Indian engineers in the technology battle between China and the US

Strict US immigration policies are likely to change for the H-1B skilled temporary guest worker programme widely used by Indian professionals, with US President Donald Trump saying that he wants to encourage talented and skilled people to pursue career options in the US. The comments come as the US and China are confronting each other over who will lead the world into the avant-garde technologies of the 21st century.

Major American venture investors including Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital point out that China already has four Silicon Valley equivalents while the US is still relying on one. Chinese companies are world leaders in e-payments, web retailing, solar panels and mobile phones. By 2025, Chinese government wants the country to be a global leader in Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. In one generation, many segments of China’s technology industry have achieved what took a century for American industry, Moritz says.

China is pursuing the goal of being the dominant global force in these areas. It already has global communication technology giants like Huawei, ZTE and China Mobile. Huawei has just 40% of its production targeted at the domestic market, while it sells over 60% worldwide.

China is also making considerable progress in 3D printing technology as well as electrical and autonomous vehicles. The Telegraph of UK has reported that a Chinese startup, Pix, is making self-driving cars using 3D printing. This enables the production of lighter vehicle parts which will increase mileage, lower vehicle costs and simplify maintenance. Success in making such cars, which will include wafer thin circuit boards, making cars both safe and viable, could transform Pix to a world pioneer.

India has not had much success in these emerging technologies which evolved during the last couple of decades. Rather, its IT businesses have been adversely impacted by recent changes in technology. Spread of smart phones, tablets and easy to download mobile applications have empowered the American and European customer. As a result, the need to get help from an IT engineer/technician has been reduced, hurting demand for services provided by Indian companies.

The move of IT infrastructure support and back-end operations to cloud-based platforms has led Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Oracle to dominate cloud markets globally. And, Indian IT companies have not made major investments to compete with the American cloud-based services, let alone diversify into new and emerging technologies.

Meanwhile, both Chinese and American companies are aggressively competing against each other in India. Both see India as the major part of their global expansion plans. They are using capital, technology and politics to expand the market, argues Ignatius Chithelen in his recent book ‘Passage from India to America’. While Amazon, Google and other major American companies are operating on their own in India, the Chinese have invested over $3 billion in partnership with Indian companies.

Indian engineers will likely play a major role in the technology battle between China and the US. Up until Trump’s election as president, India’s top engineers found it easy to get work visas in America. They accounted for over a quarter of the engineering workforce at Microsoft, Google and other major American technology companies – enabling them to grow into dominant global giants, Ignatius Chithelen points out.

America continues to need hundreds of thousands of top quality engineers, science and math graduates to maintain its lead in several existing technologies as well as to create new ones. Their presence could provide the cutting edge in the technology battle. But the Trump administration effectively struck a self-goal by erecting restrictive immigration policies, which has sharply cut America’s intake of India’s top talent. This is part of the reason that one-third of 9,100 graduates who passed out of IITs in 2017 had no job offers.

Since 2017, to bypass the visa restrictions in America, Microsoft, Google, IBM and Uber, along with smaller, nimble and fast growing companies are expanding their footprint across Canada. Located in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and other cities, they are attracting the best talent that the world has to offer, especially India’s top engineers, math and science graduates. Canadian government is actively aiding the process by making it easy for Indians to migrate to Canada and work on permanent resident visas.

It also appears that, like the Americans, the major Chinese companies are eager to hire India’s top engineers and mathematicians. So the future still looks bright for India’s top technologists.

9 Artificial Islands off Copenhagen to be Danish Silicon Valley

The Danish government wants to embark on a huge land-reclamation project that will see the creation of nine new islands, 10km south of Copenhagen.

Islands are nothing new to the Danes, of course – their country contains 391 of them. But this is one of Europe’s smallest countries with an area of just 43,000km2. Consequently, finding new land to develop calls for creative solutions, such as the Holmene project, which aims to enable sustainable growth within the confines of a geographically restricted area.

The word “holmene” translates into English as islets (small islands) – nine of which will be reclaimed from the sea off the Greater Copenhagen coast, and built up so they’re 5.5m above sea level. 

The project will see the creation of 3.1 million square meters of new land, 700,000m2 of which will be reserved as nature areas, and 17km of new coastline. Denmark already has around 7,300km of coastline. That’s almost 1.5m of coast per head of the population. 

One of the islands will be home to Northern Europe’s largest waste-to-energy conversion plant. Bio-waste and waste water from the 1.5 million or so residents of the Greater Copenhagen region will be turned into clean water and biogas.

There will also be other green technologies, including windmills, which will contribute to ensuring an annual reduction of at least 70,000 tons of CO2 through the production of 322,000 MWh of fossil-free energy. That’s an amount equivalent to the power consumption of 25% of the population of Copenhagen city, maintaining the country’s commitment to green energy and environmental concerns. In addition, 18km of cycleways will be constructed.

Building for the future: step by step

The key driver for creating the new landmass is to provide space for commercial development and growth. There will be space for as many as 380 businesses, which will contribute more than $8 billion in economic activity to Denmark’s GDP. 

The head of Denmark’s employers’ association, Brian Mikkelsen, told TV2 news that the islands could spur the emergence of a ‘European Silicon Valley,’ according to Deutsche Welle.

But in addition to being a base for business, the islands will play an important role in the area’s recreation and natural utility. Each island will be surrounded by a green belt, which the project’s architects, Urban Power, say will mean “attractive transitions between land and water”.

The ambitious project is not the first time Denmark has created new land from old. When the iconic Øresund Bridge was built to connect Denmark to neighbouring Sweden, the island of Peberholm was created from spoil dredged up in the construction process. The bridge is almost 8km long, but runs for another 4km underground – the final stretch is a tunnel that starts in Peberholm.

The Holmene project has the backing of the government, but still requires formal approval from the Danish parliament, or Folketing. Construction has therefore yet to start, but is expected to get underway in 2022, with a completion target of 2040. 

The idea to create a group of nine smaller islands, rather than one single landmass, was developed by Urban Power. 

The strategy has several advantages, according to Arne Cermak Nielsen, one of the partners at the architects’ firm.

“It can be developed stepwise, without leaving the impression of an unfinished project if a new economic recession appears. Furthermore, the islands can be thematically developed, leaving the best conditions for the innovative industry and research within green tech, biotech, life science and future yet unknown sectors.”

Once complete and at full capacity, the project developers hope that the Holmene project will have helped create 12,000 jobs, as well as new and diverse micro-environments. 

“The quality of being by the water should not be underestimated, and the shores of the islands and the delta that emerge between them has a unique potential,” Nielsen said

Looming Danger to the US Economy

The geographic reality is making Russia and China want to challenge U.S. dominance in the Caribbean. These aspiring superpowers are forging alliances with socialist governments in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. If these Latin dictatorships become staging grounds for Russia and China, a coalition of nations could potentially cut off the U.S. access to the PanamaCanal and seal off the Straits of Florida and the Yucatan Channel.

The United States is being threatened by hostile nations taking over the Caribbean Sea. Major news sources pay little attention to this region, but the Caribbean is vital to U.S. security. This sea not only connects the East Coast with the Pacific Ocean via the Panama Canal, it guards the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. Half of America’s seaborne trade passes through the Gulf. So a foreign power that controls the Caribbean could cripple the U.S. economy by restricting its access to oceanic shipping.

As shocking as this scenario sounds, the enemies will seek to seize control of the world’s most strategic maritime choke points and lay siege to the United States. America is going to lose access to the Panama Canal, the Straits of Florida, the Windward Passage, the Yucatan Channel and many other shipping lanes that its people rely on for food, electronic components, oil, raw materials and other goods.

The results will be devastating.

‘Troika of Tyranny’

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton addressed a group of Cuban and Venezuelan refugees at the Freedom Tower in Miami on Nov. 1, 2018. He pledged to push back against dictators in Latin America.

“In Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, we see the perils of poisonous ideologies left unchecked, and the dangers of domination and suppression,” he said. “This troika of tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere.”

Bolton didn’t announce specific actions against Nicaragua, but the Trump administration has already levied sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela. These economic sanctions have weakened the corrupt governments of these nations. They have not, however, prevented them from seeking help from Russia and China. During the Cold War, the Soviets established relations with Cuba and Nicaragua in an effort to threaten U.S. access to the Panama Canal. Now the Russians and Chinese are resuscitating this plan to undermine America.

Russia offered Cuba a $43 million loan in November to buy Russian military equipment, and it vowed to expand “strategic” ties with the island. On Oct. 10, 2018, Newsweek reported a senior Russian official as saying that Russia is considering building a military base in Cuba. This would be the first Russian base in Cuba since the Kremlin closed a Soviet-era electronic spying outpost near Havana in 2001.

Meanwhile, two Russian nuclear-capable bombers flew a patrol over the Caribbean on Dec. 12, 2018, from a base in Venezuela. After this alarming incident, one Russian daily, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, suggested that Russia establish a permanent military presence on the island of La Orchila, northeast of Venezuela’s capital city. The Russian government-owned tass news agency said this presence would “represent one of the largest semipermanent deployments of Russian military equipment in the region since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which marked the height of the Cold War.”

Russia is also helping to modernize the Nicaraguan military. At the same time, China is signing economic agreements with Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama and other nations. These are steps toward establishing a strong economic and military presence in America’s backyard.

At present, neither Russia nor China has the naval power to challenge the U.S. in this region. But what happens when a financial crunch forces the U.S. to drastically cut military spending? There are strong signs this will happen, and soon—at which point the alliances Russia and China are forging in the Caribbean Sea will give them great power over America.

Geographic Challenge

The U.S. is protected on the west by the world’s largest ocean and the Rocky Mountains. It is protected on the north by the Arctic tundra and the friendly nation of Canada. It is protected on the east by the world’s second-largest ocean and the Appalachian Mountains. It is protected on the south by the Chihuahuan Desert. Lying within these natural fortifications is the Mississippi Basin, the world’s largest contiguous expanse of arable land. This basin is the key to U.S. dominance over North America.

About 57 percent of U.S. seaborne exports flow out of the Mississippi Basin to international markets via the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Cuba lies between Florida and the Yucatan Peninsula, an enormous gatehouse between the U.S. heartland and the outside world

The threat of a naval blockade against the Mississippi Basin is why the U.S. supported Cuba’s independence from Spain and took over the island as a protectorate upon winning the Spanish-American War in 1898. It is why the Soviets tried to use Cuba against the U.S., and why the U.S. tried to oust the Soviet Union from Cuba in 1962.

Now the U.S. is allowing Russia and China to forge alliances with Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. This is setting the stage for a time when an alliance of hostile nations will finally lay siege to America and refuse to let shipments pass the gatehouse in either direction.

A gate is a narrow passage of entrance or exit. When speaking nationally, a sea gate is a narrow choke point like the Panama Canal, the Straits of Florida, the Windward Passage or the Yucatan Channel. America has these strategic gates and many others, ensuring that it could become economic and military superpowers.

Two great trading blocs are positioning themselves to control the world after subduing USA. Are the leaders careful?

Revisiting the legacy of Swami Vivekananda: Catholic Attitudes Against Fundamentalism

India seeks to convert people of international standing into parochial leaders and thereby hangs a tale. National heroes of India-stalwart political leaders or acclaimed writers are often made to engage in a competition of sorts nowadays by the party ruling at the Centre. Its proclivity is to make sectarian distinctions among national icons and to co-opt some of them into its ultra-rightist fold, often distorting the intellectual legacy of the figures co-opted. Thus, B R Ambedkar, the maker of our Constitution and the pioneer of the anti-casteist movement was recently made to grapple with the Father of the Nation, with the upshot that the former now stands taller, quite literally, than the latter. Likewise, the classic Bangla litterateur Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya has been found to be more ‘nationalistic’ than Rabindranath Tagore, who forfeited British knighthood in solidarity with his countrymen and composed our national anthem.

One of the most contestable co-options by the ruling party camp has been that of the spiritual leader and patriot Swami Vivekananda, who is being projected as the pioneer saint of the ideology of Hindu supremacy or ‘Hindutva’. As anyone moderately familiar with the life, writings, speeches and actions of Vivekananda would know, nothing can be more erroneous-and unjust-than this perception of his legacy. The broad humanism and the global religious amity that Vivekananda preached and strove for all his life were poles apart from the cold bigotry of ‘Hindutva’. Indeed, if the Hindutva brigade ever makes an effort to understand the true spirit of Vivekananda’s life and work it would recognise in him not a friend, but a foe. For, it was against all narrowness and fanaticism that Vivekananda’s religiosity positioned itself: it were the inclusiveness and tolerance inherent to Vedic Hinduism-as opposed to the sectarianism characteristic of ‘Hindutva’-that Vivekananda espoused and preached.

True, Vivekananda was the chief force behind the revival of Hinduism in the late nineteenth century and it was largely because of his efforts that Hinduism got global attention as a major world religion. But, we have to remember also that the religion the Swami spoke for was the ancient Vedic Hinduism-“a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance”-and which, therefore, is a far cry from the narrow, dogma-ridden, Islamophobic set of structures called ‘Hindutva’. Vivekananda’s Hinduism, in fact, was vastly different even from our everyday ritualistic Hindu religion-with its numerous gods and goddesses, its casteist exclusions, and its petty superstitions. It was the pure essence of classic Hinduism-based on the philosophy of Vedanta-that Vivekananda championed. In his famous inaugural address to the World’s Parliament of Religions (September 11, 1893) he projected the Hindu religion as one based on the perception of oneness between the human self and the Absolute spirit of the universe or Brahma. Accordingly, he preached the equivalence of all religions as means to realise the inner divinity inherent to all men and women, and he preached service to mankind as the truest service to God. To convert non-Hindus to Hinduism, or to denigrate religions other than Hinduism were none of his aims. Rather, his objective, as he put it in his address at the final session of the ‘Parliament’ at Chicago was “to smooth the friction of religions” (Chicago, Sep 27, 1893).

What distinguishes Swami Vivekananda from many other religious-spiritual leaders of the world is his emphasis on service to humanity as a means both of human fulfilment and the uplift of the soul. The fervour with which he espoused this ideal, in fact, took him from pure spirituality to a throbbing empathy for the suffering, poverty-stricken masses of colonial India, leading ultimately to the founding of the ‘Ramakrishna Mission’. This Mission, as we know, is still among the foremost organisations in the country engaged in genuine humanitarian work.

From 1888 to 1893 Vivekananda travelled extensively throughout the country, making friends with kings and commoners alike, and observed with pained sensitivity the poverty, the illiteracy, the hopelessness amid which the multitudes lived. Thereafter, he took it upon himself to enthuse the youth of the country to work for the betterment of a lot of ordinary Indians. Even from abroad, from the USA and Europe, he constantly enjoined upon his brother monks to work for the education and material uplift of the common masses of the country, especially those in the villages. To him, this was the primary duty of those dedicated to Hinduism: the mere observance of fasts, worship and meditation-the rituals of religiosity-were of no value to him if this noble human duty was neglected.

It is because of his passion for the welfare of his suffering countrymen, and his zeal for the resurgence of national pride that Vivekananda came to be perceived as a stalwart leader of Indian nationalism at a time when India was in the throes of a racist, exploitative foreign dominion. Again, we need to note that his nationalistic fervour-which was impelled by a desire for India’s progress-was vastly different from the reactionary, Hindu-majoritarian ‘nationalism’ now reigning over the country. His kind of nationalism never made any sectarian distinctions among his countryfolk along the lines either of creed or of caste. Indeed, he can be viewed as the first Indian icon, ahead of Ambedkar, who came out strongly against the inequities of the Hindu caste system. He urged his fellow monks as well as the young people of the country to perceive Indians of all castes and creeds as kinsfolk and to work tirelessly for the betterment of their condition.

As we mark the 156th birth anniversary of the learned philosopher monk with the spirit of an activist, we need to remember and seize upon his message of religious tolerance, social inclusion, and service to the needy. His intellectual and human legacies-his writings, his speeches, and his organisation-should bring home to us the crucial distinction between the inclusive, tolerant Hinduism he espoused and the dogmatic, hate-filled ‘Hindutva’ that now runs amok in the country. Only when we are clear on this distinction would we be immune to the pernicious influence of the religious fundamentalism that ‘Hindutva’ stands for; only then would we be able to resist the co-option of religion into petty politics. Today, when the world is under the dominion of an ascendant far-right that threatens to destroy the ethos of liberal democracy, we in India should revive our cultural heritage of inclusiveness and tolerance and show the world that we dare to be different. Swami Vivekananda’s legacy should be one chief locus of this revival of past glory-the glory of a tolerant, inclusive, diverse India. Let us exorcize the ghost of ‘Hindutva’ with the purifying winds of Vivekananda’s broad, humanistic Hinduism; let us arise from our stupor and stop not until the goal is reached.

The house that reflects America

The American pledge of allegiance vows fealty to “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. Implicit in this oath, which was conceived in 1892 and adopted in 1942, the American Republic is divinely ordained to be united. Yet, in recent times there has been talk of a “Divided States of America” because of the political dysfunction in the country. From books and documentaries bearing that title to a Time magazine cover captioned “President of the Divided States of America” when Donald Trump was elected in 2016, the idea of a cohesive, united America is not a given anymore.

So, could the United States cleave, splinter or fragment into two or more countries? Unilateral secession was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in a 1869 (Texas vs White) case following the Civil War. But that has not prevented occasional fissiparous expressions, including sporadic but small secessionist movements, from festering in some pockets of the country. Nothing serious enough to give Washington DC a headache, but a reminder that beneath the promise of the American dream and the hum of everyday life lies a wee bit of dissonance and dissent.

Lately though it is not these pockets of secession that are making headlines but a broader social, political, ideological and even geographical chasm that has opened up in self-avowedly the “greatest country on earth”. The schisms are dark, ugly and deep: Conservative Middle America vs Liberal Coastal America; Urban America vs Rural America; Mostly White America vs Black/ Brown/ Hispanic/ Coloured America; Insular America vs Globalised America; Better educated and wealthier America vs Less educated, poorer America.

These divisions have always existed. But the arrival of Trump as a political force by tapping into the angst of the poorer, marginalised Americans resentful of coastal elites powered by globalisation aggravated them even more. Why would Trump do that even though he is a beneficiary of the system that gave the coastal, liberal elites a leg up while largely ignoring the problems in Middle America? Change of heart? Cynicism? Or …?

The more conspiratorial theory currently doing the rounds is that Trump is a cat’s paw for Russia seeking to avenge the American-engineered breakup of the Soviet Union that reduced Moscow to a second-rate power. Serial episodes of Trump softballing, if not coddling Moscow, have convinced many that he is a Russian stooge helping break up the United States – a Siberian insider on the lines of the Manchurian candidate.

Late night riffs, cartoons and spoofs implying treason have flooded social and political discourse, from cards showing “Treason’s greetings” from the Trump family during Christmas and New Year, to a more recent meme showing the Kremlin as a backdrop to Trump’s State of the Union address. No president in American history has been accused, and perhaps vilified, more directly and frequently of treason as Trump.

Trump has hit with broadsides directed against not just the liberal elites with Democratic Party orientation, but against cities and states he deems as their bastion. From deriding cosmopolitical mixed-race cities such as Chicago for their high rates of gun violence to threatening to withhold disaster relief money to California, a state that is more wealthy and productive than all of Trump’s redoubts put together. In any other country such slights would have been the spark for secession, but the United States is held together as much by the American Dream (and McDonald’s, joked someone) as the idea of liberty and justice for all.

The more prosaic reason for the growing divide and dissonance within the United States is the untrammelled globalisation and the migration that has come with it, threatening a conservative population unequipped and unprepared to meet the challenge. It is no secret that newer and first-generation immigrants work harder and are more successful than previous generations. Many American nativists have forgotten that not only is the United States built on immigration, but their forebears were also immigrants, something Native Americans (erroneously dubbed “American Indians”) took care to remind them during a recent face-off when a high-school punk faced off with a tribal original.

The recent mid-term Congressional elections have shown decisively that the demographic changes brought about by decades long immigration are starting to reflect in the House of Representatives. One of the more iconic photographs as the House convened last week showed three lawmakers – Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex, a Latina-American, Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, and Ilhan-Omar, a Somali-American – working together in a chamber that is more reflective of the changing demographics of the country.

Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib will be joined by Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Stacey Plaskett (both African-American Congresswoman), Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ro Khanna (both Indian-Americans) among others on the House Oversight Committee that will have the powers to issue subpoenas and launch wide-ranging investigations into Trump administration shenanigans.

All this is deeply unsettling to the traditional white establishment that has bossed over the country for decades, and whose overlordship is reflected in the less representative (and mostly white) Senate, where each state gets two lawmakers regardless of population. More shocks are in store. Who would have imagined a presidential election field would have four women – possibly more – in the mix, including two named Kamala and Tulsi? Trumpian times are just an aberration. United in its diversity, the best of America is yet to come.

Globalism is Dead, Long Live Globalization

Though belief in globalism – a top-down conspiracy to impose an international system that trumps national sovereignty – may be dead, globalization is alive and well. An effective and resilient international order, comprising strong nation-states, thus remains essential.

Will global cooperation finally emerge from the doldrums in 2019? The international community’s recent agreement on a “rulebook” for implementing the Paris climate agreement seems to offer some hope. But opinion polls suggest that many remain concerned that a global economic recession or major geopolitical crisis will test the international system’s resilience. And it is not at all clear that the system will pass.

As it stands, perhaps the biggest barriers to international cooperation are political. In recent years, there has been an intensifying backlash against international cooperation, rooted partly in fears – stoked by populist political leaders in many countries – that transnational “elites” are trying to impose “globalism”: an “ideology that prioritizes the neoliberal global order over national interests.”

But perspectives that refute this narrative seem to be gaining ground. Many world leaders believe that the Western countries squandered their influence over the international system by intervening politically and militarily in the affairs of others without any clear endgame. Some also argue that the global elite has only pretended to pursue socioeconomic change, while actually maintaining a status quo that has benefited them.

Many believe that now, however, the vertical hierarchies that have long sustained the global order are being disrupted by the growing political and economic influence of horizontal networks. Even the United States, it is often claimed, has moved from supporting the multilateral system to undermining it.

But, though belief in globalism – a top-down conspiracy to impose an international system that trumps national sovereignty – may be dead, globalization is alive and well. As the historian Yuval Harari put it in his book Sapiens, history continues to move “slowly in the direction of global unity.” An effective and resilient international order, comprising strong nation-states, thus remains essential.

World leaders do not question the need for such an order. Rather, the major political challenge to global cooperation lies in managing our diversified and pluralistic world within the established institutional architecture, while overcoming the tendency among some to associate any effort to shape globalization with globalism, internationalism, or imperialism.

What would it take to build a more resilient system, capable of withstanding sudden shocks while maintaining its core functions? The answer is not cut and dried. While there has been important recent research into what makes a person resilient, there is no clear overarching explanation of what makes a resilient country or international system.

Nonetheless, humans seem to have a predisposition toward building broad organizing systems. In Sapiens, Harari chronicles the efforts of merchants, prophets, and conquerors, over millennia, to “establish an order that would be applicable for everyone everywhere.” This leads him to the observation that humans are the only social animal “guided by the interests of the entire species to which it belongs.”

In practical terms, an updated international order must account for the four distinct developments that characterize the latest incarnation of globalization. For starters, the world is moving toward a multipolar system, in which the US is no longer the dominant international force. Moreover, we have entered the Anthropocene epoch, in which human activity is the primary influence on the climate and environment. We now have the capacity to destroy other species so effectively that, as Edward O. Wilson warns, we may well “eliminate more than half of all species by the end of this century.”

Third, sharply rising inequality has made economic inclusion and equity a priority for many voters. This will shape national politics for the foreseeable future, and thus help to determine the fate of the current liberal order.

Finally, what WEF Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution is forcing us to consider “how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments.” For example, the economist Richard Baldwin foresees arbitrage of wage rates in the service sector, enabled by digital platforms. As a result, he cautions, “hundreds of millions of service-sector and professional workers in advanced economies will – for the first time ever – be exposed to the challenges and opportunities of globalization.”

Given globalization’s shifting nature, it may be better understood in conceptual terms than as a historical phenomenon. This is the rationale behind the theme of the forthcoming annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: “Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Figuring out how best to influence the course of globalization will not be easy. But here, too, humans seem to have a natural inclination. Indeed, many scientists now believe that thinking about the future is humans’ defining characteristic, and argue that “looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain,” and that planning for it results in less stress – and more happiness.

