Sensationalism in the Present Era- A Blight On Social Evolution

Sensationalism dies quickly, but the fear is long-lived.

Agatha Christie could not have been closer to the truth with that one sentence. 

From the days of the Spanish-American war caused by sensationalism in 1898, where outlets dressed up a sunken American ship as a dastardly Spanish plot, to a gory illustration proclaiming “Ebola is coming” in the present. They say that change is the only constant in our lives, but it seems like we can add sensationalism to that list too.

But first, what exactly is sensationalism? 

It is essentially a means of exaggerating details or even lying in the news, to gain more viewers and maintain a reader or watcher’s interest, but at the cost of accuracy. 

I strongly believe that it is immoral to lie for the sake of personal gain, especially when it comes to something as sensitive as news. So, this article will be about Sensationalism In The Present Era- A Blight On Social Evolution.

Throughout the course of this article, I will highlight the major reason for resorting to sensationalism, various issues associated with it, at the micro level in the form of fear mongering and misinformation harming individuals, and at the macro level in the form of harming movements for social change. Finally, I will provide multiple practical solutions that can help curb such a problem effectively. 

News outlets insist on following a tailored approach to high viewership through cheap tricks. After all, in the status quo, media houses garner profits simply based on the number of views they get on their channels and websites. To maintain viewership, simple facts cannot suffice. Exaggerated puns, comics, buzzwords, search engine optimization, outright lies – all of these are utilized in a cold and calculated manner to achieve the desired goal. 

The sad part is that sensationalism is actually effective, because it capitalizes on something called the negativity quirk- a psychological phenomenon stating that we are more likely to be drawn in by and retain negative feelings and facts, than positive. As a result, sensationalism too becomes inherently negative, since the end goal of the media houses, as stated earlier, is maximizing viewers and clicks. For example, when the City Reporter, a Russian news outlet, attempted to showcase only positive news for the day, they immediately lost 2/3rds of their viewership.

Fear mongering is an extremely common tactic branching from the same- a study by Jakob Jensen et. al. found that breast cancer received immense media attention, about 300% more than an underrepresented prostate cancer, which led to the public viewing breast cancer as far more common than it actually was. This in turn led to unnecessary fears of breast cancer, and a gross underestimation of prostate cancer because only other ‘popular’ cancer types are spoken of.

Keeping this in mind, we need to understand that one who reports and sensationalizes a recent incident first will make immense profits. Every subsequent reporting will make lesser profits, assuming similar levels of information since the incident is too recent for an in-depth and unique analysis. Thus, there is always a push to be the early bird, to get the juiciest worm there ever was. Media houses sacrifice accuracy for profits and views. Consider the “Covington Catholic Boys” incident, where students were doxxed and harassed because CNN falsely accused them of harassing Indigenous protesters in Washington D.C. CNN based this information on one video without doing any further research, merely to gain more views. The truth only came out when other news outlets found false information in the story, after some research given the passage of time.

Sarvjeet Singh Bedi was an innocent man who was accused of harassing a woman on the street- though there was absolutely no evidence, he was publicly shamed by the media. He lost his job, and was labeled the ‘Demon of New Delhi’. Thankfully, he was acquitted by the court. 

But this is in itself extremely troubling- why should the lives of innocent men and women be destroyed by an incessant and malevolent corporate greed?

However, once we think a little deeper, we realize that sensationalism also has chilling macro-level consequences, in the form of hurting movements for social change. 

In multiple countries, there is a divisive political climate. Either you’re with us, or against us. There is no in-between. This means that logically, movements for social change should be carried out in a manner that allows for natural civil discourse, especially in an increasingly polarized world where the slightest of differences can ignite a passionate debate. To ensure that the detractors of a movement don’t immediately dismiss a movement because of prior biases, and actually attempt to critically think into understanding the logic behind it, activism must take place in a ‘moderate’ way. Read my article on “A Brief Criticism Of Humanity’s Role in Social Change” for a deeper explanation.

Consider the Black Lives Matter, or BLM movement. The protests broke out due to unjust police brutality that resulted in the death of an innocent black man. The media did cover these protests, yes- but they focused on a mere 0.1% of protests that turned into riots, showing pictures of burning buildings and looted stores but the vast majority of peaceful protests were more or less ignored.

Reporting like this leaned into fear mongering, but it also led to viewers applying the actions of outliers to a more general whole. As a result, the progress of the BLM movements was impeded. The general public became less and less open to accepting change. Sensationalism was actively harmful for the movement owing to its contribution to creating further divisions. For example, Fox News, an outlet with a primarily right-wing audience, reported the BLM protests as riots, or lootings, as much as 3x more often than other outlets. This led and will continue to lead to the creation of an echo chamber- those who were for some reason already susceptible to disagreeing with anti-racism protests, even if not anti-racism as a whole, have their beliefs further reinforced by the same cycle of misinformed and biased coverage. Some of their negative beliefs will take a turn for the worse, as they become more open to accepting the more ‘extremist’ elements on their side of the political spectrum. Case in point: QAnon.

In fact, a study by Daniell Kilgo from the University of Indiana found that media outlets in the USA provided anti-racism protests with less than 25% of legitimizing coverage. This is obviously detrimental.

Another example of generalization- the Media Council of Kenya found that Kenyan journalists had partially contributed to the unfortunately dominant idea that people of Somali descent 

were potential terrorists. 

Generalizations are particularly prevalent with respect to terrorist attacks carried out by people who happen to be Islamic- media reportings lack nuance and thus, media biases translate to public biases as well. For example, a study found that 90% of sources used to talk about Islam in a major Spanish newspaper were western, and only 4% highlighted Islam in a positive light. This has been directly correlated with a tragic 106% increase in Islamophobia between 2015 and 2016 in Spain, making social progress infinitely harder.

Tackling islamophobia, racism, terrorism- all of this becomes nigh impossible in a world as tainted by sensationalism as it is right now. Clearly, activism as a whole is impeded by sensationalist news because it leads to generalizations, exacerbates political and societal divisions, and leads to fear-mongering. There is a dire need for a solution that allows us to attack the problem at its core. Unfortunately, rather than exterminating sensationalism, we can, at best, mitigate. This is because we must understand that humans are incentive based creatures, and thus the same applies, by extension, to media outlets. The only possible incentive for a media house to continue reporting is profits- and sensationalism is quite literally a gold mine for them. We can, however, provide them with monetary and ethical incentives to consider other paths, and hence minimize sensationalist reporting.

Firstly, we need to provide incentives to the common people to fact-check. Similar to how tech companies like Google and Amazon pay those who find bugs in the system, governments must set up monetary incentives for citizens to report erroneous reporting. Private fact checking organizations already exist, but they need to be encouraged further.

Secondly, we need to implement a system analogous to peer reviewing for news outlets. Analytical articles must be fact checked by a politically diverse body of experts before being published if they relate to sensitive topics such as terrorism. Yet, to ensure that awareness of an issue reaches the public, the facts of the situation can be reported in a manner similar to what the outlet ‘Roca News’ does- purely objective reporting presented in an appealing format that allows for consumers to stay engaged, yet not be affected by biases. This will be harder to implement for news channels owing to the various deadlines they face- however, AI and technology can serve as a powerful and fast means of achieving the desired ends. Yes, debates may erupt and carrying this particular step out might prove impractical given the absolutely mind-boggling number of articles that are put out on a daily basis. Still, some change, particularly for media houses with larger outreach, will go a long way in setting a global precedent.

Thirdly, 24/7 news needs to be abolished. A repetitive drawl of the same news over and over again can create an echo chamber which kills room for debate, and leads to increasingly flamboyant claims and presentations to maintain interest throughout the day.

