Posts Tagged ‘Analysis’

Thank You, Donald Trump

September 8, 2017

By Anjum Altaf

Much as many are finding it hard to say anything good about Donald Trump, it cannot be denied that he has delivered the world a much needed wake-up call. Gone is the complacency about a whole host of topics that had seemed firmly settled – democracy, capitalism, globalization, trade, to name a few. Fresh thinking has been unleashed on a number of other issues – climate change, identity, immigration, terrorism, among them. There was dire need to rethink many of these and if the world required Trump to revitalize the debates, it has only itself to blame. In large measure, Trump is an outcome of not paying heed to what was going on under our noses but escaped attention because of the ideological biases of prosperous and uncaring ruling elites.

The ‘boiling frog’ analogy comes to mind: a frog dropped in boiling water will jump out but if placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it would not perceive the danger and be cooked to death. With the continuation of the mainstream status quo, had Hillary Clinton been elected president of the United States, there is little doubt we would have died in any number of ways because nothing would have changed till it was too late. Either climate change would have overtaken us before we reacted to its dangers while countries continued to bicker amongst themselves; or the neo-imperialist wars in the Middle East would have been intensified with the penchant for regime change to promote American values; or globalization would have have continued unabated enriching a few and reducing the rest of the world to a state of precarious uncertainty.

With Trump, we have been dumped into boiling water. Many of the simmering threats are being desperately examined anew, some, ironically, because  Trump has a much more cavalier attitude towards them. Take global warming, for example, where the Trump team is stocked with climate change deniers. It is precisely because the threat is now so in one’s face that activists have shed their complacency and are seeking new ways to revitalize their efforts. The same is the case with many other issues in which there has been a surge in theoretical revision, community activism, and grassroots mobilization. South Asians ought to look particularly carefully at Professor Amartya Sen’s critique of electoral systems based on the first-past-the-post criterion, a key contributor to Trump’s success.

One way to think of this radically new environment is in terms of a lottery. The status quo offered an almost sure bet of muddling through for another few decades before ending in catastrophe. Trump offers a fifty percent chance of instant extinction (his itchy fingers are on the nuclear button) and a fifty percent chance of revitalized political and social order in which many of the existing pathologies would have been addressed. Without the threat of imminent chaos, it is unlikely the resistance would have been galvanized in quite the manner that is now underway. Complacency and inertia would have continued to characterize the prevailing order with its almost inevitable consequences.

Consider, as an example, prevailing attitudes to democratic governance compared to its unremarked degradation. While Fukuyama hailed liberal democracy in the West as the end of history, Huntington lauded Ayub Khan as the ideal leader for the modernizing world that was not ready for democratic rule. Richard Holbrooke characterized the backwardness of developing countries as follows: “Suppose elections are free and fair and those elected are racists, fascists, separatists. That is the dilemma.” Fareed Zakaria was even more to the point: “Consider, for example, the challenge we face across the Islamic world. We recognize the need for democracy in those often-repressive countries. But what if democracy produces an Islamic theocracy, or something like it?”

The fact that democracy had produced a Hitler much before it produced any racists or fascists in the developing world was overlooked but now that it has produced Trump in the heart of the developed world, the doubts about the way democracy has evolved are out in the open and no longer considered the exclusive problem of backward non-White populations. American democracy in particular has morphed into a plutocracy quite at odds with its original design.

Or take the flip side of this alleged lack of fitness of the often-repressive countries, the unchallenged belief in American Exceptionalism. This rebirth of the White Man’s Burden in the age of neo-imperialism argued that the world needed to evolve towards American values while assigning a divine responsibility to the US for the purpose. Enlightenment was to be bestowed on the rest of humanity, making it fit for democracy through selective regime changes and by saving its women from the clutches of oppression.

As recently as a year ago, Obama had declared with pride and conviction that “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” Now, barely six months into the Trump presidency, the veil has been ripped off American values regarding women and minorities and the reality of the US first policy that has wreaked havoc in the world exposed for all to see. As a result, European countries are already envisioning a future with a severely diminished political and ideological leadership role for the USA.

