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India’s Lack of Entrepreneurship is Due to its Culture

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I came across an article shared on a Facebook group, describing Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak’s, take on Indians’ lack of creativity and the resultant dearth of innovative enterprise. The article was met with a lot of pushback and hate-posting, mostly arising out of national and cultural chauvinism.

But Woz’s words were like music to my ears. He is certainly not the first person to have lambasted Indians for their lack of creativity and innovation, but he is one of the few ones who touched on points that subtly implicated the culture, straying away from the oft-cited bogey man – the Indian educational system.

I will try to swing further Woz’s wrecking ball and try to break down (pun intended) the shortcomings of Indian culture that stymie creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and individual progress.

For this rant, I shall use everyday examples and observations, while eschewing citing scientific literature. This is, thus, an opinion grounded in empiricism.

Low Expectations

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of a lofty goal, often, with scant resources. The challenges are not merely of an infrastructural or a monetary nature, they are first and foremost of a psychological kind. The individual has to place his personal life and tertiary goals on the proverbial altar that will serve as the foundation of his venture.

Unfortunately, such goals and aspirations have no place in a culture of low expectations. Indian culture encourages playing safe just so one gets to check off a centuries old check list of ‘success.’ The check list comprises of education (in select disciplines), employment (in select industries), matrimony, a mortgage, and a car loan.

With the bar set to keeping up with the Joneses, setting off on an almost monkish, backbreaking entrepreneurial journey is off limits.

Group Think

Starting a business or being innovative requires a person to make critical decisions that can either make it or break it. Such critical decision-making needs one to be self-aware and accustomed to make independent decisions from a young age.

A culture that puts a premium on defining one’s identity in the ethnolinguistic group in which one was born is not at all geared for the rigors of independent decision-making.

To add to the burden, individuals are perceived as part of a group and are expected to be in lockstep with group conventions, practices, and thought. For a maverick, this can be stifling and self-isolation is the only counter-measure.

A sub-malady of group think is that individuals get painted with a rather broad brush. Group outliers, viz. future mavericks, tend to be ridiculed, jeered, and in some cases, ostracized due to the misalignment of their compass with the group north star.

A combination of group think and steep penalties on renegade behavior means that the raw creative energy, the fuel of entrepreneurship, is lost or discharged in hackneyed pursuits.

Identity Politics

Group think and ethnolinguistic segmentation segues into identity politics. People tend to judge individuals by their default identities, issued at time of birth, by no virtue or fault of their own.

While this pathology seems to be at its peak in the US, fortunately, there are counter voices that rail against it.

In India, it’s part and parcel of the routine life. Preferential policies and biases towards hiring folks of similar ethno-linguistic groups as that of the employer is rampant in most parts of the country.

Identity politics can creep into fraternizing, segmenting the populace along ethnolinguistic fault lines. This can be extremely counterproductive to the process of information exchange and making beneficial acquaintances – essential pre-requisites to entrepreneurial beginnings.

Lack of Grassroots Innovation

Entrepreneurship has become such a money-minting buzzword that universities now run courses that teach folks how to bootstrap their ideas into successful businesses. Big to medium sized cities see at least one event dedicated to discussing and fostering entrepreneurs. Magazines beat the entrepreneurial drum at least once in their publication cycle and Youtube is chalk full of videos on entrepreneurial hacks.

 

But really, entrepreneurship and innovation is not a gala affair and certainly doesn’t result from a structured top-down plan. It’s more akin to the randomness and meandering trajectories of Brownian motion. Over time, a few of these random trajectories lead to success.

Rockefeller’s success with oil, Henry Ford’s successful application of the assembly line, modern day advances in fracking, the smartphone, and all the petty things that make our domestic life convenient have one thing in common. They are the cumulative result of the effort of average individuals, with great minds and even greater dreams, who wanted to innovate contemporary processes and systems to bring about a greater good.

Indians, for a variety of reasons, lack the innovative mindset. Outliers apart, most Indians don’t think of upgrading existing ways of doing things to make their own lives better. To demonstrate this, I will use two extremely routine, but telling, elements of our lives – house cleaning and food packaging.

House cleaning involves sweeping, mopping, and wiping down surfaces.

