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

Ismail D. Gunes

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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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Economy

Bangladesh’s Graduation: A Ray of Hope for India’s Garment Industry?

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Authors: Ms. Prerana Manral and Mr. Shreyansh Singh*

A report was released by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on May 8th highlighting the implications of graduation of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) on their trade participation. By virtue of their status as LDCs, these countries enjoy access to international support measures such as development financing, preferential market access, technical assistance etc. WTO also obliges LDCs with certain carve outs such as Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) to increase their participation in global trade.  The LDCs are graduated to developing country status if they meet the threshold levels for at least two of the three indicators i.e. Gross National Income (GNI), Human Assets Index (HAI) and Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI) for two consecutive triennial reviews. Interestingly, in 2018 Bangladesh became the first country to meet the thresholds for all the three indicators and if it meets these thresholds again for the second triennial review in 2021, it will be eligible for graduation in 2024.

In such a scenario, Bangladesh will lose some of the benefits provided to LDCs by developing and developed countries like the preferential market access which presently accords Bangladesh a competitive edge over Indian products. One of the key labor-intensive sectors which contributes significantly to the exports of both Bangladesh and India is garments industry. In 2009, both the countries almost had an equivalent share in the world market, however in 2018 India was left far behind Bangladesh. India’s total garment exports stood at 21 billion USD whereas Bangladesh’s exports were at 40 billion USD in 2018. 

Bangladesh’s garment sector, due to its LDC status, currently enjoys a duty-free access to markets of Europe and other developed countries. Specifically in EU markets, goods from Bangladesh are covered under “Everything But Arms” (EBA) preferential arrangement which provides zero percent duty on all the products except arms and ammunition. On the other hand, India loses out due to 9% average tariff on garments under the Standard GSP scheme of EU. Further, under the SAFTA and APTA Agreements, India also provides similar duty-free market access to LDCs which along with the removal of quantitative restrictions has exponentially increased Bangladesh’s garments exports to India leading to a tough time for the domestic industry even in the internal market.

Source: Authors’ calculation based on data available on World Integrated Trade Solution

The major markets for India and Bangladesh garment exports are the EU, Australia, Canada and Japan. Trade estimates of garment products clearly show that India’s export in terms of value is significantly less than that of Bangladesh. Since 2010, India’s total share of exports grew by 9.4% whereas Bangladesh’s exports skyrocketed by 141% in these markets. The major reasons behind Bangladesh’s exemplary export performance are tariff exemptions and lower wage labor market which provides impetus to narrowly beat its competitors in the international market. The analysis done in the report reveals that 70% of Bangladesh’s overall export is covered under LDC-specific preferences.

At this juncture a possible graduation of Bangladesh will lead to termination of such preferential access granted exclusively to LDCs which may provide an opportunity for Indian exporters to grab a larger share. However, to maximize the gains arising from this development India needs to prepare a robust action-plan. Firstly, low cost inputs such as cheap power, land and raw materials will have far-reaching effects in enhancing the export competitiveness. Secondly, India should focus on mass scale production of garments in order to achieve economies of scale to bring down its cost of production. Presently, the production is limited majorly to small-scale enterprises which lack capital intensive technology. This in turn negatively affects the quality and time of production which are crucial factors in tapping the domestic and international markets. The improvement in these parameters would help Indian exporters to move up the value chain in terms of creating brand value for its superior quality products. Another overdue policy action could be cutting the import duties on high-quality machinery required for better production. In addition to this, a fiscal stimulus is required to boost the ecosystem in wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

Lastly, to offset the preferential access enjoyed by its competitors such as Vietnam, Bangladesh etc. India should identify its partners and strategically negotiate FTAs for lower tariffs and Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs) to obtain better market access for Indian exports. Needless to mention, India will only be able to reap the benefits arising from Bangladesh’s graduation (due in 2024) if it sows the right seeds today. Effectuating such policies especially at a time when corporate taxes are slashed to match that of India’s competitors along will definitely send a positive signal for investment in the sector from the top global garment companies.  

*Authors are Research Fellows at Centre for WTO Studies, Indian Institute for Foreign Trade. Views expressed are personal.

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Post-Pandemic Economies and Environment

Dr.Abid Rashid Gill

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The cleaner air in cities, the burgeoning biodiversity and dramatic shift to less pollution-intensive lifestyle across the globe indicate the scope of the environmental improvement that can be achieved in just days. This is what we need to adhere to navigate the current pandemics:COVID-19 and environmental degradation. The environmental issues as we know do not seem to wait for a more convenient time, we therefore must deal it and Covid-19 pandemic concurrently. It is a very fatal disease and has incited urgent response all over the world. The governments, businesses and industries have been forced to deal with the pandemic in an unprecedented way.

