Sudeep’s mirror for PM Modi

Sudeep Chakravarti’s piece in MINT struck a chord in me. I thought it was a very well written and thoughtful piece.

I personally think that picking holes in a few sentences here and there (and they are there – I will list them below) will not take away from the overall content of the piece.

I used to know him very well when he was in ‘India Today’ and for a few years after that too. He showed me and my family around in Goa in 2007 when we were there on a holiday and bought us a nice lunch too. Later, I met him in Singapore in 2010.

I was one of his sounding boards as I read through the manuscript of his book, ‘Red Sun’ – a very bold and personal and dangerous journey he undertook through the Maoist lands in India. He has acknowledged me in that book. That is just a personal anecdote.

From being a liberal ‘free market’ type, after his work in the Naxal belt and seeing the combined predation of the State and capitalists, his compass had shifted. I do not blame him for that. When one sees such massive exploitation up close and personal, it would only be a surprise if he were not moved by it. Therefore, the text, in some places, reflected the ‘Stockholm syndrome’. I pointed them out. He saw my points.

We have problems with capitalists and the State. But, we have problems with Maoists, their goals, their design and their methods. In the process of chronicling and exposing one, we cannot afford to let the other side escape scrutiny, judgement and action.

All that by way of background being done with, the piece is a very important read for the PM and his core and close followers. Someone has to hold up the mirror and Sudeep, despite some journalistic exaggerations, has done an admirable job of it, in my view.

Such plainspeaking within the inner circle is needed. I hope it exists but I doubt it. Not in India and not in many, many countries in the world. But, why single out political leaders? It has been singularly missing among so-called intellectuals. Otherwise, Brexit and Trump election victory would have been anticipated. So, in that sense, it is not just PM Modi who might be living in a cocoon of his own but scores of others too.

But, that is neither here nor there. This blog has been very happily exposing the hollowness and inconsistencies of the so-called intellectuals globally and will continue to do so.

Therefore, ‘what about?’ry is part of the argument in a duel/debate. But, it cannot be used as an argument to exclude reflection of the arguments being made. If so, it is the loss to the object of criticism and, in this case, a loss to the country too.

What are Sudeep’s exaggerations?

(1) The rupee is in a tailspin. – that is not true. Almost all currencies in the world are depreciating against the U.S. dollar.

(2) The “pain” of the currency swap that Modi and his cohorts speak of is expected to contract the economy this year. – I think he got the Ambit Capital forecast mixed up. They expected a Y/Y contraction in one particular quarter, I think. Not GDP contraction in 2016-17 or in 2017-18.

(3) The agreement with Switzerland to share information about Indian holdings in Swiss banks will come into effect in 2018, with information for the previous year, enough time to move money. – well, that is not the government’s fault. They should be complimented for closing the loop or hole on that one.

(4) including that of the first NDA government that ended its term with ignominy in 2004. – I am not sure it ended the term in ignominy, unless he means the election results themselves. But, their economic governance in the last two and half years of their term (1999-2004) was quite impressive.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, Sudeep’s article struck a chord with me because the underlying purpose of my co-authored work with Gulzar Natarajan, ‘Can India grow?’ was that a merciless diagnosis of all the wrongs and all that do not work is an indispensable foundation for eradicating them and improving on them, respectively.

About nine days ago, journalist-friend TCA Srinivasa Raghavan had shared an English translation of an article that he had written for Hindi Quint. It was a mid-term appraisal of Modi, the PM and Modi, the policymaker. He had given good marks on the former and not-so-high marks on the latter. He had written that ‘his economic policies had been socialist in their orientation’.

He is right. The NDA government’s first three budgets did not set the Yamuna, Ganges and Cauvery on fire with their imagination and bold strokes.