Nearer home, ordinary Pakistanis, if they pause to reflect, should also be grateful to Trump for calling out their country’s selective cat-and-mouse game with terrorism. Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy has been unsuccessful at best and at worst has imperiled the future of the nation via its economic cost, social damage, and political isolation. It would have continued unchallenged but for Trump raising the ante by laying aside the niceties and evasions that characterized the US-Pakistan dialogue under earlier presidents. The new bluntness and proposed regional realignment offer a glimmer of hope for an overdue questioning and a review under duress of Pakistan’s damaging security paradigm.

The world may not survive Trump, but if it does, many, including long-suffering Pakistanis, would have a lot to thank him for.

This opinion appeared in Dawn on September 5, 2017 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

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Policy: Prescription, Analysis and Hot Air

April 24, 2013

There is a huge difference between policy prescription and policy analysis and the first without the second is a waste.

I come across this gulf everyday in discussions of issues like health or environment or urbanization but let me illustrate with an example from education.

So, I am reading this op-ed in a leading newspaper of the country and I am presented with the usual litany of woes: declining standards, lowest per capita spending in the world, ignorant teachers, ghost schools, different systems for rich and poor, medium of instruction, blah, blah, blah.

There follows a dire warning: this would destroy the country. (more…)

Handwaving on Aid: Response to Nancy Birdsall

September 21, 2012

By Anjum Altaf

I am happy to engage in a debate with the Center for Global Development on US aid to Pakistan. However, for me the issue is not aid to Pakistan or aid in general but the analytical validity of CGD’s recent reports. I argued that CGD’s 2011 report was advocacy, not analysis and based on a reading of a summary of the 2012 report I concluded it seemed no different.

CGD has responded to my criticism of the latter but has, in what I consider a handwaving style, ignored my central concern and resorted to diversionary arguments to mount a defense. Here, I aim to show why CGD’s case remains a weak one. (more…)

Pakistan Unhitches Hitchens

June 26, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

Pakistan is like the spouse who makes one froth at the mouth and take leave of one’s senses. In the ensuing rant, it is possible to get almost all the facts right while getting the big picture almost entirely wrong, leaving one feeling, the next day, sheepish and deeply embarrassed – the real damage done, in any such fight, being to oneself. Pakistan’s latest enraged ex is Christopher Hitchens, who could not have done himself any worse damage than what he has accomplished with his ironically titled Vanity Fair blowup, “From Abbottabad to Worse.”

Hitchens delivers his verdict right off the bat: (more…)

On Argumentation

April 7, 2011

There are two aspects of an argument: its content and its construction. On this blog our focus is almost entirely on the latter; the only reason we have content is that we cannot do without it to construct an argument – an argument has to be about something. However, we have no material or emotional stake in the content; it is just a means to an end. In this post we explore in more detail the specifics of the end we have in mind.

There are at least three attributes of the construction of an argument that are critical: Credibility (whether the argument is supported by evidence); Coherence (whether the argument meets the tests of logic); and Consistency (whether the argument is free of contradictions). In order to illustrate these attributes we will resort to content provided by a participant in an earlier discussion. (more…)

An Exercise in Analysis

September 17, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

I received the following announcement from the Pakistan Solidarity Network in connection with a teach-in planned in New York on Friday, September 17, 2010.

The Urgent Need for Solidarity With Pakistan’s Flood Victims

 

Even as Americans revisit the lingering destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, half a world away Pakistan is experiencing one of the most calamitous disasters in recent memory.

(more…)

Imaginings: South Asia in 2020

April 13, 2010

‘Imaginings’ constitutes our most ambitious initiative to date. With this initiative we invite our readers to participate in imagining our national and regional futures ten years from now. What do we think our country, a neighboring country in the region, or the region as a whole would be like in 2020? And why?

Readers can submit as many essays as they wish but each essay should deal with one country only (any country in South Asia, not necessarily the writer’s own) or with South Asia as a region. The essay could cover any or all of a number of dimensions – politics, economics, culture, etc.

At the heart of the essay would be the identification of the major forces and trends that would yield the future that the writer chooses to describe. What gave rise to these trends, why would they dominate, and what might cause to change their direction or intensity? The credibility of the prediction would rest on the depth of this analysis. (more…)

Gujarat: What Miracle?

