De-Lurking on the Net

April 10, 2014

Is it possible to resist the allure of Space Research?

Today, I was reading how India’s  mission to Mars has reached half-way stage in its journey. I was happy to see the mission succeeding and reaching a milestone . This mission has a limited objective like searching methane in martian environment. It achieved one other objective that missions can be low cost and still succeed but I was wondering why humans are so obsessed with space while there is so much on earth remains  unexplored, unexploited and rather more necessary. 'Red' letter day: India's Mars mission crosses halfway mark

I guess the answer to this lies in number of observations –

1.  The sky above is always so visible and since it remains an unconquered territory so it ‘ll continue to pose a challenge until there is something left. On earth barring deep sea or deep earth, man has gone everywhere so there is nowhere it can go. So, humans can not easily build on the tales of Robert Scott. Edmund Hilary etc.

2. The science bodies have also lobbies within most govts and they(planetary science) get most funds allocated for their pet projects. Since the prestige and visibility of  space research remains foremost, they get most attention from govt who usually after haggling still allocates the biggest fund to space research see this report .

3. The other research projects are fragmented and too numerous and since not having a  big enough voice on one or two prestige projects, so they can not compete with the space research budget.

4. The interlinking of many countries on space projects also mean that certain degree of space spending is guaranteed  but the plethora of other science projects are usually competing with each other rather than cooperating . Of course there are exception on nuclear research ( Nuclear Fusion reactors) and fundamental science projects like “Hadron Collider” in France, Switzerland etc.

But this spending on only one  area of research does not have to be. There are plentiful  impossible challenging missions on planet earth itself e.g. sending a sub or human in a sub into the deep see to mine the expensive minerals. China control the rare earth elements. The world needs more sources for the same than just relying on one country. Can there be minerals picked up from deep sea which can be converted into  rare earth elements. Chinese were given the license for  deep sea mining last year by  International Seabed Authority. The number of licences issued to prospect for minerals now stands at 17 with another seven due to be granted and more are likely to follow. They cover vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.Similarly there can be plentiful opportunity to invest money in unusual projects like underwater cities or using plantation ( phytoplankton) for health and food, algae that  can be converted into crude oil or  bio-fuel, Ocean thermal power plants or basing  storage power plant at the sea bed  itself. Perhaps, a project can be started  in claiming the land near the coast by shifting sand from desert, boulders from mountains etc. Japan, Dubai etc has already done this but as there are low lying lands across the world are plentiful and  such land has remained unprotected from not only the rising sea water  but also any occasional typhoon, cyclone or Tsunami . It has plentiful sea and not much on land warehousing space built . Perhaps everything from food grain to chemicals can be stored in the sea or even the the marine food (like fishes caught) etc can also be kept in deep sea . Whenever needed they can be lifted etc. Due to less sea temperature, it will be possible to exploit not only temperature but plentiful space in sea. What I wonder however is this – since all countries need employment generation.

No global leader has a clue about employment generation. They do not talk about employment generation through funding of new science projects or new technology or like the projects mentioned above.  Space programs may seem necessary but I guess far more necessary is employment opportunities for billions across the world. India itself need 12 million new jobs every year just to stand still. Somebody discusses it here in his blog. Leaders still do not believe in any exceptional funding on science or new technologies to generate new jobs. Without this, the employment generation can  just grow marginally with each economic cycle from recession to growth . There is tendencies  in countries of stealing the jobs from one other by a new round of protectionism . This parochialism can be most seen at election time. President Obama wanted to stop the jobs outflow from US to other countries in software or manufacturing and was promising to bring  jobs back from the other countries. This is nothing but  protectionism  which is antithesis of globalism and if the world is returning to age gone by when protectionism was rife then it will not be doing itself any favour.

