rose above the ranks and was hired as a teacher during his 20’s.

His magnum opus Arthashastra talks about various subjects of power and facets of governance. It enlists the duties of the ruler, the associates, and the advisor; discusses intricate matters, such as the art of diplomacy, the rules of unleashing and defending wars, the duties of the state during peacetime; domestic governance affairs like taxation, commerce, law, municipal affairs; social norms and customs; and artisan work, agriculture, medicine, and census.

On one hand, it provides an account of the Chandragupta army – the facts, numbers, weapons – and on the other, it says, “mere numbers do not count for much; without discipline and proper leadership they may become a burden.”

Unlike Lahore – where the city sounds off frequently in recognition of the poet and philosopher Allama Iqbal – Taxila, a much older city, is devoid of any reference to its son, Chanakya. Some time ago, there was an attempt to create a university in his name; however, the political rifts and bureaucratic hurdles relegated it to an unending limbo.

Today, the only references to his existence are the shattered monasteries and the shambled remains of the once-great Takshashila.

Of these monasteries, Mohra Muradu is still a thriving village: an abode to 200 families, encircled by mountains and fields, home also to orchards and olive grafting. The settlement history of the village is unknown, but to locals it is as old as the monastery’s remains.

Henry Kissinger in his book World Order described Arthashastra of   Canakya   as avant-garde that established hard power as a dominant reality in politics and validated realism much earlier than Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Whilst the world recognises Chanakya’s stature as a philosopher, he’s nothing more than another example of how our nation has made someone a pariah without realising what they stood for.

Chanakya is damned for obvious reasons. He is presumed to be a representative of the Brahmin mindset and Hindu culture which we have parted from a long time ago. Merely this was enough to disqualify him from the stature of a learned philosopher of the soil.

Hence, not a single reference of him is found in the country, whereas we already have buildings and campuses named after scientists and philosophers from different eras and places.

Nothing can describe this irony better than The Indus Saga , in which Aitzaz Ahsan writes in the preface: “… a nation in denial of its national identity is unfortunate. But when it chooses to adopt an extra-territorial identity, it becomes a prisoner of propaganda and myths… This is the Pakistan of today, not the Pakistan of its founders. Identity is at the heart of its problem”.

If Pakistan is to come out of its tortuous identity crisis, it needs to accept its non-Muslim history as its own. Recognising someone as important as Chanakya will have to be part of the long process.

Human Design Could Draw Inspiration from Natural Nanotechnology

Five sources of inspiration that scientists could use to create the next generation of human technology.
Though nanotechnology is portrayed as a fairly recent human invention, nature is actually full of nanoscopic architectures. They underpin the essential functions of a variety of life forms, from bacteria to berries, wasps to whales.
In fact, tactful use of the principles of nanoscience can be traced to natural structures that are over 500 million years old. Below are just five sources of inspiration that scientists could use to create the next generation of human technology.
1. Structural colours
The colouration of several types of beetles and butterflies is produced by sets of carefully spaced nanoscopic pillars. Made of sugars such as chitosan, or proteins like keratin, the widths of slits between the pillars are engineered to manipulate light to achieve certain colours or effects like iridescence.
One benefit of this strategy is resilience. Pigments tend to bleach with exposure to light, but structural colours are stable for remarkably long periods. A recent study of structural colouration in metallic-blue marble berries, for example, featured specimens collected in 1974, which had maintained their colour despite being long dead.
Another advantage is that colour can be changed by simply varying the size and shape of the slits, and by filling the pores with liquids or vapours too. In fact, often the first clue to the presence of structural colouration is a vivid colour change after the specimen has been soaked in water. Some wing structures are so sensitive to air density in the slits that colour changes are seen in response to temperature too.
2. Long range visibility
In addition to simply deflecting light at an angle to achieve the appearance of colour, some ultra-thin layers of slit panels completely reverse the direction of the travel of light rays. This deflection and blocking of light can work together to create stunning optical effects such as a single butterfly’s wings with half-a-mile visibility, and beetles with brilliant white scales, measuring a slim five micrometers. In fact, these structures are so impressive that they can outperform artificially engineered structures that are 25 times thicker.
3. Adhesion
Gecko feet can bind firmly to practically any solid surface in milliseconds, and detach with no apparent effort. This adhesion is purely physical with no chemical interaction between the feet and surface.
The active adhesive layer of the gecko’s foot is a branched nanoscopic layer of bristles called “spatulae”, which measure about 200 nanometers in length. Several thousand of these spatulae are attached to micron sized “seta”. Both are made of very flexible keratin. Though research into the finer details of the spatulae’s attachment and detachment mechanism is ongoing, the very fact that they operate with no sticky chemical is an impressive feat of design.
Gecko’s feet have other fascinating features too. They are self-cleaning, resistant to self-matting (the seta don’t stick to each other) and are detached by default (including from each other). These features have prompted suggestions that in the future, glues, screws and rivets could all be
4. Porous strength
The strongest form of any solid is the single crystal state – think diamonds – in which atoms are present in near perfect order from one end of the object to the other. Things like steel rods, aircraft bodies and car panels are not single crystalline, but polycrystalline, similar in structure to a mosaic of grains. So, in theory, the strength of these materials could be improved by increasing the grain size, or by making the whole structure single crystalline.
Single crystals can be very heavy, but nature has a solution for this in the form of nanostructured pores. The resultant structure – a meso-crystal – is the strongest form of a given solid for its weight category. Sea urchin spines and nacre (mother of pearl) are both made of meso-crystalline forms. These creatures have lightweight shells and yet can reside at great depths where the pressure is high.
In theory, meso-crystalline materials can be manufactured, although using existing processes would require a lot of intricate manipulation. Tiny nanoparticles would have to be spun around until they line up with atomic precision to other parts of the growing mesocrystals, and then they would need to be gelled together around a soft spacer to eventually form a porous network.
5. Bacterial navigation
Magnetotactic bacteria posses the extraordinary ability to sense minute magnetic fields, including the Earth’s own, using small chains of nanocrystals called magnetosomes. These are grains sized between 30–50 nanometers, made of either magnetite (a form of iron oxide) or, less commonly, greghite (an iron sulphur combo). Several features of magnetosomes work together to produce a foldable “compass needle”, many times more sensitive than man-made counterparts.
Though these “sensors” are only used for navigating short distances (magnetotactic bacteria are pond-dwelling), their precision is incredible. Not only can they find their way, but varying grain size means that they can retain information, while growth is restricted to the most magnetically sensitive atomic arrangements.
However, as oxygen and sulphur combine voraciously with iron to produce magnetite, greghite or over 50 other compounds – only a few of which are magnetic – great skill is required to selectively produce the correct form, and create the magnetosome chains. Such dexterity is currently beyond our reach but future navigation could be revolutionised if scientists learn how to mimic these structures

Slavery Still Afflicts Us, Globally

 More than 40 million people were enslaved around the world as of 2016 according to the Walk Free Foundation.

North Korea and Eritrea have the world’s highest rates of modern slavery, said a global survey on Thursday that highlighted how conflict and government repression are the main drivers of a crime estimated to affect more than 40 million people worldwide.

The Central African nation of Burundi also has a high prevalence of slavery, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index published by the human rights group Walk Free Foundation.

“Each of these three countries has state-sponsored forced labor, where their government puts its own people to work for its own benefit,” said Fiona David, research chair of Minderoo Foundation, which led the data collection.

More than 40 million people were enslaved around the world as of 2016, according to an estimate by the Walk Free Foundation and the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO).

India was home to the largest total number with an estimated 8 million slaves among its 1.3 billion population, according to Walk Free’s 2018 calculation.

Two years ago, the index showed 18.3 million people living in modern slavery in India. The difference is due to changes in methodology, Walk Free said, reflecting ways of counting people enslaved on any given day or over a longer time period.

China, Pakistan, North Korea and Nigeria rounded out the top five nations with the largest number of slaves, accounting for about 60 percent of victims globally, according to Walk Free.

But North Korea had the highest percentage of its population enslaved, with one in 10 people are in modern slavery and “the clear majority forced to work by the state”, the index said.

Researchers interviewed 50 North Korean defectors who spoke of long hours and inhumane conditions in forced unpaid labor for adults and children in farming, construction and roadbuilding.

“This index makes us visible,” said Yeon-Mi Park, a defector who spoke at a news conference at United Nations headquarters.

“These people simply were born in the wrong place, and that’s what they are being punished for,” she said, describing being trafficked into China where she was sold as a child bride.

Another defector Jang Jin-Sung said North Koreans do not consider themselves slaves.

“They’ve been indoctrinated all their lives to think that whatever they do for the state is a good thing,” he said.

In Eritrea, the report said the government is “a repressive regime that abuses its conscription system to hold its citizens in forced labor for decades”.

Burundi’s government also imposes forced labor, Walk Free said, while rights groups including Human Rights Watch have implicated its security forces in murders and disappearances.

Other countries with the highest rates of slavery were the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Pakistan.

“Most of these countries are marked by conflict, with breakdowns in rule of law, displacement and a lack of physical security,” the report said.

With more than nine million people living in slavery – nearly eight in every 1,000 people – Africa had the highest rate of enslavement of any region, according to the report.

