Archive 2019

Deep Colonial Hangover

Regardless of how different world powers behaved in the past, what really matters is how they behave in the present and in the future. Here are some colonial behaviours which are highly inappropriate in the 21st century. The purpose of articulating these behaviours is to expose them to the unaware with the hope of influencing their decision-making.

  • Viewing the value of human life in other countries as way less important than in their own countries
  • Using Divide and Rule at all units of geography – beautiful strategy of the past 300 years which is, frankly, disgusting to the overwhelming majority of human beings today
  • Stifling the evolution of arcane economics and financial systems which were built solely with the colonial mindset of establishing and retaining advantage over others’ forever
  • Stifling others’ industries and triggering their stagnation/destruction using geopolitical, technological or other means with the intent to maintain a “lead”, to gain advantage in commerce or to retain “power” and “control”
  • Enforcing rigid rules constraining others’ development the lack of which, ironically, were the pillars of the said countries’ advances

This video provides a good illustration of what colonial hangover looks like.

Asian Speaker #1, Parag Khanna, talks about how Asia, after the anomaly of the past 3-4 centuries of the colonial era, is returning to its historically traditional role as the centre of world commerce. He supports his theory through rigorous data analysis and observed trends.

Asian Speaker #2, Yu Jie, highlights some of the policy issues that China policymakers have to overcome in order to continue to execute as they have for the past several decades. She highlights the Chinese view of the world, apparently articulated 2,500 years by Mozi, a popular Chinese philosopher. The view is “how to behave yourself, then organise a good family, then run a country in good order, before you can dominate the world”.

Non-Asian Speaker #1, Michael Cox, disses Parag’s “Future is Asian” narrative, even before Parag introduces his narrative to the audience! Michael refers to Parag’s theory as being merely the third version of two other disastrous “Asia Rising” narratives/events in the 20th century – the 1903 Japan victory over Russia, the first by a Asian power during the colonial era, and the 1949 Independence of China from colonial rule. It seems this speaker views all history as being a subset of the colonial era! Maybe self-awareness of this narrow view of history explains his peculiar body language during most of the presentation.

Non-Asian Speaker #2, Gideon Rachman, articulates 4 models as the way forward for India:

  • be a post-colonial South-oriented non-alignment movement leader
  • be part of a rising Asia which would put them in the “China camp”
  • “get in bed with the Americans” to counter China
  • continue to be defined by the conflict with Pakistan

So, all of his models for India categorise the country as an inconsequential entity or a subservient entity. Colonial hangover nirvana (salvation)!

Broadly speaking, both Gideon and Michael seem resentful of any progress that Asia, particularly any country other than China, might be experiencing. This of course, is due to their obsession with the simplistic “Us vs Them” meaning “West vs China” or “USA vs China” narrative which simply diminishes the aspirations, intellectual maturity and the growth reality of all other Asian countries.

The other recurring theme about these speakers is their focus on all the things that could go wrong with the Asian narrative. Here is where their colonial hangover becomes painfully obvious. They come up with all kinds of creative reasons for why the West will continue to dominate Asia either due to existing regional dynamics or how the West might make it so by reaching into the colonial best practices handbook.

The takeaway for the large, influential countries of the 21st century is two-fold:

  • When defining the country’s vision and brand for the 21st century, observe entities with colonial hangovers closely, so you can get clarity on what not to do.
  • If you collaborate closely with entities that have colonial hangovers or are perceived to be so, start to distance yourself from such entities. This will motivate the population of nations that were subject to colonial injustices to embark on a journey to establish a trust-based relationship with you.

Games and Rules

The “Great Game” was a 65 year old political and diplomatic confrontation between the British and Russian empires from 1830 AD to 1895 AD. The motivation, per British allegations, was about control and leverage over the south and central Asian regions including what we now know as Afghanistan. You can read all about it here.

One can only guess what kinds of geopolitical games are played in today’s times. Here’s an article published in the The Hindu about the Feb 2019 Pulwama attack in Kashmir.

In order to understand games better, let’s use Chess as an example. In chess, there are the inanimate chess pieces (pawns, kings, …) who fight each other with the prime goal being to secure a victory for their side. Each piece has a set of capabilities and options to move. However, they can’t move by themselves – the 2 players that are playing the game have to move them. So, the pieces are useless unless there are players to plan, strategise and move the pieces. At the end of the day, it is the player that wins/draws/loses a game. The motivation for the players is to “prove” that they are better than their opponent.

In competitions, the prize money, the trophy and associated fame are additional motivators. Aside from the audience, there are additional non-obvious parties involved as well.

  • Organizers: Players can play only when there are organisers to organise an event. These are the folks that plan and execute the event. They rent a venue for the event, get players to participate, market the event, sell tickets, sell media (tv/cable/satellite) rights and partake in the financial outcomes.
  • Rule Makers: These folks are more important than the Organisers. They might even be from the same pool of people as the Organisers. While they are the most hidden from public view and scrutiny, they are also the most powerful group. Players are the public facing faces of the game, but Rule Makers are the hidden, behind-the-scenes folks that actually run the games. Ultimately, they can dictate the outcomes of games by controlling/restricting access to only those players who will generate the outcomes that they desire.