Even the black money demonetisation is clearly a policy in that light. The aspirational aspects of freeing up the individuals from financial repression, from other clutches of the State have not yet been given the prominence or importance as they should have been, along with the ‘cleaning of the Augean stables’. The latter is foundational and a bedrock, I admit. But, in economic policies, one has to build the foundation and the superstructure simultaneously. In construction, one has to wait. Here, it does not have to be.

I suspect that they may have something to do with the advisors who has his ears. I will shy away from using Western constructs to describe them as conservatives or liberals or Left or Right. I will simply call them status-quo ists with strong moral absolutes. Some of their economic policy proposals may appear progressive politically but they are typically distributionist policies administered by the heavy hand of the State. There is nothing in them that unleashes the productive and creative energies of the people.

Again, coming back to our report, ‘Can India grow?’, Gulzar and I had spent a bit of time and effort on writing about the leadership qualities that India needs at this stage. We have cited three or four ‘Thirukkural’s. Those ‘Kural’s stress the need for leaders to have fearless, unbiased advisors who would talk the truth to the leaders. At the minimum, the leader has to consult more widely. For now, I am not sure that it is happening in India. Will be glad if I am wrong.

Perhaps, the coming budget will prove us wrong. Hope sustains us in everything.

A penultimate point: it is one thing to dismiss habitual and pathological critics. There are many. Some of them, unfortunately, are losing their personal credibility because they have mixed up issues, exaggerated negatives, pretended that no positives exist, etc. That raises legitimate doubts about their personal agenda, even if there was none. So, their criticism is afflicted by joint hypothesis problems.

A final point: I would submit that this critique be taken away for a year-end reading, resulting in some good resolutions for the New Year!

Post-script: For the admirers of the PM Modi, if this blog post felt like a cold shower, please do check out these articles.They will be a good antidote to this blog post, if you need it.

Funny that a Hong Kong columnist should wish that Hong Kong leadership emulated Indian leadership. Hong Kong’s handling of corruption in the 1970s with high profile arrests and prosecution paved the way for the city-State to become ‘clean’ in the 20th century. India is yet to emulate that. Even the black money drive falls short of that.

Hanging up boots

Lucy Kellaway – one of my favourite columnists in international press – is leaving FT by July next year. Apparently, one of her colleagues, Gideon Rachman, could not understand her decision. I am not surprised. I hope she convinces some of her colleagues to leave with her. FT can do with infusion of open minds. Her announcement is to be found here.

This paragraph from her missive is interesting:

For me, the thought of starting over, learning something that is new and terrifyingly hard, is part of the point. So is the thought of being in a staffroom with colleagues who are my children’s age. But the biggest thing, which readers may find hard to swallow given my entire career has been based on ridiculing others, is that, for my next act, I want to be useful. Yes, I know sticking pins in pompous chief executives is useful in a meta kind of way but that’s not the kind of useful I have in mind.

Merkel, Liberals and Liberalism

When I saw the story that Ms. Merkel would seek a fourth term as German Chancellor my mind went back to a comment that Professor-Philosopher John Gray made about her in a brilliant article after the Brexit vote:

A country whose pre-eminent leader condones the prosecution of a comedian accused of insulting a foreign head of state – as Angela Merkel did earlier this year – cannot be relied on to protect freedom of expression.

It appears that she is so out of touch with the reality in Germany that she thinks she can win. This letter in FT poses the right question about her seeking a fourth term.

This is what Wolfgang Streeck, political economist and Leftist wrote about her decision to let refugees in:

Once again, a decision ‘that will change our country’, as Merkel herself put it, was made without regard for democratic process or, for that matter, constitutional formalities. When Merkel declared the German borders open, there had been no cabinet decision to this effect and no official statement in the Bundestag. Since the opposition didn’t ask, as Merkel knew they wouldn’t, nobody knows to this day what sort of order, legal or not, by whom and when, was given to the police. The Interior Ministry is still refusing requests from leading figures (including the former president of the constitutional court, who was preparing a legal opinion on the matter for the Bavarian government) for access to the ministerial decree that should have been issued to the border authorities. [Link]

Incidentally and interestingly, Wolfgang Streeck wrote this as part of his review of a book by Martin Sandbu (of FT) on Europe. See below as to why I am tickled by this.