The Indian broom hasn’t undergone any significant upgrade since its inception. It’s still made of long fibers of processed grass, held together by a plastic casing which doubles up as the handle. From head to tail, the broom measures around 3.5 feet. The result: poor cleaning and significant strain on the back from bending over. No thought has ever been put into upgrading this tool. It’s only through the entry of products from the West that urban Indians are being introduced to the ‘real’ broom – one with greater work efficiency and optimized for use in upright posture.

Mopping in the average Indian household is performed with a rag and a bucket of water. One has to squat and use their bare hands to mop the floor with the wet rag. Only recently has a mop and a purpose-built bucket been introduced into Indian homes. But to much dismay, this convenience is the result of globalization and trade, not local innovation.

It’s routine to wipe down surfaces with a damp rag. The process requires frequent rinsing and wringing of the rag. Not only is it time consuming, it also produces poorer results. To date, there is no alternative to this, as there is nothing like Clorox wipes on the market.

Food packaging is my pet peeve. I was particularly wowed by food packaging in North America. There is a great emphasis on three criteria – ease of opening, resealability, and ease of dispensing. Cue food packaging in India, and except a few multinational brands, most food packaging is dismal. None of it meets the above three criteria and situation hasn’t changed much over the past few decades.

It seems, at least empirically, that the driver of innovation and entrepreneurship – the individual – is missing in action. This very much explains, partly, the state of shambles India has found itself in.

Lack of Infrastructure

I won’t detail on infrastructural quagmires affecting at a macro level like GDP and public transportation. This is an individual-centric harangue, so I will touch on the micro effects.

Innovation or entrepreneurial pursuit needs contemplation, solitude, and some spare time to etch out the road map. The above elements become unattainable due to the way infrastructure is (mis -)set up in India, at least in urban India. (These problems don’t occur in rural India because there is no infrastructure to begin with.)

The Indian infrastructural setup is for the most part pre-industrial. This accompanied by a pre-industrial culture and way of life throttles any serious contemplation and self-reflection.

Following has been my observation.

Poor roads and dismal traffic management often result in urban Indians spending over 3 hours commuting one-way. While one could theoretically brainstorm and introspect while stuck in traffic, the co-existent cacophony from honking and outdated car motors makes this theoretical prospect unfeasible.

But what about using ear plugs and reading up on relevant issues on the Internet while stuck in traffic? This unfortunately is made impossible due to poor Internet speeds/bandwidth – a characteristic flourish of digital India.

The same lack of quiet is continues on into the urban residential setup, thanks to poor city planning, resulting in noisy vehicular traffic streaming right down the middle of the township. The problems get compounded, every now and then, by cultural and social events, where making the most noise and being inconsiderate to others seems to be the end goal.

With a lack of privacy, quiet, and uninterrupted me-time, it’s hard to think about anything, except the most trivial matters.

Inverse Logic

Part of the goods and services tax in India is also the culprit for not affording the average Indian sufficient downtime. Elements that free up time and make daily routine convenient – frozen and canned foods, processed foods, packaged foods, and household appliances like dishwashers, refrigerators, washers, and ovens – incur a steep tax.

The rationale: the above goods and products are luxury items, hence, should be steeply taxed.

The counter-rationale: how can these conveniences become mainstream if they cost a lot?

The result: most Indians continue to live pre-industrial lives, with household chores occupying a significant chunk of their daily schedule.

Introspection, contemplation, and brainstorming, then, are prerogatives of post-industrial cultures of the West, which is where most innovation and developments occur. This is not serendipity, it is cause-and-effect.

Parental Baggage

This might become a contentious issue.

Exceptions aside, adults in the West are expected to bear fewer parental responsibilities than adults in India. While helping parents out occasionally and tending to their health in times of need can certainly be accommodated in the life of a young adult, there is a threshold to such accommodation, beyond which it adversely affects the adult’s life.

Indian children are not only expected to take care (read middle age to grave) of their parents, they are also expected to fulfill some of the latter’s dreams and expectations. In some unfortunate cases, adults are expected to live with their parents, in line with long-standing cultural norms, despite having the means to move out.

The externalities of such a setup: young adults live a sheltered life and become encumbered with expectations and demands that can put their personal pursuits in a chokehold.