Let’s take the example of Field Hockey to prove above points. In Olympic Games, from 1928 (when South Asia subcontinent teams started participating) to 1984, teams from the subcontinent won the Gold Medal 11 out of 13 times. Most, if not all, of these tournaments were held on natural grass surfaces. The Rule Makers and their Allies stepped in and created a movement to play the game on artificial turf which fundamentally changed the nature of the game. Instead of finesse, which the subcontinent teams proved to be unbeatable at, the new game favoured those with better physical conditioning and stamina. The outcome of this change has been clear – till date, subcontinent teams haven’t won a single gold medal in the 8 tournaments that have been held since then.

Enjoy gaming. Just understand what role it is that you are playing.

The Future is Asian

Parag Khanna’s The Future is Asian was released earlier this month (Feb 2019). This is an epic piece of work at a pivotal, transitional phase in the global world order. Parag has an impressive resume with degrees from Georgetown University and the London School of Economics. Professionally, he has been associated with the World Economic Forum, US Government/Military projects and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Per my reading of The Future is Asian, the two key characteristics that are critical for Asian countries are:

  1. Rule of the law, not democracy, has a strong correlation to economic performance. Politicians, administrators and residents MUST make this the highest priority. Some Asian countries might very well not be part of the Asian future if they don’t take this aspect seriously.
  2. Technocratic Governance has been a key contributor to the success of Asian leaders like Singapore and China. Government employees and bureaucrats, particularly at the upper echelons of organisational hierarchies, must be trained in the technocratic planning and execution methods from these countries. This will enable articulation and implementation of long term (multi decade) policy regardless of short term election cycle outcomes.

If you can’t stomach the idea of reading a 450 page book, you could watch this 1 hour video instead. This might warm you up for the longer read.

There are plenty of interesting slides in his presentation. A couple that caught my eye are below.

Slide 1: Parag’s take on the new world order.

Slide 2: Since parents raise children painstakingly and pay most of their bills until they are able to sustain yourself, it makes sense for children to give high priority to these relationships amongst all others. Likewise, it is important to prioritise the relationships with your large trading partners. Parag’s slide below highlights the volume of trade among Asian countries.

China’s largest Asia trade partners are: ASEAN – $330B, Korea – $250B, Japan – $220B

India’s largest Asia trade partners are: West Asia/Gulf – $200B, China – $80B, ASEAN – $70B

Slide 3: Parag mentions that one of the hardest things to articulate was the commonality across Asian systems. The following 3 values is what he came up with.

Autonomous Region across Borders

One of the enduring legacies of the colonial age is messy borders. Borders drawn by individuals that rarely had any insights into the culture, history and ground realities.

Couple interesting articles to ponder on:

A technical solution to messy borders will be tremendously beneficial to developing countries in Asia and Africa. Designing an Autonomous Region for a geographical area that spans two (or more) nation states is an idea worth considering. The rules:
a) Sovereign borders stay the same
b) Defense and Foreign Policy is handled by the respective nation state
c) All other systems and governance are dictated by residents

SEZs, Blockchain and Refugees

Perhaps Lotta Moberg’s big idea is about locating Special Economic Zones (SEZ) right outside of refugee camps. Governments struggle to accept refugees because of their populace’s sentiments against hosting and feeding outsiders. But if refugee camps and SEZs can be co-located in locations that can be attractive to investors, then the host governments might see a net positive derived from a section of the refugees being productive.

Other noteworthy points about SEZs from Lotta’s presentation:

  • The Shenzhen SEZ is typically cited as the benchmark for how to do a SEZ right. This SEZ was created due to the desire of some Shenzen businessmen to trade with Hong Kong. So, it was a bottom up business driven initiative rather than a top down government driven initiative.
  • A SEZ was required for Shenzen because the kind of regulations that could be implemented in the pilot zone were politically impossible to implement on a country wide basis.
  • SEZs are featured by fiscal and regulatory benefits. Fiscal benefits indicate tax and tariff exemptions. If the SEZ is all about companies relocating from other locations to take advantage of these benefits, then the SEZ may not be beneficial to the country as a whole. This merely translates to government funded reallocation of resources.
  • SEZs should be considered as an avenue to test out Blockchain solutions. Using Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies for fiat money is a hot button issue for various governments. However, the technology can be applied to several other domains and limiting the experiments to within a SEZ could be a nice way to pilot these solutions.

Lotta’s book recommendations at the time of the podcast:

  • Richard Bookstaber, “The End of Theory”
  • Eric Beinhocker, “Origin of Wealth”
  • Adam Smith, “Theory of Moral Sentiments”