People who don’t look like you

On 11 April 2018, the Australian Human Rights Commission released it report on cultural diversity.  According to the report, the Australian population comprises 58% Anglo-Celtic, 21% Non-European (including Asian,  Africans, Middle Eastern, Latin American), 18% European, and 3% Indigenous. However, Australians of Anglo-Celtic and European  backgrounds continue to dominate the senior leadership roles in Australian  public and private organisations by as much as 97%. Race Discrimination Commissioner  Dr Tim Soutphommasane has rightly pointed out,  “It also challenges  Australia as a nation whose prosperity relies upon international trade, capital inflows and mobility of people.” Needless to say, if you don’t look like the Anglo-Celtics or the Europeans, your chances of reaching to the top in Australia are pretty slim.

Research into diversity tells a  different story. There is a  business case for cultural diversity. Culturally diverse leaders  can bring  in international experience, alternative perspectives, and skills that can complement  the skills of the dominant population group. But breaking the glass ceiling is not an easy task. Corporations choose their leaders through networks and informal processes. When you look different and talk differently, it might be difficult to get into those “inner” networks.


India and its fascination with the ‘digital age’

Rahul Bhatia writes: ‘The Indian government is in thrall of the dazzle and promise of technology…’ Perhaps the best example of this is the biometric identification system that India has embarked on. As the New York Times reports, ‘India is scanning the fingerprints, eyes and faces of its 1.3 billion residents and connecting the data to everything from welfare benefits to mobile phones.’ The end-product is the so-called ‘Adhaar’ system or the ‘foundation’ on which everything else is based. It is redefining the very essence of what it means to be an Indian citizen.

The scheme is both controversial and ambitious. In terms of ambition, it is one of the first examples of its kind of a large country engaging in such a scheme. Civil libertarians are horrified and view this as a huge Orwellian experiment. Large-scale invasion of privacy of citizens is seen as a major risk.  Others have argued that the biometric identification system performs significantly worse than old-fashioned manual methods in the case of delivering welfare benefits, although this conclusion is based on one case study.

Of course, those who are closely associated with the system see only benefits. They dismiss fears of a putative surveillance state as overblown and argue instead that the biometric ID system has empowered, rather than disenfranchised, millions of Indians – especially among the poor and the illiterate. Previously, they could not establish their identity; now they can.

Who to trust? The rise of China and the decline of the United States

Trust in institutions – political leaders, the government machinery in general, the business community, civil society, academia and the media – is an intangible, but a vital, element in fostering social cohesion and driving economic prosperity. Edelman, a leading US-based private sector entity, offers some intriguing evidence on cross-country patterns and trends in trust. Such evidence draws on an online survey in 28 countries, 18 years’ worth of data, and a sample size of well over 30,000 respondents. It makes a distinction between the ‘general population’ and the ‘informed public’ who are considered to be better educated and in the top 25 percent of household income per age group in each country.

It is tempting to suggest that trust is high in liberal democracies in the West and low in authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes in the non-western world. Yet, the ‘global trust barometer’ provides evidence that militates against such a presumption. If we take two contrasting exemplars – the US as the self-appointed leader of the ‘free world’ and China as the authoritarian upstart flexing its muscle as the next global power – where do they stand in the global trust barometer? The authors are dismayed to report the dramatic rise of China and the equally dramatic decline of the United States. The authors of the report ruefully reflect that ‘the public’s confidence in the traditional structures of American leadership is now fully undermined and has been replaced with a strong sense of fear, uncertainty and disillusionment’.

Based on a scale of 0 -100, the Edelman report offers three categories of respondents, ‘trusters’ with an average score exceeding 50, ‘neutral’ (50-59) and ‘distrusters’ (less than 50). It appears that trust is highest in China among all the nations surveyed (74 points for the general population, 83 for the informed public). At the bottom languishes the United States among the informed public (45 points), while the lack of trust is also prominent among the general population (43 points). While China gained by 27 points relative to last year, the US registered a 37-point fall relative to 2017. It is plausible to argue that the ascendency of the Trump Presidency has played a key role in the changing nature of trust in the United States. Perhaps the average American has become the victim of ‘fake news’.

