Contents

  1. Managing perceptions 
  2. Terror and punishment 
  3. Towards a New World Order
  4. A marriage story for everyone 
  5. Evolving Brain: Impact of Income Inequality
  6. Defanging AI
  7. Bracing the Economic Fallout of Corona Virus

MANAGING PERCEPTIONS

Why in news? 

  • Group of envoys on a guided tour of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), has triggered the debate over sovereignty of India.
  • Clearly, the government, which has been under considerable international pressure to lift restrictions in the former State, has managed to arrange these three visits without any incident. 
  • The delegations have been taken to meet with local groups, and shown a glimpse of ‘normalcy’ in the Kashmir Valley, with shops open, people out on the streets, and boating on the Dal Lake. 
  • The chimera of ‘normalcy’ seems patently fragile.
  • The visit had to be postponed by a day due to a bandh call in the Valley; and just a day after the visit, the Internet was snapped once again due to security concerns.

TERROR AND PUNISHMENT

  • The Pakistani government, which for years tried to protect Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, finally got a conviction and a jail term for the cleric in two terror financing cases
  • The Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and his close aide Malik Zafar Iqbal have been sentenced to five-and-a-half years by an anti-terrorism court, vindicating India’s years-long position that Saeed had been using his organisations to finance terrorist activities.
  • It started cracking down on Saeed’s groups in 2018 only after it was threatened to be put on the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body fighting money laundering and terror financing. The government endorsed the UN ban on these organisations in February 2018
  • Unsurprisingly, the conviction of Saeed and Iqbal comes a few days ahead of another crucial FATF meeting. In the 2019 October meeting, the organisation had warned Islamabad to take “extra measures” for the “complete” elimination of terror financing and money laundering.
  • If the FATF is not satisfied with Pakistan’s actions, the country faces the risk of being downgraded to the “black list”, which could bring tough sanctions on its financial system
  • The fundamental problem is Pakistan’s policy of exporting terrorism to its neighbours for geopolitical leverage. Historically, Pakistan has adopted a dual policy towards terrorism — fight it at home but export it through proxies to its neighbours.

TOWARDS A NEW WORLD ORDER

Why in news? 

  • The latest Oxfam Report presented at Davos points out that 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people.
  • The emergence of billionaires and oligarchs in different parts of the world coincides with increased poverty among the already poor people, especially children. 

Excess consumption

  • Egregious consumption of energy by the developed world has been accompanied by the disposal of residual products (‘e-waste’) on the shores of many African and Asian countries.
  • As a result, the poor in the developing world are, unwittingly, drawn and exposed to toxic, hazardous materials like lead, cadmium and arsenic. 

‘Nordic Economic Model’ 

  • Nordic Economic Model pertains to the remarkable achievements of the Scandinavian countries comprising Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and allied territories. 
  • The total population of the Nordic countries is estimated at almost 27 million people. These nations are among the richest in the world when measured in terms of GDP per capita. 
  • They also have large public sector enterprises; extensive and generous universal welfare systems; high levels of taxation, and considerable state involvement in promoting and upholding welfare states.
  • UN reports also indicate that the Nordic countries are the happiest countries in the world.
  • The U.S., in contrast, is in 19th place

Enlightened global order’

  • This should include effective welfare safety nets for all; corruption-free governance; a fundamental right to tuition-free education, including higher education; and a fundamental right to good medical care.
  • This also has to involve shutting of tax havens.
  • In Nordic countries, personal and corporate income tax rates are very high, especially on the very rich.
  • If a just, new world order is to arise, taxes everywhere should go up.

A MARRIAGE STORY FOR EVERYONE

Why in news?

A petition recently filed in the Kerala High Court by a male same-sex couple challenges the constitutionality of the Special Marriage Act on the ground that it discriminates against same-sex couples who want to formalize their relationship through marriage

Special marriage act of 1954

Special Marriage Act of 1954 allows and facilitates the registration of inter-religious marriages. In that sense, it is a legislative tool for social change, an attempt to remove a social barrier to the exercise of individual autonomy.