According to the experts, this pandemic has provided us with the opportunities to deal with other crises also. We can take a transnational leap towards a sustainable society that produce minimum wastes and emissions. How we deal with current pandemic will also set our environmental trajectory for the centuries to come. The changes in our behaviour that we are experiencing nowadays and some of which may instilus permanently have a far-reaching impact on the environment. Our consumption and travel patron are more responsible: driving less car, attending online meetings rather than taking flights. Equally, it indicates that considerable dent on emissions and wastes products can be made without disturbing too much economic growth.

However, according to International Renewable News Agency (IRENA), for the long-run substantial reduction in the emissions of the toxins, huge and lasting changes are needed in the way how energy is produced and consumed. Though China and India two major growing economies, observed 25% and 30% reduction respectively during the months of lockdown. However, a shift towards low-emission society cannot be accomplished only via individual choices instead it involves reimagining the ways our urbane centres are built and organised, how roads are laid out so that moving without cars become easier, how provisions for walking, cycling and public transport is mad. There is a need for complete overhauling theway we grow, manufacture, trade, consumes and the way we travel.

Cities of Western Europe have been leading this transition by introducing innovative infrastructure projects: Milan has allocated 35 Km street for pedestrians and cyclists; Brussels has created 40km of a new path for cyclists and France has subsided cycling. Also, the Mayor of London started taking measures to build a car and buses free streets and bridges. Similarly, many cities are working on the circular economy where wastes are minimized through reuse and recycling. Following the footsteps of these cities, Pakistan also needs to devise pro-environmental urbane policies and mobility models.

Many studies such asYaron Ogen, 220 and  Dario Caro, 220 indicate a strong link between COVID-19 death rate and an increase in emissions. Especially in North Italy and Spain, the high death rate from COVID-19 is seen to be associated with high air pollution in cities. Curtailing the pollution, therefore, would reduce general health burden and prevent any future pandemic may not prove to be so lethal. It has been learnt from the pandemic that early actions to contain the virus were more effective than trying to deter when the virus has spread. The same is also true for the environmental issues as Prof. Stern of Brentford claimed in 2006 that “countries needed to spend 1% of their GDP to stop greenhouse gases rising to dangerous levels. Failure to do this would lead to damage costing much more, the report warned – at least 5% and perhaps more than 20% of global GDP”.

Eventually, it is time for governments to forge with the private sectors to produce a sustainable economy. After this pandemic is over, the businesses, the industry, and individuals would plead to governments for state support. The governments should have an agenda of a sustainable economy while pouring money into the economy as aid packages. Governments should use this opportunity and must take a long view to utilize the stimulus packages. To an extent, the impact of COVID-19 on the environment is the functions of a kind of fiscal stimulus will be adopted in post-pandemic. Ideally, we should avoid a post-2008-09 financial crisis when fiscal measures of China government boosted the emissions by 6% (World Bank,2020). Rather, a more successful model of South Korea should be borrowed where stimulus package of 2008 included investment in natural conversation, energy efficiency, renewable energies, and sustainable transportations.

The COVID-19 virus is a global issue that requires a global response asall states are sharing data, experiences, equipment, and resources to deal with this pandemic. This same spirit of international collaboration is needed to produce the viable solution of the environmental issues. An inclusive global programme collaborated by rich and poor nations that ensures sustainable production can ensure low-emissions economies across the globe. The post-pandemic economies should be navigated in a way that protects people and planet and avoids any ecological destruction that leads to viral diseases. This pandemic can be taken as a mandate to build a new world from its broken parts.

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Long lockdowns and the status of Indian MSMEs

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Recently, when the Government of India decided to classify institutions as Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) they were trying to set up an incentive structure to usher a new era of growth. The incentives announced are in the form of attractive cheap loans, fewer compliance standards, tax benefits, and host of other freebies. The intended scheme wanted to keep growing — from Micro to Small and Small to Medium, and the support system and put the nation on a path of self-sufficiency .

