Monday, April 20, 2009

The Course of Nations

I was browsing through the Times of India yesterday and my eyes fell upon the column Swaminomics. I do not follow the column normally, I used to read the centre page of ToI for Jug Suraiya once, but never anything else. However, what made me read the article was the headline: "It's Goodbye Chindia and Hello Chimerica". The article revisits the relevance of the term "Chindia" - China and India hyphenated during the years 2003-2008. Swaminathan points out that the recently concluded G-20 meeting could have been a G-2 meeting for US and China seemed to be the only countries that mattered.

I think the article is on the dot and timely. Perhaps this idea is a well known idea among geopolitical experts, but the point is China has really left us behind as an emerging star. To put it in clearer terms, pre-2008, if someone had asked me to bet on the emerging super powers in say 30 years time, I would have put my money on China, India and Russia. Post the crisis I would put all my money on China. It is not a matter of China growing at 11-12% and we growing at 9% (at the peak) What matters is the thinking in the political establishment. To quote from the article:

"India scarcely matters. It is still a country that instinctively seeks aid and foreign concessions. On the international scene it is a taker, not a giver. China, however, is now a giver. In the proposed expansion of the IMF's lending,China has offered to supply $40 billion, against $100 billion from Japan and possibly the US. India does not figure in this giver's list, it would rather be a receiver."

There are many critics of the US. There are pages and pages written about US and its hegemony. There is some justification to that. But where was the action when the US became vulnerable during this crisis. Chavez can rail all that he wants, but when this crisis hit, did Venezuala emerge as a beacon for the world? Did Chavez or Castro demonstrate the power of an alternative model? The EU also did not emerge as a clear counter. We are still left looking at the Dow Jones and S&P for cues. And the world is rallying on the news that there are signs of economic recovery in China.

The rise and fall of nations is to me, the most exciting aspect of history. If you want to go back and study history, I say, start with post-15th century history. Pre-15th century is important,yes, but the history of various nation states is more interesting and instructive.

Between 15th-16th centuries, Spain, with its "conquesting" sailors and access to riches in South America was the most powerful nation in the world. From the 17th century to World War II, Britain was the most powerful nation in the world. In between, Britain faced a challenge to its supremacy first from the French and later in the 19th and first half of 20th centuries from Germany. Post World War II, with a weakened Europe, US became the most powerful nation in the world. A great part of the credit goes to the visionary Marshall Plan, where the US came up with a huge package for European Reconstruction. In other words, when the older powers were reeling, the US emerged as the financial big brother.

What is important to understand is the following: unlike a corporation where there is a hierarchy which an employee negotiates to get to the top, there is no such hierarchy in world politics. All the global organizations are more or less influenced. The struggle to be the most powerful nation is a simple, Darwinian struggle and the nation that has the resources and is willing to commit them for the fight will win. You can say it crudely like a two-bit gangster would say, "No one hands anything to you. Ya gotta take it" (Jack Nicholson in "The Departed") Or you could say politely that China has a strategic vision in world politics. Either way, the motivation is the same.

The nature of the resources has changed with time, pre WW II it was guns and tanks. Now, it is economic might. During this crisis the most powerful nations in the world were on their knees begging for money. If you had the money and were ready to twist some arms, the prospect of jumping to another league was there.

At this stage, a qualification is necessary. I am not saying that just because China aspires to be a superpower, we must too. There is no need. Especially, if China had been somewhere far away, near Australia or something, we could have said, "Good for them" and gone about our lives. And just because they are neighbours does not mean we too must strive to equal them every way. Swaminathan's point of Chindia being dead is right on. If there were delusions in that direction, they must be disabused of. My point is: while crises are tough, and unfair to many, they create cracks in the power structure which the underdog or upstart can exploit.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

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Much to my own surprise I have not felt the compulsion to spew my thoughts out in the blog, given that I am lazing around at home. As the astute reader may have wagered, the reason for that is simply that I have had no "blogworthy" thoughts. I have fallen into a comfortable rut. Just like Newton is said to have got the idea of gravity by seeing an apple fall, I suspect he would have got the inspiration for the First Law looking at how slothful he became when he came home for the vacations. A body in rest, indeed continues to be in rest unless acted upon by an external agent! Three cheers to that! Will someone get the beer for me?


A Paradigm Shift?

Of course, a large amount of my time is spent in front of the TV. And in all that time I have made some observations. One of them has to do with anchors on various news channels. Interestingly, the girls of CNBC-TV 18 - a Finance News channel - are way, way prettier than the girls on Channel V! First of all, I see only one female VJ on Channel V and even the girls on V's reality shows can't hold a candle to the CNBC TV 18 girls. There is of course, Shereen Bhan, who to put it politely, is a real looker. Mitali Mukherjee is almost perfect, except she does not have a photogenic smile. There are a couple of other cuties - more like trainees for Mitali's and Shereen's roles. I never get their name. Of course, even Mitali and Shereen come second when compared to Erin Burnett and Maria Bartiromo. A note here. All these anchors really know their stuff. Yes, there is the occasional faux pas and Erin Burnett is known for a couple of them, but they are very very good, no arguments. From a news perspective, I like the Indian team. They are balanced and do not over-reach. There are times when Erin and Maria seem to give their spin on the news, instead of giving the news first and then talking about it. But over-reaching or not, Erin and Maria are clearly the top guns.

So, here are the issues. Has the designer label wearing, fin. sophisticate babe become the flavor of the season? Will they stay? Has the punk'd out rebellious rocker chick gone out of fashion?


And Then On the Other Hand We Have...

Sun Music. Seriously, where do they get these anchors? There used to be talk that one of the reasons for Actor Dhanush's popularity was that he looked like the Average Arumugham on the road. His was not the perfect-jaw-boned, chiseled-body image that Bollywood actors projected, hence he connected with the masses, film reviewers argued. Well... the producers of Sun Music seem to have taken that to heart and appear to have a policy of picking people who do not look smart at all. One moment. When I say smart, I do not refer to physical looks. I mean, smart - well groomed, well turned out, people who wear dresses that suit them. Add to that, all the male anchors want to do the "Boy Next Door/kalaichifying" image played by Vijay in Ghilli.

But what really irritates me is the tremendously unrefined manner in which all of them speak. This is supposed to be cool. Please! Of course, if you ask the studio executives they would say, this is what the masses want. Probably, if you go and ask the "masses" they would express a yearning to listen to good Tamil!