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Monday, February 03, 2014

Is there going to be a 'Great Leap'?

Rajdeep sent me this link all the way from Japan. He has noticed – as I hope some others have, too – that I have been writing in the same vein for a long time now. Good to see that a hot-shot ‘with-it’ management consultant is saying the same sort of thing now, and though he thinks of himself as an outlier still, he can hear his echo in as stolid an establishment figure as Larry Summers, and his article has been published in the Harvard Business Review, as dyed in the wool as they come this side of the Pope (am I being unfair to the Pope?)

The whole of the current young generation faces Stagnation, with a capital S, regardless of how many overnight puppy-billionaires in the Mark Zuckerberg mould our global freakonomy keeps throwing up.To quote Haque, “Stagnation means, in plain English, that living standards in many rich nations are going to fall for young people. That’s a fancy way of saying that life is going to get shorter, harder, nastier, dumber, and bleaker. No, sorry, just because you can buy a gigantic 4D plasma TV on 4000% APR credit and a bag of Doritos the size of an Escalade for 99 cents doesn’t mean you will live longer, be healthier or happier, or be able to afford an education for yourself or your children”. And that’s the bright picture, because he is talking about rich nations here. There’s a couple of lines about IT-hack types in India and China, too: find them yourself. I worry, for my daughter is on the threshold of adulthood, and has been brought up to be unusually aware and sensitive.

There are two sad things about this situation. One, that even the Umair Haque types have no concrete agenda (read the third paragraph from the end), just as the Arvind Kejriwals and the ‘We are the 99%’ gangs don’t. So, in Rajiv Gandhi’s long-forgotten words uttered in another era and another context, ‘the future is being determined by drift and not by direction’. At least the Bolsheviks had some sense of direction back in 1917, or thought they had. Hard to believe it’s been almost a hundred years since…Two, it makes me feel horrible to think that 99% of those who read stuff like this are those who can afford to live in denial, either because they have got slightly better-than-average jobs-plus no family responsibilities (there’s an incredible number of this type around these days among under-35s!) or because they are still living on mummy-and daddy’s support (a lot of them ‘disguised unemployed’ – oops, I meant doing PhDs), or in low-paid-dead-end jobs and piling up debts with no thought of the morrow, and therefore hate to be reminded. If change for the better comes about in my lifetime, it will not be their doing. The sans culottes, or their latter-day equivalents, don’t read blogs on the internet…

Ah well. I shall keep faith in my old guru John Maynard Keynes, who once famously wrote ‘The ideas of economists and political philosophers are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler… sooner or later, it is ideas rather than vested interests which are dangerous for good and evil’.

Thank you, Rajdeep.


Rajdeep said...

"If change for the better comes about in my lifetime, it will not be their doing." Thank you for putting up this post. I agree with what you have written. It will probably be a natural disaster or something else that will change the course of the "bright" future that is usually predicted now. Ordinary people are struggling even in developed nations and they have their share of the destitute and homeless too. I read recently that the best way to get educated for people with ordinary financial backgrounds is to be an avid reader, despite all the "free" education that has started mushrooming in the form of Coursera etc. Well, Coursera already has a paid version of getting a verified certificate that may not be of much super use and goes against the very idea of free education as it would mean that after all you do need credit cards and money to get verified certificates! I also wonder, where the not so privileged people will find the means to do all that reading eapecially when we don't have good public libraries in the not so developed parts of the world.
Makes me feel somewhat lucky that I have had a reasonably decent education, had the privilege of reading a few good books and have a respectable job, despite not being a genious.
I don't know whether this is related to the post, but one thing that I have admired about Japanese children is that they never try to cheat in a test. That to me, proves the importance of values in life.

Debarshi_Saha said...