Change of classification criteria

In fact, the businesses are  classified as Micro, Small, or Medium depending on the kind of investments they were making in plant and machinery and  if we made investments of up to 5 Crore, then we are as a Small enterprise. But what happens when business is booming and there’s an incentive for us  to invest and expand. Well, without government intervention, we’d have lapped up this opportunity no questions asked. But now, we have to consider the downside. Because, as our transition from being Small to Medium, we’ll forego a few benefits. Benefits that  might not want to cede. Here likes the dilemma because when we  try and deceive the government into thinking we  are a Small enterprise when in fact we are not and we will  have to do is to keep making the investments we  need, but figure out ways to hide the investments on our  accounting books. That means the government will now have to spend additional resources in physically verifying your claims. In effect, the incentives that were designed to help MSMEs grow and become self-sufficient have now turned “perverse”. A move that was meant to promote investment and foster growth is now yielding terrible unintended consequences stifling all progress.

Scheme of the Government

So they began working on a proposal to change the classification criteria. They figured that total revenues would be a good metric since claims regarding revenue can easily be verified with the GST Sales data filed at the Goods and Service Tax portal. More importantly, entrepreneurs won’t have to worry about making new investments since the benefits are no longer tied to this metric. But the industry body representing MSEMs is not happy with this development. They lobbied and urged the government to keep the classification criteria intact but  when the government finally charged ahead and introduced turnover as an additional criterion. They even expanded the investment limit to ensure MSMEs don’t graduate out of benefits too soon. However, MSMEs in the service sector (IT and stuff) will also be classified along the same lines as their manufacturing counterparts. So no step-motherly treatment for the people in the service industry either. Besides the classification, the government also wants to get the big guns interested in the space. They want Venture Capitalists to walk in and buy ownership in promising upstarts. The plan is simple. Put together a mother fund with 10,000 crores from the government. And then disburse the funds from the mother entity to smaller daughter funds in a piecemeal fashion and try and get other investors on-board these smaller funds. If all goes well, the 10,000 crores from the government should attract an additional 40,000 crores from outside investors (PE/VCs) and this should give MSMEs some much-needed funding support. They are calling it the Fund of Funds.

However, in the present status of pandemic banks don’t want to offer another lifeline by extending new loans considering their own precarious situation. And they most certainly cannot contain the problem; since we are likely to see a spike in defaults owing to the fact that most MSMEs have shut shop completely since the lockdown. And if MSMEs can’t restart operations and fail en masse, we will have a systemic problem on our hands. So a government intervention was inevitable. And the finance minister finally announced 3 lakh crore worth of collateral—free loans for businesses, including MSMEs in a bid to plug the funding gap. If we are in a business with a loan burden on your hands, banks will now extend new loans of up to 20% of the total loan outstanding so that we  can restart operations. Now, we’ll have 4 years to repay this loan. Repayment obligations won’t kick in until the end of the first year. The government will stand as our guarantor in case we  default and they will compensate the banks in full interest and principal. So technically, banks should be more willing to lend to these institutions now.

Growing importance of agriculture

 Around 51 lakh people migrated to agriculture last year and this should be seen positively. In fact, we should actively pursue this endeavour and focus on making farming economically viable. Indian Agriculture, on an aggregate level,  has been unprofitable for a good while now. Monsoons are erratic. Irrigation infrastructure still needs work. Warehousing and storage problems still persist. The middlemen skim most of the profit and many farmers work with land parcels so tiny that they can almost never leverage benefits of scale. Meaning we have a small proportion of landowners who run an extremely profitable enterprise while a good chunk of the agrarian population  still live below the poverty line. The point is — there’s been very little incentive for people to continue and work the farmland. And as a consequence, many people migrated from rural hinterlands to urban centres en masse.

But now in the pandemic and long lockdown the  migration patterns have reversed.  There’s now more incentive for India’s labour population to return to agriculture. It’s become prosperous again. First, it is likely that employment did not actually increase in agriculture, but the sector merely absorbed the excess labour as it had no other place to go to. Farmers did not actually call out for more labour. But, family labour landed up in farms when they had no other place to go to. The real estate and construction sector, which is usually a provider of employment to low-skilled farm labourers who try to move out of the labour surplus farmlands, shed 4.6 million jobs between January-April 2018 and January-April 2019. This failure of the construction industry to absorb farm surplus labour is, possibly, the biggest reason why there is an increase in employment under agriculture. A family farm always has scope to absorb some unpaid labour although such additions may not increase any production or profit. There is always an extra patch of the farms to tend to or the need to take the cattle to graze a little farther. Farm work can be spread thinly over available labour and keep everyone “employed” when there is no alternate work available to them.And right now, with the lockdown in place, we are seeing it happen again. People are moving back to agriculture en masse because they have nowhere else to go. The only difference—it’s happening at a scale that almost seems unreal. This migration also has some very real policy implications.

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