The researchers also warned that consumers in affluent countries may be purchasing billions of dollars worth of products manufactured with slave labor, including computers, mobile phones and clothing

“Modern slavery is a first-world problem,” said Andrew Forrest, a co-founder of Australia-based Walk Free. “We are the consumers. We can fix it,” he added.

Slavery is likely more widespread than the research suggests, activists and experts say. The report noted gaps in data from Arab states, as well as a lack of information on organ trafficking and the recruitment of children by armed groups.

Myths about AI’s effect on the workplace

The interplay between technology and work has always been a hot topic. While technology has typically created more jobs than it has destroyed on a historical basis, this context rarely stops people from believing that things are “different” this time around.

In this case, it’s the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) that is being hotly debated by the media and expert commentators. Although there is no doubt that AI will be a transformative force in business, the recent attention on the subject has also led to many common misconceptions about the technology and its anticipated effects.

Disproving common myths about AI

AI is going to be a seismic shift in business – and it’s expected to create a $15.7 trillion economic impact globally by 2030.

But understandably, monumental shifts like this tend to make people nervous, resulting in many unanswered questions and misconceptions about the technology and what it will do in the workplace.

Demystifying myths

Here are the eight debunked myths about AI:

1. Automation will completely displace employees

Truth: 70% of employers see AI in supporting humans in completing business processes. Meanwhile, only 11% of employers believe that automation will take over the work found in jobs and business processes to a “great extent”.

2. Companies are primarily interested in cutting costs with AI

Truth: 84% of employers see AI as obtaining or sustaining a competitive advantage, and 75% see AI as a way to enter into new business areas. 63% see pressure to reduce costs as a reason to use AI.

3. AI, machine learning, and deep learning are the same thing

Truth: AI is a broader term, while machine learning is a subset of AI that enables “intelligence” by using training algorithms and data. Deep learning is an even narrower subset of machine learning inspired by the interconnected neurons of the brain.

4. Automation will eradicate more jobs than it creates

Truth: At least according to one recent study by Gartner, there will be 1.8 million jobs lost to AI by 2020 and 2.3 million jobs created. How this shakes out in the longer term is much more debatable.

5. Robots and AI are the same thing

Truth: Even though there is a tendency to link AI and robots, most AI actually works in the background and is unseen (think Amazon product recommendations). Robots, meanwhile, can be “dumb” and just automate simple physical processes.

6. AI won’t affect my industry

Truth: AI is expected to have a significant impact on almost every industry in the next five years.

7. Companies implementing AI don’t care about workers

Truth: 65% of companies pursuing AI are also investing in the reskilling of current employees.

8. High productivity equals higher profits and less employment

Truth: AI and automation will increase productivity, but this could also translate to lower prices, higher wages, higher demand, and employment growth.

Stem the Tide of Democratic Decline

In his keynote address at the Singapore Shangri-La Dialogue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned about the dangers of loans that “are too good to be true.”His view was endorsed by US defence secretary James Mattis who added, “I really liked (Modi’s) point about massive debt. You could lose your sovereignty and your freedom economically.”
The two veiled comments were a reference to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure strategy, that the US and India see as a Chinese attempt to manipulate its neighbours with its economic heft. In any other era one would wonder why the world’s two largest democracies should be concerned about infrastructure plans as an attempt to possibly thwart free government. However, populism and protectionism have shifted the tectonics of foreign policy over the past few years leaving many experts concerned that democracy is in decline.
From the rise of right wing governments trying to control or undermine institutions (Turkey, the Philippines, Poland) to the supremacy of military over civilian rule (Zimbabwe, Thailand, Pakistan) to democratically elected leaderswhose rule never end (Russia, Venezuela, Cambodia), the symptoms of democratic decline are visible across the globe.
As the oldest and largest democracies in the world, respectively, the United Statesand India make for inherently compatible partners on the global stage. Citizens of both countries enjoy fundamental rights provided by their constitutions. The rule of law, an independent judiciary and a free press reinforce both countries’commitment to democracy.
Both countries are seeing increasingly bitter partisan battles; sometimes these features of democracy slow down or hinder government’s ability to act. However,checks and balances were built into their systems to provide for a healthy democracy. The title of the oldest and largest democracies should not only lend prestige to the US and India; it must also bring with it a great deal of responsibilityto come together and lead the world to a new era of democratic revitalisation.
In their famous book “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt note that “(d)uring the cold war, coups d’etat accounted for nearly three out of every four democratic breakdowns” as “democracy dissolved in spectacular fashion through military power and coercion.” In our modern era, however, they warn “there is another way to break democracy, less dramatic but equally destructive. Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders – presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power. Some of these leaders dismantle democracy quickly. More often, though, democracies erode slowly through barely visible steps.”
Both the US and India are currently undergoing their own democratic crises and struggles due to the high level of partisanship that has transformed opposing parties into enemy tribes. Checks and balances are being tested by leaders who often come off as aspiring authoritarians. Yet the intrinsic dispersal of power designed by both countries’ federal systems of multiple branches of government has so far guaranteed their democratic credentials.
If the executive crosses the line there exist the legislative and judicial branches to rein him in. If the federal government oversteps, the many strong-willed states will fight back. The interlocking and interdependent features of our democraticsystem of government have so far proven themselves highly resilient. However, that does not mean that they are not coming under increasing strain due to corruption and political power plays.
Recently the Karnataka governor invited BJP, the single largest party, to form the government. This was not wrong constitutionally, but giving them 15 days to pull together a majority coalition was way too much. In response, the Supreme Court hosted an emergency midnight hearing and reduced BJP’s afforded time to prove majority to less than 48 hours.
Similarly in the US, a string of leftist publications and thinkers have begun calling for the Democrats to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court once they return to power. Such support for court-packing has not been seen in America since the 1930s; however, liberals feel increasingly entitled to tamper with the courts after the stunts Republicans have pulled since taking control of the Senate in 2015.
Republicans under Mitch McConnell denied Obama the opportunity to appointMerrick Garland to the Supreme Court following the death of Antonin Scalia. In an unprecedented move they denied him even a hearing let alone a vote on his nomination.
Every country faces incidents in which political leaders push the boundaries to retain their power; however, the spirit of freedom enshrined in strong institutions acts as a check on unfettered power to protect the Constitution.
Despite the struggles and growing pains currently faced by democracy in India and the US, they should join hands to preserve and deepen our democratic way of government in the interest of world peace, global prosperity and human rights. A free system of government does not come for free. There must be renewed investment in our democratic culture.
The US and India should jointly organise an annual democracy summit to gather together like minded allies to engage in strategic thinking surrounding the preservation and expansion of democracy across the globe. We must actively invest in a global forum to assess the status of democracy, to promote a global democratic culture, and to act as catalyst in expanding democratic influence in countries with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.

Trump, even if bad, is Better as Democrats Are Irresponsible

I was amazed when a friend cried out to me his confession. He said: “O.K. First: I admit that I voted for Donald Trump. I didn’t intend to. I was thoroughly disgusted with both candidates and I had intended to register a “protest vote” by writing in the name of my all-time American hero, Mickey Mouse. But with the ballot there in front of me, I just could not throw my vote away.

Nor could I vote for Hillary Clinton who I considered to be untruthful, dishonest, corrupt and a status quo elitist. So, despite his multitude of serious flaws, I held my nose and very reluctantly voted for Trump, who appeared to me to be the lesser of two evils. I understand that millions of patriotic Americans saw Clinton, not Trump, as the lesser of two evils.

We were endlessly assured by the media that Clinton was a sure thing. She wasn’t. Since the election the same people who assured us that Clinton would win, have engaged in non-stop Chicken Little hysteria about what Trump’s win will mean.

As bad as he is — comparing Trump to Adolph Hitler is the height of irresponsible, irrational nonsense. He will not gather up all the gays and Muslims and put them in concentration camps, as liberal icon FDR did to American citizens of Japanese descent in World War II. And he won’t deport 12 million people either. Even if he wanted to, it is physically impossible.These things are fantasy.

Before the election, we were told that the Republican party was falling apart and would never recover. That too was fantasy. It may well be the other way around.

To be sure, both parties are divided and struggling.

But losing to Trump was only a small part of the problems the Democrats must face.

Here is the reality: not only do the Republicans have the presidency, but they also control both houses of Congress, all but 15 of the 50 governorships, and two-thirds of the 50 state legislatures. To add insult to misery, the Republicans will also control the United States Supreme Court for possibly the next 35 years.

Conclusions are clouded by the Mueller investigation and by the president’s non-stop obnoxious tweets, rants and insults.

Only time will tell whether my vote for Trump will turn out to be a monumental mistake, or a case of prescient vision.

But as hazy as that is, one thing is for certain. The Democrats, and much of the media, have badly misjudged the American mood. It is time for some serious soul searching. Except for the Northeast and the Pacific coast, America is generally pretty red. Of course, there is the purplish-blue island of Colorado — which I’m pretty sure the far right will chalk up to “reefer madness.” But even here, the ideological divide is deep and wide.

Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, who challenged Nancy Pelosi for the minority leader position, questions whether, under circumstances of Republican dominance, the Democrats are any longer a “national party.” The recent lurch to the socialist left only makes the party’s position more precarious.

But colors on a map pale in comparison to the overarching political reality of the stark 50/50 division in America.  Almost everywhere on that map, regardless of party, dogmatic partisan differences are given precedence over what is good for the country. The notion that “I am right — and if you disagree with me, you are evil”  dominates fringe extremism in both parties.

