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A fragmented world

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By H KHASNOBIS

Globalization as an economic model became popular following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990s. Capitalism’s onward march no longer faced a barrier. Factors that had contributed to globalisation were increasingly sophisticated information, communication and transportation technologies and services, mass migration of people, a level of economic activity that had outgrown national markets through industrial combinations and commercial groupings.

Globalisation has resulted in increasing economic integration and inter-dependence among countries leading to the emergence of a global marketplace. Multinational companies manufacture products across many countries and sell them all over the world. Money, technology and raw materials have broken international barriers. The developed economies have integrated with the less developed through foreign direct investment, reduction in trade barriers and economic reforms. According to the World Bank, globalisation is “the deepening of economic integration among countries of the world”.

However, globalisation has been complicated by widely differing expectations, standards of living, cultures and values, legal systems as well as unexpected global cause and effect linkages. The housing and banking crisis that originated in the United States in 2007-08 and then turned into a global economic crisis showed the more problematic side of globalisation.

Globalisation is a negation of an egalitarian society. Social democracy has not yet lost its relevance. It is also considered that globalisation is an attempt to erode the Westphalia system that gave the state supreme and sovereign authority. Globalisation is a threat to national boundaries. If the collapse of the Soviet Union is taken as the cut-off date, globalisation has a history of only 30 years.

While the world has become more globalised and therefore, smaller, yet in some respects it has become more fragmented and larger. In 1945, the UN had 51 members, fewer than the number of countries in Africa today. As of now, there are more than 200 states of which 193 states are UN members. South Sudan is the newest member. The colonial empires were quickly dissolved after the Second World War. The colonies under Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal attained independence with amazing speed.

In 1989, the Soviet empire in central and eastern Europe disappeared within a half year, from elections in Poland to fall in Romania. In 1990-91, even the Soviet Union itself was dissolved into its 15 constituent republics. The not-so large Yugoslavia broke into seven parts and Czechoslovakia into two. East Timor broke away from Indonesia; Bangladesh from Pakistan. Canada has the Quebec question; France has its Corsica. In Britain, Scotland’s independence is hotly discussed. Today, the US is virtually alone among the big powers to have unchallenged territorial unity. This is the picture of world fragmentation today. Nobody knows for certain how many nations are there in the world since it is up to the people to decide how they want to define their identity. It has been estimated that in only half of the world’s states is there a single ethnic group that comprises at least 70 per cent of the population. If, eventually, most nations are to have their own states, the number may go up to 1000. In the early nineteenth century, many thought Belgium and Greece too small to become independent. In the early twentieth century, many thought Iceland and Malta too small. Such is the extent of fragmentation that today there are about 80 countries with a population of under 5 million, 25 have fewer than one million.

Globalisation is overwhelmingly a technological and economic process while fragmentation is primarily political. Even though they take place in different spheres, it is often assumed that there is a relationship between the two. It was the Industrial Revolution that had opened up opportunities for creation of nation states from advancement of communications and technologies. Studies have shown that globalisation influences forces of opposition and sows seeds of conflict and tension.

Talking about the mid-twentieth century, Ian Clark wrote,” the century saw the creation of hitherto unattainable wealth but ever wider gaps in its distribution. Above all, the century was characterised by the greater interconnectedness of events on a global scale, while simultaneously being subject to political processes of rapture and disintegration. It has been an age of globalization and fragmentation”. Political fragmentation and disintegration have been seen to be the obverse of globalization.

The curious contradiction has been caused by the fact that with more than enough wealth at hand and with the tolls of new technology giving completely new means of interaction between minorities, the way has been paved for a resurgence of nationalist thinking so that all over the western world and slowly in rest of the world minority groups are creating states of their own.