Finally, we need to move away from the view-based model prevalent in the status quo. We need to encourage subscriptions- a study on news channels in India found that only 30% of the revenue of a news channel was derived from subscriptions. This figure needs to go up, and government subsidies to companies must come into play to facilitate the transition. The government can cover subscription costs for the poor, which will be particularly helpful in developing nations and thus help maintain or even improve accessibility.

The media serves as a watchdog, yes, but who is watching the watchdogs? Perhaps more than a press-crushing Big Brother from 1984, we need to fear a press that implodes as it is consumed by its own avarice.

Workaholism In Humanity, and Why We Are Careening Towards A Globalized Disaster

To display his own might, Khal Drogo, a character from the Game of Thrones, walks into the blade swung by his opponent and lets it wound him. He displays his scar as a badge of honour, and receives adulation from his tribesmen. Eventually, however, he succumbs to the obviously developing infection.

Society as a whole finds it easy to shun Khal Drogo’s self-harming action. After all, something as intangible as pride does not warrant risking sickness and death, does it?

Then why is it that society continues to hypocritically advocate for obviously-dangerous behaviour like overworking, asks Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, Christinia Maslach.

Before outlining the disastrous consequences of encouraging workaholism, it is important to create a dichotomy between internal workaholism and societal workaholism. Usually, workaholics suffer from internal workaholism and use their jobs as a medium of escaping issues that bother them in life- and internal workaholism is only reinforced by societal encouragement. Thus, this article will be about ‘Workaholism In Humanity, and Why We Are Careening Towards A Globalized Disaster’, with a particular emphasis on society’s obsession with the same.

The problem is, the society and media fail to make a clear distinction between working hard and toxic levels of workaholism. The media glamourizes that one Elon Musk who works himself to death for a 100-hours a week and succeeds, without talking about the thousands who work themselves to death, without ever rising back. The point I am making is that hard work is a positive trait so long as it fuels our ambition to work towards our professional or financial goals and motivates us to channelise our potential to its highest ability. The problem arises when hard work borders on workaholism and thereby we lose track of the essence of life.

Now, let’s imagine the following scenario:

You taste a smidge of the joy it brings you, the way it numbs your pain, the way it makes you forget about your family problems or depression, even if only momentarily. Then, a smidge proves insufficient. A smidge turns into more and more and more, and soon you find yourself hooked.

It sounds like I’m describing a dangerous drug with immense potential for substance abuse. Society fears such drugs, and rightly so. 

Yet, heavy work investments follow the exact same pattern. Work may initially bring positive results, perhaps in the form of over achieving targets. This provides fulfilment which in turn provides much-needed respite. However, the results are just that- initial. Longer and longer hours need to be poured into work to maintain a positive feedback loop, till eventually the worker burns out, and everything comes crashing down- exactly like a drug addiction. This gives further incentive to look towards work as a means of gaining fulfillment, which creates a vicious cycle that tears the very soul of a worker apart.

In fact, ground breaking studies conducted in Norway covering thousands of workers attempt to find a link between psychological disorders and workaholic tendencies. The results were frightening. A higher percentage (25-35%) of workaholics than non-workaholics met the criteria for ADHD, OCD and anxiety. It was unclear whether workaholism caused the issues, if the issues led to workaholism, or if the answer lay somewhere in between. However, the one absolute conclusion we can draw from this study is that there is a strong correlation between workaholism and psychological disorders.

The fallout of workaholism isn’t limited to psychological disorders- according to Bryan Robinson, Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, a marriage where at least one of the spouses was a workaholic had a 40% higher chance of ending in divorce. A study by the Australian National University also revealed that 60% of couples (where at least one was a workaholic) had a hard time balancing work-life commitments and expressed dissatisfaction about the same. Statistics in a study by Chan, Ngan, and Wong show that over-workers have a 67% higher chance of developing coronary diseases. Numerous studies lead to similar conclusions. A survey by Huffington Post on 1,200 self-admitted workaholics revealed that 25% don’t take any breaks at all, and 20% spend no more than 10 minutes on their lunch breaks. The remaining only spent about 20 minutes on break. The statistics become more worrying when we realize that the 1,200 self-admitted workaholics are probably better off than those who don’t admit they have the issue.

Clearly, workaholism wreaks havoc in one’s personal life. However, it also has wider implications for society. The status quo is one that is capitalist on a large scale- if employees pour in longer hours into work, they provide more leeway to employers to abuse them by giving them more ‘opportunities’ to work overtime without financial compensation, constantly assigning them work outside their contractual obligations without renumeration, and more.

Such steps have a two-fold effect- firstly, the toxic behaviour of workaholics is enabled, allowing them to further justify negating all aspects of their life except work. Secondly, it sets a dangerous precedent. As stated earlier, employers have further excuses to encourage workaholism amongst workaholic and non-workaholics alike. Those who refuse to conform simply lose their position to someone who is willing to work all night long and sacrifice sleep for work. This is a commonly cited reason for Japanese workers being unwilling to take paid leave. On an average, they use only 52% of their annual paid leave because they are afraid of setting a bad impression with managers.

Beyond the psychological and societal pressure, one cannot rule out how a middle-class family is often struggling to make ends meet. Inflation, rising aspirations for better academic institutions, rising healthcare costs, etc. are steering breadwinners to put in longer and longer hours at work. Employees are forced to support the very capitalistic institutions that seek to oppress them, to crush them underfoot.

The pandemic, despite its tragic nature, has thankfully opened our eyes to the importance of a healthy work-life balance, since digitization has led to the destruction of all boundaries between our personal and professional selves. Employers are abusing their employees due to ‘extenuating circumstances’. Employees are exiting industries and jobs if they feel they are being mistreated. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, in leisure and hospitality alone, a record breaking 1 million workers in the USA quit their jobs in just November of 2021. Unsurprisingly, leisure and hospitality workers also remain the most underpaid with average hourly earnings of just 19 USD. 

Unfortunately, simply quitting isn’t enough. There is a dire need for a practical solution that involves the government collaborating with the private sector.

Top priority must be given to implementing a 4-day work-week model. This means that workers are accorded 3 days of rest, enough to recuperate, complete weekly tasks for their homes, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. The model of a 4-day work week is one that is already successful. Iceland set a perfect global precedent through a truncated work week. From 2015-2019, Iceland conducted case studies of 35-to-36-hour work weeks, without any cuts in pay. The study was successful- worker stress reduced, burnout lessened, and there was an improvement in work-life balance. Now, nearly 90% of the Icelandic working population benefits from reduced work hours. Scotland too is considering implementing reduced work weeks, based on the success of the Icelandic Model.

Microsoft Japan gave 2,300 employees the opportunity to choose a variety of flexible work styles, and reported an unprecedented successthe workers were happier and 40% more productive than earlier. Panasonic is also offering its employees the option of taking a four -day workweek. 35 North American companies ranging from start-ups to large global corporations are re-evaluating this new working model. Unilever allowed all its New Zealand office employees to work for four days per week for a year, and is now considering a shake up to its workflow in a larger context.

Thus, it is imperative for governments to step up and collaborate with corporations. However, no amount of mere legislation can actually make companies follow the government, especially in larger, developing countries like India. Thus, the government must provide economic incentives for companies to implement 4-day work weeks by providing tax slab reductions based on profit, subsidies, monetary compensation, etc. A stricter control over employer-employee contracts must be exercised to prevent authority from being abused. Training and development programmes must be put in place to encourage positive communication amongst co-workers and managers.  Communication is essential to assuage fears of losing one’s position due to cutthroat competition. Managers too need to be cautioned that workers are not commodities to be bought and traded, but humans with values that hold weight extending far beyond mere productivity.

