Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why does the retail investor shun the capital market?

Are retail investors earning enough? NIRMAL JAIN ET-IG MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2006
In the past 18 months, we have seen an unprecedented flow of funds into our stock markets. During the same period, the shareholding of typical retail investors has been falling almost continuously. While there has been some supply of additional paper through IPOs, FIIs and mutual funds have been able to increase their shareholding in blue-chip companies only at the cost of small retail investors (classified as public in most shareholding pattern tables). In general, promoters have also maintained or increased their stakes. Now that the market has run up over 50% in one year and 200% in the past three years, everybody can see that FIIs and funds have made a huge profit on their investments in India.
Why does the retail investor shun the capital market? Many retail investors burnt their fingers in the previous bull run and would have sworn never to return to the market. Today, I think, media and regulators, albeit working with good intentions, could be causing impediments to the growth in the equity cult. From government to media to regulators, everybody talks about shielding retail investors from the ills of the equity markets. In effect, they have been successful in shielding him/her from the boons and bounties of the equity markets as well. I have no doubt that Sebi has done a commendable job of creating a healthy environment in the market. Recently, Sebi has been able to nip in the bud quite a few scams, including price rigging of Z stocks and misuse of retail quota through fake DP accounts in the IPOs.
However, the problem arises because of the media hype created around such examples. If we highlight excesses of any system, people will tend to lose confidence in the system itself. On the whole, capital markets have been functioning fairly well. Although it is important to control such incidences, their relative importance should not be exaggerated. Also, a number of media correspondents had started warning about possible scams and bubbles just because the sensex touched 6000 or 7000 and did their bit to scare away retail investors. Unfortunately, media revels in scare mongering. Many of them are actually not qualified or experienced enough to take a judgmental call, but they do write with authority.
In India, the retail ownership of equity assets is probably amongst the lowest in developed or developing countries. This should be a wake-up call for our government, as well as for all authorities and bodies associated with the capital market. Is it not that we have got the best regulatory system, but do we want the most effective regulatory system to work as the most effective disciplinary system? Nirmal Jain, MD, India Infoline

The European Dream

How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. Jeremy Rifkin. New York: Tarcher, 2004, 288 pp. $25.95 Reviewed by Stanley Hoffmann, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2004
The new European dream celebrated by Rifkin "emphasizes community relationships over individual autonomy, cultural diversity over assimilation, quality of life over the accumulation of wealth, sustainable development over unlimited material growth, deep play over unrelenting toil, universal human rights and the rights of nature over property rights, and global cooperation over the unilateral exercise of power." Insofar as this book is a response to Robert Kagan's somewhat cartoonish view of Europe (as Venus, to the United States' Mars), it both celebrates the virtues that Kagan dismisses and aims to refute the proudly Martian view of the United States that Kagan holds. Kaganites will find much here that they will once again deem absurd: Rifkin is concerned with individual quality of life, not political and military power. He also overlooks glaring differences among European nations.
Nevertheless, it will be a pity if American overconfidence leads them to ignore this valiant attempt to show that the American way of organizing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not necessarily the best (even if some of Rifkin's musings on "the third stage of human consciousness" are a bit windy). Rifkin is no starry-eyed idealist-he questions the "thickness" of the European dream and the persistence of European cynicism-and he has studied Europe seriously and with an open mind. His book deserves to be read.

A Tale of Two Lefts

Latin America's Left Turn Jorge G. Castañeda From Foreign Affairs, May/June 2006
With all the talk of Latin America's turn to the left, few have noticed that there are really two lefts in the region. One has radical roots but is now open-minded and modern; the other is close-minded and stridently populist. Rather than fretting over the left's rise in general, the rest of the world should focus on fostering the former rather than the latter -- because it is exactly what Latin America needs.
JORGE G. CASTAÑEDA is the author of Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left After the Cold War and Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara. Having resigned as Mexico's Foreign Minister in 2003, he is currently Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American Studies at New York University. Topics:
Jeremy Rifkin. New York: Tarcher, 2004.

"Identity and Violence": Idealistic thesis

TUNKU VARADARAJAN Friday, April 21, 2006
Mr. Sen is here conflating identity with predilection, as well as denying that there is--or can be--a hierarchy of potency within a catalog of personal states. I don't mean to belittle the power of endorphins, but is being a long-distance runner the same, in an accounting of identity, as being a Christian or an American? This is, perhaps, a ludic list of identities; but it is also faintly ludicrous.
People like Mr. Sen overlook Muslim or Islamic failings for fear of appearing "unsecular." Any political conflict in which one side is characterized as "Muslim" is automatically disparaged as being anti-Muslim. Conversely, if there is to be fault-finding based on religion (or civilization), then both sides must be depicted as guilty. So al Qaeda and the American soldiers at Abu Ghraib are grouped together as examples of what happens when there is "identity thinking" amenable to "brutal manipulation."
There is also a tendency on the part of thinkers like Mr. Sen to diminish the political and scientific contributions of the West and to glorify the achievements of non-Western (and, where possible, Islamic) societies. So the Muslim emperor Akbar, the lofty Mughal, is lauded for his tolerance of all faiths. But no one stops to ask why the edifice of Islamic tolerance collapsed after his death in 1605.
Likewise, early Islamic-Arabic breakthroughs in mathematics are held up as proof of intellectual greatness--and, yes, at the time of their conception they were indeed great. But why did the Islamic world flounder later into a state of long-running anti-scientism? As always, Mr. Sen compares the very best of the non-West with quotidian practice in the West. This is a common problem with the defenders of Islam--or, in Mr. Sen's case, with the critics of the critics of Islam.
Mr. Sen, inescapably, is a member of Bengal's bhadralok, or gentleman class. (As the joke goes: One Bengali is a poet; two Bengalis are a film society; three are a political party; and four are two political parties--both leftist.) What Mr. Sen really wants is for all of us to be "fair" to each other. Fair enough. But his idealistic thesis twists and turns to remake the world in its own image. Ultimately, his picture--though pretty--bears little relation to reality. It makes me so sad. Mr. Varadarajan is editorial features editor of The Wall Street Journal.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

