Friday, October 31, 2014

Human Development in the Information Age

Through most of history land has been the primary basis for creating wealth and everywhere, farmers monetized it to enrich small military elites. After 1600, when British merchants first innovated the joint stock company to share the risk of trading with India, land lost that primacy and corporate funds became the capital of the mercantile era. With industrialization that concept of capital evolved further: money became the active agent in bundling raw materials, technology and labor in profit-making enterprises.

Just as the concept of capital changed radically in each of those transitions, it is now undergoing yet another transformation. Change is being driven by the connectivity of a world in which the number of mobile phone subscriptions is nearing that of its total population and Internet users are surging towards the 3 billion level, two-thirds of them in developing countries.

Computerized information processing technologies are now at the heart of wealth production, and that is setting off a paradigm shift in economics with historically unprecedented potential to erase poverty and move all of humanity onto the same level of socioeconomic development.  

For an illustrative example of that potential consider the target of “housing for all by 2022” set by India's newly elected BJP government.

The general consensus among Indian commentators is that it will be impossible to achieve that target. The Times of India reported on 9 August 2014 that to meet it the government would have to build 2.5 million housing units every year for the next 8 years, a very tall order considering that all programs for low-cost housing have together added only 200,000 units in the last three years.

With nearly 48 per cent of the population below the ADB poverty line (set at $1.51 daily income), it is also unrealistic to think that the private sector can take up the slack even if heavily subsidized: in mid-2014 there were only 58 housing finance institutions in the country.

However, the prospects are transformed if we consider a third alternative, using the Internet and the Worldwide Web for crowd-funding. 

Crowd-Funding the Housing Sector

Mobilizing crowd-funding for the housing sector will require an innovative new institutional framework with a web-based National Housing Lottery (NHL) as its central organization.

An NHL could be established under the aegis of the National Housing Bank (NHB), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of India with a quarter century of experience in formulating and implementing sustainable housing policies at the central and state levels.

The lottery would offer as prizes housing units provided by owners or builders, with all of them required to meet technical specifications set by the NHL in a number of downloadable templates.

The NHL would fix the number of lottery tickets sold for each unit to cover payment to owners/builders, its own organizational expenses, and the costs of developing essential infrastructure.

That infrastructure would include off-grid renewable energy (solar with supplementary biogas), sanitation, sustainable water supply (primarily from local watershed management) and broadband connectivity.

To allow people who do not want to move to a new location to participate in the lottery the NHL would also offer as prizes the services of builders to upgrade existing housing to the standard of one of its templates.

Finally, the NHL would allow anyone who won a housing unit to put it back in the lottery and take an attractive cash prize instead. That would generate continuing interest in the lottery and not just from within India but globally.

To ensure compliance with the standards set by its templates the regulatory arm of the NHB would oversee the growth of a new business sector of small and medium enterprises devoted entirely to inspecting buildings. The companies would specialize in four areas of code compliance: quality of construction, environmental standards, public health and broadband connectivity.

To jump-start this sector the NHB could invite firms engaged in similar work in developed countries to set up Indian subsidiaries.

By providing the largest profits for the housing most in demand and strong punitive action against anyone cutting corners, the NHL could regulate supply with a minimum of bureaucracy, expense and effort. A web-based information dissemination and feed-back system for end users would ensure that problems that crop up are efficiently addressed.

Such a lottery would provide housing to people for the price of a lottery ticket (which should ideally be no more than Re.10 each). It would generate a steady flow of finance to builders, create a multitude of jobs at every level of skill, implement environmental standards painlessly and improve sanitation standards rapidly.

Those multiple targets would be met without the traditional headaches of cross-sectoral coordination of policies and programs. Broader goals such as the government's plan to build 100 new "smart cities" would also become easier, for most of the essential parameters could be included in the housing templates. Perhaps most importantly, all that would be financed through crowd-funding, at minimal cost to the exchequer.

On the negative side, the conventional housing finance units now in existence would have to be wound up, but their staff could easily be absorbed by the new NHL and the expanded NHB regulatory arm.

 Other Profound Implications

The implications of the new Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) are equally profound for a range of other industrial era realities we have come to accept as part of the natural order of things.

Consider, for instance, what will happen to mass markets shaped by the requirements of behemoth corporations when they face competition from small and medium enterprises capable of locating and serving niche areas of demand.

