Learning by Proxy | Under-currents

The times, they are a changing.

I have been writing blogs since 2012. There were years when I wrote two dozen, while in others I wrote half a dozen blogs. Last year, in April, as all of us were sitting at home under lockdown, I started writing a weekly blog called Learning by Proxy. It was an experiment not unlike many in the past that had failed. Maybe because of the lockdown, or perhaps because there were a few that liked it and encouraged me, I soldiered on.

I wrote 100 blogs last year.

This is the 50th edition of Learning by Proxy. In a couple of weeks, this series will complete its first year. Normally, I write about the things that have happened over the last week and add a bit of context to it. Since this is the 50th, I will instead talk about some undercurrents. Undercurrents that I expect will define the next 3 to 5 years.

Carrying Capacity

There is an interesting concept called Carrying Capacity. When applied to the environment; the carrying capacity of an environment is said to be the maximum population of a biological species that can be sustained by that specific environment given the food, water and other resources. Similarly, we have the carrying capacity of a language. Often, the environment, the weather, the situations, the people and the surrounding culture define the nature of words that you use. Even if you taught the same language to a group of people, as they moved into different terrains and places, the combination of circumstantial change will cause their language to evolve and change. You would have overshot the carrying capacity of the language.

Culture also has a carrying capacity. Culture defines what is right and wrong in society. How certain ideas are perceived. Culture defines what freedom means. Many countries are discovering their carrying capacity. When the carrying capacity of an ideology is breached, protests break out.

Russia

Russia has seen protests far and across the country for the arrest of ONE man. Such an alignment behind one person is not unprecedented for the country. In 1900, another man was imprisoned and the country aligned behind him. The man who was born in a relatively lesser-known city of Simbirsk today called Ulyanovsk was called Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. He is better known by the pseudonym that he was forced to assume to continue his underground publication - Lenin.

Russia has been in turmoil for a long time. The situation economically is not very different from the years under Soviet rule. It is a powder keg waiting for someone to flick a lighter. Russia is no longer the super-power it used to be, but has a fairly potent influence on the oil business. Millions will die in Europe in the cold in winters if Russian oil is not available to heat their homes.

Russia has to be watched closely, the number of people who think they are free seems to drop by the day.

Russian President Vladimir Putin approved legislation on Wednesday beefing up fines for offences committed during street protests after thousands were detained at unsanctioned rallies in support of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The legislation increases fines for insubordination to law enforcement officers to up to 4,000 roubles ($54.30) from 1,000 roubles in addition to a maximum of 15 days in detention.

Source: Reuters

If you cannot crush their spirit, crush their wallet!

Thailand

Thailand has been roiled up in protests for the past year. The youth want the royalty to step down and ride into the sunset. King Rama X has been on the throne for only 2 years now, and he is furious.

His story is a bit like Prince Charles. Imagine you waited 65 years to ascend the throne, only to have the people of your country ask you to buzz off.

But the culture of having a monarchy is passé. While the pandemic in 2020 brought temporary respite, the protests have continued to simmer.

Demonstrators from Thailand’s student-led pro-democracy movement held a peaceful protest Saturday outside Bangkok’s Criminal Court to bring public attention to the plight of several of their detained leaders.

The movement, a coalition of several groups, was launched last year with demands for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government to step down, the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic and the monarchy to be reformed to make it more accountable.

Source: ABC News

Given that the monarch is given powers under the constitution, it becomes easy to call such push back an act of insurrection, sedition, etc. The thing is, those who thought monarchy was a good idea are far fewer today. The carrying capacity for the idea that a monarch is needed is dwindling.

Myanmar

Myanmar has been seeing unabated protest since the government was overthrown by a military coup. Myanmar does not have much to offer in trade to most western nations. Most of the rare earth metal deposits in Myanmar are controlled by the military and they are already cosy with China. Given that the terrain is similar to Vietnam, those in the Pentagon do not have the conviction to say, they can overthrow the military.

So the Western nations do not seem to be too concerned about the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Myanmar. Unlike say in Africa, where they become intensely concerned, especially when resources are up for grabs.

For the people of Myanmar, this is a question of life and death, and many will die for it. Over the past week, 100s have been shot dead by the junta, simply because they were protesting. This has not taken the steam out of the protests.

Tens of thousands of people came out in Myanmar on Sunday in one of the biggest days of protest against last month’s coup despite overnight raids by security forces in the main city Yangon on campaign leaders and opposition activists.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades in Lashio town in the country’s northern Shan region, according to live video posted on Facebook. A witness said police opened fire to break up a protest in the historic temple town of Bagan but it was not clear if they were using rubber bullets or live ammunition.

Source: Reuters

For the people of Myanmar, the rule of the Military is still fresh in their minds. They know what it was like and would go to any lengths to never return to it. Unfortunately, they are alone in this fight.