Enough with divisiveness! How much better it was when Ronald Reagan would invite Speaker Tip O’Neill to the White House for lunch. They would tell a few Irish jokes and perhaps sip an adult beverage or two. Then, though they disagreed mightily, they would get down to trying to fix what ailed the country through a respectful exchange of ideas, negotiation and compromise.

If we are to survive as a nation, we need to end the divisiveness — the name calling and insults — and learn how to treat ideas and opinions which differ from our own with respect.  When it comes to divisive issues like health care, immigration and foreign policy, we must find a way to again put the country above petty partisan politics. As, O’Neill said, “It’s America first — party second.” Only then can we get back to “truth, justice and the American way.

 

China’s Chilling Message to India : New Rail-Gun Rockets in Tibet

China hopes is new startling subtle diplomatic efforts will neutralize India’s resistance to the Belt and Road Initiative, but in case India does not succumb to its blandishments,  it has a backup plan.

The Chinese military will test the world’s first electromagnetic surface-to-surface rail-gun rockets in Tibet, according to reports by the government-run Science and Technology Daily. The program’s chief scientist Han Junli described the project as the first known of its kind, and told Science and Technology Daily last month that it has been progressing “with great breakthroughs.”

While conventional rockets usually only use explosive powder for the initial thrust, the electromagnetic rail gun also employs technology similar to that used by the catapult launchers that the United States and China are developing for their newest aircraft carriers. This “can give the rocket a very high initial speed on its launching stage,” Han said. This translates into a longer range. With an average elevation of 16,000 feet above sea level, Tibet is Earth’s highest region. Tibet’s high altitude means the thin atmosphere considerably reduces the air friction on such a weapon.

The South China Morning Post said such a range would enable the electromagnetic rail-gun rockets to “strike the heartland of India.” China and India share a border along Tibet, which has often been a flashpoint for Chinese-Indian tensions. In 1962, the two sides fought a brief war there, and last year, it was the location of a 73-day standoff between Chinese and Indian soldiers. If the rail-gun rockets turn out to be effective, the Chinese would be able to saturate targets in India with inexpensive but highly destructive rockets.

“Rockets are much cheaper than missiles, although less accurate. If they are mass-deployed, they can excel at saturation fire to create intensive destruction to a bigger range of area,” Zhou Chenming, a military expert based in Beijing, told the South China Morning Post.

Han told Science and Technology Daily that the extended range would render it unnecessary for China to move forward-deploy rockets to the frontline of such a conflict, which is difficult and expensive in the Himalayas. The rail guns could instead be fired from a farther, more accessible distance. “It is like in boxing, the person who has longer arms and harder fists enjoys the advantage,” he said.

Analysts believe the tests are related to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plans for the Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to build vast infrastructure linking China to the West. India has been hindering some key aspects of the project in recent years. Xi hopes to neutralize this resistance by entering agreements with India, such as the deal signed last month to increase military cooperation between China and India. But the Belt and Road Initiative is a core policy initiative for Xi: Leaders even wrote it into China’s Constitution earlier this year. Xi wants the Indian leadership to know that if diplomatic efforts to neutralize resistance to this core policy fail, China would be prepared to neutralize it with force. The new rail-gun rockets in Tibet could play a role in such a strategy, and the tests may be designed to signal such a possibility to India.

Modern China’s ascension to power was long forecast.  New trends that are now underway in China, including its increasing power and its increasing cooperation with Russia show the shape of things to come.

India will almost certainly join an Asian bloc. This is significant because India has a population of 1.2 billion people—plus an advanced nuclear arsenal! When you put India and Japan together with Russia and China, it is easy to see how an army of 200 million soldiers could be formed.

India has long had warm relations with Putin’s Russia. And now Xi Jinping is showing India that he is determined to normalize Chinese-Indian relations, whether with diplomacy or with threats of force, including with the new rail-gun rockets in Tibet. As U.S. power continues to decline, India may have little choice but to submit to these efforts and contribute its vast population and military power to the Russia- and China-led bloc.

The Ungoverned Land

Imagine a country where the writ of the government does not run over the major part of its territory. It is a shock. and perhaps the only country where the government does not govern a major portion of the country is a nuclear power- Pakistan. Islamabad’s writ has disappeared from 60 per cent of Pakistan’s territory.

The new chief minister of Punjab is a sardar — read feudal lord — from South Punjab’s most abandoned part of Dera Ghazi Khan. Sardar Usman Buzdar is from Taunsa Sharif, which has no electricity. Taunsa has been the incubator of the proxy warriors Pakistan used in Afghanistan and India and produced leadership for the anti-Shia sectarian banned outfit called Sipah-e-Sahaba, honoured in the country for supplying proxy fodder.

In 1947, the British Raj bequeathed to the Muslims of India a tightly administered state. But next door Afghanistan couldn’t be called a normal state. It couldn’t prevent penetration of its territory and it couldn’t collect taxes. But the great proxy war in Afghanistan was approved by the West, fighting its decisive battle with the Soviet Union after the latter invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

Pakistan soon began imitating Afghanistan by losing its own writ. Karachi was literally taken over by terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and Iran. It is still crippled by street crime. Today, Pakistan has a National Action Plan (NAP) “to crack down on terrorism”, and a National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to restore its state authority. But both remain notable for lack of success.

Although no city has been spared by terrorists, some areas of the country are seriously lacking in the state’s outreach. Terrorism that challenged the sovereign state came from many quarters, all of them related to the ideology Pakistan was wedded to. Its Taliban were fighting in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban were ensconced in Pakistan together with over 3 million Afghan refugees.

The tribal areas, which Pakistan wrongly left out of normal administration as some kind of tribal museum, were more infested with warriors than the rest of the country. Each tribal agency was allowed “self-rule” through warlords. Some of these satrapies were adjacent to big cities and were allowed to extract booty as the police watched.

The 2008 Khyber Agency war by terrorist Lashkar-e-Islam unfolded right under the nose of the administration in Peshawar. The Kurram Agency war proved too much for Islamabad as it spread to adjacent Aurakzai and Mohmand agencies, coming down to the settled districts of the old Frontier Province, Hangu and Kohat. Even in 2018, the Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan can get anyone killed in Peshawar on demand.

These “ungoverned” areas of Pakistan provided 40 per cent of the warriors fighting to establish a Taliban state in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban populated cities like Quetta and Karachi. Pakistan denied hosting Arab warriors like Osama bin Laden and Aiman Al-Zawahiri, who were discovered living comfortably in Abbottabad and Karachi respectively.

In the hinterland of Sindh, the wadera (feudal lord) never allowed the police to function normally and has not accepted the writ of the state to this day. Add to this hiatus of state authority the territory of South Punjab, where the madrassa still rules and the state obeys orders. When a brave Punjab home secretary killed Malik Ishaq, the leader of Daesh-connected Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, in a police encounter in Lahore in 2017, he was chased to his house in the north and killed to scare the Punjab police out of their wits.

In May 2012, the chief justice of the Peshawar High Court stated that the writ of the Peshawar government did not run beyond 10 km. Pakistan looked like waking up when Swat valley was occupied by Pakistani Taliban in 2009. It took action, but Fazlullah, the leader of the Taliban, fled into Afghanistan. He got little Malala Yusufzai nearly killed. Pakistan couldn’t do much. All its enemies were killed by its archenemy, the US, with drones. Today, Pakistan refuses to believe that it is falling apart. And that its writ has disappeared from 60 per cent of its territory; and foreign killers are still hiding in its territo

Is The US Constitution Outdated?

Fashions change, so do ideologies. The era of Leninism-Stalinism came to an end, so did Mao’s dictates when his Red Book was consigned to dustbin of history.  The US Constitution is also outdated  and America’s founding charter is perhaps out-of-date

Yesterday was Constitution Day—the anniversary of the day America’s founders signed the Constitution of the United States. As of yesterday, the Constitution is 231 years old, older than any other written constitution still in use. Yet rather than honor this remarkable document, prominent liberal media outlets are condemning it as an outdated, malfunctioning piece of junk that needs to be abolished.

“Not enough people connect the dots between our political dysfunction and the sacred Constitution of 1787 …” wrote Sanford Levinson, a professor at the University of Texas, in an article for Politico Magazine. “The bitter truth is that Donald Trump’s presidency is a Frankenstein’s monster in part created by the Constitution itself, and sustained by a political class wrongly taught to worship as scripture a document whose deep flaws are becoming clearer by the day.” the Constitution as an undemocratic document that stops people from the electing leaders and passing the laws that they want.

“On issue after issue, the evidence is clear: The federal government is dramatically more conservative than the American public. Given that the institutions that make up the federal government are all structurally undemocratic, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. … All of this makes a lot more sense if the U.S. government is viewed as what it was originally designed to be: a system of minority rule for propertied white men.”

While Levinson ends his article by questioning whether the Constitution is still relevant, Klion ends his article with a rallying cry to “abuse the Constitution” by “invoking the will of the American people.” It seems that after two years of claiming that President Donald Trump colluded with Russia to “steal” the U.S. election, progressives are adopting a new strategy. They admit that Trump is the constitutionally legitimate president of the United States, and so the solution to their dilemma is to try to destroy the Constitution.

“The subversion of democracy was the explicit intent of the framers …” wrote Meagan Day and Bhaskar Sunkara in the New York Times. “Whether or not the president knows it, the Constitution has long been venerated by conservative business elites like himself on the grounds that it hands them the power to fend off attempts to redistribute wealth and create new social guarantees in the interest of working people … As long as we think of our Constitution as a sacred document, instead of an outdated relic, we’ll have to deal with its anti-democratic consequences.”

Whether people realize it or not, these anti-Constitution ideas come straight from Marxist socialism. Roughly 40 percent of American adults now say they prefer socialism to capitalism, despite the fact that the Constitution prohibits the government from amassing the immense power over the free market that socialism mandates. That figure indicates that there are at least 98 million Americans who view Constitutional property rights as out-of-date. Yet these people cannot legally change the U.S. Constitution unless they get the support of two-thirds of both houses of Congress or two-thirds of the state legislatures. Since this is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, more people are adopting a similar approach to David Klion and “abuse the Constitution” by “invoking the will” of their supporters.

Such lawlessness is dangerous. Many Americans are growing discontent with the nation’s founding charter, but not enough to legally abolish it. So, they resort to obstructionism, civil disobedience and, in some cases, outright rioting. How widespread and how violent will this lawless movement get?

The Way G20 Can Rescue WTO

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”, warned Lao Tzu. The 10th anniversary of the G20 could be a crossroads. It’s time to make a turn. The future of the WTO is at stake. Could this year’s G20 trade meeting hold the key? As trade and investment ministers from the G20 gather at Mar del Plata in Argentina for the first time since the tariff dispute started in the spring of 2018, they face a momentous task.

The timing could not be more challenging for this group of developed and emerging economies to meet, especially with various G20 members involved in a continued escalation of tariffs on billions of dollars of imports. Moreover, a fortnight before this meeting, President Trump told Bloomberg that if these nations “don’t shape up” he would withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Against this backdrop, it is crucial for G20 ministers to act on three issues to save the WTO – and, by extension, the global economy.

1) Bring the US back into the fold

The first priority for the G20’s trade ministers must be to continue to engage the US and to agree on conducting trade relations based on multilateral rules, not by unilateral actions and harassment. The rules of non-discrimination, transparency, fair competition and an independent dispute settlement system have become a fundamental part of the soft infrastructure of global business, and have benefited everyone – including the US.

The US’ withdrawal from the WTO would be an act of immense self-harm. Without WTO membership, US exports would no longer enjoy most-favoured nation tariffs from over 100 trading partners with which the US does not have a free trade agreement (FTAs). The US only has 14 FTAs, and none with the world’s largest traders such as the EU, Japan and China.

If the US were to pull out of the WTO it would create a commotion, but either this or the next US administration would unquestioningly return to the fold via WTO accession negotiations. The Trump administration’s retreat from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) only to reconsider joining it a few months later has set a precedent here.

Fear of the US’ departure has already turned the WTO into a hostage of the Trump Administration, which has for example blocked the filling of vacancies on the WTO’s Appellate Body – one of the “systemic challenges” described by WTO chief Roberto Azevedo. But the other G20 members should not bend to the US’ threat to leave.

Instead, the G20 trade ministers should get the US to agree on two matters. Firstly, that trade disagreements should be solved within the WTO’s rule-based dispute settlement framework, not with unilateral action and harassment. Secondly, a deadline should be established to solve the Appellate Body crisis – say, by 31 December 2018 – and WTO members should take an emergency vote if and when that date is passed.

2) China must walk the talk

While it is debatable whether China is the source of the problem that has triggered aggressive trade measures from Washington, the middle kingdom does need to take more responsibility and should aim to be part of the solution. China’s GDP has grown from $1.3 trillion to $12 trillion since its accession to the WTO, and as such it is among the members who have benefited immensely from the WTO’s predictable trading terms.

The G20 provides an opportunity for China to walk the talk to “make economic globalization more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial to all”, as stated by President Xi Jinping in April.

First of all, trade ministers should urge China to refrain from escalating trade tensions by using further restrictive measures on trade and investment against the US. The uncontrolled consequences of these actions damage firms from third countries involved in global production and distribution chains. The WTO dispute settlement system remains the best platform available for resolving trade conflicts.

China should also respond constructively to issues raised by other G20 members, notably those in the trilateral joint statement made by the US, Japan and the EU in May that referred to state-owned enterprises (SOEs), industrial subsidies and coerced technology transfer. Other concerns centre on non-tariff barriers, transparency and notification obligations.

Finally, China needs to take further liberalisation measures – in particular by joining the WTO’s government procurement agreement, which will open up digitally-enabled trade in services, and by committing to reciprocal treatment for foreign investors.

3) Consolidate an agenda for WTO modernisation

It is time for the G20 to begin serious deliberations around developing a new strategic orientation for a modernised WTO.

Calls for WTO reform have intensified in recent months, but they go back to the late 1990s. At that time many governments, NGOs and academics viewed the agreements made in the Uruguay Round of WTO talks a “bum deal” that was weighted against developing countries’ interests. In that context, the Doha Development Agenda was launched in 2001 to address the problems that the previous round had created for developing countries.

“The WTO is a large complex and elaborate system, but it’s now indeed lagging behind the dramatically changing world,” said Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz, co-founder of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development. With the various “game changers” now buffeting the global economy, such as the rise of emerging economies, the proliferation of the digital economy, the upsurge of global value chains and the universally agreed United Nations’ (UN) 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, it is clear the WTO needs to adapt its rules accordingly.

Not too big, not too small, the G20 is just the right-sized group to consolidate an agenda for WTO modernization.

First, such an agenda should balance the interests of developed and developing countries. For example on subsidies, the former pushes for greater discipline of the manufacturing sector, while the latter believes that a fairer approach to agriculture subsidies in, and better market access to, developed countries should be part of the discussion.

In respect to state intervention in technology transfer, new rules should prohibit governments from forcing foreign technology owners to transfer technology to domestic entities in non-market conditions, but they should also prohibit governments from restricting firms from exporting their technologies in market conditions.

Secondly, modernization should also reflect the needs of present and future generations. For example the WTO should clarify or update its rules on climate-related issues, such as eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, considering more policy spaces to scale up the use of clean energies, and facilitating the transfer of climate-friendly technologies.

Rebuilding Broken Global Trade

Tension, angst and mistrust pervade today’s global trade landscape. The multilateral trading system that has governed the international flow of commerce over the past 70 years is being tested in ways that threaten its relevance and continued existence. Most striking of all, the United States, the traditional guardian of the system, is the one shaking things up. Through raising tariffs, blocking the appointment of new judges on the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) appellate body and asking countries to “manage” trade by buying more and exporting less, the Trump administration has made it clear it’s not business as usual.

Some say that we just need to get through this administration and then things will get back to normal. With a new White House, they contend, the US will get back in the trade game –and that the admittedly imperfect rules-based system as embodied in the WTO will continue to prevail. They are misreading the situation.

The system, created in the aftermath of the Second World War with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) – which was succeeded by the WTO in 1995 – has done wonders in expanding worldwide economic prosperity and opportunity, lifting millions out of poverty and contributing to global stability.

But over time it has faced serious and growing challenges that are now reaching a head. In short, the rules haven’t kept up with important global developments, such as the emergence of new major trading countries, advances in technology and the proliferation of new types of trade barriers.

The last global round of trade negotiations concluded 25 years ago, and, since then the WTO has chalked up few negotiating successes. The bilateral and group deals that have followed have made some important inroads but haven’t successfully dealt with these challenges.

Moreover, a growing number of citizens around the world feel disenfranchised by this system, which they hold largely responsible for growing income inequality and the loss of well-paying jobs. While this sentiment is most acutely felt in parts of the US and Europe, it’s only a matter of time before it takes hold in other countries.

Traditionally, the US has been looked to for leadership in moments like this. The Trump administration, however, couldn’t be clearer that it is not interested in playing that role.

We are now at a juncture where a fresh look at the current trading system is warranted and overdue. Reforms are needed if the rules-based trading system is to remain viable and relevant. The magnitude of such change remains an open question. The Trump team advocates a fundamental overhaul and rebalancing of the system; others prefer adjustments on the margin, leaving the current system largely intact.

Is there a third path that can get the trading system back on track while putting trade wars on the back burner? And if so, what would that path look like?

Here are five suggestions for a third path, all offered in the spirit of capturing the benefits of trade and maintaining a rules-based system while addressing the plethora of concerns expressed on many sides of this debate.

  1. Shape rules for state-led economies. The current US-China trade dispute has highlighted that rather than converging, the economic systems of the two largest economies in the world are growing further apart in many respects. It’s time to accept this reality and develop a co-existence pact. Instead of pushing for the dismantling of China’s state-led economic system, negotiations should focus on ensuring that the enterprises, products and services of state-led economies don’t distort international trade and don’t harm others in the system. This involves establishing more detailed disciplines in such areas as industrial subsidies and other financial assistance, the operation of state-owned enterprises and overcapacity. The EU, Japan and the US made a good start in identifying a way forward on these issues in their May Joint Statement. Their paper should serve as a basis for working with China and other key trading partners to urgently develop new rules in these areas.
  2. Look to the future. Trade negotiators have an uncanny way of focusing on the sectors and industries of yesterday. As e-commerce was taking off in the early 2000s, WTO negotiators were busy working on reducing tariffs on manufactured goods and agricultural subsidies.

Bilateral and regional free-trade agreements have done a better job in keeping up with technological advancements. We are on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with technological advancements moving quickly, bringing disruptions with them, and the trading system finds itself challenged to keep up this breathtaking pace. Now is the time for trade negotiators to shift the focus away from the more traditional sectors and grapple with the rules needed to govern trade for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Emerging technologies, such as additive manufacturing, robotics, new types of vehicles and artificial intelligence will call into question many of the basic tenets of the current rules-based system. These include the traditional distinction between goods and services found in most trade agreements, the rules for determining the origin of a product, and the emergence of competing standards. The WTO should task a group of senior trade experts to offer concrete recommendations on updating and rethinking trade rules so as to make them relevant to and effective for these new technologies. That could serve as a good start for negotiations in this critical area, before national policies are put into place, making international compromise more difficult.

  1. Opt out of the most-favored nation (MFN) obligation. This is the rule that requires the outcomes of a trade negotiation to be applied to all economies regardless of their participation. MFN was agreed to in the post-war period, when countries wanted to promote maximum trade liberalization and prevent the world from retreating into separate trade blocs. The key exception to the MFN obligation are free-trade agreements that cover “substantially all trade.” It is not waived, however, for deals that focus on a single sector or part of one’s economy. While MFN may have made sense in the past, it’s hard to defend today and it actually hinders new market-opening “plurilateral” initiatives. Why agree to open one’s market and be obligated to extend the benefits to even those who keep their market closed? With the ability to opt out of MFN, sector-specific agreements in areas like the automotive industry, medical technology and environmental technologies may be given a shot in the arm, knowing that participants would not be expected to offer the benefits to “free riders”.
  2. Reform the WTO’s dispute settlement system. An immediate challenge facing the WTO is the viability of its dispute settlement system, particularly in light of the US blocking the appointment of new appellate body judges. With caseloads for the appellate body skyrocketing and fewer judges to hear cases, we are approaching a perfect storm. The US’s main concern is that the appellate body has exceeded its mandate of reviewing the decisions of WTO panels by reinterpreting the pact’s actual obligations. But to the frustration of many, the US, while full of criticisms, has not offered alternative proposals to reform the system. It’s time for the US to do so, as well as for others to work constructively to reform these procedures. Without an effective dispute settlement system, countries will be increasingly encouraged to take matters into their own hands.
  3. Convene joint meetings of the WTO and International Labor Organization (ILO). For the rules-based trading system to remain viable, it needs to do a better job of addressing the concerns of those who feel they are on the losing side. Dealing with workforce issues will become increasingly important to countries around the world, regardless of size and economic structure. It will help stave off calls for protectionism. An international conversation could be an important step in identifying promising initiatives for individual governments to consider. Regular meetings between the WTO and ILO would allow member countries to share their experiences on worker training, educating their workforce for the next generation of jobs, and effective social safety net programmes to help those left behind.

With tariff wars front and centre, the world’s attention is now focused on trade. The rules-based system is under attack. Walking away or making a few minor reforms on the margin is a tempting response. However, both responses would be short-sighted. The best course is for countries to work on impactful, relevant and inclusive initiatives that will fix these problems, reflect the realities of today rather the 1940s, and propel the system into the next century.

 

Sunday Special: Precariat-The New Global Class Fuelling the Rise of Populism

We are in the middle of a global transformation, the painful construction of a global market economy. In the initial period dominated by financiers and rent-seekers, a new global class has taken shape: the precariat.

The transformation started in the 1980s, with a vision of open liberalized markets. Less noticeable was the strategy of dismantling institutions of social solidarity; they stood against the market. That weakened labour’s bargaining power.

Crucially, the integration of China and other emerging economies into the world’s labour market added 2 billion workers to the global supply, most of them used to earning one-fiftieth of what OECD workers received. As productivity could rise faster in emerging market economies, there has since been downward pressure on wages in all OECD countries.

This was intensified by labour flexibility policies and the silicon revolution that facilitated the relocation of production and employment to where costs were lowest. All this shaped a global class structure superimposed on old national structures.

A new class system

At the top are a plutocracy and an elite, earning rentier incomes and wielding enormous political power. Way below them, in income terms, is a salariat, a shrinking group with employment security and an extensive array of non-wage enterprise benefits such as pensions, paid holidays and medical leave. Alongside them in income terms is a growing group of proficians, not seeking employment security but frenetically making money, endangered by burn out.

Next comes the old core of the working class, the proletariat, for whom the unions worked and for whom welfare states were built. The norm was stable full-time labour, with entitlements tied to performance of labour. Shrinking everywhere, there is no reason to wish to revive a society in which this way of living is the norm.

Below it in income terms, the precariat is growing. It is not an under-class; global capitalism wants a workforce with its core characteristics. It can be defined in three dimensions. First, it has distinctive relations of production. Commentators have emphasized the first aspect, some claiming that the precariat is not a new class because there has always been unstable labour. But while it is true that the precariat is being pressured to accept unstable labour, this is the least interesting feature.

Out of control of time

Of course, there is more involuntary part-time labour, short-term contracts, zero-hours contracts, internships and the concierge economy associated with Uber, Deliveroo and sundry other platforms, including crowd labour. But more significantly, the precariat has no occupational identity or narrative to give to their lives. This creates existential insecurity, and goes with the fact that for the first time in history many people have education above the level of labour they can expect to obtain.

Another unique feature is that the precariat must do much work-for-labour that is neither recognized nor remunerated. So, the precariat is exploited off workplaces and outside labour time as well as on workplaces and in labour time. Since my book The Precariat was first published, I have received numerous emails from around the world from people in this group of people, and this is mentioned more than anything else. It leads to what I call the “precariatized” mind, a feeling of being out of control of time.

The precariat’s second dimension is distinctive relations of distribution, its structure of social income. It relies largely on money wages, without non-wage benefits, rights-based state benefits or informal community benefits. But its real wages have been falling, in a context in which average real wages have stagnated for the past three decades in the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and other OECD countries. And wages are increasingly volatile, with declining prospects of upward mobility and increasing risks of downward.

In addition, the precariat lives in debt, which is a systemic form of rental extraction. With volatile uncertain earnings, they are constantly on the edge of unsustainable debt. This means, among other things, that net income is well below gross income. Conventional income statistics understate inequality.

Then, the precariat faces deepening poverty traps, as governments have moved to means-testing, conditional social assistance and workfare. If you are in the precariat and become unemployed, and manage to obtain benefits, you face a marginal tax rate of over 80% in taking the sort of low-wage job you are likely to be offered. It may be over 100%. Then you are called rude names if you decline to take such jobs. No member of the salariat would get out of bed if faced by such tax rates, except perhaps to take to the streets to protest. But that is what politicians have forced on the precariat.

The precariat also face precarity traps. For instance, there are often long delays between someone becoming eligible to receive benefits and starting to receive them. It would be folly for someone who has just managed to do so to take a short-term job. Not only would they face that high marginal tax rate but they would also face the prospect of having to apply and wait all over again. Calculated over a few months, they would be worse off taking such jobs. How unfair. Another precarity trap arises from the fact that often someone can lower their long-term earnings by taking a job below their competence or outside their profession. Yet that is what governments are forcing the unemployed to do.

In sum, the precariat lives in economic uncertainty, usually in chronic unsustainable debt, in which one shock, mistaken decision or illness could tip them over the edge into the under-class, cut adrift from society and probably condemned to social illness or an early death.

Walking on moving sand

The third dimension is having distinctive relations to the state. The precariat is the first class in history to be losing acquired rights – cultural, civil, social, economic and political. This is documented in A Precariat Charter. It leads to the most crucial feature. Those in it are reduced to being supplicants. The Latin root of precariousness is “to obtain by prayer”. The precariat must ask for favours, for charity, to show obsequiousness, to plead with figures of authority. It is degrading and stigmatizing.

So much for defining features. Yet everywhere the precariat is split into three factions, each suffering from feelings of relative deprivation, with respect to others and to time.

  1. The first faction consists of those who have fallen from old working-class communities or families. They feel they do not have what their parents or peers had. They may be called atavists, since they look backwards, feeling deprived of a real or imagined past. Not having much education, they listen to populist sirens who play on their fears and blame “the other” – migrants, refugees, foreigners, or some other group easily demonized. The atavists supported Brexit and have flocked to the far right everywhere. They will continue to go that way until a new progressive politics reaches out to them.
  2. The second group are nostalgics. These consist of migrants and beleaguered minorities, who feel deprived of a present time, a home, a belonging. Recognizing their supplicant status, mostly they keep their heads down politically. But occasionally the pressures become too great and they explode in days of rage. It would be churlish to blame them.
  3. The third faction is what I call progressives, since they feel deprived of a lost future. It consists of people who go to college, promised by their parents, teachers and politicians that this will grant them a career. They soon realize they were sold a lottery ticket and come out without a future and with plenty of debt. This faction is dangerous in a more positive way. They are unlikely to support populists. But they also reject old conservative or social democratic political parties. Intuitively, they are looking for a new politics of paradise, which they do not see in the old political spectrum or in such bodies as trade unions.