We are hard-wired to think about the future of our planet – and that future demands a more robust and resilient institutional architecture that accounts for the four key forces shaping Globalization 4.0. We should get to work on building it.

AI & The Future of War

How will the Artificial Intelligence change war? Hollywood has it wrong. It won’t be Terminator, robots with sentience, that transform warfare. It will be much simpler technologies that are, depending on your perspective, at best or at worst less than a decade away.

Take a Predator drone. This is a semi-autonomous weapon. It can fly itself much of the time. However, there is still a soldier, typically in a container in Nevada, in over all control. And importantly, it is still a soldier who makes the final life-or-death decision to fire one of its Hellfire missiles.

But it is a small technical step to replace that soldier with a computer.

Indeed, it is technically possible today. And once we build such simple autonomous weapons, there will be an arms race to develop more and more sophisticated versions. Indeed, we can see the beginnings of this arms race. In every theatre of way, in the air, on land, on and under the sea, there are prototype autonomous weapons under development.

This will be a terrible development in warfare. But it is not inevitable. In fact, we get to choose whether we go down this particular road. Since 2015, I and thousands of my colleagues, other researchers in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics have been warning of these dangerous developments. We’ve been joined by founders of AI and Robotics companies, Nobel Peace Laureates, church leaders, and many members of the public.

India has played an important role in the discussions about what to do about such autonomous weapons. In 2018, Amandeep Singh Gill, India’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, chaired discussions at the United Nations on this topic. 26 nations have so far called for a pre-emptive ban, with Pakistan being the first to do so. Most recently, the European Parliament voted in support of the idea.

Strategically, autonomous weapons are a military dream. They let a

military scale their operations unhindered by manpower constraints. One

programmer can command hundreds of autonomous weapons. This will industrialise warfare. Autonomous weapons will greatly increase strategic options. They will take humans out of harm’s way opening up the opportunity to take on the riskiest of missions. You could call it War 4.0.

There are many reasons, however, why the military’s dream of lethal autonomous weapons will turn into a nightmare. First and foremost, there is a strong moral argument against killer robots. We give up an essential part of our humanity if we hand over the decision of whether someone should live to a machine. Machines have no emotions, compassion or empathy. Are machines then fit to decide who lives and who dies?

Beyond the moral arguments, there are many technical and legal reasons to be concerned about killer robots. In my view, one of the strongest is that they will revolutionise warfare. Autonomous weapons will be weapons of immense destruction. Previously, if you wanted to do harm, you had to have an army of soldiers to wage war. You had to persuade this army to follow your orders. You had to train them, feed them, and pay them. Now just one programmer could control hundreds of weapons.

Lethal autonomous weapons are more troubling, in some respects, than nuclear weapons. To build a nuclear bomb requires technical sophistication. You need the resources of a nation state, and access to fissile material. You need some skilled physicists and engineers. Nuclear weapons have not, as a result, proliferated greatly. Autonomous weapons require none of this.

Autonomous weapons will be perfect weapons of terror. Can you imagine how terrifying it will be to be chased by a swarm of autonomous drones? They will fall into the hands of terrorists and rogue states who will have no qualms about turning them on civilians. They will be an ideal weapon with which to suppress a civilian population. Unlike humans, they will not hesitate to commit atrocities, even genocide.

We stand at a crossroads on this issue. I believe it needs to be seen as morally unacceptable for machines to decide who lives and who dies. In this way, we may be able to save ourselves and our children from this terrible future.

The Tale of Two Shahs

Four decades ago on January 16, 1979, Iran’s last “Persian” ruler Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi fled his palace near Tehran never to return, thus ending a divisive rule of nearly four decades. The fallout, which occasioned his political demise, was a mass outpouring of anger against entitled westernised elites; State led dilution of traditional cultures and lifestyles; perceived corruption; selling Iran’s natural resource-based crown jewels to foreign companies and an attempt to impose monarchical rule over a thriving, albeit raucous polity.

Four decades later almost to the day another Shah – a commoner and an Indian Kashmiri – Faesal Shah – was driven by his conscience to resign from the elite Indian Administrative Service – in a high visibility protest against what he perceives to be the neglect of Kashmiri people by all political parties; the low commitment to improve the lot of the people and the “forced” marginalisation of the political process due to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act being in force and a blinkered political process which excludes those – read the Hurriat – from political negotiations, who seem to have the people with them and can undermine even the elections by asking people not to vote – as in the recent municipal elections.

Shah Reza was an implant of the “great western powers” whose interests were twofold in 1941 – access to Iran’s oil and to ward-off a communist threat. Iran’s northern border is contiguous with Central Asian and Eastern Europe – at the time part of the USSR and hence the strategic interest in having a friendly regime in Iran. His error – repeated by the West thereafter in Afghanistan – was in thinking that a small elite with a polished western exterior in dress, language and social norms, could transform a deeply traditional, highly cultured society, through education (remember Macaulay in India ) and voting rights for women. It failed because the people were not ready and well-funded religious leaders across the border had the wherewithal to play up the deprivations of the people and target their anger against “foreign” rule by proxy.

Faesal Shah is a homegrown Kashmiri young man whose father was gunned down by Kashmiri “militants” – as they were once known. He is a qualified doctor of medicine who topped the civil services exam and opted for the IAS and also opted to serve in his home state – Jammu and Kashmir. He served for nearly nine years before resigning.

Politicians in Kashmir most particularly National Conference Chief Omar Abdullah have hailed his decision and urged him to join politics. Faesal himself is inclined to do so though he has not decided the “how” and the “when”. It seems his interest is to fill the gap between the existing political process and people on the ground. This is unsurprising given his life story and personal experience of losing his father – a school teacher, at an early age because he did the “right” thing by refusing to shelter militants.

From the Kashmiri point of view there are many parallels between Iran in 1979 and Kashmir today. The most obvious is the cry of Islam being in danger at the hands of merciless “foreign” – in our case, Hindu fanatics from Delhi.

The existing mainstream political parties – Abdullah’s, National Conference and Mufti’s, People’s Democratic Party are Indian versions of Shah Reza – the establishment collaborating with foreign influences and compromised by funds from Delhi, with a long history of poor governance. The Hurriyat is styled as an Indian version of the uncompromising, righteous, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, around whom the common people rally.

It is more than a trifle disconcerting that Faesal Shah, a prime candidate for becoming part of the Kashmiri establishment should have deemed it better to reject its warn embrace in just nine years on the job. His doing so on the principled grounds of the poor governance by the establishment; its lack of concern for public interest and its willingness to carry on without widespread public support, makes it worse because it calls in question, somewhat unfairly, the motives and objectives of all those who have chosen to stay behind.

It is not surprising, therefore, that representatives of the bureaucracy have been vocal, even in the mainstream media, in belittling Faesal Shah’s concerns; questioning his intent and discounting the impact of his resignation. This is a human reaction from those who choose to carry on doing a thankless job, within the establishment, even if they know that just going on repeating the errors of the past is unlikely to bring better results in future. Some may even grudge him the option open, for an “insider” like him, to become a politician and jump straight into the driver’s seat.

But far more substantively, Faesal Shah’s actions should trigger a rethink of the way we manage Kashmir. Unlike the North East, we are not content to allow local elites to consolidate their power. We are insecure because the local elites are Muslim and we believe that Pan Islamism is a more powerful glue than nationality.

We are apprehensive of the attractions of a China-funded Pakistan, as a counterweight to better integration of Kashmir with India. We allocate less grant finance to Kashmir, on a per capita basis, than we did to similarly disturbed areas in the North East – Nagaland and Mizoram – which have since stabilised with complete local elite control over the politics.

Kashmir like Afghanistan cannot be ruled from outside. We have to facilitate local politicians to find local solutions to local problems. The less we intervene and the more infrastructures we finance, the faster will Kashmir settle down. It is high time we start listening to the Faesal Shah’s of Kashmir. They provide useful tips to help us avoid the mistakes of the past. Boots on the ground might be necessary till Kashmir stabilises. But they should be local boots, not those imported from Delhi.

Globalization Through the Ages-A Short History

 Globalization is now a buzzword, but the reality of this concept can be traced eons back. And it makes a very interesting study how the concept has evolved over the ages and was buried time and again.

When Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba in 2018 announced it had chosen the ancient city of Xi’an as the site for its new regional headquarters, the symbolic value wasn’t lost on the company: it had brought globalization to its ancient birthplace, the start of the old Silk Road. It named its new offices aptly: “Silk Road Headquarters”. The city where globalization had started more than 2,000 years ago would also have a stake in globalization’s future.

Alibaba shouldn’t be alone in looking back. As we are entering a new, digital-driven era of globalization – we call it “Globalization 4.0” – it is worthwhile that we do the same. When did globalization start? What were its major phases? And where is it headed tomorrow?

This piece also caps our series on globalization. The series was written ahead of the 2019 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which focuses on “Globalization 4.0”. In previous pieces, we looked at some winners and losers of economic globalization, the environmental aspect of globalization, cultural globalization and digital globalization. Now we look back at its history. So, when did international trade start and how did it lead to globalization?

Silk roads (1st century BC-5th century AD, and 13th-14th centuries AD)

People have been trading goods for almost as long as they’ve been around. But as of the 1st century BC, a remarkable phenomenon occurred. For the first time in history, luxury products from China started to appear on the other edge of the Eurasian continent – in Rome. They got there after being hauled for thousands of miles along the Silk Road. Trade had stopped being a local or regional affair and started to become global.

That is not to say globalization had started in earnest. Silk was mostly a luxury good, and so were the spices that were added to the intercontinental trade between Asia and Europe. As a percentage of the total economy, the value of these exports was tiny, and many middlemen were involved to get the goods to their destination. But global trade links were established, and for those involved, it was a goldmine. From purchase price to final sales price, the multiple went in the dozens.The Silk Road could prosper in part because two great empires dominated much of the route. If trade was interrupted, it was most often because of blockades by local enemies of Rome or China. If the Silk Road eventually closed, as it did after several centuries, the fall of the empires had everything to do with it. And when it reopened in Marco Polo’s late medieval time, it was because the rise of a new hegemonic empire: the Mongols. It is a pattern we’ll see throughout the history of trade: it thrives when nations protect it, it falls when they don’t.

Spice routes (7th-15th centuries)

The next chapter in trade happened thanks to Islamic merchants. As the new religion spread in all directions from its Arabian heartland in the 7th century, so did trade. The founder of Islam, the prophet Mohammed, was famously a merchant, as was his wife Khadija. Trade was thus in the DNA of the new religion and its followers, and that showed. By the early 9th century, Muslim traders already dominated Mediterranean and Indian Ocean trade; afterwards, they could be found as far east as Indonesia, which over time became a Muslim-majority country, and as far west as Moorish Spain.

The main focus of Islamic trade in those Middle Ages were spices. Unlike silk, spices were traded mainly by sea since ancient times. But by the medieval era they had become the true focus of international trade. Chief among them were the cloves, nutmeg and mace from the fabled Spice islands – the Maluku islands in Indonesia. They were extremely expensive and in high demand, also in Europe. But as with silk, they remained a luxury product, and trade remained relatively low volume. Globalization still didn’t take off, but the original Belt (sea route) and Road (Silk Road) of trade between East and West did now exist.

Age of Discovery (15th-18th centuries)

Truly global trade kicked off in the Age of Discovery. It was in this era, from the end of the 15th century onwards, that European explorers connected East and West – and accidentally discovered the Americas. Aided by the discoveries of the so-called “Scientific Revolution” in the fields of astronomy, mechanics, physics and shipping, the Portuguese, Spanish and later the Dutch and the English first “discovered”, then subjugated, and finally integrated new lands in their economies.

The Age of Discovery rocked the world. The most (in)famous “discovery” is that of America by Columbus, which all but ended pre-Colombian civilizations. But the most consequential exploration was the circumnavigation by Magellan: it opened the door to the Spice islands, cutting out Arab and Italian middlemen. While trade once again remained small compared to total GDP, it certainly altered people’s lives. Potatoes, tomatoes, coffee and chocolate were introduced in Europe, and the price of spices fell steeply.

Yet economists today still don’t truly regard this era as one of true globalization. Trade certainly started to become global, and it had even been the main reason for starting the Age of Discovery. But the resulting global economy was still very much siloed and lopsided. The European empires set up global supply chains, but mostly with those colonies they owned. Moreover, their colonial model was chiefly one of exploitation, including the shameful legacy of the slave trade. The empires thus created both a mercantilist and a colonial economy, but not a truly globalized one.

First wave of globalization (19th century-1914)

This started to change with the first wave of globalization, which roughly occurred over the century ending in 1914. By the end of the 18th century, Great Britain had started to dominate the world both geographically, through the establishment of the British Empire, and technologically, with innovations like the steam engine, the industrial weaving machine and more. It was the era of the First Industrial Revolution.

The “British” Industrial Revolution made for a fantastic twin engine of global trade. On the one hand, steamships and trains could transport goods over thousands of miles, both within countries and across countries. On the other hand, its industrialization allowed Britain to make products that were in demand all over the world, like iron, textiles and manufactured goods. “With its advanced industrial technologies,” the BBC recently wrote, looking back to the era, “Britain was able to attack a huge and rapidly expanding international market.”

The resulting globalization was obvious in the numbers. For about a century, trade grew on average 3% per year. That growth rate propelled exports from a share of 6% of global GDP in the early 19th century, to 14% on the eve of World War I. As John Maynard Keynes, the economist, observed: “The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole Earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep.”

And, Keynes also noted, a similar situation was also true in the world of investing. Those with the means in New York, Paris, London or Berlin could also invest in internationally active joint stock companies. One of those, the French Compagnie de Suez, constructed the Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean and opened yet another artery of world trade. Others built railways in India, or managed mines in African colonies. Foreign direct investment, too, was globalizing.

While Britain was the country that benefited most from this globalization, as it had the most capital and technology, others did too, by exporting other goods. The invention of the refrigerated cargo ship or “reefer ship” in the 1870s, for example, allowed for countries like Argentina and Uruguay, to enter their golden age. They started to mass export meat, from cattle grown on their vast lands. Other countries, too, started to specialize their production in those fields in which they were most competitive.

But the first wave of globalization and industrialization also coincided with darker events, too. By the end of the 19th century, most [globalizing and industrialized] European nations grabbed for a piece of Africa, and by 1900 the only independent country left on the continent was Ethiopia. In a similarly negative vein, large countries like India, China, Mexico or Japan, which were previously powers to reckon with, were not either not able or not allowed to adapt to the industrial and global trends. Either the Western powers put restraints on their independent development, or they were otherwise outcompeted because of their lack of access to capital or technology. Finally, many workers in the industrialized nations also did not benefit from globalization, their work commoditized by industrial machinery, or their output undercut by foreign imports.

The world wars

It was a situation that was bound to end in a major crisis, and it did. In 1914, the outbreak of World War I brought an end to just about everything the burgeoning high society of the West had gotten so used to, including globalization. The ravage was complete. Millions of soldiers died in battle, millions of civilians died as collateral damage, war replaced trade, destruction replaced construction, and countries closed their borders yet again.

In the years between the world wars, the financial markets, which were still connected in a global web, caused a further breakdown of the global economy and its links. The Great Depression in the US led to the end of the boom in South America, and a run on the banks in many other parts of the world. Another world war followed in 1939-1945. By the end of World War II, trade as a percentage of world GDP had fallen to 5% – a level not seen in more than a hundred years.

Second and third wave of globalization

The story of globalization, however, was not over. The end of the World War II marked a new beginning for the global economy. Under the leadership of a new hegemon, the United States of America, and aided by the technologies of the Second Industrial Revolution, like the car and the plane, global trade started to rise once again. At first, this happened in two separate tracks, as the Iron Curtain divided the world into two spheres of influence. But as of 1989, when the Iron Curtain fell, globalization became a truly global phenomenon.

In the early decades after World War II, institutions like the European Union, and other free trade vehicles championed by the US were responsible for much of the increase in international trade. In the Soviet Union, there was a similar increase in trade, albeit through centralized planning rather than the free market. The effect was profound. Worldwide, trade once again rose to 1914 levels: in 1989, export once again counted for 14% of global GDP. It was paired with a steep rise in middle-class incomes in the West.

Then, when the wall dividing East and West fell in Germany, and the Soviet Union collapsed, globalization became an all-conquering force. The newly created World Trade Organization (WTO) encouraged nations all over the world to enter into free-trade agreements, and most of them did, including many newly independent ones. In 2001, even China, which for the better part of the 20th century had been a secluded, agrarian economy, became a member of the WTO, and started to manufacture for the world. In this “new” world, the US set the tone and led the way, but many others benefited in their slipstream.

At the same time, a new technology from the Third Industrial Revolution, the internet, connected people all over the world in an even more direct way. The orders Keynes could place by phone in 1914 could now be placed over the internet. Instead of having them delivered in a few weeks, they would arrive at one’s doorstep in a few days. What was more, the internet also allowed for a further global integration of value chains. You could do R&D in one country, sourcing in others, production in yet another, and distribution all over the world.

The result has been a globalization on steroids. In the 2000s, global exports reached a milestone, as they rose to about a quarter of global GDP. Trade, the sum of imports and exports, consequentially grew to about half of world GDP. In some countries, like Singapore, Belgium, or others, trade is worth much more than 100% of GDP. A majority of global population has benefited from this: more people than ever before belong to the global middle class, and hundred of millions achieved that status by participating in the global economy.

Globalization 4.0

That brings us to today, when a new wave of globalization is once again upon us. In a world increasingly dominated by two global powers, the US and China, the new frontier of globalization is the cyber world. The digital economy, in its infancy during the third wave of globalization, is now becoming a force to reckon with through e-commerce, digital services, 3D printing. It is further enabled by artificial intelligence, but threatened by cross-border hacking and cyberattacks.

At the same time, a negative globalization is expanding too, through the global effect of climate change. Pollution in one part of the world leads to extreme weather events in another. And the cutting of forests in the few “green lungs” the world has left, like the Amazon rainforest, has a further devastating effect on not just the world’s biodiversity, but its capacity to cope with hazardous greenhouse gas emissions.

But as this new wave of globalization is reaching our shores, many of the world’s people are turning their backs on it. In the West particularly, many middle-class workers are fed up with a political and economic system that resulted in economic inequality, social instability, and – in some countries – mass immigration, even if it also led to economic growth and cheaper products. Protectionism, trade wars and immigration stops are once again the order of the day in many countries.

As a percentage of GDP, global exports have stalled and even started to go in reverse slightly. As a political ideology, “globalism”, or the idea that one should take a global perspective, is on the wane. And internationally, the power that propelled the world to its highest level of globalization ever, the United States, is backing away from its role as policeman and trade champion of the world.

It was in this world that Chinese president Xi Jinping addressed the topic globalization in a speech in Davos in January 2017. “Some blame economic globalization for the chaos in the world,” he said. “It has now become the Pandora’s box in the eyes of many.” But, he continued, “we came to the conclusion that integration into the global economy is a historical trend. [It] is the big ocean that you cannot escape from.” He went on the propose a more inclusive globalization, and to rally nations to join in China’s new project for international trade, “Belt and Road”.

It was in this world, too, that Alibaba a few months later opened its Silk Road headquarters in Xi’an. It was meant as the logistical backbone for the e-commerce giant along the new “Belt and Road”, the Paper reported. But if the old Silk Road thrived on the exports of luxurious silk by camel and donkey, the new Alibaba Xi’an facility would be enabling a globalization of an entirely different kind. It would double up as a big data college for its Alibaba Cloud services.

Technological progress, like globalization, is something you can’t run away from, it seems. But it is ever changing. So how will Globalization 4.0 evolve? We will have to answer that question in the coming years

Blame the Victorians for Global Meat Obsession

Increasing consumption of meat rich diets throughout the world in the 21st century raises pressing concerns about human health, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Too much mass-produced meat is bad for us, bad for the livestock we eat, and bad for the planet on which we live.

If we want to understand how the world arrived at this point, as well as how we might change it for the better, we should look back to the Victorian period, which laid the foundations for modern globalised meat production and consumption.

Concerns today about what has become known as the “global meat complex” focus on the technologically driven overproduction and consumption of livestock. There’s a recognition in particular that “the middle classes around the world eat too much meat”, as a 2014 Friends of the Earth report put it. But the root of this problem can be traced to 19th-century Britain, when global meat markets emerged as a revolutionary way of dealing with a mid-Victorian “meat famine”.

Famine and feast

The famine was caused by a mismatch between a fast increasing, urbanising population and a levelling out in domestic meat production. What helped stave it off was the groundbreaking development of preservation and transportation technologies that enabled the British to eat livestock that was reared, slaughtered and processed in the Americas and Australasia.

As a result of these innovations, products such as chilled and corned beef, frozen mutton and meat extracts including Bovril and Oxo became staples throughout British homes. Per capita meat consumption increased dramatically, rising from about 87lb per year in the 1850s to 127lb annually by 1914, despite the fact that Britain’s population nearly doubled in this period.

Cost was the major factor driving this change. When one can get a half-price leg of mutton from the other side of the globe, remarked one prominent food writer, one sets aside “all sentimental considerations in favour of the roast beef of Old England”.

Mass marketing campaigns alongside positive media coverage also helped promote these new forms of meat. Victorian commentators celebrated frozen meat’s capacity to feed the “energetic, flesh-fed men” required to sustain British industry and imperialism. Meanwhile “beef tea” was widely advertised as a life enhancing force in Britain’s fights against alcoholism, influenza, European rivals and imperial perils.

Meat remained a luxury for the very poor in Victorian Britain. But as the 19th century came to a close, and as more and more British consumers grew accustomed to imported beef and mutton, the idea of meat – the more the better – as an essential part of everyday meals became increasingly popular among working-class as well as middle-class meat-eaters.

As global meat markets revolutionised the dining habits of the British nation, they also changed the face of the planet. Vast tracts of American and Australasian land were reshaped as pasture that supported the British breeds of cattle and sheep that Britons preferred to eat. And selective breeding programmes meant the bodies of these animals fattened faster and could be stored more easily in refrigerated holds: animals were bred with their carcasses in mind.

Boiled babies

The globalisation of Victorian meat eating was revolutionary, then, but it was also highly controversial. Advocates of the canning and refrigeration industries championed their capacity to deliver healthy, wholesome, inexpensive and sustainable meat supplies from Britain’s colonies and the “new world”. But home-reared meat was seen to be of better quality and safer, especially early on in the development of these industries.

Many potential customers were put off by scandals involving putrefied meat, as well as scare stories surrounding the meat’s origins. Metropolitan meat eaters feared that overseas farmers were feeding them offal or meat from diseased animals. In my archival research, I’ve even discovered concerns that boiled human babies were entering the food chain.

It wasn’t just that the British were wary of eating long dead animals from far flung parts of the world. Overseas competition provoked demands to protect British agriculture, both to preserve traditional ways of life and to guarantee food security. Animal rights campaigners too were concerned at the increasingly intensive farming methods and assembly line slaughter techniques associated with developing meat markets.

And at the same time, Britain’s growing vegetarian movement was promoting the economic, health and ethical benefits of a meat free diet. Writing in the 1880s, the prominent vegetarian and socialist Henry Salt predicted that “future and wiser generations will look back on the habit of flesh-eating as a strange relic of ignorance and barbarism”.

A new start

Salt would be horrified by a 21st-century world struggling to cope with an ever growing demand for cheap, plentiful meat. Horrified, but perhaps not entirely surprised. The unhealthy, unethical and unsustainable way that the “global meat complex” operates today is the greedy, brutal and environmentally devastating extension of what his meat eating contemporaries did to the world.

But this Victorian history can also help ongoing efforts to change the way our planet produces and consumes protein. First and foremost, it makes clear that there is nothing inevitable or “natural” about the way meat markets take shape. Hundreds of millions of people eat meat in the way and the quantities they do, not because they’re inherently designed to do so, but because of a global system set in motion by British imperial power.

And we should keep in mind that this system’s development was an incredibly controversial process, marked by fierce debates as well as dramatic dietary change. At a time of year when many of us are thinking about how to transform our lives for the better, the prospect of giving up meat, or of eating insects or lab-grown meat, provokes widespread scepticism, hostility and disgust. We’d all do well to remember, therefore, that not so long ago the prospect of eating frozen lamb from the other side of the world provoked a similar range of reactions among the Victorian population.