Myanmar borders India, China, Tibet, Laos, and Thailand. If not for any other reason, we should be concerned since we will be at the receiving end of the refugees that escape the country.

Democracy has found incredible carrying capacity in Myanmar.

India

The definition of an anti-national has evolved quickly in India. Today, it just means you do not align with every single policy laid down by the BJP.

The count of those who would qualify as anti-nationals is exploding. The farmers’ protests have been in motion for the last 6 months and it is not abating. Any voice that has risen against the government has been termed an act of sedition. Using a law that was enacted by the British in the aftermath of the Great Uprising of 1857, the government has quashed dissent.

The good thing is that this movement has given a new lease of life to the opposition, which seemed to lack any issue. Will this be able to gather momentum and bring about a change of power?

The trouble for Indians is two-fold. Congress with its dynastic bent is none the better. The options at hand seem to be bad and worse. Second, the current administration has loosened many of the strings that kept a check on the government (statistics bodies, CAG, etc.). There is no incentive for those coming in to change this.

China

Since the umbrella movement began in 2014, Hong Kong has been simmering and has been constantly pushing back on Chinese rule. China has acted to stamp out protests and to bring Chinese rule as quickly as possible to Hong Kong.

While the iron hand of China has been firmly placed on the mainland, it is the islands that are causing trouble. Hong Kong and Taiwan do not see themselves as a part of China. For China, the longer this opposition drags on, the greater the potential for strife in other parts of the mainland.

A Hong Kong court on Thursday ordered all 47 pro-democracy activists charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law to be kept in custody after the Department of Justice appealed an initial decision to grant 15 of them bail.

Thirty-one of the activists were denied bail outright, with the co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central protest movement, Benny Tai, withdrawing his bail application after he was ordered held in custody in a separate case.

The next hearing in the case will be on May 31.

Source: AP

United States of America

America has been roiled by protests from both sides. Black Lives Matter protests gathered a lot of pace in the past year. Though little action came because of it. Some roads were painted and renamed, but that remains that.

In the meantime, white-America is angry that these insolent fools are being given any attention. They feel they are being robbed of their rights and that feeling culminated in the run on the Capitol on the 6th of January.

This represents perhaps the greatest systemic risk in terms of the global economy. If the situation is America explodes, it can go to mad extremes.

How the carrying capacity of these ideas shift will affect how business and geo-politics are affected.

Share

Climate

Weather

Last year while the world was engaged in overcoming the pandemic; there were several weather events across the world. Forest Fires from Australia, to Asia, to America. Extreme cold weather in Canada, American and Russia. Hurricanes across Asia and America. This has caused Billions in loss of property and business and also loss of life.

America has been burnt, submerged and buried in snow and ice in the same year. Several states experienced two of three catastrophes. This is thanks to a conveyor belt of water in the Atlantic called the Gulf Stream. New York Times has an incredible visualisation on this to help you understand. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND READING THIS ARTICLE.

It’s one of the mightiest rivers you will never see, carrying some 30 times more water than all the world’s freshwater rivers combined. In the North Atlantic, one arm of the Gulf Stream breaks toward Iceland, transporting vast amounts of warmth far northward, by one estimate supplying Scandinavia with heat equivalent to 78,000 times its current energy use. Without this current — a heat pump on a planetary scale — scientists believe that great swaths of the world might look quite different.

Source: New York Times

It is becoming harder to deny climate change.

Markets

Markets are being forced to accept reality, and insurance companies are scrambling to re-write their policies. They say, in the short-term markets are voting machines, but in the long term, they are weighing machines.

Markets are only beginning to weigh the risk that weather can pose. If 2021 was not a pandemic year, having the airliners unable to move for more than a week thanks to snowstorms would have sent shudders through the markets.

Over the next 5 years, you can watch the re-alignment in the market towards businesses that cannot be affected by the weather. Unfortunately., big-tech will gain big.

But...

Industry

Technology is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Every single extra person who is tagged on an email creates a greater carbon footprint. Every time an unnecessary slack notification pops in, you fire up your device and everyone that is part of that mail chain or the message group fires up their device. This causes some data centre to fetch data, and it causes you to fire up a device.

Let us not even get started with Bitcoin farms and how much energy they take up! Here is an example of something tiny.

Law

To turn the tide against climate change, on the day of his inauguration US president Joe Biden signed an executive order instituting a raft of policy changes and initiatives. One directed his team to reassess the social cost of carbon. This seemingly obscure concept puts a number on how much damage a metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted today will do in the future, in order to show how much a given climate policy would benefit the economy in the long run. More than in previous assessments, Biden’s team explicitly called for considerations of environmental justice and intergenerational equity, referring to the perils of climate change to future generations.