Learning from History

Margaret Macmillan, the distinguished historian and former Warden of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford University, offers the following advice on how to ‘ learn from history’. It is indeed a case of ‘looking into the rear-view mirror; if you only look back, you will land in the ditch, but it helps to know where you have come from and who else is on the road’.

Will economists tethered to so-called Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium (DSGE) models learn from history in the spirit that Professor Macmillan meant or will they continue with their model-driven approach to how economies in the real world are supposed to work? Two well-known macroeconomists – David Vines and Samuel Wills – ran an Oxford-based project dedicated to ‘the rebuilding of macroeconomic theory’ that brought together both supporters and detractors on whether DSGE models have a future after their dismal failure following the global financial crisis. Their answer seems to be a cautious ‘yes’ provided the profession is prepared to learn from history in the way that Keynes did and carry out the necessary intellectual adjustments that would challenge the hegemonic sway of the benchmark New Keynesian DSGE model and a yield a more pluralist discipline. But…detractors are not convinced, notably Paul Krugman, who simply said that there has been no new ‘big idea’ in macroeconomics since Keynes. In any case, he opines that the old-fashioned IS-LM model or some variation of it was good enough to enable one to understand how governments could respond to the global recession that was unleashed by the GFC. Hence, there was no failure of macroeconomics as an intellectual discipline, merely a particular version of it because the DSGE adherents failed to learn from history.

Sustainable development goals (SDGs) and child labour

Until the advent of the SDGs at the beginning of 2016, there was a discrepancy between the monitoring framework on global poverty and the international community’s quest to eradicate – or at least ameliorate – the incidence of child labour. On the one hand, the international community ratified the ‘elimination of the worst forms of child labour’ as one of the eight fundamental principles and rights at work (or core conventions) under the auspices of the ILO. On the other hand, the MDGs, which preceded the SDGs, did not specifically express any commitment to the eventual elimination of child labour, especially in the developing world. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were certainly committed to improving the welfare of children, but it took the form primarily of improving the health and educational status of children, not their status and vulnerability in the world of work. The employment indicators of the MDGs that were subsumed under goal 1 (eradication of poverty and hunger) were, by default, focused on adults.

This lacuna in the MDGs has now been overcome with the advent of the SDGs. As is well known, the SDGs grew out of a meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 25-27 September 2015 that coincided with the celebration of the seventieth anniversary of the UN. This historic meeting of all member states of the UN decided on new global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are now 17 goals, 169 targets and 230 indicators under these targets – all to be accomplished by 2030!These goals, targets and indicators range across the themes of poverty, hunger, health and education, gender inequality, inequality in general, sustainability, industry and innovation, economic growth and decent work, peace, justice and institutions and development partnership. Of course, most of these themes are also present in the MDGs. This is to be expected as the SDGs build on the MDGs.

An explicit commitment to deal with challenge of child labour is now embodied under goal 8 of the SDGs which seeks to ‘promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’. Target 8.7 under this goal states that member states of the UN should :

Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.

What are the global trends pertaining to child labour as monitored within the framework of the SDGs? The progress report, as compiled by the UN, notes that:

While the number of children from 5 to 17 years of age who are working has declined from 246 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2012, child labour remains a serious concern. More than half of child labourers (85 million children) participate in hazardous work and 59 per cent of them work in the agricultural sector. Girls have made greater progress than boys, with the number of girls engaged in child labour declining by 40 per cent during the period 2000-2012, compared to a decline of 25 per cent for boys.

Under current and prospective trends, what are the chances of eliminating child labour by 2025? In a recent evaluation, the ILO has suggested that, under current trends and despite commendable progress, the elimination of child labour by 2025 is unlikely to be achieved. It thus called on the international community to ‘dramatically’ accelerate its efforts to cope with the challenge of child labour.