Civil-Military Integration Needs a New Perspective

Raisina Dialogue, an excellent sounding board for exchange of ideas, is supposed to be governed by ‘Chatham House’ rules, which, unfortunately, are being blatantly flouted by social media. This year, the Chief of Army Staff was at the receiving end for suggesting that India should open channels of dialogue with Taliban.

This has to be viewed in the context of mounting pressure on India to help Americans manage a face-saving exit from the Afghan quagmire. If all relevant nations are comfortable in engaging with Taliban, why should India be the odd one out?

We need to figure out, how from the heady days of movies like ‘Kabuliwallah’, Frontier Gandhi-Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Wali Khan and a friendly National Awami Party attending annual sessions of the Congress, we are left with no leverage with the Pashtuns.

Unfortunately, in a system bereft of accountability, such introspection is most unlikely. Consequently, we are condemned to repeat such blunders.

It will be pertinent to recall the statement of Gen John Hyten, Commander of US Strategic Command, which includes Nuclear Forces, in a similar think tank setting of Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia in November 2018. He stated that he would disobey any order that did not measure up to US laws of armed conflict. He went on to list four basic principles – military necessity, distinction, proportionality and humanity. These closely correspond to our basic criteria for the use of force – necessity, minimum force, impartiality and good faith.

An isolated ‘bandicoot’ statement by one of our chiefs resulted in the establishment and media haranguing him. To be fair, the General articulated the popular sentiment of masses. The US has its own ethos and downsides like sacking of Gen Douglas Mcarthur and more recently, Gen Stanley McChrystal, yet the military plays a pivotal role in shaping national security policies.

The system also has the maturity to rehabilitate McChrystal. India has no need to imitate the American model, yet, appropriate lessons have to be learnt as we are two biggest democracies with comparable armed forces. In civil-military relations, we are caught up in a situation, which defies description and could at best be described as ‘negative stasis’.

An analysis of important theoretical models highlights many variants; Samuel Huntington’s ‘Objective Civilian Control’, Morris Janowitz’s ‘Subjective Control’, Rebecca Schiff’s ‘Fusionism/Concordance’ theory and Peter Feaver’s ‘Assertive Control’ models.

Pakistan and India, two neighbours with a shared colonial legacy, are now on opposite ends of this continuum. While Pakistan army revels in total autonomy, Indian Armed Forces face increasing marginalization and degradation.

The emerging global trend is to include military opinion by increased representation and interfaces, tolerating dissent in policy formulation and concerted attempt by civilian policy makers to acquire better domain competence. Civilian supremacy is an accepted imperative and is best described in the famous quote by Peter Feaver, “Regardless of how superior the military view of a situation may be, the civilian view trumps it. In other words, civilians have the right to be wrong.”

In our system, one of the biggest irritants is differential sense of accountability, armed forces work on ‘court martial’ format with justice at express speed. On the other extreme, no civilian bureaucrat in the higher echelons has ever been held accountable for military debacles, lack of preparedness or even scandals like Tehelka, despite the fact that transaction of business rules specify that defence of India is the responsibility of the defence secretary.

Despite reports and recommendations of numerous committees like Kargil Review, Naresh Chandra Task Force and Shekatkar Committee, India remains hesitant to graduate to genuine integration of decision-making structures.

Globally accepted norms like Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), theatre commands and National Defence University (NDU) continue to elude us.

Our bureaucracy, steeped in a generalist culture, refuses to foster domain competence and has mastered the art of divide and rule by fuelling imaginary fears. Decision making in the armed forces has traditionally followed limited discussions followed by directions and in most cases, unilateral diktats.

The top-down approach is particularly relevant in turf- centric issues like integration and CDS, as exemplified by the Goldwater-Nichols Act in Britain and other advanced countries. Disregarding the obvious, our decision makers suddenly discover virtues of consensus building, thereby further reinforcing the status-quo.

Currently, we seem to have put reforms like CDS, theatre commands and NDU on the backburner due to our inability to manage turf-oriented issues. As an alternative, an ad-hoc system with the defence planning committee, led by the national security assistant has been put in place, hopefully as an interim solution.

Former Jammu and Kashmir governor NN Vohra, who also has the maximum experience in security management, suggested specialized cadre for security management and setting up of separate security affairs ministry.

Admiral Arun Prakash reiterated the need to create customized defence infrastructure ministry. Having deferred reforms at the apex level, we need to identify the ones that require gestation and cannot be postponed. These include integration of decision-making structures, NDU and revamping of defence acquisition and production process. Meanwhile, naive Indians, simply adore soldiers and movies like Uri. Hopefully, the discerning will realize that we need thinking armed forces hierarchy and not ‘Jo Hukam’ variety vectored by fictional drones.

Sunday Special: The Fourth Industrial Revolution disrupted democracy. What comes next?


The theme of last year’s Davos, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, became the underlying force driving many of the unexpected developments we’ve seen in 2016.

With the rapid and exponential growth of connectivity and networking predicted by Moore’s Law, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting many fields, but none more strikingly than democracy – and capitalism. Both institutions are based on the freedom to choose a leader, product or service based on the best available information. But only now are we realizing the significance of how this information is created, delivered, modified and consumed – how it has been skewed by the exponential growth in communications technology.

From the advent of language and the alphabet, through the evolution of printing, broadcast and the telephone, the control of communications was historically in the hands of a privileged few.

In fact, the original purpose of the Phoenician alphabet, from which most modern alphabets developed, was to restrict information to those who could read. However, with the advent of the internet and the hyper-connected, interdependent world that now exists, we have only recently begun to fully grasp the power of communications between any group of people, anywhere on the planet at any time – simultaneously.

Compounding that, traditional forms of individual and mass communications are waning. Witness shrinking print newspaper readership, broadcast television viewers and fixed line telephones.

Until a few years ago, the internet was still treated as a digital version of previous analog broadcast technologies like TV, newspaper or radio. However, with the advent of affordable mobile devices and social networks, we have finally seen a technology emerge that offers interaction, engagement and collaboration across the world in real time, among groups as small as two and as large as millions.

Private-sector social media platforms, such as Twitter and YouTube, allow anyone to transmit information to the masses without gatekeeper approval.This has redefined the broadcaster-audience equation. Previous power-brokers can no longer control the limitless information passing directly through cyberspace to personal smartphones. Entrenched rights are being dismantled, a new power is emerging in the world and ICT is leading this change.

There have been many benefits to society from this change. It’s now much harder to conceal things like political corruption, product defects and inadequate service. When politicians miss parliamentary sessions or make different promises at two different campaign stops, the news is immediately disseminated. For businesses, a “hot mic” moment can go instantly viral or a seemingly minor problem with a product can evolve into a global recall – and corporate scandal — in an instant.

In 2016, a perfect storm of technology advances combined with marginalized voices led to everything from Brexit to the recent U.S. presidential elections. Even with the huge growths in online retailers at the expense of their physical counterparts, we are all confronted with a new world order in which traditional assumptions of everything from news reporting and polling to advertising can be wrong. This is causing every government and business leader to question how to lead effectively and responsibly amid the confusion based on inaccurate information.

When confirmation bias runs the world

These surprises weren’t supposed to happen in the era of big data and artificial intelligence. Both the quantity and quality of information were supposed to get better. But as we became comfortable and confident with technology, the fundamental way we communicate and exchange information also changed.

This era of anytime mobility helps like-minded individuals band together via social media. They share information which isn’t necessarily incorrect, but is definitely myopic and biased, leading to what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” In the last few years, supporters who shared tweets and articles and reaffirmed beliefs that furthered their cause unleashed a populist movement that changed everything from geopolitics to who gets to live in America’s White House and South Korea’s Blue House.

Pundits everywhere have been speculating about how the economy, international politics, immigration and even the environment will change with these surprises. But even before these events, the world was already changing. Just ten years ago, such electoral results would not have been possible. In fact, back then the five largest companies on the planet were oil or oil-related. Today, the five largest are all information-based – data has truly become the “new oil” and, as with oil, it’s a resource that’s full of opportunities and surprises.

Unlike traditional public utilities, communication infrastructure and media, as well as the infrastructure underlying the internet, is now mostly owned by private groups. This is another example of how the balance of power between public and private forces has changed and even transcended boundaries of sovereignty, further complicating governments’ roles and making this a truly global issue.

Will all this change affect the ICT industry? The answer is no. ICT played a key role in 2016, and it is clear that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will continue to drive politics and industry. Leaders should interpret the events of last year as a sign that communications have been truly democratized. The technology that allowed electorates to organize and coordinate in unforeseen ways to determine the fate of an economic union, as well as the impeachment or selection of the next leader, is affecting other areas of society in as yet unforeseen and unexpected ways.

This is the new reality, but mainstream media, government and industry is just starting to grasp the ramifications of a mobile, hyper-connected, anytime/anywhere world. It’s also important that leaders grasp this fundamental change in the way we communicate and make decisions. At this year’s Davos, the theme of “Responsive and Responsible Leadership” is a good opportunity to talk about this new context. It’s the start of a new era and the birth of new communication controlled by the many, not the few.

Leaders today must realize that the revolution in communications is not an extension of the old ways, but a whole new paradigm. Anyone can become a broadcaster, pollster or news-maker. The full meaning of this change, evident in the votes of 2016, is only starting to reveal itself.

South Asia Between Farce & Fear

At a recent gathering of friends, the centre of attraction was a Sri Lankan political research scholar who almost didn’t make it to the get-together. Her visa was delayed till the last moment for unexplained reasons and threatened to dampen our spirits. But arrive she did finally and to a double celebration since she landed on the day the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka ruled decisively to end a six-week crisis that had threatened to destroy the country’s rule of law.

Since October, when President Maithripala Sirisena had created a grave constitutional crisis by deposing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with a rival party leader and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the dramatic turn of events in the neighbouring state had kept us riveted. If ever there was a non-military coup this was it, and the fast-changing developments appeared to portend the worst for the oldest democracy in South Asia. But fortunately for Sri Lanka, Sirisena’s attempts to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections were blocked by the judiciary and the steadfastness of most parliamentarians who had refused to switch sides.

It appears that Sirisena had scented a change in the political air — mistakenly as it turns out — simply because Rajapaksa had won local elections and appeared to be in the ascendant again. In a brazen subversion of democratic norms, Sirisena appointed Rajapaksa, an aggressive Sinhala nationalist and the architect of the bloody war that ended the Tamil Tigers’ insurgency, prime minister. Only, he could not muster the numbers.

In the assault on democracy across South Asia, India is no laggard.

The Sri Lankan crisis underlines the fragility of democracies in this region but it’s also an object lesson in how democracy can be safeguarded even in seemingly impossible situations. That is, as long as institutions remain robust and civil society rallies to the cause. Our friend from Colombo provided an inspiring account of how citizens had swarmed the streets and kept all-night vigils at the residence of the ousted prime minister to foil the Sirisena-Rajapaksa conspiracy. But that alone could not have saved the day if the judiciary had not held firm. After all, South Asia is littered with disastrous examples of civil society failing to stop illiberal and illegal regimes from flourishing. As our researcher friend kept reminding us, Sri Lanka just got lucky in preserving the constitutional order.

Given the many imponderables, it does seem that luck played a big part. What if Rajapaksa had been able to cobble together the numbers he needed? What if the Supreme Court had not upheld the rule of law as courts frequently fail to do? What if the lawmakers had defected to the highest bidder as often happens in India when political parties have to spirit away their entire contingent of elected representatives and sequester them in distant locations to prevent them from being poached?

Right now that’s what is happening in Karnataka where the state government is in danger of being felled if an unprincipled lawmaker or two defects to the opposition. Since it came to power at the centre, the BJP has made a fine art of cobbling together governments in states where it has fallen woefully short of the required numbers.

If the ruling Awami League in Bangladesh uses violence and repressive measures against the opposition, in India, the BJP government of Narendra Modi continues to eviscerate India’s democracy with his contempt for political convention and institutions. Looked at from three critical aspects, institutional autonomy, civil liberty and the prevailing political culture, India’s democracy has been slipping noticeably. The relentless hollowing out of institutions to suit its majoritarian agenda has left its mark on the way government functions — incompetently and in a shambolic mess.

For sheer farce it was hard to beat the goings-on in the country’s premier investigation agency, CBI, where Prime Minister’s Office was trying to remove the director by appointing a deputy to spy on him. Ostensibly, this was done to stymie an investigation into the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal signed by the prime minister. Political interference in key institutions has resulted in internal conflicts and left them in dangerous disarray, exposing them to public ridicule.

The bureaucracy, the judiciary, police and the media have all been politicised to such a degree that dissent and debate have become a risky proposition. Sedition cases have shot up since 2014 when Modi swept to power, with writers, well-known academics, lawyers and students facing the brunt of political displeasure.

As the government swings between farce and terror, India is witnessing outright absurdities. In the latest instance, 10 students of Jawaharlal Nehru University have been charged with sedition for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans three years ago. But what can one say when the government has found even a book criticising its plan to link rivers in the country seditious? An added irony here is that the author, an environmental campaigner, wrote the book during the time he was jailed for protesting against a drilling project.

The most dangerous of the BJP’s ploys has been in subverting the opposition. Recently, in a fraudulent act, the party was able to bring about a constitutional amendment to provide a 10 per cent reservation in jobs and education for the economically backward among upper castes without much discussion. It was a shrewd move that forced the Congress and most other parties to back the move although it strikes at the very basis of the constitution which guarantees equality.

With general elections looming large, it was the fear of being branded as anti-poor that may have prompted the opposition to support the amendment, which is unlikely to pass a legal challenge. That the BJP government could get the support of other parties to endorse such a cynical electoral move indicates how vulnerable India’s system is to such machinations. If Pakistan faces serious threats to its democracy from the street power of religious groups, as the blasphemy cases have shown, here it comes from the manipulative skills of the ruling party in using the very institutions of democracy to kill its spirit and ideals.

As religious majoritarianism and hyper nationalism eats into the politics of South Asia, it’s doubtful if nations will get as lucky as Sri Lanka did in ­safeguarding its democracy. Perhaps not even Sri Lanka again.

Cut Global Emissions by 15% Using Digital Technology

The time for action is now. The Earth is facing an imminent risk of crossing tipping points in Earth’s life support systems. When that happens, self-reinforcing cycles will kick in that could potentially lead to a ‘hothouse Earth’ state. 

Yet we still have an opportunity to keep global temperatures in check. To accomplish this, greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2020 and then fall dramatically – approximately by half every decade. We call this the Carbon Law. 

Solutions already exist in energy, industry, buildings, transport, food, forestry and agriculture. The gap between science and understanding in society has essentially closed. Now we need to close the gap between understanding and acting. Now is not the time for incremental improvements – we need rapid scaling and exponential climate action. 

How digital technology can help reduce global emissions by 15% 

Connectivity will be a key enabler for many, if not most, exponential climate solutions. The recently-launched Exponential Climate Action Roadmap explores how the Carbon Law can be implemented across all key sectors of the global economy. In this report, we argue the digital technology sector is probably the world’s most powerful influencer to accelerate action to stabilize global temperatures well below 2°C. 

The digital sector is already well on track to reduce its own emissions, which represent 1.4% of the global total, and it has the opportunity to cut global emissions in half by 2030 while driving exponential growth in data performance. The digital sector can also take a strong lead in accelerating demand for 100% renewable energy. 

Our assessment, as laid out in the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap, is that digital technologies could already help reduce global carbon emissions by up to 15% – or one-third of the 50% reduction required by 2030 – through solutions in energy, manufacturing, agriculture and land use, buildings, services, transportation and traffic management. This corresponds to more than the current carbon footprints of the EU and the US combined. But it is through the Fourth Industrial Revolution – particularly 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) – that the digital sector can take the pace of change to the next level. 

Exponential technologies for exponential progress 

Exponential technologies are those whose output per size or dollar is consistently accelerating. The classic example is the silicon chip – since the mid-1960s, the power of computer chips has doubled every 18-24 months while the price has halved (following Moore´s Law, which inspired the Carbon Law). 5G is the next exponential technology. With data speeds 10 to 100 times faster than 4G, it represents a step-change in mobile technology. But the benefits of 5G go far beyond speed. Its capabilities include super low latency, better reliability, tighter security and lower energy consumption. 

In the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, Ericsson estimates that the number of cellular connections will reach 4.1 billion by 2024, which is double previous estimates. With sensors in factories, in smart cities, on farms and in our homes, 5G combined with AI has the potential to make our societies and economies radically more efficient and sustainable. 

To illustrate this, let’s focus on one of the industries highlighted in the roadmap: the transport industry.

Transport accounts for 21% of global emissions, with 73% coming from short journeys. Several technologies are now converging that will ensure the transport sector undergoes its most dramatic transformation in a century.

In the last two years, all major car and truck manufacturers have announced electrification plans. In China, Shenzhen´s bus fleet of 16,000 buses is completely electric and taxis are planned to follow. 

But the real game-changer will be electric and driverless cars and trucks. 5G is a pivotal technology for safety, efficiency and reliability in this space. Driverless vehicles will accelerate a shift in the traditional business model of vehicle ownership towards mobility and transportation as a service. This means fewer people will own a car, instead ordering shared rides from driverless electric vehicles or catching a driverless bus. 

Within industry, Ericsson, Telia and Einride are working on a connectivity-based 5G solution that could lead to an exponential transformation of short-distance transport on public roads.

The project is based on Einride’s T-pod, a continuously operating driverless vehicle, and aims to make all road freight transportation electric. Such a sustainable and cost-competitive solution may replace more than 60% of today’s transport impact. Einride estimates the CO2 reduction potential per pallet of freight when transitioning from diesel to electricity to be 90% for countries with a low-carbon electricity mix, like Sweden. It will also reduce emissions of harmful NOx and ultrafine soot particles. 

What are the next exponential technologies? 

To halve emissions by 2030, we need to maximize technologies at different levels of development. Cloud computing, first-generation industrial automation and 3G and 4G mobile networks, among others, already serve as a foundation for big efficiency gains.

Next come 5G, AI, IoT and drones, which all depend on connectivity and open up completely new opportunities. With the right policy frameworks and strong climate leadership, these technologies will be instrumental to moving society towards a circular and lean economy, focused on growing service value while reducing waste and pollution. 

Taken together, this will require nothing short of a global economic transformation and climate leadership at all levels from cities, countries and corporations. Digitalization is already transforming the global economy and unleashing powerful forces in every industry. We have growing evidence that exponential innovations in both infotech and biotech, as we enter deeper into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, have the potential to realise a sustainable and wealthier future for all. The grand challenge for humanity is to ensure that groundbreaking technologies have a clear purpose for our planet and everyone on it. If we adopt an integrated framework for sustainable innovation within planetary boundaries for the people and planet, and harness these forces, we can build exponential momentum and make the Carbon Law a reality. 

Saturday Special: Table Manners Prevent Collapse of Society– & Now We Need New Ones

As a kid, I hated table manners. They were an imposition on my ability to eat (and talk) at the dinner table, and they constantly undercut what I was trying to focus on, which was either to a) shove food in my face, or b) pontificate loudly on which dinosaur was best.

Manners were rules that were forced on me by fusty churchgoing ladies, and fell into the same anti-kid category as things like turtlenecks, “quiet time” and couches that weren’t to be jumped on.

So when I was old enough, I learned enough basic manners to not be disgusting to girls, but I more or less shunned any and all ideas of etiquette for the entirety of my 20s. I did not know at the time that this would basically turn my social life into an anxiety-ridden nightmare.

Every traveler knows that manners change from culture to culture – the differences between cultures are often the source of our best stories – but that manners themselves are ubiquitous. The reason for this isn’t because human beings just like making dumb rules about things, but because we realized early on that social anxiety is a nightmare, and that having a standardized set of social rules that everyone follows helps allay that anxiety.

Different cultures have different standard ways of greeting each other, for instance. Handshakes were originally a way to show the person you were greeting that you were unarmed, or, in the case of cheek-kissing cultures, were displays of genuine affection. In places like Japan, the depth of a bow shows the depth of your respect. And more complicated (or “secret”) handshakes were a way of showing belonging to a specific group.

But in America, we lack a single unified greeting. (Go in for a hug when someone else is going for a shake, and you will spend approximately the next 10 months sporadically remembering the moment and restraining yourself from walking into oncoming traffic. The other person in that encounter may remember you, despite an entire night of otherwise delightful interactions, to be “that dude who decided to try and get way too intimate with me”). You could make the argument that it is for this reason, at least as much as social media, that we’ve all become shut-ins who would rather spend time with our screens than with other people.

Table manners serve a similar purpose to standardized greeting rituals – they allow you legitimate avenues to non-verbally express your enjoyment of a meal, for example. They also offer you specific rules to violate if you wish to be deliberately rude. The point isn’t to make rudeness impossible, it’s just to make it obviously intentional or unintentional. Without manners, fights can start and grudges can be held over mere miscommunications. With manners, they are probably only going to start over legitimate grievances.

But the table manners we have now have ceased to be useful. The no-elbows-on-the-table rule was initiated in medieval times because tables were much more crowded, so putting your elbows on the table was a contemporary equivalent to manspreading. The pull-out-the-chair-for-the-ladies rule, while always chivalrous, was initiated not because women were helpless, but because their dresses were huge and they couldn’t gracefully do so themselves. And the “clink” we do with our glasses when we toast is a descendant from when we used to allow our guests to pour small amounts of their drink into ours to show that we had not poisoned them.

So most modern table manners are just cultural vestigial limbs. They have ceased to be useful ways of easing social anxiety. But we have not necessarily adapted with new manners that serve our times. For example, there’s no subtle manner in which a vegetarian, a pescatarian or a vegan can indicate to the chef their dietary requirements while at the table. As a result, it’s always a loud refusal followed by an explanation, which is why half of non-vegans are always saying “Ugh, vegans can never stop talking about being vegan.”

Well, yeah. You keep trying to serve them non-vegan food. The same problem arises for people with intolerances, allergies, or, in the case of alcohol, previous problems with addiction.

Likewise, modern tables could adopt smartphone baskets to keep guests from checking their mail while at the table. They could involve pre-meal email notifications that Aunt Susan has strong opinions about Colin Kaepernick, or that Cousin Amy just discovered the “truth” about chemtrails, and that neither topic should be broached if we want to have a meal that doesn’t devolve into shouting matches. They could incorporate different colored plates that diners could choose to indicate to all present how willing they are to discuss their romantic lives – green for Steve, who’s so totally in love, red for Tiffany, who will bring someone home when she’s damned good and ready.

It’s a common theme in internet memes to say, “LOL I’m so awkward at parties. I’d rather hang out with cats.” And while, yeah, fair enough if you’re a cat fan, it’s worth noting that our ancestors figured out a solution to social awkwardness literally millennia ago. The solution is table manners.

Globalization4.0 -An Alternate View


I would like to reiterate an alternative – or probably a complementary – perspective to that presented by Richard Baldwin who describes Globalization 4.0 as an oncoming era dominated by international arbitrage in services. Professor Baldwin calls the pre-1914 period Globalization 1.0, the post-1945 era Globalization 2.0, and implies that our most recent era was Globalization 3.0. The latter is characterized, in his view, by “factories crossing borders”. Since he sees Globalization 4.0 as distinctively disruptive – notably due to the “globotics upheaval”, the blend of globalism and robotics – one might suggest that 4.0 should be followed by 5.0, analogous to Globalization 2.0, which overcame the worst excesses of the preceding disruptive phase.

Globalization 1.0 and 2.0

Here is the alternative or complementary view. If one takes a Polanyian approach, then what Polanyi depicted as the “dis-embedded phase” of the Great Transformation in the 19th and early 20th centuries was Globalization 1.0, which was about the construction of national market economies. Led by the UK as the dominant capitalist power, it was an era of laissez-faire economics, trade in complementary goods, a technological revolution and, critically, domination by nation-based financial capital.

It involved labour commodification, as workers were torn from the land and rural support systems. And, though economic historians scarcely discuss it, it involved a plunder of the commons, via enclosure and privatization. It led to a form of rentier capitalism. The results were rising inequalities (with wealth inequality rising more than income inequality), widespread insecurity and a new class structure with a bourgeoisie and a mass class, the proletariat.

We will not dwell on Globalization 1.0 here, beyond noting that, as with all subsequent phases of globalization, it involved a shift in geopolitical economic dynamism. Europe floundered, and accused the United States – the emerging centre of capitalism – of stealing its intellectual property, which was perfectly true. The declining powers – the UK, Germany and France, mainly – also lashed out with protectionism and “trade wars”, which may sound familiar.