Such young adults can hardly be expected to become trailblazers and mavericks.

Indians are Philistines

Granted India has its own philharmonic orchestra and hosts art exhibitions and cultural festivals. Upon analyzing closely, one finds that such events draw out only the uber-elites of Indian metros – the real bourgeoisie with Ivy-league education and refined tastes. Unfortunately, they are a niche minority.

Most of the the Indian population, including inhabitants of metros, despite their university degrees and corporate careers, couldn’t care less about the arts. Patronage to the arts is considered so superfluous that it doesn’t even brush past the mental orbit of an average Indian.

The arts play a vital role in that they encourage creativity, out-of-box thinking, and open intellectual dimensions that cannot be opened by rote lessons that are the forte of the Indian K-12 system.

Case in point: the user experience on Apple products wouldn’t have been so definitively distinct had Steve Jobs not dropped in on a calligraphy course at Reed College.

It would be almost blasphemous and heretical for an Indian to wish to study the arts or want to build a career in humanities. Not only will he/she incur the wrath of their parents and the ridicule of a vacant society, they will remain cash strapped for the rest of their lives. The culture and the resultant economic system isn’t built to nurture artistic pursuits.

Notable Takeaway

The common thread running through all the above listed reasons is culture. It’s not the lack of money, or the burgeoning population, or poor governance – oft-cited culprits – that result in a dearth of entrepreneurship, lack of innovation, and a miserable existence.

In Closing,

While I would like to end on a sanguine note, I prefer realism to optimism. Cultures are difficult to change. Cultural upheaval results from the efforts of individuals who have seen the light and hazard walking towards something better.

There is a genuine dearth of rugged individualism in the Indian culture. With the engine for change, innovation, and entrepreneurship non-existent, there cannot be a cultural shift or individual progress or creative enterprise in India.

An ex-dentist and a business graduate who is greatly influenced by American conservatism and western values. Having born and brought up in a non-western, third world country, he provides an ‘outside-in’ view on western values. As a budding writer and analyst, he is very much stoked about western culture and looks forward to expound and learn more. Mr. Malkar receives correspondence at saurabh.malkar[at]gmail.com. To read his 140-character commentary on Twitter, follow him at @saurabh_malkar

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Economy

What are Market Anticipations and Policy Expectations as Shares Tumble?

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On April 21st, the three major A-shares indices saw a severe drop due to a combination of local and global causes. The Shanghai Composite Index dropped 2.26%, the Shenzhen Component Index dropped 2.7%, the ChiNext Index dropped 2.17%, and the CSI 300 Index dropped 1.84%. More than 4,400 stocks fell in both cities, while industrial categories led by tourism, fertilizer, agriculture, and photovoltaics almost across the board.

As April started, the Shanghai Composite Index has fallen 7.5%, down 10.5% from the beginning of March. The CSI 300 Index has dropped 13.40% from 4,614 in early March to the current 3,995.83, which tumbled 21.31% from 5,078 in mid-December last year. Because incremental funds were not injected into the market anymore, only stock funds were up for grab. Since the middle of March, A-shares stock trading has been declining, indicating a lack of investor trust.

Researchers at ANBOUND believe that this demonstrates the market’s pessimism about the future economic situation. With the downward pressure on the economy increasing, market confidence restoration and expectations stabilization are critical to helping in the healthy development of the capital market, as well as important in maintaining growth and averting risks.

Figure 1: The Shenzhen Component Index plunging more than 4,200 in the past 4 months

Source: Sina Finance

Market institutions have generally accepted the several factors that have caused the recent severe falls in the stock market. First, the worldwide geopolitical risk of distorting the supply chain and affecting company earnings is rather high. Second, since the Federal Reserve has escalated monetary tightening, the quick reduction of the interest rate gap between China and the U.S., as well as the inversion of the RMB exchange rate, is driving the RMB exchange rate to alter, raising concerns about capital flows. Next, the resurgence of the domestic pandemic has a substantial negative influence on China’s economy, particularly in consumption and real estate as indicated in the first-quarter economic statistics, which has heightened concerns about the country’s macroeconomy. Finally, the pessimism has been accentuated by a substantial disparity between recent central bank macro policy actions and market policy expectations. As a result, as long as present internal and external concerns persist, the A-shares market is unlikely to improve much in the immediate term.