For a while, the progressives opted out of mainstream politics, reflected in declining voter turnouts and so on. However, this has been changing since 2011, albeit not by enough to stop the UK voting to leave the European Union and the US from electing Donald Trump. They have begun to define the future again, drawing energy from the need to revive the great trinity of the Enlightenment – liberté, egalité and fraternité.

It is messy out there, but there is a lot of energy. It is time for politicians and the international community to respond, or to step aside and let others do so.

The Romance of ‘Untranslatable’ Words

When the word “hygge” became popular outside Denmark a few years ago, it seemed the perfect way to express the feeling of wrapping yourself up in a crocheted blanket with a cosy jumper, a cup of tea and back-to-back episodes of The Bridge. But is it really only the Danes, with their cold Scandinavian evenings, who could have come up with a word for such a specific concept? And is it only the Swedes who could have needed the verb “fika” to describe chatting over a coffee?
The internet abounds with words that lack a single-word English equivalent. In order to be really lacking an English equivalent, it must be a single, indivisible unit of meaning, as phrases are infinitely productive and can be created on demand by combining different words. Take, for example, the claim by Adam Jacot de Boinod in I Never Knew There Was A Word For It, that Malay has a word for the gap between the teeth that English lacks: “gigi rongak”. Well, this appears to be a phrase, and it translates literally as the perfectly cromulent English phrase “tooth gap”.
In fact, English even has a single-word technical term for a gap between the teeth: “diastema”. Okay, that’s actually a Greek word, but it’s in use in English, so it’s also an English word. Does that matter?
Where we get our words from tells us something about our history. Take, for instance, Quechua – the language spoken by people indigenous to the Andes and the South American highlands. The Quechuan word for “book” is “liwru”, which comes from the Spanish word “libro”, because Spanish colonisers introduced written forms of language to the people they conquered. In fact, English does now have a word for “hygge” – it’s “hygge”.
Cultures in language
It is often said that Eskimos have 50 words for snow, but it’s a myth that has been comprehensively dismantled, probably first of all by Laura Martin in 1986. “Eskimo” is a somewhat meaningless term anyway, but the structure of the languages spoken by peoples such as the Inuit or Aleut in the Arctic Circle are very synthetic, meaning that each “word” may comprise many parts or “morphemes”.
Entire phrases can be contained within words in these languages – a single “word” may literally mean “fallen snow”. For that reason, “having 50 words for snow” in these languages is about as remarkable as having 50 sentences to talk about snow in English.
And yet the myth and others like it snowball, because we are fascinated by the idea that language reveals something about our psyche –- or perhaps even determines it. The economist Keith Chen has devoted some considerable effort to demonstrating that speakers of languages that grammatically encode the future and the present separately behave more recklessly with respect to their health and money. He argues that it shows that overt future tense marking makes a speaker more aware of the future as a separate time from the present and thus more distant, which has a corresponding effect on behaviour.
Many linguists have some reservations about his conclusions, but the main claim hit the news and people were intrigued by the idea.
False cultural judgements
While careful experimentation has shown that having words for concepts makes them easier or faster to name, it is not true that lacking a concept means you cannot conceive of it, and vice versa. For instance, many languages have gender-neutral pronouns (the same word is used for he and she) but are spoken in cultures with very poor levels of gender equality.
This might seem obvious – it’s Orwell’s Newspeak (from 1984) in action. In Orwell’s dystopia, the word “free” was stripped of all meaning of individual freedoms and could be used only in the sense of a dog being free from lice, which in turn was supposed to remove the ability of the citizens of Oceania to conceive of such freedom. But it is not just science fiction. There is an important note of caution that linguists are always aware of: making claims about other cultures risks “exoticising” them.
At worst, this results in racism. The Hopi people of Arizona, who are sometimes claimed to have no way to express time based on a misunderstanding of Benjamin Lee Whorf’s work on their language, were assumed by some to be incapable of following bus timetables or arriving at work on schedule, a mistaken belief that led to obvious problems.
But even an apparently benign conclusion about how some Australian languages encode space with compass directions (“north”) rather than ego-relative position (“my left-hand side”) suggests English speakers often miss out on knowledge about language and cognition because they are busy measuring things against an arbitrary English-centric benchmark. Different language conventions are usually not exotic or unusual; it’s just that English speakers come from a position of very great privilege because their language is the default. People who speak other languages are seen as different, as outsiders.
I’m not a total killjoy. I still delight in “untranslatable” words. It’s something special to learn a word and along with it make concrete a nebulous but recognisable concept like hygge, or indeed its wonderfully chilling opposite, uhygge. I just suggest a position of healthy scepticism when you meet claims that a language has “no word for X” or “50 words for Y”, or, as the internet recently got excited about, that “tag” stands for “touch and go”

Media’s Sins of Omission

Imagine a political party with a billion members. Its leader is credibly accused of covering up the activities of a network of sexual predators holding high office in the party. He refuses to say anything.

The organisation could fall apart. This crisis will disturb the lives of the hundreds of millions of people who take their party membership seriously. Yet the international media are in no hurry to cover the story. And, when they do report it, they try to discredit the party members pointing their fingers at the leader.

I’m sure you’ve guessed the identity of this ‘political party’: the Catholic Church. The mainstream media, especially in the English-speaking world, have stifled and twisted the allegation that Pope Francis rehabilitated Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington DC, knowing that he was a serial sex predator. Worse still, Francis brought this dirty old man into his inner circle and appointed his protégés to top jobs in America and the Vatican.

The allegations come from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who served as Francis’s own nuncio (that is, ambassador) to the United States from 2011 to 2016. They’re incredibly detailed. The most startling revelation is that Francis lifted sanctions placed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI, who – knowing that the American prelate was suspected of seducing young seminarians – tried to force him into silent retirement. Viganò thinks Francis’s actions are so disgraceful that he wants him to resign as Pope, and all McCarrick’s friends in the US hierarchy to follow suit.

The media immediately set about trying to find holes in Viganò’s 11-page testimony. Fair enough. If Viganò – a conservative who couldn’t stand Francis – was telling lies, then they should be exposed.

The biggest hole they could find involved Benedict’s sanctions against McCarrick. They barely existed. The Pope Emeritus can’t remember exactly what they were, and there’s lots of evidence that McCarrick ignored them, swanning around and basking in liberal flattery as if nothing had happened. On the other hand, it was confirmed that Benedict did remove him from the seminary where he was living in retirement. Also, Benedict had earlier ended McCarrick’s official career by retiring him as Archbishop of Washington at the first opportunity.

In short, Viganò’s testimony remains as credible as it was when he dropped his bombshell on August 25. More credible, in fact. Last weekend, his claim that Rome knew of McCarrick’s abuses as early as 2000 was backed up by the release of a 2006 letter from a top Vatican official confirming as much.

Fore more than two weeks, therefore, evidence that Pope Francis welcomed a privately disgraced predator into his inner circle has sat on the desks of every news editor in the free world. And what have they done with it?

The answer is almost nothing – or worse than nothing. Judging by most of their coverage, the real story is that Viganò is a “conservative” who conspired with “right-wing” opponents of Francis’s “reforms” to bring him down.

A headline in the New York Times captures the tone of these stories: “Vatican Power Struggle Bursts Into Open as Conservatives Pounce”. The report, by Jason Horowitz, says:

“Since the start of his papacy, Francis has infuriated Catholic traditionalists as he tries to nurture a more welcoming church and shift it away from culture war issues, whether abortion or homosexuality. ‘Who am I to judge?’ the pope famously said, when asked about gay priests.

Just how angry [Francis’s] political and doctrinal enemies are became clear this weekend, when a caustic letter published by the Vatican’s former top diplomat in the United States blamed a ‘homosexual current’ in the Vatican hierarchy for sexual abuse. It called for Francis’s resignation, accusing him of covering up for a disgraced cardinal, Theodore McCarrick.

With the letter – released in the middle of the Pope’s visit to Ireland — an ideologically motivated opposition has weaponised the church’s sex abuse crisis to threaten not only Francis’ agenda but his entire papacy.”

Look at the way the paragraphs are organised. First, the ludicrous claim that Francis is trying to move the Church away from the culture wars. In fact, he’s plunged it further into those wars – but he’s on the same side as the New York Times on these issues, so that’s OK.

Then, we’re told about the “caustic” tone of Viganò’s testimony, and its undoubted preoccupation with homosexuality, before a glancing reference to the most serious allegation made against a pope for decades, if not centuries. It’s true that this piece isn’t breaking the news of Viganò’s accusations – but at no point does Horowitz remind readers precisely what Francis is supposed to have done.

A contact of mine, a specialist commentator who writes for a Catholic news outlet, was rung by a reporter from the Washington Post. “There were a couple of questions about the scandal [of which he’d revealed important details],” he told me, “but then it became clear that the reporter was only interested in the supposedly ‘conservative’ allegiance of my employers.”

Conservative, conservative, conservative. The adjective crops up in references to Viganò as a sort of health warning, just as the BBC attaches the label ‘eurosceptic’ or ‘conservative’ to interviewees whose views it dislikes. Liberals escape such health warnings, because the Beeb thinks they’re the good guys.