The crisis of Globalization 1.0 was what Polanyi depicted as “the threat of the annihilation of civilization”: the horror of the Great War, the Depression and the Second World War. What emerged after 1945 was Globalization 2.0, the re-embedded phase of Polanyi’s Great Transformation. This was the era of social democracy, in which new systems of regulation, redistribution and social protection moderated inequalities and labour-based insecurity. Rentier capitalism was curbed and finance was regulated. It was no “golden age”, but for a while it offered widely shared improvements in living standards in OECD countries. For reasons elaborated elsewhere, it could not last.

Freeing the market?

The result was Globalization 3.0. This was the dis-embedded phase of the Global Transformation, the painful construction of a global market economy. As with the corresponding phase of the Great Transformation, this was initially dominated by zealous advocacy of “free markets”, led by the neo-liberalism of the Mont Pelerin Society and its twin political enforcers, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

They rolled back social democratic regulations and systems of redistribution. They liberalized finance, which again came to dominate economies, but in an unprecedented, international way. To give just one indicator: in the 1970s, the financial assets of US financial institutions equalled 100% of GDP; now they are more than 350%. As in the pre-1914 period, finance is sucking up rental income.

Globalization 3.0 has other similarities to Globalization 1.0. Ironically, neoliberalism bred the most unfree market system ever constructed, via an international architecture of institutions. If there is one symbol of the era, it is the passage in 1994 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS. It was orchestrated by the World Trade Organization, but shaped by US multinational corporations and bolstered by the World Bank, the IMF and other international bodies, helped by what were to become more than 3,000 trade and investment agreements.

TRIPS essentially globalized the US intellectual property rights system. It enabled big pharma, big finance and big tech to acquire vast rentier income from around the world. In particular, patents proliferated. One cannot describe this era accurately without giving pride of place to the tide of intellectual property rights, and behind that the facilitatory role of global finance. Again, one indicator must suffice here. In 1994, fewer than one million patents were filed; that annual number has since more than trebled, each guaranteeing monopoly profits for 20 years or more. What free market?

History repeats itself

For a while, the primary beneficiary was the US, followed by Japan, the European Union and South Korea. But they underestimated China. It was not a member of the WTO in 1994, but joined in 2001. Very quickly, China caught up, and by 2011 was filing more patents than the US. They may not have been as valuable, but it was a symbolic moment, signalling that China was emerging as a geopolitical centre of globalism. By 2015, it was filing more patents than the US, South Korea, Japan and the EU put together. Having been used as a cheap labour pool for big tech, China emerged as a primary rentier state.

Then came a predictable historical irony. Just as European nations accused the US of stealing their industrial secrets to gain competitive advantage in the Globalization 1.0 era, today the US accuses China of stealing its intellectual property. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Charles Dickens would be smiling, having lost considerable income because the US refused to honour European copyright, much to his chagrin. Samuel Slater, the Englishman described as the “father of the American industrial revolution”, stole industrial secrets from his base in Derbyshire, and is known in England as “Slater the Traitor”.

There are other parallels between today’s Globalization 3.0 and Globalization 1.0. In the dis-embedded phase of the Great Transformation, labour was commodified – made subject to market forces, and paid in money wages – while workers as persons were commodified, no longer having the ability to refuse wage labour. In the re-embedding phase, or Globalization 2.0, labour was partially decommodified, in that more of the payment took non-wage forms, such that the wage became a smaller part of workers’ remuneration, undermining the incentive to labour.

In the dis-embedded phase of the Global Transformation, Globalization 3.0, labour has been re-commodified, with the erosion of non-wage benefits and labour-based state benefits, and with the emergence of cloud labour and the platform economy. For a sensible market economy, labour should be properly commodified, not decommodified. But the problem arises in that workers too feel commodified. They have no security outside the labour market. Those coming to terms with Globalization 4.0 will have to address that, or our societies will face the consequences.

Changing trade

This leads to another parallel, which Professor Baldwin’s essay addresses. The predominant pattern of trade has changed in the different eras. In the dis-embedded phase of the Great Transformation, Globalization 1.0, the main thrust of trade was in complementary goods, between primary products and manufactured goods, corresponding to the Ricardian principle of comparative advantage, albeit mediated by colonialism and imperialism.

In the embedded phase of the Great Transformation, the industrialized economies effectively acted like closed economies, in which trade in potentially competitive goods was controlled by regulations that took labour costs out of the reckoning, since standards were similar in countries trading in industrial goods. This broke down in the dis-embedded phase of the Global Transformation. In Globalization 3.0, relative labour costs have become pivotal to trade to an unprecedented degree.

This relationship has characterized the period. Governments everywhere have striven to gain competitive advantage through labour reforms designed to increase “labour market flexibility”, and through all sorts of subsidies, such as tax credits, which GATT rules have been unable to arrest. One consequence of a “beggar-my-neighbour” trade policy – combined with technological advances that have made the technical and geographical redivision of labour and production much easier – is that the defining feature of trade under Globalization 3.0 has been growth of trade in components of goods and components of services.

I have one small grumble with Richard’s analysis of the changing pattern of trade. He predicts that future trade will depend on “global arbitrage opportunities” shaped by “wage rates in the service sector”. It will not be wage rates per se that matter, but labour productivity and labour costs. Chinese wage rates may rise towards the OECD mean average, as they are doing so, but if the Chinese state can squeeze more productivity out of their labourers and if they subsidize non-wage labour costs more effectively, arbitrage would not depend on relative wage rates. The trouble is that in Globalization 4.0, the state in emerging market economies may well take on an increasing share of labour costs. How OECD countries respond will be a major challenge.

The rise of the precariat

A final analogy is crucial to our understanding of the more general challenge ahead. In the dis-embedded phase of the Great Transformation, a new class structure took shape, with struggle by the proletariat defining the age. The subsequent re-embedded phase, or Globalization 2.0, entrenched the agenda of that mass class. By contrast, in the dis-embedded phase of the Global Transformation, or Globalization 3.0, the proletariat has shrivelled along with social democratic politics, while a new class structure has taken shape. The mass class is now the precariat.

If a re-embedded phase – a desirable Globalization 4.0 – is to be anticipated, it will be the needs and aspirations of the precariat that will shape it. They will forge a new politics of paradise, geared to reducing inequalities and insecurities, and rolling back rentier capitalism. The historical challenge for the precariat is to force governments to construct an ecologically sustainable economic system in which the rewards for technological progress are shared more equitably, and in which the threat of “extinction” is overcome. The new protest movement called “extinction” may prove to be pivotal.

In a sense, one may say that the commons were plundered in Globalization 1.0, revived in Globalization 2.0, and plundered more extensively in Globalization 3.0. In Globalization 4.0, they must now be rescued and dramatically revived.

The Power of Ignorance

Not that it has ever gone out of my memory, but as I was reading an old Harvard case study named ‘Nantucket Nectars’, I was once again reminded of a gem from Guy Kawasaki’s 2004 class at Stanford. Guy argues, “Ignorance is not only bliss, it’s also empowering.”

Whenever I have asked entrepreneurs why they took the risk of launching their ventures, they have almost always denied taking risks. In fact, many of them added that if they thought there were risks, they may not have started-up. Hardly has any one of them expressed a ‘desire’ to take risks. The situation looks risky only to the observer it seems; not to the protagonist.

It would be naïve to believe there indeed were no risks associated with their decisions. In every single case that I know of, there were inherent risks; whether obvious or obscure. Entrepreneurs are probably too engulfed by their optimism to sense all the risks. They may either play down the identified risks and/or are ignorant of many others.

Their assertion that they would not have knowingly taken risks, pretty much proves that they were ignorant about at least some of the risks taken. In his talk cited earlier, Guy Kawasaki adds further merit to this argument. Talking about founding teams of truly world-changing companies, he claims, “Not only were they unproven; they were clueless.”

In most entrepreneurial stories, it is the unforeseen challenges that have brought out the best in the entrepreneurs. Interestingly, many were not even aware of their own strengths. In fact, in so many cases, the very adversity gave birth to new strengths.

However, when we teach entrepreneurship, we put an incredible amount of effort into establishing the primacy of identifying and mitigating risks before launching. Looks like we need to take a leaf out of Stuart Firestein’s book. A neuroscientist from Columbia University, Firestein teaches his students that ignorance is far more important to discovery than knowledge.

Coming back to the Harvard case, one of the founders is quoted as saying, “If we had known how unattractive the industry dynamics were before we started our business, we probably would not have started Nantucket Nectars.” Incidentally, the venture went on to become a massive success and got the founders a more than decent exit.

I have always wondered why a larger number of start-ups don’t emerge out of entrepreneurship education. I seem to have partially got the answer. In a bid to teach everything we know, we probably end up divulging too much; leaving little to ignorance. 

Weekend Special: Stop Speaking Your Native Language & Be Prepared for Consequences

“The language we are born hearing, however young, have a very strange way of staying with us”. The loss of a native language is a phenomenon known as first language attrition. And though it can evoke surprise and at times outrage, first language attrition is becoming all too common as a greater number of people move around the world.

Attrition sounds very negative. It invokes this mental image of something grinding away at another and wearing it down. We don’t think that’s what’s actually happening,” says Monika Schmid, the leading researcher on language attrition currently based at the University of Essex. Schmid doesn’t believe the new language eradicates the mother tongue—it’s still there, just buried and dormant. More importantly, a growing body of research suggests that in many cases the language can be recovered.

In Britain, teenagers have to dissect and analyze a dozen or so poems whilst studying English literature and language in school. While the specific poems studied differ slightly from classroom-to-classroom, many Brits will remember Sujata Bhatt’s short yet searing poem, Search for My Tongue.

Written in both English and Gujarati, the poem encapsulates the fear of losing your native language. Bhatt is an Indian poet who grew up in Pune, but migrated to the US when she was 12. In her poem, she describes a war between these two languages, as they compete for dominance. She writes about her anguish as English seems to be winning out, but it’s when Bhatt is asleep and vulnerable, when she longs most for home, that her first language asserts itself more powerfully than before. Every time she fears she’s forgotten, Gujarati comes flooding back to her. She wasn’t just scared of losing her first language, but the consequence it would have on her sense of self. Without her native tongue, Bhatt would in many ways be severed from her community. She would be stuck, one foot in two worlds. Though she sounds like the people from her new home, she would still be seen as an outsider, and while she looks like the people of her birthplace, the words tumbling out of her mouth would be alien to them. She would feel disjointed, untethered.

You don’t really notice losing your fluency in your native language until it’s almost too late. One moment you’re telling someone “Yarhamuk Allah” after they sneeze, and in the next you’re saying, “bless you.” You don’t notice how much of your vocabulary has slipped away until you’re suddenly forced to speak in only your native language—either because you’ve traveled or have had a loved one come to visit. But once you notice it’s gone, a sense of loss weighs on you more heavily.

I remember many incidences of not being able to formulate a sentence. And after trying a few times the sentence just comes out wrong. The words sit on the tip of your tongue, feels close, yet so out of reach. You don’t want to turn around to your grandmother and say a few incoherent words.

Most immigrant parents make the conscious decision to raise kids as bilingual in and the kid is fluent in both languages up until kid crosse the teen and really couldn’t speak native language anymore. It’s frustrating because you still feel that connection to it. But you don’t feel ownership over it.

The science of language loss

Bhatt’s iconic poem isn’t very far off from the science. Schmid describes a process where two languages struggle and compete for mental resources. When, for example, an Arabic speaker begins to learn English that person has to use quite a bit of mental energy to not use an Arabic word or Arabic sentence structure. When they have to focus on saying “bread” and “milk” in English, they have build a mental barrier to block the Arabic version of the words. But then if they want to say the words in Arabic, they have to override that inhibitory mechanism.

This results in a situation where even common words can be difficult to remember. The barrier is even harder to overcome when the speaker is trying to articulate words or sentences out loud, compared to just understanding what someone is saying. That’s why some people find they can easily understand a language, but can’t speak it.

“It’s not that you’re forgetting that language, what’s happening is that it has been buried and you have to dig it up again and that takes quite a bit of energy,” Schmid explains. This inhibitory mechanism is more powerful the greater someone is immersed in a second language.

First language attrition doesn’t just affect children. Steffi Graf, Germany’s most famous sports star is one particularly infamous example. In 2007, Graf admitted that she struggles to speak German. She announced this awkwardly whilst receiving the German media award for humanitarian engagement. “Sorry, I cannot speak German so much,” she said to the crowd—sparking astonished headlines (link in German) across the country.

Graf’s struggle to speak German is all the more remarkable considering her history. Born in Germany in 1969, Graf spent her childhood and a significant chunk of her adult life and tennis career there (quickly becoming one of Germany’s most influential women). She moved to the US in 2000 with her husband, where she went to raise her family. When she returned, however, she was speaking English fluently, but struggled to properly string together German sentences.

Graf isn’t a unique case. In 2014, US soldier and prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl was released after five years in Taliban hands. When he was returned, his family said Bergdahl initially struggled to speak English.

Back to basics

All is not lost, though. Depending on your age, you can regain the mastery of your first language.

If a child grows up speaking one language, they would have acquired the grammatical rules of that language by the age of six, Schmid says. There’s a period between the age of six and 11 to 12, where the knowledge of that language is consolidated—”All of these things stabilize and firm up,” Schmid says. During that period in your life, you reach a point where mastering the language comes together and it locks into place.

But it’s also for this reason why children younger than 12 may struggle to retain the characteristics of a native speaker if they move. They might retain some knowledge of their first language, but they’ll likely speak it with a foreign accent, littered with grammatical mistakes.

If you understand the language, but struggle to speak it, it’s not a sign of the “first language eroding or being totally forgotten,” Schmid says, adding, “it’s still there and can be reactivated”—it just needs some attention.

The speaker has to overcome the inhibitory mechanism that made one language more dominant than the other and overcoming that barrier takes practice and lots of it. For some, that practice means going to a class to learn the grammar and more complex vocabulary that they’re struggling to remember. But for others, it means immersing themselves back in their home country or being surrounded with native speakers. Nkonde returned to Zambia and lived there for several years. She said it would have been quite a “strange experience” to sit down in a class and try to formally relearn hear native languages. It was more “comfortable” for her to learn it around other people. The key, Nkonde says, is to allow herself “to be vulnerable to attempt to speak my language,” pointing to the fact that for so many people the fear of saying something wrong is what keeps them silent.

But what if you can’t understand the mother tongue at all? Retrieving what’s known as the “birth language” is unfortunately far more difficult.

There’s some evidence to suggest that the language we learn at an early age leave traces on the brain. A 2014 study found that Chinese children adopted at 12 months by French-speaking families in Canada were able to respond to so-called “Chinese tones.” The study recruited girls aged between nine and 17-years-old and put them into three groups; girls who only spoke French and were never exposed to Chinese, bilingual girls who spoke both French and Chinese, and Chinese adoptee who only spoke French. The girls had to listen to “pseudo words” that used the tones found in Chinese languages. The study found that bilingual girls and those who had been exposed to Chinese in early years had the same brain activity when listening to the pseudo words.

But though scientists found that early exposure to Chinese left a demonstrable trace in the brain, it doesn’t necessarily mean that these girls have a huge advantage when it comes to re-learning Chinese. Another 2014 study, using Chinese adoptees in the Netherlands, found that while these adoptees were better than monolingual Dutch children at producing Chinese tones, they weren’t any better at deciphering the distinction between these tones. The advantage to being exposed to another language in early years, Schmid notes, appears to be limited to “phonological features.”

That said, those exposed to a language in their early years might have some advantages. A 2009 study looked at Korean adoptees in Sweden who had spent extensive time learning Korean and lived in Korea for a few years as adults. Researchers found that the group of Korean adoptees did better on phonetic tests than a group of Swedish adults who had also been learning Korean and lived in Korea. The study suggested that while the two groups didn’t differ much on ability on some language tests, early exposure to Korean gave the group of adoptees an advantage in other tests.

In short, the language we are born hearing, however young, have a very strange way of staying with us.

University is in many ways quite a ruthless introduction to adulthood. Young people have to pave a way for themselves; picking their career, the person they want to be, the friends they want to surround themselves with, whilst juggling rent, bills, and their studies. But it’s when you’re forging a new life for yourself that the past can quietly bleed in.

For someone who quickly learnt the English language, mostly through reading, there were countless words I had pronounced incorrectly. Over the years, whenever someone pointed out that I had said the word wrong—it’s econ-no-mist, not econ-no-mis-cist—I would make a mental note on how to say it and practice at home. But there are an array of words that creep up on me in adulthood that I wouldn’t have had to say outside my home and among my family. I hold onto those mistakes now after burying them initially under many mental layers—the seven-year-old girl, who lived, breathed, and consumed Arabic, had found a way to burst through.

I had called my grandmom and asked her then to speak to me in only Punjabi. Our conversations became an awkward dance where I would suddenly pause mid-sentence and ask; what’s the Punjabi word for banana? Month? Happiness? And she would answer patiently. I wasn’t only slowly relearning my first language, but rediscovering my dadi’s dark sense of humor and her wicked turn of phrase.

Research has shown that how someone feels about a language can also have an impact. In other words, the more positive you feel about language, the easier it is to learn or reclaim.

Schmid points to her 2002 study of German-Jewish refugees, which found a link between the amount of persecution a participant had gone through under the Nazi regime and how much German they were still able to speak. She was surprised to find that other more obvious factors—the age the refugees were when they left Germany, the amount of German they had spoken once moving, and even whether their partner was German—didn’t have a direct link to maintenance of their native language. While some participants were keen to never speak German again (the language, they said, of their oppressors), others held onto the only thing they had left from their parents and loved ones. It was this that ended up being a major factor on their mastery of German.

Growing up in a new world, kids are often keen to distance from theirlanguge and identity. I have seen kids swallow the attitudes of what others had said about thier mother tongue; that it was harsh, aggressive, and even angry, and found myself parroting it back to others. But no langauage is cold or aggressiveor brutal, it’s one that makes a person fill with warmth and comfort. It’s the language one wants to love others in, the language one want to joke in, and the one one feels most raw.

Relearning and regaining your mastery in your mother tongue isn’t easy; it’s one that takes years and you may never sound like you once did as a child. But it’s a journey worth taking. On it, you find that once a stranger, your mother tongue, envelopes you once again.

Endgame in Afghanistan

The endgame in Afghanistan is evolving rapidly. Expectations of an end to America’s long military adventure in Afghanistan have unleashed multiple moves to shape the country’s future.

Current diplomacy may lead to either a political settlement which brings a semblance of peace to Afghanistan and the region or a unilateral or disorderly US-Nato withdrawal which sets the stage for the next iteration of Afghanistan’s 40-year civil war. Yet, other scenarios are possible, as several forces clash and coalesce in the endgame.

The most visible force is the momentum of the Afghan Taliban insurgency. It is now dominant in 60pc of the country and exerting relentless pressure on the demoralised Afghan security forces. Brimming with self-confidence, the Taliban refuse to negotiate peace with the beleaguered Ashraf Ghani government and want to talk only to the US about a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces, release of Taliban prisoners and lifting of travel and other restrictions on Taliban leaders. The Taliban no doubt anticipate that after US-Nato withdrawal, they will be able to impose a political settlement on other Afghan parties.

The Taliban’s reluctance to talk to the Kabul regime has emerged as the most important obstacle.

The Taliban’s resilience and determination is mirrored by US President Donald Trump’s frustration and impatience. His unilateral announcement that half the (14,000) US troops will be soon withdrawn from Afghanistan has panicked and marginalised the Kabul government and eroded US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s leverage in negotiating with the Taliban. Consequently, the role and influence of regional powers has expanded significantly.

Among them, Pakistan is presumed to enjoy the greatest influence due to its perceived relationship with the ascendant Taliban. Islamabad confirmed its influence in arranging for the participation of high-level Taliban representatives in the recent Abu Dhabi talks.

However, Iran’s influence has grown considerably in recent times. It has carefully cultivated relations with and provided support to the Taliban while also preserving its traditional links with components of the former Northern Alliance. Tehran will not ease America’s exit from Afghanistan.

Russia has dealt itself in the game, opening cooperation with the Taliban and attempting to initiate an intra-Afghan dialogue through the ‘Moscow format’.

India fears that an Afghan political settlement will lead to restoration of a Taliban-led government. It is now scrambling to preserve its ‘assets’ in Afghanistan through the good offices of Iran and Russia.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE entered the peace process by hosting the third round of the US-Taliban talks. But the limits of their influence are evident from the Taliban’s refusal to attend the next round in Riyadh due to Saudi insistence that they talk to Kabul. Pushed aside by the Saudis, Qatar seems more accommodative of the Taliban’s resistance to intra-Afghan dialogue.

China holds the most important ‘unplayed’ cards in the game. It has the financial and diplomatic clout to bring all the regional players — Pakistan, Iran, Russia and the Central Asians — on board. Obviously, these cards will be played by Beijing in the context of the current tense transition in the wider US-China relationship.

In the next stage of talks, the US, theoretically, could meet most of the Taliban demands — a withdrawal timetable, release of Taliban prisoners, and lifting of travel bans on leaders. There are, ­however, two issues which could bedevil the US-Taliban process: one, a post-settlement US counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan; and two, an intra-Afghan dialogue.

The US wants to leave behind a small counter terrorism force in Afghanistan. The Taliban, reportedly, were not opposed to this in the initial talks with the US. This may change especially if Iran and Russia oppose such a continuing US presence. A compromise may be a multinational counterterrorism capability.

The Taliban’s reluctance to talk to the Kabul regime has emerged as the most important obstacle. The Taliban argue that they are the legal government which was forcibly ousted in 2001. They may also fear that intra-Afghan negotiations and a ceasefire could arrest the insurgency’s momentum and divide their fractious movement.

However, the Taliban may be in danger of overplaying their hand. Despite Trump, the US security establishment will not accept humiliation in Afghanistan. Khalilzad’s talk or fight rhetoric in Kabul may not be all bluster. Without a face-saving formula for an orderly withdrawal, the US may revert to more aggressive options eg privatising the war, as recommended by ex-Blackwater’s Erik Prince; installing a hardliner like Hanif Atmar in Kabul to continue the fight; extending clandestine support to elements of the militant Islamic State in Khorasan group (which Russia and Iran allege is happening already) against the Taliban; conduct a campaign of assassination against Taliban leaders.

Moreover, the Taliban may face regional resistance. Even as Iran encourages the Taliban’s refusal to talk to Kabul, its foreign minister has declared — in New Delhi — that Tehran would not want the Taliban to be the dominant force in a future government. Russia would want a balanced outcome also. China, like Pakistan, may accept a Taliban-led government; but it would prefer a negotiated rather than an imposed settlement.

The Taliban have played the game well so far; it is time to cash in the chips. A Taliban military victory will be thwarted by both the US and some of the regional powers.

Pakistan’s strategic objectives would be best served by a durable political settlement. Islamabad is favourably placed to evolve diplomatic solutions to the two main issues in the US-Taliban talks.

A multinational or UN counter terrorism force can be established by the UN and/ or the OIC.

An interim or neutral government in Kabul, pending presidential polls, accompanied by a time-bound ceasefire, may provide the space for an intra-Afghan agreement on a power-sharing formula as well as an orderly withdrawal of US-Nato forces from Afghanistan. The Afghan parties could be offered appropriate incentives to accept a settlement, including commitments of future financial support from the US, Europe, China and the GCC.

Islamabad’s positive diplomatic role, coordinated with China, and responsive to the interests of other regional players, must also be leveraged to advance Pakistan’s interests: normalisation of Pakistan-US relations; elimination of Balochistan Liberation Army and TTP terrorism from Afghan territory; return of Afghan refugees, and expansion and smooth implementation of CPEC, its acceptance by the US, and the GCC’s partnership in the enterprise.

Dragon aiming for college excellence, Elephant for quotas

Ten years ago, India was seen as a potential superpower, capable of combating the rise of China. Today China has risen so fast that it challenges the techno-military might of the US. India is too far behind to matter.

On the same day, ironically, the Rajya Sabha passed the constitutional amendment enabling the whacky 10% quota for the ‘poor’ in higher education and government jobs, an email arrived in my mailbox about an ongoing research project at Harvard comparing meritocracy in India and China. The Harvard project is based on the belief that the two largest and oldest societies in the world can learn from each other in managing talent despite their different political systems. As someone who has managed organisations, i have learnt that talent is the scarcest resource in society and having the right person in the right place makes all the difference. I was, therefore, deeply anguished when our Parliament passed a law that deliberately reduced opportunities for the most talented (to only 40%) in the areas where it matters most –governance and education.