Still, workaholism is often more than just a matter of inaccurate legislation. It is a belief held by society, and it is impossible to destroy a widely held belief in just a handful of years. Still, we can do something else- push for change at the grassroot levels. Dismantle the long-held ‘values’ that encourage self-destructive behaviours. Children grow up inculcating the values they are introduced to, so it is clearly not unfeasible for them to learn the value of prioritizing their mental and physical health over achieving success as defined by society. Mental health talks need to be encouraged more, far more than they are right now. Only if we as a society implement these solutions can we move away from the Khal Drogo archetype- a step away from showcasing humanity’s ugliest scar, workaholism, as a badge of honour.

Why Politicians Shouldn’t Be Trading Stocks

Recently, disputes have arisen in the US Congress over the massive profits made by some members in individual stock trades. Research by Capitol Trades showed that within the Congress about 370 million USD worth of company stock was bought and sold between 2019 and 2020- an absolutely mind-blowing amount.  Multiple senators are advocating for a complete ban of individual stock trading during one’s tenure in the Congress, with a few differences from proposal to proposal. This article will provide a brief analysis of the primary reason behind the decision to ban stock trading, the existing provisions, and what we can expect going ahead.

As members of the US Congress, senators are privy to information the public isn’t- for example, senators were informed of the dangers of the COVID pandemic and the expected consequences before any public action was taken. This enables them to make judgements with respect to the stock market based on insider information, giving them an unfair advantage over the average investor. Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr sold $1.7 million of stock in 2020 after getting a daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, despite reassuring the public, according to ProPublica.

Moreover, the policymakers of a nation should have minimal incentive to take decisions based on their personal gain. Allowing trading to continue when the policymakers of a nation are incentivized to put potentially harmful provisions in place is dangerous. 

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker for the House, initially said that America being a free market economy implies that anyone at all should be able to freely trade stocks. She later rescinded her statement and said she’d be willing to support a bill to ban trading if her fellow Democrats were for it too. Of course, the same problem of insider information arises. Let’s take an analogy- A and B are going to bet on whether a coin will land tails up, or heads up. B secretly knows that both sides of the coin are heads. This gives him an unfair advantage, and guarantees a win or at worst, a tie. B will rip A off for a few games and then run away to ensure that A doesn’t catch on.

The stock market is the rigged game right now, and Congress members involved in stock trading are the Bs of the game. Everyone else fits into the ‘A’ archetype. In the status quo, A stands no chance against a smarter, craftier, and more resourceful B.

Now let’s evolve the analogy a bit- C enters the arena, and is meant to act as a guard against B cheating. He asks B for the coin, and replaces it with a normal one, thus allowing the game to continue in a fair manner. 

Except he doesn’t. C is a negligent guard who is easily fooled. B simply hands him a decoy coin, or ignores him. C couldn’t care less and lazily oversees the game in all his irresponsible glory. If B gives him a coin after a fair bit of protesting, C simply slaps a minor 200 dollar fine on him and then lets the game continue as is, even if B were to sneakily use yet another double-sided coin to cheat.

C is the STOCK Act, 2012 in this situation. STOCK stands for Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge, and is meant to serve as a check on the use of insider information by Congress members. The act states that all stock trades that cross a certain threshold must be reported within 30-45 days of the trade. A first offense warrants a 200 dollar fine. Repeated offenses warrant increasing fines, but the crucial problem lies in the inefficiencies of the act- absolutely no authority follows up on lack of payment or disclosure, enabling multiple instances of ‘B ignoring C’ and doing as he pleases.

Clearly, the provisions in place don’t work. This statement is further backed by an Insider report showcasing the extent of law-bending. There is a drastic need for regulation over the personal financial activities of Congress members. Their duty is to serve their nation, and them agreeing to be in the Congress means giving up certain privileges afforded to a layman.

Multiple senators have come forth with their plans for regulation- many of them are similar, and broadly advocate for a ban on stock trades, as mentioned in the introduction. A few have specifics- for example, a bill by Senator Mark Kelly and Jon Ossoff details the Ban Congressional Stock Trading Act, which states that all Congress members, as well as their spouses and dependent children, will face a ban on stock trading and must place their stock portfolios in a blind trust. Another bill by Senator Josh Hawley is largely the same, except it excludes dependents from the ban. 

Steps to prevent insider information trading have been taken by the Federal Reserve too, with them restricting trading of stock and securities by policymakers. There is an urgent need for a consistent law across all organs of the government, to prevent disastrous economic consequences of the coin game between A and B.

NFTs- an overview of their legitimacy

As is the case when any bit of news explodes from seemingly nowhere and hits ‘the mainstream’, so to say, the first question that arises is:

What exactly is this thing?

It happened with black fungus, it happened with bitcoins, and now it’s happening with what many speculate is the next ‘big thing’- NFTs.

For example, ex-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sold his very first tweet as an NFT. Articles from the New York Times were also being sold as NFTs worth thousands of dollars. Popular YouTuber Logan Paul also sold a video clip for twenty thousand dollars. These are just a few examples of the popularity of NFTs.

Now, this article will focus on a basic introduction to NFTs, my opinion on the reasons for the backlash against them, and a few other common justifications of criticism.

  1. The Beginning

NFTs are ‘non-fungible tokens’. Basically, they can be considered digital art pieces, video clips, images- anything- etc.(usually generated by an AI) that are incapable of being reproduced, and instead must be bought and sold. They represent a ‘receipt’ of sorts that points towards art that is hosted on a separate webpage. The art has a unique token i.e. the AI that generates the art gives each art piece a unique token ID. NFTs can be bought online on sites such as Rarible and OpenSea. 

Here’s an example of a link to an NFT marketplace. Do note the exorbitant prices that I’ll be expanding on later.

Essentially, buying an NFT grants you ownership of the digital art. This sounds just fine and dandy, but actually presents a major problem.

  1.  The Problem

Owning a “non-fungible” item in real life means you own that item itself, and there is no way for someone to own anything but an imitation of that item. For example, there may be thousands of imitations of the Mona Lisa but there is only one true Mona Lisa in the Louvre that will always be worth more owing to its rich history.

Exorbitantly priced NFTs attempt to mimic a similar concept by highlighting the ‘non-fungible’ part without realizing that on a digital medium, there is no notable difference between an imitation and the original. I can simply download an NFT that someone paid thousands of dollars for, and there’s no way for them to do anything. Look at this: 

This was sold for 69 million USD

This was sold for 2.7 million USD

Whether I paid anything for these 2 images or not is irrelevant. I don’t own them but the copy I do own is virtually the same as the original.

Let’s pretend the above isn’t an issue (though it is the most glaring issue here and honestly is enough of a criticism to finish up this article).

Now, some might say that the benefit of an original is that it holds more ‘prestige’ than the imitation, much like the original Mona Lisa and the imitation looking the same but still having differing monetary values, with the latter being cheaper. 

However, this idea too falls flat, simply because owning an expensive NFT provides negligible prestige. Why?  Because there is no physical marker of their prestige.

Initially, this may seem slightly far-fetched. After all, what physical marker does the original Mona Lisa have of its prestige that an imitation doesn’t?

Hint: it isn’t the painting itself.

The answer? It is the capital invested for the painting, and the surroundings of the physical space it occupies. Let’s take a quick look into the Louvre- a quick google search shows that it cost about 108 million USD to build. No NFT is ever going to come close to having such a massive amount of capital invested for its safekeeping. Of course, I’m not trying to say that the Louvre was built for the sole purpose of housing the Mona Lisa- all I’m trying to highlight is the fact that a building of such importance is used to house the original. 

