Economist 5/25/16

  1. AFTER two successive dry years, 330m people in India, around a quarter of the population, are facing acute water shortages.Over 600m people in India depend on agriculture for their living and nearly two-thirds of land under cultivation has no irrigation and so relies on rain. The period between June to September brings three-quarters of total rainfall but is known to be erratic four out of ten years.Using subsidised electricity, farmers pump groundwater at will, drawing up more annually than China and America combined. A recent European Commission report counted more than 20m boreholes in India, up from tens of thousands in the 1960s. The water table is falling on average by 0.3 meters and by as much as 4 meters in some places. Water-starved regions often cultivate water-hungry crops like paddy, cotton and sugarcane. The problem is not lack of adequate water, but its reckless overuse. China, with a larger population, uses 28% less fresh water than India.An ambitious $165 billion water-diversion scheme for drought-prone regions is in the works. A total of 15,000 kilometres of artificial waterways are to link no fewer than 37 rivers.
  2. FOR the second time in under a year, senior men from the Afghan Taliban have descended on Quetta, capital of Balochistan, the largest but least populated of Pakistan’s four provinces, to elect a new supreme leader.Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was involved in the cover-up of Omar’s death and in a ruthless purge of rivals afterwards, is himself dead. He was killed on May 21st, on a lonely road in Balochistan, by an American drone.Mullah Mansour had the backing of a Pakistani state that gives sanctuary to Taliban leaders as a means of maintaining influence in Afghanistan. And whereas American drone strikes against militants in the tribal area of North Waziristan are long-established and carried out under rules secretly agreed with Pakistan, Balochistan was considered to be off-limits. In Afghanistan, people sick of endless Taliban attacks emanating from Pakistan were delighted. Afghan leaders had long wanted America to take the war against the Taliban to Pakistan.But America remains royally fed up with Pakistan, not least because of its reluctance to go after a key Taliban ally, the Haqqani network, sheltering in North Waziristan.
  3. 500 years after Thomas More coined the term “utopia”, it’s worth reassessing what is meant by an ideal community. For Fourier it took the form of the phalanx, a group of well-matched individuals living together in a phalanstery: a palatial residential complex complete with meeting halls, dining rooms, libraries, ballrooms, beehives, observatories and coops for carrier pigeons. Short-lived phalansteries were established across America, but the most successful interpretation of Fourier’s ideas was the Familistère in Guise, northern France, founded by Jean-Baptiste André Godin to accommodate the employees of his iron stove factory. Built between the years of 1859-1884, the Familistère continued as a worker-run cooperative until 1968.
  4. The utopian socialists developed their ideas when Europe was in the first stages of industrialisation. Today’s start-up culture appropriates the communal values of earlier utopias to serve the purposes of the free market—we are taught to uphold teamwork as the highest ideal, while simultaneously being encouraged to compete as individuals.workspaces of today are gradually encroaching on the domestic sphere. We live in pursuit of innovation through distraction; whether it’s a wifi-supplied allotment, a canteen serving free haute-cuisine our escape routes are leading us back to the laptop. The phrase ‘work-life balance’ is becoming an archaism.. The new generations of workers failed to advance the inventions of their predecessors, and in 1968 the Familistère passed into private ownership.Godin placed too much faith in his workers to implement his vision.Digitally rendered employees chat, stroll, cycle, eat, knit, read and meditate—anything, as long as it doesn’t look like work. Like Fourier’s phalanx, they’re happy—buoyed up by a rising tide of positive psychology.Fourier called for the right to take pleasure in work. Perhaps we need to reclaim our right to dislike it.
  5. “UNDERCOVER Boss” which began in 2009 on Britain’s Channel 4, is now in over a dozen countries, and the popular American version just aired its 100th episode. The premise is straightforward: a corporate executive spends time undercover as a low-wage worker in his or her own company. The boss learns about problems first-hand, rewards good employees and punishes the bad, all while trying not to screw up too badly at the cash register or on the mop.Middle management is often the bad guy on “Undercover Boss”. In one episode Rick Silva, chief-executive of Checkers, a burger chain, is threatened with a beating by a store-manager, who asks rhetorically if Mr Silva has any fast-food experience at all. Mr Silva can no longer resist: he drops his cover, and shuts down the store.Talented, funny, hardworking people get rewarded, and from the very top. The powerful learn a lesson and return to the boardroom with a plan to make jobs easier for their employees.  Every episode includes a worker explicitly teaching the boss something about being a CEO, but the CEO never has anything to teach the workers about being workers.
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