She is the icon of the Liberals. So much for liberalism – one of the biggest frauds on earth. It is the same as perfect competition in economics. It exists in textbooks. There is no capitalism without competition, as a friend said – capitalism means free entry and exit and no barriers/resistance to both. What we have today is a parody of capitalism. That is how it has become progressively (pun intended) in the last thirty plus years. Similarly, what we have today is a parody of liberalism. There are no liberals though many proudly call themselves such. To understand what I mean here, read Michael Skapinker’s article today on why (so-called) moral companies do immoral things.

For some genuine liberal stuff, watch this six-minute rant by Jonathan Pie. I stumbled upon it when I checked out the Twitter handle of Jonathan Haidt. Read Mark Lilla’s ‘End of Identity Liberalism’ and read Jonathan Haidt and Ravi Iyer’s joint piece in Wall Street Journal on Nov. 10 as to transcend tribal politics (or,instincts?). I am almost done reading Jonathan Haidt’s ‘The Righteous mind’ (recommended by Nitin Pai of Takshashila Institution).

When I read Mark Lilla write the following:

The media’s newfound, almost anthropological, interest in the angry white male reveals as much about the state of our liberalism as it does about this much maligned, and previously ignored, figure. A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns. It also encourages the fantasy that the Republican right is doomed to demographic extinction in the long run — which means liberals have only to wait for the country to fall into their laps. The surprisingly high percentage of the Latino vote that went to Mr. Trump should remind us that the longer ethnic groups are here in this country, the more politically diverse they become.

I was reminded of the horrible piece that Martin Sandbu wrote soon after the elections were over, expressing a similar sentiment identified and highlighted above. I had blogged on it here. You can find his piece here.

Although not general, Frank Bruni has a specific message for Democrats which goes along similar lines as the earlier links.

Given how FT has covered Merkel’s announcement, it is very unlikely that FT gets it at all or ever will.

Skapinker’s truth

In his article on why moral companies do immoral things, Michael Skapinker wrote the following:

To the extent that employees may perceive their organisation to be morally superior to other organisations, they might feel licensed to ‘cut corners’ or behave somewhat unethically — for example, to give their organisation a competitive edge.

Well, unwittingly, Michael Skapinker has stumbled upon the behaviour of so-called Liberals and Do-Gooders in the world that includes some American corporations which beseech others (and used to remind itself in the past) not to be evil.

Since they ascribe superior motives and morals themselves, they feel justified in behaving immorally, unethically and unfairly towards others that they have judged to be morally inferior and dangerous human beings.

Highly convenient to them and highly dangerous to the rest of the world.

Surgical writing

Ashley Tellis’ piece in MINT on India’s options with Pakistan. He points to the United States’ failure to rein in Pakistan.

Supporting insurgencies within Pakistan, engaging in economic warfare, pursuing focused retaliation to punish Rawalpindi, or threatening major military action to induce external pressure on Pakistan then remain the only means left for neutralizing Pakistani terrorism. (Here he is talking about options for India).”

“It is indeed frustrating that even after suffering Pakistani duplicity on terrorism for over a decade now, successive US administrations have been unable to threaten Pakistan with anything more persuasive than the suspension of petty carrots.”

“That the US, the world’s greatest power and Islamabad’s biggest benefactor, seems unable to do much about these perils darkens the prospects for hope in South Asia—not Narendra Modi’s token slap against Pakistani terrorism. [Link]

His piece appeared in MINT even as there has been one more terrorist attack on a civilian building (a government building of the Enterprise Development Institute) in Pampore.

Brahma Chellaney too points the finger at the United States:

US President Barack Obama’s administration also opposes a move in Congress that would officially brand Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism.

