Coming of the Second Wave


So you speak to me of sadness and the coming of the winter,
The fear that is within you now that seems to never end,
and the dreams that have escaped you and the hope that you’ve forgotten,
and you tell me that you need me now and you want to be my friend,
and you wonder where we’re going, where’s the rhyme and where’s the reason?

                                                                   John Denver, Rhymes and Reasons, 1969.

  

Is it not ironic that at times when we stand close to a momentous event, seeing it unfolding in all its HD brilliance, we tend to miss the wood for the trees in terms of its future impact? So it was when the Berlin wall came down; most folks saw it as the factual German reunification rather than the tectonic ideological change about Communism it portended. So it is with the Occupy Wall Street protests, mostly being seen as anger against job losses and lack of economic opportunities rather than something more structural.

As I look around, I see a march of seemingly unrelated trends and events.

  • Declining social and political trust arising out of a growing global inequality and a deepening fiscal crisis. This has lead to a crisis for pension, healthcare schemes etc. dependent on debt burdened states.
  • A heightened perceived insecurity in the developed world. For the first time in generations, people no longer believe their children will grow up to have a better standard of living.
  • More criminality. Be it cyber crimes, drug trafficking or acts of urban terrorism. Symptoms of rising youth unemployment and disenchantment.

During this year’s Davos meet of the World Economic forum, failures of the globalised market economy and an ‘uncertain future’ of Capitalism became the main issues. Ironic when you consider that over the years, Davos has become a byword for Globalisation.

I notice that Capitalism and Globalisation, those two economic pillars of the last few decades, appear to be losing flavour. So, is the world at some kind of an inflexion point?

I believe we have begun grappling with a massive socio-economic change. A change ushered in by programmable machines, networks and the World Wide Web. I had spoken of this in some detail in an earlier post. I say again that technology implementation is resulting in massive shifts at the work place as also how the very concept of work itself needs to be viewed. For the first time in history, technology, without human intervention, is adding economic value and wealth. So those getting in ahead of the game in terms of controlling technology are the new millionaires, displacing the aristocrats and industrialists of the last century. And these millions are being created thick and fast with hardly the need for additional employment generation. Not only is this fuelling a widening wealth gap and disparity, it is leaving more and more of the population behind, unemployed and dispossessed.

Small wonder therefore that a recently published global Wealth Report indicates that most of world’s richest people became richer through the recent economic downturn and into 2011. When in fact the average middle class family actually saw its income fall in real terms. According to Economist Paul Krugman. the current disparity gap in the USis the biggest since the 1920s. Clearly we have entered a landmark period of inequality where the gap is widening to unprecedented levels.

But do you know where the core irony of this whole situation lies? Well it happens to be our much vaunted economic models that not only failed to predict but also to come up with solutions to handle the inequality problem. Worse, if we were to go by economic theory, it is possible to show overall economic growth while significant part of the population is facing a recession or mired in poverty!

So if the predictive reliability of modern economics cannot be relied on, what do we as a society fall back upon? I sense fear as political leaderships all over brace themselves against increased social and political backlash of a growing global inequality. In the Occupy Wall Street protests. In the Arab Spring uprisings. In the resurgence of Marxism in the Indian tribal belts. In the eschewing of the rugged Thatcherism by the British Conservative party as it swing towards leftist policies.

There remain vestiges in our societal psyche of what happened a century back. The chasm between rich and poor opened up by the industrial revolution had been one of the main factors that led to the massive unrest in the first half of the twentieth century. Reaction to this had culminated in adoption of the Communism model in large parts of the world.

I believe we have once again reached that inflexion point where conditions are ripe for the coming of Socialism’s ‘Second Wave.’ I see this as a reaction to the perceived failure of the Capitalistic model and the kind of Globalisation and growth it has spawned. This Second Wave would need to show us ways of re-distributing the wealth created by that part of technology working without human intervention.

Would this be the way Inequality would give us our rhyme and our reason for the future?

In Learning…………..                                                                                        Shakti Ghosal

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21 thoughts on “Coming of the Second Wave

  1. Dear Shakti,
    An excellent post, and one which neatly captures the angst and anomie that the world is currently struggling to come to terms with.

    It is useful to remind ourselves that not so long ago, the human condition was best described in the words of Thomas Hobbes: “…solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

    As you have noted, in what was — in evolutionary terms — a mere twinkling of an eye, triggered by the industrial revolution, mankind progressed through a period of transformational and path-breaking development, which ushered in hitherto unprecedented prosperity, and a plethora of creature comforts.

