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From “Information” Society to “Self-Sufficient’ Society

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We have not seen the World War III yet but after this pandemic, it is not difficult to make reliable projections about what would happen after that. Despite the huge amount of experiences of the world civilizations we simply went back to the social rules of the hunting and gathering societies. We literally became hoarders. Now we need to find a way to reach our “civilization” level just 3 months ago. We need to fast-forward a couple of thousands of years and get back to the end of 2019 in a couple of months.

Societies all around the world have structured ways of regulating and managing social life which are called social institutions, like the education system, health care system, economic system, etc. All of these social institutions are a result of previous experiences and future projections. They are not fixed and they constantly change based on new realities. COVID-19 is now our current reality. Our definition of “normal” will change indefinitely. Nothing will get back to “normal” as we used to know it. Just like the politicians, we all know that if the current stage of “curfew” continues for couple of months the whole social and economic system will eventually collapse. That is the reason why we see the urge to re-open businesses despite the high probability of tsunami-like waves of spread. Now we are trying to find a way to keep the “people” and the “economy” alive at the same time, but unfortunately “keeping the economy alive” looks like winning the war. A new study suggests that relaxing business closures and stay-at-home rules could cost 13,000 lives in Texas and 12,000 lives in Georgia by September 1. But it will also preserve $3.4 billion in statewide income in Texas, and $1.7 billion in Georgia. New York’s tougher restrictions will save 5,000 lives, but cost $2.4 billion in lost income.

The economy has been the driving force of our modern capitalist system. We defined ourselves by our wealth. We looked for easy ways to increase our wealth and climb the social class ladder as quickly as possible. We have been so obsessed with the idea of making a huge amount of money without breaking a sweat. We always fell for the get-rich-quick schemes like our modern inventions of stock markets, lottery, and other “financial” investment tools. Lots of people got really rich with these tools at the expense of the others who lost a lot. You can also think about these schemes at societal level as the exploitation and the colonization of other societies, which are the manifestations of imperialism.

We created this ideal of living in a bigger house and riding an expensive car which resulted in the habit of spending more and more. Even though we strive for this huge amount of products, we assigned the production duty to the “cheap” third world countries like China and Mexico. Instead of producing real/tangible products we focused on the “service” sector, because this is what the economic rules have been telling us; maximize your profits with minimum investment. They mass produced and we mass consumed. The idea of spending constantly as a “consumer” and even buying unnecessary things because they were “cheap” drove us into this “ideal consumer” who forgot to save for hard times.

When you combine the driving economic force of get-rich-quick capitalist system with the “ideal” consumer personality you would produce individuals who would not invest in the industrial production sector. We have forgotten that the production sector, not the service sector would create real, tangible goods. Without those goods our economic system thus our society would become extremely fragile especially when things do not go as planned; see COVID-19!!! It is now clear that the current means of production will not take us to a better stage. Too much reliance and dependence on other countries to provide essential parts of the supply chain brought us to this point.

To get a clear picture of what our economic backbone looks like, let’s look at the Fortune’s list of 10 largest businesses in the US in 2019. There are no “real” production businesses on this list. You can also understand why we are paying a ridiculous amount of monies for health coverages. We just see lists of business moguls with an unprecedented amount of wealth. We are the richest country in the “free” world with one of the worst wealth distribution system. On one hand you can see the extreme accumulation of wealth and on the other hand there are literally millions of people struggling to pay their bills and mortgages amid pandemic. You can’t simply explain the failure of these millions of people from a Weberian Protestant Ethics perspective. This mass misery is not a sign of predestination, this is exactly a system failure.

RankCompany NameSectorIndustry
1WalmartRetailingGeneral Merchandisers
2Exxon MobilEnergyPetroleum Refining
3AppleTechnologyComputers, Office Equipment
4Berkshire HathawayFinancialsInsurance: Property and Casualty (Stock)
5Amazon.comRetailingInternet Services and Retailing
6UnitedHealth GroupHealth CareHealth Care: Insurance and Managed Care
7McKessonHealth CareWholesalers: Health Care
8CVS HealthHealth CareHealth Care: Pharmacy and Other Services
9AT&TTelecommunicationsTelecommunications
10AmerisourceBergenHealth CareWholesalers: Health Care

Source: https://fortune.com/fortune500/, 05.07.2020

Even China, which can be called as the “world’s production capital”, has the same non-productive entities at the top of their wealthiest list. They are even worse than the U.S. Five of their top 10 entities, which are among the top 50 in Fortune’s Global 500 list, are just state-owned financial institutions. I believe this also explains how China easily buys “assets” all around the world. There isn’t even a single “technology” company in this list. I can’t categorize China as a “free” society and obviously their wealth distribution system is worse than ours – if there is any.