The US has a lot of leverage: Pakistan has one of the world’s lowest tax-to-GDP ratios, and is highly dependent on American and other foreign aid. It should use that leverage to ensure that the Pakistani military is brought to heel – and held to account. [Link]

Brahma’s piece has several interesting references. Worth checking out some of them.

Dr. Sashi Tharoor has praised the Indian government’s surgical strikes. See, for example,

Still, a country that refuses to suffer repeated body blows earns more respect than one whose restraint can be interpreted as weakness. [Link]

That was exactly the point that some of the columns written before India undertook its surgical strikes (in the week of September 26) missed. The most notable and disappointing example was that of Praveen Swami.

In contrast, Raja Mohan had a more thoughtful piece and Pratap Bhanu Mehta was more restrained than usual in his scepticism of government’s intentions and capabilities.

I reiterate that these three pieces were in the week before the strikes.

 

Trump may just lose an election; what about America?

(As you would notice below, this was first written on October 7, 2016, before revelations of Donald J. Trump (DJT)’s remarks on women, his apology, his press conference with some of the women Bill Clinton has had relationship with, the second Presidential debate and the so-called distancing of Paul Ryan from DJT. None of the analysis below and the conclusions are altered by them.)

As I write this on October 7, 2016, at some level, the momentum that Ms. Clinton (HRC) wrested from DJT after the first Presidential debate seems to be staying with her. This is notwithstanding the supposedly better performance of his VP running mate over hers. From here on, it appears that it is her election to lose.

(1) The tax returns of DJT are not the real issue. Most of the serious corporate backers of HRC – Google and Apple, etc., – have their own tax issues to deal with. Tax avoidance within the scope provided by the law is staple practice for many individuals and institutions.

(2) Peggy Noonan writes:

The first was Mr. Trump’s 3 a.m. tweet on Alicia Machado. Actually, that happened a week and a half ago, but this week the thought really settled in: He’s going to do that as president. Once he tweeted crazy things a lot and then he sort of slowed and then he was sort of winning and then the mad 3 a.m. tweet told you: No, it will happen as president, only it will be more serious then. This is the week his friends, staff and supporters realized it will never stop.

We do seem to have a clownish and loutish candidate with little self-discipline. Never mind that the other candidate is too disciplined in her own undisciplined ways.

(3) This article mentions how the FBI handled HRC and all her witnesses (immunising all of them) in contrast to how it handled Bob McDonnell.

(4) Check out this piece in ‘Washington Times’ here on the treatment she had meted out to the ‘Clinton ladies’ and, more importantly, the coverage of the media of her.

In addition to the other issues raised in the article, these statements stand out for me:

People cut a lot of corners when covering the Clintons, eh Carl?

I guess having a porn queen representing Hillary’s campaign is just one more sign of the Clintons’ debasement of America. Apparently, the MSM does not mind being part of this debasement.

(5) Read what Peggy Noonan wrote on the Bill Clinton critique of Obamacare:

The second was Bill Clinton’s admission that ObamaCare is a mess, “the craziest thing in the world.” At a rally in Michigan he said “you’ve got this crazy system” in which millions more people have insurance, but “the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half.” Later he tried to walk it back but you can never walk back an obvious truth….

… In another world, what he said would be front-page news every day.

 (6) Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of the WSJ Editorial Board, wrote on Sept. 29 that only HRC stood between the American nation and the reign of the most unstable, proudly uninformed, psychologically unfit President ever to enter the White House.

(7) 17 of the top 100 newspapers in the United States have publicly endorsed HRC. None for Trump yet.

(8) Jack Hellner wrote in ‘The American Thinker’ on October 8, the day after Trump tapes were revealed:

I have never seen a media so in the tank.  The media show every day their bias by what they report, how they report, and especially what they choose not to report.  Our freedoms are in danger, and since they have no actual accomplishments to tout for their chosen candidate, they have to destroy the other.