Every democracy wrestles with the problem of how to combine excellence and fairness. Given historical inequities of caste, India established quotas for Dalits and tribals at the founding of the Republic. It was meant to be temporary but after 70 years not only does this quota persist but competitive politics has expanded it to other backward castes. As a result, the self-esteem and status of the lower castes has risen but their economic status has not (except for a ‘creamy layer’). The reasons are (1) a rotten education system that is negligent of outcomes and fails to equip students for employment; (2) an economic model that has failed to produce high quality jobs in abundance unlike the Far East model of the Asian tigers and China.

We are amazed at the rise of China but we don’t appreciate the role meritocracy has played in this great miracle. The ideal of political meritocracy has existed in China from ancient times. More than 2,500 years ago Confucius said that those who govern should do so through merit and virtue, not inherited status. From the 10th century to 1905, Chinese officials were selected primarily though competitive exams and promoted through rigorous performance assessments. The Chinese debated constantly which abilities and virtues matter for governance and how to assess and institutionalise them by selecting and promoting superior public officials. The concept of political meritocracy spread from China to the West, oddly enough via British India. The first European power to implement a meritocratic civil service was the British empire in India.

According to Daniel Bell, author of The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, the ancient ideal of merit was restored in China by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. We know a lot about China’s economic reforms but have ignored its political reforms because we judge politics only through the lens of electoral democracy and human rights. Bell tells us that in the past four decades, a relentless pursuit of meritocracy through high quality education and placing talented persons in crucial spots in the country’s governance has hugely enhanced the state’s leadership capacity. The focus on merit has not only improved efficiency but also impacted equity by almost eliminating poverty and turned China into a middle-class nation. Although corruption is pervasive and democratic accountability is absent, the ordinary person is satisfied with a social contract that has brought prosperity and good governance to all.

The rise of India after 1991 has also significantly reduced poverty and expanded the middle class. But its success pales in comparison to China’s. What the Harvard project is likely to confirm is that the difference between the two nations lies in meritocracy and state capacity. India’s advantage over China lies in giving its people voice through a vigorous democracy. But its relative failure lies in poorer governance and education. Had India diverted some of its political energy away from reservations and focussed more in enhancing state capacity and placing the most talented officials in the vital sectors of education and governance, the ordinary citizen would have been much better off. With better schools, the most disadvantaged would have had greater opportunities and there would have been greater upward mobility among the poor and low-born.

Despite its flaws, I doubt if argumentative Indians will exchange their system for China’s. However, there is much to learn from China’s pursuit of meritocracy. Elected politicians in a democracy will usually privilege the interests of today’s voters at the expense of future generations – by, for example, not placing the most talented ministers and officials in education and health. This is why a fair number of blockheads end up becoming teachers, policemen, and lower court judges. Bell shows how a relentless focus on merit in China both at the entry level and throughout an official’s career, even at the lowest levels of government, results in solving people’s daily problems and gives political leaders legitimacy in people’s eyes.

The new, 10% reservation in India is hugely flawed and will probably not survive judicial review. Even if it does, it is time to revisit the old social contract based on quotas. Diversity is an excellent objective but there are better ways to implement affirmative action. Quotas are also bad because they divert the nation’s energy from nurturing talent. India’s challenge in the 21st century lies in combining democracy and meritocracy to ensure that the most talented lead at all levels. So, let us learn how China has delivered both prosperity and equity. When high class education is married to meritocratic governance, then low wages actually become an advantage in an open trading system which translates into high wages within a generation. This is how to transform India.

The main reason is India’s dismal educational system, producing unemployable college graduates and schoolchildren close to functional illiteracy. The latest Annual Status of Education Report reveals that barely 50% of children in Class 5 and 73% in Class 8 can read a Class 2 text. Only 44% of Class 8 children can do simple division. How can such a country become a superpower?

Ten years ago, China was still exporting mainly labour-intensive items made in factories employing thousands of workers at low wages. India at the time had emerged as a formidable exporter of computer software, ahead of China in this high-tech area. It had also risen fast as a world-class exporter of generic drugs, small cars and refined petroleum products.

Today, China has not just surged ahead of India but created hi-tech world champions, such as Huawei in 5G telecom, and BYD in batteries. China is the world’s largest producer of solar cells, aluminium and steel. India meanwhile has not produced a single global champion or become a global power in a single new field in the last decade. Its eminence in generic drugs has been eroded by growing dependence on Chinese active drug ingredients. India’s software industry is struggling.

China’s success owes much to its emphasis on meritocracy. Its high-quality educational system has driven relentlessly to catch up with the West, and now produces world-class academic output. China overtook the US in the number of published academic papers in 2016, though it lags well behind in quality. China’s R&D spending is 2.1% of GDP, less than the US’s but higher than Europe’s average. India’s R&D spending has stagnated at around 0.65% of GDP for two decades. It lacks not just money but quality scientists for research.

BJP-leaning scientists at the recent Indian Science Congress claimed India had test-tube babies in the Mahabharata era (hence 100 Kauravas), and aircraft in the Ramayana era. One scientist rejected the theories of Einstein and Hawking, instead proposing “Modi waves”, for which he wanted to get a Nobel Prize. If this is the direction in which politics pushes science, India has no future.

In China, local bodies hire teachers on three-year contracts and sack them if their performance is poor. But in India, we have an army of unsackable teachers who do not teach half the time. A million teaching posts lie vacant and unfilled, with state governments preferring to spend money on freebies and projects yielding kickbacks. Desperate poor people are switching their children from free government schools to costly private schools, even though the latter frequently have unqualified staff.

Cheating in exams is rife. When the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh enacted a tough anti-copying law in 1993, Mulayam Yadav became the only politician to lead a pro-cheating agitation. He argued that without cheating the backward castes would fail to compete with Brahmins! He abolished the anti-copying law on coming to power in 1994. Whither excellence?

Narendra Modi has promised six new Indian IITs and seven IIMs. Alas, this will just create a thin upper crust, whose members will mostly end up with jobs abroad. It cannot remotely compensate for the lack of skills and productivity in the vast majority of Indians beneath this upper crust.

China has decent colleges in almost all provinces. President Xi is determined to become world No 1 in technology and economic clout, and so aims to raise university teaching and research standards consistently. Deng Xiaoping decreed decades ago that China must send tens of thousands of students abroad every year, ignoring worries about a brain drain, convinced that many would return to enrich the country with world-class human capital. In 2008, China launched a Thousand Talents scheme to woo back top-quality overseas academics with world class facilities and salaries. This has greatly boosted human capital and buttressed China’s hi-tech capabilities.

By contrast the higher educational debate in India is dominated by the provision of quotas for sundry castes. State after state has moved in this direction, and the latest constitutional amendment aims at a new 10% quota in private as well as government colleges. No political party attaches any priority to merit or excellence. We have a lobby for every caste, but none for excellence. In such a milieu, excellence will wither while quotas proliferate.

Explicating Justice

The words identified as the most looked up in dictionaries for the year gone by, include ‘Toxic’ in Oxford Dictionary, ‘Justice’ in Merriam Webster Dictionary and ‘misinformation’ in Dictionary.com among others. An article on CNN.com summed up the association of the three words in a very interesting manner- ‘Many people want justice from the damages wrought by toxic leaders and their misinformation campaigns.’ (December 18th, 2018) A similar sentence in the Indian context could read like this. The misinformation on the Rafale deal led to a toxic atmosphere created both inside and outside the Parliament calling for justice on the grounds of gender equality for a Minister.

Among all the three words particularly intriguing is the word ‘justice’. Irrespective of its Latin origin and biblical connotation in seeking, maintaining and upholding justice for the love of lord, the close intimacy of the word ‘justice’ with ‘law’ in the Indian legal system makes it worth dwelling upon. The recent remark by a civil servant being denied ‘natural justice’ brought the Indian bureaucracy and judiciary into limelight over the meaning of justice. A judge had to take a position in the duel between two politicians and that decision of the judge cost the bureaucrat his job. The judge had to give up a post- retirement assignment because it was perceived as a political reward for his stand. The whole drama around a particular position in the bureaucracy called for an interpretation of justice or lack of it in curious ways.

‘Justice’ is used in the Indian Constitution quite sparingly. Justice – social, economic and political is to be secured to all the citizens of India as mentioned in the Preamble to the Constitution and the Directive of State Principles. The Constitution mentions justice in the context of legal systems and their responsibility to ensure that justice is not denied to anyone with economic or other disabilities. However economic disability was seldom separated from social in India until the recent bill on separate reservation for the economically marginalized.  

Economic justice which is the first consideration to ensure equality has finally entered through the proposed bill into the Indian nation cutting across the age old prejudices of caste, creed and religion. India perhaps, has finally provided restorative justice to the economically backward by acknowledging that there is a gap between the rich and the poor. Although the procedural justice on what constitutes economically backward in a country like India where some of the richest in the world live, can be debated. 

In a democracy where everyone has equal rights the danger for ‘justice to prevail’ comes from all sides of the fence. If the wrong doer is powerless, the brunt of justice denied will have to borne. If the upholder of justice is powerful, the accusation of arbitrariness is levelled. If the powerful deny justice then there is anarchy. If the powerless refuse to accept justice then there can be disruption. In modern democracies where power comes from numbers and not brains, numbers rule the roost. This is evident in all major democracies. In the current political scenario in the US, is Trump’s reluctance to accept the decision of the Congress, justice? In the United Kingdom is there justice for the people who failed to tilt the vote against Brexit by an insignificant margin?

The old saying – ‘Let justice roll on like a river’ seems to have lost its luster in modern democracies including India where the Ganges had to be kept pure and unpolluted for the Kumbh by enforcing strict laws in the form of penalty and many felt unfairly treated and complained of denial of justice.  What then is justice? No wonder people want to find the meaning.

New Strategic Axis: Saudi Arabia-Pakistan-China Triumvirate

The recent Saudi confirmation that Riyadh will be investing $10 billion to set up an oil refinery in Pakistan’s deepwater port of Gwadar, which is part of the marquee China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is a big strategic development. Not only does it shore up the CPEC which aims to build a massive network of roads, railways and power plants across the breadth of Pakistan, but also showcases a new strategic axis comprising Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and China.

The Chinese-funded CPEC to which Beijing has committed more than $60 billion, is part of the larger One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative of transnational connectivity that Chinese President Xi Jinping has championed. However, in recent times, concerns have been raised that Chinese OBOR projects leave recipient countries debt-ridden. In fact, Malaysia cancelled two big OBOR projects last year fearing they would bankrupt the country. And this narrative of China piling debt on recipient countries has been growing.

Against this backdrop, the Saudi decision to establish an oil refinery in Gwadar comes as a booster shot for CPEC and OBOR. It increases the trust perception regarding Chinese projects and makes them appear viable. For, as things stand, China does have the determination and the resources to actualise OBOR projects. But it still needs to convince countries that these projects are mutually beneficial. And with the US currently engaged in a trade and strategic power tussle with China, Beijing is having to work extra hard at convincing. Plus, cases like that of Hambantota in Sri Lanka do not help Beijing’s cause. Thus, the Saudi investment in Gwadar – which will be formally inked during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan in February – will come as a boon for Chinese plans.

But what’s really interesting here is Riyadh’s motivation for getting into CPEC. I believe this is directly related to straining of ties between Saudi Arabia and the US last year. Although the two countries continue to reassert their bilateral partnership, a couple of American moves appear to have rubbed Riyadh the wrong way. First, US President Donald Trump last year publicly stated that the Saudi King wouldn’t last two weeks without US support. This was at a time when the US was pressuring the Saudis to curb rising oil prices and pay more for American military presence in the region. Needless to say the public insult did not go down well with Riyadh.

Then in December the US senate passed a resolution against Crown Prince Mohammed blaming him for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. At the same time, the senate passed a separate resolution calling for US aid to the Saudi-led war in Yemen to be stopped. These cuts were quite close to the Saudi bone and it is then that I believe Riyadh decided to diversify its strategic engagements. And what better way to give the Americans something to think about than investing in a Chinese project in Pakistan. Given that the US-Pakistan relationship has also turned rocky over the last few years – over terrorism and Afghanistan – it is easy to see the forces that are bringing Riyadh, Islamabad and Beijing closer.

This would also replace an older US-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia triangle. Overall, China seems to be replacing the US in Asia. It still hasn’t completed this process and no one knows if it ever will. But Trump with his mercurial ways and cavalier approach to allies is making it easier for Beijing

Improving Corporate Culture in the #MeToo era

In the United States, 81% of women and 43% of men said they had experienced sexual harassment or assault, according to a recent national study. These numbers are higher than past research had suggested, and may in part be due to a broader definition of harassment and assault, as well as the raising of awareness around these issues.

The US is not alone. One in five women in England and Wales have experienced some type of sexual assault, and the use of the #MeToo hashtag in countries including India and China suggests that despite a lack of official data, sexual harassment and assault are truly universal issues.

Since the #MeToo movement has taken hold, women and men are holding people in positions of power to a much higher standard of acceptable behaviour. The movement has forced organizations to take a closer look at themselves, scrutinizing not only their policies, but their actual practices and conduct. Organizations and those who lead them must abandon the all-too-familiar “not in my backyard” rhetoric and replace it with real talk, transparency and action. There should be no gap between what you say your values are and what you let happen in your corridors.

While we’re certain that not every organization has issues of sexual harassment, we suspect it would be hard for any of us to find a colleague who could say they have never felt vulnerable in a moment, whether with a stranger, acquaintance, colleague, client, supervisor or someone else in a position of authority. For that reason, this issue belongs to all of us.

Much attention has been placed on sexual misconduct allegations in the high-profile entertainment, media and political spheres, but accusations have been levied against leaders in nearly every industry. If your organization truly has a culture that doesn’t tolerate the predatory behaviour that has come to light in recent months, that is good news. But it doesn’t mean the topic shouldn’t be openly addressed.

Whether the #MeToo movement has raised issues in your organization or not, it is surely on the minds of your employees, customers, board members and shareholders. Engaging in an ongoing discussion, reviewing policies and enforcing your code of conduct are now essential. And yet for some organizations, you may acknowledge change is needed.

Based on my firm’s more than 20 years of experience helping organizations address challenges both from inside and out, there are three things I would recommend all leaders do.

1. Celebrate your culture strengths while identifying – and being transparent about – what must be fixed

The culture that makes your company unique and different has elements that leaders should promote at every opportunity. At the same time, leaders should acknowledge when there are issues to address. Leverage your relationships with staff and conduct surveys across your business to understand culture “gaps” better.

You may need new internal research approaches to probe into employee feelings of safety and equity, comfort in reporting harassment, and gender bias inside your company. Once you identify gaps, communicate to employees: “I hear you, and this is what we are doing about it…”.

2. Clarify, in writing, exactly what behaviours will and will not be accepted, and enforce these rules

As leaders, we should take pride in modelling and rewarding the right way to treat people. However, employees often believe some bad behaviours are accepted if talent delivers important business results. Letting this type of perception linger will lead to a loss of good people and brand reputation – the opposite of being “good for business”. Acceptable behaviours need to be agreed upon by the entire leadership team and then consistently communicated and applied.

3. Refocus your reputation-building strategy from the ‘inside out’

Today, more than any other time in business history, the connection between what your employees think and what your customers think has never been stronger. The brand values that motivate your customers to choose you instead of a competitor need to originate within your company. As a leader, it is critical to understand the levers you can influence to lead your employees to become more trusting and empowered ambassadors for your brand. If they uphold and tout your values, your culture will remain consistent.

We have reached a tipping point for gender equality. #MeToo is not going away. Do we let those who have been publicly outed for their behaviour face the music alone, or do we come together as leaders to make sure we are all pushing for change?

I believe we have an obligation to ask hard questions, accept hard truths and lead real change within our own walls. Only then can leaders feel secure that their vision for a fair, safe, inclusive workplace with a healthy culture is truly embraced, and not just a top-down mandate where exceptions are made.

EU-Morocco Agreements: Development a security priority

In a significant development, the EU and the North African nation of Morocco have renewed their agriculture and fisheries agreements over the past week. Importantly, these agreements cover the territory of Moroccan Sahara. The fisheries agreement sets out the conditions of access for EU vessels in Moroccan waters, including the waters off the Moroccan Sahara. The agreement also increases the EU’s financial contribution from the previous agreement’s annual average of €40 million to €52.2 million. Meanwhile, the agriculture agreement was overwhelmingly adopted by the European Parliament and it explicitly points out that agriculture products from the southern provinces of Morocco will benefit from the same tariff preferences as those applied to products from other parts of Morocco.

So why are these agreements important? They reaffirm that the government of Morocco has full sovereign rights over the Moroccan Sahara. The latter, it will be recalled, has been contested by the Sahrawi Polisario Front separatist group since the 1970s, despite the Moroccan Sahara having historical ties of allegiance with the Moroccan monarchy for centuries before. This was further exemplified by the historic speech of Morocco’s late King Mohammed V – grandfather of current King Mohammed VI – at M’hamid al-Ghizlan in 1958 where he pledged to Sahrawi tribal chiefs that he would work to recover the Sahara in keeping with Morocco’s historical rights. This was much before the Sahara question was even tabled at the UN in 1963.

Then on November 6, 1975 came the historic Green March when some 350,000 Moroccans peacefully marched into occupied Moroccan Sahara – then a Spanish exclave – to push for the territory’s reintegration with Morocco. Subsequently, the Madrid Accords divided the Moroccan Sahara between Morocco and Mauritania. But Mauritania gave up its claim over the territory in 1979, leaving only Moroccan sovereignty over the area. However, the Polisario continued its armed movement against Morocco until a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991.

Today, Morocco rightfully exercises sovereignty over most of the Sahara and, despite Polisario’s machinations, has been making huge investments for the development of the Sahara provinces. In fact, on a trip to the city of Dakhla in the Dakhla-Oued Ed-Dahab administrative region, I saw first-hand the efforts of the Moroccan state in fostering economic growth in the region. Dakhla sits on a narrow peninsula on Morocco’s Atlantic coast and therefore has great potential for fishing and fish processing industries – I can personally vouch for the exquisite quality of fish here. Thus, the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement will positively impact Dakhla’s fishermen and local economy.

I am aware that tomato plantations in the desert that could provide substantial revenue to those engaged in agriculture in the region. Again, the EU-Morocco agriculture agreement will provide a substantial fillip to agriculture in the Moroccan Sahara with products from the region finding their way to European markets. In fact, on the eve of the fisheries and agriculture agreements being adopted, representatives of the regions of Laayoune-Sakia El Hamra and Dakhla-Oued Ed Dahab, Parliamentarians, members of professional chambers, communal, provincial and regional elected representatives of the southern provinces submitted a petition calling for the renewal of the agreements between Morocco and EU.

In the petition they affirmed that the Moroccan government had made development in the Sahara provinces a top priority, the impact of which was clearly noticeable. They affirmed that the southern provinces were now ranked above the national average for human development, and since 2015 they have benefited from a new development model mobilising 77 billion Dirhams resulting in projects impacting tourism, employment, environment, culture, handicrafts, education, health, urban planning, roads, water, renewable energies, agriculture, transport and fisheries. The petition also quotes the report of the UN secretary general of 29 March 2018, which specifies that Moroccan investments in the Sahara have continued, accompanied by the implementation or announcement of many projects. Further, the petition mentions a report produced by the European Commission in September 2017 which states that sectoral support for fisheries and agriculture have improved working conditions of locals engaged in these fields in the southern provinces.

All of this shows that the Moroccan government is tirelessly working for the economic development of the people of the Sahara.

The Moroccan Sahara issue is extremely important in the larger context of security and international cooperation today. Given the current global scenario and technological disruptions, security challenges faced by countries have expanded manifold. This week’s terror attack at an upscale hotel in Kenya’s capital Nairobi exemplifies this point. In such a scenario, countries need to work doubly hard to address people’s grievances and meet their aspirations to deny nefarious elements any opportunity to make inroads.

This is precisely what the Moroccan government has been doing in the Moroccan Sahara to thwart the designs of the Polisario. By focussing on the economic development of the region, undertaking regionalisation to devolve powers to local bodies, and trying to project the Sahara as the bridge between Morocco and the rest of Africa, Rabat is closing all loopholes so that nefarious elements can’t exploit the Sahara issue. In that sense, development today is a bigger security imperative than it has ever been before. Thus, countries should emulate Morocco and make development – holistic development at that – a national security priority.

Solve the global crisis of tribalism and democratic decay

People who happen to be alive at historic turning points are often slow in sizing up these major shifts. It’s natural for the human brain to rely on familiar ways of thinking to make sense of what’s new. Just think of how the first cars were described as “horseless carriages” and cinemas as “motion-picture theatres”.

As we approach the 2020s, there’s growing evidence that we’re at a historic crisis point for modern democracies and pluralist societies. Political systems across the world are simultaneously experiencing deep disruption, with a startling escalation of polarization and tribalism. Cast your eyes across nations as diverse as the US, France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Poland, Brazil and the Philippines. In each of these countries we see similar patterns: public frustration with the status quo, populist insurgencies, the division of groups into “us-vs-them”, political deadlock, attacks on democratic norms and a sense that meritocracy and rational policy-making are increasingly passé. Since the Second World War, many democratic countries have experienced divisive flashpoints, but there is something unique in the postwar era about the way pluralism and democracy are simultaneously under siege in so many places.

Yet we are struggling to make sense of it. By default, observers often define these developments through the familiar lens of election results and left vs right politics: a “shift to the right” or “rise of the far right”. But much more is at play. Issues of identity, belonging and tribalism are supplanting the longstanding left vs right spectrum once defined by attitudes towards the size of government and intervention in free markets.

Deepening distrust

For the past three years, More in Common has been analysing public attitudes in established democracies to better understand the forces that are driving us apart, and what can bring us back together. Working with social psychologists and leading market research firms, we have commissioned detailed national studies in the US, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Greece. These studies create a national segmentation based on people’s core beliefs and tribal attachments.

The picture emerging from these studies shows more than just shifts in public opinion about specific issues. There is a deepening distrust in each other – not just in institutions – with growing tribalism and intolerance of those with different beliefs and backgrounds. Multiple centrifugal forces are driving societies apart, and few of these forces are unique to any one country. Economic factors are playing a central role: rising inequality, stagnant incomes, job insecurity and the division between prosperous cities and “left behind” regions. But the perfect storm of conditions for social fragmentation come about from the convergence of economic forces and changes in culture, technology and the media landscape. Against a backdrop of weaker social connectedness and the erosion of local community life, these forces often play into existing faultlines in societies – widening racial, religious and ideological divisions.

The more polarized a society, the more people view difficult issues through a tribal lens rather than in terms of the common good of all. This makes pluralist societies less resilient, more vulnerable to social stresses, and less able to navigate the typical 21st-century crises such as political deadlock, rapid demographic change, economic slumps, climate events, technological change and threats to national security.

National segmentation studies in the US and Germany, 2017-2019

The most troubling conversations I had in the past year were with experts in conflict prevention, who look at the deepening polarization in the United States and see patterns that in other societies have led to widespread civil violence. Whether you see that as realistic or alarmist, we should never take it for granted that societies always have the resilience to withstand the forces of division. Building and sustaining resilience to social stress is hard work. One of the great accomplishments of democracies is how they have made it look so easy for so long. But in reality, maintaining the rule of law, accountable institutions, independent media, social trust and strong civil society networks is immensely complex. Advanced democracies have not only struggled to build democratic infrastructure in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq; at home, they have been eating into their social capital, and failing to replenish it.

A proactive agenda

We need to do much more than cross our fingers and hope for a swarm of political candidates with the supernatural formula of personal charisma, strategic smarts and a captivating agenda to counter the divisive forces of authoritarian populism. We need to rebuild our social capital and strengthen the centripetal forces that can counter the appeal of us-vs-them tribalism.

This is a profound long-term challenge. But one reason for hope is that even in deeply divided countries such as the US, people have not given up on believing their divisions can be overcome. More in Common found late last year that 87% of Americans believe the United States is more divided than at any point in their lifetimes. Yet 77% of them also believe that their differences are not so great that they cannot be overcome.

So what does a proactive agenda to reverse polarization look like?

We need champions of innovation in every walk of life to turn their skills towards the challenge of rebuilding social trust and connection across the lines that divide us: city from country, brown from white, conservative from liberal, Christian from Muslim, new immigrant from native citizen, unskilled from graduate, cosmopolitan from town-dweller. At the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Councils last November in Dubai, lively conversations were sparked as we imagined what might be achieved if we turned our extraordinary human capacity for ingenuity and innovation towards the increasingly urgent global challenge of countering polarization. There is a potentially powerful role for the World Economic Forum in shining a light on what is working best.