March 18, 2009

By Dipankar Gupta

[Note from The South Asian Idea: This article forms part of the series (Governance in Pakistan) on this blog that deals with issues of analysis. The preamble to this piece by Professor Dipankar Gupta is an article on Narendra Modi by Robert Kaplan in the April 2009 issue of Atlantic Monthly (India’s New Face). The bottom line of Kaplan’s article is that “Under Modi, Gujarat has become an economic dynamo.” Professor Gupta’s op-ed originally appeared in the Times of India on January 31, 2009 under the caption Credit Misplaced. Note how much difference it makes when all the evidence is taken into account and the starting point is not chosen arbitrarily. Note also the varying explanations for the same set of events. Readers are invited to join this discussion and give their opinion on which of these two analyses is more robust.]

Gujarat grew at approximately 12 percent in 2006-7 against India’s overall growth of about 8 percent that year. Fantastic, said Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and lauded Gujarat’s achievement. He must have stuttered on this praise, because all credit on this score would go to Narendra Modi.

But wait! What is so great about this statistic? In 1994-1995 Gujarat surged at the rate of 13.2 percent. Where was Narendra Modi then? In the years 1994-2001, Gujarat’s state domestic product registered a growth average of between 10 and 13 percent. At the tail end of this period Modi stepped in as Chief Minister. What then has Modi done that is so special?

Let us take a long look at Gujarat. This state was already among the top three in India by 1990. It took Gujarat 20 years after it was created in 1960 to climb up from the eighth rank to the third spot. Twenty years of hard work, led primarily by Congress governments, it may be added. Over 35 percent of its infrastructural augmentation for power generation happened between 1995 and 2000. If Gujarat today can show off its treasure chest, it should gratefully remember its pre-Modi past.

Besides other riches, Gujarat processes 49 percent of the country’s petroleum products. It also has India’s largest shipyard in Bhavnagar, as well as the giant Reliance refineries in Jamnagar. Even on something as pedestrian as Soda Ash, Gujarat is responsible for 90 percent of India’s production. All this happened well before Modi cut his political incisors.

So what is so dazzling about Gujarat’s current prosperity? Nothing really! In spite of decades of growth as usual, as much as 93 percent of Gujarat’s workforce toils in the informal sector. This is why growth is not always development. In fact, on the Human Development Index, Gujarat fell one place in 2003-2004, and now ranks below Kerala, Punjab, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka. In terms of rural prosperity Gujarat is at number five and well behind Punjab, the front ranker.

Now this is a hard one. Workers employed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme in Gujarat receive half of what their counterparts get elsewhere. Interestingly, this fact was recently released by a Parliamentary Committee headed by none other than Kalyan Singh, a one time BJP stalwart.

Ernst and Young, consultants for Vibrant Gujarat conclave of 2005, ranked Gujarat’s investment climate behind Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, and on par with Karnataka. In terms of Workforce Quality, however, the same professionals gave Gujarat a very average “B grade” as it failed to measure up on a number of counts. It may be recalled in this connection that the Asian Development Bank in 1996 had ranked Gujarat as number two in India in terms of its investment climate. But in 2005, it was rated at number five. Perhaps the 2002 riots had something to do with this. 

Why then does it seem that Modi invented Gujarat’s golden wheel when it was already spinning? There are probably two reasons for this.

The first is the simplistic assumption that all communalists are intellectual clunks who can’t hold two ends of a book together. Modi was read as a one-talent wonder, good at leading riots from the front, but little else. Hence, Gujarat would soon show negative economic figures and, before long, its heirloom would be up for sale. But when that did not happen, Modi’s skills at book keeping, rather than bloodletting, began to draw attention. Instead of serving just death by culture, Modi cleverly stirred Gujrati garv (pride) into the pot. This made the state’s usual growth rates taste nicely different.

It was Modi’s highly personalized executive style, rather than his tidy store minding that attracted Indian corporates. They gave as much thought to Gujarat slipping in the development index as they would a drain inspector’s report. What mattered to them was the manner of delivery. Modi did not just give Nano shelter, but also readied permits for Ratan Tata in three days flat. Democratic stage fright? Never heard of it! Here was a man who could bend the law at will, but you had to be good to him. Sweetening politicians is easier than playing by the book.

So when Modi welcomed private capital to Gujarat, many Indian entrepreneurs, big and small, rushed to his side. They had at last found the patron they always longed for. The one feature that has endured India’s liberalization regime is the way our native entrepreneurs crave for political goodwill and protection. It was not as if only the riff raff ran to Modi, the big shots did too. And some of them were regular four star generals of corporate governance. So much for Business Ethics!