As all mass markets are the homogenized creation of advertising they will be quickly disaggregated by such competition and giant corporations will find their lunch eaten by small and medium enterprises far more efficient in adjusting to changes in their home markets.

The full impact of this process probably will not be realized until the technology for 3-D printing matures. That technology works by coding information into a machine capable of layering a variety of materials into any desired shape; it should eventually enable production of a finely engineered Mercedes Benz car in a village workshop.

The disaggregation of mass markets will have a variety of other spectacular effects. As mass production becomes less efficient, it will power down the imperatives that have driven the growth of every modern city, taking the wind out of the urbanization globally.

The new efficiencies of disaggregated markets will give powerful impetus to the growth of off-grid renewable energy. To understand the potential of that trend we have merely to consider that the total solar energy incident on India annually is 5000 trillion kilowatt hours. At present our solar energy production capacity is only 2.5 gigawatt, constituting just one per cent of the country’s total energy production. (It is expected to cross 3 gigawatt by the end of 2014. For sake of comparison: German solar energy production capacity is 38 Gigawatt per year; China, Italy, and the US have over 10 Gigawatt.)

The rising curve of solar/biogas energy will make the coal/petroleum/natural gas economy increasingly uncompetitive; and as industrial era patterns of concentrated production and consumption fade, so will the viability of the entire sector. Efforts to cut fossil fuel consumption and reduce release of greenhouse gases should become much easier.

Other dramatic results will be radical revaluations of much urban real estate and significant sectoral reallocation of labor. Fortunately, the latter should coincide with broad growth in new employment opportunities.

In sum, these changes will be a huge plus for human development.

It should be possible to set and meet a target to get all of humanity on the same level of human development within the period envisaged by the post-2015 agenda for action.

Part 2 of this post will deal with how we can counter elite efforts to subvert the democratic promise of the Information Age.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How to Revive the Congress Party

As the Congress Party reels from defeat to defeat in national and state elections it must address urgently – and frankly – the issue of what must be done for its political revival.
From my outsider vantage point the following four steps are essential to revival:
  • Set out clearly a set of political and social values that appeal to people all over the country. That means setting aside mincing calculations of community and caste and returning to the original big tent concept that made the old Indian National Congress a powerhouse.
  • Learn from the BJP-Modi success in articulating an aspirational agenda for an electorate hungry for leadership. This does not mean using social media and the cunning manipulation of communal hostilities; it means setting out a vision that people all over the country can identify with and convincing them that Congress will live by it. 
  • Take on the task of political opposition not just in legislative bodies but in social and political processes on the ground. This will attract to the Congress those who the BJP offends and alienates; it will give the party strong roots in local politics.
  • Promote every kind of political excellence within its ranks regardless of communal-caste calculations. The Indian electorate has shown time and again that it can recognize and will support merit in its leaders, regardless of identity politics.
The overall success of this effort will depend entirely on the vision and quality of the people who lead it.
If the Congress sticks to Rahul Gandhi and his coterie for leadership it has no hope of success, for they have shown themselves to be without political capacity. At the very least, the party should give Priyanka Vadra a far more visible leadership role while trying to distance her from Robert Vadra's problematic reputation.
Ideally, the party should put its most attractive leaders in the limelight and give primacy to those with the best political track record.  
 This approach can energize all those not enamored by the BJP, and could create a “Congress wave” when the incumbency factor begins to work in its favour.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Diwali Pledge

On this day when India celebrates the victory of Good over Evil and Light over Darkness we pledge ourselves to the Truth that is the Eternal Law.

In remembrance of all those who have held high the torch of enlightenment in our millennial passage as a people we pledge to hold fast to the truth and to be unafraid of the false.

We pledge to seek and tell the truth in all things, big and small, to do so in the face of all temptations, fears and threats.

For Truth is the substance of God, the soul of the universe and the ultimate reality.

It is the only safe guide through every danger, the safest shelter in every storm.

We remember this day all that has forged the unity of our diverse land and recognize that in the welfare of others lies our own.

We pledge to defend the freedom and democracy won with so much sacrifice by generations of our forebears.

We will protect the weakest among us, treat men and women with equal respect and honor, treasure our children and preserve the sanctity of Nature.

