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Found in transition | The Indian Express

If the army feels it requires continuation of the AFSPA to discharge its responsibilities, no other agency is qualified to credibly challenge that view. How the big picture is changing,in ten frames. India struggles with daily tragedies. Much intellectual energy is being consumed by a politics that may prove inconsequential in the face of larger challenges. Politics is often not a pretty picture in many countries. But across the world,there is a large debate about fundamental assumptions that govern our world. These assumptions frame much of what we do: they define our economies,our politics,our relation to nature,our social identities,our sense of self. Do we need to confront these assumptions in their starkness to reorient ourselves to the big questions,so that the urgent does not eclipse the important? New Economics for a New World? The article of faith in modern economic thinking is that productivity growth and employment growth can go together. Technology leads to the creative destruction of some jobs,but it adds others. A sure way to cope with job destruction is re-training and education. But from the US to China,this assumption is coming under both empirical and conceptual attack. In many countries,employment elasticity has come down dramatically. And many argue that we are underestimating the possible effects of new technology on employment generation. There is a curious return to the 19th century debate that the destruction of jobs may be more permanent than we think. The assumptions we make about the relationship between investment,productivity and job growth are turning out to be more fragile. Will the project of job creation have to reorient itself to a new paradigm,requiring a new economics and public policy? The Revenge of Nature ? The modern project has been founded on the mastery of nature. Many think of climate change as natures ultimate revenge on humanity; its revolt against human colonisation. A four degree rise in temperature will,almost certainly,cause severe dislocations to existing patterns of life,and the effects will be disproportionate on poorer countries. The peril to everything,from agriculture to water,is obvious. The challenge is not intractable,and the energy debate is now wide open. The challenge could be a new invitation to human ingenuity. But will the techno-optimists win out? Or will nature have the last,tragic laugh? The Great Convergence? The modern age was defined by what the economic historian Kenneth Pommeranz called the Great Divergence: the increasing inequality between the West and the Rest. This divergence is being decisively overcome and,barring some unprecedented calamity,should continue. Inequality between countries will decline. Even with a slowdown in growth rates,the developing world will do a two to three percentage points catch-up a year. Africa is also emerging strongly now. This is good news. But this convergence also makes global geopolitics hugely interesting. It probably means economic returns to geo-strategic rents decrease. It also means more intensified competition for investment,with fewer margins for error in policies. The New Great Divergence? While inequality between countries will decline,for the most part,inequality within countries has consistently risen. Patterns vary,across both countries and time. Living standards have risen. The middle class is growing globally,generating a new politics of expectations. But the spectres of poverty and deprivation are still large. There is also a sense of fatality about inequality. Explanations range from mobility of capital to technology change,even to changes in marriage patterns. But inequality poses new challenges. It is recasting the relationships between elites and the rest of population. Globalisation has allowed elites to secede. It is creating new challenges for political legitimation. Across the world,political systems are groping for new narratives to explain away or compensate for or divert attention from a looming legitimation crisis. The Gender Revolution? Most of the world has seen dramatic gains in female education and female empowerment. The pace of this will only accelerate dramatically. But social attitudes and the organisation of work and family are keeping pace with these dramatic developments only to varying degrees. The difference between the success and failure of countries may turn on the ability to ride out this revolution intelligently,with least conflict and greatest justice. The Young and the Old ? This is much discussed. The aging populations of OECD countries and now,potentially,China,and the youth bulge of West and South Asia will have profound implications for economics,politics and social relations. In each of these countries,there will be a new politics of intergenerational allocation of resources and power. While technology may make possible shorter work weeks,demography may require the abolition of retirement! Will there be new global migration regimes to redress this issue? Or will the entrenchment of existing political arrangements make an adjustment to this reality difficult. Post Representative Democracy? Representative institutions are well established in many places. But the authority of representative institutions is being fundamentally recast. They are no longer the main conduit of public opinion. New channels of public opinion formation or distortion are making the idea of representation more difficult. The global rise of new regulatory institutions is generating new forms of authority. And the perennial debate,whether globalisation restricts degrees of freedom in domestic policymaking,is raising new challenges for representative democracies. Will political legitimation take on new and unexpected forms? How will this affect state effectiveness? A New Global Order? As the balance of power shifts,will the structures of interdependence that now bind nations in a thickly interlocking embrace endure,or will new forms of nationalism triumph? Are old forms of power up to the task of dealing with new challenges,where small entities,non-state actors can make all traditional manifestations of power look fragile indeed? New Spatial Forms? For the first time in history,more of humanity lives in the cities. Urbanisation is widely discussed. But beneath the bland term,urbanisation is now a bewildering variety of spatial forms and patterns,from mega cities to narrow snake-like sprawls. How will the spatial allocation of humanity transform all aspects of social life? New Social Self Knowledge? Transitions occasion new forms of thinking. The transition in the 19th century gave the social theory that still marks modernitys self-image. But there is a revolution in knowledge production of all kinds. This will generate new institutional forms of knowledge production,new techniques in social science that render current methods obsolete. Our self-images are constituted by the patterns we place ourselves in. Big data may be one way in which these patterns of identification may be revolutionised. But the dominance of technique may sideline other forms of knowledge. The crooked timber of humanity,to use Kants phrase,will probably remain recognisably the same. But its self-image,and the patterns it identifies and acts on,may change. The writer is president,Centre for Policy Research,Delhi, and a contributing editor for The Indian Express
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