Books; People; Ideas : These are few of my favourite things. As I live between day-to-day compromises and change-the-world aspirations, this is the chronicle of my journey, full of moments of occasional despair and opportune discoveries, of connections and creations, and, most of all, my quest of knowledge as conversations.
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India's employment crisis
An infographic in Indian media
India's unemployment rate has reached a historical high and the government is panicking. It has rejected and suppressed the report and committed itself to inventing a new set of numbers. Members of the national statistical body have resigned, and the bad job numbers have become one of the worst kept secrets in its modern history.
As the government went down the road of obfuscation, it had also fooled itself believing that everything was fine. Once the statistical reports were questioned, the best explanation that the Head of the apex economic policy-making body could come up with was that Uber and other taxi-hailing companies have created millions of jobs in India. But then, the crisis is anything but hidden - walk on any street in any neighbourhood in any Indian city, and it is likely that you will see a few working-age people loitering, waiting or playing cards or carom in the middle of the day. IMF has recently warned that youth inactivity in India is highest among all developing economies (see here) and this has the making of a huge crisis.
Indeed, as Rutger Bregman would argue, going by its root word, crisis should signify a point of departure. But this is not the case in India, as no one is really looking to change anything - and hence, the right word may indeed be 'coma', a deep dreamless sleep. The youth inactivity is somewhat encouraged by various political parties across India and the some state governments have even made it a point to make annual grants to local youth associations, encouraging mid-day television watching or card plays against political volunteering at the time of elections. While this has resulted in, as expected, different kinds of social problems - drug abuse, mistreatment of women, petty crimes and cow vigilantism - the political advantage of unemployment has been cynically exploited by all political parties in India.
And, not just that: The Indian middle classes, the key beneficiaries of globalisation, worked as 'Dream Hoarders', cornering government benefits and social infrastructure for their own benefit and to exclude everyone else. Unlike an 'emerging' economy - the world of 'white tigers' - social mobility in India has become more difficult. The deterioration of public education, proliferation of bad colleges, predatory health care system and poor quality jobs have all contributed to closing of the gates of opportunity, rather than opening it.
The current situation is indeed a far cry from the enthusiastic portrayal of development made in 2014, when Prime Minister Modi came to power. So much has changed since those heady days, when India was to become the magnet of foreign investment and the manufacturing capital of the world, dethroning China. Part of it is inept handling of the economy: An ailing Finance Minister who meddled freely with the Central Bank ran the economy to the ground. Part of it is self-inflicted: Narendra Modi's politically motivated demonetisation was the price the Indian economy had to pay for his ambition to dominate the Indian politics. But much of it is a failure of strategy - the Indian government was sleepwalking into disaster and have no idea how to get the youth back to work.
With another election around the corner, the Government is in no mood to do critical analysis of what has gone wrong. Instead of substantive conversations, its strategy is bluster - the beating up of Pakistan hoping that it would translate into votes. Every month the government - in fact, governments, as the governments of various Indian states are equally responsible - sleeps on the job though, India is adding more than a million people to the army of job-seekers. Its demographic dividend is quickly turning into a demographic disaster.
In more ways than one, this Indian problem is also a global problem. Young Indians are a significant part of the 'out of poverty' claim that globalisation's advocates make. Indians are also one of the staunchest supporters of the Globalisation 90s style, not surprising as they indeed have been its major beneficiary. However, one could argue that India's current troubles are direct outcomes of its premature liberalisation, its very success in global service industry before the social and infrastructural issues were sorted out. India's education is a mess, and while the country's rulers may have expected that economic prosperity would lift its standards, poor educational attainment of Indian workers have become a significant barrier to productivity growth and moving up the global value chain. Its efforts to simplify red tape - with its focus on Ease of Doing Business rankings - only meant big companies could crush small companies and lax environmental control gives its cities one of worst air qualities in the world. And, finally, its IT services industry, successful as it is, crowded out other industries and enterprises which would have had longer term impact. In summary, unless the unemployment problems are quickly solved, India promises to be the ultimate basket case of neo-liberal economics.
The government has tried to deal with this complete failure of neo-liberal economics with a greater dose of neo-liberal economics. Therefore, it has started distributing free money to create 'incubators', with a teary-eyed dream of creating 'Start-up India'. This has had predictable outcomes: This has become another conduit to make the rich richer, and poor poorer. There are more incubators than start-ups in India, as they represent an additional source of rent for the college owners with empty classrooms. Similarly, its abysmally inefficient, poorly planned efforts of skills training has gone nowhere, becoming another source of corruption and cronyism and not the path of redemption it was once touted to be. These failures, however, are also evidence of limitations of neo-liberal thinking: That start-ups don't appear out of thin air because the government has said so, people don't become skilled because centres have opened.
