Our Future: The Basic Income Plan for Peace, Justice, Liberty, Democracy, and Personal Dignity – Steven Shafarman

Our Future: The Basic Income Plan for Peace, Justice, Liberty ...

The lofty title of the book leaves one in no doubt as to what the predilection of the author maybe towards one of the most discussed topics of our time. The provision of a Universal Basic Income or “UBI” is by no stretch of imagination, a philosophy, or a concept or an idea that has taken shape in modern times. This is a deep-rooted thinking that has been evident in some form or the other even from Biblical times, as the author himself illustrates. The debates, deliberations and the din surrounding UBI have assumed a gravity that is significant at the time of writing, especially considering the fact that the world has been rocked by what arguably has to be the most severe pandemic onslaught post the Spanish Flu in 1917. The escalating social costs of treatment, rehabilitation, recovery and restoration are putting an incalculable burden on the most deprived segments of the public. For these neglected lot, it is not just a question of accessibility to medical care, but affordability as well that acts as an insurmountable hurdle against hope.

Steven Shafarman has been associated with the Basic Income Guarantee Network since 2000 and is also a life member of the Basic Income Earth Network. A tireless propagator of and for UBI, Mr. Shafarman has delivered a plethora of lectures across the globe to distinguished audiences, wherein he has waxed eloquent on the advantages of a UBI scheme. Now in his book, “Our Future”, Mr. Shafarman not only reiterates his inclination for an UBI, but also makes a passionate clarion call to the common citizens “We The People”, to step up and do their bit for ensuring an expeditious ushering in of a “Citizens Dividend”, which is a designated income for all irrespective of criteria such as strata, level of income, employment etc.

So what does Mr. Shafarman propose? Fundamentally his proposal seems to imbue a simplicity that is elemental. A stipulated sum of money to be provided to every adult citizen, every month, guaranteed for the rest of their lives. Mr. Shafarman also proposes supplementing the UBI scheme with flat rates of taxes. Tax rates according to him may be established at flat rates of 15% or 30%. “People with incomes below the break-even point…get payments from our government, a negative income tax.” Mr. Shafarman also proposes increasing taxes on oil, coal, timber, metals, minerals and natural materials. This, he argues, would discourage consumption. Property taxes could also be shifted from buildings onto the value of land. The logic being, since “land is local and natural materials have local origins, these taxes ought to be the main source of funds for local government.”

The basic objective of any UBI Scheme, according to Mr. Shafarman, should be to promote dignity, equality and social justice for all irrespective of race, background, and identity. There ought to be a modification of current laws and prior sentences as appropriate, so that returning citizens can successfully reintegrate into society. The author also draws on the precepts and aspirations harboured by the Founding Fathers which ensures that every individual has a set of inalienable rights that can never be compromised. “One way to strengthen our democracy is to upgrade our political practices. Let’s ban gerrymandering, reform election procedures, and demand full disclosure of funding and spending.”

The one part of the book which is a little bit difficult to accept in terms of its plausibility is one where Mr. Shafarman argues that a UBI scheme can also act as a deterrent in bringing to an end insurgency and civil strife. As examples, he claims that if a scheme of UBI was to have been implemented in the war torn regions of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, thousands of lives might have been saved and corrupt regimes toppled. Whilst UBI would have, without any semblance of doubt gone on to enhance the dignity, and living standards of the affected populace in the concerned regimes, it is almost building castles in the air to expect that the antidote for ISIS nefariousness would be a steady and unending stream of monthly income. Forcing people to adhere to rabid, radical and fundamental ideologies, these terrorists in fact might end up coercing or threatening the beneficiaries of UBI to part with their stipulated grant so that the money might be put to use for aiding and abetting ulterior motives.

The most striking and commendable aspect of Mr. Shafarman’ s book is a whopping Appendix, titled “Appendix A.” This is a meticulous compilation of extraordinary proportions. Beginning with Leviticus, Mr. Shafarman traces the origin and trajectory of the various contours and shapes that a potential UBI has taken over a prolonged period of time.  From Thomas More’s “Utopia”, Ludovico Vives’ “On Assistance to the Poor”, the ambitions and hopes of America’s Founding Fathers, to Karl Widerquist and Annie Lowrey, the Appendix makes for some fascinating reading. Of especial interest would be the example of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Opening a casino in North Carolina in 1997, the Band commenced distributing some of the profits generated by the operations of the casino, directly to all members of the tribe, including children. (“Money for children goes into a bank account until they graduate high school or reach 21.”). Every beneficiary gets approximately $4,000 annually with payments being effected every six months. A research conducted by Jane Costello, a professor of medical psychology at Duke University, revealed the following findings:

“Four years after the casino opened, Indian children had fewer behavioural and emotional problems than did neighbouring children. Moreover, the effect continued into adulthood. At age, 30, one in five of the American Indians had mental health or drug problems, compared to one in three of those in surrounding communities. The Indians had less depression, anxiety, and alcohol dependence…The younger the participants were when their families started getting the casino payments, the stronger the effects on adult mental health.”

