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Showing posts from 2016

Politics of Welfare

All our politics is Politics of Welfare.
For, all our difference, between Liberals and Conservatives, the Left and the Right, can be summarised as this:
1. The Liberals want the State to tax those who earn and provide Welfare to those who do not, so that those who earn can keep themselves forever on the treadmill and those who do not can be happy with the handouts, and this should keep everyone off politics.
2. The Conservatives do not want to tax those who earn and do not want to give Welfare to those who do not, so that the former is happy and the latter is on the treadmill, and this should keep everyone off politics.
These conversations are so common that one may think this was always the case. However, as we know, politics of welfare is not primordial, but rather an industrial age phenomena. At its core, it assumes that everyone can, and should, be able to find work, and it is either Unfortunate (Liberal) or Criminal (Conservative) not to be able to find work.

One may love …

Going to '17: The Learning Agenda

I wrote a post earlier about my reading enterprise in 2016 (see here), something of a narrative account of my book diary and a Goodread's Reading Challenge that I indulged myself with. As an aggregate, it showed a failure - I only finished half as many books cover to cover as I set out to do - and fragmentation of goals and enterprises, as I followed several different agenda and did not complete any of those in any form.
In a way, this is fine. I wanted to follow my heart in what I chose to read, and it really could not have been otherwise. In a sense, I want my relationship with my books to be impulsive yet profound, momentary yet forever remembered, free of commitment but laden with meaning. This is what I am, perhaps: Long ago, someone promised me a relationship with 'all the dimensions, but no destination', and though all the details of that conversation have faded, the idea remained with me, and now morphed into a quest for me to be lived in the books.
But, then, boo…

Finding Talent: From Supply Chain to Value Chain

There is a talent problem in our economies. Speak to any employer in almost any country, and they will tell you how hard it is to find good employees with appropriate skills. And, this happens despite a massive expansion of public education system and rising literacy, an unprecedented level of access to Higher Education and Skills Training. There is also a near total consensus that education has an economic goal - jobs or career - and most employers have existing programmes and expansive plans to engage with education providers at all levels in search of talent. And, yet, the problem persists - and getting worse.
Here, I think, we should make the case for a paradigm shift. The recruitment of talent currently happens with a supply chain paradigm. Even in the best of the cases, where employers are deeply engaged with education institutions, they try to shape the curriculum, spot student talent early and do campus interviewing, they are still looking at the educators as passive supplier…

Going to '17: Reading Serendipity

I started 2016 with a surprise discovery: That Bill Gates reads a book a week! I love reading books, yes, the old fashioned paper books, and spend most of my time and money on books. And, yet, I struggle to read as much as I would like to, as life intervenes. The work, the chores, the celebrations and the worries, moments social and the solitary, all present their different challenges inbetween me and an undivided and unwavering commitment to my books. And, yet, here is the man, who earns about $150 every second - if that's one benchmark how valuable his time must be - and who, as Michael Sandel explained, may find stopping and picking up a $50 bill if he spots one lying on the pavement a waste of his time, claiming that he accords highest priority to reading, and even sets aside time when life gets too busy!
I know the usual explanation: We are not Bill Gates. Yes, when you earn $150 a second, you do not drive your own car. You can choose who you socialise with. And, indeed, if …

To Start Up: Thinking About Designations

Everyone, it seems, loves an Org Chart. The little boxes of power, those straight lines of responsibility, that one page definition of the hustle of start-up life - neat, tangible and reassuring! It is loved by those who make them, as they see themselves securely placed in one box or another, and by those who demand them, investors, accreditation agencies and bankers, so that they know how to give credit and how to apportion blame! When they are given out publicly, as is usual in countries that thrive on hierarchy, customers treasure them for writing complaints to the big man at the top and salesmen treasure them to cut the chase.
But, it is also one of those old-fashioned things that everybody loves to hate. Particularly in the start-ups, where the rough and tumble of daily lives often do not follow neat structures and fixed boundaries, a secure spot towards the top is as desirable as the lovely cabin at the upper decks of the Titanic. In a world where rolling up the sleeves and get…