We will treat all life as sacred for truly all are members of the family of God.

On this day of rebirth and renewal we celebrate the best in us and promise to live every day as if it is our first – and our last.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Something Else Weird

In the last few days I've had a number of missed calls from different numbers, all beginning with the India country code 91.

As none of the numbers belonged to anyone recognizable, I did not call back, believing that anyone who really wants to get in touch with me would do so eventually.

The latest number, 91-14092-63914 seemed vaguely familiar so I called back.

A computerized operator's voice came on with the information that the number in Karachi was unavailable. !!!!


Addendum on 20 October

This morning I went to call a fellow member of the Goa Bloggers Group to whom I had given a missed call as a way of exchanging numbers at our meeting on Saturday, 18 October.

My phone had no record of the call I had dialled.

Then I noticed all the missed calls I had received in recent days had also disappeared!

Totally foxed about what all this means...

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Nehruvian-Hindutva Tussle Over History

Subramanian Swamy’s call for the burning of “Nehruvian” history books and the riposte from Congress leader Digvijay Singh reminded me of the nursery rhyme battle between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Their combat is over the rattle of history not its substance. 

The truth lies neither in the vilification of Nehru and his acolytes nor in their celebration.

Much as it will stick in BJP throats to say it, Nehru was a patriot who spent almost his entire life in the service of India. And though it will be wormwood and gall for the Congress to admit it, he was an intellectually shallow snob who betrayed Mahatma Gandhi in the final run up to the transfer of power, and all of us in the course he set for independent India.

As young people today will understand little of all this, I give below a short summary of what actually happened, with some notes on its current relevance.

Jawaharlal Nehru was the treasured son of a rich lawyer in Lucknow who, one urban legend had it, sent his shirts to be laundered in Britain. Born to luxury, spoiled rotten as a child, Nehru himself was sent to Britain early, first to school at Harrow and then to Cambridge. He was the quintessential “Brown Sahib,” with an intellect shaped by a fey upper class socialism that had little to do with  working class realities.

For all his elite education, Nehru had little understanding of his own country or the world: while dismissive of the religion that has been India's saving grace over the millennia, he saw the corrupt and violent communist revolution in Russia as the door to a brave new world.

He returned to India at a time when Mahatma Gandhi was revolutionizing the Congress and became, with some energetic pushing by his father, one of the Party’s bright young leaders. His primary rivals in the party, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Subhas Chandra Bose, earned their own limelight and either could have given Nehru a run for his money if they had stayed with the Congress; but neither did.

Nehru thus became the only leader of his generation with national appeal, his stature enhanced by the perception that he was Gandhi’s political heir.

That status was not based on ability. Vallabhai Patel, the hard-eyed Gujarati lawyer whose unmatched organizational skills had made him the “Iron man” of the Congress, was unquestionably a far more effective leader.

But Gandhi had made the shrewd calculation that Nehru's cultural commonalities with the British were an essential bridge during the transition of power. In that he was entirely correct, but the expectation that the younger man would eventually follow his path proved disastrously wrong.

Weeks before independence Nehru stumbled into a British honey trap baited with Edwina Mountbatten (whose extramarital affairs were notorious), and was thereafter a British stooge. He asked Louis Mountbatten to stay on as independent India’s first Governor-General, appointed him chair of the cabinet committee dealing with the “tribal invasion” of Kashmir, and after Indian forces routed the Pakistanis and had them on the run, froze their advance and referred the matter to the United Nations.

After independence, Nehru set India on a course towards a "socialist pattern of society." Ironically, that involved committing enormous flows of public money to large projects that profited a small business elite; it would be four decades before the Panchayat Raj provisions of the Constitution would be minimally funded.

It was a comprehensive betrayal of Gandhi's legacy.

Hindutva betrayals have been even more profound, for they involved the assassination of the Mahatma and the undermining of Indian democracy.

The man mainly responsible was Vinayak Damodar Sarvakar, an erstwhile votary of violent revolution who the British tortured into collaboration at the Andamans “Cellular Jail.”

They released him early from a 50-year sentence after he wrote the tract Hindutva, arguing that Muslims were second-class citizens in India, entitled to exist only as a submissive minority. 