True, Modi is partial to business, but this isn’t news either. Gujarat consistently attracted a disproportionate slice of India’s private investment. But Modi’s tune was hard to resist not because it was new but because he delivered it with a bang. The first to sing along was Anil Ambani. After splitting from his brother he found an uncle in Amar Singh. But today he is a card holding Modi groupie. In the Vibrant Gujarat conclave he even advocated him as India’s Prime Minister. Sunil Mittal soon joined in, and then the chorus began. CEO’s now look at Modi just as ancient Israelis must have looked at Moses.

Beauty, in such cases, does not lie in the eyes of the beholder. It rather lies in the eyes of the beholden.

Dipankar Gupta is Professor of Sociology at the Center for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

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Governance in Pakistan – 4: What is Good Analysis?

March 15, 2009

In the three preceding posts (Here, Here and Here) we have pointed out pitfalls in analytical reasoning using the situation in Pakistan as case material.

Readers are entitled to ask: What is good analysis?

What follows is my perspective on what makes for good analysis. It is not original but something I was taught by a teacher I feel I was lucky to encounter.

I enrolled for a course in Decision Analysis and this is what the teacher talked about in the first class:

The most important concept to understand is that a Decision and an Outcome are two separate things.

A Good Outcome is not necessarily the result of a Good Decision.

A Bad Outcome is not necessarily the result of a Bad Decision.

How can this be so?

Because between the Decision and the Outcome there is something called Uncertainty or Randomness, something that you can never know fully in advance and over which you may have no control.

Let me illustrate this with some examples that I have invented for a South Asian audience:

Suppose a batsman picks the wrong ball to hit and makes a lousy shot but the fielder drops the catch and the ball goes over the boundary: A Bad Decision yields a Good Outcome.

Now suppose a safe single is there for the taking and the batsman sets off but slips in the middle and is run out: A Good Decision yields a Bad Outcome.

The lesson to take away is that a Decision can be Good or Bad independent of the Outcome.

A Good Decision is one where you have taken all the available information into consideration, gone over all the alternatives possible, studied their costs and benefits, and then chosen what you think is the best course of action in the circumstances.

The Outcome could still be bad – fate may intervene, an earthquake may alter the cost-benefit calculus, a coup in Russia may freeze the credit markets. As they say, ‘there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.’ Regardless, given what you knew when you knew at the time you made the decision, it was the best if you did all that was mentioned above.

Now replace Decision with Analysis and Outcome with Prediction.

An analysis is not considered good ONLY if it predicts correctly.

An analysis is good if it does the following:

  • Marshals all the available evidence that is relevant to the analysis.
  • Organizes the evidence in a way that it can be assessed carefully.
  • Understands the context in which the evidence is to be applied.
  • Recognizes the forces and trends that are acting upon the context.
  • Surveys critically the various alternatives that are likely.
  • Intuits the motivations of the key actors in the situation.

Based on the above the analyst offers his or her opinion on the most likely outcome – which could still be wrong.

Note that the good analyst acts more or less like the good doctor or the good detective in the process he/she follows in reaching a diagnosis or a conclusion.

Note also that these skills require a lot of training. There may be the rare intuitive analyst born with the gift but most of the time analysis is a learned skill that requires dedicated study.

It is not for nothing that leading universities in the West have programs to train analysts who then earn their livings as professional analysts. It is because, more often than not, good analysis yields good predictions. And when it doesn’t, it is possible to go back and study what might have gone wrong improving the analytical method in the process.

It is certainly not possible to do good analysis driving by in a car, or drawing conclusions from fluffy puppies, or hoping for the best.

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Governance in Pakistan – 3: More Bad Analysis

March 14, 2009

The previous two posts in this series have described what we think are poor analyses of the situation in Pakistan by William Dalrymple and Moni Mohsin, respectively.

Now the venerable New York Times has entered the fray with another bad analysis (Closer to the Cliff, March 12, 2009). Let us dissect it:

We are especially alarmed to see President Asif Ali Zardari repeating the excesses of his predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Why alarmed, one may ask? What was the basis for the expectation that Asif Ali Zardari would act any differently? Is this a case, once again, of wishful thinking leading the analysis?

