Philosophy has a deceptively simple concept about social decision making called the Veil of Ignorance. The concept in short talks about the approach to decision making, in choices that have large scale impact. The idea is that the decision maker makes decisions not knowing who he would be in the society. So for example if the person makes decisions about industrial labor relations, he doesn’t know if he is the factory owner, the manager or the factory worker. A beautiful concept, furthered by many future economists and thinkers, but pretty difficult to execute.
The World today is full of decisions taken behind veils, but certainly not on the above philosophy. Decisions are taken knowing very well, which segment would benefit the most and some sort of direct or indirect feedback benefit is commonplace. Which is why today’s theme covering a very broad range of topics is “Behind the Curtain”. It is not necessarily a bad thing, you could be behind the curtain because of various reasons, maybe because you don’t like the limelight, but looking behind the curtain always gives more information.
So today we look at 5 designs of curtains. The curtain of democracy rising in one of the last bastions of dictatorship, the one of change in how world economies function, the curtain of intellectual property and business in the effort to save lives and how an ex Silicon Valley superstar is bringing down the unnecessary curtains at his new startup. And finally the curtains come down on one of the longest serving leaders of any country.
So here we go !
1. Dictatorships are rare these days. And in our heads we have a rather North Korea-esque image of what a dictatorship looks like. No development, caught in a time loop. Some images of African strongmen also come to mind. Poverty, extreme inequality. But being a region’s biggest tech powerhouse doesn’t really fit the bill. Clean roads, good facilities and a 7% contribution of the tech industry to GDP (India is 7.7%, US is about 10-12%) probably made the world and even its own citizens ignore the form of government in Belarus. But lockdown’s have a tendency to make people think a little more than they used to and for Belarusians, an old Soviet country, the time to move to democracy has come. I personally didn’t know about the fascinating history and story of Belarus and the last week across multiple articles has been eye opening for me. I would recommend a read. Sometimes the world looks very different from the images in our head.
2. The World changed after the financial crisis. People saved a lot more, there was less investment. As a result interest rates fell and inflation over the world stayed relatively below the 2% ideal rate. Essentially policy makers never adjusted to the new normal. This had happened in Japan even earlier and the country has still not found a way back. If there is one rule of macro-economics, it is that inflation is bad, deflation is much much worse. So something needed to be done. 10 years after the crisis, the Federal Reserve, still the most important organisation in the global economy undertook a long project to create a new economic framework in which it would work. After 18 months, this week it announced its new strategy. There are some bold moves, not as many as some expected, but still some. The article is a must read for everyone. In 12 months at the most its ripples will hit the shores of the Reserve Bank of India too. There’s a lot more content around this, I chose the shortest one with the best explanation. Economics changed this week after decades, you should read about it.
3. The most out of fashion product in the pharma industry is the vaccine. Huge development costs. low returns, it does not make a lot of financial sense. But what happens when governments and nonprofits bankroll you to make a vaccine. It becomes quite attractive. But general sense dictates that then the vaccine would be very economically priced. But markets and businesses don’t always follow general sense. Then there is the question that shouldn’t solving a pandemic be more important than intellectual property rights. But in the case of COVID, IP generated from research on taxpayers money is being highly guarded. This article made me think for a long time. Somehow, in the first major pandemic of my lifetime and most people’s lifetime, I always assumed that developing the vaccine was the challenge. I just realised that maybe that is just the beginning of the fight.
4. Build slow, build right, build with time, build for your people are not traits that you associate with Silicon Valley. Many years ago (2004) Moskovitz co-founded Facebook. He was known for his temper, known for marathon coding sessions. But he was always the silent one. And for 12 years he has been building a product. His employees talk about how he builds for them. For a B2B product he hardly has a sales team. He hired a diversity officer way before startups usually do and he has 41% women in his organisation and 49% who identify as non-white. And he’s built a unicorn. But he still wants to be behind the curtain. Infact even in the year of the company’s IPO, his PR Team has promised him that he won’t have to do any other interviews till the end of the year. Read this for 2 reasons: a. Maybe the right way to build a unicorn has been figured out. b. It is my profile of the week and it’s an amazing one.
5. I had a soft spot for Shinzo Abe. He saw the need for change. And he tried too. Maybe he would not be the most successful leader of the world. But his continuous effort at Abenomics, his ability to craft a relationship with Trump, his understanding of China’s aggression and resulting political and financial investment in Defence and his dream towards a final show in the Japan olympics had kept me hooked to the happenings in Japan for very very long. The 2020 Olympics were supposed to be the high point in his stint as the longest serving Chief executive of Japan, but sadly COVID didn’t make exceptions. If you haven’t followed him, you should, he always has you for or against him, but very few leaders in the developed world made so many strong decisions. Japan’s Longest Serving Prime Minister