RankCompany NameSectorIndustry
1Sinopec GroupEnergyPetroleum Refining
2China National PetroleumEnergyPetroleum Refining
3State GridEnergyUtilities
4China State Construction EngineeringEngineering & ConstructionEngineering, Construction
5Industrial & Commercial Bank of ChinaBanksBanks: Commercial and Savings
6Ping An InsuranceFinancialsInsurance: Life, Health (stock)
7China Construction BankBanksBanks: Commercial and Savings
8Agricultural Bank of ChinaFinancialsBanks: Commercial and Savings
9SAIC MotorMotor Vehicles & PartsMotor Vehicles & Parts
10Bank of ChinaFinancialsBanks: Commercial and Savings

Source: https://fortune.com/global500/, 05.07.2020

It has generally been accepted that the new information society is based on services rather than industrial production. At the very early times of modern internet which started to link global commercial networks and enterprises during the 1990s, Castells predicted a future society that he labeled as network society or information age. In his very influential trilogy of books, he speculated that by the development of information technology and rising dependency on networks, the time of traditional industrial society was fading away and a new type of economy was emerging. In this new type of economy, which he labeled as “informational economy”, he argued the competitiveness of individuals, companies, and even nations will be dependent on technology, networks, and information rather than the level and power of tangible productivity and manufacturing economy.  

I see the information sector as our newest get-quick-rich scheme where there is no real/tangible industrial production. Even as the richest country in the world with the most advanced technologies,we will not be able to survive under these economic conditions for very long.Supposedly “producing” this many things and still suffering from lack of vital goods?!?!?! There is something fundamentally wrong in this equation and it is the lack of producing real/tangible products.

Societies have institutions to meet their needs and governments are the most organized entities that are responsible for every other institution in the society, hence it is the government’s responsibility to regulate the new social order in the post-information society. If we are not a self-sufficient society, then we are not economically independent. The coming society should eventually be a self-sufficient society which would be a hybrid of production (industrial) and information societies with different regulations and taxation systems. We now understand that, in terms of economic rules, one size does not fit all and the governments now need to focus on more equity instead of equality.

The government should work on a new tax reform which will enable different taxing regimes for different sectors. An industrial production company should not be subject to the same tax regime with a service-based company. The information society will collapse if the COVID-19 threat continues for another year. Italy, which is one of the G7 member states, is now on the brink of financial collapse.Italy’s credit rating downgraded to just one step above “junk” by Fitch. This is not a joke and even the most powerful nations are being hit so hard by the ongoing pandemic. Finally, think about all of the financial institutions that are “keeping” your life savings, like the retirement plans and the insurances. It would be a devastating collapse if things do not get back to “normal” soon.

Ismail Dincer Gunes, Ph.D. Faculty Member at Sul Ross State University in USA Dr. Gunes is an expert in Criminal Justice with over 14 years of experience at the Turkish National Police Force from 1996 to 2010. He got his Master’s degree in Criminal Justice in 2001 and his Ph.D. in Sociology in 2008 both at University of North Texas. He got his Associate Professorship in Sociology in 2011. Dr. Gunes has numerous publications and presentations in Sociology, Criminal Justice, and other related fields. Currently he is serving as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Homeland Security & Criminal Justice and Training Coordinator of H. Joaquin Jackson Law Enforcement Academy both at Sul Ross State University.

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Covid-19 and food crisis

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COVID-19 has hit at a time when food crisis and malnutrition are on the rise. According to the most recent UN projections, the pandemic-induced economic slump would cause as many as 132 million people to be hungry. This would be in addition to the 690 million people going hungry now. At the same time, 135 million people suffer from acute food insecurity and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Although the pandemic’s transmission has slowed in certain countries and cases have decreased, COVID-19 has resurfaced or is spreading rapidly in others. This is still a global issue that needs a worldwide solution.

This epidemic threatens both lives and livelihoods. COVID-19 has had a wide-ranging and disruptive influence on the agriculture system. We fear a worldwide food crisis unless we act quickly, which may have long-term consequences for hundreds of millions of children and adults. This is mostly due to a lack of food availability — as wages decline, remittances decline, and in certain cases, food prices rise. Food insecurity is increasingly becoming a food production concern in nations that already have high levels of acute food insecurity.