Finally, then, it's quite dire without any clear answers. So, it's best to conclude with a question. When Soviet Union succumbed under the dead-weight of its demography, we celebrated the death of communism. As India heads to general chaos and unrest, and perhaps even a war, as its muddle-headed leaders bring the genie out of the bottle all too often, it's worth asking this question: What's at stake here? If India fails to emerge, and if globalisation has made even one of its direct beneficiaries so miserable, what's got to give?
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."
The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which appeared …
Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper etal, 1991). Arunthanesetal (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something).
The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive season, is …
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago.
Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so.
Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself.
Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as I …
Since October, as I walked out of my job, I have been looking to fine-tune my ideas about Education-to-Employment transition.
The first step of this was to look at the experiences of last six years, which I spent developing, first, an online competency-based education programme and then on building employer-engaged online project-based education. These were all good ideas, and the reason that I am not doing these any more are partially operational: The first business was underfunded, and the second one was poorly conceived and implemented. But those are discussions for a different day. I am focusing currently on understanding the key conceptual elements - what works and what doesn't work - of a successful education-to-employment transition.
Indeed, the claim that we can make a student employable with a few months of training is apparently pretentious. The years of schooling, family background and the students' dispensation, and luck, plays a much bigger role than any traini…
In an earlier post, I pointed out that the application of 'platform thinking' in education misses the mark, as it fails to understand how value is created in education. Since this apparently contradicts my earlier enthusiasm for the university as a 'user network', this statement needs further explanation.
To start with, Clayton Christiansen's idea that the universities of the Twentieth Century needs to evolve from its current 'value chain' model - wherein its value lies in its processes - to a form of User Network, where its value emanates from its community, still resonates with me. The Value Chain model, with departments, examinations, textbooks and degrees, that we know the university for, is very much a late Nineteenth/ early Twentieth century formulation. And, indeed, one can claim that the universities were always communities, and its value came from being a member of that community rather than its end product - the degrees - for much of history. It …
I wrote about the origin story of the Indian Education system (See An 'Indian' Education) to argue that 'Indianness' of Education does not necessarily have to be regressive, ritualistic or religious. The current tendency of relegating any discussion about an Indian Education to obscurantism cedes the space to Hindu Fundamentalists, who are left free to promote their particular, limited and historically inaccurate ideas. However, a culturally congruent education is much needed at a time when Indian society is at a crossroad, the pains of globalisation is hurting and the crisis of identity is real and urgent.
This post is a rejoinder to the earlier one. Here, I intend to expand my argument that the Indian system of education did not break out from its earlier, imperial, mode. This is a familiar argument that the cultural nationalists make all the time, but, since I didn't think that British imperial education was necessarily English-only (rather, it promoted the mod…
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind, which echo the pessimism somewhat.
I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope.
However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right inside …
I just heard Michael Ignatieff hope that when some of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students studying in the United States choose to go home, and confront the authoritarian society at home, a democratic change will come. His source of hope was the Russian experience, and the belief that the Russians educated abroad challenged the Soviet regime and brought about the change: The same may happen to China.
But will it?
All the answers to this would be speculative. But this assertion has an implicit claim about Western Higher Education that I would like to contest. Indeed, the big idea here is the idea of Liberty - the magic wand that transforms people and makes them the agents of change - but the usage of word has so changed over time that it needs to be interrogated again. Liberty in the current Western sense is the liberty to consume, to live a life of unrestrained economic possibility. This makes a difference: The Chinese government doesn't restrict economic possibility in…
One of the foundational industrial age belief is 'what gets measured, gets done'. This is indeed at the heart of scientific management and all the business models that we so love. The progresses in Information Technology came out of, primarily, our quest for measurements, so much so that we got used to the shorthand - 'Information Age' - when measuring and decision-making based on such measurements are the key organising principle of the whole society.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the conversations in Education also revolves around measurement. Much of educational research is about what can be measured and how, driven primarily, but not exclusively, by the politics of public funding, to establish the 'worth' of one thing or another to be eligible for taxpayers' money. The private sector engagement in Education, either through large scale philanthropic engagements by people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, or in the commercial ventures backed by …
I didn't write for almost three weeks as I was in India. The essence of my work there is to deal with employment creation. Part of my work is pro-bono - a city initiative focused on Industry 4.0 - and the other part is commercial, advising a large Indian corporation on the development of next-generation Skills training programmes. But the sense of crisis regarding unemployment cuts across scale and scope of my work and is a recurrent theme that pops up everywhere.
India has a really big challenge. About 2 million people reach working age every month in India, and even if only half of them are actively seeking employment, the few thousand jobs that the organised sector creates are woefully inadequate. India may be the fastest growing large economy in the world, but demonetisation of 2016 and poorly implemented General Sales Tax (GST) have hit businesses hard and froze up recruitment in many sectors. The widely promoted 'Make in India' initiative - the government's atte…