The theoretical underpinnings can be put to test in three case studies. The break-up of Yugoslavia occurred because of a series of political upheavals and conflicts during the early 1990s. After the Allied victory in World War II, Yugoslavia was formed as a socialist federal republic of six nations with borders drawn along ethnic and historical lines. It comprised an area of about 2,60, 000 sq km and a population of about 25 million. The Yugoslav model of state organization as well as a combination of planned and liberal economy had been a success and the country experienced a period of strong economic growth and relative political stability up to the 1980s under the rule of president-for-life Josip Broz Tito. After his death in 1980, the weakened system of federal government was left unable to cope with rising economic and political challenges of the constituent republics. Dissatisfied with the exercise of power by the majority Serbs, the Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 after a ten-year war. That was the beginning of the end. Even though Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia also in 1991 like Slovenia, it took four years of bitter fighting before occupying Serb armies were ejected from Croatian lands. The Yugoslav wars saw string of inter-ethnic incidents, first in Croatia and then most severely in multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina and finally the Kosovo war. The wars left longterm economic and political damage in the region, still felt decades later. The crisis occasioned by the disintegration of Yugoslavia has remained one of the worst humanitarian disasters the world over. The nations formed out of Yugoslavia are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. In July 2010, the International Court of Justice had ruled that the declaration of independence by the individual members of the Kosovo assembly and not binding the assembly itself did not violate general principles of international law. 98 out of 193 UN member states have recognized Kosovo. Kosovo can be taken as the seventh country born out of disintegration.

Czechoslovakia was created with the dissolution of Austro- Hungarian empire at the end of the World War I. In 1918, the Czech and Slovak representatives signed the Pittsburgh Agreement which promised a common state of two equal nations, Slovaks and Czechs.

Some Slovaks were not in favour of this change and in 1939 with pressure from Nazi Germany, the first Slovak Republic was created as a satellite state of Germany with limited sovereignty. After World War II, a truncated Czechoslovakia fell within the Soviet sphere of influence. With the collapse of Soviet Union in 1989, Czechoslovakia regained its freedom through a peaceful “velvet revolution”. On 1 January 1993, the country went through a “velvet divorce” into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Sudan had never known stability. South Sudan is tropical, under-developed and populated by hundreds of ethnic tribes of African descent. The north, by contrast, is drier but wealthier – a Saharan world with strong links to the Middle East. Civil war erupted between two parts even before the nation gained independence from Britain in 1956. Even though there was a fragile peace for 11 years between 1972 and 1983, the roots of violence had never changed. Undivided Sudan had long been ruled by a small circle of wealthy northerners, who because of their Arabic culture considered themselves Arabs instead of Africans. When oil was found in the south in the 1980s, the government planned to pipe it northwards for refining. Oil wealth went to Khartoum into the hands of a privileged few. This exploitation combined with a government plan to divert southern water to grow cash crops in the north ignited tensions that restarted the civil war.

A Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the south and the north in 2005 as an outcome of international mediation. However, six years after signing the agreement, 99 per cent of South Sudanese voted in favour of independence and Sudan split into two. South Sudan became the world’s newest nation in July 2011. The civil war in Sudan, one of the longest in modern history, was estimated to have cost nearly two million lives. The calamity of Sudan had unfolded largely without witnesses ~ an apocalypse in a vacuum

The three case studies show that globalisation has not directly contributed to the withering away of states. States have disintegrated more due to internal contradictions, compulsions, ethnic nationalism, separatist movements, lack of governance, sovereignty disputes, economic and political mismanagement rather than external influence of globalization. Globalisation is about economic integration, inter-dependence, and openness. Fragmentation is about disintegration, heterogeneity and separation. The result of globalisation is one economic world. The end result of fragmentation is many political worlds. It is a question of one against many.

The breakdown of the USSR and the end of the Cold war has produced a world that is more globalised but more fragmented. It is a contradiction, yet true. Mikhail Gorbachev said in 1990, “A new world order is taking shape so fast that governments and private citizens find it difficult to absorb the gallop of events’’. It is not possible to predict where the world will be twenty years from now. (The Statesman/ANN)

The writer is a former central civil service officer who retired from the Ministry of Defence

 



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Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing

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By Usvatte-aratchi

We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.

The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.

As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?

Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.

If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.

When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.

The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.

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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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