India, not Nepal, needs a constituent assembly

Is India becoming ungovernable? The short answer is yes. The long answer is that remedies are ready and simple, but the more puzzling question is why we are avoiding them. Among all major parliamentary democracies in the world, India is now most in need of adopting an alternative to the first-past-the-post electoral system. Its divisive consequences have made the country all but ungovernable. There are a number of reasons for that. They were always important. But now they have become imperative.
The basic reason is that it has become difficult for the party in power to back its share of seats with its share of the vote. In this sense most governments have become minority governments. Each may have a majority on the floor of the House but in fact it represents only a minority of the voters while the majority swirl around it in various formations and in various degrees of alienation to begin with and resentment next. That is the root cause of the growing ungovernability. Of course, This has always been so. But the problem has been aggravated by four recent changes.
Except on a very few occasions, the party which wins a parliamentary election in India has never polled much more than about 40 per cent of the total votes cast. If even that much has proved to be good enough for the party's survival in power, it has mainly been because of our first-past-the-post electoral system. It gives the winning party a larger share of seats than its share of the vote, and generally it does exactly the reverse for the Opposition parties, giving them a smaller share of seats than their share of votes. Thus, voting the government out in Parliament becomes all but impossible. That has made the street more popular with the Opposition than Parliament as the arena for its political battles with the government. In fact, Parliament has been converted into a street.
Secondly, this anomaly has been magnified by the constant increase in the number of parties, each claiming to represent one or another of the numerous entities which, happily, constitute our society. Happily again, each has also become more conscious of its rights and more assertive in using them. But each new party also eats into the overall Opposition vote, depleting the challenge that it can pose to the government, whether in terms of seats or votes. A steady challenger would be more effective if he built himself up from election to election until his constituency acquired the critical mass and reliable alliances. But that possibility is being pre-empted by the habit of overnight coalitions which last only till the next head-count on the floor, with the allies in one head-count becoming rivals in the next.
This third development has become a running mate of the second. The ruling party's share of votes as well as of seats has been falling of late. Presently, it is roughly about a third to a half of what it used to be. The main challengers are catching up in the areas of their respective choices, for example the Left in West Bengal and Kerala, and the BJP in the Hindi belt and various regional parties elsewhere. But the challenge cannot be effectively delivered in Parliament because the scene is too crowded either with too many claimants to the throne or with the incompatibilities between them. The fourth complication has been made more complex by the flux in relations between parties at the Central and State levels. Parties which are allies at one level are enemies at the other, and at both wary about pushing inter-party rivalries at one level to the point at which they might hurt inter-party relations at the other level. All that turns coalition-building into an unending jigsaw puzzle.
None of that is entirely new. But the cumulative effect is new. Governance atrophies as one government succeeds another, each backed only by lesser parts of the electorate and Parliament, and each unsure of getting the public support it may need for the bold measures the times may need. This delay turns the public's disappointment into anger first and then into rioting. The political process as we know it becomes not only helpless but harmful. As election managers find that even a narrowly sectarian appeal can win them enough seats for long enough for serving their narrow and transitory ends, they focus mostly on the most handy appeal, the more divisive the better because it catches fire more quickly.
But that does not mean — not at all — that parliamentary politics has delivered us, bound hand and foot, to the service of these divisive ends. On the contrary, governance can be restored and at the same time democracy can be lifted to new heights by perfectly legitimate methods which are well within our Constitution and electoral laws. These methods have been suggested and supported by some of the most learned political, judicial, and constitutional minds in the country. All they need for implementing them is some improved conventions and legislative practices. We have not put them to use because we have not understood what ails us.
Our malady lies in our electoral process.
It cuts us up into fragments, the smaller the better for better "management." It puts the least small on the throne and keeps it there for as long as it can. Then the next smallest segment is enthroned when it has overtaken the first one in size. The criterion for making the change is not what is the broadest consensus that we can attain but what is the narrowest consensus that we can afford.
Thus while the problems of the people multiply we continue to nullify the first rule of the democratic system by which we swear, that the power to rule the country is vested first in whoever has been first approved by at least half the people, and is then transferred to the first challenger when he too passes the same test, the approval of at least half the people. This first rule is the basis of the reforms which have been recommended by many, including the highest commission which has examined the workings of the Constitution under the learned guidance of M.N. Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India.
More specifically, the Commission's recommendation is that a candidate should be declared elected to Parliament only when he has obtained the votes of at least half the people who have voted. And if no such candidate emerges in the first round of polling there should be a second and last round in which the leader and the runner-up in the first round should be the only candidates. The House chosen in this way should then choose its leader in the same way, in two rounds at most. The government formed by him should be open to challenge but only by a challenger who has demonstrated, in the same manner, that he has the support of at least half the House. This single reform can achieve at least three objectives.
  • The House will always have the support of at least half the concerned voters,
  • the government will always have the confidence of at least half the House,
  • and candidates at both levels, knowing that one day they may need the support of at least half the voters will, even in the first round, refrain from casting their appeal on narrow and sectarian lines.

The merits of the scheme are not in doubt. The mystery is why we do not adopt it. Pran Chopra The Hindu Thursday, Apr 20, 2006

A nation is more than a collection of whatever population happens to reside within its borders

Something has to unite those people if the country is not to degenerate into the kind of unending internal strife brought on by Balkanization in many countries around the world, not just in the Balkans.It can be a matter of national life and death whether a country is or is not united against its external enemies. Internal disunity contributed to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire over a period of centuries and to the much faster collapse of France, which surrendered after just six weeks of fighting in 1940. A generation earlier, a united France had fought on for four long years, despite far higher casualties than in 1940.
Unity and patriotism are not luxuries.
Survival in an international jungle depends on them. What are dangerous luxuries are the open borders which erode national solidarity. The fact that we are already at each other's throats over the immigration issue is an ominous sign. Thomas Sowell

Nations can and do choose differently how they share rewards: that's politics, not economics

Throw open the books, let's see what everyone earns
Trust and social glue are corroded by pay secrecy and the greed-is-good culture.
Transparency would change all that. Polly Toynbee The Hindu Saturday, Apr 22, 2006
WHAT IS anyone worth? Since people in the United Kingdom trust GPs (family doctors) above all others, it may reflect popular will to super-pay some of them £250,000, with their average £100,000 doubling since 2000. But if you want proof for the counterintuitive truth that more money does not make people happier, then the miserable doctors are a good example. Neither hospital specialists (68 per cent increase) nor GPs seem one jot happier for their recent windfall. Their union, the British Medical Association (BMA), pumps out ever angrier anti-government press releases complaining of "vindictive treatment" in this year's "shocking" pay offer as they demand another 4.5 per cent.
So do not expect gratitude. Mori research into attitudes towards employers shows that of all workers in the public and private sectors, GPs and the police are most prone to rubbishing their employers and their service: teachers are most likely to talk positively about theirs. Doctors may be hard-working, but they do whinge. If higher pay does not lead to happiness or gratitude, how people feel about their pay is complicated and exceedingly important. Research finds the absolute sum matters less than the way people perceive fairness and transparency in pay. So when a dazzle of daylight was shone on the pay of BBC radio stars, it sent out a frisson of shock. Bloggers and letter-writers fulminated about the BBC licence fee — one grumbling that his 30 years of fee barely covers one hour of the DJ and chat show host Jonathan Ross. And that was before the news that a bidding war for Ross has just risen to £15 million.
News like that makes people stop and think about pay, reward, and merit. Where to begin? The first rule should always be transparency. The BBC should reveal all fees to ensure there really is a genuine market in talent out there. And that should be a general rule, not just in public bodies but everywhere. People do know more or less what everyone else earns in the public sector, so why not make it compulsory for all? In Norway and Finland, anyone can summon up anyone else's tax return on the Internet — and why not? The shock at first would be seismic, with eruptions of rage and embarrassment all round. But it would put a stop to secretive employers who divide and rule by spreading uncertainty and insecurity about what the person at the next desk might be getting. Making tax returns public helps to stamp out fraud and tax evasion, risking exposure of any undeclared income. After the initial shock, people would soon get used to the idea. As it is, money is the great taboo.
Shocking facts emerge from time to time: chief executives who in 1979 paid themselves 10 times more than their workers now pay themselves 54 times more. Such revelations cause intermittent indignation, but it soon subsides into a "nothing can be done" gloom. The British Prime Minister of the 1980s Margaret Thatcher's deadly legacy has been to spread her economic fatalism. "There is no alternative" has entered the British soul, leaving a sour sense of helplessness that iron economic laws shape our destiny: we ignore them at our peril. But there is no iron law, there is only political choice. The Nordic countries, with far more successful economies, refuse to suffer our unjustifiable pay gap. Nations can and do choose differently how they share rewards: that's politics, not economics.
For example, the Work Foundation proved that the globalised market for CEOs is a myth. Most top CEOs are not only British, but bred within their own companies. They pay each other these great sums by mutually agreed cartel, all racing to prove they are top dog for no extra productivity or risk. Their pay distorts the public sector with odious comparisons, especially now that the division between the public and the contracted-out is blurred. Envy and discontent spills over through failing to nurture a sense of a distinct public ethos in the public sector that has its own honourable rewards. Even with pay briefly having risen faster than in the private sector, public employees are still paid less than the private workforce. The old compensations of secure pension, stability, security are exchanged for constant turbulence and badly managed "reform" at risk of Gershon down-sizing. So what is the upside, if they sit beside some outside private contractor or consultant earning far more?
The Work Foundation finds that the happiest employees are not the best paid but the best respected. People who work collaboratively, who profit-share. Teams deciding their own work practices and rewards are the most content and stay the longest, even if pay is higher elsewhere. Mammon is not king. The greed-is-good culture, unchallenged by the present Labour administration, corrodes trust and social solidarity, spreading dismay and unease. Am I getting enough? What is enough? What am I worth? The myth of a rational market in pay is mainly a cloak for rewards that make little sense. To be sure there is a transparent, functioning market for a few scarce skills. Entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson are reckoned to deserve whatever they have created.
But the great majority of people work in markets that are artificial, dominated by tradition, where no one can explain quite why x job is worth more than y. Women's jobs are marked down because women traditionally do them. Unspoken cartels operate: employers need not illegally conspire to keep cleaning, supermarket checkout and care jobs at rock-bottom wages even when there is a shortage, preferring to go short-staffed rather than up the local pay rate for all. Making sense of reward is difficult — but the debate has to begin by throwing open the books. It would not hurt much if everyone had to do it together. Let's see how the culture changes when we can all read each other's tax returns. Why not? What's to hide? The most equal countries do it. — Guardian Newspapers Limited