Agriculture continues to serve a reliable and major part in world economy and stability, and it remains the primary source of food, income, and work for rural communities, even in the face of a pandemic. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agricultural system and sector has been wide-ranging, causing unprecedented uncertainty in global food supply chains, including potential bottlenecks in labor markets, input industries, agriculture production, food processing, transportation and logistics, as well as shifts in demand for food and food services.

The COVID-19 epidemic not only created a new sort of agricultural catastrophe, but it also occurred at a difficult moment for farmers. In most years during the last few years, global commodity output has exceeded demand, resulting in lower prices. In 2013, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) predicted decreased global agricultural output growth due to limited agricultural land development, rising production costs, expanding resource restrictions, and increasing environmental concerns.

An expanding global population remains the main driver of demand growth, although the consumption patterns and projected trends vary across countries in line with their level of income and development. Average per capita food availability is projected to reach about 3,000 kcal and 85 g of protein per day by 2029. Due to the ongoing transition in global diets towards higher consumption of animal products, fats and other foods, the share of staples in the food basket is projected to decline by 2029 for all income groups. In particular, consumers in middle-income countries are expected to use their additional income to shift their diets away from staples towards higher value products. Meanwhile, environmental and health concerns in high-income countries are expected to support a transition from animal-based protein towards alternative sources of protein.

When people suffer from hunger or chronic undernourishment, it means that they are unable to meet their food requirements – consume enough calories to lead a normal, active life – over a prolonged period. This has long-term implications for their future, and continues to present a setback to global efforts to reach Zero Hunger. When people experience crisis-level, acute food insecurity, it means they have limited access to food in the short-term due to sporadic, sudden crises that may put their lives and livelihoods at risk.

However, if people facing crisis-level acute food insecurity get the assistance they need, they will not join the ranks of the hungry, and their situation will not become chronic

It is clear: although globally there is enough food for everyone, too many people are still suffering from hunger. Our food systems are failing, and the pandemic is making things worse.

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How Bangladesh became Standout Star in South Asia Amidst Covid-19

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Bangladesh, the shining model of development in South Asia, becomes everyone’s economic darling amidst Covid-19. The per capita income of Bangladesh in the fiscal year 2020-21 is higher than that of many neighbouring countries including India and Pakistan. Recently, Bangladesh has agreed to lend $200 million to debt-ridden Sri Lanka to bail out through currency swap. Bangladesh, once one of the most vulnerable economies, has now substantiated itself as the most successful economy of South Asia. How Bangladesh successfully managed Covid-19 and became top performing economy of South Asia?

In March 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared their independence from richer and more powerful Pakistan. The country was born through war and famine. Shortly after the independence of Bangladesh, Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. national security advisor, derisively referred to the country as a “Basket Case of Misery.” But after fifty years, recently, Bangladesh’s Cabinet Secretary reported that per capita income has risen to $2,227. Pakistan’s per capita income, meanwhile, is $1,543. In 1971, Pakistan was 70% richer than Bangladesh; today, Bangladesh is 45% richer than Pakistan. Pakistani economist Abid Hasan, former World Bank Adviser, stated that “If Pakistan continues its dismal performance, it is in the realm of possibility that we could be seeking aid from Bangladesh in 2030,”. On the other hand, India, the economic superpower of South Asia, is also lagging behind Bangladesh in terms of per capita income worth of $1,947. This also elucidates that the economic decisions of Bangladesh are better than that of any other South Asian countries.

Bangladesh’s economic growth leans-on three pillars: exports competitiveness, social progress and fiscal prudence. Between 2011 and 2019, Bangladesh’s exports grew at 8.6% every year, compared to the world average of 0.4%. This godsend is substantially due to the country’s hard-hearted focus on products, such as apparel, in which it possesses a comparative advantage.

The variegated investment plans pursued by the Bangladesh government contributes to the escalation of the country’s per capita income. The government has attracted investments in education, health, connectivity and infrastructure both from home and abroad. As a long-term implication, investing in these sectors helped Bangladesh to facilitate space for businesses and created skilled manpower to run them swiftly. Meanwhile, the share of Bangladeshi women in the labor force has consistently grown, unlike in India and Pakistan, where it has decreased. And Bangladesh has maintained a public debt-to-GDP ratio between 30% and 40%. India and Pakistan will both emerge from the pandemic with public debt close to 90% of GDP.