Demonetisation and Making Indians

Massimo d'Azeglio is usually credited with coinage of the expression "We have made Italy, now we must make Italians" (though scholars have now indicated that he never did write this, and the expression originated only later in the current form). Whoever said this, this represents what we may call the 'problem of Italy' - a new nation state without the corresponding sense of citizenship and belonging. Indeed, most of Italy's modern history is marked by disunity, between North and South, between the Left and the Right, the Industry and the Peasantry and so on. The existence and implausibility of the Nation State in Italy, something that the expression of 'making Italians' indicates, have been the basis of much discussion, not just in academia but in politics: It is no surprise that 'making Italians' was appropriated and popularised by the Fascists who took the project on themselves.
In context, one has to note that d'Azeglio, the Poet, Hero…

The Trump Syndrome: What To Do When We Don't Like The Outcome?

I am something of a veteran being on the losing side of elections. And, with interests in politics globally, I am on the losing side more often than normal. I have indeed no business taking sides on US or Filipino Presidential elections, or the referendum in Italy, but I did want an outcome and ended up being on the losing side. Closer home, I did vote Remain and was stunned by Brexit, and more disappointed than surprised by Indian choice of their Prime Minister in 2014. It is not a good time for people with 'Liberal' sympathies, and I am sure to be in for some more disappointments in 2017, including some major ones in France and Germany, as it looks like.
However, I am writing this not to moan my plight, but rather to reflect on what one does when elections produce unpalatable results. I did indeed express my disappointment and question the merit of Direct Democracy in the morning after Brexit, a genuine feeling that I came to regret with time. In fact, now that the disappoi…

The University As A Network: Interrogating The First Universities

Whenever I speak about Universities As Networks, the idea smacks of being the 'cool new thing': I am immediately hit with the claim of tradition - that universities have been in their current form for 'hundreds of years' - with the implication that this institutional form is resilient and not going to change anytime soon.
The point is, of course, that the critical thinking that universities claim to imbibe in their learners is expected not to be applied to the institutions themselves. This claim of faux-tradition, that the universities have been around in some sort of unchangeable form for hundreds of years while everything around them changed, often goes unquestioned. So, a little scrutiny of the origins and traditions of the universities is quite useful for our conversation.
And, humbling, too: Because if anyone seriously thought that the universities as networks is a cool new concept invented for the Internet age, a quick tour of the medieval universities would qui…

The Logic of Technology and Future of Jobs

If we follow the talk, the future of jobs is bleak. Software is eating the world, as Marc Andreessen loves to claim, and he means it literally. Economists are now studying the probability that jobs such as Taxi Drivers and Restaurant Waiters would be automated in all seriousness. Technology seems to be reaching a tipping point that would transform the workplace.
In context, educators are right to be worried about the future of their students. There are things being said to mollify the duly anxious: That while the emergent technologies may destroy some of the jobs (in one estimate, 47% of the occupation groups employing three-quarters of the current workforce), it would create new jobs which we have not seen yet. While this is most certainly true and new professions will arise, such statements hide the fact that new economy jobs are just too few to offset the loss of old ones: Kodak, with its 130,000 employees, giving way to Instagram, with a dozen employees at the time, is illustrati…

What Jobs Matter?

There are things we know: That as technologies change rapidly, there is a hollowing out of the Middle Class jobs. Some jobs, like the Telephone Operator, have become extinct; some others, like Secretaries and Receptionists, have become less ubiquitous; and yet others, like the Book-keepers, are being driven into obsolesce. Just like automation of an earlier kind marginalised the factory worker (Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, remember), the automation is now coming for the middle class lives and suburban lifestyles. Even those jobs created by technologies - the Call Centre worker and others - are now facing competition from newer generations of technologies, such as Voice Recognition. And, the indication is that this will intensify further, and transform the domains that were hitherto deemed safe: Jobs such as Accountants, Taxi Drivers, Legal Clerks and even Waiters and Cooks. The economies that benefited greatly from the globalisation's last wave - India comes to mind - will be…