Under normal circumstances, there is scope and room for discussion on the good (few) and bad traits (surfeit) of both the candidates and their bearing on governance in the country in the world. On policy issues, it could be easily divided into domestic – security, social, economic and foreign – trade, diplomacy and geopolitics – categories and their positions analysed threadbare. If choices were made consequently, then they would be understandable even if not agreeable.

I am not naïve enough to think that all commentators, all outlets and journalists would engage in such an exercise. Some revel in polemics, trivia and some like personality weaknesses. Some like them all. But, never has there been an overwhelming outpouring of commentary on the weakness of the other than on the strengths of the favoured. In that sense, both the objects of and the analyses reflect the decay in America.

(9) New York University development expert William Easterly had analysed coverage in The New York Times between 1960 and 2008 and found that the paper ran some 63,000 stories on autocratic governments, a staggering 40,000 on their successes, and just 6,000 on their failures. Ruchir Sharma has recorded this in his book, ‘Rise and fall of Nations’

Now, think of the above from the systemic risk perspective:

If DJT won the election, almost all of the so-called intelligentsia and the media would be ranged against him and not just in the United States of America. Media in most of the rest of the advanced economies and in the English language press in the developing world would also be against him. That is a natural check-and-balance.

On the other hand, if HRC won the election, what would be the ‘check-and-balance’ on her? After all, they have painted her the saviour of the world from the menace of DJT.

The extraordinary Presidential impunity that she would wield because of the immunity that large sections of the intelligentsia and almost all of the media have pre-emptively granted her bode ill for the Republic.

The staff at Daily Bell summarised the situation well:

This is part of a larger destruction of Western culture and values and it is ongoing. What’s taking place is not happenstance, not in Europe, nor in the US. Freedom is being destroyed, but in a deliberate manner, to send a message and increase polarization. Many currents are swirling beneath the surface that make this presidential campaign an epochal one. [Link]

The world is chugging along somewhat thoughtlessly into deep waters or unchartered territory, depending on one’s preference for metaphors.

Whoever wins, the law of unintended consequences will play out. To reiterate, it appears that it is Hillary Clinton’s election to lose. But, the manner in which she is ascending the throne would haunt the world and America for a long time to come. The elites who are engineering this outcome will ensure that all of us are extinguished by their egregious conduct.

It is in this world that my children would be growing up into full-blown adulthood. God bless them!

(This was published in Swarajya)

Story of Walter Pitts

My good friend Srinivas Varadarajan had sent this story to me in December 2015. I read it in April 2016. Today, as I was reading the third chapter of the book, ‘The rise of robots’, the name Norbert Wiener came up and that somehow made me recall this story. The story of Walter Pitts is associated with Norbert Wiener. I located it and I think it is a great read. It is a story of genius and unsurprisingly, it is a tragedy involving a woman and some skinny-dipping too!

Just savour this:

In other words, Pitts was struggling with the very logic he had sought in life. Pitts wrote that his depression might be “common to all people with an excessively logical education who work in applied mathematics: It is a kind of pessimism resulting from an inability to believe in what people call the Principle of Induction, or the principle of the Uniformity of Nature. Since one cannot prove, or even render probable a priori, that the sun should rise tomorrow, we cannot really believe it shall.”

It is a story brilliantly told by Amanda Gefter. This story underscores my conviction that most people are grossly overestimating the difference that new technologies (robotic, paper-less, fintech, etc., ) to our ‘lives’ in entirety. They are extensions of the material comforts including improved physical health that technology has already provided us.

Will they leave us feeling even more empty? My personal answer is YES.

Suppose they find technologies that will alter the neural networks in the business and also the chemical balance that would keep us all living long and happy, I doubt if the world can support all of us living longer and consuming longer.

But, let us not forget one thing. This story of people who believed that there is a logic to how the brain works and that such logic can be replicated and mimicked and how they fell victim to jealousy, misplaced anger and depression is as much a story of the limits of logic, science and human ingenuity as it is a story of human brilliance too.