& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, May 10, 2019

The World is Here: Novels Navigating Love and Conflict

From L to R: Manjushree Thapa, Josh Scheinert,  Eva Salinas
Uzma Jalaluddin and Sharon Bala
at a discussion on
'The World is Here: Novels Navigating Love and Conflict
at the Festival of Literary Diversity  

The Festival of Literary Diversity’s fourth edition was held recently in Brampton. The festival has grown steadily in participation and popularity over the years, attracting the best literary talent that Canada offers.

In 2016, just prior to the launch of the first festival, I interviewed Jael Richardson, the founder and artistic director of the festival, for TAG TV (see the interview here: https://youtu.be/vDklJugI6Xg). Jael said the idea of the festival came to her in 2014 when she participated in a book conference in New York and was stunned at the lack of diversity in the lineup of the authors. Dalton Higgins, author and events organiser, pointed out to Jael that the situation wasn’t too different in Canada.

Jael and a group of people who shared her interests got together and decided to launch a Festival that would celebrate diversity in all its forms – race, faith, sexual orientation, abilities (physical and mental). The purpose was to create space in the world of literature that would reflect the Canadian reality of multiculturalism. Earlier this year, the Writers’ Union of Canada recognised Jael and FOLD with the 2019 Freedom to Read Award.

Since its start in 2016, I have attended all the four festivals in Brampton. In 2017, I was privileged to be invited as an author. And every year, the festival has featured many authors who congregate in the first week of May to talk about themselves, their books, their readers, other authors, Canada, diversity, multiculturalism, and have fun.

This year, the festival’s main venue was the landmark Rose Theatre in Brampton. Spring had finally arrived, and the longish commute from Toronto didn’t seem too arduous, especially because the session that I’d chosen to attend – ‘The The World is Here: Novels Navigating Love and Conflict’ – had fine authors, all of whom had their debut novels published in Canada recently.

The panel included

Sharon Bala (The Boat People which was a finalist for Canada Reads 2018 and was awarded the 2018 Amazon Canada First Novel Award);

Uzma Jalaluddin (Ayesha At Last, a revamped Pride and Prejudice that is soon to be made into a film);

Josh Scheinert (The Order of Nature, set in Gambia, portraying the struggles and fears of being gay in West Africa) and

Manjushree Thapa (All of Us in Our Own Lives is her first novel to be published in Canada).

Eva Salinas, managing editor of foreign affairs news site OpenCanada.org and a freelance journalist, moderated the discussion.

Sharon’s and Uzma’s novels are about their protagonists coming to Canada, and Josh’s and Manjushree’s novels are about their protagonists leaving Canada. In all four novels, the borders between home and away get blurred, and lives are transformed because of physical and emotional dislocation.

Eva asked the panelist about the different kinds of borders in their stories, and how their characters and they as writers respond to these borders.

Sharon, whose novel is about Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, landing off the coast of British Columbia, says that more than personal, physical, and geographical borders, her characters navigate the liminal spaces of silences and secrets. 

In Uzma’s Ayesha At Last, the boundaries are purely personal. A character in the novel, Khalid, knows he appears weird to the world because of in-your-face refusal to abandon his ethnicity and cultural rootedness; but he doesn’t worry overtly about this because he contends that he is who he is because of his belief; the reader is not expected to like him rather spend time with him to understand him.

“People cross borders often without having a choice,” Josh says. In his novel, which explores the relationship between an American (Andrew) and a Gambian (Thomas), the protagonists cross the continental borders, and the borders of control drawn by the society and families. In Manjushree’s All of Us in Our In Our Own Lives, Ava Berriden goes from Toronto to Nepal to find meaning in her life, but realises that she is unwanted despite her power.

The discussion dealt with issues that are common to Canadian milieu – issues such as acceptance, belonging, identity and home. “What gives us our identity, and how much of it is related to race?” asked Eva, whose careful choice of questions accentuated the inherently Canadian character of these authors.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Dani Rodrik - 1

Dani Rodrik is a superstar economist whose radical interpretation of the trilemma of globalisation has become an important method to understand the imbalance that globalisation has caused in the last three decades. He wrote about it in 2007, just prior to the financial crises of 2008.

Rodrik was in Toronto recently for the Cadario visiting lecture in Public Policy. He spoke on ‘Globalisation’s wrong turn: What’s wrong with globalisation, and can it be fixed?’
According to his thesis, the process of globalisation involves three sociopolitical and economic variables:

The trilemma is a triangle and we have three corners.