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February 16, 2013

Af-Pak Region after Nato departure

Filed under: China,India,Pak,USA,World — Geekay @ 7:21 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

As US is beginning to leave in 2014 after 13 years, many in Pak started to rejoice as its army felt it could now freely flex its muscles back in Afghanistan and subsequently in Kashmir. But it is beginning to dawn on the main political parties and intellectuals that the Pak itself is beginning to slip through their fingers. This editorial and the article “The shadow over Pakistan” gives away the anxiety felt by intelligentsia. It is clear now that they have to somehow talk peace with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) without asking for any pre conditions for talks like laying down weapons etc. So, Taliban will emerge from any talks stronger. How things shape up after Pak compromises with Taliban will be anybody’s guess as another major actor in this area is Pak Army who has not abandoned anything of the past. It continues to support Afghan Taliban and help other fundamentalist groups within Pakistan. No body is reporting any more of militant training camps, IED factories running within Pakistan to help Taliban dislodge NATO from Afghanistan but there is no reason to stop such an activity now if these were operating before. Even if the violence escalates within Pakistan, the chances of army and political establishment are far more further and further to compromise with these groups than to wage war on them. Without the US funds in Af-Pak, the drones, the holding off Taliban in Afghanistan by NATO there is simply no chance of averting Taliban dominance very much longer after US departure. Should India rue that other countries like Russia, Iran can not do anything to stop this. Both of these as well as China want a stable Afghanistan and not the one infested with Islamist training camps. But other than China, the others do not have big enough economic muscle. China also has an economic interest there just like India. In fact Indian and Chinese interests in Afghanistan are very much in sync to keep Afghanistan away from Islamic turbulence and stable enough for carrying out the economic activity. Iran can also play a big role in stopping Taliban from becoming unstoppable. Since all these three countries (Iran, Russia, China) have same interests in Afghanistan, they should convene a meeting with Afghanistan as to how to help it after NATO departure. Perhaps, India or any of these countries can take initiative for such a meeting. Although, it is in Pakistan’s interest as well not to help Taliban but Pak Army will not undo what it has been doing since 1979’s at the beginning of 9 years Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. US perhaps should do a speedy deal with Iran on the Nuclear concerns bringing that country out from cold. This can help India and Iran relations. These relations could be crucial for the health of Afghanistan as India or anyone else will be able to use Chābahār port of Iran for Afghanistan trade. Perhaps, a railway line can also be laid to connect Chābahār with Zaranj upto where India built a road but which still remains unconnected with the nearby road across the border in Iran due to Taliban control over that area.

India and Pak history of wars have always brought a stalemate because all those victorious PMs from India have shown magnanimity to sign accords with Pak and return the won territories for the sake of peace. But peace has not arrived because all these accords have strengthened Pak Army and not its civilian democracy. Current Pakistan media has twin worries on reporting any incident within Pak that they will have to face the wrath of Army as well as militant gangs supported by Mullahs. So, when the Pakistan troubles will escalate no body will come to know about them. Pak Army’s big role will continue to haunt this whole Af-Pak region and India at least   .

February 6, 2013

The GDP Growth, Inequality in China and India and trusting any Statistical Data

Sometime back, I was looking at the data on equality. Since, I was mainly interested in the subcontinent plus China etc. So, I compiled this data.

Country                Gini Coefficient (%)                             Year

China                            47.0                                                  2007

India                            33.4                                                   2005

Pakistan                      30.0                                                  2008

Sri Lanka                    40.3                                                  2007

This data is based on World Bank sources as reported in Wikipedia. Here, point to remember is that all the countries aspire for the lower Gini coefficient as that means there are less unequal citizens . Therefore, it is also a measure of the stability of the political system of any country as it  indicates less room for strife (crime, protests etc) by  unequal citizens of a country.

Looking at this data, I noticed that India is better in terms of equality than China but perhaps, it is worse than Pakistan. I tried to reason why. I thought perhaps, Muslim organisations are more charitable (Islamic Zakaat concept) and even if the people are poorer there they are redistributing the wealth in such a way that people are not feeling the poverty as much as they are in India or may be even in China. Pakistan data is even more enigmatic given the worst level of corruption and instability it has in comparison to India and China. But then after coming across this report recently from US govt on China, I felt differently. It says this about the data that comes from China and trusted by all.

NBS surveys continue to provide inadequate samples of important sectors of China’s economy. Small-scale businesses in manufacturing and retail are hard to capture, while sectors like transport logistics are almost completely unaccounted for. Although the NBS measures 94 sectors of the economy on an annual basis, it does so for just 17 sectors on a quarterly basis.