“Our Future” makes a sincere and compelling argument for the inception of a UBI. Apart from the pros and cons that might be attached to the introduction of one – as is the case with any scheme of socio-economic import – the most admirable part of the book is the intention of the author. An intention that echoes the espousal of values that are well enshrined in any amalgam of humanity that harbours hopes in its hearts and nurtures respect for their fellow companions.

(Our Future: The Basic Income Plan for Peace, Justice, Liberty, Democracy, and Personal Dignity by Steven Shafarman, an endeavour of Amplify Publishing and Mascot Books will be published on the 16th of June, 2020).

Economics in the time of COVID-19 – Joshua Gans

How I wrote and published a book about the economics of ...

As a dumbstruck world is trying to come to grips with what arguably has to be the most severe onslaught of a pandemic since the Spanish Flu in 1917, the social, psychological and economic costs of this unpredictable event have been, putting it mildly, incalculable. Phrases such as Social Distancing, Hand and Respiratory Hygiene and Basic Rate of Transmission have entered the Lexicons of everyday life and routine. How man, the quintessential social animal goes about interacting with his fellow compatriots has undergone a paradigm shift. The MIT Press, during these troubled times has endeavored to offer expert insight on matters that inform urgent local and global consequences. These titles, published in double quick time, almost ‘on the fly’, strive to step back and assume a rational, calm and systematic view of the subjects that are intended to be covered.

The first book in the series is titled “Economics in the time of COVID-19” and is authored by Joshua Gans. Holding the Jeffrey Skoll Chair in Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Mr. Gans until 2011, was an economics professor at Melbourne Business School in Australia.

Mr. Gans begins his engaging book, by expounding on the technique of “thinking at the margin”. An integral facet of the dismal science, this notion seeks answers to fundamental questions of trade-off such as what or how much of a particular product or thing or advantage one has to sacrifice in order to obtain or possess a bit more of some other thing or advantage. In unprecedented times such as the one currently staring us in the face, this particular thinking may be conflated, and integrated with epidemiological models to secure plausible options moving forward.

There are a myriad number of choices available to countries to tackle the ongoing pandemic and bring the economy back on its rails. Sweden has gone about as though the days of the pandemic denoted nothing unusual and desisted from any type of lock down measure. This effort to induce ‘herd immunity’ however has ensured a surge of deaths in the Scandinavian country. Singapore, Taiwan and Korea on the other hand have resorted to a maniacal testing, tracing and isolation binge thereby keeping the rates of infection under check. Whatever be the strategy adopted, as Mr. Gans informs his readers, a pandemic is characteristic of two unavoidable factors:

“(1) that a pandemic hollows out our ability to maintain the same balance between health and the economy and

(2) that our choice of priority changes our options going forward; that is, they can drift.”

Hence, if we were to emulate the Swedish strategy and let the pandemic have a free reign before running its course without mitigation, this would lower economic activity, thereby leading to what the author terms “dark recession.” “This is a recession where we see a reduction in the availability, ability, and health of the workforce as the virus spreads unabated. This causes a large reduction in economic activity.”

Mr. Gans agrees with the economist Eric Budish in the latter’s observation that it is vital to possess the correct mindset when thinking about how to reach the frontier. “In particular, if you have a mindset that focuses solely on reducing the infection rate as quickly as possible, this will not necessarily get you to the frontier. Instead, that frontier involves targeting an infection rate that stops the pandemic but, otherwise, picking allowable activities that reflect both their value for the economy and their risk in terms of public health.”

One of the classic conundrums that can be birthed as a result of a pandemic is the procrastination surrounding the value called the real option value. Directing the reader’s attention to a paper penned by economists Patrick Bolton and Joe Farrell, Mr. Gans constructs a fictional scenario where there is an imperative to establish a factory each to manufacture face masks as well as ventilators. But neither of the manufacturers know which factory would be able to do each task at the lowest cost. In a free-market economy, both the manufacturers may hone in on one product as most efficient, retool for that purpose and produce the same product. The result, we will end up with either too many face masks and too few ventilators or vice versa. But there might arise another tricky scenario. Both the manufacturers might adopt a wait and watch approach to gauge their competitor’s move. Hence no one produces anything and hence, untold and perfectly avoidable delays in production.

How does one go about addressing the economic exigencies triggered by the pandemic? An extraordinarily innovative and out of the box thinking, refers to “Stopping time” a creation of Scott Ellison, who was quoted on the Marginal Revolution blog with this proposal:

“I propose temporarily stopping time. This means that today’s date, Tuesday, March 17th, 2020, will remain the current date until further notice. This also means that everything that happens in time (e.g. mortgage due dates, payrolls, travel bookings, stock market trading, contractor gigs, concerts, sporting events) will be paused. It also means that all of these events remain on the books, and will continue as planned once time is resumed.”

Another drastic suggestion was offered by French economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabrielle Zucman. Saez and Zucman opine that governments should become “payers of the last resort.” This, in the event a business is staring at the discomfiting prospect of facing a shutdown, the government would come in and pay for employees and for fixed-cost payments such as rent, utilities, and interest. “Unemployment payments could simply be made as if workers have lost their jobs, to provide an easy route to such payments. They would also allow self-employed or gig economy workers to report themselves as idle to be eligible for such payments. For businesses, if they are part of lockdowns for more extreme social distancing, they would report their costs, be reimbursed, and then any misreporting would be worked out later.”