Mr. Zardari is dishonoring his late wife’s memory by following that same path.

So, the expectation is that Mr. Zardari’s prime loyalty should be to his late wife’s memory and not to his self-interest, as he perceives it. Is this a realistic expectation? Or is it a pathetic attempt at emotional blackmail – what would your late wife think Mr. Zardari?

Mr. Sharif is all too eager to manipulate this destructive drama for personal gain.

Surprise, surprise! Any basis for assuming Mr. Sharif would act differently?

The American ambassador in Islamabad spoke with Mr. Sharif, and an envoy, Richard Holbrooke, had a video conference call with Mr. Zardari… They need to press Mr. Zardari now to compromise on the dispute over Pakistan’s courts and to allow Mr. Sharif to run for office. And they need to press Mr. Sharif to work for peaceful political solutions. If there is any hope for democracy in Pakistan, a robust opposition must be allowed to flourish and participate fully in the country’s political life.

Here is the impatient solution – the bad boys have to be told to behave and fix the situation in no uncertain manner. There is no need to try and understand why they are behaving the way they are.

Otherwise: hint, hint!

Already, some Washington analysts are suggesting there might be worse things than a return to military rule in Pakistan.

This is typical of what passes for analysis at the New York Times. More than a year ago, we had highlighted this style of NYT analysis (Ah, New York Times) when the crisis under discussion was the electoral chaos in Kenya. Replace Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif with Kenyan names and note the similarity of the advice:

Mr. Kibaki should renounce that official declaration and the embarrassingly swift swearing in that followed. He should then meet with his principal challenger, Raila Odinga, to discuss a possible vote recount, election re-run or other reasonable compromise.

What is wrong with this mode of analysis?

Note that it is entirely top-down. It starts with a desired outcome (democratic governance in these two cases) and then works backwards impatiently to try and ensure that the outcome is achieved. It invariably ends up chastising the bad boys who are misbehaving, informing them that they are acting stupidly, and threatening them with worse consequences.

There is no attempt to understand why the boys are bad in the first place, why they are misbehaving yet again, and what may be the systemic causes that lead to this kind of repeated crises.

It is no wonder that the NYT joins the rising crescendo of lamenting voices from Pakistan who are surprised that Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif are behaving badly, who had expected them to have learnt their lessons while in exile, who had hoped that the ‘restoration’ of democracy was itself the solution, who had really lulled themselves into believing that there are dictators and democrats and that they behave differently.

Any meaningful analysis has to work from the bottom-up. It has to look at the forces that operate at ground level and then project what kinds of outcomes are feasible given the interplay of these forces and the changes in them over time.

A bottom-up analysis need not always be right but it creates room for meaningful discussion that can help lead to a better and fuller understanding and more realistic expectations.

This is how an analysis in The South Asian Idea (Helping Pakistan, November 2007) approached the issue with a bottom-up perspective:

Understand that in a deeply unequal society without individual rights, and with extreme dependence of the many on the few, the functions of political representation and social protection are inseparable…

Understand this is still very much a monarchical society in which the ruler, in whatever garb, believes he rules by divine right…

Understand this is a society at a stage of development where political parties are personal affinity groups with lifetime leaders…

And based on the reading of these and other attributes it predicted:

So what does a transition to “true democracy” mean in a situation like this? Understand that representative democracy is not going to emerge any time soon by pressure from below. Democracy will be the name given to a sharing of power amongst the elites holding the wealth, the guns, and the controls over rules and rituals. And, barring anything different, this democracy will go the way of previous democracies, each morphing from “true” to “sham,” each leaving the country more wounded and vulnerable than before. Has this not been the story of the last sixty years?

In 2009, this prediction elicits much less surprise and disappointment than Dalrymple, Mohsin, the NYT or the lamenting chorus in Pakistan. Why?

The bottom line is that one needs to determine the appropriate starting point for analysis. Starting with what one hopes for almost always renders the analysis useless. Starting with the reality that exists on the ground and working upwards may not always yield the correct prediction but it is the most promising approach to an eventual understanding of why things turn out the way they do.

And that understanding is needed as the real starting point on the road to reform. Without that we would continue to cycle endlessly between our rascals and our redeemers, between our unrealistic hopes and our betrayed expectations.

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