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Vedanta to set up university in Orissa

Vedanta to set up university in Orissa at cost of Rs. 4,500 crore Tuesday, April 18, 2006 Bhubaneswar: Vedanta Resources Plc, a London stock exchange-listed industrial house is going to establish multi-disciplinary university in Orissa at the cost of Rs 4,500 crore. A team of Vedanta Resources Plc today meets Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at Bhubaneswar to select a suitable site for its proposed university. The team also made a presentation before Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik here today.
VRP Chairman Anil Agarwal told media person at Bhubaneswar that "We want to establish a university that will be of the calibre of leading institutes such as Harvard, Stanford and Oxford.” Agarwal along with a team of A T Kearney limited, a global management consultancy, met Patnaik and Chief Secretary Subas Pani to inform them of their priorities for the university. "We will invest one billion dollar and require 5,000 acres of land for the proposed university", Shuhag Ghosh of A T Kearney said. Ghosh said the institute would be multi-disciplinary having liberal arts, basic sicence, engineering, medicine, law, business and performing arts.She said the college would include graduate, post-graduate and doctoral programmes.
The campus would have several facilities, including a stadium built to international specifications. Orissa is one of the states where Vedanta is looking to set up the university. As the group has set up an aluminum plant at Lanjigarh, they are interested in setting up the university in the State, added Mr. Agarwal. Orissadiary

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Economics as a guide to human behaviour

A version of this review, of "The Undercover Economist" by Tim Harford, was published today in the Indian Express. Amit Varma Indian Express: Sunday, April 16, 2006
Art aims to reveal the human condition, but there is no better way to understand human behaviour than through the tools of economics. After all, we live in a world of scarcity, none more so than that of time, and are buffetted constantly by incentives of various kinds to do various things. Thinking like an economist helps us to understand the complex web of inter-actions that exist between us, and to make clear choices.
For decades, though, economics has been regarded as a ‘dismal science’, an arcane subject with no relevance to common life. But that is a mistaken belief, and just as popular science books gave science a wider audience from the 1970s onwards, a series of books and websites are performing the same ser-vice for economics. Blogs like Marginal Revolution, Cafe Hayek, Assymetrical Information and EconLog have made econo-junkies out of tens of thousands of people in the online world, an audience reflected in meatspace by the success of Freakonomics last year. The lat-est in that list is The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford, a book that turns the jargon of economics into the lingo of cool kids, and is enlightening and fun at the same time. About how many books can you say that? If you head out to your local outlet of Barista, you will notice that a Cappucino costs Rs 33 while a Cafe Mocha costs Rs 47. Both cost approximately the same to make, so why this difference in price?
Why are economy lounges in airports across the world so uniformly shabby? Why are books first released hardcover and later in paperback? Why is popcorn so expensive in movie halls? Harford draws on examples from our daily lives and uses them to illustrate basic con-cepts of economics, such as marginal cost, information assymetry, price targeting and externality pricing. Some of the truths that economics teaches us are commonsensical, but other are deeply unintuitive: the fact that the world is non-zero-sum, for example, and that everyone can benefit at the same time, or that markets don’t need central planners, and prosperity is caused by “human action but not human design”, as the economist Friedrich Hayek would have put it. Harford illustrates this well, likening a well-function-ing free market to a ‘World of Truth’, with prices acting as the spies that reveal valuable information about the world. Interfering with this ‘World of Truth’, as subsidies and tariffs and taxes inevitably do, harms all of us and destroys value.
Special-interest groups do this in some countries, dictators in others, and Harford writes about it with such lucidity that many such pernicious examples from India will no doubt pop up in your mind. The Undercover Economist is no weighty tome, though, pontificating grandly on the world. Instead, it is a book with utility, which will help you decipher the world around you a little better, and will, even, save you a few rupees every time you venture out to the su-permarket. Also, it is out in paperback in India, which indicates exactly what the pub-lisher thinks of you. Buy it nevertheless: you will both benefit.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Growth at a robust exponential rate for centuries to come

I'd like to see if we could:
1. Agree that civilization faces a stark bifurcation of destiny, and further agree that the acorn and fertility cycle analogies in section III describe this bifurcation in a fairly accurate way.
2. Commit to the cosmic/utopian destiny depicted in section XVI with the whole of our body, heart, mind, and soul — and further commit to allowing the time-reverse influence of this Holy Destiny to "impregnate" each one of us at the deepest level of our being.
3. Utterly renounce the logic and politics of scarcity and "limits to growth," and in so doing, commit wholeheartedly to a destiny in which the total population, macro-economy, and use of energy will grow at a robust exponential rate for centuries to come.
4. Utterly renounce the politics of coercion and the use of centralized political power for achieving even the most enlightened of goals — and pursuant to this, embrace Holographic Libertarianism as our basic political stance (as depicted in the attached chart).
5. Embrace the four-fold perspective in its full symmetry (as depicted in the attached charts) and make it the basis for the hyper-holism that reconciles religious opposites — and further embrace both: a) the cultivation of humanity's receptivity for visionary hyper-holistic ideas, and b) the insemination of said ideas as a sacred duty (as depicted in section XII).
6. Suspend judgement against the conservative elites (and the socio-economic leviathan that they have created in the corporate/banking/political world), and instead view them as puppets dancing to the tune of archetypal forces — and beyond that, see if we can we find the courage to walk up to the "devil himself" and say, "hey we've got a win-win deal for you."
7. Agree to wade into the morass of counter-cultural thought without preconceptions pro or con — and by exploring the issues in depth, disentangle the "bramble" in which political, ecological, technical, and economic issues are routinely confused with each other, and/or desperately embraced as pretexts for underlying agendas of a wholly different nature.
I firmly believe that if we can agree on and embrace these seven fundamental points —
then we will be able to:
a) open floodgates of money for the entheogenic futurism thing that we are working on here,
b) secure the "forward escape" that we know is the only true solution, and with time,
c) secure freedom for entheogens pursuant to this forward escape. Can we agree on these seven fundamentals?
I invite general discussion pro or con, but ask that we make separate threads when delving into the multi-faceted details of these items. For reference, the links to my files are: CollectiveEmpowerment and NewSectionXVI. Posted by Reverend Tom Comments (40) Permalink March 23, 2006 Future Hi