It means a fresh lens for policy-making, seeking to develop policies that counter deepening social fractures and address the insecurities that make people vulnerable to us-vs-them narratives. Strengthening social contact is a start. For example, how can urban planning, housing and schooling policies counter the segregation of people into clusters of homogenous wealth, racial and ideological groupings? In labour market policy, amid automation, robotics and artificial intelligence, how do we build people’s confidence that their hard work will be rewarded and address fears that the rug is soon going to be pulled from under them?

For the tech sector, this means reworking business models that, however unintendedly, disseminate misinformation, exploit psychological vulnerabilities and provide a platform for extremists. But we cannot expect the sector to get its house in order by itself. Regulators must play their part in strengthening incentives for social media platforms to take their impact on democracy and social cohesion far more seriously. Tech firms must embrace greater transparency and accountability.

For political leaders and civil society, this means reinvigorating representative democracy in ways that make it more relevant to new generations. We need low-barrier ways to engage ordinary citizens more meaningfully, not just the loudest voices with the most strident views. We must also rethink the incentives that reward those politicians, advocates and campaigners who pursue victory at any cost – too often at the price of belittling opponents and undermining wider public trust in the system.

For culture and the arts, this means doing more to promote empathy and understanding across lines of division. For example, while reality television is often linked to conflict, trivia and vulgarity, the genre also creates opportunities to foster empathy by exposing us to people with different backgrounds and beliefs to ours. Deliberative opinion polls and citizens’ assemblies show that even people from opposing viewpoints and backgrounds consistently find common ground when brought together to solve a problem. Politics and a media driven by the “attention economy” are providing fewer real-world examples of how this can work. Perhaps the entertainment industry can step into this gap.

When we entered a new century almost two decades ago, few in advanced democracies were anticipating the turn of events that has led to deepening social fractures and democratic crisis. As a result, we allowed our systems and institutions to atrophy. We have begun to pay a price for this neglect, but that price could yet become much greater. We all have a stake in ensuring that pluralist societies are resilient to the threats of division, tribalism and systemic breakdown. We need a resolve to combat polarization, new coalitions to provide leadership and a much stronger ecosystem of initiatives to awaken us all to the threat of deepening divisions, to rebuild our social capital and renew public confidence that free and democratic societies are best placed to advance the common good.

Social Media Images Aid Predict Gentrification in Cities

The rise and prosperity of a city neighborhood is not predicated on economic capital alone — the presence of a vibrant arts, music and science culture is equally important. So says a groundbreaking study published in Frontiers in Physics, in which researchers used social media images of cultural events in London and New York City to create a model that can predict neighborhoods where residents enjoy a high level of well-being — and even anticipate gentrification by 5 years. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, the model could help policymakers ensure human well-being in dense urban settings.

“Culture has many benefits to an individual: it opens our minds to new emotional experiences and enriches our lives,” says Dr. Daniele Quercia, Department Head Nokia Bell Labs, Cambridge, UK. “We’ve known for decades that this ‘cultural capital’ plays a huge role in a person’s success. Our new model shows the same correlation for neighborhoods and cities, with those neighborhoods experiencing the greatest growth having high cultural capital. So, for every city or school district debating whether to invest in arts programs or technology centers, the answer should be a resounding ‘Yes!’”

The term cultural capital was first coined by French sociologist Dr. Pierre Bourdieu in the late 1970s, as a way of understanding how a person’s knowledge, cultural interests, degrees and exposure to creative pursuits — including travel, art and technological innovation — are forms of ‘wealth’ that individuals bring to the ‘social marketplace,’ their personal relationships, and their communities. Bourdieu demonstrated that people with similar cultural capital tend to associate with each other, rather than going outside these bounds to build relationships. These relationships attract people of like mind and grow neighborhoods and societies.

While Bourdieu’s ideas of cultural capital as applied to individuals produced fascinating snapshots of social function, the concept has potentially profound applications when applied to cities and neighborhoods. This motivated Quercia and colleagues Dr. Desislava Hristova, from the University of Cambridge, and Dr. Luca M. Aiello, also from Nokia Bell Labs, to find a way to track how cultural capital plays out in urban areas.

The researchers accessed millions of Flickr images taken by people attending cultural events in London and in New York City over ten years. The events included festivals, libraries, cinema, art exhibitions, musical performances, technological demos, handicraft artisans, restaurants, museums, newspaper stands and theater. The team organized the images, which all had GPS tags indicating the place and time taken, into 25 categories. They also cleaned the data to adjust for outliers, accounting for issues such as many museums not allowing photos of exhibits and different generations gravitating to different choices.

“We were able to see that the presence of culture is directly tied to the growth of certain neighborhoods, rising home values and median income. Our model can even predict gentrification within five years,” says Quercia. “This could help city planners and councils think through interventions to prevent people from being displaced as a result of gentrification.”

“We already have data from wearable technology showing that both the 2016 US presidential election and 2016 Brexit referendum greatly impacted people’s sleep and even heart rates,” adds Aiello. “Information on cultural consumption could similarly be used to track the impacts of large-scale change.”

The model does have a couple of limitations. First, it only works for world-class cities, such as London, New York or perhaps Tokyo, where the penetration rates of social media are sufficiently high. The approach also does not work for populations that are not tech savvy as it depends on the independent use of technology and software by people to capture authentic images of what moves them.

The model also does not explain what causes gentrification — namely, which occurs first: increasing cultural offerings that reorient social identity and thus, capital, or people seeking more cultural capital as they climb the economic ladder. Somewhere in this complex equation is the as-yet unknown artist/chef looking for an affordable studio/kitchen who inspires a clientele and a new generation of artists/chefs.

Even so, the insights generated by this and other models could help people to successfully live in dense urban settings — an increasingly relevant issue. The United Nations estimates that 54 percent of the world’s population lived in urban environments in 2014 and predicts the figure to rise to 69 percent by 2050.

“Next, we want to measure the relative health of communities, looking at the availability of healthy food, farmer’s markets, sports, parks, beautiful architecture and so forth,” says Quercia. “By overlaying different maps upon each other, we can create a vertically integrated map showing how exposures to different influences can accurately reflect a neighborhood’s sense of well-being.”

The Continued Relevance of SAARC

Imran Khan earned a lot of popular support in Pakistan by opening up the Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara to Sikh yatris from across the border with India. He talked of “peace and trade” and was hailed by the man in the street. In fact, Prime Minister Khan was so sure of “real” public support that he began toying with the idea of mid-term polls to bag a two-thirds majority in parliament that would enable him to change the laws which obstruct his political agenda.

His foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, however, stabbed Khan in the back by calling the Kartarpur overture a “googly”. Instead of commending him for his anti-India bluster, Pakistan’s powerful media unanimously condemned him for his gaffe. Khan was silent before the media but reportedly showed his annoyance at what Qureshi had done. That the whole of Pakistan — including the army — didn’t like Qureshi’s googly means the time for such antics is over.

However, Najam Sethi wrote in The Friday Times of November 30: “Now Pakistan’s reopening of the Kartarpur…is being billed as some sort of peace breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations. It is nothing of the sort. Like the IMF, China and Saudi Arabia openings, this initiative comes courtesy General Bajwa whose bear-hug of Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Siddhu at Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony in Islamabad put Indian PM Narendra Modi and Punjab state CM Amarinder Singh in a tight corner.” But what if the Pakistani army chief wants to turn over a new leaf? Bajwa belongs to the post-Musharraf and post-Kargil dispensation and is thoroughly disenchanted with Pakistan’s past “trans-oceanic” friends. He could also be sick of the subversive reflex of the army against civilian governments seeking “normalisation” with India. The pattern is so repetitive you can no longer fix the history books without being laughed at. Bharat Karnad in his recent study, Staggering forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition notes that soon after he assumed office, General Bajwa asked his officers to read about the ways in which the Indian Army adjusted to the democratic Indian polity.

Karnad also favours going back to the initiative of General Pervez Musharraf — now ironically facing a trial for treason in Pakistan. Musharraf offered a “compromise on Kashmir which would have formalised the LoC as international border, and afforded Pakistan the fig-leaf of the omission to ‘oversee’ along with India the affairs of the erstwhile princely state of Kashmir. Had that agreement been approved by Manmohan Singh, India could in the present day have exercised a veto over the CPEC passing through Gilgit and Baltistan.”

Imran Khan is talking of trade and investment with India. Everybody knows it means free trade, free movement and Indian investments in Pakistan. Who else but post-Nehruvian capitalist Narendra Modi would comprehend the significance of this kind of thinking? Khan is religious like Modi but is hounded by the mullahs. Modi too is letting the BJP-RSS combine spread Hindutva that frightens non-Hindus and secularists in India and delays his economic agenda.

For Pakistan, “talks” should aim at “normalisation” rather than “Kashmir” if it wants to avoid a deadlock while its economy is belly-up and India can afford to sit pretty. Khan will respond to an opening-up of the Lahore border, where the two armies currently indulge in a farcical pantomime of attacking each other. All this boils down to the initiation of “connectivity” that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh introduced as a theme at SAARC. India’s inability to live normally with its neighbours is frequently acknowledged, but now an economically powerful India needs to return to SAARC instead of scuttling it. According to Karnad: “The Modi government may not acknowledge this, but crafting good relations with Pakistan is the fundamental building block of a truly peaceful and economically integrated extended sub-region, one that is slugged into the Indian economy which, thus enlarged, can become the driver of economic prosperity and the kernel around which a loose collective security arrangement can over time grow to protect it.”

India’s Globalized Cities Will Alter Its Future

Consumer spending in India is on the cusp of remarkable transformational change over the next decade. The emerging middle class in Indian cities is at the forefront of the anticipated boom. This transformation will create substantial public and commercial opportunities across India for cities to become more integrated in the global economy, enabling sustainable development and greater upward social mobility for Indian consumers. 

Urbanization can unlock much of India’s vast potential. Cities are perhaps humanity’s greatest economic achievement. They incubate growth by providing density, connectivity, interactions, scale and access to the social and commercial networks that make societies more innovative and productive.

India ranks 160th on the United Nations’ list of countries by urbanization levels, with around 34% of its population now living in urban areas. The need for urbanization and its role in the future of consumption in India have been a focus of my collaboration with Bain & Company over the past year, as part of the World Economic Forum Fast Growth Consumer Markets System Initiative.

Research at Visa also finds great potential in India. In its recent report “The Geography of the Global Middle Class: Where They Live, How They Spend”, Visa and Oxford Economics explore the influence of globalization on the new, more connected middle class that is emerging in cities around the globe.

Total consumer spending in India is expected to more than double to $3.1 trillion by 2030, from $1.4 trillion in 2017, according to our research. The new middle class will account for nearly 60%, or $1 trillion, of the $1.7 trillion increase anticipated in India by 2030. India’s economic success goes hand in hand with its increased openness and globalization.

While India’s economic opportunity is substantial at a national level, it is even more impressive at the city level. Seventeen of the 20 fastest-growing cities in the world over the next decade will be in India, with Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai among the strongest performers. Agra, home to the stunning Taj Mahal and one of India’s most important tourism centres, is anticipated to have the fastest-growing middle class out of the 103 global cities studied.

Agra therefore highlights an important nexus between tourism and urban middle-class household formation, which are two of the five key building blocks of globalization measured under the Visa Globalization Index. Today, Agra is less globalized than counterparts such as Delhi and Chennai, but it could easily close this gap, which would help it develop further and bring more of its citizens into the middle class.

Three key dynamics are driving remarkable new consumer spending opportunities across India’s cities:

Technology and the sharing economy

The rapid rise and spread of “sharing economy” apps around the world – such as ride-sharing and other services with peer-to-peer business models – epitomize how new technologies, digital payments and globalization can lead to rapid and revolutionary shifts in consumer behaviour.

India, which stands at the cusp of new models and platforms for sharing, will advance the sharing economy to an unprecedented level. With a rapidly emerging middle class and more than 1 billion internet users forecast by 2030, “sharing” rather than ownership will likely be the principal model of durable goods consumption going forward in India. 

Demonetization and Aadhaar biometric identification

These have enabled the dramatic expansion of new consumer-centric commerce platforms and smart cashless cities across India. Digital identification and payments appear to be coalescing in India to provide consumers with a seamless connection to both domestic and international sellers. In 2015, San Francisco was the only city globally where at least 20% of Visa-branded cards were used on a sharing economy platform. In 2017, just one year after demonetization, Bengaluru in India became one of more than 80 global cities to surpass that benchmark. 

Increasing urbanization and connectivity, leading to a convergence in consumption

As living standards rise in the more urban and digitally connected Indian cities, consumer spending patterns are becoming more similar to the most global cities in a short amount of time. New middle-class consumers have purchasing power that extends beyond their basic needs. They are willing and able to buy the best the world has to offer. They add amenities to their lifestyles, make aspirational purchases and shop global brands.

This will create new opportunities for international businesses, particularly in cities. Connected by digital technology that leaps across time zones and language gaps, India’s urban consumers will likely be at the vanguard of the rising global middle class.

Understanding these trends can help state and local governments, global and domestic businesses and other stakeholders to plan better for future growth. The consumer spending opportunity in India as a whole is enormous, eclipsed only by the far greater opportunity presented by its cities, as more and more of them join the global economy over the next decade. 

Sunday Special: Eradicating Poverty by 2030

While the total number of impoverished people worldwide is declining, the rate of progress is not as fast as it needs to be to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. To increase the pace of poverty reduction, lessons from the recent past can help.

Can the world end poverty by 2030, the target set by the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development? The UN General Assembly recently reaffirmed this deadline but conceded that meeting it will require “accelerating global actions” to tackle poverty’s causes. As the international community explores new solutions, lessons from the past could be instructive.

Poverty reduction has been central to development policy for decades. During the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the predecessor to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the percentage of people living in poverty – defined as less than $1.90 a day – declined significantly, from nearly 27% in 2000, when the MDGs began, to about 9% in 2017.

At first glance, the rate of poverty reduction in the first few years of the SDGs has also been impressive. Between January 2016 and June 2018, an estimated 83 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty. And yet, to remain on track to meet the 2030 target date, about 120 million people should have escaped poverty during that period. Despite the welcome gains, the pace of progress has been less than satisfactory.

In a recent paper co-authored for the journal World Development, we examined what factors drive successful poverty reduction. Using poverty statistics from developing countries during the MDGs era, we assessed whether countries with higher levels of income poverty – that is, more people living on less money – experienced faster reductions in their poverty rates than economies with lower income-poverty levels. Using limits of $1.25 and $2 per person per day, we found that poverty tended to decrease faster in countries that started out poorer.

But these findings, while positive, tell only part of the story. In many countries, the end of poverty remains a distant goal. For example, at the current pace of poverty reduction, we estimate that Mali, where 86% of the population lived on less than $1.25 a day in 1990, will require another 31 years to eradicate extreme poverty altogether. But even in Ecuador, where only 7% of the population lived on less than $1.25 a day in 1990, eliminating poverty will take at least another decade.

The differing experiences of countries in Africa and Asia illustrate that while adoption of the MDG agenda did accelerate poverty reduction, the degree of progress has varied widely. In the early 1990s, poverty levels in Nigeria, Lesotho, Madagascar, and Zambia were similar to those in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. But by the time the MDGs ended in 2015, the Asian countries had reduced levels of poverty dramatically; the African countries had not.

This divergence continues. Today, extreme poverty is mostly contained to Africa; according to the World Bank’s 2018 Poverty and Shared Prosperity report, 27 of the world’s 28 poorest countries are on the continent, and each has a poverty rate above 30%. In fact, at current rates of poverty reduction, more than 300 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa will still be poor in 2030.

Many factors have contributed to the shifting geography of poverty. In Africa, weak economic performance – fueled by conflict, ineffective policies, ethnic fragmentation, and external shocks – has made it more difficult for countries to fund poverty-alleviation programs. But the most important factor may be state capacity. After all, weak state institutions cannot effectively deliver public goods and services.

Of course, this leads to another question: what factors determine a state’s capacity? In general, states work better when ruling elites are bound by limits on their power. But administrative experience also plays a role. China, with a slightly longer period of modern statehood than most of its younger African counterparts, may simply have developed a greater ability to administer its territory.

And yet, whatever the reason for the variation, there is no doubt that state capacity is one of the key ingredients for successful poverty reduction. We found that during the MDGs, high-poverty countries with strong state institutions were able to reduce poverty twice as fast as countries with feeble capacity, and were more likely to achieve the MDGs’ target of halving poverty by 2015.

Poverty eradication remains a top priority for the 193 governments that have adopted the SDGs. But as the international community learned from the MDGs, goals do not guarantee progress. To ensure that the 725 million people who remained in poverty at the end of MDGs period can escape requires investing in programs that aim at building effective states. Otherwise, an end date for poverty will remain elusive.

Implications of The Élysée Treaty 2.0: A New Franco-German Friendship Treaty

Fifty-six years after the signing of the Élysée Treaty, Merkel and Macron unite to empower Germany in an independent European empire. On January 22, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron will sign a new treaty of friendship. The so-called Aachen Treaty will complement the 1963 Élysée Treaty. The original treaty laid the foundation for German-French reconciliation, 18 years after the Second World War.

There are, however, a few differences between the Élysée Treaty and the Aachen Treaty. Most important to note is the location where the treaty will be signed, how it empowers Germany, and one important omission.

The original Élysée Treaty was signed by French President Charles de Gaulle and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer at the Élysée Palace in Paris. The treaty’s goal was to reconcile the two war rivals and to help them begin cooperating closely with one another.

Notable about the Élysée Treaty was de Gaulle’s desire to strengthen the European partnership, making it independent from the United States and Great Britain. Postwar Germany, however, was still recovering from its defeat in World War ii and heavily dependent on the support of the Western powers.

On the counsel of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Germany included a preamble to the Élysée Treaty that committed the country to the U.S. and its institutions. De Gaulle believed this to be a betrayal of the German-French partnership. He, at the time, wanted to tie Germany closely to the French-German tandem, with France in the leading role.

The setting for Élysée Treaty 2.0 is quite different. The U.S. and Britain are withdrawing from the Continent and its institutions. France and Germany are both openly hostile toward the U.S. The leading role in the French-German tandem is now indisputably held by Germany. Furthermore, France, under Macron, has totally committed itself to empower Germany to strengthen Europe’s independence.

The German-French Tandem for a Sovereign Europe

The Aachen Treaty, which will be signed on January 22 and approved by both nations’ parliaments on the same day, lists more than 60 projects for strengthening Franco-German cooperation, including “a cross-border employment agency, an investment program for the border regions, joint research programs, and a common investment fund for start-ups,” Germany’s n-tv.de reported (Trumpet translation throughout).

The Times’ headline declared “Paris and Berlin Herald New Era of Integration” and called the treaty “an unprecedented ‘twinning’ pact regarded as a prototype for the future of the European Union.”

The treaty calls on the regions around the Franco-German border to form “euro districts.” Some critics have claimed that the merging of public transport networks and utilities in French and German towns are a loss of national sovereignty. From the German-French perspective, however, it is a gain of European sovereignty.

The Élysée Treaty of 1963 is, to this day, seen as a milestone in Europe’s history. But the Aachen Treaty of 2019 signals a much closer cooperation and is destined to be even more momentous.

A Treaty to Get Things Done

At the forefront of the treaty is the Franco-German united diplomatic alliance in European matters. In other words, France and Germany want to get things done and avoid long, drawn-out discussions in European Union bureaucracy in Brussels.

In order to accomplish this goal, the two countries have a simple plan. In the future, Germany and France “intend to speak with one voice in Brussels, drawing up common positions before pivotal European Union summits in an effort to make the bloc a more decisive power on the world stage,” the Times reported.

What this means is that the time for negotiations are over! Germany and France will now dictate Europe’s course. This will come at the expense of smaller European nations. With Britain leaving the EU, Germany and France are by far the strongest economies in the bloc. If the two agree on an issue, no one will be able to stop them.

The Forming of an Empire

The Aachen Treaty is a milestone in European policy making at a time when the restraining forces of Britain and the United States have been removed. But the treaty will not only drive Europe ahead, it will also drive Europe closer together. It will replace the currently divided union and create a more united, stronger empire.

President Macron’s office stated that the increased cooperation favors the “security and prosperity of our peoples in the framework of a more sovereign, united and democratic Europe.” The treaty sets the course for Europe to draw closer together on the military, cultural, social and political level.

In other words, Germany and France seek to establish a European empire. Merriam-Webster defines empire as “a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority.”

That is also exactly what French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for last November when he said the EU needs to become a “form of empire.”

Countries who don’t like this will soon no longer have a say. They will either have to conform, leave or be kicked out.

How the Aachen Treaty Empowers Germany

Marine le Pen, a far-right French politician, called the Aachen Treaty an “unbalanced” diktat from Germany. In a way, she is right. The treaty greatly favors Germany, but ironically it is French President Macron who wants to empower Germany.

The treaty states that a priority of the German-French diplomacy will be to seek a permanent seat for Germany in the United Nations Security Council. The permanent members of the UNSC are the victorious allied nations of World War II: the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China.

In 2019, Germany holds one of the council’s rotating seats, and it has promised to use that power to oppose the United States and President Donald Trump. France strongly endorses Germany’s anti-U.S. stance.

Prior to the Aachen Treaty, Germany called on France to sacrifice its permanent seat on the unsc for a seat on the EU. France rejected the suggestion, but has now decided to push for Germany to receive its own permanent seat.Germany was denied such power after it caused the death of 60 million people in World War ii. But France is now ready to empower Germany.

Even more alarming are Macron’s promises for a stronger military union. Under his leadership, France is no longer holding anything back to join its defense establishment with Germany’s. One of the goals of the treaty is to enable Europe to act “independently” in foreign and defense policies. Plans include joint training of soldiers, joint armaments projects and joint units deployed for stabilization missions.

In other words, the treaty calls for a completely merged military of both nations, independent of the U.S. France no longer fears that Germany, due to its far greater leadership and industrial capacity, might control this army. Such details no longer matter to France, as long as Europe becomes an empire more powerful than the U.S.

Germany, of course, was denied a military after World War ii. But to create a more powerful European empire, nuclear-armed France has not only pushed for Germany to rearm, but also is now handing over its troops and armaments industries to Germany.

At the moment, Germany doesn’t have a strong leader to take advantage of this alliance. But that is about to dramatically change. France today may hope to create an empire that surpasses the strength of the United States and Great Britain. President Macron might even think that he could be the leader of this coming empire. But he knows full well that for this to happen, France needs to empower Germany—the real driving force of Europe.

The Aachen Treaty does just that: It empowers Germany. While this may be just what France is hoping for, it will soon find itself subordinate to the power it just strengthened.

A Resounding Warning

It might seem perplexing that France seeks such a close cooperation with Germany when you consider the history of the two nations that were enemies until quite recently. Just in the past century, Germany invaded France twice. It was the U.S. and Britain that saved France from German hands. And yet France signs no such deal with either of them. In November, at the Armistice Day observances memorializing World War I, Macron called for a “true European army” to protect Europe “with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.”

U.S. President Donald Trump responded at the time: “Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!” It’s interesting to note that Germany and France also seek to further strengthen mutual language programs.

Isn’t it ironic that France is now signing deals with Germany, allowing things that Germany had tried to force on France? Wouldn’t you think France would rather sign treaties with Britain or the United States, who helped it in both world wars?

The content of the Aachen Treaty should give us goosebumps. But the location where the treaty is to be signed is far more alarming. Not only does the location of the signing reveal France’s submission to Germany, it also prompts flashbacks to history’s darkest time.

Charlemagne’s City

While the treaty has been planned for months, its location was a mystery. “There is a lot of space and many places between the tip of Brittany [France] and the eastern tip of Germany,” French President of the National Assembly Richard Ferrand said in November.

This month, the chosen city was announced: Aachen.

State Premier of North-Rhine Westphalia Armin Laschet said the fact that the renewal of this relationship is being signed by Merkel and Macron in the city of Charlemagne “is a historic event for our city. This, like the Élysée Treaty of 1963, will have an impact for decades.”

Why was Aachen chosen for this historic occasion?

Aachen holds enormous historic significance for Europe. The historic importance of this city traces back to the early ninth century, when Europe was first united through the efforts of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, who ruled from Aachen.