Anyone who doubts that the BBC still buys into the cult of Francis should read a report by Jason Reynolds in Rome, dated August 30. It’s headed “Pope Francis faces twin battle in Church split over sexual abuse”. This “twin battle” is first with sex abuser survivors who accuse him of not doing enough to protect him, and secondly with conservatives – hiss! – out to get him.

Under the sub-heading,“A trap to catch the Pope”, we hear from “Vatican-watcher” Robert Mickens, whose ferociously partisan attacks on conservative Catholics naturally go unmentioned. Says Mickens: “Viganò is kind of a strange character in this case because it’s really a whole group of people. What is the motive behind this? To bring down Pope Francis in any way possible. They’re trying to catch him in a trap. And Francis is not falling for it.”

This is preposterous. Viganò is not a “strange character”. Yes, he associates with fellow conservatives, some of whom (by no means all) would like Francis to resign. But they won’t employ “any means possible” to force a resignation. They don’t need to. Pope set the trap himself and then walked into it. If he had been told about McCarrick’s crimes, it was madness to brush them aside and turn this monster into one of his consiglieri.

Why did he rehabilitate McCarrick? We can’t answer that question without examining Francis’s long record of moral indifference to allies accused of criminal wrongdoing.  The Belgian Cardinal Danneels, who was caught pressuring an abuse victim into shutting up about being abused by his uncle, a bishop, was later invited to a synod on the family by Francis.

There are plenty of other examples, but you won’t read much about them in the British press. All I’ve seen are short news stories from Rome that could have been dictated by the Vatican press office.

Fleet Street long ago dispensed with specialist religion correspondents. In their absence, editors turn to ‘progressive’ Catholics who babble like Hillary Clinton about a vast right-wing conspiracy against cuddly Francis.

It remains to be seen how journalists will deal with further revelations about Francis that we can expect over the next few weeks. These may finally compel them to address the actual story rather than trying to shoot the messenger.

But by then it will be too late: the media will have become part of the cover-up.

 

Women Need 3 Things to Success in Their Career

 More than two centuries. That’s how long it will take to achieve gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report. There is a widespread agreement we can’t wait that long.

Organizations have talked about gender balance for a very long time, yet progress is slow. As a result, many professional women are skeptical of talk of change. At the same time, the #MeToo movement has put the spotlight on some of the very real challenges women face in the workplace and beyond.

So what needs to change? And what can leaders do to support gender equality and foster a workplace where women can thrive?

Over 3,600 women around the world from employers representing 27 different industry sectors shared their views on their career experiences and aspirations. We focused on women aged 28-40, because it’s at this stage that we start to see female representation gaps widen and the challenges of combining personal and career priorities increase.

The survey revealed some positive findings.

Women are more confident and ambitious than ever: 82% are confident in their ability to fulfil their career aspirations and 77% in their ability to lead, while 73% are actively seeking career advancement opportunities. Women are proactively pursuing their career goals by negotiating for raises and promotions, and seeking out the experiences seen as critical to advancing their careers. And our survey showed it’s working – the women who negotiate are getting what they ask for.

But the survey also highlights that we still have a long way to go.

We’ve identified three strategies that are essential to creating a more inclusive working environment where women – and men – can succeed. But these cannot be addressed in isolation. Leaders need to work on all three strategies simultaneously as part of their broader efforts to create real change:

  1. Transparency and trust matter. A lot

Many of the women we surveyed said they don’t trust what their employer is telling them about career development and promotion, or what helps or hurts their career. To improve career development opportunities, they identified greater transparency (58%) as the critical step employers can take.

This means offering employees a clear understanding of the expectations on both sides of the employment equation, including information about career progression, and open conversations as to where they stand and what is expected of them to advance their career so they can make their own case successfully and trust the feedback they get.

Greater transparency won’t only benefit women – it will foster a more inclusive environment which gives men and women greater opportunities to fulfil their potential.

  1. Support networks go a long way

Women won’t succeed without formal and informal support networks. They need the proactive networks of leaders and peers who will develop, promote and champion them as they pursue their career aspirations, both at home and in the workplace.

Women need dedicated sponsors and role models of both genders. Lack of support from male colleagues will stall progress. Providing this level of support may seem complex, but it can be done. Men have had it for years.

  1. Tackling the motherhood and flexibility challenge

Women universally across the globe said working in a job they enjoy (97%) and having flexibility to balance the demands of their career and personal/family life (95%) was important to them. But many also feel nervous about the impact starting a family might have on their career (42%).

And many new mothers felt overlooked for promotions and special projects upon their return to work (48%). This was particularly true for new mothers from ethnic or racial minority groups (63%) and new mothers in Asia (68%).

Employers must pay special attention to these groups and proactively address their concerns, or they and their female employees risk facing a lose-lose situation: highly skilled talent will leave and women, meanwhile, will not fulfil their full potential. There is a clear concern over what women see as a motherhood and flexibility penalty.

Women need employers to rethink their approach to balancing work, life, parenthood and family care, to prevent bias, and to provide organisational solutions that work. Employers must recognize that everyone is making flexibility demands – it’s not a life-stage or gender-only issue – and help and encourage their people to take advantage of the programmes in place. A culture shift that recognizes performance over presence and overcomes outdated assumptions that women want to step back or opt out of their career when they become mothers is fundamental.

These three strategies won’t serve to only benefit women. They’ll make workplace cultures and talent systems more inclusive for everyone.

One thing is certain: there is a lot to be gained from creating a more equal working world. Gender equality in the workforce brings opportunity and prosperity for all. Enabling all genders to contribute equally in business and their personal lives makes for a more prosperous and functioning society.

Saturday Special: Good Bye Britannia and America, China Rules the Waves

As British and American maritime dominance ebbs, a new power rolls in. Money makes the world go round. And that money often flows through maritime passageways. These passages seem remote and uninteresting. Yet they affect our lives in very direct ways. Ninety percent of the world’s trade travels by sea. In the United Kingdom, 95 percent of the products we use come from overseas, according to the Maritime Foundation. Electronic devices, clothing, raw materials and so many other things come to us via ships.

Shipping provides not only products but the literal lifelines of modern nations. Most of the UK’s food comes from overseas. Oceangoing tankers carry 60 percent of the world’s oil.

Most maritime trade travels through narrow waterways that are referred to as sea-gates. Our everyday lives depend on a constant flow of materials and goods from overseas. And this flow depends on free passage through sea-gates.

About one third of all oceangoing trade sails through the South China Sea, within range of weapons China has stationed on its newly fortified islands. Thirty-five percent of all oceangoing oil exports sail through the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway controlled by Iran. A quarter of all oceangoing oil sails through the Strait of Malacca, just northeast of Singapore. Around 10 percent of that oil goes around the southern tip of Africa. About 15 percent of the world’s maritime trade travels through the Red Sea. Five percent of it goes through the Panama Canal.

Our everyday lives depend on a constant flow of materials and goods from overseas. And this flow depends on free passage through sea-gates. Close these gates using warships, warplanes, mines, shipwrecks or other means, and the oil market will panic, global economic chaos will result, and the UK will quickly begin to starve.

“Disruptions to global supply chains are, in fact, more devastating than a traditional military attack,” wrote Elisabeth Braw in Foreign Policy. She warned that even a cyberattack on a port or shipping facility could be deadly. “An adversary could bring a country to its knees without dispatching a single soldier,” she wrote (August 7).

Which is why sea-gates and empire—or even sea-gates and world domination—often go hand in hand. A new power is quickly moving to take control of sea-gates. The history of these gates shows the importance of its moves.

The Gates of Empires

The first truly global empire was the Portuguese Empire. And it was an empire of sea-gates. Vasco da Gama returned in 1499 from his discovery of a sea route to India. Just six years later, Portugal was thinking about sea-gates. In 1505, one Portuguese explorer wrote that there was “nothing more important for the country than to have a castle at the mouth of the Red Sea, or very near to it.”

Which is exactly what the Portuguese did. In 1507, they captured an island near the Bab el-Mandeb and built a fort.

The key sea-gates of the East fell with dizzying speed. Portugal established a base in India in 1510. It captured the Strait of Malacca in 1511, Hormuz in 1515, and built a fort in Sri Lanka in 1518. It failed to control the Red Sea and was quickly kicked out of its Bab el-Mandeb base. Nonetheless, its dominance of sea-gates made it one of the world’s most powerful empires. By 1571, Portugal controlled 40 forts or trading posts.

But competition was not far behind. Today, there is a new power on the block. This power is steadily moving in on ports and sea-gates around the world, especially in East Asia. The chinese own the second- largest merchant fleet in the world by weight.

The Dutch Empire began as an economic enterprise: the Dutch East India Company. It aimed to make a profit trading with the East Indies, though it was authorized to set up “fortresses and strongholds” and employ military personnel.

The merchants certainly needed strongholds. The Dutch had been at war with Spain for most of the second half of the 16th century. In 1580, Spain absorbed Portugal—meaning the Dutch were now also at war with Portugal. Portuguese forts and trading posts became a prime target for the Dutch.

The Dutch East India Company captured Jakarta in 1619. It established a colony in Taiwan in 1624. The Strait of Malacca fell in 1641, and the Portuguese were driven out of Sri Lanka by 1658.

England had its own East India Company. The company initially set up trading posts rather than forts. By 1647, it had 23 of them. But trading posts need protection, and England was at war—with Spain at first and later with the Dutch and French. The major trading posts became forts: The first was completed in 1644.