Landmark judgement 

In Navtej Johar v. union of India case, Supreme court  not only did the Court hold Section 377 of the IPC to be unconstitutional, it explicitly recognised the rights of the LGBTQ+ community to express their individuality, sexual identity and love on par with heterosexuals, as fundamental to Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (right to freedom), and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution

Constitutional morality vs customs

  • It’s a unique opportunity in front of Kerala high court for a potential first step towards making marriage, as an institution, as a legal concept, more accessible and egalitarian, less arbitrary and exclusionary.
  • It gives the High Court the chance to prioritize the fundamental and human rights of the petitioners over the abstract heteronormative tendency of the majority to deny legitimacy to relationships that challenge oppressive social structures and established hierarchies

EVOLVING BRAIN: IMPACT OF INCOME INEQUALITY

  • Income inequality is an undeniable reality in India and in most other parts of the world
  • Research studies seek to understand how income levels may be correlated with differences in the structure of the human brain.
  • The brain evolves constantly over a person’s lifespan
  • This happens as a response to the brain’s external environment—which is the totality of all stimuli which have historically been transmitted to the brain via all of the human senses.
  • In the brain, form and function are deeply interwoven.
  • Learning results in a change in the connectivity and structure of the brain, and therefore the type of activity it is able to produce, and the subsequent nature of learning it is capable of
  • The physical structure of the brain and its processing capacity are two sides of the same coin
  • Science has shown us that the structure of the brain is shaped by the complexity of the stimulus environment one encounters
  • The greater stimuli has far reaching impact on gene expression in the brain, the growth of new neurons and the number of connections between them, and how synapses “learn”. This translates to changes in terms of brain volume and surface area.
  • Modern brains are evolving and altering their capability and potential at a much faster rate.
  • Access to modern complexity is largely determined by a person’s income.
  • By spending on things like technology, transport and education, one essentially buys a more complex and faster pace of stimulus to the brain
  • Studies have shown that income, particularly childhood poverty, has a dramatic negative effect on brain volume and surface area, as well as the complexity of patterns of electrical activity produced by the brain.
  • Years of education have been shown to bear a positive correlation with these aspects.
  • When we draw poverty lines, we typically go by what funds are sufficient to fuel the human body and thereby keep away hunger, but not what the mind needs
  • We have a long way to go to realize the cognitive potential of the country.

DEFANGING AI

  • AI should be deployed for purposes that raise productivity but do not displace workers in the country, makes good sense, given India’s problem of unemployment
  • For decades, production has been highly capital intensive despite the abundant availability of labour
  • Rules that make it hard to let go of workers also act as a disincentive to hire more than the skeletal minimum needed to get various tasks done

What can be done?

  • Regulatory flexibility on labour has been proposed by reformers who say that a lot more hiring will happen if companies lose the fear of a permanent burden
  • If businesses are able to expand or shrink their workforce as market conditions change, goes the argument, they might go slow on the mechanization of routine tasks.

BRACING THE ECONOMIC FALLOUT OF CORONAVIRUS

  • China today is a bigger contributor to global growth than the US, Europe and Japan added together.
  • It is a given that the lockdown in Hubei province will have a significant impact on the $13.6 trillion Chinese economy that is today the fulcrum around which global trade growth turns
  • The beleaguered Chinese banking system is also likely to take a hit, which will affect credit
  • The real impact will start showing only later in the year as consumption slows down.
  • In a worst-case scenario, if the virus cannot be contained by the end of 2020, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) rate of growth could fall below 4.5%.
  • Of the $87 billion of India-China bilateral trade, a vast majority is imports into India largely in the form of goods related to capital equipment, machinery and electricals, as well as intermediate and consumer goods such as smartphones where Chinese companies account for more than half of India’s vast growing market.
  • Crucially, Chinese imports are powering India’s pharma industry and the vast solar power revolution underway.
  • Given India’s ambitious target of upping solar generation capacity to 100 gigawatts by 2022, that would be a serious setback.
  • Blazing red signs are flashing in pharma, too. With about 85% of active pharmaceutical ingredients used by Indian pharma companies coming from China, the sector’s exposure to a disruption of raw material supplies is painfully evident now.
  • The physical threat of the virus in India seems to have been contained and the government is confident of handling the outbreak.
  • However, a huge difference between managing the health aspect of the virus and handling the economic fallout of a massive dislocation of global trade.
    The Chinese economy is now a much larger part of the global economy than ever before, and India, too, is integrated into global supply chains in a way that makes the splendid isolation of the past impossible.
  • According to DHL Resilience360, a supply chain risk management software platform that helps businesses predict, assess and mitigate the risk of supply chain disruptions, China’s worst affected provinces and cities are considered vital to global technology, apart from the auto, energy, chemicals and pharma industries.
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