Friday, April 14, 2006

Immigration ‘solutions’, Part IV

Jewish World Review April 12, 2006 / 14 Nissan, 5766 Thomas Sowell http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com
Shaky political arguments for going easy on illegal immigrants are sometimes backed up by equally shaky economic arguments.
There is, of course, the perennial favorite that we "need" immigrants to "do work that Americans won't do." But what is the basis for this claim?
What specific jobs in this country are performed exclusively by immigrants? Indeed, in what jobs are immigrants an absolute majority? Those who make this sweeping claim seldom offer a speck of evidence to support it.
In some particular places, such as California, agricultural jobs seem to be almost exclusively filled by immigrants. But, in a country with huge agricultural surpluses costing the taxpayers billions in subsidies and storage costs, why is there a "need" for more workers to increase the surpluses and the costs?
One editorial cartoon pictured consumers confronted with $20 lettuce because immigrants no longer grew or picked it for low wages. But it is our agricultural subsidy laws which drive up the price of fruits and vegetables by taking vast amounts of this produce off the market, in order to keep prices artificially high.
If this surplus produce is not grown in the first place, that just saves subsidy and storage costs. The price of the fruits and vegetables sold in the market need be no higher than right now.
Even in fields like engineering or science, where particular immigrants bring particular skills much in demand, that is no argument for tolerating illegal immigration. Tolerating illegality means that the immigrants determine what kinds of people enter our country and become part of the U.S. population, whether or not their skills, attitudes or behavior are wanted by Americans.
A broader economic claim is that immigrants add to the national output, benefiting us all as consumers. Plausible as this might sound, its logic will not stand up under scrutiny.
If more immigrants are a good thing, where do we stop — and why? Why not fling the doors open to all the people who want to immigrate here from Haiti or Cuba or anywhere else?
Even if every one of those immigrants added to the national output, that does not mean that today's American population would be economically better off after this unchecked influx from around the world.
After all, people not only produce, they consume — and some consume more than they produce, courtesy of the American taxpayers.
Nor are our schools or our neighborhoods improved by becoming a tower of babel or scenes of clashing standards of behavior, noise, or violence. We need to count all costs, not just money costs.
Why is this a far more prosperous country than the countries from which most of our immigrants come? Many of those countries are well endowed with natural resources but are lacking an economic and political culture that would allow those resources to be used to produce better results than the poverty which drives their people to other countries.
When you import people, you import cultures. Those cultures no longer give way to the American culture when "multiculturalism" is a dogma and its apostles and activists make it necessary for American laws, language, and culture to give way, or at least accommodate growing alien enclaves in our midst.
A nation is more than a collection of whatever population happens to reside within its borders. Something has to unite those people if the country is not to degenerate into the kind of unending internal strife brought on by Balkanization in many countries around the world, not just in the Balkans.
It can be a matter of national life and death whether a country is or is not united against its external enemies. Internal disunity contributed to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire over a period of centuries and to the much faster collapse of France, which surrendered after just six weeks of fighting in 1940.
A generation earlier, a united France had fought on for four long years, despite far higher casualties than in 1940.
Unity and patriotism are not luxuries. Survival in an international jungle depends on them. What are dangerous luxuries are the open borders which erode national solidarity. The fact that we are already at each other's throats over the immigration issue is an ominous sign.

Secular Fundamentalists and Other Simple People of Faith

I have to admit that my opinions rest upon which experts I trust. In my case, I trust a Thomas Sowell but deeply distrust a Paul Krugman. I expect the former to tell me the truth and the latter to lie and distort. The typical leftist will be a mirror image of me. He will place his trust in Paul Krugman or Robert Reich, and will regard Thomas Sowell as an agenda-driven hack. It will serve no purpose for me to debate such a person on the merits of the competing economic theories, for again, if we are honest, we have to admit that one of us is simply suffering from the problem of misplaced trust.
Belief cannot establish its own legitimacy, but derives its legitimacy from someone who either knows, thinks he knows, or pretends to know. In this sense, it is superficially similar to faith. However, belief is generally a static thing. It takes the unknown and superimposes the known upon it, thus foreclosing the unknown. Once one believes something, the issue becomes settled. Faith, on the other hand, is a dynamic engagement with the unknown.
Faith, properly understood, is not a cognitive structure or grid to be superimposed upon reality. Rather, it is a psychospiritual probe with which to explore reality--somewhat like the way a blind person might use a cane to to construct an internal image of the dark space around him. Furthermore, unlike belief, faith should be convertible. It is actually a subtle and sophisticated way to gain knowledge that transcends the senses, not a means to provide false but comforting answers and to vanquish curiosity.
Human beings are equipped to apprehend reality. But we are also curiously equipped to apprehend the interior reality persons. It is said that a sophisticated scientist, strictly speaking, does not judge the merits of a scientific theory on the basis of whether it is "true" or "false." Rather, he does so on the basis of its generativity, that is, by how much it explains, how well it ties together various other facts and observations, and the extent to which it gives rise to new, "interesting" problems.
  • Have you ever known a generative person in whose presence you experience the bracing flow of "life" along your keel?
  • Have you ever been in the presence of a stagnant and lifeless person in whose presence you feel your soul being sucked out of your body?

The spiritually generative lumin being does not merely report reality. Rather, such an individual imparts reality. You might say that they are a door. Or you might say that they are a way. Or perhaps they are even the life. They know. And we know that they know. And soon enough, we know too. Call it recognosis and ruahcollection. posted by Gagdad Bob at 4:32 AM 39 comments

Right rules for India’s democracy

The science of ‘complex self-adaptive systems’ provides pertinent insights to guide us as we struggle to democratically frame enforceable rules and laws, says Arun Maira The Economic Times Thursday, April 13, 2006
India’s complex, evolving democracy needs to find the minimal critical rules for good governance in several areas. ‘Offices of profit’ is only one. Affirmative action and reservations is another. Urban management to accommodate the interests of various stakeholders a third. Rural land use for development a fourth. And other areas also. A dialogue amongst the many stakeholders and political parties is necessary to get to the heart of these issues, to find the essential principles of good governance, and to distil the minimal critical rules that will serve the best interests of our democratic society. The effective conduct of this dialogue, so that all points of view can be heard and respected and agreement reached and honoured, is the essence of good democracy: not merely the conduct of elections, no matter how fair and frequent they may be. Elections are an enabling condition for democracy but not its be-all and end-all, whereas effective dialogue is democracy’s life-blood — a lesson the world would have been reminded of after the fiasco in Iraq.
WE HAVE to find the platforms in India for an effective dialogue, and the means to facilitate it. Parliament, as Mr Raja said, seems ineffective for this purpose at present. Seminars and conferences organised by business associations and other agencies on such subjects barely scratch the surface. They are generally a collection of monologues, not dialogues amongst participants, with speeches from the high table, a few questions from the floor, tea and out. ‘The Big Fight’, ‘Face the Music’, and such TV shows have more bite. But they are too biased towards entertainment to keep viewers away from the remote because they need their advertisers. Perhaps we could leave it to the governments of the day, at the Centre and in the states, to convene such dialogues. Or some credible civil society organisations could take the lead in areas they are concerned with. Whoever does so, some core insights from Complexity science and from universal experience with dialogue must be respected. I would list six critical rules.
  • First, ‘requisite variety’ — the presence of diversity together — is an essential requirement for healthy evolution of complex, self-adaptive systems. Therefore representatives of all stakeholders must be present in the dialogue, even though it may make it more difficult to arrive at consensus easily.
  • Second, effective dialogue requires that the representatives chosen be individuals who are capable of listening to others, not those given to repeating and defending their own points only.
  • Third, the participants must be committed to stay with the dialogue, and not dip in and out at their convenience.
  • Fourth, the dialogue should be conducted on the basis that there will be no winners and losers — either everyone wins or everyone loses.
  • Fifth, the easy way out to a (shallow) consensus, that of settling on the lowest common denominators will not be adopted. Instead, through deep questioning, listening, and searching, the highest common factors will be found. Because these are indeed the minimal critical rules the system, with all its diversity needs.
  • And sixth, the process of dialogue must be expertly facilitated.

This may sound like harder work than marching in and out of the well of the House or making speeches at seminars. But this is what the healthy evolution of our democratic country requires. And surely the futures of a billion people in our evolving country deserve at least this much from people who care and who aspire to lead. Also We must improve the quality of public debate