Figure 2: The Shanghai Composite Index shedding more than 600 in the past 4 months

Source: Sina Finance

Historically, the fluctuations and transformation of China’s stock market couldn’t fully reflect China’s overall economic situation. However, in terms of expectations, the shifting trend of the A-share market, by acting as a barometer of the economy, continues to illustrate the genuine expectations of capital market investors on future business and overall economic developments. As observed in the March market trend, changes in external variables have been absorbed, but recent stock market volatility is more likely to be aggravated by changes in internal elements. As a result, changes in China’s economic circumstances and policy expectations are undoubtedly the cause of the stock market’s dramatic volatility. Investors are increasingly concerned about the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreaks, as well as a lack of trust in the stability of present economic strength and the rhythm of macroeconomic measures that sustain the economy. As things stand, despite the continued implementation of measures and policies aimed at stabilizing the capital market, these policies are insufficient to boost market confidence.

The pandemic and policy declarations are not only harming the capital market but are also major variables influencing China’s economic future. Notably, the recurrence of COVID-19 is concentrated in those economically developed regions such as the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta. The scope and depth of its economic impact may surpass that of the outbreak in Wuhan in 2020. In such a case, we believe that there is a demand to put dedicated unconventional policies into place. In this regard, it is necessary to implement targeted measures to stabilize economic fundamentals based on strengthening prevention and control. On the other hand, it is also essential to promote systematic easing among macro policies to avoid the catastrophic consequences caused by shrinking demand.

Since the beginning of the year, in the framework of the Chinese central bank’s monetary policy implementation process, it has taken a cautious approach to progressively easing, which is far from the policy expectation. Although the central bank has maintained “reasonably ample liquidity” as a whole, the reality of the domestic economy indicates the private economy and a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises are unable to obtain sufficient credit support from those “accurate liquidity provisions”. Such economic structural difference requires not only targeted structural reforms, but also overall easing to achieve the dredging effect from “loose money” to “loose credit”, which would reverse the passive situation. Zhang Jun of Morgan Stanley Securities also pointed out that the policy-level “fueling tactics” will cause a waste of policy space and may also deepen the risk to diminish the expectations.

Concerning the present external limitations that limit China’s domestic measures, ANBOUND has previously stated that variables such as interest rate spreads produced by economic and policy disparities are only one of the external factors impacting China’s economy, but not the most important one. Further concern should now be given to the fundamental factors that drive economic growth and structural improvement. In terms of policy, it is imperative to enhance the ‘autonomy’ of macro policies. We should occupy this window, fundamentally reverse the economic trend, and assist the capital market to construct stable market expectations and policy expectations before the international situation undergoes further evolution, hence coping with a better response to the changes in external factors.

It would be difficult to reverse the situation after market expectations have shifted. When combined with a self-reinforcing impact, it frequently leads to a downward spiral vicious cycle in the capital market and the actual economy. Hence, it is hard to reverse market expectations without stable policy expectations. Judging from the economic data of the first quarter, the overall economy is still resilient and possesses a stable foundation. However, to achieve the economic growth target of the current year, it is still necessary to strengthen the implementation of macro policies. This is not only conducive to the stability of the capital market but for the overall economy as well.

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Education Must Come First in our Global Economic Agenda

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A 13-year-old girl solves a maths sum at a school in Gujarat, India. © UNICEF/Mithila Jariwala

With leaders gathering at this year’s World Economic Forum, it’s time to prioritize the impact investments in education bring to businesses, economies and beyond.

As all eyes turn to this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, we call on world leaders and world-leading businesses to put education at the heart our global social and economic agenda.

Education is our investment in the future, our investment in sustainable economic growth and global security, our investment in the vast potential of our collective humanity.

To realize our goals of delivering equitable, quality education to every girl and boy on the planet – especially those caught in armed conflicts, forced displacement and other protracted crises –  we must activate a global conscience and commitment, and create a value proposition that shows businesses, politicians and the general public just what an investment in quality education means for our world.

This means pre-schoolers can learn to read and write in safe environments. It means girls can become entrepreneurs and doctors – not child brides. It means boys can be teachers and lawyers – not soldiers.