Transformation of Indian Higher Education: Noting The Signs of Change

For those who felt change is always slow and cumbersome in India, the recent move by the Indian government to annul the Rs. 500 and Rs 1000 notes overnight should be a clear sign that things have changed. Indeed, there are certain things which never change - the implementation was poor and thoughtless and the bewildering array of tinkering that came afterwards demonstrated the jugaad mentality - but Chinese-style decisive action may have now become politically fashionable.
This may give hope to those who thought India would open up its Higher Education sector eventually. There has been a bill, drafted and redrafted several times but never acted upon, to this effect dating back to 1990s. Various governments since then expressed its intention to make the Indian Higher Ed competitive globally, but in reality, had done the opposite. While India expanded its Higher Ed capacity significantly since 2006, creating a few thousand seats every day on average, the sector remained steadfastly par…

Reclaiming The Public Sphere

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Coffee shop chains are cool, but are they?
That Starbucks, Costa and Pret are everywhere in the neighbourhood, offering us a standard experience - of space, coffee and everything - is signalling more than just coffee: This is about what we use public spaces for and how we use them. They are an instrument to create our identities.
Imagine the morning coffee, not just its smell but also standing in the long queues at or by the station. The act of standing there is being part of a civilisation, which, despite its currency, seems to have been going on forever. This is being part of the office crowd, being busy, being hard-working, being on the path of, if one is not already, successful. The carefully crafted and branded paper-cup, with the cap and the holder, all parts of being modern, a fragment of our daily, and perennial, experience.
But, more so, it is the sitting down experience, laptops everywhere, each table a small universe of start-ups and ideas, napkins specially drafted for bu…

On India's Demonetisation

Lots of odd things happened in 2016, and I wrote about them, almost reluctantly, as they happened. And, yet, while I could not keep myself from commenting on Trump's victory, I refrained from commenting on India's 'demonetisation' move, in which the Government annulled 86% of India's currency by value, overnight. This event has more real and emotional significance to me than Trump's victory, and indeed I am in the middle of a very heated discussion, online and offline, on the issue. Yet, I chose not to comment, at least so far, because I was so divided on the issue. And, commenting now is not a pretencion of self-importance: I rather thought it was best to say how I really feel, rather than trying to project that I am indifferent (which I am not).
To start with, I should be happy because the government has made people to make sacrifices. Instead of the promised better days, the Prime Minister has called upon the middle class to be the soldiers of the ATM, whic…

The University As A Network

I wrote earlier about How To Build An University to argue that our current paradigms are flawed. My essential point was that the university, more than its buildings, curriculum and facilities, is a community, and this should be the key consideration for building an university. I wanted to add to this thought, how one may put the community at the heart of university-making, and think through some of the practical implications.
This argument that one may need to look at the University as a Community is old, and indeed, the first universities were conceived as communities more than anything else. This is also at the heart of a sophisticated business argument - Clayton Christensen and his coauthors argued for adopting an 'User Network Business Model' for the universities - and this did become a talking point when venture investment in education was raging. I did write about it then (See Education 2.0: Universities As User Networks , Universities As User Networks: An Update and Th…

The Revolt of the Elites

The current mood in Europe can be summed up as Waiting for Le Pen. If Brexit was shocking, and Trump's victory was sobering, that Le Pen will triumph in May is something to be expected. It was indeed always in the realm of possibility - Michel Houellebecq was almost there till he conjured up an even more dystopian possibility - but in a space of last few months, a Le Pen presidency has become an unremarkable trend event.
However, such expectedness should take away nothing from the consequences of such events, that they mark the end of business as usual. The global system of international relations and internal politics of nations are both breaking down, opening up all sorts of new possibilities and unforeseen dangers. Civil Rights and Democratic systems are at risk, and the new leaders may indeed leverage unprecedented powers of surveillance and of control to create new, terrifying, possibilities. 
But this post is not about what could happen. There is already enough of that in …

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