To make this easier to understand, let’s use an analogy. 

Imagine you’re an average citizen in the days of old, attempting to deposit your money in a bank. Bear in mind that no legitimate government oversight operates in the sphere of banking in this scenario.

Would you be willing to deposit your money in a bank that is simply a man with a satchel, or would you deposit it in a bank built in an impressive manner reminiscent of the Parthenon in Athens, with a number of customers streaming in and out?

Barring perhaps the most extreme of exceptions, any rational consumer would choose the latter option. After all, there’s no guarantee that the man with a satchel will ever return your money- he might just take the money, fill your head with promises as sweet as nectar, and then disappear, never to be seen again.

Borrowing an idea from The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford, capital spent and physical indicators signal reliability… rather reliably. 

And to add my own 2 cents- the behaviour of other consumers is also an important indicator. I can attest to this through an example from my personal life- my parents prefer to avoid restaurants that are devoid of people. They’d prefer a place that is bustling with a fun crowd. Thus, monetary and oft-emotional/mental parameters are also of immense importance.

How does this connect to NFTs?

NFTs do not have reliability. Payments for NFTs are anonymous, and the online NFT stores do not have the reliability of, say, Amazon, to the layman. The physical presence of consumers is obviously not possible- reviews can’t be trusted for reasons stated earlier. Nobody is willing to spend millions on signaling reliability for NFTs- again, their digital nature prevents actual establishments from existing.

Why is it that online-only businesses continue to, however, thrive, while NFTs haven’t become as mainstream despite having a similar nature?

  1.  The Other Problems

It will be easier for me to simply list the reasons out-

  1. The behaviour of the community

-> these 2 screenshots should serve as sufficient evidence for now

It is as easy as right clicking a picture, and clicking ‘save as’.

  1. The soulless and sickening art

-> Let’s take a look at this again.

How is this even mildly appealing? Yes, art is subjective. However, this is unappealing to a vast majority of people. 

  1. The effect on the environment

-> NFTs harm the environment a LOT. According to cryptoart.wtf, a GIF of a cat heading to the moon on a rocket produced about as much pollution as an EU resident’s electricity usage for 2 months. According to research by a digital artist, an average NFT produces as many greenhouse emissions as an EU resident’s electricity usage for a little more than a month. Further analysis shows that this data may be a little biased- however, NFTs are still energy guzzling products because they’re based on the ethereum blockchain. If readers remember this article, they’ll also recall how much pollution is caused due to bitcoins. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that NFTs too cause immense pollution. A world that is growing more environmentally aware day by day has no place for a product that can’t adapt to its ecological needs.

Of course, there are more reasons as to why NFTs are being criticized, but for the sake of brevity, I will not delve into them.

To summarize- 

NFTs will never be commercially successful because:

  1. They can be easily saved or downloaded- ownership is irrelevant because there is virtually no difference between an imitation and an original
  2. The ‘prestige’ of owning an original is negated due to the lack of reliability signaled by an NFT
  3. The NFT community is obnoxious
  4. Some of the art sold in the form of NFTs is downright atrocious
  5. NFTs harm the environment

Thus, it is unlikely that NFTs will ever grow commercially beyond the bubble they’ve trapped themselves in owing to the aforementioned factors.

The Moral and Prudential Superiority of a True Meritocracy

The topic for this article is a slightly controversial take- it intuitively seems wrong to consider any system apart from an egalitarian model as one that can prevail morally and prudentially. And who can fault those who reject such a notion without truly understanding the reasoning behind my proposal of the superiority of a meritocracy? This article will primarily deal with comparing a meritocracy and an egalitarian utopia.

Prior to substantiating my thoughts, I feel it is imperative to emphasize one particular part of my proposal- assuming possibility. A true meritocracy or a truly egalitarian society is unfortunately one which is the  figment of an idealist’s imagination- if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t. And that is precisely what applies to the two utopian systems here. It is then of utmost importance to assume possibility in the following three ways:

  1. Resource scarcity is not a problem that clings to the underside of the world like a parasite. Simply put, resources are more than sufficient to support an absolutely gargantuan population without societal collapse. 
  2. The State that exercises control (over the judgment of merit of the populace, over the allocation of resources, among other functions) over the nation is one free of corruption.
  3. Any other condition serving as an obstacle to the existence of a meritocracy is now immaterial.

My arguments henceforth shall be based upon these three assumptions. I shall now delve into the superiority of a meritocratic system.

A true meritocracy, as the name implies, is one that would consider merit and accord resources based on that. This sentence in itself leads people to dismiss a meritocracy for the word “merit” creates a presumption that merit is something that can exist only and only in the present. Most iterations of a meritocratic system fail to take into account the fact that merit is not something that exists in but one tense- it can extend into the future as well. And that is precisely why the meritocracy that I propose evolves into one that can advocate for universal healthcare; one that can implement a universal basic income; and one that can establish a fairer system than any other.

A common criticism of a meritocracy is that it would dismiss all who aren’t considered meritorious- however, the same critics do not take into account the fact that the very citizens not considered ‘meritorious’ have immense potential to become meritorious in the future, only if they are given the chance to utilize their potential. It would be foolish to create an assumption that a meritocratic State would have a device capable of seeing into the future and hence judging the merit of the citizens- after all, that assumption is more far-fetched than the aforementioned three and has drastic implications. For the sake of brevity, I will not be expanding on these implications given that they are only tangentially related to the topic at hand. 

This essentially means that the State will do its absolute best to ensure that every citizen receives aid, for there is no better way to ensure maximization of merit when the State is uncertain of the future. Allocating resources based on past merit might seem like a better solution- but in a world where scarcity is not an issue, there is simply no need for the State to effectively gamble. 

One could pose a question now- how exactly does this place a meritocracy above, say, egalitarianism? Wouldn’t a citizen receive resources either way? And yes, that would undoubtedly be true. However, an egalitarian society would award everyone the same amount of resources irrespective of merit and actual contribution- this creates a situation wherein one who creates an innovative technology receives the same amount as one who does nothing. There is simply no incentive to work. Of course, since resources are functionally infinite, the State could theoretically afford to finance all citizens irrespective of their work hours- however, what keeps the system running? Why should the State itself exist? Even if some citizens continue working regardless of the fact that they have no incentive to, the vast majority of the populace will simply refuse to do truly meaningful and long-term work. 

Why exactly would one not face the same issue in a meritocracy? Because a meritocracy ensures consequences. This doesn’t mean that a single slip-up will cost a human their livelihood- again, the meritocratic system I propose is capable of evaluating citizens wholly. Such a system will recognize that giving support- be it monetary, emotional, in the form of healthcare, etc.- is more beneficial than simply ‘cutting losses’ and letting the citizens fall into a dark abyss of despair.

After all, doing so might harm the emotional wellbeing of multiple citizens. This creates a domino effect wherein a number of citizens are forced to suffer and hence ‘lose their merit’. Clearly, the ‘overall merit’ of the State goes down in such a scenario. After all, merit is not something that exists in a vacuum. It is inherently dependent on other individuals for most people, for incredibly obvious reasons. ‘Cutting losses’ and abandoning one citizen could lead to a fallout on other citizens due to emotional causes.

One final and common criticism of a meritocracy is that it is ableist i.e. it discriminates against the differently abled. This seems like a perfectly valid criticism, but only on a superficial level- after all, the previous reasoning (about the domino effect of ‘cutting losses’) still holds true. 