Mr. Gans also reiterates the need for according short-term help to tide over the crisis and preventing it from ballooning into a major headache. Also price control measures may be instituted on essential products that play a role in reducing the spread of the infection.

In order to boost the efforts to introduce a vaccine, Mr. Gans advocates an approach suggested by Michael Kremer. An approach that involves the use of Advanced Market Commitments (“AMCs”). “Suppose you are trying to encourage the development and then manufacture of a vaccine. An AMC is a contract without a specific counterparty that a donor/sponsor offers to deliver the intended vaccine. The contract specifies that the provider (as yet unknown) will be guaranteed a certain payment per dose of the vaccine up to a specified number of doses. This serves to set a floor on what the provider might earn because the contract specifies a subsidy for every dose actually purchased. So, a country, for instance, may pay a low price (such as $1) per dose but the provider would receive an additional subsidy (say, $15) per dose. Thus, there is a guaranteed payoff for providers, but, in return, providers agree to cap the price they charge for the vaccine.”

Mr. Gans also lays great emphasis, and rightly so, on the need for making widespread testing both available and affordable.

“Economics in the time of COVID-19” is a handy primer for all those who are interested in a rejuvenation of the global economy, while at the same time, preserving the health and welfare of the citizens.

Super Capitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy and Everyday Life – Robert Reich

Amazon.fr - Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business ...

With the major part of 7 billion people left to combat a raging pandemic, the consequences of such a struggle transcends from being merely one related to health. While, what seems to be an existential crisis, has left the world of medicine scrambling to find a vaccine in record time, millions of indefatigable messiahs in the form of doctors, nurses, healthcare and sanitation workers are gamely putting their own lives at risk in trying to mitigate the spread of transmission.

COVID-19 also has highlighted in all its ugly starkness, another insidious plague that has been silently enveloping this world from the past four or five decades – the consequences of inequality. With escalating health care costs and an uncertain prospect of employment, many unfortunate men and women have succumbed to COVID-19 solely because they couldn’t afford to get treated. So how did we reach this degree of inequality that ensures that the richest 1 percent of the world’s population have accumulated a proportion of wealth that is more than that possessed by the bottom 50 percent combined?

Robert Reich, an American economist, professor and author, who had served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton in a book titled “Super Capitalism”, and authored more than a decade ago addressed the very issue highlighted above. The work penned by the former Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997, remains valid and essential even today, perhaps more than ever considering the current socio-political global context.

So what is Super Capitalism? According to Professor Reich, it is intense competition. As he informs his readers, the decades of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s denoted the era of large oligopolies where across industries a handful of major competing corporates engaged in a symmetry of setting wages, prices and investments. This provided for a robust infrastructure of labour unions which ensured that the voice of labour was neither diminished nor neglected, irrespective of the nature of the industry. However, such a facet of pluralism started eroding beginning in the early 1970s with the advent of intense competition.

While such a competition took the concept of free market and neoliberalism to a different league altogether, bestowing a hitherto unimaginable range of choices for the consumer, and fattening the purse of intrepid investors, this intense competition or Super Capitalism also brought with it a raft of completely avoidable practices. As Professor Reich articulates, political donations and lobbying became an inescapable part of the Corporate arsenal. “Google, for example, never thought about having a Washington office until it became a public company and had to deal with the stark reality that its major competitors, Yahoo and Microsoft, had platoons of Washington lawyers and lobbyists. Google was understandably worried that there were so many issues – intellectual property, competition policy, and trade policy, for example – that might be decided to its disadvantage if it did not have its own platoon of lobbyists in Washington. It’s an arms race, egged on by lawyers and lobbyists who have their headquarters in Washington and Brussels, and who carry on what can only be described as an extortion racket, selling their services to large companies, creating and sponsoring trade associations, bundling campaign money, and all in an effort to drum up more business from other companies and other sectors of the economy.”

Irrespective of party affiliations and ideological preferences, corporate behemoths fill the coffers of Senators cutting across party lines, only to further their prospects in the market. Exacerbating this further is the “revolving door” principle. This movement of personnel between roles as legislators and regulators, on one hand, and members of the industries affected by the legislation and regulation, on the other ensures that too-big-to-fail entities are bailed out time and time again by whopping Government largesse, while the ordinary citizen and tax payer, who is far removed from all these corporate shenanigans is left holding the bag.  This Corporate behavior, is to a large extent, driven by the unceasing pressure put on the Corporate chieftains by Investors and hedge fund managers. As Mr. Reich elucidates, by quoting the former CEO of Coca-Cola, Lou Gerstner, companies have the sole responsibility of generating returns for their investors. These days a CEO’s job security is inextricably linked to the company’s stock price recommendation. Mr. Reich illustrates how 60% of senior executives in the Fortune 500 companies had been at their firm for fewer than six years.