France lives today, more than ever, in a utopian fantasy

Déjà Vu All Over Again By ABDELLAH TAÏA NYTimes.com : April 13, 2006
Paris: I SPENT half my life dreaming about France, about Paris especially. In Salé, my Moroccan hometown, life was limited and poor, but happy. I understood nothing, absolutely nothing, of politics — the result of a government policy to stamp out any spark of political awareness. Like most Moroccans born in the 1970's, I was both afraid of King Hassan II and fascinated by him. I escaped to Paris in my mind, thanks to films and the French newspapers I stole from my grandfather.
By luck I was able to escape in reality, and arrived in Paris in 1998. With its emphasis on individual rights, this city opened doors for me. Little by little, I became political; intellectual debates began to have meaning. They were not just blather. But with its racism, the city closed other doors. With time, the meaning disappeared and blather became the rule.
France lives today, more than ever, in a utopian fantasy. The gap between the political leadership and the people is enormous. The elites seem to speak to us of outdated concepts, far, very far from reality. France can't deal with its "foreigners" who have French nationality and does little to integrate them into society. Islam is the second religion of the country, yet France cannot speak intelligently to its millions of Muslims; it calls us all the "Muslim community" as if there were only one way to be a Muslim.
France knows that it needs to change its economic system, but each attempt is blocked, as it was this week with Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's bid to encourage businesses to give jobs to young people by loosening the strict labor laws governing their hiring and firing. It's often said that the French are all grumblers, and that cliché is more than true.
While the students who have been in the streets are right to protest against the precarious life that awaits them, it's also true that the French are timid, even frightened of change, as we saw last year in their strong reaction against the entry of Turkey into an enlarged European Union. Turkey, long considered part of Europe, suddenly didn't qualify, in the French view, for the rights and privileges of the union.
The disturbances last November in the poor, predominantly minority suburbs of Paris, the banlieues, surprised many in France. Their surprise in turn surprised me, showing me to what extent, even in this country proclaiming itself for fraternité and the rights of man, society is divided into two classes, the rich and the poor. Exactly like Morocco.
And in the face of these disturbances how did the government react? What were its proposals for helping the banlieusards to feel as French as everyone else? It contented itself with declaring a state of emergency for three months. That's it.
Since then, the news media have finally deigned to take an interest in the people who live "elsewhere" (what, another country?), but the banlieusards are in agreement that nothing has changed. They predict that there will soon be another explosion, more violent this time. In the meantime, the French political class, with its short memory, is preoccupied with only one thing, the 2007 presidential elections.
This week, Mr. de Villepin and President Jacques Chirac withdrew the troublesome labor law, saying that they wanted to replace it with ... what exactly? Nobody is sure, but students are ending their blockades and protests. As with the disturbances of last November, I suspect the government will play another magic trick: making believe that something is being done even as the problem festers.
That's the France where I live today. A country of culture, of liberty, of myths, of illusions about battling for something. A country of the past, passed by. My mother, who lives in Morocco, called me a few days ago and asked me a strange question: "Where are you, my son?" Not understanding what she meant, I made her repeat her question twice. I answered, after a pause, not sure of myself, "In France, still in ...." She didn't let me finish. "But what is France?" she asked. I still don't know what to answer. Abdellah Taïa is a novelist and memoirist. This article was translated by The Times from the French.

Now it is conservation that is radical

Shanghai's Boom: A Building Frenzy By HOWARD W. FRENCH
SHANGHAI, April 12 — Wu Zigfried Zhiqiang grows animated as he clicks through a PowerPoint presentation of the Shanghai of the future, and for anyone who thinks his city is the last word on post-modernism, with its needle-spire towers and kitschy skyscrapers, he suggests that the surprises have just begun.
The North Bund district is being demolished to create Shanghai's new passenger ship terminal along the banks of the Huangpu River.
"On the one hand you will see something like New York's financial district, and on the other, you will see new industrial infrastructure: one of the biggest ports, one of the biggest automobile factories, the biggest shipyards," said Mr. Wu, who is the project designer for the 2010 World Expo, a vast undertaking that is driving much of the change. "You cannot find these things in New York."
Within the next four years, Shanghai, the backdrop of so much upheaval and so many rebirths since it became the prized treaty port for European powers in the mid-19th century, will be utterly transformed once again. But critics say it will lose as much, in texture and vibrant community life, as it stands to gain in dazzling, futuristic projects. The notion of what warrants conservation has been highly restrictive, amounting to several hundred buildings in a city of 18 million and to parts of 12 districts, like the leafy and increasingly gentrified former French Concession neighborhood.
Mr. Wu, a 46-year-old urban designer, describes how China's greatest city is racing to be greater still, aiming for the top as it ascends the hierarchy of world cities, with one eye on longtime champions like New York, and another on its fraternal rival, Beijing.
Like China's capital, which is undergoing a crash rebuilding program in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics, Shanghai is using its role as host of the World Expo to shift what had already been a hugely ambitious remake into high gear. By the standards of recent urban development projects in the West — the so-called Big Dig in Boston, say — the scale of what the city is undertaking is astounding.
Along the western banks of the Huangpu River, site of the historic Bund thoroughfare, a 2,000-plus-yard-long stretch of the waterfront is being razed and redeveloped. The essence of the Bund, a virtual museum of Western architecture, flush with classical, Gothic and Art Deco landmarks, will be preserved, but densely inhabited neighborhoods at its edge are already being demolished.
This fresh development zone in the heart of central Shanghai, facing the newly minted skyscrapers of the Pudong district across the river, and every bit as attention-grabbing, will extend more than 700 yards inland at its widest point, with sleek halls and pavilions and green spaces.
Nearby, there will also be a modern passenger ship terminal and the world's fastest commercial train service, a high-speed magnetic levitation line from Shanghai's international airport, will be extended to Hangzhou, a city 100 miles to the southwest. The airport, meanwhile, is adding a second terminal whose futuristic design by the Xian Dai Architectural Design Group, is to complement the original terminal, designed by the French architect Paul Andreu.
Mr. Wu said that the architectural layout of the riverside project would take advantage of seasonal winds to assist climate control and that a water purification project aims to make the river water that flows through a 1.8-mile canal safe enough for swimming.
If the Expo seems intended to dazzle — and it is — the project is merely the central nugget of a far larger undertaking, one that will leave very little of this huge city untouched. Shanghai already boasts 4,000 skyscrapers, nearly twice as many as New York, and plans to add 1,000 more in the next decade. Elevated expressways are being built to channel above-ground traffic, and a gigantic push is under way to expand the subway system.
Many feel, though, that what Shanghai is losing is even more vital than what it will gain. Shanghai was China's first, and remains its most distinctive, experiment in modern urbanism, and conservationists say that much of what made it so special in the last century will soon fall victim to the wrecking ball.
The severe damage begins at the very edge of the Bund, in the crowded neighborhoods peopled by generations of workers who have migrated here during more than a century's worth of economic booms. They have fashioned what has come to be Shanghai's signature urban lifestyle: walkup apartment buildings, often connected by a network of lanes, and an extraordinarily rich street life steeped in street cuisine, open-air produce markets and the ever-present bicycle.
Many of these neighborhoods, often starting just a couple of blocks in from the grand riverfront, or at its northern and southern ends, are already being demolished. Another area facing destruction soon, the north bank of Suzhou Creek, is of prime interest both to big developers and to historians and preservationists. The buildings there are of uneven architectural interest, though many are considered precious. But the area is considered a vital matrix of Shanghai's authentic lifestyle.
Chen Guang, an architect who belongs to a civic group involved in conservation efforts makes clear how precarious the situation is, both for the city's old neighborhoods and for those who wish to preserve them. "Our group is comprised of people who share an interest in protecting old neighborhoods," he said, "although we don't use the word protect in our name, even if this what we dearly hope to do."
By the time of the World Expo, in 2010, Mr. Chen estimates, only five percent of the old neighborhoods existing in 2003 citywide will remain. "Suzhou Creek is a bit special for us, though, because of its special status in Shanghai's history, and it has many units that are still intact. Suzhou Creek is a complete entity unto itself, in the same way that the Bund is a unit."
The city's plans call for the leveling of much of the creek's north bank and building green promenades in place of the old tenements and brick-walled lanes. In Shanghai, as in the rest of China, where development proceeds largely by fiat, such things can happen with astounding speed. While rules have recently been amended to help residents bargain for better compensation from developers, there is no real choice about moving.
There have been no public hearings, and no votes on the matter. Even budget estimates are hard to come by. Shanghai's eviction of hundreds of thousands of mostly low-income people from the city center has caused occasional protests, and there have been persistent reports of large-scale, high-level corruption involving politicians and developers.
Shanghai is building no new housing for low-income residents in the city's core. "Shanghai is a 100 percent private market," said Cheng Yun, chief researcher at the Shanghai offices of Centaline Property Consultants, a Hong Kong real estate company. "There is no social development in the central city. This is unique in the whole world, and it is not healthy."
The city's approach to public information about real estate is also unusual by the standards of most nations. The press is barred from reporting on ties between officials and developers, and even detailed maps showing patterns of demolition and redevelopment are as closely held as secret documents.
The concerns of many of those forced out are much more down-to-earth. "We have to move to an area which is far away from here, a suburban area, and we don't want to go there," said Zhu Yumei, 57, a woman who has lived her whole life on the north bank of Suzhou Creek. City officials say that they are mindful of the need to preserve a slice of the old town, but that working block by block with residents in buildings that have suffered decades of decay is impractical.
They contend that although less pronounced than in many Western cities, the hollowing of the central city is part of a broader regional trend. "From Singapore to Tokyo, Asian cities are experiencing this emptying out," said Tang Zhiping, a senior city planner. "It's more appropriate to compare Shanghai to places like these."
For others, though, that is precisely the fear, that in a few short years Shanghai will have become just another in a group of largely anonymous Asian megacities in its haste for sleek modernity.
Zheng Shiling, the dean of urban planners here, and a man who has worked hard to lobby city officials on the importance of historic preservation, said: "Government officials like to be promoted according to their achievements, and that means having something to show. So this is an approach for government officials, not an urban planning approach."
In the 1960's, Mr. Zheng said, building new things in Chinese cities was revolutionary. Now it is conservation that is radical. "Once the reform period started, we wanted to have everything at once," he said. "We were constructing modernization, but without a clear mind of modernity."

