I am, of course, referring to Richard Florida's observation that the world was not flat (as Thomas Friedman observed) but spiky. The demise of Berlin Wall, the fall of Soviet Union and the rise of globalism might have undermined the national borders, but its most important resource - talent - tended to be concentrated in certain geographies. This is a very much 1990s idea marked with the celebratory mood of globalism. But the vision was empirically sound: the new globalism not only propelled Silicon Valley to unparalleled dominance, it also regenerated the great urban clusters of New York and London. There were newly affluent and expansive cities brimming with cosmopolitan talent, such as Bangalore, Singapore and Gurgaon. Each country and every region had their own centres of attraction and the history of the last two decades has been a history of migration of talent into these vast ecosystems of enterprise and commercial creativity.
But the magnetic attraction of a Singapore and Bangalore emptied out its hinterland and other cities of its talent. The competition to maintain the dynamism that sustained these extraordinary wealth-creating machines meant that lesser places lost their most gifted people to the more attractive locales, while sucking out their own hinterlands in turn. And, within the network of these urban clusters, as people and businesses moved between them, a common culture emerged, along with a somewhat uniform language, values and ways of looking at things. The Great Recession of 2008 changed this only but little, with all the government-created money flowing into these great centres making them even more attractive and their hinterlands even less so.
The downside of this was visible not just to those who were throwing rocks at Google buses in California, but also to those whose towns were increasingly emptied out of younger people. With the rising share of national income going to financial and technological services, this emptying out also meant decline of businesses. As money played an outsized role in democratic governments, this meant loss of influence and increasing disconnection with politics for all those who were losing out.
Pulling down the spike
Much of the rebellion against globalism that we have experienced since 2016 can be explained in the light of the disaffection against the spiky globalisation. Much of it was seen as a revolt against politics as usual: The English north rebelled against London, Appalachia pushed back against Washington, India revolted against the Lutyens and so on. But, underlying all this were disaffection with experts, of lack of social mobility and loss of control over everyday life - a battle between the hinterland and the spiky cities. Indeed, one could argue that this rebellion is partially fostered by the mind-control techniques originating in those very clusters against which it is directed, but that would be discounting the legitimacy of the grievances a bit too far. The deprivation created the vast field of dissent; the tools only gave it a politically significant platform.
The political fortune-hunters like Trump, Johnson, Modi and the like have struck gold by combining the popular disaffection and money from landed and manufacturing interests with a targeted use of the anger against those professionals sitting on top of the spikes. What we are living through is not just a push-back against globalism: It's a revolt against an arrangement of the world that concentrates brain and influence into clusters unattainable by the many.
Indeed, 99% protests failed because it was a protest of the top 10% against the 0.1%. Trump wins because he is channelling the grievances against the 10% - of the 90% plus some of those fearful 0.1 percenters. The policies that arise from new politics, while not against the concentration of wealth and power, are directed against cosmopolitan centres. One could see multiple factors blending in a perfect storm - a battle against democracy, revolt against impersonal expertise etc - but the banner of localism is one banner flying high. On that count, there is no conflict between Trump's business friendliness and the banning of H1Bs, his obsession with stock markets and his demand that American companies produce at home, his love of towers in foreign towns with supposed nativism of his politics. We are looking to tear down the spikes in a hurry.
The thesis that the populist revolt is one against flat world obscures the little local fires burning against spiky world. But unmaking the cosmopolitan clusters runs against the grain of creative enterprise, built around exchange and engagement among the initiate. From Athens to Xi'an to Edinburgh, Paris and Vienna and modern-day Silicon Valley, clustering was at the heart of creativity. And, diversity of views and tastes, rather than monotone conformity, is at the heart of new ideas. Dispersing the gifted along national lines reduces their effectiveness but does not correct the inherent structural problems of spikiness.
One may argue that COVID19 and the consequent dispersion of work may help pulling down the Spikes, as remote collaboration becomes more the norm. But that is too optimistic a reading of the global situation: It's not just the pull of the global centres of creativity that creates the spikiness, it's also the push of the uncreative places that force people out. Global clustering of talent also meant that the places left out developed a decidedly anti-creative culture in the places left out. The cultural universe of these places is designed to send the creatives and the entrepreneurs out to take advantage of the current arrangement of global architecture of talent; if and when people return, they are unlikely to find welcoming ecosystems that let them work at their potential. Besides, the business-friendliness of the leaders of their native places extend only up to inviting the expatriates' money but not to themselves. For those leaders, the global talent architecture is settled, and they are happy to live on the crumbs; rearranging the system and making the locals creative again is too much of a risk to the happy mediocrity.
So, it's likely that the cosmopolitan creatives, heroes of the age that's just closing, may find themselves caught in the middle - between their natural habitat where they may become unwanted and their native places where they would be unwelcome. Many years ago, after the 2008 credit crunch, I wrote an optimistic post about reverse migration under the title 'India's chance'; subsequent experience has taught me that the reality is much more nuanced. One hopes that there is some magic that these footloose creative entrepreneurs can bring into the equation, transforming the mindsets and bursting through the localised cocoons of mediocrity; they can, one hopes, bring aspiration back again.
Popular posts from this blog
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
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving 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 et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (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 s
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
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
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.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.