So what is the remedy for ameliorating this corrupt nexus and to ensure that the hazards of Super Capitalism do not permeate our society? Professor Reich offers some interesting solutions. Making changes and improvements to campaign finance being one such prescription. A law that requires all candidates to set up what might be termed a ‘lock-box’ or a trust into which contributions would go could be an option. “The candidate could never legally know who contributed what, so immediately all those corporations seeking influence through their campaign contributions would have no reason to do so. But anyone who wanted to support a candidate because they believed in what the candidate stood for would not be deterred.”

A change in the normally prevailing perception about the composition, context and structure of companies is also a need of the hour according to Mr. Reich. “If we think that we can just treat companies as moral beings and yell at them … for not being more socially responsible … we are diverting our attention from the hard work of democracy — of making laws and rules that reflect our real values.”

To be very clear, Mr. Reich does not rail at the notion of Super Capitalism itself. He acknowledges that amongst all forms of business and economics, capitalism is the one that is the least mischievous than of all. His prescription is to ensure a level playing field for all involved and across strata by enacting laws that are judicious and legislation that is prudent. For example, he makes a stirring case, for example, abolishing the corporate income tax.

“Super Capitalism” tries to strike a balance between the pursuit of profits and elimination of equality. This it accomplishes by using a prose that is alluring and a narrative that is compelling.

Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet – Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin with Chronis Polychroniou

The Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political ...

This is a book of two halves. The disappointing half, unfortunately, is the contribution of Noam Chomsky. Ranting, railing and rabble rousing – when he is not just regurgitating the works of eminent climatologists that is – Chomsky’s contribution is more a propaganda for his left leaning thinking than a discourse on saving the Planet by employing rational means. The much acclaimed thinker once again exhibits his laughably inadequate and puerile views on India’s internal affairs concerning Kashmir by equating Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP with ‘Hindutva’ extremism.

Whatever Chomsky derails, Robert Pollin redeems. An American economist, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and founding co-director of its Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), Pollin provides an impeccably measured view of what he terms the Global Green New Deal – an ambitious target to mitigate if not downright obliterate the perils of Climate Change.

As Pollin informs his readers, in its Fourth Assessment Report issued in 2007, the IPCC proclaimed that if the global average mean temperature was to be stabilized at 2.0 Degrees Centigrade above the pre-industrial average, annual CO2 emissions needed to fall, roughly speaking, between, 4 and 13 billion metric tons by 2050. But as Pollin proceeds to illustrate the premier organisation for protecting our Planet began oscillating in its assessment when, in its Fifth Assessment Report released in 2014, the IPCC reduced the range of necessary emission reductions at 36 – 76 percent (from an earlier 60 – 88 percent), to achieve the same 2.0 Degree Centigrade stabilization point. If this makes your head reel, then digest this: in 2018, the IPCC shifted goal posts yet again, this time reverting to a more urgent and alarmist position!

To a great extent, the trajectory that climate policies take in the modern world, are driven by the philosophy of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, in a departure from orthodox Economics, represents the nexus between governments and giant corporations where the former allows the latter to pursue the profit element with gay abandon. In the event, the profits of the corporations are adversely impacted or impaired, the governments step in with generous largesse in the form of bail outs.

Then there is also the scourge of what Pollin terms, ‘Industrial Agriculture.’ The use of Industrial Agriculture, according to the International Labour Organisation, contributes to, “soil degradation (the loss of organic matter as a result of over exploitation and mismanagement), Desertification and freshwater scarcity (through inadequate crop and land management), biodiversity loss, pest resistance and water pollution (resulting from change in land use eutrophication [i.e. over enrichment of water with minerals and nutrients, which induces excessive growth of algae], run-off and improper nutrient management.”

As Pollin highlights, Industrial Agriculture also results in four major inter-related channels:

  1. Deforestation;
  2. The use of land for cattle farming, consuming far more of the available earth’s surface than any other purpose, including growing crops for food;
  3. Heavy reliance on natural gas based nitrogen fertilizers along with synthetic pesticides and herbicides to increase land productivity; and
  4. The huge amounts of food that is grown but wasted

So is there any way to break this inextricable linkage between Capitalism and Corporation that would ensure preservation of the environment? Pollin proposes a New Green Deal that would ensure a zero carbon emission by 2050. In 2019, Credit Suisse had estimated that the total value of global financial assets was $317 trillion. Investments into clean energy to attain a zero carbon emission scenario by 2050 would involve a sum of $2.4 trillion dollars to be invested over a period of time beginning 2021. This represents 0.7% of the total value of the global financial wealth.