However, a few fringe cases still serve as chinks in the nigh impenetrable armour that is the ideology of a meritocratic system- the hard, cold truth is that a few people exist who unfortunately absolutely no one cares for. And these are the people who would truly flourish in an egalitarian society, and not in a meritocratic one. The heartlessness of humans serves as a sort of (albeit minor) kryptonite to an otherwise perfect system.

At the same time, such a criticism is not enough to render the rest of my article null and void. Everything else that I stated is still true. And thus, in most cases, a meritocracy stands above any other form of society. This article does not delve deeply into the social conditioning and beliefs that have the potential to arise in such a system and could affect the conclusions laid out by me- for that is an interesting topic for another day.

A BRIEF CRITICISM OF HUMANITY’S ROLE IN SOCIAL CHANGE

Before moving into any substantive arguments, I feel like it is important to clarify one thing- the meaning of activism, and social change.

Activism: The policy of campaigning to bring about sociopolitical change. It is commonly associated with progressives though I believe that the definition can be extended to anyone who fulfills the ‘criteria’. Thus, activism isn’t restricted to any one group or substrata of society- though there is a FAR stronger relation between progressiveness and activism, by virtue of the definition itself. By talking about contemporary activism, I will primarily talk about the modern approach to activism (performative or otherwise).

Now, what exactly is social change? Self-explanatory, but it means bringing about tangible changes in society at, at the very least, a meso-level: more than micro, but less than macro. This means that picking up the trash, though admirable, wouldn’t qualify as the social change I’m talking about, while motivating your entire community to do so, effectively, does.

Of course, by stating where they went wrong, I mean to criticize a few aspects of those pushing for reform that can still be fixed. Social movements are not wholly wrong but they are not as efficient at accomplishing their goal as they could be if they adopt a plan of action in recognition of the following maxims that I propose- 

  1. Humans are, on an average, inherently selfish
  2. The egotistical nature of humanity prevents large scale action in the status quo

Moving onto the article itself:

A world filled to a larger extent with humans as noble as the initial activists would undoubtedly be better than the one we have right now. Unfortunately, that world is nothing short of a utopia- simply because humans, on an average, are inherently selfish (maxim 1).

Two main strands of analysis to pick up here. The first one sets the ground for the second, since my arguments are centered around the fact that humans are selfish, on an average, due to a number of reasons. This leads into the fact that this very selfishness and egoistic nature renders the current method of activism ineffective- the main matter of the article Still, I’d highly suggest reading everything, and not just skipping the first point, considering it is highly interesting (see? Here is a perfect example of the human ego).

  1. Why exactly are humans selfish?

 There are a number of reasons for this, the chief one being the survival instinct of our species. This essentially means that a human is primarily going to focus on securing a means of living for himself, and those he holds dear. These are the two ‘stakeholders’ an average human will consider, in 99% of cases. This isn’t to say that humans who devote themselves to the service of a greater good don’t exist. But, in general, people act for themselves. 

Though I digress a bit, a common criticism of this idea is that if humans did act only for themselves and their loved ones, anarchy would exist at a global scale. This is an inherently flawed argument, simply because if you look at it prudently, a human knows that, say, theft would bring him instant gratification but in the long-term, he is going to lose out on a sustainable means of living because he will be rotting in jail. That is precisely why there is such a strong correlation between the inability to think in the long-term and committing crimes. Moreover, no human is going to state or truly know why they aren’t committing crimes considering if they are proficient enough, they can get away with anything and live ‘the easy life’.

The answer is either a fear of the consequences, or a moral compass, or maybe even a combination of both. At this point, the answer is completely unclear, and a vast majority of the population won’t know the answer themselves. Even if they do, why would they say anything except ‘It’s because I have a moral compass’, considering most other answers lead to them being shunned in society?. To conclude, it is clear that humans are in fact selfish, hence lending my first maxim its objective nature.

Coming back to the main point- I am not trying to say that theft or murder is justifiable solely because we are biologically geared to work in our own favour. Instead, it is hard to fight against an evolutionary instinct. If humans didn’t have this very instinct, it is likely that we wouldn’t even be the dominant species on this planet. And what is wrong with prioritizing oneself over others? If you look at it, won’t allowing room for yourself to breathe create more feasible opportunities to help others in the future? I believe that intent is irrelevant if there is a negligible tendency of the intent to affect any outcomes in the future (hard to quantify, of course, but it works in this case).

This relates to the philosophical theory of consequentialism, which states that the intent is inconsequential (hah). I don’t agree entirely with the definition since the intent can lead to potential problems in the future and implies other issues. For example, I may save someone from slipping right now because I believe doing so gives me ‘social brownie points’- whether I did it out of a desire to help or a desire to gain is irrelevant. However, decisions don’t exist in a vacuum. This tendency to take advantage of others could signify problems in my usual behaviour and being awarded by society now could lead to me being more manipulative in the future. However,  I will not expand on this further, since it is outside of the context of this article. Whether I help others to help or to improve opportunities for help in the future is irrelevant since there is no way for my intent to truly influence my decision making in this case.

Additionally, inherent selfishness also implies an egocentric approach to life in general, on an average (I repeat these last two words time and again to stress on the statistical tendency and not absolute existence of the aforementioned issues). This ego is a primary cause of people on the internet being unable to simply ‘walk away’ from an argument. How could they ever concede to the imaginary demon they are fighting?! That’s as good as saying they are right!!! (sarcasm, in case it wasn’t clear)

Moving on, it is clear that humans are selfish, biologically and/or subconsciously, as stated earlier too. Why does this affect activism and social change, though? Aren’t these two things completely unrelated? Well, not at all. In fact, there may be a closer relation between the two than most would have you believe. This, in fact, leads directly into the next strand of analysis-

  1. Why does the selfish nature of humanity affect activism? Or, why does this egotistical nature prevent large scale action?

Alright.

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to claim that most movements concerning social issues that use the internet as a platform rely heavily on the following two ‘foundations’:

  1. An aggressive blame-game
  2. Sensationalism and, by extension, fear-mongering

And both are completely ineffective at achieving true impact. In this article, I’ll focus on (a) and (b) though there may be more.

Why exactly are these ‘tools’ inefficient beyond compare? I will be taking each, case by case. 

First of all, the absolute uselessness of the aggressive blame-game. Why exactly is it a terrible idea?

Because 99.99999999999999% of people have too large an ego to handle criticism. Can you imagine constantly being told that everything you do is wrong, and that you’re a morally reprehensible individual for doing whatever it is that you do? Constantly having abuses hurled at you and constantly being verbally demeaned? 

This isn’t to say that the so-called victim is in the right or anything. The decision rests too much on the context which is, for obvious reasons, impossible to consider at a large scale.

At the same time, I’ve always wondered- what do ad hominems accomplish? Do they do anything except lead to further negativity, and satisfy the ego of the critic? 

The answer is a resounding NO. No sane human is going to seriously listen to and agree with the very thing that seeks to destroy them, enough if they subconsciously know they are wrong. 

For example:

Mr. X wakes up and checks his Twitter feed, surprised to find out that he’s a ‘victim’ (the quotations around victim will be clarified later) of cancel culture due to his controversial belief that capitalism is ideal. 

Will cancel culture and being demonized lead to Mr. X changing his opinion overnight? Will potentially being doxxed (having your real life information leaked on the internet) cause him to right his wrongs?

The answer is, unsurprisingly, NO. 

I strongly maintain that the final goal of any movement advocating for true change in society is to…well, achieve that change. And no matter how right you are, no matter how high your moral ground is, no matter how much you disagree with the other side (barring a few obvious exceptions, of course), shouting incoherently and rambling does absolutely nothing. 

