Showing posts from July, 2017

India in 2017: The Coordination of The Bihar State

I am now in India, after a gap of several months. A lot has changed in the few months since I was last here. Most visibly, the money has changed - the Rs. 1000 notes have vanished and the ubiquitous Rs. 500 notes have a new look, and there is a strange purple-pink Rs 2000 note in circulation, which very few people want to accept. It is one of the signs of the great experiment that is now underway in India, where even the most fundamental things can change overnight. One such event in the few days I have spent here was the coordination of the Bihar state. Bihar, which is one of the most populous states in Eastern India, has a large lower caste population, and have consistently rejected the upper caste Hinduvta politics of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). True, BJP had participated in the Government in coalition with one of the other 'caste' parties in the past, but they were never the senior partner. And, in fact, Bihar electorate dealt a severe blow to Mr Modi'

Automation Against Capitalism

Automation is Capitalism's great new prize and its most potent challenge. At once, it breaks the back of organised labour but puts into disarray the carefully constructed social system that we call Capitalism. It is Capital - that's what machines, robots and know-how are - becoming supremely productive and utterly meaningless at the same time. It is the realisation of an utopia, but also a moment of reality. It would potentially expand supply infinitely, as finite Human time will no longer be required, at the same time as perversely limiting demand, as nothing that is produced could be bought. The last bit is indeed the classic Marxist argument, but from the vantage point of 21st century, we see something that Marx did not. First, though Marx made some very insightful predictions, the empire was still only taking shape and at the time of Marx's death, the integration of global economy was still in its infancy. Also, for Marx, the nineteenth century capitalism was a

Incubators and Universities: Need For A New Model

As the crisis in jobs becomes apparent, many think that the way to maintain the Middle Class society is to be found in entrepreneurship. In their mind, it is a straightforward transition: People not finding jobs would start businesses. In some quarters, those look for jobs are already maligned - 'Job Takers' they are called - as opposed to those committing themselves to entrepreneurial journey, the 'Job Creators'. As always, the reality is harsher than the theory. But my point is not to challenge the idea that there should be more entrepreneurs. It is how to get there I have questions about. More specifically, my doubts are about the new trend of creating university-based incubators, US style, in the universities in developing countries. The incubators are taking the place of 'Placement Offices' or what was euphemistically called the 'Industry Collaboration Office', becoming the last mile of the students' life cycle in an university or a busine

What Does A Tech-Mahindra Phone Call Say About Indian IT Industry

Last week, voice recording of an HR executive firing an employee at Tech Mahindra, a big Indian IT company, went viral (as above). The employee was told that he is being fired not because of any performance issues, but because of 'cost optimisation'. He was told to resign by the end of the day, failing which he would be terminated the next day, and lose all his exit benefits and wouldn't even get a reference. When the employee pleaded it was too short a notice, he was told that the company can fire him summarily. When he sought an option to appeal, he told there was none. After this went viral, many weighed in, converging on the consensus that while the company might have the rights to fire the employee, it was all too harsh. As for me, I thought it was coercive, and therefore, illegal: I can't see how a company can fire an employee on disciplinary grounds because he failed to resign as told. In America, this, aggregating the claims of all employees fired in th

The Eurasian Moment in World Politics

The world of politics is changing profoundly. It is not just about the rise of the strongmen rulers - President Xi of China, Prime Minister Abe of Japan, Prime Minister Modi of India or President Duterte of Philippines - or their perennially ubiquitous counterparts in Mr Putin, Mr Erdoğan , Mr Netanyahu and Mr Zuma. The shift that we are seeing is more than the shocks, such as Brexit or a Trump Presidency, or the ascendance of extreme nationalists like Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in Netherlands or Nobert Hoffer in Austria. The anti-Semitic rallies in Poland, the authoritarian Viktor Orbán in Hungary, the absurd Beppe Grillo in Italy and the abhorrent Golden Dawn in Greece are all part of a big shift, which is not just about the rise of nationalism and breakdown of the post-war institutions. There may be a more fundamental shift underway. Discussion about such a shift is not new. This has been discussed in the scholarly circles for some time. But, since the last year,

Ideas and Ideology

Ideas are fascinating and exciting. We live in a culture that celebrates ideas. In a sense, we see all history as history of ideas now. It is ideas that make men great, and the great men are those who belabour with ideas, either to bring it into being or to create impact with it. Entrepreneurs, our modern Heroes, are the idea-warriors, who puts everything on stake to make their idea work. Ideas, in short, are divine inspirations, whose blessing we all seek and whose existence makes us meaningful. But there is a dark side of ideas, which never gets talked about. All the monstrosities for the last two hundred years have been committed in the name of ideas. And, indeed, if one counts religion as an idea, the history will go back much further. Just as we transformed the Great Men doctrine into a narrative of great ideas, we should also perhaps replace our evil men doctrine with a narrative of bad ideas. However, I anticipate an objection coming: Many ideas, which turned out to be

Evolution of Meritocracy: American Eugenics, Intelligence Testing and The Making Of Modern Meritocracy

Introduction   In the second decade of the new millennium - now - new questions about human abilities and human worth have arisen. A vast industry of computerisation and gradual rise of ‘machine intelligence’ challenged the prospect of ever-improving urban middle class life, replacing a vast number of secretarial, administrative and other ‘middle ability’ jobs with computer programmes, cheap workers overseas, and increasingly, with robots. Stagnated wages, disappearing jobs and breakdown of the ‘American Dream’ in its many global variants have led to a new ‘struggle for existence’ in the workplace. This technological phenomenon also meant an inversion of the role of Capital and Labour in the production process. With decline of large factories and their unionised workforces in the West (replaced by large factories and their non-unionised labour in China and Indonesia) and with most people turned into keen consumers of latest gadgetry, collective bargaining has fallen out of popul

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