Europe Stalls on Road to Economic Change

BERLIN, April 13 — After this week's extremely close election in Italy, there is a strong sense in Europe that, because of weak governments and divided publics, the Continent's big three countries are unable to make the economic changes that most political leaders agree are essential for restoring growth. "Everybody in Europe agrees that things can't go on the way they are going," said Wolfgang Nowak, a German economist who is in charge of the Deutsche Bank's International Forum. He was speaking about the near-zero-growth economies with high deficits, rigid labor markets and intractable levels of unemployment and social welfare budgets that are increasingly difficult to afford.
"Everybody wants change," Mr. Nowak continued. "At the same time, everybody does everything so that things don't change." At stake, in the view of many European experts, is the ability of countries like the big three — Germany, France and Italy — to adapt to a globalized world in which Europe's high labor costs and low population growth could portend a long-term decline, not just of economic power but of political influence as well. There is an official set of goals, known as the Lisbon Agenda, that European Union members, fully aware of the long-term danger of decline, pledged to meet in March 2000. These include sustaining an average growth rate of 3 percent and creating 20 million jobs, in large part by encouraging innovation through investments in education and technology.
But the big three countries have not even come close. Their failure stems from a mutually reinforcing combination of timid, uncertain leadership, deep political divisions and large European populations ready to explode in furious opposition when changes are presented to them. "The political leaders of all these countries know what needs to be done, and it's not rocket science," Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, in London, said in a telephone interview. "The Lisbon Agenda lays out objectives. But as Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Luxembourg has said, everybody knows what reforms we need to implement but nobody knows how to implement them and win an election afterwards." The picture is not bleak all across Europe, nor do the three leading countries have precisely the same problems. Spain, Britain and Ireland have had years of strong growth. The Scandinavian countries have managed to cut back on social welfare spending and yet retain basic protections and guarantees even as they have stepped up growth in the past few years. And Germany has produced better-than-expected growth figures.
Indeed, in his last two years in office, the former chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, was able to push through a series of changes that have by now made a difference, including a sharp reduction of unemployment benefits. Germany also has new rules enabling employers to fire workers in the first two years. But France was convulsed by general strikes and huge street demonstrations when its government announced similar rules that would apply to workers under 26 years of age. Germany is also the only one of the three Continental powers whose leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, campaigned on the need for far bolder changes, including weakening the power of the unions. But, as Mr. Nowak puts it, "the voters gave a powerful 'yes' to Mrs. Merkel and a powerful 'no' at the same time."
They brought her to power, he explained, but as is the case with Romano Prodi in Italy, just barely, and in such a way that she has to govern in a coalition with partners — in her case the Social Democrats — far less disposed to change. "l think that Merkel has solved the principal unsolvable problems inside her own party," Mr. Nowak said. "The problem for her now is the Social Democrats." By contrast, France is in disarray, with the government of President Jacques Chirac possibly fatally weakened by the mass protests that greeted its modest proposal to relax the labor laws. Nobody now expects this deeply shaken government to advance any new changes before the presidential election next year. Aside from the immediate weakness of Mr. Chirac, there is an additional, more general opposition to the sort of free-market reforms that have been embraced, at least in theory, by European Union leaders.
"The problem is a lack of leadership and an intellectual climate that is extremely hostile to economic liberalism in much of Continental Europe," Mr. Grant said from London, using the word liberalism in the European sense, as a movement in favor of free markets and economic deregulation. "The anti-liberal clerisy has basically won the intellectual argument in much of Europe," Mr. Grant said. "They've fostered the view that liberal economics leads to a kind of Dickensian vision of child labor and old women crying in the streets." In France, even with a youth unemployment rate of 23 percent, nobody is likely to be elected by campaigning for free-market reforms and deregulation. "The old heartlands of the Eurozone are clogged by high unemployment and starved by low growth," the British newspaper The Independent editorialized after the Italian vote count. "And yet the political systems of France, Germany and now Italy are failing to produce the necessary solutions."
It is far too early to tell what Mr. Prodi may be able to do in Italy, assuming he does take power. But already, it seems clear that his election by so bare a majority demonstrates how divided Italy is, and how far away the country is from any consensus on what needs to be done. As some commentators have pointed out, Italy can afford to do nothing even less than France or Germany can. Its growth rate last year was zero, its deficit is particularly high and some of its primary industries, like textiles and shoes, are exposed to rugged competition from China and India. In his five years in power, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has largely failed to carry out his promise of reform, even though he leads the center-right coalition, which is pro-free-market.
Mr. Prodi is on the center-left, but his coalition includes Italy's Communists, who can be counted on to oppose any strong economic medicine. "The trap has snapped," the Italian daily La Repubblica commented earlier this week on the almost even split of the country's electorate. "It is as if Italy has been stung by a poisonous scorpion: it cannot build a new government, but it also can't keep the old one. It is perfect metaphor for Italy."

Forward with Ambedkar

B R Ambedkar, whose birth anniversary falls on April 14, is known as the leader of the Dalits and one of the architects of the Indian Constitution. What is less known is that he was the tallest intellectual among the leaders thrown up by the independence movement, a man whose idea of India remains relevant today. Ambedkar’s educational qualifications alone would mark him out from his peers. He obtained his doctorate in the social sciences at Columbia University in the US. He then proceeded to London, where he registered for a bar-at-law degree as well as an MSc and a doctorate at the London School of Economics. He had to cut short his studies and return to India when his scholarship ran out.
Having saved up a little as a professor at Sydenham college, Ambedkar returned to London four years later to complete his DSc in economics. While waiting for his thesis to be processed, he spent a few months at Bonn University reading economics. In the meantime, he had started studying French and German on his own. Partly, all this was about making a point: for Dalits, higher education is the route to empowerment. Ambedkar’s wide-ranging academic background provided the basis for an astonishing mass of scholarly output. A website lists 56 books and monographs published by Ambedkar. These cover a host of topics: the origins of caste and untouchability, Hinduism, Marxism, Buddhism, the Indian currency and banking, the partition question, linguistic states and the British constitution, to name only a few. And all this in the midst of a hyper-active political career that included membership of the Viceroy’s executive council and a stint as cabinet minister in independent India.
To read Ambedkar is to encounter a forensic and original mind. An example is his analysis of the origins of untouchability. Ambedkar rejects the notion that untouchables belonged to a subjugated race or that they were associated with inferior occupations. He posits that untouchability arose from the confrontation between Hinduism and Buddhism. The Buddhist opposition to animal sacrifice resonated well with the then agrarian communities and posed a serious challenge to Hinduism. Hindus upped the ante by imposing a taboo on beef-eating even though they had been beef-eaters themselves for long. People who subsisted on dead animals could not go along with the taboo and stood condemned forever in consequence. Ambedkar is often portrayed as a man who sought to divide Indian society by seeking to negotiate separately with the British on behalf of the Dalits as Jinnah did for the Muslims. Such a portrayal does him scant justice.
  • First, in seeking to safeguard the interests of Dalits, Ambedkar was merely reacting to the profound divisions created by the practice of untouchability, whereby Hindu society had condemned millions to an inferior status.
  • Secondly, Ambedkar saw the struggle for a better deal for Dalits as part of the incomplete project for the creation of an Indian nation. India, he felt, was not yet a nation. It was merely a set of peoples — Hindus, Muslims and Dalits — living together in a geographical area. Liberty or independence by itself could not mark the completion of the Indian project, it merely marked the beginning. It was only when Indian society embraced the ideas of equality and fraternity as well that India could develop a sense of nationhood.