Thus, X could be saying something as wrong as ‘People die. Big deal. Capitalism helps me be rich so I prefer it.’, and condemning him beyond a point, though morally right, has no prudential basis- NO MATTER HOW WRONG HE ACTUALLY IS. Again, the goal of any movement should be to achieve tangible change and looking at an issue through a myopic lens is, to put it lightly, a questionable move. Mr. X might be very resistant to change, and might just hate you for trying to change his beliefs, leading you to feel like you’re just hitting a wall with your head over and over again with no actual results. Yet, the marginal benefit lies in the model I propose simply because the same problems lie in the world we have right now- but the world I propose has that slight chance of a better outcome. 

Economics considers something truly efficient if it is the best possible solution. If there is another alternative that’s even 0.000000001% better, your old model is inefficient. And I strongly maintain that what I propose is a blend of practicality, sustainability, and prudence. 

Take the case of Daryl Davis- a black man who convinced 200 members of the infamous Ku Klux Klan to reform and turn onto the ‘right path’. How did he do it? He spoke to them with love and affection. That’s all. 

It might be utopian to assume that all conflicts can be solved through peace and love- and it definitely is utopian. But at the same time, coming back to the point about economic efficiency, a world that is significantly better off at the grassroots level is better than a world with conflict all around.

It is important to note that using the blame-game strategy is different when concerning, say, corporates breaking the law for profits and thus harming the environment- but again, it costs little to nothing to take a moment to think and choose your words carefully. This is an important skill that an unfortunate number of people are bereft of.

Moving onto the second foundation- sensationalism.

I have always said that polarization is the death of any reasonable society, and that is precisely where movements pertaining to social issues in general are heading today, particularly on social media. This actually extends to both ends of the political spectrum. People seem to be hellbent on tearing each other to bits, which contributes to a very unhealthy ‘they vs us’ mentality. Tying it into the first foundation, sensationalism combined with aggressiveness has just one outcome- reinforcement of the aforementioned mentality, and a stronger distrust of anyone who disagrees. Rabindranath Tagore mentioned that he wishes for a society where ‘the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls’. Sensationalizing each and every thing, be it a criticism of a political leader or another issue, leads to the creation of a mountain when the issue is a molehill. Aggressively pointing fingers at everyone and blaming the supporters of that political leader for every issue under the sun is a flawed thought process. It leads to the creations of echo chambers wherein there is no room for natural civil discourse in society- the only discourse present is an emotionally charged one with no room for discussion, only constant glorification and support from ‘your side’, and condemnation from ‘the rest’. There is no space for neutrality either; it is always ‘either you’re with us or you hate us’. Again, both ends of the sociopolitical spectrum on the internet have this exact problem with them.

Fear-mongering takes place on an absolutely massive scale. Take the example of the oxygen shortage crisis in India. There is absolutely no doubt it was a tragedy that could have been prevented with better planning and foresight. Yet, at the same time, there was no need for multiple posts on the internet to make it sound like India had fallen into absolute anarchy and that there was no hope for us. 

A somber ‘doom befalls us’ tone seemed to be omnipresent. I too am critical of GOI’s handling of the second wave, and the lack of care of the populace about the crisis. But making it sound as if there was no hope benefited absolutely no one. Except the poster, of course, who would have gained a massive amount of views. 

All the post did was make the people who already had this attitude agree and move on- but the ones who didn’t agree ENTIRELY (like me) were put off by the post. Most average people will simply be less susceptible to change if they are consistently exposed to posts that rely on sensationalism and fear-mongering go down the same path and have the same consequences. Sensationalized news is also highly susceptible to manipulation and fake news, simply due to the volatile nature of sensationalism, leading to the spread of misinformation which is harmful for obvious reasons.

Many say that sensationalism is necessary to reach out to larger audiences. And yes, controversies and hyperboles reach out to a larger audience. But is there any point to merely reaching out? All activist movements aim at making change, so obviously there is a drastic need to make an impact as well- an impact that causes us to take a step back, and reevaluate our stance. As established previously, humans have a tendency to distrust anyone who disagrees with them too much. Logically, the impact of sensationalism in inspiring change amongst those who don’t already agree with you is minimal. And what is the point of a movement as stagnant as one built upon hearsay and exaggeration? Is there truly an impact if you can’t inspire the masses? What is the benefit of simply reinforcing the beliefs of those who are more than convinced by you?

Such a problem plagues society at large, and is the reason for large-scale inefficiency. An analogy: Politicians take very few steps for active change because by doing so, they will be taking a risky step outside the sociopolitical echo chamber they have built for their supporters, and into a middle ground that contributes to society. Again, owing to the (by and large) selfish nature of humans, no politician will willingly jeopardize his own position of power and authority when he knows that:

  1. Taking that middle ground might destroy his votebank
  2. Taking that middle ground will also INITIALLY be criticized by his ‘opponents’ because of the us vs them mentality, even if they eventually come around

.

Again, this is an issue with looking at the world through a myopic lens and ignoring the absolute long-term benefits of something in favour of short-term gains. 

The same goes for social movements, leading to the state we have ended up in now, in the status quo. 

Another massive, closely interrelated and unfortunate problem with relying on controversy to fuel campaigns is being designated a social pariah and suffering from ostracization. 

I’m sure the example I’m about to give is definitely not a surprise- PETA. 

We all hear of the controversial campaigns they launch every now and then- objectification of women, insensitivity to the populace at large, and more, seem to be a common theme.

Look at this ad:

In what world is this supposed to be acceptable? I understand the intention of PETA- ‘motivating’ people to go vegetarian. To some extent, being vegetarian is better for the environment (of course, I won’t be dwelling into how it would break the supply chain if not executed properly on a large scale because that is beyond the context of this article). But the execution of that intention is beyond flawed. Even if I, with a power of -5 in both eyes, were to take my spectacles off, I’d be able to see the problems in their advertisements very clearly. What about this one:

It seems that PETA conveniently forgot that correlation isn’t causation- any study they cite is beyond baseless. More importantly, this too is EXTREMELY insensitive.

Sure, these campaigns went viral. Sure, millions saw these ads.

But was there any tangible impact?

Yes, there was. A strong impact…that led to PETA being designated the status of a cult of crazies. We all know the story of the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’. No one bothers to listen to something that may even hold an inkling of the truth, if all that they spout before were sensationalist lies. 

No one who wasn’t already a die-hard PETA fan magically became a vegan. It just made them the laughing stock of the internet.

This leads to my next point- extremism. 

Why is extremism looked upon in society as some sort of ideal to pursue, when it leads to the creation of the aforementioned echo chambers? It’s a classic case that proves the point: “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” It’s a vicious cycle: someone on the internet says something, another group condemns them, they argue, everyone walks away- glad they have satisfied their egos and ‘shown ‘em good-for-nothings’. No real change takes place.

This is problematic. I understand the intrinsic need to satisfy one’s ego but no change is going to take place. It may sound like I am reiterating the same thing in different words, but that is simply to lay emphasis on the problems in activism today. 

Absolutely nothing at all can be achieved if we go on with what we have today. As someone who wishes to see true change in the world, and is willing to take that one extra step, it saddens me to see constant squabbles with no outcome. The only way forward is to address issues in a rational manner. No matter how right you are, no matter how much of a moral high ground you hold, being extremely rude is usually not the way to go. It is far too easy to destroy any semblance of acceptance growing in the ‘other side’ if you don’t take into account the true nature of humanity. 

Cracks In The Mask

A beam of sunlight enters the classroom, falling upon the teacher’s desk. The way the dust motes seem to dance around in the light truly fascinates me. It is as if fairies have come from a faraway land, just to lighten the sombre mood of the classroom and spread colour all around. How friendly of the fairies, and the light that was nice enough to carry them all the way here!

