Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking ahead to 2012

The world in 2011 celebrated the birth of the seven billionth human. No one could quite figure out where the poor soul was born, though India, with a high share of human births was considered a good bet. Scientists heralded the event with a reassuring declaration that there is enough food on the planet for 7 billion humans - though some times minor impediments such as abject poverty may prevent some humans from accessing it. In any case there is no need as yet for future earthlings to bring their own food when they arrive on the planet. In an unprecedented pledge to continued productivity, the earthlings promised to add another billion of their ilk in the next 14 years. This is a huge improvement from 250,000 years that it took us to put the first billionth human on the earth. This is believed to result in a huge demand for obstetricians, kindergartens and diapers - which will be the sunshine industries and professions of the coming decade. The enthusiasm for this production, however, seems pretty heterogeneous across the world - with the Japanese and the Russians preferring to just have sex and no babies, and the citizens of Niger promising a new life with practically every joyous tumble on the mattress.

Despite poor math skills (blamed by Obama on Republican favoured cuts in education spending) America finally subtracted 99% from the total of 100% and discovered to their horror that 1% of Americans possibly make more money than the other 99% put together. A small part of this 99% majority then proceeded to occupy the Wall Street and some comfortable parks around the country. No one could quite figure out what their demands were, whether they wanted the 99% to become 1% or the 1% to turn into 99%. The fact that it is an arithmetic impossibility for both parts to become either 99% or 1%, did not seem to dissuade them.

American presidential candidate Herman Cain also got caught up with the number 9 and uleashed a 9:9:9 tax plan, where every American pays a 9% tax inconsiderate of their income. The pizza moghul, however decided to drop out of the presidential race when 9 women made allegation of sexual harassment on 9 different occasions in 9 different situations. Cain denied the allegations and said that he couldn't have had sex with his alleged victims as they only came up to his chin.

Dominique Stauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, admitted that he had sex with a six footer immigrant hotel maid from Guinea in the middle of the day in a New York hotel, but claimed that it was routine and a habit that he picked up in his attempt to familiarize himself with assets of different countries around the world. He also added that though everyone sees it as a sensual experience, it was in fact consensual. It was ironic that the man used to bailing out nations around the world required a bail out himself to remain out of jail. His successor at IMF, Christian Lagarde, said that she would rather be a laggard in this area and has her own ways of remembering the names of the countries requiring bail outs.

The season of the year was spring - particularly in the Arab region, where the season lasted for the whole year. The climate specialists decided to suspend their alarm about global warming if it leads to year long spring on the earth. Canada pulled out of the Kyoto protocol saying that they hope that their country, though not exactly a part of Arabia, continues to enjoy the spring weather and escape the frozen winters which have plagued it since time immemorial.

In the financial markets old maxim of "markets hate uncertainty" was replaced by "markets hate certainty even more", when the certainty points to inevitable doom caused by the unsustainability of the gap between the nations' pockets and spending. Euro zone heads met for the umpteenth time in December to forge out a treaty which allows Aunt Angela to have a better control on the purse strings of the member nations. Uncle David refused to sign the treaty as he felt that it will constrain the City of London in continuing to make its full and rightful contribution to future financial disasters in the world.

In India a bunch of excitable citizens gathered around a Gandhian figure called Anna Hazare and decided to campaign against corruption. The government sponsored Lokpal bill did not cut much ice with the group, who labeled Lokpal as Paypal to facilitate payment of bribes. In another development in the largest democracy in the world, the government decided to open up the retail sector to multinationals only to withdraw a few days later as it was felt that the country should persist on the middle path directed by its great leaders and continue to sacrifice the interest of consumers and the producers for the continued prosperity of extortionist middlemen.

Not a nation of believers, China decided to cut its risks and set up their own heaven in the space by launching a space module called Tiangong or "heavenly palace". China plans to compensate for the loss in export revenue by selling or renting berths in the "heavenly palace" to those who are not sure of a guaranteed place in heaven. The former Italian president Berlusconi has reported already signed up, the deal being clinched after China announced that it plans to send a few female astronauts to the space module. We hope 2012 will see China make further and substantial progress on this venture, improving the chances of heavenly comfort in the after life for one and all.