    Societies were transformed, and with technology freeing the bulk of the population from the yoke of the daily grind to just eke out a living, the growing aspirations for a more egalitarian and equitable social order, and one that respected individual freedoms, led to progressive overthrow of monarchies. This in turn led to the evolution of alternative political systems, and dictatorships, communism, varying degrees of socialism, and last — but by no means the least — laissez faire capitalism, took root in different countries, and jostled for dominance.

    The collapse of the communist model, the termination of the cold war, and the ascendance of the “free market ayatollahs” defined the events of the past few decades, and it seems just yesterday when the soothsayers were predicting a steady progression towards a utopian world, free from strife and want.

    As you have so eloquently stated, this mirage appears to be receding towards the horizon, and we find ourselves somewhat disoriented and bewildered, wondering how did the dream sour?

    While I am no crystal ball gazer, you seem to be on to something when you predict the coming of a second wave of socialism. While I doubt if we will ever see a return to the now thoroughly discredited Soviet orthodox communist model, the portents around us clearly point to the resurgence of the Left. What would be the final outcome, I do not pretend to know, but my wager is that it will be a half way house between unbridled capitalism and doctrinaire socialism. Regulated capitalism, anyone?

    In my opinion, there have been several intersecting strands that are responsible for the current state of affairs, and which are nudging us towards a rethink, globally, of economic theory and praxis, and are redefining politics, which you perceive as the harbinger of a Socialist second wave.

    First and foremost is the fact that the pace of change has been outstripping mankind’s capacity to adapt. Technological change spurred by several transformational and truly pathbreaking technological leaps have brought in their wake roiling and gut wrenching shifts in economic and political power, while the evolution of societal, economic, and political systems has lagged far behind.

    The second, which again has been partly an unintended consequence of the revolution of health care and medicine, has been the runaway population explosion, which has severely strained our planet’s resources, and has resulted in severe competitive pressures to garner and consume a larger share of the resource pie. The ructions relating to global warming bear testimony to this.

    Third was the steady march towards setting up social security systems, which progressively created and fostered what can only be termed as an entitlement mindset, and the creation of unfunded liabilities rapidly snowballed to unsustainable levels.

    Fourth was the lop-sided swing towards instant gratification at the individual level, fostered by short termist Government policies. The economics of plastic created a consumer culture based on the illusion of riches, and living beyond one’s means became an acceptable way of life.

    Fifth, this went hand in hand with competitive populism on the part of Governments, which created a gargantuan pork barrel, resulting in a sea of red ink in the wake of apparent prosperity. The resulting debt explosion created huge and unmanageable budgetary black holes in the economies of most of the major countries, and the present agonies of the Eurozone are a manifestation.

    Finally, term it as the price of democracy, if you will, but politicians of all hues have conspired to obfuscate and dissemble, rather than tell the electorate the truth, which, simply put, would be to say: “Folks, you have been living way beyond your means for way too long. Now gird up your loins, and get ready for austerity till we repair the broken economy.”

    The existential dilemma faced by politicians in any democracy was so perfectly captured in the words of Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg: “We all know what to do; we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it!”

    Therein lies the crux of the problem.

    Personally, I believe that we are destined to go through many more convulsions before the vox populi starts to demand the long term good rather than the instant fix.

    Cheers!

    Viney Sahgal
    Sent from my iPad

    • Dear Sir,

      As always you bring such a wonderful and holistic perspective to my posts that, try as I might, I am unable to add further value. I need to acknowledge this quality of your comments. And as always, I am taking the liberty to transfer your comment to my blog site for the benefit of other souls outside this forum.

      You say that ” Change has outstripped mankind”s capacity to adapt.” This clearly has been occurring over the last several centuries as societies shifted gears from an agrarian to an industrial and now to an information and communication mindset. But could it also be that we are coming a full circle to a point that technology would in fact allow the change to adapt to us rather than forcing us to adapt to the change.. A fairly simple example would be the software which observes and learns from our propensities and then adapts accordingly. Another example is voice directed responses etc.

      I loved your fifth point on ” Competitive populism.” I believe this remains the core issue behind many manifestations- economic and non- economic that we see in the world today.

