Don’t Buy Don’t Sell in the Trump era

After authorising the firing of 59 Tomahawk missiles (each costing around $1.5 million) at a Syrian airbase with no apparent consequential strategic purpose and diminishing none of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability, the maker of the Tomahawk missiles, Raytheon’s stock rose sharply, adding more than $1 billion to its market capitalisation. Other missile and weapons manufacturers, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, also saw their stock rose considerably – collectively gaining nearly $5 billion in market value. This on its own may not matter much, after all, which president of the USA has not dropped  expensive bombs on some ‘remote’ nations of the world. But this time may be different.

Trump used anti-establishment and anti-corporate language during his election campaign to distinguish himself from all other candidates – he opposed neoconservative foreign policy, financial and corporate interests, notably Goldman Sachs. Now, after his inauguration, you can hardly see much difference between his foreign policy plans and policies proposed by neoconservatives. His cabinet looks like a ‘who’s who’ of Goldman Sachs alumni. He ratcheted up the military tension in the South China Sea, ordered a failed major special force operation in Yemen, and now seems to be pushing the USA to the edge of nuclear war with North Korea. The more he uses militaristic confrontational rhetoric and actions, the more ‘presidential’ he  looks in the eyes of the mainstream media. He seems ‘unstoppable’.

But is he, really?

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UBI for India

The Finance Ministry’s economic survey estimated that a modest sum of $4 per person per month could reduce India’s poverty level from 22 percent at present to seven percent. The cost would be a mere two percent of GDP, or $42 billion, which is approximately the same amount the government spends in total on food, fuel, and fertilizer subsidies.
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Would Gandhi give the go-ahead to the UBI

India is nearly done building the plumbing to enable such a system by connecting the Aadhaar-based biometric ID system to individual bank accounts. It’s already replaced LPG gas canister subsidies with cash, a program that has 150 million beneficiaries and is the now the world’s largest cash transfer program. So could India take this example to its logical conclusion and replace all welfare benefits with UBI? (GiveDirectly is asking a similar question in a bold 10-year $30 million experiment in Kenya.)

The Survey’s assessment begins with quotes from Mahatma Gandhi suggesting both support and objection to the principles of UBI. The chapter then methodically addresses the conceptual pros (e.g., justice, equity, agency, efficiency) and potential cons (e.g., labor disincentives, moral hazard, political objections). It attempts various modeling, including a rough estimate that cutting national poverty in half via UBI would cost just 1.5 percent of GDP, less than the subsidy bill in the 2016-17 budget. For the data nerds, there are seven (!) appendices explaining all the estimates and calculations. Continue reading

Is a Pakistan-India war just one terrorist attack away?

If a new attack occurs and inflicts major casualties in India, especially among civilians in the heartland, the kudos the Modi government won at home for the response to Uri will compel it to act more forcefully. Pakistani military and civilian leaders, fearful of each other and of militant political forces, cannot let a substantial Indian military operation against targets on Pakistani soil go unanswered.

In this context, the lack of any apparent strategy and political determination (in both India and Pakistan) to change the current dynamic and establish a peacemaking process is dangerous. Can serious people in either country believe this situation is sustainable over a long-term period, that violence can continue to be managed? Continue reading

India, Modi and Trump

Writing after its explosion in 20th-century Europe, Karl Polanyi described in his 1944 book “The Great Transformation” how civil society and individual liberty are threatened as never before when a society has to reconfigure itself to serve the “utopian experiment of a self-regulating market.” Social and political life in India, America and
Europe was drastically remade by neoliberal economism in recent decades, under, as the legal scholar David Kennedy has argued, the administration of a professional global class of hidden persuaders and status-seekers.

One of the first signs of this change in India was a proliferation of American-style think-tanks, sponsored by big business as eager as ever to influence political decision-making and military spending. In recent years, smooth-tongued “policy entrepreneurs” (Paul Krugman’s term) advocating free-market reforms and a heavily armed security-state have dominated India’s public sphere.

Jagdish Bhagwati, a Columbia University economist who claims to be the intellectual father of India’s economic liberalization, argued in 2013 that the poor celebrate inequality, and with the poise of a Marie Antoinette, advised malnourished families in India to consume “more milk and fruits.” Arvind Panagariya, a colleague of Mr. Bhagwati’s who now works for the Indian government’s economic policy think-tank,
took to arguing that Indian children were genetically underweight, and not really as malnourished as the World Health Organization had claimed. The 2015 Nobel laureate Angus Deaton rightly calls such positions “poverty denialism.” …

For all his humblebragging, Mr. Modi, like Mr. Trump, illustrated perfectly how money talks, power seduces and success eclipses morality. One of Mr. Modi’s most loyal fan bases was rich Indian-American businesspeople, who were naturally attracted to the promise of a wealthy India allied with the United States. And conversely. At a charity event in New Jersey last month, Mr. Trump sought their support, and hailing India’s prime minister as a “great man,” declared, “I am a big fan of Hindu.” “Big, big fan.”

Long before Peter Thiel plumped for Mr. Trump and Mark Zuckerberg defended Mr. Thiel, Silicon Valley lined up to hail Mr. Modi’s vision of “Digital India.” Sheryl Sandberg declared that she was changing her Facebook profile in “his honor.” These data-monetizing fans of Hindu may not have known that Mr. Modi, supervising a radical ideological purge at home, had launched Digital India at his residence in New Delhi
with a private reception for some of India’s most vicious trolls. …

Such firebrands emerged out of economic and political crises in almost every major European country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, distracting angry citizens with the demonization of minorities, cosmopolitans and liberals. Drawing a cautionary tale from this blood-stained history, Polanyi assumed that the catastrophic triumph of economism over social and political necessities would be reversed. The three decades after World War II proved him right. Social-welfare policies underpinned national reconstruction in war-ravaged Europe, as well as in postcolonial Asia and Africa after decades of imperialism.

In our own time, a global network of elites has tried to restart the discredited utopian experiment of a self-regulating market. The experiment failed, and again the rage of cheated masses has spawned demagogues who simultaneously promise to avenge the left-behinds and to rewire their alliances with the elites. Any attempt to rebuild
democracy must reckon with the deeper reasons for its great and drastic transformation — above all in India, where Hindu supremacism, in its cruelty and callousness, anticipated the big, big American fan of Hindu.

The Incendiary Appeal of Demagoguery in Our Time



Basic Income for India

First, any universal programme is expensive.

For example, if we were to give every adult exactly the amount of income that defines the poverty line, which would ensure that everyone would be brought above the poverty line, calculations suggest the bill would amount to 11% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). This is just a hypothetical example. One can, of course, offer a lower amount per person that would be more affordable.

However, in this context, a sense of perspective is needed in discussing expenditures on programmes aimed at the poor, who by official estimates, constitute 30% of the population. Calculations suggest that if we take just twice the amounts that define the poverty line, almost 80% of the population lives below that.
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SIPRI: International arms trade on the rise

The majority went to Asia and to the crisis region of the Middle East. Between the Persian Gulf and the Bosphorus, imports of heavy weapons – the SIPRI report is concerned only with these – rose by 61 percent. Between 2011 and 2015, India was the only country to import more weapons that Saudi Arabia – a land with just 30 million inhabitants. Compared with 2006–2010, the oil sheikhdom’s arms purchases have almost trebled. Number four in the list of the biggest importers of arms is the United Arab Emirates, with a population of barely five million. Turkey is number six.

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