England also fought back against rivals over sea-gates. In 1622, the English and Persians attacked Hormuz, opening the strait and allowing England to trade with Persia.

England ended up pushing the Dutch out of India while the Dutch held on to Indonesia. England captured Colombo in Sri Lanka in 1796. The Dutch handed Malacca over to Britain in 1824.

At the same time, Britain was capturing other gates. It took Gibraltar in 1704. It occupied Egypt in 1882, gaining control of both ends of the Mediterranean.

“At the peak of its imperial power around 1900, Great Britain ruled the waves with a fleet of 300 capital ships and 30 naval bastions—fortified bases that ringed the world island from the North Atlantic at Scapa Flow off Scotland through the Mediterranean at Malta and Suez to Bombay, Singapore and Hong Kong,” writes Alfred W. McCoy in his book In the Shadows of the American Century. “Just as the Roman Empire had once enclosed the Mediterranean, making it mare nostrum (‘our sea’), so British power would make the Indian Ocean its own ‘closed sea,’ securing its flanks with army forts along India’s northwest frontier and barring both Persians and Ottomans from building naval bases on the Persian Gulf.”

But others wanted a piece of the action. Germany especially wanted colonies; it especially wanted overseas bases near key sea passages.

The Germans were far behind in setting up naval bases, and they were reluctant to openly challenge the established powers until they were ready. They particularly desired a base in East Asia. In 1897, two German Catholic priests were killed in China. The local German naval commander sent a telegram home: “May incidents be exploited in pursuit of further goals?” he asked. Kaiser Wilhelm ii’s answer was, Yes, they could. Germany attacked Jiaozhu Bay, announcing a temporary occupation. The next year, a treaty with China extended that to a 99-year lease.

Germany also wanted a naval base in Latin America. Germany had strong commercial links with Latin America, which it wanted to protect. German cabinet papers show that the Kaiser and others hoped to one day attack the United States, and they needed a base to launch it from.

Venezuela owed Germany (and Britain) a lot of money, and in 1902 it refused to pay it back. Normally, America would refuse to allow an attack on a Latin American state by a European power. But United States President Theodore Roosevelt declared, “If any South American country misbehaves toward any European country, let the European country spank it!”

However, Germany told Britain that as part of this spanking, it was considering “the temporary occupation on our part of different Venezuelan harbor places.” Roosevelt feared that this “temporary occupation” could turn into another 99-year lease, so he put a stop to the German attack.

This German plan to take a sea-gate failed. But the strategy is instructive. It shows how a nation that wants more of these sea-gates may try to acquire them without angering an established power.

Meanwhile, the United States controlled the Gulf of Mexico, built the Panama Canal, and sent its Navy and other military forces around the world, starting with Cuba and the Philippines. Cuba cemented America’s control over the Caribbean, and the Philippines extended its control across the Pacific. World War II spurred America to station forces in hundreds of overseas bases, often near key choke points. The rise of the American empire coincided with its domination of global sea-gates. Today, there is a new power on the block. This power is steadily moving in on ports and sea-gates around the world, especially in East Asia.

This power is China. Will it be the next global empire?

The Rise of China

Take Sri Lanka, an island whose harbors passed from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the English. Since 2005, China has invested $15 billion into Sri Lankan infrastructure. And it has received a good return on that investment. Sri Lanka borrowed $1 billion to improve the key Port of Hambantota. It is the headquarters of the Sri Lankan Navy and, after the investment, a modern port.

But like Venezuela, Sri Lanka couldn’t repay the loan. In December 2017, China took control of the port. Now China runs it—on a 99-year lease. That port then gives them not only a strategic access point into India’s sphere of influence through which China can deploy its naval forces, but it also gives China an advantageous position to export its goods into India’s economic sphere, so it’s achieved a number of strategic aims in that regard. This is part of a determined strategy by China to extend its influence across the Indian Ocean at the expense of India, and it’s using Sri Lanka to achieve its ambition .

Now experts think that Djibouti could be next. The country sits on the Bab el-Mandeb—the same vital sea-gate that the Portuguese and Ottomans fought over 500 years ago. Djibouti has debts equal to about 90 percent of its economy. Much of that debt is owed to China. Which is why Foreign Policy asked, “Will Djibouti Become Latest Country to Fall Into China’s Debt Trap?”

As Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to push lending to developing countries, policy analysts are sounding alarm bells about the fate of smaller nations biting off more than they can chew—and the strategic possibilities opening to China as a result.

As hundreds of years of history have shown, where traders travel, the military always follows to protect these key national interests.

Djibouti is the site of China’s first overseas military base. It is also home to Camp Lemonnier, America’s only permanent base in Africa.  One concern is that the Djiboutian government, facing mounting debt and increasing dependence on extracting rents, would be pressured to hand over control of Camp Lemonnier to China.

The port of Gwadar in Pakistan is all but a Chinese military base. Since 2011, China has poured in almost $250 million to transform a fishing village into a key deep-water port. It is pouring in another $46 billion to create a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The vast majority of China’s current projects are nonmilitary. China is expressly forbidden from militarizing the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, for example. However, Gwadar shows how quickly it can change. With the port built up, Pakistan opened a naval base there. China kindly donated two warships. And Pakistan quickly noted that China was welcome to base its own military ships there too. Then, in January this year China made it official, announcing that it would build its second overseas military base in Gwadar.

With many of these countries still getting deeper and deeper into debt to China, it’s easy to see how they too could be forced to allow in the Chinese military. And as hundreds of years of history have shown, where traders travel, the military always follows to protect these key national interests.

One of China’s most important sea-gates is the Strait of Malacca. About 80 percent of China’s energy imports come through this 2-mile-wide waterway. In 2016, China announced plans to develop a major deep-sea port in the strait that could compete with Singapore.

The Maldives includes a strategic sea base that passed from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the British. And now the Chinese could be next. China has “expressed interest in building a port in the Maldives,” according to the South China Morning Post (March 22). The Maldives has allowed Chinese ships to dock. And it owes almost three quarters of its foreign debt to China.

At the far end of the ocean is another sea-gate that could be falling into Chinese hands: Vanuatu. China has helped to build the nation’s parliament building and the prime minister’s offices. It is working on new official residences for the president, the Finance Ministry building and extensions to the Foreign Ministry building. It has given Vanuatu loans of over $100 million to build a wharf.

No wonder the Australian press sounded the alarm bells in April over reports of “preliminary discussions” between China and Vanuatu about building a permanent military presence in the South Pacific in a globally significant move that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep. China and Vanuatu both strenuously denied the reports. But it’s a well-founded fear, given how much of Vanuatu is already in China’s pocket and what China has done in similar situations elsewhere.

But China’s reach isn’t confined to the west Pacific and Indian Ocean.

America’s Backyard

The Panama Canal is America’s most important sea-gate. Not only do huge amounts of U.S. commerce travel through it, but it allows the U.S. Navy to pivot its fleets quickly from the Pacific to the Atlantic and back.

China has full control of the ports at both ends of the canal. The Chinese company Landbridge has bought Panama’s largest port. In October 2017, China Habor Engineering Company began work on a cruise ship port. The rate at which China is acquiring and establishing these commercial bases in Latin America, they can easily turn a nonmilitary base into a usable, military one.

China is also investing in Brazil’s ports. The Superporto do Açu  is one of the most visible symbols of China’s rapidly accelerating drive into Latin America. China also owns a 51 percent stake in a new port being built in São Luis in northeastern Brazil.

China has employed a similar strategy in Europe, where it has used the European debt crisis to go on a massive shopping spree. Piraeus is Greece’s largest port. A deep harbor close to the Suez Canal, it is a key stopping point for international shipping. China’s COSCO holds a 70 percent stake in the port. It also has a controlling stake in Spain’s container terminal operator Noatum Port Holdings. In addition, China operates the port of Venice, which it aims to transform into a hub of international trade. COSCO also has complete control of Zeebrugge in Belgium, the world’s largest car-handling port.

A Chinese Lake

And none of this takes into account the massive Chinese presence in the South China Sea. With a series of artificial islands and long-range missiles, the Pentagon has warned that China is turning the area into a “Chinese lake.”

China completed its first domestically manufactured aircraft carrier this year, and it has a bigger one in the works. It has been churning out around a dozen large naval ships a year. It aims to produce three of its impressive new destroyers each year.

In just five years, China “will complete its transition” into a modern navy capable of “sustained blue water operations” and “multiple missions around the world,” according to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence.

By 2030, China’s navy is estimated to be almost double the size of the U.S. active Navy. Those ships may not be of the same quality, but China is catching up quickly there as well.

U.S. Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden has warned of “a new age of sea power.” “From Europe to Asia, history is replete with nations that rose to global power only to cede it back through lack of sea power,” he warns.

A Serious Threat

China, then, is on the path toward riches and global dominance. It is a path many others have taken before; most recently, by the United States.

Britain has already given up nearly all of its gates. The U.S. has given up the Panama Canal, and it is watching its grip slipping around the world as other nations win control of these gates.

Considering that China now possesses most of the world’s strategic sea-gates (at one time held by Britain and America), the German-led EU will need to form a brief alliance with the Asian powers. That is a sobering forecast, once you realize how vital these gates are