      Awhile back, I had contemplated on the issue of population explosion and its effects in ” We need a second planet by 2030.”
      https://esgeemusings.com/2011/11/03/we-need-a-second-planet-by-2030/

      You may be so right, Sir, when you say that we are destined to go through many more convulsions. I guess the world and all that we know in it, moves in cycles. And as it moves in this manner, both the environment and the competences needed to engage with it change. This becomes the genesis of compulsions.

      With kind regards

      Shakti Ghosal ’74

  2. I find the article and the comments intriguing and interesting, thanks
    I feel there is a bigger and more insidious threat facing humanity.

    http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/05/09/woman-contracts-flesh-eating-bacteria-after-zip-lining-accident/

    Over the years we have damaged the enviornment and ecosystem and we are nearing crunch time

    We have had drug resistant bacterial infections and huge spike in diabetes and cancer rates across the world. Across the world fresh water reserves are drying out, crop yeilds have reached diminishing marginal returns and we have had unseasonal climate changes.

    More than economic inequalities or perceived injustice, the lack of resources to feed the billions will drive change. Or in other words rather than leaning towards left or right, the challenge for the societies would be “who is left behind”

  3. I’ve been wafting in and out of your subject, Shakti, since you posted it.

    If we want a second wave, we need to continue believing in it. We need to talk about it – just as you’ve done. The elements of democracy, when upheld, have been the best option so far. But who’s to say we know all the incredible options that the future could hold once the 1% are prevented from blocking genuine, organic progress?

    I hope we realize ways to re-do our world so there is no reason to be greedy. We’re learning that once the thievery is stopped, there will be enough for everyone. More than enough. We won’t have to defend our loaf of bread or bottle of water.

    Once ideas (like new energy forms and cures for diseases) are allowed to come into being – and are not stopped by the 1% due to their fear of loss of profit AND power – we will have a lifestyle that leaves room for humanity at an evolutionary level.

    I enjoyed reading the comments of your readers. Mr. Ramakrishnan’s comment about the widening space between the educated and non-educated piqued my interest. In my work in the field of Education, I saw an elitist attitude amongst those of higher education. While priding themselves with broadmindedness and inclusion, I saw instances where they speedily and casually heard those with no, fewer or lesser degrees. It looked and felt condescending. Input from the lesser educated seemed to hold a lower priority. Justification overturned authentic listening.

    We are capable of bridging differences. It takes time. We see how the 1% have encouraged differences to be an issue throughout the world. We need to re-educate and re-condition ourselves. It means effort and connectedness. It’s no longer acceptable to turn our backs and seek out only those who we feel are of equal platform.

    Bless you for your writings. I respect your willingness to stimulate thinking and dialogue. Imagine, Shakti…here we are from different nations, different genders and different education backgrounds; yet we seek to understand each other.

    Phew! It feels like a Second Wave around here! 😀

    • Hi Amy,

      You always bring such deep felt ,personal and authentic insights into every discussion that I never cease to be amazed.

      Like you, I would like to revisit your comment again before I can frame a suitable and detailed response.

      Appreciate you.

      Shakti

      • Hi Amy,

        I was planning to respond to you in more detail but I find that the subsequent mails of Sesh and yours have clarified most of what I was planning to say. May I also invite you to read the comment of Mr. Viney Sahgal who has written a lengthy critque on the post.

        Cheers, I appreciate you.

        Shakti

    • Hello Ms. Souldipper,

      I do understand and appreciate your comment about the condescending attitude and behavior of the educated towards the uneducated or not so well educated. It is indeed disgusting and reprehensible and if the risk-reward parameters are tweaked in a way that can temper such behavior it would benefit the society at large.

      In a larger context, everyone in my opinion would like to have their sons and daughters go to elite universities and become elitist as well. Given half a chance to join Harvard, MIT or Stanford and become the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg, would anyone in their right mind turn their noses and say that they would not want to be that person because they are snobs? Because not everyone can get into those universities and get the kind of education they desire, we should not start labeling those that have gained that entry. Nor should we as a society devalue what such individuals bring to the table just to level the playing field. Whether or not we like it, people are born the way they are and some are born with talent and special gifts which society should acknowledge, embrace and encourage so that such individuals can go on to accomplish great things for the benefit of everyone rather than try to tear them down.

      We are all humans and are essentially imperfect by nature. While we try to put in the maximum effort to pull up those who are falling behind educationally, we let those who are naturally born with smarts and talent to fend for themselves and in fact try to create as many obstacles for them so that they cannot achieve their true potential. These are the bright minds who can come up with solutions that can solve problems facing the world and not those who can barely keep up.