Source: Quartz

The idea of taxing Carbon emission has been around for a very long time now. The problem is evaluation and appropriation. There are a lot of loopholes in the thought process around this. For instance, if a company says - I planned to burn 10 Tons of coal but chose not to, do they get credit for it?

Not very different from Brazil demanding money for not cutting down the Amazon. Being able to codify this in law and applying it globally is going to be very challenging.

Like it or not, the climate will play a huge role in business, economy and even politics in the future.

Share

Money

From Bitcoin to Digital Yuan, what money means is about to be disrupted. Also, in the context of all the debt being issued, what demand and supply equation would a digital currency follow.

The first question is, how quickly is this paradigm about to arrive?

The second question is - What will it mean to the foundation of economics?

Even India has suddenly taken a more nuanced stand on crypto-currency. This leads me to think there is something in the works.

The Indian government might not completely ban cryptocurrencies. In an interview on March 5, the country’s finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that she wants to foster innovation in crypto.

“We want to make sure that there is a window available for all kinds of experiments which will have to take place in the crypto world,” she said during an interview on CNBC TV18, a business and financial news television channel in India. “We are not closing our minds.”

Source: Quartz

One cannot ignore that Asia has been engaged in a paradigm-altering exercise in finance. In India, NPCI, with UPI and myriad other transaction protocols such as FastTag has been quickly moving towards not only modernising transactions but also securing it unlike anything previously known. China and Japan have been working on their own protocols that are just as effective.

NPCI has taken UPI to other countries beginning with the island state of Singapore.

RBI foreseeing the monopoly that NPCI is turning into; has decided to create a counter-balance in the form of NUE or the New Umbrella Entity (100 marks on creativity). Every large private bank, fin-tech player, Satans of tech from the US and industrial house is bidding to set this up. Whoever ends up winning the bid will unleash vast resources into this space.

When you have to change consumer behaviour - like say, trying to move them away from UPI - you need to incentivise them. In India, this has taken the form of bribing the user. We call it cashback.

For consumers - the days of massive cash backs are coming - get ready!

In economics, M1 and M2 signify the supply of money and the velocity of money. M1 is the total amount of money that is being transacted in the economy. This used to be linked to the cash in circulation. This is no longer true. M2 used to be the number of times that cash would change hands or be transacted with. This is also becoming faster.

NPCI and India notwithstanding; the value of money, how we transact with it and how we store it, is altering in meaningful ways.

What will currency look like in 2030? And what will it represent?

Share

Voice and Technology

Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces ironically are literal voice-based platforms, but I am not talking about that voice.

While being free to say what you want to say is one thing. The amplification of that voice is another thing. Social Media is increasingly playing a very important role in that amplification. So much so that - it can be argued - that some people can achieve as much amplification of their message through their social media account as approaching several news outlets.

Disha Ravi’s is a classic case. The girl was arrested under charges of sedition and carted away from her house in Bangalore.

What if Greta Thunberg had not tweeted the kit that Disha Ravi had apparently shared?

You can all rest assured that none of us would have even heard of Disha Ravi and she would be an obscure name.

On the 8th Feb 2021, news broke that Tesla had purchased $1.5 Billion in Bitcoin. This was tweeted out by Elon Musk. Bitcoin opened at 38,886.83 on 8th Feb and closed at 46.184.99 on the same day!

Is this tantamount to market manipulation?

Internet is fast creating those who have a voice and those who do not. The trouble is that this is even worse than the state of income disparity. 0.001% have 99.99% of the influence. The good thing is, if you can sink to a certain level of stupidity, you can garner the influence.

The bad thing is - sacrificing self-respect should not be a necessary pre-condition to having a voice.

If you had read my takeaways from W.E.I.R.D. you would know that shame is a very Eastern concept. Westerners only experience guilt. This is a double whammy for the East.

Technology is concentrating voice in the hands of a few. If they lead us astray, this might end up like the story of the Pied Piper.

Share

Finally

The Lindy effect is a theorized phenomenon by which the future life expectancy of some non-perishable things like a technology or an idea is proportional to their current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy.

Source: Wikipedia

If the protest has been around for a year, there is a likelihood that it would drag on for another year.

If Bitcoin has been around for 10 years, it is likely that it would be around for another 10 years.

If Social Media has been around for 20 years, it would probably be around for 20 more years.

If Climate Change has been discussed for 50 years, it will probably stay in discussions for 50 more years.

Share

Also

Real-Time rendering on the sand in a box!

If you really really want to know how the mRNA vaccine works


You have come this far, so I assume you enjoyed reading this. Please do subscribe! (If you have not already)

Share your thought about the blog in the comments section. Also, if you have anything specific that you would like me to write about, please mention in the comments section. I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment

Also, follow me on Twitter @viveksrn to know when the edition drops.

Please do share this post with anyone who might like to read it.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha