Archive for February, 2011

America in retreat?

February 17, 2011
Revolution gave nascent America its political & economic freedom, and also vast virgin resources (to be wrested from the Native Indians—who would be dealt with  in due course). This new world went from strength to strength, capitalizing on these resources & freedom to create unprecedented wealth, not to mention an extravagant lifestyle. And that to me was its weakness: it grew a powerful military force to secure that lifestyle by setting up bases all over the world & also engaging in military adventures to prop up foreign govts that were favorable to them—a win-win situation as those rulers succumbed to their temptations in the form of lavish contracts & benefits; and in return America got cheap oil and thus cheap energy to run its industrial enterprises. Hence the relatively low cost of goods & sevices for the average American. This can go on for only so long before the chickens come home to roost. America believes in its exceptionalism by resting on its laurels of high achievement in every sphere, but at what cost to the world as a whole? Its high standard of living is skewed and thus distorting. If the world were levelled in terms of GNP/capita, we’d probably settle on Greece or Turkey as having the world’s average standard of living.
India is too big & varied to be compared with any nation, except perhaps China, which is of comparable size & complexity. Both are also classical civilizations with ancient histories. But India is a free, liberal, secular democracy that practices free market economics, whereas China is an authoritarian state that practices market capitalism; we could call it a peculiar form of Communist Capitalism. China’s people lack political freedom, and have instead a kind of regulated capitalism that frees up the bureaucratic bottlenecks & endless deliberation that plague India. So even here the comparison doesn’t seem apt. And so India gets compared to America, the oldest, and reasonably populous, democracy driven by its legendary free market instincts, in spite of its entirely different cultural history; yet it has similarities with America in terms of its freedoms & cultural diversity, though with palpably different antecedents.

America in a time-warp?

February 11, 2011

America in a time-warp? All societies are in one time warp or other: they traverse different historical trajectories, high end & low end, and everything in between. They’re at different stages of human & material development. America has for long had the good fortune to be at the higher end, with unprecedented material progress; but it’s now in a sort of decline owing to its own profligacy, born of that fortune. Yet it still remains a magnet for many other less fortunate societies. Why? For several reasons: quality higher education, greater economic & political freedom–that alone makes it the stuff of people’s dreams. But they achieved & sustained such a high standard of living also by external factors: cheap oil whose sources they secured by offering military security abroad, cheap labor in poor countries, propping up and doing business with authoritarian regimes, etc. In doing so America reached the very zenith of prosperity, unknown or unrealizable to most of mankind. But perhaps its time is up. China is muscling in, taking advantage of arbitrage & the weakness of Americans for a lifestyle to which most of its citizens have become accustomed. China’s/India’s currency is export-favorable & its people tend to save their money. There’s the rub: they can live much more modestly than Americans, who want cheap goods but extravagant lifestyles. That icon of ruthless, hard-nosed business, Donald Trump says China’s playing unfair by dominating U.S. markets through their cheap currency. What does he suggest? Slap on a tariff of say 25% on all goods entering the U.S. What would that do?–make goods more expensive, thus further raising wages & making jobs scarce. The fact is, Americans must learn some austerity in the way they live, cutting down on all sorts of consumption to conserve non-renewable resources; how else can they compete with those societies who’ve made sacrifices for centuries? Indians & the Chinese must also realize that the arbitrage they enjoy due to outsourcing may not last in the long-term. They need to build the strong institutions that attracted them to the U.S. in the first place. So you see, it all comes full circle. Different historical trajectories are now beginning to converge–we don’t really have a fair & humane globalized society yet; there are too many unresolved tensions, and a host of challenges concerning the kind of future men dream of.

Ancients & Moderns thinking of each other

February 11, 2011

Ever wonder how the ancients must’ve wondered what the world–our world–would be like centuries on? We now wonder what theirs was like since we have no records. Through the technology of sound & images we now have at best a pretty good record of at least the past century.

the VIRTUAL billionaires

February 11, 2011

Would anyone, even as late as 1990, have dreamed that the internet would spawn ‘virtual’ businesses that would eventually make billions for their owners? Peddling sites whose content was a combination of sound, text & images?…where the other senses by which we also live and experience the world, namely smell, touch & taste are ‘virtually’ absent?…where the tangible has no currency?
Larry Page & Sergei Brin of Google are worth billions based on the ‘virtual’ world, but most would agree that this wealth, according to free market principles, is not ‘virtual’ but real.

As it is, these nouveau riche, virtual players have capitalized on our obsession with recording, documenting, communicating & sharing all sorts of trivia with like-minded folks. Putting this obsession between us & real flesh-and-blood people whom we may never have met is a triumph for these new buccaneers. We communicate through multimedia, and place less and less importance on meeting & talking in person, where the power of language, replete with gesture, is at its zenith. ‘Live’ in the conventional sense is now replaced with ‘simultaneous’ experience in cyberspace, which creates the illusion of participation. The media have taken over any experience we may have had on the street, on a human scale. The internet makes everything global, immediate & impersonal, though confessing & sharing the private in public makes it all seem as though we’re interacting on a personal level. We have communities communicating all the time,  but without any commitment or empathy. Even social concern borders on the abstract. The Net’s real power is speed in communicating data/information in times of crisis in a way that mobilizes certain resources. But what about all the other serious shortcomings that matter to individuals, or even living communities & entire societies?