I feel a light tap on the shoulder. Turning around, I expect to see a friend. Instead, I find nothing but the bored face of a classmate, buried in his textbook as he snored away silently, completely oblivious to his surroundings. Oh well, it must have been my imagination. Why would someone tap my shoulder in the middle of class, and why would they tap it only once?

I turn around, hoping to see the fairies in the sunlight again, but someone had closed the gap between the curtains, putting an end to the fairy ball. My eyes wander around the classroom, settling on an especially fascinating spot, where the drywall was peeling off. I see it come to life, dancing as it weaves intricate patterns in the air. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

The bell went off, snapping me out of my reverie. I quickly gather my books, packing them into my bag. I take out a novel by my favourite author before standing up and moving out of my chair. As I move out, I feel my foot brush against something. I glance down, and am surprised to see a paper ball. I pick it up, opening the ball and reading the contents.

“Go back to fantasy land idiot!”, it says, in what seems to be rushed handwriting. I feel a twinge of sympathy in my heart. Poor child. It would hurt to be the one this letter was addressed to. I quickly crumple the paper up again, stuffing it into my pocket. The subject of this heartless letter would not need to suffer today.

I walk out of the grey, dreary classroom, and into… the drearier hallway. The paint seems to have faded away completely, leaving nothing but the traces of hard work left behind by the workers who had put their heart and soul into building this school. I sigh, before making an impulsive decision-today would be the day I would go out and meet my friends in the playground. It had been very long, after all.

I walk down the stairs and onto the ground floor, whistling happily. The hallway seems to have been renovated recently; the bright red paint on the walls stands out against the rest of the dull school.  In fact, it seemed to be brighter and airier than before! Maybe they installed a few new windows? Who knows?

I walk towards the bathroom, and hear two voices, belonging to my classmates. Subconsciously I hide in a corner, listening in on their conversation.  

“Hey, you know that kid you threw the paper ball at? Doesn’t he just creep you out?! Ugh! I heard he has no life outside those weird novels he keeps reading. God, how creepy.”

“Seriously? What a loser, loner kid. He just needs to not be so weird. Hey, by the way, did you catch that new song…”

I feel bad for the subject. What a lonely existence. Of course, there is nothing wrong with novels, but he has no friends? My heart really does ache for him.

I walk out, turning left and into the final stretch of the hallway that is the entrance to the playground. It seems like this area hasn’t been renovated, since everything seems dark and lifeless, despite the abundance of light from the outdoors.

I stop for a moment, for some reason. I wonder why-

The bell rings, signalling the end of the break. I turn away from the playground, and run back to the classroom.

My eyes sting. The sudden adjustment between dark hallways and the outdoors isn’t to be taken lightly, after all.

I feel something wet drop down my cheek. Oh my, the light made my eyes water.

I ignore the sudden deluge of tears, no doubt caused by the bright and malevolent light, and wonder about the boy they threw the paper ball at, and the boy who they made fun of in the bathroom.

I hope he makes friends soon enough.

Oh, I should slow down. My watering eyes are blurring my vision, making it hard to see in this colourless, drab hallway. I don’t want to trip and fall, after all.

The Love-Hate Relationship Between Bitcoins And Governments

Image from Quillette

According to Merriam-webster, Bitcoin is “a digital currency created for use in peer-to-peer online transactions.” This basically means that direct transactions can take place without the interference of a central authority, electronically through what is called a ‘blockchain’. The creator of bitcoins is known by the pseudonym ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ but the gender, age, etc. of the creator is unknown. Nobody even knows if Satoshi is a single person or a group!

Bitcoins are obtained through a process called ‘mining’ with the help of supercomputers that solve increasingly complex puzzles. The reward for solving these puzzles, of course, is one bitcoin. The mining consumes a massive amount of fossil fuel. As a result, the supercomputers used for the same are usually set up in China due to the low carbon tax. Of course, bitcoins can’t be mined for all eternity; about 18.5 million bitcoins have been mined so far, out of a total of 21 million possible bitcoins. This means that the moment we reach the upper limit for bitcoins, we’re out. There’s no way for us to obtain more.

Bitcoins are extremely hard to counterfeit too, making money laundering harder. It is even considered ‘pseudonymous’ since no one can link you to the pseudonym you used for your bitcoin transaction unless it is accidentally revealed in some way. All of this is well and good. However, Bitcoin is more volatile than an Indian parent after you accidentally let slip that Sharma ji’s son got more marks than you.

In April 2021, one bitcoin was worth about 60 thousand USD. And now? It’s barely even worth 33 thousand. Let’s compare it to gold, which was earlier the standard for a lot of currencies. The value of gold seen an increase of almost 50% in the past half decade whereas bitcoin…well, it’s another ball game altogether. An increase of 4000% percent from 2016 to 2021. This is, to put it simply, insane. There’s a good reason why many people consider investing in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin more akin to gambling than sensible investing. Especially since Elon Musk’s tweets seem to control the flow of cryptocurrencies.

As a result, many governments are trying to stop bitcoin in its tracks for multiple reasons, including the amount of energy it uses (5% of ALL the energy in China is used by bitcoin mining computers).

 1) China recently (in May 2021) banned cryptocurrency trades. People holding cryptocurrency wouldn’t be penalized but “The institutions must not provide saving, trust or pledging services of cryptocurrency, nor issue financial product related to cryptocurrency”. Even in 2017, they shut down local cryptocurrency exchanges in attempt to torpedo the ever growing, unstoppable behemoth.  

2) The Indian Government banned banks from dealing in cryptocurrencies in 2018. Though this order was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2020, the government is still pushing for regulation of cryptocurrencies.

3) The use of 12 virtual currencies (including bitcoins) for official transactions is illegal in Bolivia.

And yet, countries like El Salvador, headed by the ‘good dictator’ Nayib Bukele plan to use bitcoins alongside the dollar as official currencies…

 Similarly, in Venezuela, many are adopting crypto money as spiralling hyperinflation has harmed the Bolivar, the official currency.

With all these changes taking place, it is hard to understand what exactly prompts governments to take the decisions they do. The primary reason, no matter what they say, is the fact that a widespread use of cryptocurrencies would make central banks and their monetary policies obsolete. I personally believe that having central banks lose a bit, or even a fair amount, of their power would hurt no one. After all, it’s the banks that often mess up and cause further inflation, unemployment, etc. The financial crisis of 2008 and the mistakes of the central banks and their heads in helping solve the problem continue to hurt the common man today as well. Did you know that in 2009, Hank Paulson cost taxpayers an additional, saveable 40 billion USD?  The US government decided to bail out the 9 largest banks in the country by providing them with capital infusions, rather than by purchasing their bad debts. Paulson used 125 billion USD of taxpayers’ money in exchange for shares in the banks. However, three weeks prior, Warren Buffet had done something similar with Goldman Sachs and had secured more generous terms. If Paulson had done the same as Buffet, the US taxpayers could’ve made almost 40 billion USD. This is just one example of banks exacerbating already existing problems.

And still, it is hard to argue against banks. Why? Simply because they provide security. If the world was to (for some reason) adopt cryptocurrencies as fiat (official) currencies tomorrow, it would be well and good- transactions would take place seamlessly, anonymously and easily. However, who would you approach if banks ceased to exist, and you needed help since you got scammed? Who will you approach if your transaction gets stuck in the electronic equivalent of limbo, and now you have no money or assets? Who will give you interest on money that you deposit with them?