It means refugee children and adolescents displaced by conflict, climate change and other crises in hot spots like Bangladesh, Colombia, the Sahel and Ukraine can go on to complete 12 years of education and become leaders of a peaceful and healthy society.

It means college and beyond, a smarter workforce, and greater socio-economic stability. It means an end to poverty and hunger, establishing gender-equality, and advancing human rights for all.  

Unravelling the challenge

This is one of the most complex problems ever to face humanity. When Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – was established in 2016, an estimated 75 million crisis-impacted children and youth did not have access to the safety, protection, hope and opportunity of a quality education. That number has risen to an estimated 200 million in recent years as we see a rise in conflicts, displacement, climate disasters and a deadly pandemic that has upended our progress to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

While a minority of people on the planet are enjoying all the comforts of modern life – and football teams sell for more than $5 billion – over 617 million children and adolescents worldwide cannot read or do basic math. That’s more than the total population of ECW’s three largest donors – Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States – combined. 

Nevertheless, to date, less than 3% of government stimulus packages have been allocated to education, and in low- and lower-middle-income countries, the share is less than 1%. We can and must increase this government funding three-fold, following the example of the European Union, which announced in 2019 that it would increase education spending to 10% of humanitarian aid.

Government aid alone isn’t enough

The private sector, businesses and philanthropic foundations like The LEGO Foundation, Dubai Cares, Verizon and Porticus are already activating significant investments into the space.

We need to bring in more funding from industries closely connected with education – like Google, CISCO and Microsoft – and from those which have a vested interest in ensuring global economic stability and resilience, like the Jacobs Foundation, Western Union and Hilton Foundations of this world.

As we embrace the spirit of Davos – “to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance” – it is clear that this is a global issue that won’t just impact the rights and life trajectories of the world’s most vulnerable children, it will impact the bottom line for businesses, disrupt global socio-economic stability, and affect us all if we don’t act immediately with decisive action and collective humanity at the forefront. 

Building together

Education Cannot Wait has already mobilized over US$1 billion over a few short years and reached approximately 5 million children, but it is simply not enough.  

In the next three years, with the support of donors, the private sector, philanthropic foundations and individuals, we need to mobilize at least an additional $1.5 billion. This needs to happen with the leadership of the G7, the resources and know-how of the private sector partners featured at this year’s World Economic Forum, and the enhanced commitments that will make headlines at this year’s Transforming Education Summit, convened by the UN Secretary-General.

This will enable ECW and our strategic partners to respond immediately and effectively to the education needs of at least 10 million children and adolescents – including 6 million girls.

Think about the ROI. This works out to just $150 per child. If each of the world’s Fortune 500 companies made just a US$15 million contribution, we could surpass our goals and reach 100,000 children per donation! That’s 50 million more children with an education, 50 million more children breaking the hunger and poverty barriers, 50 million more opportunities to provide certainty in the face of very uncertain economic times.

Think about the future. If you could future-proof your business for the next 30 years with such a simple investment, wouldn’t you do it? Investment in education is good for the bottom line. With increased security and economic opportunity in the Global South, we are opening new markets, increasing economic resilience and building a more prosperous world.

Think about the legacy. For every $1 spent on girls’ education, we generate approximately $2.80 in return. Making sure girls finish secondary education could boost the GDP of developing countries by 10% over the next decade.

Think about scale. For every dollar raised, ECW and our strategic partners are leveraging about a dollar. This grows impact exponentially.

Think about our place in history. This is our moment to transform education for those left furthest behind. Please join us in ensuring every girl and boy – no matter who or where they are – has the opportunity to go school, to learn, to grow and to achieve their potentials not just for a day, but for a lifetime.

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Economy

The Politics of New Global Borderless-Class

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No, they are not the immigrants; they are citizens of a country in their own habitats, but active in yours. Slow circumnavigation of our earth will only prove that at the bottom of the population of each nation now there exists a new borderless-class slowly rising. Firstly, they are effortlessly, technology supported, secondly, squeezed out of imbalances, injustices and inhuman entrapments, thirdly, engaged in ‘nouveau occupationalism’ with virtual hopping from nation-to-nation all in the same typical routines of a normal day.