At the heart of Pollin’s Green New Deal lies four large scale funding sources to encourage and support public investments in clean energy. The four sources are:

  • A Carbon Tax, wherein 75% of the revenues derived from its levy are rebated back to the public. The remaining 25% would be channeled into clean energy investment projects;
  • A transfer of funds earmarked for the military/defense budgets across the world in general, but the United States, in particular;
  • A Green Bond lending programme under the aegis of both the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank; and
  • The elimination of all existing fossil fuel subsidies and the channeling of 25% of those funds into clean energy investments

Although bold in their sweep and innovative in their wake, it is easy to see objections being raised for these plans. Proposal number two above, involving the diversion of budgets earmarked for defense, to clean energy investments, would more than just stir a hornet’s nest. With China ultra-aggressively challenging America’s economic and military hegemony, and actively pursuing a modernization plan of its maritime arsenal especially in the South China Sea, it is predictable as to what the Trump administration’s reaction would be to such a proposal. More so, considering the fact that this is a Government that has almost succeeded in expunging the world ‘climate change’ from all its official correspondence, cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and dragged USA out of the Paris Climate Change Conference.

“Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet” is at once a highly absorbing as well as an informative work. Robert Pollin brings to bear his enviable experience and conflates the principles of economics with that of the environment. This concoction, is, putting it mildly, delectable. The calm, rational and logical postulations of Pollin serves as a perfect antidote to an unending torrent of diatribe that is ‘Chomsky Speak.’

Overall this is one book that makes the reader not just think about the future that the coming generation will inherit but also about the inevitable role which each one of us has an opportunity to exercise in influencing the direction that such a future would assume.

(Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet – Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin with Chronis Polychroniou a Verso Books endeavour in the USA will be published on 22nd September, 2020)

Angrynomics – Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth

Angrynomics | Columbia University Press

In a concise albeit compelling new book, imaginatively titled, “Angrynomics”, Eric Lonergan, a macro hedge fund manager, economist, and writer, joins forces with Mark Blyth, William R. Rhodes Professor of International Economics at Brown University, to dwell about a form of anger, a moral outrage even, that has currently enveloped the world brining about in its wake, changes and trajectories that are both undesirable and welcome.

The book is written in a unique manner. The primary essence of the work is captured and retold in the form of a measured, informed and nuanced deliberation between the authors themselves. They engage in a ‘Platoesque’ dialogue, bouncing off ideas, planting seeds of doubts, upending received wisdom, and all the while leading the reader towards a set of novel and ingenious ‘prescriptions.’

The duo at the beginning of their work distinguish between two types of anger, public and private. Public anger is a collective form of expressing an extreme emotion in response to an act that is perceived to be against the common good. For example, as the authors illustrate, the chagrin of the Icelanders when they found out after the infamous “Panama Papers” leak that their political elites were siphoning off money in caches to tax havens, provided a perfect example of a spontaneous exhibition of public anger. Private anger on the other hand, is one that is synonymous with shame. People who are privately angry are more in need of counselling than retribution. Stressed parents being a classic case in point.

Where the book gets very interesting is when the authors posit a more serious and venomous variant of anger – tribal rage. When public anger casts aside its moral outrage in a positive form and begins forming exclusive ranks and groups, it takes on a more dangerous and devious shape. Mostly seen in sports in the form of fanatical fan support, tribal rage manifests itself in the maniacal railings of fans, at times against their own teams, when the squad’s performance does not match the various expectations. But the biggest fall out of a tribal rage is its remorseless and deliberate exploitation by politicians of various divides, hues and colour to further their own interests, push their party’s ideologies and peddle otherwise unacceptable policies. The election of the maverick Donald Trump to the highest office in the most powerful nation of the world is a monumental testimony to the channeling of tribal rage to fuel personal aspirations. While the genuine woes of a neglected Rust Belt represented public anger and an honest moral outrage, Trump, in promising to alleviate the grievances of those affected, also pulled out a very dangerous tactic by foisting unverified and unwarranted blame on immigrants. This induced a wave of tribal rage across the country unleashing a false perception that immigration had a linear bearing on other economic and social distresses such as job losses, recession and a spurt in crime. Similar was the case with Cameron’s referendum and a tumultuous Brexit.

The authors bring the reader’s attention to the various ‘triggers’ that induce moral anger. First proposed by Martha Nussbaum, who in turn, relied on the works of the psychologist Carol Travis, moral anger is an outcome of perceptions such as ‘insults’, ‘slights’, ‘condescension’, ‘being treated as if I were of no account’ etc. These are exactly some of the myriad feelings which the common man experienced when subsequent to the Financial Recession of 2008, unscrupulous bankers and too-big-to-fail financial institutions were bailed out by Governments, whilst the ordinary citizen who was far removed from the scheming contrivances of Wall Street, was left holding the bag. “Not many people know the intricacies of the banking sector, but they do know when they are being ripped off. Whether it was the Tea Party movement in the US; outraged at capitalism for the people and socialism for banks, Los Indignatios in Spain protesting austerity cuts, or in the UK with Brexit, the crisis provoked a politics of anger that is now transforming politics everywhere.”

Personally, my favourite part of the book refers to the portion where Lonergan and Blyth employ an analogy of capitalism being like a computer that crashes from time to time and requires rebooting. The authors identify three versions of capitalism 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Without spoiling the pleasure of a fellow reader, I would let him/her be regaled by the authors themselves on the potentials and pitfalls of each version of the Capitalism Model. But as a juicy tidbit, the three versions in chronological order take the form of the postulations put forward by Karl Polanyi, John Maynard Keynes and Michal Kaleckirespectively.

