2019 isn’t 1999: the unipolar moment is over

I just finished reading War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots where the author argues that hegemonic Leviathans are actually good for average human well-being because they maintain order and peace. In other words, a multipolar balance-of-powers situation is dangerous. Unipolarity is less dangerous.

For various personal normative reasons, I’m not entirely happy with this conclusion. But, this book and others have convinced me that this is probably correct (for others, see The Fall of Rome).  So on some level, the Claire Berlinksi thread post below reflects a lot of truth. But I think it is wrong to get overly exorcised over Donald Trump’s acceleration of American involution.

The reason is that is that inevitable forces of economic determinism mean that the American unipolar world is not going to be maintained into the 21st century. In the late 1990s, with Japanese somnolescence, Russia as a supine post-superpower, and China only starting to get its footing as a capitalist nation, the vision of eternal American hegemony in our time was not a simple fantasy. It was an extension of the world that we saw around us.

That world is gone.

A quick check of GDP (PPP) by nation(s) tells us that China + India is now already ~75% of the USA + European Union. On a nominal basis, all the forecasts seem to put China and India #1 and #3 in GDP by 2030. On a per capita basis, these nations are going to be poorer than the West for a while longer. But in terms of power projection that may not matter so much. The fact that Czarist Russia and the Soviet Union were poorer per capita and had less human capital per unit didn’t prevent them from grinding superior western and central European powers down through sheer size.*

As a man in his 70s Donald Trump doesn’t seem to grasp that America cannot dictate as much by force of will as it could in the second half of the 20th century when he came into the fullness of manhood. But he’ll learn. And America will learn.

Our society is rich and wealthy. We are powerful. Our armed forces are the sharpest and longest blades on the face of the earth. But aside from the inexorable heaving emergence of the Asian nations the United States, and the West more generally, seems to be gripped by alternating fluxes of anomie and ennui. Trump’s election is a reflection of this.

* I refer here to the Napoleonic Wars and World War II. The Czarist collapse of World War I strikes me in some ways a collapse in morale and national spirit.

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Bangladeshis are very East Asian, Sri Lankan Tamils are not quite as structured

Click to enlarge

A very long post as my other weblog where I reiterate how East Asian Bengalis, and in particular East Bengalis, are. Aside from the existence of a Dalit/scheduled caste subcommunity, very little has surprised me about Bangladeshi genetics in the last 5 years or so. Rather than a novelty, some simple truths seem to be reinforced over and over. Two major takeaways:

1) the only “exotic” aspect of Bengali ancestry is that Bengalis are substantially East Asian (with the exception that this is sharply attenuated in Brahmins).

2) Though there is some evidence of West Asian admixture in a few Bengali Muslims, you have to look really close to see evidence of it. Though I can believe and do believe, that many Bengali Muslims have a genealogical connection to Iran and Turan through a distinct paternal lineage, that has left a minimal genetic impact.

But one thing I did not emphasize in the post: looking closely at the 1000 Genomes Sri Lankan Tamil samples from the UK I think it is clear that they are less structured than an Indian sample would be. The proportion of Dalits is far lower than in the Indian Telugu sample obtained from the UK. So I will have to update my assertion that the Sri Lanka Tamil sample is as structured as Indians. It isn’t. This is contrast to the Lahore Punjabi samples, which are highly structured. More so than the Sri Lanka Tamils.

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Bhadralok are made not born

Tanushree Dutta is a Bengali Kayastha

I have two samples of full ancestry from West Bengal. A Kayastha and a Brahmin. You can see where they plot.

Bengali Brahmins are very similar to North Indian Brahmins (often they have some “eastward” shift). In contrast, the Kayastha individual looks like the Bangladeshi samples, except with far less East Asian ancestry.

I do want more samples. Though I’ve gotten a few Bengali Brahmins and they exhibit the sample pattern as above. I am curious about non-Brahmin West Bengalis. But from the above, I think I will conclude that the hypothesis that Kayasthas are a cultivator caste which uplifted themselves occupationally is probably the right one.