Fourthly, they are screaming silently, they see the global problems in desperate need of global solutions. Nevertheless, still inaudible in the political rotundas slowly they now become the force challenging old models of governments.

Study Pakistan, Sri Lanka and dozens of population-rich nations of the free world, notice the restless citizenry and their social media centric mobilization of dissent and protest narratives. As in coming months, peak temperatures will further fry the incompetence of the lingering economic bureaucracies. The sizzle is awakening, the awareness of incompetency on the rise. Unless grassroots prosperity issues are boldly addressed the economic fakery clearly visible on trillion blinking devices. Such blinks do not prove neither fame nor popularity but points to a silent ocean ready to drown them. What are the most important and dramatic roles that these borderless-classes will play in our behavioral economies and future demographics? Observe the goals, vision and narrative of Imran Khan of Pakistan.  Notice the silent Australians and polls in dustbins… 25 more national elections ahead.

Why elitism was multinational: Observe, in contrast, for centuries, only elites allowed global games; multinational organization with multinational rules of engagements. Today common folks are on the same platforms. They, born in a country but grew up in another country, work in some other continent and eventually settle in another new country. Exposed to massive digitization, access and internalization of rules of engagement in a massive global society with residency in multiple jurisdictions they are different.

Now Face-to-Face around the world: Compared to previous generations, the new borderless-classes are extremely well informed, this significant feature makes them locally, regionally, nationally and globally interconnected and creates a game changer. Most dramatic economic behaviorism of this borderless dynamic is face-to-face engagement around the world, while remote. Previous elite borderless-class was jet- set dependent.  It will take some deep yoga exercises to figure out mathematical variations to measure the power of their productivity of these hush-hush global whisperers.

What is the world waiting for? What does all this mean to the institutionalized bureaucracies, nestled in governances of the nations of the so-called free world, awaiting a nuke-flash? Perhaps nothing, or shocking realization that masses are discovering by the day how artificially created pre planned economic dramas are hurting local grassroots prosperity. Most importantly, they are equipped and capable to see the root causes and equally to recognize the available workable options. This is the difference.  Unlike some generations fooled sometimes or some all the times but this global-generation cannot fool all the time.

Is this brain drain or invasions of skilled minds?
The coin-operated competency of the Gig-economy now takes notice…

Most difficult questions; almost numbing most bureaucracies of the free world; when billions are already displaced due to pandemic, a billion replaced due to automation and a billion in wrong mismatched mandates how such masses are handled before they move towards populists viewpoints. Such shifts measured as unemployed now occupy remote work for overseas assignments and equally when local workers pushed over by higher skilled workers at half prices but working as foreign workers without paying taxes or contributing to the local societies. Is this brain drain or invasions of skilled minds?  The answers now buried in the several decade long abundance of higher quality upskilling and reskilling in hands of the leading nations of the free world points to massive breakdown of skilled citizenry. Study Expothon on Google on such issues, notice what is changing the thinking…

Only fake economies fail, as only houses built without builders and architectural rules collapse.  Observe the root causes of the last few financial crises. How such collapses systematically occurred, how the whole world of finance, quietly went so wrong, no punishments or lessons, just silence? Now all wait for the repeat performances.

Unfortunately, the jobless cannot create green economies and jobseeker mindsets cannot build new economies, therefore, bold, authoritative narrative on entrepreneurialism needed to bring the job creator mindsets in collaboration as the new art and science and combine both mindsets are going forward strategy. Is climate change a global politics or an entrepreneurial challenge, find the answers.

Study why capitalism is not the one failing: It is actually economic development. Winners of the future not necessarily are the visible rich and power of today. Notice the rising power of the bottom societies. Value creation economies when they become beneficiaries of primarily institutionalized value manipulation economies they become open public frauds. Nations without clear and decipherable narratives on economic fronts with national mobilization of entrepreneurialism will not create a distinct advantage.  Learn fast, fail fast, but move

Nations must demonstrate superior skills to build economies and not wars, creation of armies of entrepreneurs and new valleys of new enterprises.  Only in-depth discussion and nationally televised debates about such economical mysteries will highlight the answers. The silent new borderless-classes of the free economic world are now learning how to fix their government, how to bring change and how to create grassroots prosperity. The rest is easy. 

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