With the world currently being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lure of a vaccine still quite some time away, the micro and macro stressors that incite public anger and resentment are only bound to increase. The resonance of such an increase would be felt uniformly across the globe. For example, with the concept of social distancing more or less being a permanent facet in the lexicon of employment, the need for automation would only increase exponentially. Similarly, the gig economy would face a future that is uncertain, if downright, perilous. So are there measures that may be instituted to ameliorate the real uncertainties plaguing a majority of the global populace?

The authors, before concluding their book, offer a couple of innovative and out of the box suggestions for transferring cash directly into the hands of the deprived. The first of these “helicopter money” mechanisms involves the Government taking advantage of zero to negative interest rates. The authors propose the establishment of National Wealth Funds to tackle global inequality. Governments can issue a certain percentage of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in long term bonds at zero real interest rates. Hence after a few years, the real value of the debt would remain unchanged. If the relevant proceeds are invested in a diversified basket of global equities, the value of the assets would more than double in real terms over the same period. These proceeds may then be distributed in the form of individual trust funds to 80% of the households owning the fewest assets.

Another solution could be to extract a data dividend from the technology companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook. Notwithstanding the issues of intrusion of privacy, these entities may be made to fork out a fee every time the data of a user is extracted and used. The payments can either be made in the form of a one-off royalty or a data license can be granted for 30 – 40 years on the same model as those that are currently being done for digital spectrum auctions. But what about those who do not use the internet? The authors do not address the issues that may arise as a result of cross subsidization and cream skimming.

“Angrynomics” is a very essential and relevant work especially considering the unprecedented times that we find ourselves in. It provides a very justifiable template for the public angst that is influencing global politics and also lays down a platform for utilizing such angst to achieve measures that are in the general interests of humanity.

Beyond NJ9842: The Siachen Saga – Nitin Gokhale

Swaran Singh reviews Beyond NJ 9842: The Siachen Saga - The Hindu

Letter No. A/35501/XM03 dated 31 Mar 1984, and issued by the Indian Army Headquarters listed out what on paper seems pretty prosaic and fundamental objectives – “Tasks in General: Secure the Siachen glacier. Tasks in particular: Secure Bilafond La, Sia La, Siachen, Lolofond and Teram Sehar glacier. Patrol up to Indira Col. Prevent Pakistan sponsored infiltration in the area.” – unless one happens to grasp the geographical dimensions of the places mentioned in the letter.

That is exactly what Nitin Gokhale attempts to do, and comes up triumph. In his supremely well-crafted book “The Siachen Saga”, Mr. Gokhale regales his readers with the exemplary acts of courage and sacrifice executed by the Indian Army on some of the most desolate and inhospitable terrains on Planet Earth. The staid letter issued by the Army HQ signaled the beginning of “Operation Meghdoot”, which is now in its fourth successful decade. The tri colour proudly flutters at a near impossible height of 22,000 ft., maniacally protected and gently nurtured by a band of heroes, whose achievements dwarf most of what any Armed forces have been able to accomplish in a similar landscape.

The Siachen saga, began with a cartographical act of tomfoolery. As Mr. Gokhale illustrates with a mixture of humour and incredulity, a rafting expedition facilitated by Col Narinder ‘Bull’ Kumar, led to one of India’s most famous intrepid military mountaineers obtain possession of “maps that indicated ‘cartographic aggression’ by Pakistan on the Siachen glacier and the quiet alteration to the map of the Karakoram Range of mountains!” The cartographical manipulation smelt of stinking fish especially when the Col observed that the ceasefire line (commonly referred to as the Line of Control or LoC) that ended at map grid reference NJ 9842 now surprisingly had an extension up to the Karakoram Pass (north-east of NJ9842), instead of going northwards along the natural ridgeline. This clearly signaled an intent on the part of Pakistan to covertly occupy the heights of Siachen thereby rendering it an unrivaled advantage over its neighbour across the border.

Subsequent to a few ostensibly innocuous mountaineering missions bearing even more innocuous names such as Ibex I & II, Polar Bear I & II, the Indian Army finally launched Operation Meghdoot, thereby catching their Pakistani counterparts completely and conclusively off guard. As Mr. Gokhale illustrates, the loss of Siachen is a permanent rankle and an eyesore in the annals of Pakistani Military history, and multiple incursions, both suicidal and surreptitious have been attempted by the Pakistani Army at futile attempts of redemption.

The highlight of Mr. Gokhale’ s book is his interaction with the past, and present heroes of Siachen who have commanded posts at unimaginable heights and braved conditions unthinkable. This chronicling lends a degree pf perspective to the reader that is at once, profound, poignant and pertinent. For example, the litany of physical woes that a soldier is forced to endure at such rarefied heights range from the serious to the fatal. The ailments accosting a soldier include acute mountain sickness (AMS), High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPO), High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACO), snow blindness, sunburns, hypothermia, chill blains and frost bite. But as Mr. Gokhale explains, over the years the medical infrastructure, along with the logistical chains has been bolstered in an impeccable fashion. However, as one would fathom from a reading of the book, things were not always on the side of the soldier. Even worse than the vagaries of the weather were an all permeating red tapism.

