Showing posts from October, 2019

Making History with Brexit

 History is the result of human actions, but not of human design, wrote Friedrich Von Hayek. ‘Brexit’ bears that out. Globalisation was not supposed to go backward. The Lisbon Treaty of 2007 included Article 50, the option to exit. But that was never meant to be invoked. The British politicians demanded it to sell the treaty at home, but it was always assumed that once done, the British public would always stop at ‘we can go but why should we’ thought. But 2015 was not 2007. A lot changed, and three things, in particular, wrecked that cosy assumption. The First and the most obvious one is immigration. The expansive Blair-Bush foreign policy encouraged the EU to expand East and Southwards, adding 10 new countries in 2004. Free movement rights into Britain for the citizens of the new member states sent in, against the plan for a few thousand, a million new migrants. The second – and the most painful – factor was the 2008 recession. Yet it’s the aftermath that matte

Beyond the Politics of 'Ism'

None of the human inventiveness that has broken new ground in science and technology can be readily seen in today's politics, which has become a narrative of regression and despair. The early Twentieth-century demons are out of the bag again and we are debating some of the issues we debated ever since. With time - as we descended into permanently labelling people by what they believed at a given point of time - the politics of 'ism' has become personal. At a point of history when cooperation - on issues ranging from confronting terrorism to climate - and community have become essential to our well-being, we seem to be lost in a maze of ideological walls.  Democracy is dying, some commentators claim, and they point to the symptoms - fake news, irresponsible politicians and discredited institutions! And, yet, the disease goes unrecognised, perhaps by design: The complexity of the system, which was crafted to limit how much an ordinary person could understand and have

Rethinking Bengal's narrative

Narratives matter for the economy. The point is somewhat obvious, but the Nobel laureate economist Robert Shiller re-emphasizes the point in a new book ( a preview here ). Yet, as Shiller argues correctly, we miss this point all too often. We claim that data will speak for itself, but people think in terms of overarching stories rather than nuanced arguments. And, in this, I shall argue, Bengal misses a trick. By Bengal, I mean the state of West Bengal in India. This sliver of the ancient state of Bengal, which became prosperous and pre-eminent in Indian politics for a variety of environmental (changing courses of rivers), historical (the gradual shift of influence from Dhaka to Calcutta, via Murshidabad) and economic (early emergence of capitalist class through privatization of land ownership, spread of English education and emergence of a hub of global trade) reasons, is - by common perception - in a state of decline. When I use Bengal, I am only using the popular shortha

Do not listen to the gentle waves

The feeling that my life is drifting away is perhaps the most creepy one to have. Yet, it's a non-feeling. One doesn't really feel the drift until after the fact; otherwise, it will not be one of drift, it will be of change. Yet, I have that. It's really a combination of two things: of comfort - imagine listening to the gentle waves while looking out of a porthole - and of anxiety - of not knowing where one is off to, or, if at all, one is off to anywhere. It's the opposite of the fear of change; it's the fear of non-change, of meaningless stability. Indeed, days pass and seasons change. It does not help that this country, and almost all countries I care about, are suddenly caught in a cycle of non-change, history going backwards in a climate of global counter-revolution. Every day's new, it appears, could be of any day; like a bad movie, things do not happen in a sequence anymore. Instead, they appear randomly, making sense just by themsel

Out-inventing China

When manholes started disappearing around the world in 2004, the world discovered China. Re-discovered, we should say, as, in the Chinese eyes, China was merely reasserting its historical manufacturing primacy after centuries of slumber. But, even in 2004, what it did was still just gruntwork at the bottom end of the world's value chain, jostling for space with Vietnam, Bangladesh and assorted sweatshop countries. Thereafter, came the phase of great copy-and-catch-up, to borrow Tyler Cowan's phrase, and cheap Chinese knock-offs flooded the global markets. The tabloids and governments razed about the poor quality of Chinese-made and pilferage of intellectual property. Yet, this outrage was reassuring, as China seemed far off from gaining any technological edge and forever consigned to fighting it out over the lower cost. 2019 changed all that. The message behind Trump's trade wars established that China, and its companies, may have achieved that technological ad

What to make of the popularity of Liberal Arts in India?

On the surface, it's a paradox: As the fortunes of political liberalism decline in India, the popularity of liberal arts at the Indian universities increase.  Indeed, one may see no paradox here at all: Indians, after all, are richer than they ever were since the independence. Also important is the professions of those sending their children to these university courses: More often than not, they have earned their money in business or employment in the private sector, unlike the government-sector parents that paid for most students only a generation ago. It's also true that some shiny new sector now offers employment prospects that were not there a generation ago: Private sector education, media and internet, international travel and tourism have all grown in size and stature. All these together may offer an explanation of why Liberal Arts are all the rage. Except that it doesn't. The preference of Indian employers have not changed significantly and even if a

Living in the shadows of history

All humans are not born equal. Some are born in the shadows of a colonial past, with an indelible history embedded in themselves. Whatever they may do - and many of them do a lot - they remain unerringly colonial. Even if they are accepted by kind friends, behaviour with them - towards them - falls under tolerance; and indeed, they are always periodically reminded of who they are by others not so kind. They are confronted with stereotypes of themselves in daily lives, and even when those stereotypes are positive - for me, being considered an IT specialist just because I am Indian, for example - it is often living another person's life: That of a historical person, who we don't know and aren't ourselves, but who was present at birth and will always stay with me. It's hard to explain this experience to someone who is not born into this perpetual coloniality. There are things a colonial can see - even when she chooses to ignore it - which the others may not notic

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