Hyper globalisation as a model of the world which is frictionless mobility of capital, goods, and services

National sovereignty – the ability of nation states to administer their own systems

Mass politics and democracy the degree to which governments are accountable to the people through democracy or other means

The claim of the trilemma is that in a political economy, you can have at the most two of those three things and never all three simultaneously, so people must make a choice.
Rodrik says, all the three forms couldn’t achieve an equilibrium on all the three parameters.

The gold standard combined national sovereignty with hyper globalisation while keeping mass politics at bay

The post 1945, Bretton Woods globalisation combined mass politics with national sovereignty keeping hyper globalisation at bay

The post 1990s globalisation contends that who needs national sovereignty at some level, we can have a hyper globalised economy, increased integration of the market economy – goods, services, finances, not so much labour, which is an exception, and we can deal with mass politics by making our global institutions more representative, more accountable. Politics moves beyond the national to encompass the transnational.

This is a radical interpretation of the relationship between democracy and capitalism, a relationship that has often sought to be portrayed by the votaries of capitalism as natural and deeply intertwined. In fact, Rodrik’s as trilemma indicates, at no point in the history of modern capitalism (since the late 19th century) has this relationship been natural. This is analysed in more details in the third part of this blog.

As per Rodrik’s analysis, globalisation has gone through three distinct forms during three eras in the past century or so. These were:

The gold standard – began from the mid-19th century

The Bretton Woods era that began in 1945, and led to the post-World War II economic reconstruction

The hyper globalisation era that began in the 1990s and we have experienced for the last three decades

Rodrik says that while all the three eras espoused globalisation, they were inherently different in their key characteristics.

Free mobility of capital and free trade in goods

Degree to which governments could enforce regulations across international borders – indicating how the governments felt compelled to pursue economic policies

The presence of multilateral governance institutions

The gold standard we had free mobility of capital across the world free trade in good and free mobility of labour. The Bretton Woods era onwards, the free mobility of labour was curtailed and controlled by developed economies.

According to Rodrik, during the Bretton Woods era of globalisation, governments were free to follow economic and social policies unconstrained; they could follow macro economic policies, taxation, regulatory and industrial policies without the fear that these policies would be viewed as barriers to trade.

Rodrik explains that during the gold standard and the Bretton Woods eras, we did not have any mechanism that imposed on governments rules and regulations that ensured good economic behaviour.

Financially open economies had norms internalised by policy makers; you had to pursue a policy of parity to gold, you were always paying your external debts, no matter what, and when if you didn’t do that, you were not punished by international institutions because there was no such thing.

He adds, however, with the onset of the 1990s hyper globalisation model, the rules of the global economy reached behind the borders in ensuring the regulations promoting globalisation.

In this era, we entered a phase where national economic policies were viewed from the perspective whether they hindered or encouraged the integration of the global economy; rather than from the perspective of the domestically articulated economic and social costs.

After providing this background, Rodrik then relates the history of globalisation to the present discontent over its effects. How does this relate to the backlash to globalisation and the reactions to hyper globalisation of the last three decades, he asks and provides the trilemma explanation.

He explains that the three different models of globalisations are the choices we make of the two out of the three options we have. In gold standard where we combined the free flow of finance, capital, goods and even labour, and national sovereignty and all the sovereigns ensured gold standards and there was a limited role for the sovereigns to take care of the aspirations of their people.

In today’s terms there was a narrow space for governments to implement macro economic policies as those policies may be viewed as re-imposing barriers to trade and goods.
If international finance and trade are to be fostered, the sovereigns didn’t have much freedom to look after the needs of the people.

Mass politics including democracy had to be kept at bay; gold standard was fundamentally incompatible with mass politics especially as participatory democracy developed in the West.

Rodrik explains because the gold standard kept people’s aspirations at bay, it was unsustainable when mass politics began to gain ascendency. He says that the gold standard was abandoned in Britain in 1931 was it had been transformed into a much more developed democracy and mass political movements against gold standards left no choice to the government. FDR followed suit soon after. Countries that abandoned the gold standard experienced more rapid economic growth.

The gold standard constricted the policy makers’ freedom to initiative economic measures that would generate employment. The tight monetary policy which was necessitated as it had to abide by the gold standards led to high levels of unemployment in the economy. Abandoning the gold standard led to inflation and an increase the money supply, reduction in interest rates and a control over unemployment, he says.

Dani Rodrik - 2

The economist then explains that by the time of the famous 1944 Bretton Woods meeting, the governments of the war-ravaged economies had realised that politics has become sufficiently participatory and labour markets have become sufficiently institutionalised to return to the gold standards.

Instead, it was now time to create space for domestic economic management by explicitly keeping hyper globalisation at bay.  So, it was a model of globalisation that was unambitious in terms of how many frictions could segment the national markets.