The nauseating stench of bureaucracy is laid bare in its intransigent detail by Mr. Gokhale. Until the appointment of the irreverent, irascible and dynamic George Fernandes as the Minister of Defense, the troops in Siachen had to bank on the mercies of a stoic bunch of politicians and civil service personnel, who snugly ensconced within the confines of New Delhi, had no grasp whatsoever of the plight of their Army men in the Glacier. A request for the basic mode of transportation such as snow scooters was met with objections ranging from the sublime to the silly. “It first questioned the veracity of the breakdown rates, then the quality of training imparted to users, then the cost-effectiveness of the machines against porters and finally, the need to have them altogether. On one occasion, when a few snow scooters were sanctioned after some years of denial, the troops on the glacier asked that special prayers of thanks be offered to the regimental deity. The story may be apocryphal, but it shows how gallant soldiers are reduced to seeking divine intervention against insensitive official processes.”

Mr. Fernandes, popularly known as the “Siachen Minister” for his propensity to visit the Glacier (more than three dozen times), ended the bureaucratic rigmarole using an ingenious method. A method that sent a shiver running down the spine of the concerned irresponsible bureaucrat. Any one engaged or indulging in the act of procrastination would be ‘banished’ to the Glacier for a week!

Mr. Gokhale illustrates the beautiful symmetry and symbiosis between the Army and the Air Force that has allowed India to maintain its unmatched supremacy in the Siachen Glacier since Operation Meghdoot. Assisting the Army in ensuring that there is an unending stream of supplies, is a group of helicopters whose sorties are looked forward to by unbridled delight and glee by the soldiers. To paraphrase Mr. Gokhale,” The mainstay is the single engine Cheetah (successor of the Chetak helicopter), now manufactured at the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) facility in Bangalore. Originally produced in 1962 in France as Aerospatiale SA 319 Alouette III (known in India as Chetak), its upgraded version, the SA 315 B Lama began licensed production at HAL in 1971. This helicopter came to be known as Cheetah which is the mainstay of 114 HU since 1984! Although it has the ability to operate at the extreme flight envelope limit of 23,000 feet routinely, a single engine helicopter is fraught with risk in normal circumstances. In Ladakh and especially on the Siachen Glacier, the risks multiply manifold.” No wonder Leh is deemed to be the “Mecca” of helicopter flying.

Mr. Gokhale also reveals hair raising details of hand to hand combats engaged in by the Indian Army with buccaneering Pakistani invaders and capturing of various isolated posts. He also informs his readers about the convention employed by the Armed Forces in according names to the posts. The posts are named, “mostly after soldiers who ventured into the unknown and established Indian presence. So you have several posts—Ajay, Bhim-Sonam, Amar, to cite just a few—named after daring warriors) into a formidable locality.”

But many of the deeds of gallantry performed astonishingly in such a rarefied atmosphere is more often than not confined and consigned to the folklore of the Armed Forces. This is a travesty of the highest order and one that ought to be remedied post haste. It is here that the stellar efforts of the likes of Mr. Gokale will greatly aid and abet in disseminating these acts of unparalleled bravery into the mainstream. These are acts because of which India finds herself, safe, secure and sound. A classic example is the Param Vir Chakra (the nation’s epochal recognition in bravery) bestowed upon Naib Subedar Bana Singh courtesy a death defying operation termed Operation Rajib in honour of a fallen comrade. “Naib Subedar Bana Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest wartime gallantry medal in India, for conspicuous bravery and leadership under most adverse conditions. “Operation Rajiv” overall, resulted in the award of one MVC (for Subedar Sansar Singh), seven Vir Chakras and one Sena Medal, besides the PVC. The CO and the Commander were awarded UYSMs. 8 JAK LI and 102 Infantry Brigade had reason to be proud; very proud indeed, for their stupendous skill at arms in the toughest high altitude terrain the world has ever known so far.”

“The Siachen Saga” contains many such riveting, reinvigorating and reverberating tales of unselfish courage, uninhibited sacrifice and unparalleled demonstration of responding to calls way beyond one’s duty. This is what makes the Indian Army one of the most vaunted, revered, respected and feared in the world. More than anything else this is what makes a nation of a billion clock an incalculable debt of gratitude towards its brave hearts. A debt that can never ever be repaid.

But for the time being, the least we can do is celebrate with gay abandon the feats of these gladiators of the mountains, acknowledge their achievements and shed a tear of unbridled euphoria. If there is anything whiter than the snow even it is the conscience of these soldiers and if there is anything purer than the air at such dizzying heights, it is the unsullied soul of the man clad in high altitude gear, holding a weapon close to his chest and trying to fight off not just sleep but a temperature that is MINUS 60 DEGREES! Just so that we can sleep undisturbed.

“The Siachen Saga” is Mr. Gokhale’ s monumental and most welcome tribute to the Indian Armed Forces and must be made mandatory reading at all schools and Universities.

JAI HIND!!!