Respected Sir,

Warm regards. The article is indeed a hard-hitting one, and to my mind, raises a very important question- "When is true change, change for the better, going to happen? When are persons going to accept the responsibilities they should be shouldering, and make the world go forward into better times?" If we do not determine the way of the world by our actions, taken with clear reason and a brave conscience- then we have wasted our lives behind trivialities, and the latest fads. There is a tomorrow that shall dawn soon, whether we want it to or not- it lies up to us finally, to set our priorities right and take decisive action. I can only wish that somewhere soon, I can contribute to the working of the world, in a better way, in a way that is in accordance with Sir's wisdom.

With best wishes,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you once again, Rajdeep. Yes, maybe there is still some hope. I like to think that in my own very tiny way, I am contributing to keeping that hope alive. There are still teachers around in this country itself, I know, who don't work only for the money. (er... that will be 'genius', not 'genious').

Debarshi, I don't flatter myself about my wisdom, though I do know that I am saner than many, and can see a little further. Notice that Haque is a big noise in his own field, and he has quoted someone like Larry Summers to prove his point. As I like to say, the world is becoming rapidly divided not between rich and poor, male and female, white and black, 'educated' or otherwise, Christian and Muslim, young and old, but sane and insane... between those who think Facebook is essential to civilization, and those who think clean air and self-possession are.

Abhishek Anand said...

Respected Sir,

First of all, I would like to thank you for putting up this post of serious importance and therefore, indirectly thank Rajdeep da. This post has forced me to think in a slightly different manner about my future('slightly', as you had been continuously lamenting about our future through the last two years).

It is indeed true that we(people all over the world)are simply piling on the debts. USA, which is at present the strongest country economically, owes the largest external debt to the World Bank(US $17,344,649,888,998).

Mr. Haque rightly says-"....the blind pursuit of growth empty of living standards." As per the SJR - International Science Ranking, India is at the tenth 10th position in the world in terms of scientific research. As per therichest.com, India ranks 5th in the world in terms of Space Research.As per globalfire.com, India ranks 4th in the world in terms of military strength. However, as far as the Human Development Index(HDI) rankings are concerned(which tell us about the standard of living), India is at the 136th position in the world. These facts perhaps bear testimony to Mr. Haque's words.

Finally Sir, I can't work eighteen hours a day in a call-center. I guess I need to think more about this post. I wonder, what should I actually do to differentiate between sane and insane and how should I plan the next twenty years of my life so as to ensure that I am not helpless by the time I am 35?

Rajdeep da, the fact that the Japanese children never try to cheat in tests tells us why Japan is a developed nation and India is not(at least in Durgapur, some of the 'best' students cheat pretty well). Also, I read recently that the most important factor behind Japan's success is its culture, which lays great emphasis on work. In India, our 'culture' tells us that we should worship 'The Rig Veda' and not read it and think about it. Here, work is a formality and 'puja' a necessity for success.....

Yours faithfully,
Abhishek Anand

Rajdeep said...

Sorry for the typing errors! I hope you will believe me if I say that I do know the correct spellings! Lol! Thank you once again for putting up this post! Yes, there is a sliver of hope and I am sure there are a few selfless people around. "even the Umair Haque types have no concrete agenda (read the third paragraph from the end)"...very sharp observation indeed!

Abhik Chatterjee said...

The answer I think lies in the definition of economics. It is a branch of knowledge that is concerned with the distribution of “scarce” resources among people in the economy. For almost a century, no real idea has come up of newer methods of distributing scarce resources that can create a revolution like the Russian Revolution of 1917. One among the major changes that have come up is of government intervention in economic affairs in capitalist economies to avoid major depression like the Great Depression of 1929. The Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949 cannot be considered to have brought in a completely new idea since Karl Marx predicted that a socialist economy would eventually get converted into a communist economy. The economies of the present day world are either inclined towards communism or capitalism, with different proportions of each in different economies.
To conclude, unless some completely different method of distributing “scarce” resources comes up, we cannot avoid stagnation.
With regards,
Abhik Chatterjee