Bestsellers touting the benefits of globalization are a regular feature of our times. Case in point: Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat. The title is supposed to shock the reader. “Damn! I thought the world was round. Thanks Tom, you are a bloody genius.”
The fallacy of composition is what I think it is called—where you conclude something is true for the whole when it is only true for a part. You see one bit and it looks, say, smooth and you conclude that the whole is smooth. I see a bit of the earth around me and it looks flat to me and so I conclude that the earth is flat. Hasty generalization is a type of fallacy of composition. Bangalore is full of IT professionals doing well, so the Third World is doing well.
I grant you that Friedman writes bestsellers and some of my best friends are huge fans of his. And I think that globalization—the integration of the world’s markets—is not merely a good thing overall but is inevitable and monotonic. In any market integration, there are winners and losers, be it labor market integration or the market for lemons. Be that as it may, what I want to do someday is to write a book called The World is Mad.
“What!?” you would exclaim upon reading the title, “I thought the world was sane. Thanks Atanu, you are a bloody genius.” And then you would proceed to read the book and figure out that indeed the world is mad and that I do not fall into the hasty generalization trap unlike some others I could mention.
Madness suffuses the world around us. Why don’t we perceive it? Because physiologically we have evolved to tune out any background information. We stop taking notice of something that is all-pervasive. The madness I am talking about is so commonplace so as to be taken as normal.
The globalization of madness, like the globalization of trade and stuff, did not begin recently. It has been going on for a bit. I am talking about the 800-pound gorilla in the room which practically everyone is ignoring: the Weapons of Mass Destruction Industry.
The US leads in the globalization of madness just as it leads on practically all other bits of globalization. Check out Ben (of Ben and Jerry’s) on the US nuclear stockpile. It costs $17.6 billion every year to merely maintain it. Let me spell that out: $17,600,000,000. And that is just to keep the stock in readiness. The stockpile of 53,000 nuclear weapons costs much more to build.
Thousands of billions of dollars to build the whole military apparatus, all with the one single objective: kill people. What is worse, this military apparatus kills people whether these weapons are used or not. How? They export part of their obsolete weapons of mass destruction to Third World countries which pay billions of dollars to acquire them. These Third World countries starve their people in order to extract sufficient resources to pay for the weapons. And the madness is so acute that some people in the Third World countries actually rejoice that their governments are acquiring these weapons. I regularly keep getting emails congratulating me that the Indian government is almost surely going to finally get a huge batch of F-16s from the US! To me that is depressing beyond words. It is like someone happily reporting the thrilling news, “Congratulations! Your country will continue to see millions of deaths through starvation and disease over the next 10 years—guaranteed.”
Just because it is all-pervasive madness does not make it sanity. We continue to go about our daily business without paying much attention to this madness. We are in the business of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic even as the ship is sinking. I have to remind myself that we don’t necessarily have to be smart; we just have to stop being so stupid. There is one thing that India needs to do if it wants to develop and it has nothing to do with IT this or internet kiosk that: it has to stop spending money on weapons of mass destruction. And that goes with equal force on the other impoverished overpopulated illiterate countries around India.
PS: There is a followup to this post here.