Bangladesh’s economy and industry management strategy during Covid-19 is also worth mentioning here since the country till now has successfully protected its economy from impact of pandemic. At the outset of pandemic, lockdowns and restrictions hampered the country’s overall productivity for a while. To tackle the pandemic effect, Bangladesh introduced improvised monetary policy and fiscal stimuli to bring them under the safety net which lifted the situation from worsening. Government introduced stimulus package which is equivalent to 4.3 percent of total GDP and covers all necessary sectors such as industry, SMEs and agriculture. These packages are not only a one-time deal, new packages are also being announced in course of time. For instance, in January 2021, government announced two new packages for small and medium entrepreneurs and grass roots populations. Apart from economic interventions, the government also chose the path of targeted interventions. The government, after first wave, abandoned widespread lockdown and adopted the policy of targeted intervention which is found to be effective as it allows socio-economic activities to carry on under certain protocols and helps the industries to fight back against the pandemic effect.

Another pivotal key to success was the management of migrant labor force and keeping the domestic production active amidst the pandemic. According to KNOMAD report, amidst the Covid-19, Bangladesh’s remittance grew by 18.4 percent crossing 21 billion per annum inflow where many remittance dependent countries experienced negative growth rate. Because of the massive inflow of remittance, the Forex reserve of Bangladesh reached at 45.1 billion US dollar.

Bangladesh’s success in managing COVID19 and its economy has been reflected in a recent report “Bangladesh Development Update- Moving Forward: Connectivity and Logistics to strengthen Competitiveness,” published by World Bank. Bangladesh’s economy is showing nascent signs of recovery backed by a rebound in exports, strong remittance inflows, and the ongoing vaccination program. Through financial assistance to Sri Lanka and Covid relief aid to India, Bangladesh is showcasing its rise as an emerging superpower in South Asia. That is why Mihir Sharma, Director of Centre for Economy and Growth Programme at the Observer Research Foundation, wrote in an article at Bloomberg that, “Today, the country’s 160 million-plus people, packed into a fertile delta that’s more densely populated than the Vatican City, seem destined to be South Asia’s standout success”. Back in 2017, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) report also predicted the same that Bangladesh will become the largest economy by 2030 and an economic powerhouse in South Asia. And this is how Bangladesh, a development paragon, offers lessons for the other struggling countries of world after 50 years of its independence.

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Build Back Better World: An Alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative?

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The G7 Summit is all the hype on the global diplomatic canvas. While the Biden-Putin talk is another awaited juncture of the Summit, the announcement of an initiative has wowed just as many whilst irked a few. The Group of Seven (G7) partners: the US, France, the UK, Canada, Italy, Japan, and Germany, launched a global infrastructure initiative to meet the colossal infrastructural needs of the low and middle-income countries. The Project – Build Back Better World (B3W) – is aimed to be a partnership between the most developed economies, namely the G7 members, to help narrow the estimated $40 trillion worth of infrastructure needed in the developing world. However, the project seems to be directed as a rival to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Amidst sharp criticism posed against the People’s Republic during the Summit, the B3W initiative appears to be an alternative multi-lateral funding program to the BRI. Yet, the developing world is the least of the concerns for the optimistic model challenging the Asian giant.

While the B3W claims to be a highly cohesive initiative, the BRI has expanded beyond comprehension and would be extremely difficult to dethrone, even when some of the most lucrative economies of the world are joining heads to compete over the largely untapped potential of the region. Now let’s be fair and contest that neither the G7 nor China intends the welfare of the region over profiteering. However, China enjoys a headstart. The BRI was unveiled back in 2013 by president Xi Jinping. The initiative was projected as a transcontinental long-term policy and investment program aimed to consolidate infrastructural development and gear economic integration of the developing countries falling along the route of the historic Silk Road. 

The highly sophisticated project is a long-envisioned dream of China’s Communist Party; operating on the premise of dominating the networks between the continents to establish unarguable sovereignty over the regional economic and policy decision-making. Referring to the official outline of the BRI issued by China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the BRI drives to: “Promote the connectivity of Asian, European, and African continents and their adjacent seas, establish and strengthen partnerships among the countries along the Belt and Road [Silk Road], set up all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks and realize diversified, independent, balanced, and sustainable development in these countries”. The excerpt clearly amplifies the thought process and the main agenda of the BRI. On the other hand, the B3W simply stands as a superfluous rival to an already outgrowing program.

Initially known as One Belt One Road (OBOR), the BRI has since expanded in the infrastructural niche of the region, primarily including emerging markets like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The standout feature of the BRI has been the mutually inclusive nature of the projects, that is, the BRI has been commandeering projects in many of the rival countries in the region yet the initiative manages to keep the projects running in parallel without any interference or impediment. With a loose hold on the governance whilst giving a free hand to the political and social realities of each specific country, the BRI program presents a perfect opportunity to jump the bandwagon and obtain funding for development projects without undergoing scrutiny and complications. With such attractive nature of the BRI, the program has significantly grown over the past decade, now hosting 71 countries as partners in the initiative. The BRI currently represents a third of the world’s GDP and approximately two-thirds of the world’s entire population.