As the year drew to a close, the great leader Kim Jong Il added another "L" to his name, became Kim Jong Ill, departed the world and left a country of devastated and hungry mourners. While his son, Kim Jong Un, became numero uno, the country and the world is hoping that the new Kim will do a better job than his ancestors in ensuring a meal of kimchi and rice for its citizens.

Written by Ashok Sethi

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Looking ahead to 2011

Looking ahead to 2011

If 2010 was the year of "jobless recovery" we hope that 2011 will be the year of "Jobs' recovery" which many observers argue is even more important than recovery of jobs in the US. America is a land of heroes and gives the highest accolades to and places its highest hopes on the shoulders of a few. Recovery of Steve Jobs may well pave the way for recovery of American jobs.

Those who thought that banks had recovered from their self inflicted ills would have been disappointed to know that Goldman Sachs suffered a 37% decline in operating profit in 2010. On the other hand given the complexity of their business many are relieved (and surprised) to know that they were able to compute their profits at all - that too when the year had barely ended. Another redeeming factor was that the decline in the bonus was much smaller (only 5%) than the decline in profits - which shows that the banks may be faltering in managing their business, but have not wavered in their dedication to the fundamental reason of their existence - which clearly is to distribute bonus to their senior employees. It is rumored that some banks plan to progressively replace their ATMs with ABMs (Automatic Bonus Machines) as they fit in much better with their business objectives.

In the meanwhile the US census has discovered that America has a poverty level of 14.3%. The Republican party held a shotgun at the Obama administration to continue with the tax cuts for the rich Americans (a group significantly overlapping with the bonus receiving bankers). The poverty, it was argued exists because the rich do not have enough to give to the poor. Make the rich richer and there will be a trickle down effect making the poor less poor. Making the money flow through the rich will make the rich richer as well as the poor less poor, thereby increasing the general level of happiness.

The concept of happiness is what the British prime minister is using to divert the attention of the British public from their woes. Taking a leaf out of the Bhutan government's concept of Gross Happiness Index, David Cameroon wants the British to introspect and think about how happy are they. Americans always the more practical lot, already know the answer - thanks to a survey done using the Steve Jobs invented iPhone. Researchers found that the people were the happiest while "in flagrante". The relatively erectically challenged congressmen and senators (it is not politically correct to use the old word any more, as so many politicians face this condition) draw vicarious pleasure from screwing the economy. With proven worth and the enormous usefulness of the gadgets produced by his company we pray that 2011 be the year of Jobs' recovery.

In China the preoccupation seems to be to continue to sprint ahead in the economic race without actually being seen to be doing so, but at the same time wanting to receive the respect due to one who will soon dominate the world. The Chinese, therefore, will continue to resist the pressure to increase the value of the yuan, or pay more to their workers, while at the same time building the tallest buildings in the world, the best infrastructure, including the largest high speed railway network. The Chinese president is visiting the US to tell the Americans that he is willing to work together with them. The Americans are looking at the offer with their customary distrust of the East and wondering why they need help from the Chinese. Haven't we done a wonderful job putting ourselves in this spot?

In the Euro zone bets are being placed on which country will be the first to drop out of the common currency. The betting parties are reluctant to place their bets in Euro, as it may not be worth much when countries start dropping out. The stalemate on which currency should be used for the wager was solved by the Chinese offering the yuan to be the currency for the purpose.

India saw the much needed demise of the license raj, but only to be caught by the license Raja. A Raja, who till recently was the telecom minister of India, said that he wanted to put an end to the license raj by giving away the 2G licenses. With a proliferation of glossy magazines (girlie and boyie), and so many countries wanting to jump into bed with India, is the general theme for the country in 2011 to move from license to licentiousness? Experts disagree and feel that free licenses will not pave the way for free sex, as Indians will continue to pay heavily for sex throughout their lives in an institution known as arranged marriage.

Written by Ashok Sethi