After release in 1924 he lived in a pleasant bungalow the British provided in Ratnagiri, and three years later, took over as president of the Hindu Mahasabha, a proxy British organization formed at about the same time as the Muslim League.

As the head of the Mahasabha Savarkar assembled a gang in Pune that included Naturam Godse and Narayan Apte, the men who killed Gandhi in 1948. Beginning in 1934, Godse made several unsuccessful attempts to kill the Mahatma but revealingly, he was never taken into police custody or put under any kind of watch. Even after a bomb went off at Gandhi’s prayer meeting a few days before the assassination the police acted as if they had no knowledge of him.

(It should be noted that this history of assassination attempts demolishes the claim that Godse killed the Mahatma in flaming anger at the atrocities suffered by Hindus during Partition. It makes clear that his gallows speech was pure humbug.) 

Another indication of a British hand in the plot was Apte’s refusal, at the height of the Great Depression, of a full-time job in the Royal Indian Air Force. The most likely explanation is that he was already fully occupied -- as a British agent.

All this is of more than historical interest because the extremist Hindu elements brought to life by the British continue to thrive with murky support from unidentified sources.

Maharashtra ATS Chief Hemant Karkare’s investigation into that nexus was cut short when he was killed in the September 2008 attack on Mumbai, giving rise to a widespread belief that the attack was primarily aimed at eliminating him. It is alarming that Mrs Karkare, who had been vocal about a conspiracy to kill her husband, has just suffered a brain hemorrhage and is now in a coma.[I understand she has died.]

Also fueling dark speculation is the strange matter of the Home Ministry files the Modi government destroyed within weeks of taking power. Corridor talk has it that the files related to the Mahatma’s assassination. The government assured parliament that was not the case, but it is necessary to ask if that denial covered mention of Narayan Apte in personnel records. Did the destroyed files show government financing for B. S. Moonje, the medical doctor from Nagpur who served with the British Army in the Boer War and in 1925 established the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)? Does the denial cover records of payments to thugs engaged in the “communal riots” that led to Partition?

These uncomfortable questions indicate that the increasing challenges to Indian democracy are not all contemporary: they also emerge from our cloak and dagger history.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is British Imperialism Reinventing Itself – Again?

In the decades after World War II, when the British Empire seemed to die, it actually reinvented itself as a global engine for money laundering and organized crime; recent international developments indicate that something similar is happening now.

Britain achieved its earlier resurrection by forging the much celebrated “special relationship” with the military-industrial complex of the United States and setting off the Cold War.(See here)

That was, in effect, a coup against American democracy, and it gave London free reign in making a host of international rearrangements, including:
  • Partitioning India to create Pakistan as a proxy for use in South Asia and, in alliance with Saudi Arabia (an earlier British creation), the Islamic world.
  • Developing the Muslim Brotherhood from a social service organization in Egypt into a transnational Middle Eastern support system for terrorists.
  • Continuing its colonial control of Africa’s great mineral wealth through apartheid South Africa, a number of other white minority regimes, and continued subversion of independent African States.
  • Expanding its colonial era interests in drug trafficking by developing, first, the “Golden Triangle” in Southeast Asia as the world centre for the production of opium and heroin, and after the end of the Vietnam War, shifting operations to Afghanistan under cover of the "Mujaheddin" war against Russian occupation.
  • Developing the first large flow of cocaine from Colombia to the United States by providing transit and money laundering facilities in the Bahamas.
  • Setting up a global system of off shore “tax havens” where organized crime of every sort could safely deposit income and arrange for London bankers to invest it.

By the end of the 1970s, these initiatives had resulted in Britain controlling a multi-trillion dollar underground economy rivaling the GDP of the United States. It gave Britain an unparalleled capacity to corrupt, subvert, manipulate and punish anyone, including governments, that got in its way.

In the case of India, punitive British action has involved the subversive use of our corrupt "elite" media, the assassinations of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, and efforts to foment insurrections in several parts of the country, most visibly in West Bengal (the Purulia arms drop case), and in the Khalistan uprising in the Punjab.

In the United States it has involved the brutal early Cold War alliance with the military-industrial establishment that saw the McCarthy black list and the Kennedy/King assassinations, followed by the more nuanced manipulation of politics through proxies, especially the Bush family with its three terms in the presidency, two of which involved rigged elections. 

