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 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 …
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 …
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 …
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch.
But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do.
Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Smart presentations don't mean valuable insights. So it is with the current fad of presenting the vision of an all-new 21st-century education - through presentations, conferences and infographics - style trumps substance all the way through.
For, despite the claims of revolutionary changes in society and the workplace, the neat charts that lay down 21st-century skills next to the 20th-century one's show do not how different they would be, but rather how similar these are projected to be.
We are told that we have arrived at a fundamentally disruptive moment in history and we need new skills. So, we need, for example, communication and critical thinking, learning to learn and a host of other cool things. Indeed, many of those terms are very familiar to the educator: Many of those were around for more than two centuries, ever since the dreams of liberal education were spelt out.
When these slides were presented, I often wondered whether the point about critical thinking meant …
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…
That governments are so enthusiastically trying to promote start-up cultures, handing out investment grants and building fancy new hubs, would make Milton Friedman turn in his grave: One can anticipate his protest - it is not the business of government to do business!
But then, democracy in its 'for the middle class, by the middle class' incarnation expects the government to be a job creation machine, and when all else fails, the Ministers say 'let start-ups be'! In fact, they celebrate it: In this affair, failure, the hallmark of government programmes, is some sort of credit. It allows the governments to celebrate the doctrine of creative destruction - ever so cool - while destructively creating a self-blaming proletariat, whose revolutions are limited to ventures and whose idea of nirvana is an Exit. There was never a better mantra invented to justify a permanent bureaucracy.
But, at this point, I must stop and make an important distinction. My post is about start-…