      If we had to apply our Utopian idealism to everyone and trash those who cannot meet those standards, then the world would not have had a Da Vinci or Michaelengelo or any of the greatest masters and visionaries in the past or in the future.

      • I have seen great results when the Da Vincis and Michaelengelos have listened – in my work in Education – and in my home.

        I did not and never would suggest that people not acquire the best educations they can. I’m saying there can also be excellent ideas in the minds of those who have not had the opportunity to attend such institutions. The more educated we are, I feel, the more responsibility we have, when we sense a good idea, to help that idea be expressed. I am sorry if a gap is growing. I hope we can evolve into a people who will work towards narrowing the gap – using our various levels, degrees and breadth of talent.

  4. I too think just like the people became aghast with monarchy right before the french revolution same thing is happening in a global scale. people are tired of fake promises, exhausted of corruption and have stopped trusting the governments in general.

    the piece you added from john denver is beautiful. if you dont share your sunny days with people they will most probably shut their heart on your rainy days.

    • Hi Sharmishtha,

      ‘Tis always a pleadure to see your comments. I do agree that folks are increasingly dis-trustful of the authorities. But could this be partly because of the failure of Governments to involve other stakeholders in development initiatives? As the world gets more complex, more information ( veracity of which is uncertain) flows take place and enhanced connectivity leads to quick opinions being formed.

      Way Forward? Awhile back I wrote a blog on ‘Democracy- the way forward’ in which I mused on this aspect.

      John Denver’s Rhymes and Reasons continues to be one of my favourites and glad to know you liked it.

      Cheers.

      Shakti

  5. Hi, my brother Sridhar forwarded me your blog and I read it with interest as I live in the US and can relate to what you are talking about. There is currently a group of economists working to come up with a new model to suit the current market conditions and the state of the majority of the people. In fact this group has attracted independent economists who are willing to challenge the status quo and are not tainted by the proponents of the “Efficient Market Theory” folks. So hopefully they can come up with something that will benefit the 99% and not just the richest 1% here in the US. So hold the thought of anarchy or reversion to socialism happening anytime soon, atleast here.

    As far as the Occupy Movement, I have noticed the tendency of the current generation (these protests are mainly organized by and conducted by them as far as I know from the tv coverage) seems to be to have everything the easy way without having to work for it or even study for it. A recent statistic came out showing that out of the 80,000 degrees and diplomas handed out last year more than 2/3rds were for arts and humanities and only the remaining were in the hard sciences. Since the majority of the science and engineering degrees are sought by international students more than their American counterparts, the actual number could be very low. They just don’t want to study math and science but instead want to take easier courses so that they can party hard. Unless this changes nothing will improve for them regardless of this movement or that.

    Around the world an interesting thing is happening. Society is being split not along racial or ethnic lines but between those who are smart, educated and are able to adapt and take risks and those who are not in that category. The knowledge-based society that we are transforming into rewards hugely those in the first category and so the disparity is getting stark. Unless we can create clones who can gain automatic entry into the first group this is not an easy problem to solve.

    Cheers,

    Sesh Ramakrishnan

    • Hi Sesh,

      It feels absolutely great to connect to you like this and thank you for your great comment.

      Thank you also for providing the input regarding the joint initiative of establishing a new economic model. I had not been aware of this but somehow I feel vindicated.
      Regarding Socialism, I was not being judgemental in my post.I could only see a morphed, possibly a more relevant version taking shape and come more centre stage in the world. It might just be a part of the new economic model being conceived.

      Your observations about the education trends in the US are note-worthy. I see this as an evolution of a society and part of the overall cyclical pattern of “rise” and “fall” of societies and civilisations which Mankind has been witness to throughout history. Maybe in different contexts but in every case it boiled down to shifts in intrinsic energies and the extent to which specific competencies fit and become relevant to a changing environment. There is no value judgement here, only an attempt to notice and understand.

      And I do acknowledge your comments on the coming of age of a knowledge based society. In an earlier post,” Not so elementary, my dear Watson!” I had taken up this issue and I look forward to have your comments on that.

      Would love to have you visit again; do convey my regards to Sridhar.