Aachen holds enormous historic significance for Europe. The historic importance of this city traces back to the early ninth century, when Europe was first united through the efforts of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, who ruled from Aachen.

It was just eight months ago that Macron and Merkel met in Aachen to celebrate another historic occasion. In May 2018, Macron was awarded Europe’s annual Charlemagne Prize for his efforts to unite Europe. Each year since 1950, the German city of Aachen, where Charlemagne lived and is buried, awards the Charlemagne Prize to an individual who has served the cause of European unification.

I attended the award ceremony in 1997, when former German President Roman Herzog received it. In his acceptance speech, Dr. Herzog said, “Charlemagne, after whom our prize is named, made his own particular choice: the first unification of Europe. At such an hour the truth must be told: Only by wading through a sea of blood, sweat and tears did he reach his goal.”

It was from Aachen that Charlemagne built his empire and united Europe. It is again from Aachen where France and Germany want to resurrect this empire and unite Europe once more. Today, the city of Aachen is seen as a symbol of European unity, but few ask how that unity came about.

From Aachen, Charlemagne orchestrated the subjection of Europe’s pagan tribes and their conversion to his version of Christianity. For his efforts, he was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire on Dec. 25, AD 800, by Pope Leo III. Charlemagne was of Germanic and French descent. He established the empire’s headquarters in Germany, setting up Germany to rule the Holy Roman Empire over the next few centuries.

Throughout these centuries, the empire’s emperors were crowned in Aachen, worshiping Charlemagne’s legacy. It was in Aachen that Charlemagne set the example of European cultural religious unity. He chose Aachen to be Germany’s political and religious capital, and where he built the famous Aachen Cathedral.

From Aachen, Charlemagne ruled an empire that was united through bloodshed. Blood spilled to build the empire. Blood spilled to fight off invaders. Blood spilled to convert Europe to Christianity. Aachen is where church and state united into the most gruesome murderous institution in mankind’s history.

Charlemagne was relentless in expanding his power and religion. He fought for 30 years to subject the German state of Saxony to his crown and Catholicism. And he used the most brutal methods of warfare the world had seen up to that point in history. “[T]he violent methods by which this missionary task was carried out had been unknown to the earlier Middle Ages, and the sanguinary [bloody] punishment meted out to those who broke canon law or continued to engage in pagan practices [as he called them] called forth criticism in Charles’s own circle,” Encyclopedia Britannica states.

Charlemagne started the First Reich in 800 AD, which lasted until 1806. Today, it is known as the Holy Roman Empire, which was responsible for the death of 40 million people in the Middle Ages.

It was in that same empire that Adolf Hitler found his inspiration. In 1935, Hitler openly praised Charlemagne for his unifying work. In 1938, he brought Charlemagne’s crown back to Germany. Hitler was seen at the time as a man of peace, but by studying and praising Charlemagne, he prepared for bloodshed. Professor Johannes Fried, a renowned German medieval researcher, said that Hitler was “preparing for his own acts of violence, to praise Charles was a strategy of legitimacy.”

The world could have known what was about to unfold by knowing Charlemagne’s history and seeing Hitler’s military buildup.

Today, France and Germany are pushing for a stronger, more independent military, while at the same time praising Charlemagne. History sounds a strong warning.

Let a wild flower reveal heaven

Trust the Japanese to give a name to one of the trendiest “experiences” that world-weary city slickers seek—shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’. Some time back I spoke of how transformative it is to immerse yourself in a forest (albeit thanks to a five-star retreat) and soak in the sights, smells and sounds of nature that urban folks rarely get to appreciate. It soothed all her stresses, reconnected her to nature and got her hooked to this therapeutic greenery.

Last year, travel journals were all agog about the magical benefits of forest bathing, and the Japanese angle probably aided this breathless espousal, given that country’s standing on matters esoteric from tea ceremonies to sashimi carving. I firmly believe that had yoga been a Japanese invention, it would have captivated the world much earlier; India has to work much harder to assert its primacy in anything, including wellness. Especially among Indians.

It may surprise many Indians to realise that communing with nature has been intrinsic to the culture of the subcontinent from ancient times. Aranya or forests loomed large in the consciousness not only of great ancient thinkers, rulers and artists but common people. Nature was their constant companion, not a leisure-time acquaintance. They lived, worshipped, ate and wore clothes in consonance with it. And the deep embrace of forests were a favoured goal.

The Japanese government literally ‘invented’ shinrin-yoku in the 1980s, advocating therapeutic immersive forest sojourns as a way to ease the stresses of its people, 92% of whom live in crowded cities. Subsequent studies (they are very methodical, unlike us) conducted by taking groups for monitored forest bathing showed the participants’ stress hormone (cortisol) production, blood pressure and heart rate reduced, they slept longer and felt energised.

It is not surprising that Japan actually has 62 designated “therapeutic forests” and some 5 million people go there for a rejuvenating reconnect with nature. Japan now even has practitioners of “forest medicine” as there is evidence to show that trees can cure disease. Indians will say, “But our ancient forebears also said the same thing.” True, they did, but we Indians are peculiarly unwilling to accept anything unless it comes repackaged from abroad.

Most Indians I daresay would be surprised to learn that our country has the highest number of ‘sacred groves’ in the world – well over 100,000 of them. Clearly the importance of forests in our physical and spiritual wellbeing is deeply embedded in our tradition. India’s unspoilt north east is particularly rich in such groves and the people there still haven’t lost their love for the healing and nurturing power of forests. The rest of India should definitely take a leaf from their book.

Sadly, most Indians today—especially in the crowded ‘heartland’— are ignorant about the curative powers of forests and uncaring too, which is why so much of our wilderness is being ‘cleared’ in the name of development, and clashes with quadruped forest dwellers are increasing. Could rising awareness of forest bathing change attitudes at least among the urban elites? Could that save the few green belts in cities from the depredations of developers?

William Blake in his apocalyptic poem Auguries of Innocence written in 1803 conjures up a grim imagery of human frailties but has always sounded to me like a cry for mindfulness— to be aware of oneself, one’s surroundings— or else pay an awful price. The value of mindfulness is evident in his famous opening lines: “To see a world in a grain of sand /And a heaven in a wild flower,/ Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/And eternity in an hour.”

That, in effect, is what forest bathing also accomplishes, according to those who promote it and those who have experienced its magical embrace. Putting ourselves back in connection and context with nature is an imperative in our times. For that we have to open our minds and senses to the world around us and, at least for a little while stop running on our endless treadmills. We Indians have a great tradition of literally singing with the seasons; its time to reclaim it.

A word here about Indian classical music: unlike any other in the world, it is attuned the seasons and even time of day. Ancient ragas that performers built their melodies on—millennia ago and even now— are constructed to impact listeners (whose own bodies also reacting to the same cyclic variables) optimally at different hours. Such precise knowledge of circadian rhythms by our forebears remains unparalleled. Should a concert be remarketed as musical bathing?

China Creating A Brave New World

Major infrastructure projects seem to be underway everywhere. In Pakistan, a new deepwater port is being linked to a vast road and rail network. In Montenegro, the country’s first border-to-border motorway is being laid. In the remotest part of Kazakhstan, a bustling town is springing up from scratch around a massive new rail terminal. In Laos, a new bridge has broken the world record for the longest span between two piers. And in Rwanda, a new railway is connecting the landlocked country to Tanzania’s port of Dar es Salaam.

The common factor in all these projects is that they are parts of an initiative by one nation: China.

In a 2013 speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping mentioned the ancient Silk Road. This was the network of trade routes—some established as early as 200 BC.—that facilitated movement of goods and ideas across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Then Xi announced China’s plan to rebuild that ancient network. “This will be a great undertaking,” he said.

The Chinese promptly put the plan into action, which is what the projects in Pakistan, Montenegro, Kazakhstan, Laos, Rwanda and more than 60 other nations are all about. Beijing is sparing no expense to better connect the world to China. It calls this project the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI.

The initiative consists of a land-based economic “belt” that will include six corridors linking east and west, and a maritime “road” of ports stretching from the South China Sea to Africa’s east coast.

It will link 60 percent of the global population, span three continents, and also connect to Latin America as a “natural extension.” At an estimated cost of $5 trillion, it is the most ambitious infrastructure venture in history.

The scope is astounding. And it all has one underpinning purpose: to give China dominance over world trade.

Many analysts are seeing the alarming implications of this seismic shift toward China. But there is something far more momentous about China’s moves toward dominating global trade that few recognize.

Airports for Autocrats

For nations with authoritarian governments, the allure of China’s loans and aid is particularly enticing. That’s because unlike the United States or many European nations, China doesn’t make its investments conditional on “good governance.”

China itself is an egregious abuser of the human rights of its people and has no concerns about autocrats in other nations tyrannizing their people. So while Western powers sermonize and punish authoritarian governments by withholding aid or even working to remove them from power, China has no compunctions about constructing airports for autocrats, dams for dictators, and terminals for tyrants.

China “is seen as more flexible and less bureaucratic,” the Brookings Institution wrote in 2017. “Given this situation, the emergence of China as a major funder of infrastructure projects has been welcomed by most developing countries.”

Extension of the Southern Expressway in Sri Lanka is one of the major infrastructure projects built by Chinese and Sri Lankan workers under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The Chinese have signed BRI contracts with numerous authoritarian governments, military regimes and several of the world’s most corrupt nations, including Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. China is also pulling in countries that are mired in conflict, such as Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The corruption and conflict make it unlikely that many of these nations will be able to repay China’s loans. In early 2018, the Center for Global Development found that Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan and Tajikistan are all at high risk of being unable to repay. Several other countries could be added to the list.

So why does China continue to hand out massive loans to such nations? Because the bri—and much of China’s related policy—is about more than just economics.

Debt-Trap Diplomacy

Sri Lanka was among the most enthusiastic nations to welcome China’s quick cash. It accepted billions of dollars in loans for such projects as the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port in Hambantota.

This port is at a key location for China’s maritime “road.” But for the Sri Lankan economy, the project was a bust. Instead of fueling growth, the port (and other Chinese-funded infrastructure projects) plunged Sri Lanka into unsustainable debt.

By 2016, one third of Sri Lanka’s total government revenue went toward servicing Chinese loans, and the country was forced to apply for debt relief with the International Monetary Fund. From there, the situation only got worse.

As pressure intensified and options narrowed, Sri Lanka’s government determined that the only course of action was to hand China a controlling stake in the Rajapaksa Port for 99 years. The transfer set off alarms in Sri Lanka and beyond because it represented a Chinese victory with potential military applications. “The acquisition provided Beijing with a deepwater port in the region in which it can dock its navy, off the coast of its key regional competitor, India,” Foreign Policy wrote on Oct. 29, 2018.

Sri Lanka is often cited as the textbook example of China’s “debt-trap diplomacy.” But it is not the only country where Chinese investment is going pear-shaped for the debtor nation and creating conditions for Chinese conquest.

China’s Geostrategic Conquests

Thanks to Chinese cash, the East African nation of Djibouti is already hosting China’s first overseas military base. But the country has borrowed more Chinese money than it can pay back and is now headed toward a debt-to-GDP ratio of 88 percent. Analysts worry that China could use its growing leverage to convince Djibouti to oust the United States military from Camp Lemonnier, America’s only permanent military base in Africa. Such a move would represent a huge loss for the U.S. and a major victory for China.

In Pakistan, Chinese-built infrastructure stretches all the way from Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea up to the Pakistan-China border. For China, this is not just an invaluable crossroads where the “belt” meets the “road.” It is also a safeguard against one of China’s greatest fears: a potential U.S. naval blockade in the South China Sea. Before development of port and road-rail networks through Pakistan, such a blockade would have posed an existential threat to China. But now China has an alternative route established for importing goods—particularly the Middle Eastern oil and gas on which it heavily depends—into China. Pakistan also owes China more than $6 billion for these projects, and is paying exorbitant interest rates on some of the loans. “That kind of debt gives China some leverage,” Chris Chappell of China Uncensored said on Aug. 1, 2018. Thanks largely to that leverage, China has already taken control of Gwadar Port, with a 40-year lease. And now the Chinese are constructing a naval and air force base nearby.

The Maldives, located right along the “string of pearls” route, is also heavily indebted to China, thanks mostly to the multimillion-dollar China-Maldives Friendship Bridge. As the Maldives’ economic troubles intensify, many fear that it will soon have no choice but to hand some key assets over to China.

In Montenegro, feasibility studies said it was not economically viable to build a highway from the Port of Bar through the nation’s rough terrain to Serbia. In 2014, China dismissed those studies, stepped in and gave Montenegro a loan to build a long stretch of it. Now the motorway is unfinished, and the tiny European nation is in serious financial trouble. If the situation in Montenegro plays out as with Sri Lanka, Beijing could have “a port of entry into Europe from the Adriatic,” Reuters wrote.

And the list of nations where China’s control is growing goes on.

BRI’s ‘Natural Extension’

The BRI originally focused on Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe, the regions connected by the ancient Silk Road. But in 2017, Xi Jinping said China sees Latin America as a “natural extension of the Maritime Silk Road.”

Six months later, China formally invited Latin American and Caribbean nations to join the initiative. Panama, Antigua and Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago, and Bolivia have already signed on. More countries are poised to follow.

Even before unveiling the BRI, the main thrust of China’s approach to Latin America had long been in the same vein: infrastructure financing and development. Starting in 2005, China extended $150 billion in financing to build ports, roads and railways in the region. Several of such projects are being retroactively rebranded as BRI successes, prompting criticism that China’s BRI is merely pouring old wine into new bottles. But the branding of the projects matters far less than China’s determination to integrate Latin America into its globe-girdling enterprise.

China is rebalancing the world economy with the BRI and related initiatives

For decades, the U.S. and UK have brought much stability to the world. But  now they will lose global power to two main blocs of non-Israelite nations. China’s increasing power and connectivity is shifting global power away from the Israelite nations and toward these other nations. Prophecy shows that as this shift continues, China will briefly cooperate in a history-altering way with the German-led world power.

China and the giants of Asia will form a brief alliance with the European bloc. Should Europe, the resurrected Holy Roman Empire, find a way to take advantage—even for a moment—of key resources and strategic holdings of China, Russia and Japan, it would have more than enough power to besiege the Anglo-Saxon nations.

With this level of control in Latin America, the European and Asian powers will be geographically positioned to lay siege to the United States. With a German-led Europe … possessing great maritime power, North America will be surrounded on the east by Europe and the south by Latin America. The importance of China’s growing dominance of world trade, and its strengthening links to Europe is a dangerous trend.China is now the world’s second most powerful economy, with the BRI poised to further expand its might. Control of the world’s sea “gates” is being handed over to the Chinese. This is all setting the scene for the siege against America.

Saturday Special: Moving to Another Country Affects Gut Bacteria

Moving to a new country can be challenging, not just for us but also for our bacteria. A compelling new study published in Cell suggests migration between certain countries can profoundly affect the bacteria that live in our digestive systems, with important implications for our health.

We know immigrants to North America are more susceptible to developing obesity and metabolic diseases such as diabetes than either people from the same countries who don’t migrate or native-born US citizens, but we don’t really understand why. To try to understand this phenomenon from a health perspective, researchers from the University of Minnesota conducted a large, in-depth study of Chinese and Thai immigrants moving to the US. The authors looked at the diet, gut microbes and body mass index of the immigrants before and after they moved. The evidence showed that the longer immigrants spent in the US, the less diverse their bacteria became, and that this was linked to rising obesity.

The human gut is home to hundreds of different species of bacteria known collectively as the “gut microbiome”. As well as breaking down food, this community of microorganisms helps our bodies fight and prevent disease. There is even tantalising evidence that the gut microbiome can influence our mental health.

A more diverse gut microbiome is associated with a healthier digestive system. And things that reduce this diversity, such as antibiotics, stress or changes in diet, can help make us more susceptible to conditions like obesity or irritable bowel disease.

The study compared a total of 514 healthy women, split into those born and living in Thailand, those born in Southeast Asia who later moved to the US, and those born in the US to immigrant parents originally from Southeast Asia. It found that changes to the gut microbiome began as soon as the immigrants arrived in the US and continued to change over decades. The longer they spent living there, the more their microbiomes began to resemble those of native-born Americans of European ethnic origin. The majority of participants, living in the US, also gained weight during the course of the study.

The combination of species that make up our gut microbiomes is strongly influenced by our diets, and so people from different parts of the world tend to have different bacteria. Western guts commonly contain lots of Bacteroides species, which are good at digesting animal fats and proteins. The guts of people with non-Western diets rich in plants tend to be dominated by Prevotella species, which are good at digesting plant fibre. The new study revealed that strains of bacteria from the immigrants’ native countries, particularly Prevotella species, were completely lost, as were relevant enzymes for digesting important plant fibres.

Cause or effect?

Studies that suggest that the microbiome can influence human health or disease are often challenged because it is hard to distinguish between cause and effect. In this case, it’s unclear whether changes in the microbiome are directly contributing to the high incidence of obesity in US immigrants. It may be some time before we fully understand whether a less diverse microbiome leads to obesity, or if obesity leads to a less diverse microbiome.

Most of our knowledge in this area comes from studying laboratory mice. Ground-breaking studies from the lab of US biologist Jeff Gordon first found a link between obesity and the gut microbiome in 2006, when they showed mice gained weight when they were given gut bacteria from obese humans. But, we also know high-fat diets drive obesity regardless of what’s in the gut microbime. So it would be premature to suggest that the microbiome alone is responsible for obesity.

With immigration increasing and eating habits evolving, it is important we better understand how changes in populations, cultures and diets can impact human microbiomes so that we can spot potential health problems. For example, we know that refugees, particularly children, are more prone to developing obesity so we need to develop novel strategies to combat this.

Education is one aspect and another is tackling poverty, which tends to be higher among immigrants than native-born citizens. But if the gut microbiome really is central to health and disease then finding ways to treat it directly by prescribing things like probiotics or even faecal transplants could help. One day we might even have microbial “pills” that could help migrants combat the changes to their gut microbiomes and settle more healthily in their new homes.

Bollywood As A Force to Shape the Future of Globalization

Like most Indian, films are an inseparable part of my life. After all, we produce the most number of movies (between 1,500 to 2,000) in the world every year. The Hindi film industry based in Mumbai, also known as Bollywood, represents the largest chunk of domestic and international box office revenue, making it the largest sector in the Indian film industry. Economic liberalization in India, the growing strength of the Indian diaspora and the shift to ‘glocal’ content have been some of the key drivers for Bollywood’s growth in the global market. Increasingly our films are finding a global audience and Bollywood actors are getting more substantial roles in Hollywood. 

As an Indian, I am proud of the global success of Bollywood, while as a global citizen I am optimistic about its influence on society and culture. In his Agenda piece, Why art has the power to change the world, Crystal Award winner Olafur Eliasson says: “Art does not show people what to do, yet engaging with a good work of art can connect you to your senses, body, and mind. It can make the world felt. And this felt feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.” Even scientists believe that by immersing audiences in the perspective of another person, movies help generate empathy. 

Bollywood has created socially progressive content and – through off-screen initiatives – Bollywood artists have focused on important issues, but as a millennial I believe it can do more to enable sustainable, empathetic and inclusive societies. Here are a few ways in which Bollywood can shape the future of globalization by acting on some of the critical issues identified by millennials. 

Climate change

Compared to other sectors, the film industry may not be seen as a major polluter, but its carbon footprint is still significant. There have been standalone efforts in Bollywood to make films about climate change or to produce carbon-neutral films, but these developments have not been embraced by the top stars and big studios yet. 

This is surprising, because Bollywood should be worried about the climate crisis threatening its core business: Mumbai will be at high risk from sea-level rise by 2050. 

In the West, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and Producers Guild of America (PGA) have issued guides to film and production companies on how to measure and manage their carbon footprint. Bollywood can take a cue from this and gradually shift to more sustainable means of film production. It can also follow ISO 20121 standards while organizing events such as awards functions, film launches and parties. 

Conflicts and toxic nationalism

One of the most reassuring findings of the Global Shapers Annual Survey 2017 was this: “For a large majority of young people, identity is not about region, geography, religion or ethnicity; they simply see themselves as ‘human’. Young people feel they are united simply because they exist in the same world together. Both as individuals and as a collective, they share similar concerns and desires. For them, their race is the human race.”

In the past, wars and conflicts between India and Pakistan have been an inspiration for some of the highest grossing Bollywood films. In the pursuit to make India look good, these films chose to dehumanize ‘the enemy’. However, the surprise success of Raazi, a 2018 box office hit, shows that modern audiences can appreciate patriotic films which don’t demonize the other country. 

At a time of worsening political polarization, art can either be a healing force or it can be manipulated to deepen fracture lines. I admit that Bollywood can’t mend relations between countries and communities on its own, but it can choose to refrain from fuelling the politics of hatred. 

Gender inequality and discrimination

The year 2018 witnessed the box office success of small budget female-centric Bollywood movies and the rise of male actors who do not conform to traditional hyper masculine behaviour. Professor Gopalan Mullik, a lecturer in film studies at St Xavier’s College in Kolkata, has put it this way: “Look at the young heroes who are emerging now – Ayushmann Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal, Rajkummar Rao – they are far removed from the male machismo images of the previous generation of Bollywood heroes. My reading is that these new crop of heroes are much closer to the gender proximity of the male and the female in the Indian ethos. In other words, they have a lot of feminine in them, which is the hallmark of traditional Indian thinking about the male and the female.”

Sadly, Bollywood films are often accused of perpetuating rape culture through objectification of women, a fact which filmmaker Karan Johar admitted in a session at Davos in 2017. Sexism and toxic masculinity might have sold in the past but globally movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up show there is a growing consensus that gender discrimination must end. Young people across the world are taking action to raise awareness on gender equality and sparking conversations challenging the status quo. Bollywood must respond to this evolving audience through its content while taking concrete steps to make the industry a safe place for all genders. 

With Bollywood’s biggest market getting younger, responding to these issues identified by millennials also means better business sense. Bollywood must work with millennials if it wants to be a transformative agent of change. The time is now to shape the future of globalization on our terms.

Ways to Counter Misinformation & Polarization

The recent American elections confirmed what we already know: the United States is deeply divided over the role, size and credibility of government, taxes, social welfare, immigration and globalization. This is no surprise: social capital – defined as connection with fellow citizens, including those with opposing views – has been steadily declining for decades. Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone showed that depleting social capital has calamitous consequences for democracy.

This decline in social capital is a major driver of political polarization. As a Pew Research study found, liberals and conservatives increasingly don’t want to live in the same kinds of communities, let alone talk to neighbours who may have different points of view. This is not just an American phenomenon. Communities worldwide have become polarized and, in some cases, are disintegrating.

The consequences of polarization can be devastating. Divisiveness, rancour and distrust permeate debates about important issues, such as the legitimacy of elections, access to opportunity and resources, and nationalistic responses to globalization, including whether to erect trade barriers or withdraw from supranational bodies, such as through Brexit.

Polarization and disintegration are driven primarily by growing inequality; exclusion from the wealth created by the technology revolution; powerlessness to bring about meaningful change in the public policy arena; and in some cases, by autocrats who intentionally peddle division as a way of weakening democratic institutions and controlling people. Indeed, those who have experienced economic loss due to globalization are less likely to support democracy.

It is becoming increasingly clear that communities often lack a clear, trusted way of engaging in public debates that are critical to building shared values and shared visions of the future. To deal with the very real issues that globalization and inequality present, we must be able to trust, or at least relate to, the information that news sources feed us. Yet a 2018 Edelman survey found that trust in news media has reached an all-time low.

To be clear, the provision of reliable and trusted information alone will not address inequality, lack of power or access to resources, or the effects of globalization. However, it is an indispensable foundation to make sure that people of different political hues, economic means or personal orientations can talk to one another. If we distrust all information, or the information used by people who do not think like us, then we will simply have no medium or space to meet with one another intellectually.

It is practically impossible to control the content created in the world, even in autocratic environments. With the proliferation of communications mediums and machine- and user-generated content, the world now produces 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. That’s the equivalent of 250,000 Libraries of Congress. No algorithm can, or should, attempt to police that volume of information. 

But it is possible to shape how people consume information, as well as their ability to identify and prioritize healthy, reliable information, by equipping them with better media and information literacy skills. Information literacy isn’t a soft skill – it’s an essential survival skill in the 21st century. When citizens can effectively navigate the flood of information and pick out credible sources and content, a common fact base can be established. This allows people to engage more productively in discussions with those who may not agree.

