Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tomorrow's World by Clint Laurent - Book Review

Predicting the future through Demographics!

Clint Laurent, the founder of Global Demographics Ltd attempts to predict the socio-economic future of the world in 2032, through the lens of demographics. Along with that he gives the reader an insight into the dominant trends that are emerging across different regions of the world in terms of demographic profiles, distribution of households by income, expenditure patterns and labour force. Suddenly it become obvious to you that the most critical metrics to evaluate a country are through (a) the age of the population, (b) household consumption and (c) total income of the country. And then Clint shows that how these factors change over the next 20 years, is not that difficult to predict but its effects are very contrary to what most 'experts' have been forecasting. Now, in this perspective, China and India do not look that attractive for future business growth or investment. Many other common 'truths' such as 'China's GDP needs to grow continuously to keep its population employed', 'Japan's old age population is a big challenge' , 'the young affluent are the big spenders', 'India's young population is a big asset' are shown to be largely myths of our own creation. His projection that even after 20 years India contribution to the global spending will be only 5% , is something that we should all take note off.

Clint's advice : Though there is money to be made in the East, it would be advisable to make sure that you maintain a strong base in West where the riches already exist.

The book is very impressive due to the clarity of the thought processes, effective segregation of data, proper description of sources of information, simple frameworks, and clear articulation of assumptions. Some of the important conclusions are visually highlighted with easy to understand graphs.

Only on a couple of points I find myself not happy with the author's analysis. Firstly, though we can agree that Demographics is one of the fundamental criteria to forecast a country's future (maybe as critical as how the genomic code would drive the development of an organism) , many other factors like a country's economic policies, political structure, technological innovation and global events can create dramatic changes in very short time. For example if Clint had used this model in 1970 would he have predicted the fall of the Soviet Union 20 years into the future? Or in 1990 would he have predicted where India would be in 2010? What if China blows up due to internal contradictions in the next 10 years? Secondly many of the soft factors that many countries posses do not make it into Clint's analysis. I think India has a big strength of its diaspora spread across the world - with many of them in excelling in Business, Technology & Science. If they are leveraged well, the country can jump into a next trajectory of growth (maybe as an Indian, this may be my biased hope, but i believe that this is a possibility).

The book is definitely worth reading for any one interested getting a glimpse of the future, and should be a must reading for the political leaders of countries like India. I don't think that the Indian leaders articulate to their followers that the female employment in India is only 39%, while in China it is 79%. And while they continue to disparage China's single party system, they should look at what it has done to promote education, women empowerment and so on, while in India over 50% children are undernourished and its education system is unable educate properly even a small percentage of its population. Why is a democracy unable to deliver while a 'communist' dictatorship seems to be able to deliver the goods better to the common man?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

I want my ‘Hindu law’ back……

                                                                                                                    (A Short Story)
I was in Kerala recently and came across an interesting news item in the front page of a local newspaper. All Muslim groups in Kerala had submitted a joint petition to the Indian Supreme Court requesting that the minimum marriage age for women be reduced from the current 18 years (to what age, was not specified), as per the ancient  muslim ‘Sharia law’. As can be expected this raised a storm of controversy with TV channels and the social media getting very worked up. All kinds of opinions were being aired and it was getting me very confused.

Luckily I have a good friend who knows everything – in fact we call him ‘know all’.  (He does depend on Google and always goes around with a phone or tablet in one hand – squinting with one eye on the screen while talking to you. Not that I have not tried to do the same but any search I try in Google results in millions of hits! I wonder when the folks at Google will be able to give you only what you are searching for). I got back to the U.S the following week and called my friend over to update him of these developments and get his advice.

My friend looked very thoughtful – ‘it does raise a lot of interesting possibilities’ he said.  ‘Do they say why they want this’?
‘That is not very clear’ I replied.  ‘But I think it is mainly to protect the women – the more you wait to get the girls married off, the more chances that they may not be able to control their natural urges’.
‘That is true’ agreed by friend. ‘I have also read that it is getting very dangerous in India for women to move around, without getting molested’.
‘But’ he continued, ‘they are asking this change of law only for the Muslims – right?’
‘Yes’, I replied – ‘that is why I can’t figure out why every one is so upset about this’. ‘Is this something we should fight against?’

‘Well’ said my friend ‘It is very difficult to fight against religion based demands – you will be criticized for being ‘anti-muslim’. It would be better to go with the flow. Why don’t you take advantage of the situation? Demand something based on your religion!

‘Wow!’, I was amazed at his brilliance. ‘That is very smart’.
‘I was born a Hindu – and our Hindu law goes thousands of years back’. Meanwhile my friend was squinting furiously at his screen.

‘Let me see – you used to have Child Marriage – getting the girls married off when they were 6 or 7….’
I was now getting very interested. Kids tuition bills are very high nowadays.

‘Wait – there are many strange things in your religion – caste system, untouchability – and here is something even more strange’ continued my friend  - ‘you guys used to have something called ‘Sati’ or ‘Suttee’ – widows jumping into the funeral fire of their husbands and committing suicide!’

‘Yes ‘, I agreed. ‘I remember – very cruel custom; it was originally meant to protect the women from invaders – you know India kept being invaded by many foreigners. Sati was later abolished by the British – who were also invaders.’

‘Protecting the women is off course very important.’ My friend commented.

I was now silent – a number of thoughts were rushing through my mind. I had been a little worried recently about how young my wife looked while I was looking and feeling much older. I could hear my wife in the kitchen – cooking my dinner. Though she had a full time job, she also took care of the cooking and all household chores. What would happen to her when I died? Who will protect her?.

‘What are you thinking’ my friend asked.

‘I think I want my Hindu law back’ I said. ‘We Hindus need to protect our women!’
I felt proud to be a Hindu.

The noise from the kitchen was getting louder. I wondered whether my wife had overheard our discussions.  ‘What is up my dear? Anything wrong?’ I shouted to my wife. ‘Dinner is ready, dear’ she shouted back from the kitchen. ‘I have made some special chicken curry for you – with some new herbs from Kerala’.

My friend quickly got up to leave. He was looking rather pensive as well. ‘Hey! – Not staying for dinner? ‘ I asked? ‘No – I need to go’ he mumbled. I walked him to the door. Just before stepping out, he turned back and whispered in my ear – ‘Watch out – I have read that some Kerala herbs are poisonous.’.

‘Ha, ha’ I laughed. ‘That is a good joke’. Why would my wife ever poison me? I saw my friend out and walked to the dining room with utmost confidence.