What that meant in the terms of international finance was that capital controls the ability of national sovereigns to manage domestic financial systems and segment them from global financial markets by limiting the ease with investors could move their money in and out of the country.

Capital controls had to be an integral part of this post-war economic system to create space for what we call today the Keynesian counter-cyclical macro economic policies. That was his idea that you cannot manage your economy and you cannot ensure full employment if you cannot have autonomy over your monetary and fiscal economic polices, and you needed to keep international finances at bay to integrate of the system, as a permanent feature of the system.

The post-war trade regime developed along similar principles. We have a series of multilateral trade agreements and the evolution of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) that were equally light on the degree of hyper globalisation and in particular the GATT regime proscribed regulations on globally.

Pertinently, Rodrik says, the recommendation on tariff stopped at the border, they did not reach behind the border. They dealt with only tariffs, they did not tell the governments how to run their patent regime, how to run their subsidies, what kind of other regulations they should have.

The Bretton Woods globalisation – was explicitly incomplete, with one of its cornerstones as capital controls and therefore limited financial globalisation, the GATT model, which left countries pretty free to do what they wanted. The moment it looked like some of the domestic policies looked compromised by trade flows, it allowed countries to take remedial measures.

Clearly in favour of this mode of globalisation, Rodrik says, the Bretton Woods era globalisation increased rapidly under the GATT regime, and enabled rapid expansion of world trade. World trade and international investment increased under the GATT regime.

If you look at the world trade relative to world GDP, world trade expanded between 1945 and 1990 much more rapid pace since it did since 1990. This form of globalisation encouraged international trade and investments without unduly compromising domestic economic and social structure.

Then, coming to the latest form of globalisation, Rodrik says, the move to the latest revamped model of hyper globalisation in the 1990s changed the priorities. The world economies moved from becoming the means whereby you achieve domestic economic and employment goals, to the role where the domestic economy becomes an instrument to achieve globalisation goal.

The actual rules of the game involved creating the WTO in 1990s and the expansion of the regional trade agreements which mushroomed after the 1990s. This was different from the GATT model.

This model enabled the globalisation to reach beyond the borders, domestic regulations, investment rules, subsidy regimes, even health and safety regulations were being viewed from the perspective of whether they were a barrier to trade or not, and to the extent that they differed and seem to be discriminatory against other countries, they are treated as non-tariff barriers.

This form of hyper globalisation gave rise to agenda setters such as international banks, multinational corporations, and big pharma. There is a presumption that all major global economies are to eventually converge into a global economic model because complete freedom of trade and capital mobility requires convergence of regulations and policies, and globalisation becomes the end rather than the means.

And while nobody is looking at global political federal structure, political scientists through the 1990s and 2000s have commented on a sort of network of regulators, and global communities that are creating accountability that will eventually evolve into a global system of governance that will sustain this hyper globalisation, and simultaneously, national governments would become less of an obstacle.

However, this scenario envisages a limitation on national self determination and raises the question of who is empowered in this process. And who are they accountable to?
In the world economy at large, we never went the whole way to implement the third way because national sovereignty is far more important. Rodrik concludes by emphasizing that the trilemma gives us a choice of which of the two from the three things that we need to take.

“And I am of the view that the sustainable model of globalisation is the one that was developed in Bretton Woods era – not particular policies, but the spirit of that era – because it acknowledges that world economy constitutes countries with different economic and social models and that we have to recreate what we think that a reasonably good world economy can generate.”

Dani Rodrik - 3

Focusing on the tension that underlies democracy and globalisation, Rodrik says it is important to distinguish between the genuine tension and the tension that is misrepresented. 

There is version that the tension between globalisation and democracy arises because global rules constraint domestic policy space; governments have to maintain openness to enhance trade in goods and finance and that in itself limits democracy. Rodrick emphasizes that this in itself doesn’t undermine or constraints democracy. Democracies can often benefit from such constraints because the sovereign can constraint its action in a way that can improve democracy.

For instance, with respect to monetary policy and inflation control, the executive – the parliament – sets the monetary policy for the sovereign, and the parliament may constraint it. That by itself is not undemocratic. If the monetary policy is subject to the pulls and pressures of day-to-day politics, it would create a crisis in the economy. Similarly, a sovereign can enter into international agreements without these becoming a constraint for democratic values.

Rodrick observes that global rules can enhance the powers of democracy because they limit the powers of special interests and enhancing quality of democracy deliberations; global rule about transparency in decision making would enhance democracy. But the problem is that just because international agreements of the world economy can do that doesn’t necessarily enhance the functioning of democracy.

Rodrik claims that hyper globalisation empowers certain interests – multinational, big pharma, big tech, and big banks, and these entities give advantage to one set of distribution interest against another. “We need to distinguish between international norms that enhance democracy and to those that undermine democracy. We also need to distinguish between how the global rules are impacting domestic policies such as the monetary policy or whether they are just strengthening special interests in the economy,” he says.

He contends that the unease with the globalisation since the 1990s is that it has encouraged special interest agenda. “You have to ask what sort of globalisation we would have had had the policies not been designed by the US Treasury, the OCED, the IMF and WTO, instead by the UNESCO, the ILO or the World Migration Organisation,” Rodrik asks.

The main issue is really about who is being empowered and the degree to which the rules are privileging a certain interest group against the democratic delegation argument through which all interests would be more equitably served.

He believes that the reason the populists are winning in Europe is because they are only ones who are talking the truth. They realise that the three principles of trilemma cannot be maintained, but the populists are clear about national sovereignty and they are happy about keeping hyper globalisation outside. This is what white nationalists are espousing globally and matched by their nativist, exclusionary policy agenda.

Rodrik explains that it does not have to be so. The late 19th century populist movement in the US was a distinctly left oriented movement against big corporate interests and not necessarily against immigrants, or foreigners or minorities.

The New Deal is a left wing in its orientation, it has no economic orthodoxy at all. FDR had no economic training. His views including abandoning the gold standard would have been rejected by the dominant view of the economists of his time.

In present time, too, the space that national sovereigns need to develop economic policies that would benefit their domestic constituents need not leave a section of people out. But it often has especially in the European context.

What kind of economic globalisation should we want?

Rodrik says, it should be inclusionary and there should be compensatory mechanisms built in for that section of the population that would lose from the process of globalisation. “We have to look at the gains and not the type of gains that resulted from the post 1990s trade agreements which were largely redistributed.”

And the second criterion is this model of globalisation should leave room for policy autonomy and institutional diversity and discipline the beggar-thy-neighbour policies in which countries formulate policies where they can only gain at the cost of another country.
Large inclusive benefits and space for institutional diversity. In the area of international trade – he advocates that the main principle should be peaceful coexistence especially in the context of US-China trade dispute.

Both need to understand they have to live and let live. They should be allowed to develop their own social, economic, and political policies without these policies leading to adversities in the other economy and be construed as trade barriers.

He advocates that the global economy should go back to the spirit of GATT globalisation. The expansion the idea that the degree to which the domestic economic and social policies should be constrained by trade agreements and that we need to go back to that era at least in spirit.

This would give countries to maintain social contracts and develop their own economic policies more suited to their conditions. Sustainable healthy economies will lead to healthier economies which will need globalisation.

International finance – we have gone too far and rapidly; financial globalisation has not paid off in terms of increased growth and increased investment, but it has led to increased financial crises. It is going to be important to have some oversight over global tax heavens, and that there is global cooperation to curb tax evasion.

He forcefully advocates for the free movement of labour is one area there are still many gains to be had by encouraging globalisation. Greater globalisation in the area of labour will lead to many gains and we need to distribute these gains equitably.

If you are pushing frontiers of globalisation it should be inclusionary and should include labour. Movement in the direction of pre-1990s type of globalisation with a twist that free movement of labour should be included in this process in the next 10 to 20 years.

More sustainable globalisation with new traffic rules that will allow advanced countries to address inequalities and social contracts and for the developing countries to devise their own growth strategies and economic restructuring.

This envisages governments negotiating for policy space rather than negotiating for market access. The world economy is fairly open right now and the main constraint is the legitimacy constraint, which can be removed by giving space to national governments to construct their own economic and social policies.

That will pave the way for cooperation on issues where globalisation has a lot to gain – climate change, cross border movement of labour, international coordination on tax havens, arms trade, health pandemics – these are areas in which cooperation can lead to major advantages.

Paradoxes of the last 30 years is that we have had more international economic integration but this has come at the cost of more domestic disintegration. Our national elites who are globally networked and are better positioned to benefit from the global economy have become dislodged from their societies, leading to unhealthy politics; healthy politics is going to require reintegration of national economics.

In the process of this transitions will lead us to saner globalisation and global order. Capitalism often reinvents itself and devises methods that don’t always respect the orthodoxy of capitalism.

These policies may seem populist in the traditional sphere, but economic populism may still be the best bet we have to save globalisation and forestall political populism, which is damaging to the world, leading to the decline on independent judiciary, free media and rise of autocratic politics. Restoring liberal democracies and pluralistic policies will require us to reimagine what the role of international economics is in the conduct of our economic policies.