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Muslims and Urdu in India

The plot above shows the % Urdu speakers vs. % Muslim in states where Muslims are 4% or more of the population. The data is from Census 2011 (thanks for Vikram of the language data). There are some interesting trends. Assuming that the vast majority of Urdu speakers are Muslim, it seems that in India the core Urdu-identified region is in the Deccan and to the east of its traditional heartland, in Bihar. In South India, 30% of Muslims in Tamil Nadu may be Urdu-speaking. But in Kerala the fraction is almost zero, while in Gujarat and West Bengal less than 10% of the Muslims are Urdu-speaking.

Below the fold is the table.

Continue reading “Muslims and Urdu in India”

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Dalits in Bangladesh

When I looked at the 1000 Genomes data five samples collected in Dhaka, did not align with the others. Most Bengalis are shifted away from other South Asians because of East Asian ancestry. These five individuals, in contrast, clustered with Tamil and Telegu Dalits. Importantly, their identification numbers indicate they were sampled at the same time.

This highlights the fact that a large community of Dalits live in Bangladesh, Dhaka Dalits push for anti-discrimination law:

A considerable number migrated into what is now Bangladesh between 1835 and 1940, during a British-sponsored urbanisation plan. They worked in jobs such as road sweeping, clearing sewage, shoe repair and tea harvesting. This historical legacy of working in low-paying, difficult jobs continues today.

The genetic data suggest to me that they are indeed descendents of migrants.

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The decline in South Asian poverty

It has long been asserted that South Asia may make average strides economically, but it is still in absolute terms the locus of most of the world’s grinding poverty. This may not be true much longer. In particular, some estimates now suggest that India is no longer the world’s “leader” in extreme poverty in absolute terms. From Brookings, The start of a new poverty narrative:

According to our projections, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor in early 2018, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo could soon take over the number 2 spot (Figure 1 below). At the end of May 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall. In fact, by the end of 2018 in Africa as a whole, there will probably be about 3.2 million more people living in extreme poverty than there are today.

Bangladesh has been making progress as well, from the World Bank:

Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty, supported by sustained economic growth. Based on the international poverty line of $1.90 per person per day, it reduced poverty from 44.2 percent in 1991 to 13.8 percent in 2016/17. In parallel, life expectancy, literacy rates and per capita food production have increased significantly. Progress was underpinned by 6 percent plus growth over the decade and reaching to 7.3 percent in 2016/2017, according to official estimates. Rapid growth enabled Bangladesh to reach the lower middle-income country status in 2015. In 2018, Bangladesh fulfilled all three eligibility criteria for graduation from the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) list for the first time and is on track for graduation in 2024.

Here’s GDP for South Asian countries in 2005 dollars:

I left Bangladesh in 1980. Not too long after I was born. I went back to visit in 1989 and 2004. In relation to 1980, per capita GDP was 1.15x. in 2004 it was 1.6x. In 2016 it was 2.9x. So over the past 14 years there’s been a 2x increase in GDP per capita in Bangladesh! The equivalent figure in the United States is 1.1x.

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Midnight’s Descendants: A History of South Asia since Partition

I recently read John Keay’s Midnight’s Descendants: A History of South Asia since Partition. Like his earlier books on the history of India and China, this is a work written by a journalist, not an area specialist (though Keay seems to take a particular interest in South Asia judging by his oeuvre).

To be frank I’m not sure if I learned that much…and I don’t know much about South Asian history after 1945. But, it reaffirmed my intuitions that some of the ideologues who bandy extremely high casualty rates are doing a disservice to the real tragedies that have marred the subcontinent over the past century.

In any case, I do recommend this book to the 50% of the readers of this weblog who are not South Asian.

Note: I don’t have the time or interest to read Guha’s India After Gandhi. Also, my friend Reihan Salam has indicated to me it’s a more tendentious work than most are willing to admit.

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