This would require, among other things, challenging the varnsashrama dharma that lay at the core of Hinduism. Ambedkar subscribed to the ideal of a socialistic society but he did not see communism as the route to salvation. He disliked the violence and totalitarianism inherent in communism, he was disappointed that Indian communism was blind to caste and, importantly, he was alive to the role of competition in fostering economic growth.

A socialistic society, he felt, must be created not through coercion exercised by the state but by Indian society accepting its responsibility towards the underprivileged. The clamour today for reservations in the private sector shows that Indian society is still far from fulfilling this responsibility. Gandhi’s use of Hinduism as a uniting principle for India served the purpose of achieving liberty for Indians. Nehru laid the political and economic foundations of the Indian nation-state. The time is now ripe for the creation of a genuine social democracy along the lines of what obtains in much of Europe, one in which religion is confined to its appropriate sphere and economic growth becomes more, not less, inclusive. For the realisation of such an ideal, Ambedkar emerges as the authentic Indian icon of the twenty-first century. (The author is a professor, IIM Ahmedabad)

Hispanic entitlement to participation in the "American" dream

The ambition of "American" greatness displaced ancient tribes of Comanche and put Mexican mestizos into the sevitude of the rancho, ranch (the home of my paternal grandparents). As equality and justice for all seem to be more feesable in the wake of meaningful constitutional and social ammendments, the U.S.A. appears to be place of opportunity, much like the illegal immigration of the Irish through Canada during the tragedy of Ellis Island and the tragedy of instability in Ireland.
Therefore, the Hispanic entitlement to participation in the "American" dream is understood historically as an I O U. Continental America looks north to our economy and wishes to contribute to feed their family and to begin to attain access to the inaccessible education and power of the imperial history of the Americas. And as the right affirms the obligation the U.S. has to the Iraqi people to spend tax dollars in the war, it denies any responsibility it has to use tax monies to develop and implement a just system of reform for the broken immigration policies to the benefit of those displaced by our own vision “from sea to shining sea.”
Compare the deficit growth in the war to the credits and debits of illegal immgration, and the difference is incomparable. If we have any duty to stabilize Iraq, we must acknowlege the need to give stability to those who pick our cabbage. I only end for the sake of you the reader, and this commentary is not comprehensive - I merely hope it serves to offer insight into the dialogue. posted by samrocha at 12:22 PM 23 comments Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Editorial: People Power

NYTimes.com: April 12, 2006
The marchers in white T-shirts poured out of the subway doors and merged into a stream, flowing like blood cells through the tubular innards of the Washington Metro, past turnstiles and up escalators and out into the delicate brilliance of a fine spring day. On the street, they met up with the others — young parents, old people, toddlers in strollers, teenagers in jeans and jewelry — and headed to the Mall, where they and their American flags dissolved into a shimmering sea of white, red and blue.
The immigration rallies of recent weeks have drawn an astounding number of people around the country: Monday's "national day of action" was attended by an estimated 180,000 in Washington, 100,000 each in Phoenix and New York City, 50,000 each in Atlanta and Houston, and tens of thousands more in other cities.
Adding in the immense marches last month in Los Angeles and Chicago, the immigrants and their allies have carried off an amazing achievement in mass political action, even though many of them are here illegally and have no right to vote. Whether the rallies leave you inspired or unnerved, they are impossible to ignore.
This nation is deeply divided and undecided about illegal immigration. The ambivalence runs deep. Americans can hardly even agree on whom they are talking about. Listen to debates from talk radio to the Senate, and you will hear utterly incompatible descriptions of the same group of people. The nation's 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants are either an occupying army of thieves, snatching jobs and subverting our laws, or they are a wholesome community of strivers, eager to build families and chase the American dream.
Monday's rallies were a decisive victory for the more positive vision. In Washington, as elsewhere, the mood was as mellow as the crowd, which was dominated by parents of young children. (You can shout all the fiery slogans you want, but you will never be threatening with a baby in your arms.) An 86-year-old Salvadoran, Maria Guevara, sat in a folding chair and waved a plastic American flag as a friend, Ana Santos, held a placard to keep the sun out of her eyes. Ms. Guevara was as placid as if sitting beside a pond, though all around her it was noisier than a baseball stadium.
A recurrent complaint against new immigrants — particularly Latinos, the overwhelming majority at most rallies — is that they are slow to assimilate. But these crowds clearly had internalized at least one pillar of the American way: that peaceful dissent can spur a government to action.
Though recent immigration developments in Washington had been a discouraging mix of stalemate and cold political maneuvering, the marchers seemed motivated less by a sense of grievance than by hope, and the pure joy of seeing others like themselves rallying for a precious cause. They were venturing boldly from the shadows and daring the country to change its laws, but were doing so out of a desire to participate in the system, not to undermine it.
This became especially clear when the thousands on the Mall recited the Pledge of Allegiance, reading from yellow sheets printed in English and in a crude phonetic spelling to help Spanish speakers pronounce the unfamiliar words. Something about the latter version — with its strange sense of ineloquent desire — was enough to provoke tears.
Ai pledch aliyens to di fleg
Of d Yunaited Esteits of America
An tu di republic for wich it estands
Uan naishion, ander Gad
Wit liberti an yostis
For oll.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Trading Up in China

China Rises Inside the New China NYTimes.com: April 8, 2006
Whoever thought it could happen? The world's most populous country, with what seemed like a bottomless pool of low-skilled workers, is experiencing a labor shortage in its big manufacturing regions. David Barboza of The Times reports a shortage of workers at hundreds of Chinese factories, particularly in Guangdong and Fujian, the two provinces at the heart of China's export-driven economy.
At first glance, the result looks like a union leader's dream come true: wages are going up, and workers are demanding — and getting — better working conditions and benefits. Minimum wages, which averaged $58 to $74 a month, excluding benefits, in 2004, have climbed about 25 percent over the last three years in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai. Wages at larger factories operated by multinationals, which are typically $100 to $200 a month, are also rising.
But it is a far more complicated story than that, a textbook case of how the global economy has developed. During the last 100 years of industrialization, low-paying manufacturing jobs, primarily in the textile and apparel industries, have been the first rung on the ladder to development. America, Britain and other rich countries all went through an inevitable — but painful — process as their economies grew. When wages in the lower-rung factories increased, manufacturing companies looked for cheaper labor. In America, that meant moving from the Northeast to Southern states like the Carolinas.
Then along came China, which jumped into the textile market with a bang: a seemingly endless supply of workers ready, willing and able to make T-shirts, bras and other underwear for much less money than workers in South Carolina. Simply put, South Carolina was no longer poor enough.
China's move up the textile ladder will produce the same difficult changes that other countries have experienced — among them the persistent problem of what do with the workers whose jobs leave. But workers in China are seeing their wages and benefits increase, and China's progress bodes well for workers in poorer places like Cambodia, Bangladesh and Madagascar. Factory owners may be complaining that they can't find workers in China, but that means they will do what they have always done in such cases: look for cheap labor elsewhere.
These jobs are no picnic. The women and men put in 10 hours a day, six days a week, churning out one garment after another. Much of the time, they have to move far from their families to get work. To make ends meet, most live with five or six others in rooms that have no electricity or running water. Sometimes it's a fight just to get paid. Factory owners and managers in poor countries sometimes delay salaries through incompetence. Such delays are particularly painful because the workers are often paid only once a month.
But the alternative is far worse. In the developing world, there is too often little work to be found. In Cambodia, young men spend their days leaning against their rickety moped taxis, hoping for passengers. In Ghana, young girls run up to cars at Accra's few stoplights, selling oranges for nearly nothing. For all the toiling and monotony, factory jobs in these countries can mean survival for a family of six, supported by the monthly paycheck from one sister who sews shirts for the Gap.
All this speaks to how woefully misguided it is for members of Congress to respond to these pressures by trying to stop the flow of goods from China. The better off China is, the better off the rest of the world is — poor countries because they will get a shot at the jobs that leave China; rich countries because many more people over in China may finally be able to afford the expensive goods that are made in America.