A Fleeting Disappearance but never gone

Chittappa

There could be detected a mischievous gleam in his eye when he described how Erapalli Prasanna deceived a vaunted Australian batting line up. You could also feel his pain when he described how Simpson and Lawry collared the Indian attack. When he spoke about cricket, you listened. The man knew his stuff. He better. For he was a nippy left armer who took 6 wickets for just 1 run in a Universities game. T.V.Viswanathan might not be Curtly Ambrose but his 6 for 1 for me is no less than Curtly’s feat of 7 for 1 at Perth. Even though I was deprived of viewing the former since the event took place even before I was born. Perhaps now we know the source of the Ambrose inspiration!

Today after an indefatigable battle with the insidious beast that is cancer, my Uncle T.V. Viswanathan breathed his last. But not before showing his finger to the disease. That was his character. Adversity just made him stronger. He just did not possess a weak bone in his constitution. Cancer might have got him, but only by resorting to means insidious and unfair.

My memories of Chittappa (the Tamil vernacular for uncle) revolve around cricket, cigarettes and culinary delights. A connoisseur of the game, he distinguished himself as a player. A left arm medium fast bowler (a rarity in itself in India), he devoured 6 hapless batsmen in a University game played in Chennai while conceding just one run. But considering the fact that it was the 1960s where a professional career meant a degree in either Engineering or Medicine, and sans either money or muscle one had no hopes of purveying one’s chosen ambitions, Chittappa had to relinquish his hopes of being a fast bowler and instead concentrate on an engineering degree as his future.

However, the cricketing bug never left the man. A fanatic of the game, he read its every nuance and perfected its last intricacy. From Shane Warne’s flipper to Andy Roberts’ Yorker to G.R.Viswanath’s delectable wristwork, cricket ran in his DNA. Every Indian victory for him was a euphoria and every defeat, an elegy. The man exuded passion. A passion that was raw, unhinged and inveterate.

Chittappa was also my surreptitious nicotine source. Even though I was in Bangalore and Chittappa in Chennai, the vagaries of his  profession ensured that he was in the town of Bidadi most of the time. Which meant, a trip to Bangalore on weekends. These were the days I looked forward with an anticipation that was unbridled. Over copious swigs of Old Monk Rum (Chittappa knew class) and Wills cigarettes, Chittappa used to regale me with seminal games to which he was a witness at Chepauk. Chittappa was also a chef par excellence. In so far as gastronomic delights went, he could pull not just rabbits but elephants out of his formidable hat! Vegetable Nilgriri Kurma was his one specialty that sent me into raptures of delight! Monumental testimony to his culinary prowess was one instance whereby he cooked scrumptious Mutton Biriyani and got it by bus in a cooker! Yes you read that right a bloody cooker!

Chittappa was, rather is, for I can never concede that he is no longer in flesh and blood, a father figure to me. A man, whose needs were so limited so as to make the word frugal sound affluent. Selfless to the core, he was never tainted by the lure of either fame or fortune. He took unbridled delight in making people around him feel happy and contended. I for one, never knew what he desired, for he never expressed his wants.

IMG-20200516-WA0075-1

Yes, he wanted to come and spend some time with me and my parents in Kuala Lumpur. After coaxing, coercing and cajoling him for 8 years, he finally got his passport done. But the bloody bastard of a disease got him before he could get his air tickets. Moreover, the raging pandemic that is COVID-19 put paid to my dreams of hosting Chittappa and being regaled by his explanations of outswingers gone wrong and inswingers beguiling batsmen.

He lead a life that was pure, simple and fundamental. He was almost elemental in his material possessions. He never blamed anyone nor wallowed in self-pity. He knew neither mirth nor materialism.

Today he is gone. Just like that. Like a candle in the wind. A gentle rustle that does not even invoke reactions. But he is not gone. He never will be. He cannot. He has no conceivable right to. He cannot bid goodbye unless and until we order him to. And none of us will. So long as we are living, breathing and existing, Chittappa has to give us company. He does not possess a right to refuse. In cricket speak, he does not have the liberty of a DRS. There is no umpire’s call. He has to be here. He cannot abdicate us and leave us in the lurch. There are still bottles of Old Monks to finish, plethora of chickens to make biriyani from and thousands of leg breaks to scalp hapless batsmen.

Chittappa, I just cannot believe that you left us all and decided to go. Maybe you deemed this was the most appropriate time and maybe you felt the game of cricket could offer you nothing more. But you are wrong. You will continue to be with us so long as we are alive and well. Even though I am in no hurry to meet you and demand an explanation, be assured that when the time comes your grilling will put to shame the ones that are the sole prerogative of the CBI  & RAW!

Till such time sleep well Chittappa and words cannot describe the gratitude that I nurse towards you. If I can be even a fraction of a man that you were, my life would be one well lived. Every time hereon in I happen to nurse a bottle of Scotch, it would be in honour of your legacy, memory and life. I will never ever mourn you but celebrate you. Celebration of a life that is pure, poignant, passionate and profound.

Love You dearest Chittappa! Sleep well. Till such time we meet again. By the way when you meet Harold Larwood just ask him whether Sir Don Bradman was the greatest batsman he had ever bowled to.