      Cheers

      Shakti Ghosal

  6. Capitalism may have its drawbacks and limitations, but it is the only system known to man that creates wealth. And it’s a system that’s in sync with individual freedoms, from which stem democracy, freedom of speech etc. While in Communist or socialist systems, individualistic tendencies have to be per force curtailed. And that results in dictatorships and mass murders in the name of a dogma. Human progress is the result of the outreach of a few individuals, scientists, businessmen and creators. Society, the guys who are the majority, then only feel envious of the few creators. Even assuming we had a magic wand by which at the stroke of midnight, everyone had exactly equal resources, I am sure this equality would be ephemeral. Give a few hours, and again a state of inequality is bound to emerge. Inequality is only a necessary result of this system. Ofcourse if the policy makers exercise themselves in the pursuit of the goal that this inequality not become too pronounced and tear society asunder, its their job to do so, and progressive taxation is one of the many tools in the policy makers box. But many a times, it’s the policy makers who exacerbate things. For example, in India, while any sale of any asset, say a house or land would attract taxes of twenty to thirty percent, sale of entire shareholdings in companies, where we could be talking of billions of rupees changing hands, the effective tax rate would be one tenth of one percent, which is the Securities transaction tax rate. This ofcourse happens when policy makers do not really know their own objectives. But broadly, I guess, one would any day go for a system that protects and promotes the individual, rather than one that purports to promote society and ultimately makes everyone subservient to a few politicians and bureaucrats.

    • Hi Himanshu,

      Love to see you here again.

      You make great observations and extremely valid ones. My post was not really meant to be a judgement against Capitalism and an attempt to support Socialism. It was merely an endeavour to notice some broad trends and extrapolate to a likely scenario. We need to be conscious that every structure viz. Capitalism, Socialism or what have you, work optimally under certain human developmental conditions and a specific environment. And as these latter aspects change and evolve, so does the need for the cyclical evolution of the structure to ensure optimal fit and support. I therefore envison a different morphed version of Socialism ( if we at all agree to use this term!) or Capitalism ( if you are happy with this!) to come centrestage.Sridhar’s brother in the US informs in his comment that a group of Economists are indeed contemplating on a new Economic model which would be inclusive of the 99%.

      Himanshu, I really loved your comment on the few creators who move the world forward and agree to your contention that we would always be as an elongated bubble with the innovator and creator group in the front ( development, net worth etc.) and providing traction. How we are able to (1) shorten the length of the bubble, thus the disparity and (2)have a structure in place which allows dissemination of the growth and development benefits to more and more people expeditiously, would remain the challenge I guess.

      Cheers and take care.

      Shakti

  7. Maybe it’s time to replace gross GDP type measures with a factored individual well-being index and see how all the nations (rather, its people) measure up. New measurement models, in other words.

  8. Shakti, you bring up some salient points to ponder – not to mention I have to say what a striking image at the post’s inception!

    “It is possible to show overall economic growth while significant part of the population is facing a recession or mired in poverty!” I was just saying to my husband last night while watching a documentary on the architect Louis I. Kahn and viewing the magnificent parliament center in Bangladesh – that this, as well as so many of our architectural wonders worldwide, were built on the backs of slaves, virtual and otherwise!

    I wonder has it always been that the workers get short shrift while the clever and sneaky ascend to the ranks of the wealthy? One thing I can say is that whatever is taking place in our world today feels like it has the potential to even the score a bit. Yes, there will likely always be people of wealth in power, but democracy in whatever form is calling for the voices of its constituents who finally seem to be awakening from a long slumber – and I’m hoping the playing field is about to get a good leveling. The Occupy movement might seem a bit naive, but its heart is in the right place. And it is these heart offerings that endure and penetrate consciousness. Then we have the opportunity to reinforce them through our own actions, whether independently or in groups.

    • Hi Bela,

      Thank you for your comment and making such a difference to this space with your presence.I acknowledge your thoughts relating to the ” levelling of the playing field”. My concern here is that we yet do not appear to have the most optimal structure to ensure this. And that is what I really meant by calling the post. ” Coming of the Second Wave.” It would be prudent to assume that the form this delivering structure would need to have might be significantly different from what we have seen in the past. Some morphed or fused version of Socialism and Capitalism? Maybe…

      And I tend to agree with you, Bela, when you say that Democracy is our best bet,inspite of all its imperfections. Whatever empowers and builds ownewrship attitude in people would work and as of today, Democracy is the best of the worst in this.

      Cheers, appreciate you!

      Shakti

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