Similar to BRI, the B3W aims to congregate cross-national and regional cooperation between the countries involved whilst facilitating the implementation of large-scale projects in the developing world. However, unlike China, the G7 has an array of problems that seem to override the overly optimistic assumption of B3W being the alternate stream to the BRI. 

One major contention in the B3W model is the facile assumption that all 7 democracies have an identical policy with respect to China and would therefore react similarly to China’s policies and actions. While the perspective matches the objective of BRI to promote intergovernmental cooperation, the G7 economies are much more polar than the democracies partnered with China. It is rather simplistic to assume that the US and Japan would have a similar stance towards China’s policies, especially when the US has been in a tense trade war with China recently while Japan enjoyed a healthy economic relation with Xi’s regime. It would be a bold statement to conclude that the US and the UK would be more cohesively adjoined towards the B3W relative to the China-Pakistan cooperation towards the BRI. Even when we disregard the years-long partnership between the Asian duo, the newfound initiative would demand more out of the US than the rest of the countries since each country is aware of the tense relations and the underlying desperation that resulted in the B3W program to shape its way in the Summit.

Moreover, the B3W is timed in an era when Europe has seen its history being botched over the past year. Post-Brexit, Europe is exactly the polar opposite of the unified policy-making glorified in the B3W initiate. The European Union (EU), despite US reservations, recently signed an investment deal with China. A symbolic gesture against the role played by former US President Donald J. Trump to bolster the UK’s exit from the Union. As London tumbles into peril, it would rather join hands with China as opposed to the democrat-regime of the US to prevent isolation in the region. Despite US opposition, Germany – Europe’s largest economy – continues to place China as a key market for its Automobile industry. Such a divided partnership holds no threat to the BRI, especially when the partners are highly dependent on China’s market and couldn’t afford an affront to China’s long envisaged initiative.

Even if we assume a unified plan of action shared between the G7 countries, the B3W would fall short in attracting the key developing countries of the region. The main targets of the initiative would naturally be the most promising economies of Asia, namely India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh. However, the BRI has already encapsulated these countries: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIMEC) being two of the core 6 developmental corridors of BRI. 

While both the participatory as well as the targeted democracies would be highly cautious in supporting the B3W over BRI, the newfound initiate lacks the basic tenets of a lasting project let alone standing rival to the likes of BRI. The B3W is aimed to be domestically funded through USAID, EXIM, and other similar programs. However, a project of such complex nature involves investments from diverse funding channels. The BRI, for example, tallies a total volume of roughly USD 4 to 8 trillion. However, the BRI is state-funded and therefore enjoys a variety of funding routes including BRI bond flotation. The B3W, however, simply falls short as up until recently, the large domestic firms and banks in the US have been pushed against by the Biden regime. An accurate example is the recent adjustment of the global corporate tax rate to a minimum of 15% to undercut the power of giants like Google and Amazon. Such strategies would make it impossible for the United States and its G7 counterparts to gain multiple channels of funding compared to the highly leveraged state-backed companies in China.

Furthermore, the B3W’s competitiveness dampens when conditionalities are brought into the picture. On paper, the B3W presents humane conditions including Human Rights preservation, Climate Change, Rule of Law, and Corruption prevention. In reality, however, the targeted countries are riddled with problems in all 4 categories. A straightforward question would be that why would the developing countries, already hard-pressed on funds, invest to improve on the 4 conditions posed by the B3W when they could easily continue to seek benefits from a no-strings-attached funding through BRI?

The B3W, despite being a highly lucrative and prosperous model, is idealistic if presented as a competition to the BRI. Simply because the G7, majorly the United States, elides the ground realities and averts its gaze from the labyrinth of complex relations shared with China. The only good that could be achieved is if the B3W manages to find its own unique identity in the region, separate from BRI in nature and not rivaling the scale of operation. While Biden has remained vocal to assuage the concerns regarding the B3W’s aim to target the trajectory of the BRI, the leaders have remained silent over the detailed operations of the model in the near future. For now, the B3W would await bipartisan approval in the United States as the remaining partners would develop their plan of action. Safe to say, for now, that the B3W won’t hold a candle to the BRI in the long-run but could create problems for the G7 members if it manages to irk China in the Short-run.

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