A recent study showed that people with higher media literacy skills felt more able to understand and participate in the political process, and were more appreciative of the complexity of challenging issues. This suggests they are more likely to engage productively with fellow citizens to find workable solutions.

Equipping young generations with these survival skills is not an overnight job. It requires that we prioritize critical thinking in the qualities we expect in our youth. It also requires deconstructing current school curricula, rebuilding them to make critical thinking and information consumption skills integral.

An extensive, but very rudimentary, layer of these efforts to build information consumption skills will be increasingly digital. Faced with an ever-expanding universe of digital content and means of disseminating it, we need to develop effective and widely available digital tools to weed out plain junk.

More importantly, we must help younger generations understand and overcome digital silos. These are pools of the same or similar types of information fed to them by algorithms that predict their tastes. Digital silos may sound harmless, but they isolate young people from one another, keep them glued to very limited pockets of the information universe, and reinforce their biases. They also deprive them of the benefits of different opinions and perspective. 

We must also equip youth with skills to navigate and resist confinement to social media peer networks. Peer networks have profound ramifications on how they process information. Young people need skills to detect emotional manipulation, white noise and pollution, as well as skills to reach out and connect with diverse networks.

Lastly, we must educate young people about how to verify and appropriately weigh the credibility of sources of information. Cross-referencing, telling opinion from fact and evaluating the quality of opinion are key survival skills.

Restoring trust in information helps build social capital. It is a means to the end of addressing broader societal clashes over complex issues such as globalization. Equipping citizens with stronger information consumption skills is an essential first step that we must take

Weekend Special: Lessons From the Great War

Mark Twain once said that “History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” As heads of state gather in Paris this week to mark 100 years since the end of World War I, they should listen closely to the echoes of history and avoid replaying the discordant notes of the past.

For centuries, our global economic fortunes have been shaped by the twin forces of technological advancement and global integration. These forces have the prospect to drive prosperity across nations. But if mismanaged, they also have the potential to provoke calamity. World War I is a searing example of everything going wrong.

The 50 years leading up the to the Great War were a period of remarkable technological advances such as steamships, locomotion, electrification, and telecommunications. It was this period that shaped the contours of our modern world. It was also a period of previously unprecedented global integration—what many refer to as the first era of globalization, where goods, money, and people could move across borders with relatively minimal impediments. Between 1870 and 1913 we saw large gains in exports as a share of GDP in many economies—a sign of increasing openness.

All of this created great wealth. But it was not distributed evenly or fairly. This was the era of the dark and dangerous factories and the robber barons. It was an era of massively rising inequality. In 1910 in the United Kingdom the top 1% controlled nearly 70% of the nation’s wealth—a disparity never reached before or after.

“Today, we can find striking similarities with the period before the Great War.”

Then, as now, rising inequality and the uneven gains from technological change and globalization contributed to a backlash. In the run-up to the war countries responded by scrambling for national advantage, forsaking the idea of mutual cooperation in favor of zero-sum dominance. The result was catastrophe—the full weight of modern technology deployed toward carnage and destruction.

And in 1918, when leaders surveyed the corpse-laden poppy fields, they failed to draw the correct lessons. They again put short-term advantage over long-term prosperity—retreating from trade, trying to recreate the gold standard, and eschewing the mechanisms of peaceful cooperation. As John Maynard Keynes—one of the IMF’s founding fathers—wrote in response to the Versailles Treaty, the insistence on imposing financial ruin on Germany would eventually lead to disaster. He was entirely correct.

It took the horrors of another war for world leaders to find more durable solutions to our shared problems. The United Nations, the World Bank, and of course the institution I now lead, the IMF, are a proud part of this legacy.

And the system created after World War II was always meant to be able to adapt. From the move to flexible exchange rates in the 1970s to the creation of the World Trade Organization, our predecessors recognized that global cooperation must evolve to survive.

Today, we can find striking similarities with the period before the Great War—dizzying technological advances, deepening global integration, and growing prosperity, which has lifted vast numbers out of poverty, but unfortunately has also left many behind. Safety nets are better now and have helped, but in some places we are once again seeing rising anger and frustration combined with a backlash against globalization. And once again, we need to adapt.

That is why I have recently been calling for a new multilateralism, one that is more inclusive, more people-centered, and more accountable. This new multilateralism must reinvigorate the previous spirit of cooperation while also addressing a broader spectrum of challenges—from financial integration and fintech to the cost of corruption and climate change.

Our recent research on the macroeconomic benefits of empowering women and modernizing the global trading system provides new ideas on ways to create a better system.

Each of us—every leader and every citizen—has a responsibility to contribute to this rebuilding.

After all, what was true in 1918 is still true today: The peaceful coexistence of nations and the economic prospects of millions depends squarely on our ability to discover the rhymes within our shared history.

A Peep into History: What it Takes for the INA Cap to Fit

On December 30, 2018, thousands of mobile flashlights lit up to honour Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at the spot where he had hoisted the Indian Tricolour in Andaman 75 years ago. Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the enthusiastic crowd in full-throated chants of “Netaji Zindabad”. “When it comes to heroes of the freedom struggle,” he said, “we take the name of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose with pride.”

The Prime Minister must be commended for performing his duty of honouring the heroism and sacrifice of Netaji and the INA (Indian National Army). Yet donning the cap of the Azad Hind Fauj carries with it the responsibility of upholding the ideals and values held dear by India’s army of liberation.

Netaji’s visit to Andaman was the culmination of an extraordinary year of superhuman effort. There was immense pride in Netaji’s achievements. But the most glorious phase in his uncle’s life was yet to begin.

A perilous 90-day submarine voyage between February and May 1943, including a mid-ocean transfer from a German to a Japanese submarine, brought Netaji and his aide Abid Hasan from Europe to Asia. On July 2, 1943, when Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore, he was greeted with a Hindustani song composed by Mumtaz Hussain: “Subhas-ji, Subhas-ji, woh jaan-e-Hind aa gaye, woh naaz jispe Hind ko, woh shan-e-Hind aa gaye.” “Asia ke Aftab” — “the light of Asia”, the song concluded, had now arrived in Asia.

On July 4, 1943, Subhas Chandra Bose rose to accept the leadership of the Indian freedom movement in Southeast Asia. In ringing tones, he told those who were prepared to follow him that he could offer “nothing but hunger, thirst, privation, forced marches and death”. When the sun rose next morning over Singapore harbour, it was “the proudest day” in Netaji’s life. The soldiers of the INA stood in front of him on the padang, the expanse of green, that stretched from the steps of the city hall towards the sea. It had pleased Providence, their supreme commander told them, for him to be able to announce that India’s army of liberation had come into being. Netaji gave his soldiers the slogan “Chalo Delhi”. He introduced the inspiring national greeting “Jai Hind”.

In the months that followed, Netaji electrified massive audiences of soldiers and civilians with his speeches. Thousands of civilians, mostly from south India, deemed non-martial by the British as part of their mythology about martial races and castes, enlisted in the INA. They received military training alongside professional soldiers from the northwestern regions of the subcontinent. I have witnessed the deep reverence for Netaji to this day in north and south India alike. During his submarine journey Netaji had dictated a speech to Abid Hasan, which he planned to deliver to a women’s regiment of the INA of his dreams. The speech was given on July 12 to the first recruits of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, which eventually enlisted a thousand young Indian women from Malaya and Burma.

In August, Subhas Chandra Bose tried to send rice from Burma to Bengal, which was being decimated by a man-made famine, but the British in India nervously suppressed his offer. On September 26, 1943, a ceremonial parade and prayers were held at Bahadur Shah’s tomb in Rangoon to signal the INA’s determination to march to the Red Fort of Delhi. The first division of the INA was put under the command of Mohammad Zaman Kiani. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian soldiers dined together in a striking departure from the British custom of having separate messes. A warm camaraderie developed among soldiers drawn from different religious communities and linguistic groups. Netaji urged Hindus to be generous towards religious minorities. “He never even once spoke his God in public,” his colleague S A Ayer has written. “He lived him.”

On October 21, 1943, in Singapore, Netaji proclaimed the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind, which guaranteed religious liberty, as well as equal rights and equal opportunities to its citizens. It declared its firm resolve to transcend “all the differences cunningly fostered by an alien government in the past”. What was notable about the composition of the cabinet was the strong representation given to members of religious minorities and the diversity of regional backgrounds.

Netaji achieved remarkable success in forging a spirit of unity and solidarity among different religious communities and linguistic groups. When priests of the main Chettiar temple in Singapore had come to invite Netaji to a religious ceremony earlier in October, they had been turned away because of their inegalitarian practices. He acceded to their request only after they agreed to host a national meeting open to all castes and communities. He went to that temple gathering flanked by his Muslim comrades — Abid Hasan and Mohammad Zaman Kiani. “When we came to the temple,” Hasan has written, “I found it filled to capacity with the uniforms of the INA officers and the black caps of the South Indian Muslims glaringly evident.”

The Azad Hind government inculcated this spirit of unity with a subtle sense of purpose. A simple Hindustani translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s song Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka Jaya Hai became the national anthem. A springing tiger, evoking Tipu Sultan of Mysore’s gallant resistance against the British, featured as the emblem on the Tricolour shoulder-pieces on uniforms. Gandhi’s charkha continued to adorn the centre of the Tricolour flags that INA soldiers were to carry on their march towards Delhi.

The scale of Netaji’s success in forging Hindu-Muslim unity at a time when divisions along lines of religion were looming large within India cannot be exaggerated. Netaji forged an innovative path to a cosmopolitan anti-colonialism by nurturing a process of cultural intimacy among India’s diverse communities. To truly honour Netaji, the Prime Minister must take an unambiguous stand against his followers who are spreading the poison of religious hatred. If his symbolic gesture of donning the INA cap is to have any meaning, he must uphold the Azad Hind Government’s unswerving commitment to equal citizenship.

For Netaji, territory was not the be-all and end-all of sovereignty. People were more important. The provisional government gave Indians domiciled abroad the option of accepting Indian citizenship. Before the INA entered India’s north-east in early 1944, the Azad Hind government acquired de jure sovereignty over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean in much the same way as De Gaulle’s Free French had done over some islands off the French coast in the Atlantic.

Netaji redeemed his promise of setting foot on the soil of his motherland before the year’s end by arriving in Port Blair on December 29, 1943, for a three-day visit to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which he renamed Shaheed and Swaraj. He paid tribute to the revolutionaries who had suffered there and likened the opening of the gates of Cellular Jail to the liberation of the Bastille. One of the earliest messages transmitted did not contain any valuable military intelligence. It conveyed the news of Prabhabati’s death. “You look tired,” Debnath Das said to Netaji that evening. “No, I am not tired,” Netaji replied. “I heard today that I have lost my mother.

Homo Sapiens Will Remain Central to the Future of Work

The future of work is at the heart of every major socio-economic-political debate raging around the world today. Building walls across borders; migrants landing on the beaches of southern Europe; surveillance policies in Xinjiang; hard or soft Brexit; taxi services in Paris; and the concentration of wealth among the 1% are all considerations that reveal the nature and distribution of work.

Power comes from work, and from the money it generates. From the absence of work stems powerlessness. This is particularly salient in 2019, as people understand that work is changing more quickly than ever before. The arguments are so fierce because the stakes are so high.

The biggest reason why work is changing so quickly? Technology. A new digital landscape has opened up, of brilliant people solving unimaginably hard problems using tools that are improving by the day. Many people are excited and energized by what’s emerging. But many aren’t. A lot of people are frightened that what little grip they had on the economic ladder is about to slip.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already here

Everyone is under pressure to outrun the machine. Each us must figure out what to do when machines do everything. Some will stay and fight, others will run. Some will tell the machines what to do, others will be happy to take orders. Some will meekly submit, others will violently rebel.

The prevailing sentiment amid all this uncertainty? That human work is going away – that we’re all doomed. Study after study, and most famously Oxford University’s 2013 report, suggest that almost half of US employment is at risk of machine-based replacement. These papers convey a bleak view of a post-work world. To paraphrase an old chestnut, if you’re not terrified, you’re not adequately informed.

In 1974, the British politician Keith Joseph said: “for 30 years we have tried to buy social peace at the expense of economic efficiency; predictably, we have got the worst of all worlds, inefficiency, hence poor performance and hence social discontents”.

Fast forward to 2019, and after 45 years of broad emphasis in the Western world on economic efficiency, we have reached a point where social discontent is again one of the most pressing issues facing private and public sector leaders.

There is little argument that technology has played a role in the widening gulf between the winners and the runners-up. This is apparent to all but the most ideological. Those who have kept abreast of the rise of automation, arbitrage and the Plimsoll line of economic efficiency, have done well over the last few decades. Those who have mastered the new means of production have done fabulously well. Conversely, those who have not kept pace have seen their share of the spoils evaporate. Therefore, placing these means of production in the hands of ever more people is the surest route to ensuring both the economic efficiency and social harmony that is important to elites and non-elites alike.

Of course, the (unintended) irony is that the new means of production are literally in everyone’s hands right now. With a smartphone, a teenager in Zambia can trade Yeezys, a semi-retired senior in Kalamazoo can consult with a client in Sacramento, and a stay-at-home mother in Zürich can sell the custom jewellery she makes while Junior is taking his afternoon nap. Spreading more of these types of opportunities – and the ability to create them, as much as use them – into more people’s hands will address the needs of wealth creation and wealth distribution.

The fact that these types of opportunities are proliferating is core to our view that there is a future for human work. In fact, our foundational belief is that human imagination and ingenuity will be the source of human work ad infinitum. Of course the work we do will be different in the future, but a world where all the work is done by machines is a recurring, wrong-headed fantasy that surfaces at moments of great technological change.

The jobs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

How different will they be? In our reports “21 Jobs of the Future” and “21 More Jobs of the Future”, we have laid out some of the types of work we see emerging over the next 10 years. These new jobs range from the low-tech and semi-obvious, such as a Walker/Talker, to the very high-tech and hard-to-fathom, such as a Genetic Diversity Officer.

Some of the jobs of the future will be highly technical, but some won’t. Some are already observable in the marketplace (if you squint), while some are years away from coming to fruition. Some will propel a career for 60 years (the length of time most of us will soon be working) while others will be “gigs” that come and go.

In considering the work of the future, we have set out the Four E’s of Skills:

Eternal

Some human skills have existed since our very beginning: burping a baby; opposing a thumb; leveraging sticks and stones and fire; cooperating within a group; adapting. No matter how brilliant our technologies become, these human skills, along with many others, will be of value through eternity.

Enduring

Although the Bushmen of the Kalahari didn’t have much call to sell things, the skill of selling has always been important. Other such enduring abilities – being empathetic, trusting, helping, imagining, creating, striving – will always be needed. Enduring skills are central to jobs of the future.

Emerging

New skills in the future relate to the complexity, density and speed of work. Are you skilled enough to work with a 315mb Excel spreadsheet? Can you handle the sensory overload of a drone virtual cockpit? Can you assess which Common Vulnerability Score System action you should take first – in the next 15 seconds – before the cyber perimeter is breached? Fast-twitch/no-blink/e-game-honed/multi-tasking candidates apply here.

Eroding

Invariably, this year’s cutting-edge skill becomes next year’s commonplace pre-requisite. Twenty years ago, consulting firms hired large teams of slide deck designers. Nowadays, a graduate new hire that couldn’t put together a presentation on the first day of their job would be looked at in shock. A marketing manager candidate without a social media presence would not be called back. The list of eroding skills is getting longer by the day, and many of them relate to technology. There’s not much need for loading film or setting up UUCP networks nowadays. If too many of your skills are on the eroding list, it could be time for a reboot.

The future of work is being reworked

Today’s fear and uncertainty are the results of a world changing at an unprecedented speed, and of a large group of people (not necessarily always older people) who are ageing out of the workforce. If you’ve made a living, raised a family and built an identity from being an autoworker or an accountant or a humanities professor, then becoming an algorithm bias auditor (one of the new jobs in our reports) may seem plain wrong.

This is natural and understandable, but most importantly – particularly if you are a senior organizational leader – this is a mistake. The world has always changed and always will. The jobs we do have always changed and always will.

In Jacob Bronowski’s 1973 classic The Ascent of Man, he wrote: “We are all afraid – for our confidence, for the future, for the world. That is the nature of the human imagination. Yet every man, every civilization, has gone forward because of its engagement with what it has set itself to do. The personal commitment of a man to his skill, the intellectual commitment and the emotional commitment working together as one, has made the Ascent of Man”.

This is still the great challenge of our time: to engage with what we have set ourselves to do, and to engage with the future.

Theresa May’s Defeat Reflects Shortfalls of Brussels

Yesterday was a day of ignominy for the UK Prime Minister Theresa May who suffered a devastating defeat on her Brexit withdrawal deal losing by a massive 202 to 432. Westminster is in potential turmoil, following the biggest defeat by any government in over a century, but the ballot should also be a wake-up call for Brussels and the EU-27 too.

UK governments have only been defeated in the House of Commons by a margin of more than 100 votes 3 times in the last century, and Tuesday’s vote easily exceeded those defeats. All of those previous votes were in 1924 underlining what a historic reversal Tuesday’s vote represented, and why May’s remaining authority has been shredded.

With May’s Brexit withdrawal deal potentially now dead, and a change of government ever more likely, pressure will also intensify on Brussels to show more political imagination to reach a resolution to the current impasse. This includes potentially extending the two year Article 50 process, which would require the unanimous support of the EU-27, with current end of March deadlines fast approaching.

More imagination and flexibility is especially important given that all sides want to avoid a no-deal scenario. This is because forecasts indicate such an outcome could be very damaging not just to the United Kingdom, but also Ireland and continental Europe alike.

While the UK’s negotiation strategy and vision has been ‘missing in action’, Brussels has also struggled to define what Brexit should mean, partly because this forms part of wider, difficult questions around where the EU is headed in coming years. To be clear, Brussels has offered up numerous opportunities over the last two years to Britain, and explained repeatedly what these are, but there could potentially have been greater willingness to think beyond off-the-shelf, standard options.

In what has been an inherently political negotiation over the withdrawal deal the last two years, the EU has sometimes been legalistic with the process in a way that would have made it hard for any UK government, let alone this very incompetent one, to deliver. For instance, the withdrawal deal, and the separate one to set up a new relationship, are exceptionally hard to undertake entirely in isolation, as the Northern Irish border issue underlines. Yet there has sometimes been a doctrinaire view on this issue which underlines what a monumental mistake it was for May to trigger Article 50 before she had a proper negotiating strategy.

Lack of imagination by Brussels in Brexit talks potentially stems from initial complacency in some quarters of the EU over the concerns UK voters expressed in the referendum which may have been dismissed too easily in 2016 as British exceptionalism. However, even Emmanuel Macron admitted last year that his country might vote for Frexit if a similar referendum were held in his country.

Moreover, some EU-27 decision makers, although initially concerned that Brexit could lead to a domino effect across the continent, have perhaps even come to see the UK’s departure as a ‘problem’ that may even be positive for the EU, especially in a context where polls in 2016 and 2017 have shown popular support for the EU at record levels across much of the continent. In part, this stems from a long-held perception in parts of the EU that further integration tends to only happen through crises.

Yet, this has potentially risked underplaying the full scale of the challenges facing the EU, of which Brexit is just one, which will collectively determine its future place in the world and help frame its future relationship with the United Kingdom. These range from Schengen and Eurozone reform through to external challenges like an emboldened Russia, the future of Nato, and the relationship with the United States under Donald Trump with his calls for the EU to be broken up.

Taken overall, now is the time for Brussels, not just London, to redouble Brexit diplomacy to help ensure that a hard, disorderly exit doesn’t come to pass. Delivering a smoother departure needs clear strategy and thinking on all sides to deliver on a new phase of constructive partnership that can hopefully bring benefits for both at a time of significant geopolitical turbulence.

Global Free Trade Beyond Populist Disruption

In the second year of his presidency, Donald Trump started to fulfill his promised “America First” agenda by launching trade wars with allies and adversaries alike. In the absence of leadership from governments, the responsibility of responding to the populist disruption now falls to the business community. 

In 2018, trade, more than any other policy area, was “disrupted.” What used to be an archaic, technical, and – let’s face it – boring array of issues now dominates front-page headlines, magazine covers, and even John Oliver’s comedic documentaries on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.” Constituencies that have traditionally opposed free-trade agreements (FTAs) are now extolling their virtues, and countries not known for their free-trade sensibilities – including China, Russia, and France – are nominating themselves as the defenders of the global trade system.

Still, it is worth asking how much has actually been disrupted. President Donald Trump did pull the United States out of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but the remaining 11 signatories have implemented the bulk of the agreement on their own, while leaving the door open for the US to rejoin in the future. And more countries have shown an interest in joining, suggesting that the TPP could eventually extend well beyond what was originally envisioned. Moreover, the updated North American Free Trade Agreement – now to be called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement – is largely based on the TPP template, which already included Canada and Mexico, with some noteworthy additions.

Meanwhile, the European Union is implementing FTAs with Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, and Japan, and pursuing deals with Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Mercosur, and others. The Pacific Alliance continues to expand trade and other partnerships in Latin America. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is proceeding apace in the Asia-Pacific region. And the African Union has made more progress toward implementing the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA).

In short, the global trend toward deeper integration and higher standards in trade has continued. The Trump administration has certainly made a lot of noise by deploying trade remedies in unpredictable and unexpected ways, engaging in tit-for-tat tariffs, reintroducing import quotas, and seriously constraining the World Trade Organization’s dispute-settlement body. Yet, in the end, Trump’s revamping of NAFTA might actually help to broaden support for trade in the US, given that many of his most loyal supporters have traditionally been suspicious of trade agreements.

That, at any rate, is the glass-half-full interpretation. The alternative is that there has, in fact, been a significant historical rupture. By surrendering its global leadership role, the US has lost the trust of its closest allies and partners, and handed a gift to its adversaries. In this scenario, the EU or China might supplant the US as the global rule-maker, or there will be no rule-maker, and the international order will be governed by drift. In the latter case, other countries might well imitate the US by pursuing unilateral action and upholding their international obligations only when it suits them.

It is too early to say which scenario will play out. But one thing is clear: nationalism, populism, nativism, and protectionism are on the rise. Economic insecurities, as well as a growing sense of lost sovereignty, have contributed to an unprecedented degree of political polarization, and not just in the US. From European countries beset by growth in support for fringe parties to emerging economies mired in corruption, governments everywhere seem to be more inwardly focused and less capable than ever of demonstrating bold leadership – and precisely when it is most needed to address the disruptive effects of rapid technological and economic change.

With a leadership vacuum at the international level and paralysis at the national level, it has become all the more necessary for private-sector actors to step up, not out of the goodness of their hearts, but in defense of their own interests. As BlackRock chairman and CEO Larry Fink and others have pointed out, it is no longer enough for companies to be focused solely on short-term returns to shareholders. They also need to be thinking about the long term and about the economic and political environments in which they operate. Beyond corporate social responsibility and philanthropy, both of which are important, that means developing commercially sustainable business models that also “serve a social purpose.”

Doing well by doing good can’t be just a tagline. It must be a guiding business philosophy, backed by the recognition that the private sector needs a healthy political and economic environment to thrive and must take action to secure it. In recent decades, public trust in government, the press, corporations, and other leading institutions has declined sharply. If business leaders continue to ignore the health of their operating environment – or assume that fixing it is someone else’s problem – they are risking even more deglobalization, uncertainty, and instability in the years ahead.

Economic growth has been the defining feature of an historic global success story spanning the past 75 years. Even with its limitations, globalization has lifted more than one billion people out of poverty and delivered unprecedented improvements in virtually all areas of human development. But the job is not done. To prevent backsliding, the focus must shift from aggregate growth to inclusive growth. The gains from growth must accrue not just to those at the top, but to those at all income levels, and not just to global corporations, but to small and medium-size businesses as well.

Nationalism, populism, nativism, and protectionism exploit people’s sense of being left behind and excluded from the system. That is why we need to focus on ensuring universal inclusion in the economic networks that allow individuals and families to achieve financial security and pursue opportunities for betterment. This imperative applies as much to a Kenyan farmer or an Egyptian garment worker as it does to an American now eking out a living in the gig economy.

It remains to be seen whether the current disruption in trade policy will be deep and long-lasting, or superficial and temporary. We cannot yet know if we will see a return to the mean or whether Pandora’s box has been opened. But, in the absence of international and national leadership, businesses should not wait to find out.