British influence in the United States eroded after the end of the Cold War and there were increasing transatlantic conflicts of interest, especially in oil-rich Arab States and as a result of American efforts to end money laundering.

The 9/11 attacks at the beginning of the first rigged Bush Jr. presidency ended that erosion by concentrating the power of the military-industrial elite in the deeply undemocratic “Homeland Security” arrangements. New wars followed, and there was rampant growth of domestic surveillance and militarized urban police.

In the last decade, those trends have again been reversed. The Obama administration has drawn down wars and increased pressure on British money laundering. Edward Snowden’s revelations have shone a light on the surveillance State. The “Occupy” movement has focused public attention on the vast gulf between the ultra-rich 1% and the rest of American society. Popular protests have erupted time and again over the actions of storm-trooper police forces.

Meanwhile, the rise of developing countries as a new force in world affairs has put increasing pressure on British drug trafficking and money laundering systems. In recent years Latin American countries have called for a fundamental re-examination of the prohibitionist drug conventions that make trafficking so lucrative to organized crime. African States have called for an end to "tax havens" that drain trillions of dollars from their economies.

British responses to these challenges underlie a number of recent international developments:

  • The outbreak of Ebola in Africa, posing as it does, a considerable threat to other regions of the South, will certainly ease pressure from developing countries to end drug trafficking and money laundering. (The statement by former UNAIDS chief Peter Piot that the strain of Ebola in the current outbreaks is different from the one in previous incidents of the disease needs urgent investigation; where did it come from?)
  • The sudden appearance of a well-funded and brutal new terrorist “Islamic State” is threatening to reverse the American draw back from foreign wars. Its televised beheading of Westerners has only one purpose, to build public support for American intervention on the ground; if that happens, the old military-industrial set in the United States will quickly regain much of its lost clout.
  • The British announcement last week that it will float bonds denominated in Chinese Yuan will undoubtedly undermine the US$ role as the international reserve currency. That is clearly intended to reduce American capacity to challenge Britain's money laundering and other criminal enterprises.

On all fronts, there is an undoubted effort to reverse positive current trends, with Britain the primary beneficiary.

The only thing that can prevent it from succeeding is an informed global public, capable of seeing through the torrents of British propaganda spread by a host of proxies.

Those proxies include such "liberal" founts as The Guardian, Noam Chomsky, Michel Chossudovsky, the International Clearing House and, in India, operators ranging from our "elite Press" to such two-bit outfits as Counter Currents. A sure confirmation of proxy status is their total blindness to the entire scenario outlined above.

Friday, October 10, 2014

An Excellent Nobel Award

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize jointly to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi is excellent not just because of the merit of the recipients but in its timing, when the India-Pakistan border has been for weeks a ribbon of meaningless armed conflict and unnecessary death.

The award underlines the hope and promise of youth in an area where older generations on both sides of the border have failed miserably to understand the hatreds and violence of their common past, much less escape it.

If the two laureates work together, as Satyarthi has proposed in comments to reporters, it could mark an important new beginning for peace in the region.

In contemplating that scenario it is important to underline that anything they do together should be seen as more than an emotional phenomenon.

It is an opportunity to focus attention in both countries not only on their common humanity but on the tragic history of colonial manipulation that split their shared culture and traditions.

In addition, the award points to two aspects of the misery of children in South Asia that highlight how India and Pakistan are victims of the same contemporary circumstances.

One is that the child labor that Satyarthi has spent his life trying to eradicate is rooted in the same bitter poverty that drove the Taliban to try and kill Malala; her bright insouciance threatened the only livelihood they have, the trade of opium and heroin.

The second is the genesis of that common economic reality in colonial rule.

Britain did not just drive what was once the world's most prosperous region into poverty; to protect the interests of its elite in the $60 billion Af-Pak opium/heroin trade and related money laundering it has sustained the murderous terrorism that has blocked or slowed development throughout South Asia.

Perhaps the most poisonous of its manipulations has been the harnessing of religion to the ugliest of human drives, fear, anger and hatred, the theme of India-Pakistan relations since Partition in 1947.

In celebrating Malala the teenage cherub espousing education for girls and Satyarthi the angel of enslaved children, we have the opportunity to address a whole range of dark issues emanating from post-colonial Britain.