India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept into office in May on a message of aspiration, and a reputation for action.
During the nearly 13 years that Modi served as chief minister of Gujarat, before arriving in New Delhi, his successes included drastically curtailing the number of hours that manufacturers in India’s premier industrial state went without electricity. The state’s transmission grid was strengthened and Modi promoted the development of 900 megawatts of solar generating capacity. That’s equivalent to the power generated by a large nuclear plant.
These steps and many others fit Modi’s mantra of “less government and more governance,” as well as the prime minister’s deep understanding of the influence of adequate energy production in reviving a flagging economy.
Perhaps the most useful and telling national economic trend that greets Modi as the new prime minister, the one that clearly attracted interest in his candidacy, is the country’s candid assessment of its deteriorated condition. A decade after India’s economy regularly exceeded eight percent annual growth, and the nation was seen globally as the next economic juggernaut, India is slipping badly.
Endemic corruption, impenetrable bureaucracy, suffocating air pollution, vile freshwater supplies, and off the hook population growth make doing business in India a test of courage. Foreign companies have fled by the hundreds.
Just as significant is how India manages its natural resources as a social welfare program that produces startling outcomes. One of the most damaging examples is gifting to grain farmers free water, free electricity to pump water from overtaxed aquifers, and subsidized diesel fuel to run generators that power the pumps when the electricity cuts off. The result is a dangerous and expensive cycle of risk, built into the country’s political infrastructure, that simultaneously produces huge food surpluses that rot in Punjab grain depots, dire electricity shortages that hurt businesses and homeowners, and rising fossil fuel trade deficits.
Indians in every region of the nation, in every trade and profession, at every level of society understand that the social, economic, and ecological chaos that is modern India could hardly get much worse. Prime Minister Modi has a decent chance to fix some of this because he starts his work at the place where the reality of India’s troubled prospects meets the earnest hopes of its talented and determined people, what Modi during the campaign called “Achche Din Aane Wale Hain,” the good times that are ahead.
But Modi needs to help India define what he means by “the good times.” And he’ll need to target a handful of priorities to work on immediately, priorities sorted from the extravagant number of problems that require solutions. One of those priorities should be fixing India’s faltering energy production.
In plain words, India is not producing enough energy to supply its citizens, businesses, and communities. The biggest challenge is in the electricity supply.
CAJAMARCA, Peru – North of Lima, 350 miles, this regional capital is spread across a high mountain valley near the northern terminus of the Andes Mountains. Spanish conquistadors began their conquest of Latin America here in the early 16th century when they murdered the last Incan emperor. The room where the Incan chief is said to have spent his last days is a half-block from Cajamarca’s central square. Roman Catholic cathedrals flank the southern and northern boundaries of the square, which is alive with strollers and skateboarders and people warming themselves in a bright winter sun.
The scene of order that greets visitors, the clean streets and the shops that stay open well past sunset, is a display of order that while not new isn’t all that old either. In the 1980s this city, which today numbers 250,000 residents, was one-third as large and engulfed by the same national economic depression that produced rampant joblessness, and inflation that essentially rendered the currency worthless. In the 1990s, Cajamarca and the villages in the surrounding Andes became a place where leaders and soldiers of the Shining Path, the leftist insurgency, came to heal during the nearly decade-long civil war that killed 70,000 people, according to government estimates.
Members of the Shining Path were a murderous bunch. With death threats, coercion, and targeted killing they sowed fear and disorder. Those who could leave the country, did. Peru’s president, Alberto Fujimori, responded by forming death squads that attacked the insurgents and also murdered a good number of innocent citizens. Fujimori was prosecuted for crimes against humanity, convicted, and in 2009 sentenced to a 25-year prison term.
Earlier this month a social scientist from Australia, Martin Scurrah, who’s spent much of his adult life in Peru, explored the history of Peru’s dark era with me. As his narrative neared its end I remarked that in its basic details — severe economic pain, political insurgency, social disorder, rampant death — it resembled what the United States is now experiencing. Peru’s recent story also produced a contemporary chapter that could hold lessons for the United States.
LIMA, Peru — Villa El Salvador is a section of this capital city of 9 million residents that lies between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal highlands. The community climbs up and rolls down steep slopes in a seemingly endless expanse of densely packed rooftops made of plastic, sheet metal, and wood. The unpaved streets, lined by the one-story walls of two-room homes, have no names.
Still there is order and tidiness to Villa El Salvador, which numbers tens of thousands of residents. Bodegas offer snacks and boxed milk at many of the street corners. The crosses and monuments of a cemetery occupy a space as large as two soccer fields. Laundry dries in the breeze. Children dressed in black and gold school uniforms wait for school buses. And dawn breaks every morning with the muted light of the sun behind winter’s thick clouds and the sound of the honking horns of the city’s blue water trucks.
For a time in the 20th century, a good number of American families regularly received morning deliveries of milk and eggs at their back doors. The service defined two aspects of American life that are gone. The nation that emptied its cities to celebrate the new values of privacy and isolation in low density suburbs found in home delivery a fresh form of convenience. And homeowners in a nation that once developed sufficient wealth to enable one parent to stay home could afford such a luxury.
The 21st century hasn’t been as kind. Home delivery in America now largely encompasses a mercantile space dominated by pizza and cable TV, which says more than we may want to know about the United States at this point.
Lima’s water trucks also provide guides to understanding the circumstances affecting 21st century Peru, and to a larger extent the other fast-growing cities of Latin America. Municipal governments and taxpayers are not anxious to invest in water infrastructure to supply running water or sanitation services. As a result entire sections of the world’s cities do without. Water trucks dispense, at nominal or no charge, the essential resource that makes it possible for the world’s biggest cities — nearly all of them now in Latin America, Africa, and Asia — to keep expanding.
Pharrell Williams was born and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where his friends and family knew from his earliest days as a percussionist in the school band, and his singing performances in school plays, that the artist with the top song on worldwide pop charts for the last 10 weeks would amount to something rare. Even before Pharrell posted the ‘Happy’ dance video last October, he’d won seven Grammy Awards for songwriting, production, and performance, composed the soundtrack to Despicable Me and its sequel (which included ‘Happy’) and performed, produced, or composed alongside an A list of pop stars ranging from Beyonce’ to Miley Cyrus to Robin Thicke to Kanye West and Snoop Dogg.
With the ‘Happy’ video, and the enormous reach of the wired world, Pharrell has transcended boundaries of geography, class, and ideology. ‘Happy’ displays the powerful influence of music, verse, and video to attract and inspire a global audience. And though ‘Happy’ asks no more of its viewers than to laugh, dance, clap, lipsynch, and produce a video for YouTube, it proves just how quickly people, especially young people, can shape a global movement when they’re motivated.
On Christmas Day 2013 ‘Happy’ had 5 million views on YouTube. By May 10, 2014, it had 232 million views. Young people from nations on six continents had posted their own versions, many of which had attracted hundreds of thousands of views.
Now imagine, just for a minute, if that kind of global community could be called to come together to act on trends in a way that would make us just as happy.
One of the powerful unarticulated messages of ‘Happy’ is that it recognizes, ever so obliquely, that the world and its human community is a bit lost, what Pharrell describes as “a room without a roof.” His solution, emphatically stated, is “happiness is the truth.” Read More