Surveys also fail to capture “opaque spots” in the economy. One of the most egregious is household income. In the United States, tax returns provide a proximate indication of household income. Indeed, personal income tax accounts for about 40 percent of U.S. government tax revenue. But in China, the personal income tax in 2011 makes up just six percent of revenue. A big reason for this is that even the wealthiest Chinese households are taxed directly on their wages, but not on their non-wage income, such as real estate, stocks, bonuses, and personal gifts. Households must actively report such income – but many understate their income in tax returns, or refuse to participate in sample household surveys. In this way, they can evade taxes and also avoid the political implications of having excessive wealth in a nominally socialist state. Chinese economist Wang Xiaolu has determined that national spending on real estate, luxury goods, and travel in China implies much higher income among the top 10 percent of earners than is given in official income data.

In January 2012, the NBS in fact admitted that it does not publish the Gini coefficient –a leading measure of income inequality – because data on high earners is inaccurate. It is also notable that, in an economy with a large state sector, government officials have only recently begun to disclose their own salaries and wealth to the public, and none are under any legal obligation to do so. Opacity extends to other sectors as well. Many state-owned enterprises remain secretive about their income statements, especially if they are not publicly listed. New types of large corporate entities, such as fund management companies and real estate arms of conglomerates, often go unaccounted for in both the direct reporting and enterprise survey systems. In local governments, “off-balance sheet” budgets can also skew fiscal revenue and expenditure.

Opaque Areas of the Economy

The Outdated System of Direct Reporting Enterprise revenue determines which firms are eligible for China’s direct reporting system. As China’s economy grows, so does the number of firms with sizable revenue, which combines to overwhelm the data processing capacity of the NBS. The NBS has tried to reduce the number of firms by continually raising the revenue threshold for direct reporting. When this reform began in 1998, the number of direct reporting firms was decreased from 460,000 to 165,000. However, by 2009, 434,000 firms were again reporting. As of 2011, only firms with annual revenue exceeding RMB 20 million report to the NBS, a measure that has again reduced the number of reporting units.


This data unreliability from China has big similarity to under reporting of data in Indian economic system The Indian economy has a parallel black economy which remains unaccounted for.  I had a chance to meet someone on my last trip to India. He is not only an industrialist but also sells his finished goods from his retail outlet besides distributing it across the country. This person does not use banks most of the times for his business transactions. He uses cash and prefers it over any debit or credit cards. He chose not to have any. It helps him to remain anonymous or untraceable for any tax liabilities. It was incredulous to hear that all his capital (turnover) remains fully invested in the market all the time either in raw material or lent to the buyers who will repay it at different dates all in cash . As his business grows, the extra generated capital also gets absorbed into the same business hands.  When a big spending need arrived for him, he merely clears some lent positions and invests it or spends it on the required need e.g. to buy land or spend on something like children’s expensive (no hold bar) marriage. He also gave me another insight how they have never paid full excise duty. Excise can indicate the produced goods or turnover of the firm. He said, “Usually, they fill just one excise form for the whole day and every time the transport  carries the goods from manufacturing unit, it goes with the same excise form. The form did not register any loading time or departure time of the goods vehicle . So, this way they could report whatever turnover they are comfortable to pay tax on. Since, they never bank the business money and only do it when some customer is making a payment via bank draft or cheque.  The whole of the business community in the capital region of India employs this same method. Of course the problem just does not lie with business community alone. The officials(bureaucrats) who are prepared to accept either bribes, donations for their respective parties or some gifts and favours on various occasions are hand-in-glove. The problem of under reporting by business is considered so much high as to 50 to 60 percent of real data. But this remains a guess in the absence of unreliable official data.

This indicates that India as well as China are growing at far larger rates than they report. They hardly know themselves the correct figures. This national data is from the trading economics Website.

The unreliability of income data makes the estimate of inequality even more difficult to judge. The official Gini
coefficient, the measure of inequality around the world can never be worked out in reliable manner as in corrupt countries (most of the world is) the estimate of income of top earners as well as that of poor can never be done reliably. Just like rich, the poor also does not want to give their real income so as to seek bigger handouts from govt or charities. But, I still relied on Indian data far more because first of all India is reporting far more indices than China does and there is also a possibility of cross checking of its data . Also it has so many NGO and some world bodies like UNESCO, ILO operating in India. Its democratic system and open, free press certainly should cause less data manipulation. I saw my this view-point resonated in this Bloomberg report which wanted to bet on India for investment and growth more than it does on China but no matter how much India may be a better bet in terms of growth, I certainly have been very naive to trust any data quality on equality or the GDP. Let that be  from India, China or elsewhere.

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