Thursday, February 21, 2008

Warm breeze heralds the "Pakistani Spring"

The elections were rigged to reduce the Islamist footprint inside the political structure. This could only be achieved at the cost of encouraging regionalism. No prizes for guessing who did this.

It is wrong to say that Musharraf the Magnificent did not have his way. This election proves that only Musharraf the Magnificent can secure 99.99999% of the Pakistani national vote. Everyone else has to be content with less than 0.0999% percent each.

The great fear in the ... well.. you know where... was that the unwashed masses of Pakistan would rise up in a tumultous anger and drive the Magnificent one from power. In the vacuum created, a number of strange unpredictable creatures would appear possibly wearing many hues of green. Today, with the establishment of a bulwark of "moderates" in the Parliament, the Islamists will find themselves fighting an "elected parliament" - instead of a "military dictatorship" - in that terribly semantic way that is so popular these days.

Cohabitation is a sensible choice - since ... you know who... has been unable to conceptualise an alternative to Magnificient One. As you can see the army has begun its long and arduous march towards the barracks. Agitating against cohabitation will simply bring the "Pakistani Spring" to an end.

Might as well sit on the beach and enjoy the breeze.

Needless to say a storm brews just o'er the horizon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dr. Rajiv Kumar speaks about the recession in the US economy

I have recently been emailed this article in the Hindustan Times written by Dr. Rajiv Kumar , currently a member of the NSAB.

The article succinctly states that the crisis in the US lending market is wider than expected and that the US economy's ability to support import-export deficits will decline sharply. As Indian exports to the US constitute a significant source of wealth, the decline in the US economy will affect India's exports.

Should a recession in the US slow down the global economy - then India's ability to sustain a high
growth rate will be adversely affected.

Dr. Kumar suggests infrastructure development to create demand inside India and opines that a rising domestic demand in India will compensate for falling consumption in the US.

Though Dr. Rajiv Kumar's writings have absolutely nothing to do with it - I wish to use this opportunity to provoke a discussion on our economic dependence on diesel.

Usually when you develop infrastructure you increase your dependence on diesel. All the machinery required to make and run infrastructure consumes more diesel. We already import an ungodly fraction of our oil and we only have one place in the country that can refine large enough quantities of it to secure us against an upstream market fluctuation.

I want to ask you all if you can come up with ways in which to develop infrastructure so that our national diesel usage efficiency is boosted?

I also welcome comments at this point about the wider implications of the fiscal meltdown in the US.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

HE Amb. Mulford talks about the nuclear deal

Karan (a.k.a VOA) gives us this interview with HE Amb. Mulford.

It appears His Excellency is mightly pissed that India has turned this deal down and threatens all manner of things if this doesn't go through right now. To the rest of us, who don't live in an ivory tower ... this comes as no surprise.

HE Amb. Mulford, had earned fame in India for speaking at inopportune moments about matters that should never be discussed in the media. Perhaps he does not grasp the fact his highly overt and obvious style probably right at home in the US corporate world - with its power talks and power naps - actually grates on Indian sensibilities, or perhaps he simply does not care

After having spent most of his tenure trying to sabotage the deal and the bulk of India-US relations, he now paints himself as the great saviour.

It is unclear to me who in Chanakyapuri or Foggy Bottom will be impressed with this.

If the Hon. Ambassador wants to know why India rejects the deal - he need look no further than the consequences of his own utterances on the non-proliferation aspects of the deal and the repeated contextualisation of the deal into India-China rivalry and support for US initiatives vis-a-vis Iran. Ofcourse as with any good diplomat when confronted with his actual utterances the good Ambassador distances himself with great speed from any unintended connotations.

It is precisely this double-speak before a pliant media circus that has lent wings to suspicions in India about the US's angle to this deal.

Tragically even in his limited view of the universe, the Hon. Amb. Mulford is right - this deal will not be offered again.

The next time the US comes to the table it will be from a very different position. As the energy crisis in the US expands to the point where it the core sectors of the US economy - eg. transportation and power production get strongly affected - the American posture in the deal negotiations will shift.

If you note - HE Amb. Ronen Sen is not giving interviews of the "now or never" variety.

We Indians are used to haggling over the price of the bride. His Excellency will do well to go shopping in the real India - beyond the richly decorated facades of the fixed price malls. Perhaps it is just the Indian in me who sees that a US with a declining dollar will be unable to enforce any discipline in the NSG.

In some ways the Ambassador's utterances showcases the exact opposite of what George Perkovich has been saying all along - it does seem that the US needs this deal more than India does.

Lets see who handles economic pain better - does India handle a diesel shortage better than the US handles stagflation.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The American National Debt - Breakdown of the American Grand Narrative

Most of us have been struggling to get a handle on the implications of the growing American national debt and the falling dollar. I am going to take a stab at fleshing out the most obvious consequence of this mess - the collapse of the American grand narrative.

Very briefly - the American grand narrative states that people came to America seeking refuge from persecution. After coming to America, they found a land that offered opportunties for advancement and throught their hard work and perseverance they built up wealth and left behind a better life for their children and grand children.

Unfortunately with a 10 trillion dollar debt and a collapsing dollar on the international currency market - that is no longer possible. Instead of doing well and building up wealth - the current generation of Americans are leaving their children and grand children mountains of unpaid bills and debt obligations. It is unclear if their descendants will ever be able to pay these off. Should the US hit upon some revolutionary technology that the world simply cannot do without - then quite possibly a careful marketing of this technology may service some portion of the international debt - but it seems unlikely that such a technology will be able to pay a debt of this size off or even wipe out the internal portion of this debt.

Developing such technology will require manpower. This will cost money - i.e. investment. However most R&D manpower in the US is currently tied up in developing weapons or servicing existing ones. As an outward projection of military strength is necessary for the US to maintain its economic reliance on global resource channels and access to global markets - it seems unlikely to me that the US will be able to retrench manpower from weapons R&D to civilian R&D very rapidly. This is ofcourse ignoring a vast number of specific issues - eg. personal debt obligations, entitlement attitudes, etc... in the American workforce that often contribute to its high price. Those are beyond my ability to comment upon.

In the absence of local manpower, the US will have to rely on imported manpower. Again leaving aside the loss of status problems faced by US "bhoomiputras" due to such an import of manpower - for anyone to leave his or her homeland to come work in the US - the US has to appear attractive. The person coming here has to buy into the US grand narrative - and if that collapses the US will no longer seem the land of opportunity to people doing research and development. I am ofcourse ignoring the fact that the US has traditionally sought to filter out foreigners entering its economy - even the R&D types, but with the economy steadily slipping into a hole - I think this attitude will shift. I note among other things the shift of Microsoft Corporation to Canada - I don't know of anyone in congress who can ignore that.

Assuming that a source of manpower exists - can the US generate investment to develop the high technologies it needs. That question does not have a simple answer. Traditionally the US has led the world in innovation cycle times. If you have an idea and it looks like it works, the time required to turn it into a mass produced item is the lowest in the US. However the flip side of this is that the low innovation cycle time has led to a great number of bad ideas being put into production too - most American cars being an excellent example. In fact some observers argue that the American desire to push through innovation often overpowers their ability to think its overall viability through. It is the "will give an arm and leg to gain a extra thumb" philosophy. The end result is often a very expensive innovation cycle.

I remain somewhat skeptical of the US ability to generate funds for this kind of innovation. I think between the dollar falling and the pressure to reduce taxation, the viability of an kind of investment in a treasury bond type financial instrument will diminish too rapidly for most investors' liking.

Put simply, at the present time the American economy has to shift to a new equilibrium between the flows of resources, financial instruments and finished products. This is hard even for super agile populations like India and China. For something as ungainly as the US economy - frankly speaking - this going to be very hard - it is not going to be pretty or smooth.

I do not envy the person who sits in the chair after the incumbent. They are going to haul a enormous amount of shit.