Globalizing Good Government

Nations can no longer sit within their borders and pursue policies incompatible with an increasingly integrated world economy By RICHARD W. FISHER AND W. MICHAEL COX The New York Times : April 10, 2006
THE protests in France over job security for young workers have exposed the fault lines between globalization and public policy. On the one hand, the French government has recognized that the country's labor laws are uncompetitive and a drain on the economy. The public reaction, however, shows the depth of popular misunderstanding regarding the realities of our globalizing economy. Nations can no longer sit within their borders and pursue policies incompatible with an increasingly integrated world economy. The types of services, manufacturing and entrepreneurship that generate national wealth are more mobile than ever, and they will forsake countries that shackle business and labor with unnecessary burdens.
With this in mind, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas set out to document the connection between globalization and public policy. We found that the more globalized nations tend to pursue policies that achieve faster economic growth, lower inflation, higher incomes and greater economic freedom. The least globalized countries are prone to policies that interfere with markets and lead to stagnation, inflation and diminished competitiveness.
For our study, we began with research by Foreign Policy magazine and AT Kearney, a management consultancy firm, which ranked 60 countries by degree of globalization. Singapore, Ireland, the United States and other countries at the top of the rankings are far more integrated into the world economy than the insulated nations at the bottom like Iran, Egypt and Bangladesh. As the accompanying charts show, we divided the countries into four groups and looked at how each faction performed on policies that shape economic performance.
Take inflation. In a world where investment capital can flit anywhere in the world with the click of a computer mouse, nations should see the virtue of price stability and preserving the value of money. And they do: the more globalized countries we studied had an average inflation rate of 2.3 percent from 2001 to 2003, compared with 10 percent for the nations in the least globalized quarter.
This pattern is repeated in more than a dozen aspects of effective public policy, as measured by the World Bank, Harvard University, the Heritage Foundation, Transparency International and the Fraser Institute, a Canadian public policy group. (Although these groups used various ranking systems to portray their data, we took the liberty of converting each to a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being the most successful, for the accompanying graphs.)
The gist is clear: as nations become more integrated into the world economy, they tend to maintain fewer barriers to trade and the movement of money. They are less likely to impose punishing corporate taxes and onerous regulations. Their technology policies are more favorable to innovation. Nations more open to the world economy score above the less globalized countries in respect for the rule of law and protection of property rights. More globalized countries also offer greater political stability.
Not all policies fit neatly into this framework. We found that more globalized counties do no better in limiting the size of government, which we consider vital to economic prosperity. They are worse than the less globalized in containing public entitlements and subsidies, which must be paid for by higher individual income taxes. Perhaps it is because they are richer and have the means to spread those riches through their societies.
The French contretemps illustrates why labor policies are less sensitive to globalization than factors like taxation and trade barriers. As long as workers refuse to acknowledge that they are competing in a world economy, they will petition a wealthy government to protect their jobs. This in turn slows job growth and raises unemployment, creating a greater demand for expensive and expansive safety nets for idle workers.
Still, globalization may yet alter labor policies. France, Germany and other countries are beginning to recognize that their labor rules are uncompetitive, and the timing of change is a political question, not an economic one.
So, do our statistics show that globalization is necessarily the cause of good policies? That would be overstating it — our data simply show the two trends are complementary. But it is clear that countries with solid policies will be more successful in the global economy, encouraging further openness and deeper cross-border connections. The chicken-and-egg debate shouldn't detract from the fundamental fact that globalization and good policies go together.
Globalization's critics argue that a more open world economy sets off a race to the bottom by encouraging countries to jettison protections for consumers, workers and the environment. In reality, the opposite is true. If our data demonstrate anything, it is that globalization prompts a race to the top by pushing countries to abandon policies that burden their economies in favor of those that fuel growth and economic opportunity. Richard W. Fisher and W. Michael Cox are, respectively, the president and the chief economist of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Peter Hoey is an illustrator in Arcata, Calif.

How to Lose the Brain Race

By STEVEN CLEMONS and MICHAEL LIND NYTimes.com: April 10, 2006
Washington: IS the United States importing too many immigrant physicists and not enough immigrant farm workers? You might think so, to judge from two provisions that Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, added to the comprehensive immigration reform package that just fell apart in the Senate. Senator Feinstein insisted that the bill call for some fees for foreign students applying to study at American colleges and universities to be doubled, and also demanded that agribusiness get the right to 1.5 million low-wage foreign guest workers over five years. Combined, the two proposals sent a message to the rest of the world: send us your brawn, not your brains.
Whether Senator Feinstein's amendments will resurface in any reconstituted legislation on immigration reform remains unclear. But her priorities reflect in many ways those of Congress as a whole. Congress seems to believe that while the United States must be protected from an invasion of educated, bright and ambitious foreign college students, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, we can never have too many low-wage fruit-pickers and dishwashers.
In making immigration laws, Congress caters to cheap-labor industries like agribusiness and sweatshop manufacturing while shortchanging the high-tech, high-wage industries on which the future of the American economy depends. Witness the Senate bill's provision to admit 400,000 temporary workers a year, or roughly four million a decade, in addition to the 12 million mostly low-wage illegal immigrants already here, many of whose status would be legalized. Few if any of those guest workers would go to universities, corporate campuses or innovation clusters like Silicon Valley. They would head straight to restaurants, hotels and plantation-like farms.
While the United States perversely tries to corner the market in uneducated hotel maids and tomato harvesters, other industrial democracies are reshaping their immigration policies to invite the skilled immigrants that we turn away. Britain is following Australia and Canada in adopting a points system that gives higher scores to skilled immigrants with advanced education and proficiency in English. British, Canadian, German and even French universities are overflowing in undergraduate and graduate enrollment as they absorb the foreign talent that America is repelling.
Whereas Senator Feinstein fears that foreigners are snatching places at American universities from deserving American students, the fact is that our universities are weakened when fewer talented international students enter their programs.
In recent years, skilled immigration to the United States has been accommodated chiefly by the H-1B visa program. But like all guest-worker programs, the H-1B program pits American workers against foreign workers lacking full legal and political rights. Because H-1B workers depend on employer sponsorship to remain in this country, unscrupulous employers can blackmail them into working longer hours for lower pay than American workers. Skilled workers admitted under a points system, by contrast, would be able to quit their employers in the United States and find new ones at will without risk of deportation.
Will admitting more immigrants drive down the wages of American workers? That may be true in unskilled jobs, since there is a fixed number of bedpans to be emptied and restaurant meals to be cooked in the United States.
But it isn't necessarily true for skilled workers, at least not in the long run. That's because more talent means more innovation and opportunities for all, immigrant and native alike. The growth economist Paul Romer has spoken of the prospector theory of human capital. The more prospectors there are, the more likely it is that some will find gold. As the history of Silicon Valley and other tech centers proves, brain work migrates to where the brain workers are. It's a kind of Field of Dreams in reverse: You will build it, if they come.
Even if a skill-based immigration system did reduce incomes for the elite, that would not be the end of the world. For a generation, college-educated Americans have enjoyed a seller's market in professional services and a buyer's market in the labor of landscapers and nannies. If skilled immigration were increased while unskilled immigration were reduced, the wages of janitors would go up while the salaries and fees of professionals would fall, creating a broader middle class and a more equal society.
The United States can always use another Albert Einstein or Alexander Graham Bell. But with the vast pool of poorly paid, ill-educated laborers already within our borders, we do not need a third of a million new ones a year. What the space race was to the cold war, the "brain race" is to today's peaceful global economic competition. The comprehensive immigration reform America needs is one that slashes unskilled immigration and creates a skill-rewarding points system modeled on those of Australia, Britain and Canada. In encouraging skilled labor, Congress for a change might perform some of its own. Steven Clemons is the director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. Michael Lind is a senior fellow there.