A World of Disruptions


Emma Sky, Ha-Joon Chang, Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Sadaf Saaz in conversation with Patrick French


By Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Guest Blogger Jules Evans


Disruptive events are the new normal, according to a panel of thinkers at the Jaipur Literature Festival. And it will continue to be an unstable global system unless the power of corporations is tamed.

‘Corporate vultures promote globalization as a good’, said Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness. ‘But it is not necessarily good, and it’s not good for everyone. The big danger is Monsanto-type corporations, and CEOs who make huge salaries without taking any personal  risks. The system will collapse unless we constrain it now.’

‘The rise of powerful global corporations is the biggest danger’, agreed Ha-Joon Chang, the economist and author of Economics: A User’s Guide. ‘Thanks to international free trade agreements like Nafta, they can directly challenge government legislation if it reduces their profit. They are pushing globalization at a speed society cannot take. The easiest way to challenge this would be to abolish tax havens.’

The panel also noted the decline of American power and the rise of Islamic extremism as another serious disrupter.

Emma Sky, former Governate Coordinator of Kirkuk in Iraq and the author of The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq, said: ‘We’re seeing the end of the post-cold war period and the Pax Americana. The major disrupter was the United States’ over-reaction to the September 11 attack and the invasion of Iraq. You can draw a straight line from that to President Trump’s inauguration. When I was working in Iraq, I could never have predicted it would lead to civil war in Iraq, the rise of Isis, the meltdown of the EU under a wave of mass migration from the Middle East, and the end of the Pax Americana.’

Nassim Taleb said: ‘I fear that Isis is the new norm. We’re seeing pogroms of Christians taking place in Egypt. Even in Dubai, 55% of the local population is Salafi [a fundamentalist form of Islam]. Isis will take over Saudi Arabia, and we have to live with that expectation.’

Sadaf Saaz, poet and activist from Bangladesh, said: ‘The Saudification of Islam is worrying for many countries, including Bangladesh. I’m terrified of Trump. I always thought America was an ideal of something to aspire to, and that American institutions would be strong enough to withstand the rise of someone like him. Let’s see.’

Ha-Joon Chang, however, thought Trump would not change much. ‘He may make some moves in a protectionist direction, but I think he will disappoint a lot of people. And then what? The anger won’t go away.’

Emma Sky suggested that one of the biggest threats to global stability was ‘fragile masculinity’, a phrase she borrowed from a colleague of hers at Yale University. This provoked a typically outspoken response from Taleb:  ‘The education system in the West will collapse. You have institutions like Yale which create trillions of dollars in student debt, and they just teach students about ‘toxic masculinity’. There will be the Uberfication of higher education – it will be disrupted by online services.’

Sky, at least, ended on a positive note. ‘There is a lot of room for hope. What makes me optimistic is young people, particularly young women around the world becoming more educated and more independent.’


Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill


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