And even more importantly, how much worse would the financial crisis have been if the government/central banks didn’t intervene?

So, it is clear that while banks have their drawbacks, it is impossible to imagine a world without banks that can function without devolving into a dystopian society.

Having established the importance of banks, as well as the problems with bitcoins, I would like to talk more about the bitcoin scenario in India, as mentioned in the second example given earlier.

There are talks of a new bill being passed in the parliament, regarding cryptocurrency. This bill would prohibit all private cryptocurrencies and also begin the process for the launching of a central digital currency. The RBI has stated that it is working on creating a new central bank digital currency (CBDC) that would eliminate the need for cryptocurrencies. RBI has also expressed worries over the fact that cryptocurrencies can easily be used for illegal activities since it is borderline impossible to track it successfully. Moreover, bitcoins, if stolen, cannot be compensated for by anyone either. If you lose your private key (sort of like your personal bitcoin wallet), you lose your bitcoins forever and ever. Mt. Gox, among the largest virtual currency exchanges, declared bankruptcy and shut down after having bitcoins worth 350 million USD stolen from it. Bitfinex, a major bitcoin exchange, was also hacked and lost 60 million USD in bitcoins.

Even if the government decides to step in and offer protection for virtual currencies like these, there’s no guarantee that your money will remain safe and sound. I’m sure all of us have heard of the Colonial Pipeline being hacked and 2020 United States Federal Government Breach. Then again, this does go for practically any virtual currency.

To sum up, the GoI and numerous other governments are pushing for regulation of cryptocurrencies, while also trying to finalise their own CBDC and release it to the public. The Bahamas have already taken a step in this direction, releasing their virtual currency known as the ‘sand dollar’ as a digital fiat currency alongside the standard pen and paper currency in October 2020.

I believe that while banning cryptocurrencies entirely would not be a smart move, (as bans and censorship often serve as a pathway to proliferation of the banned thing) there is some need for regulation. Moreover, awareness needs to be spread about virtual currencies and people educated about trading and the stock market. How many times have all of us seen advertisements scream “GET RICH QUICK BY BUYING [insert any cryptocurrency]!!!!” on any website related to finance and the economy? I know that I have seen dozens of these advertisements and I can personally attest to the fact that my mental health has suffered as a result of this constant barrage of ads. Of course, I don’t actually fall for such ads. But imagine how many people do fall for these, and for more scams. Such people need to be taught, at the very least, about the basics of trading. We all must understand that if something’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

Though I digress, all it comes down to is this- you’re probably better off not investing in cryptocurrencies, especially since many governments are going to be working against it.

The Lie Of Trickle Down Economics

image from thenewmainetimes

Trickle Down Economics, popularized as Reaganomics, is simply a pseudo economic theory that aims to benefit the ultra-rich while masquerading as something that can lift the poor out of poverty.

This ‘theory’ advocates tax-cuts for the rich, stating that more income for the rich can effectively lead to employment generation and greater income returns for the poor, since the wealthy will obtain more money which can be invested further. Thus, it can be considered as a subset of supply-side economics, which deals with tax-cuts for society as a whole.

In Trickle Down Economics, corporate taxes are cut; taxes may be cut for wealthy taxpayers as well. So, essentially, the private sector benefits from a higher level of income. Thus, wages for workers increase, new factories pop up everywhere, and people are incentivised to invest more- all of which leads to a boom in income generation.

This widespread economic growth, in turn, leads to more revenue for the government, since they collect more through income tax revenues, which more than compensates for the money they initially lost due to the tax cuts.

In theory, all of this sounds well and good. It makes sense too, does it not? The ultra-rich have more money than ever in their hands, which they can invest into the economy. This will lead to the poor receiving the ‘bread-crumbs’ that fall off the table- in other words, money that trickles down. The government benefits too!

It has worked to some extent in practical situations, though the true causes remain unclear. After all, correlation is not equal to causation. For example, this theory played a role in ending the 1980 US recession.  According to sources, Reagan cut taxes- from 46% to 40% for corporates and to 28% for anyone earning above $18,500. Defenders of the theory often cite this as evidence of Trickle-down economics being valid.

At the same time, however, he increased government spending, almost tripling the Federal debt from 1981-1989. Thus, it is just as likely that the massive government spending helped end the recession, rather than the tax cuts themselves. Of course, this part is oft ignored and omitted, so that a favourable view of the theory can be promoted.

More recently, in 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, resulting in a reduction of corporate tax rates and tax rates for the rich. According to a study by the Tax Policy Centre,  based on this act, “on average in 2027, taxes would rise modestly for the lowest-income group, change little for middle-income groups, and decrease for higher-income groups.” In other words, not even close to what the move was touted to be. Trump even said that the act would help compensate for the loss incurred due to tax cuts, but the Joint Committee on Taxation states that it would result in the debt increasing by more than a trillion dollars.

Kent Smetters, Wharton professor of business economics and public policy, believes that trickle-down economics is nothing but a way to disparage supply side economics. In fact, he even states that “this is not something we have tested or seriously theorized about as economists.”

Similarly, according to popular financial website, Investopedia, “Trickle-down economics is political, not scientific. Although it is commonly associated with supply-side economics, there is no single comprehensive economic policy identified as trickle-down economics. Any policy can be considered “trickle-down” if the following are true: First, a principal mechanism of the policy disproportionately benefits wealthy businesses and individuals in the short run. Second, the policy is designed to boost standards of living for all individuals in the long run.”

More recently, a 2020 study by the London School of Economics that studied data over 50 years from 18 countries found that the only significant effect of Trickle-Down Economics was that it created further income inequality.

This is also evidenced by the fact that income inequality worsened between 1979 and 2005 due to tax cuts by US presidents Reagan and Bush and after-tax household income rose 6% for the bottom fifth. What is wrong with that, you ask? After all, an increase in income levels is good for everyone, isn’t it?

And I agree with you, dear reader. ‘Money makes the world go round’, as Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli sang, and more money is always helpful.

But this isn’t true if the top 20% see their incomes increase by 80%, and the top 1% see their income triple. Instead of the money trickling down, it seems that it trickled up- leaving behind nothing but a barren wasteland for the poor while the rich frolic in their paradise fuelled by the hard work of said poor.

It is thus reasonable to assume that Trickle-Down Economics is nothing but a load of hogwash. It seems as if those who support this theory forget that selfishness is a trait intrinsic to an unfortunate number of humans, especially those in power. Pope Francis himself said it best in his third Encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti”, on 4th October, 2020: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Yet, the Indian Government led by Narendra Modi in 2019 decided to cut corporate taxes to 22% from 30% and to 15% from 25% for new manufacturing companies- this took place less than 40 hours before Modi’s Houston trip.

According to Modi, “This move will give a great stimulus to #MakeInIndia, attract private investment from across the globe, improve competitiveness of our private sector, create more jobs and result in a win-win for 130 crore Indians.”

Of course, many people genuinely believed this. However, this move, which resulted in a loss of nearly Rs. 1.5 lakh crore through direct tax revenue for the government, has done little to stimulate the economy and increase FDI.

In FY 2019, India received about 50 billion USD through FDI, but a sizeable amount of it was made before the move by Modi. Thus, it is clear that the tax cuts did little except increase income inequality (as expected, by most familiar with the nature of Reaganomics and by extension, its derivatives).

Even the GDP dipped a few points, before COVID struck. Moreover, the unemployment rate didn’t increase or decrease by a massive amount, which was what most people would probably expect from such massive indirect expenditures meant to, in part, fight unemployment. Of course, this is all being said without considering the pandemic and its effects on the economy. No one can be blamed for the problems it posed since it was beyond our control.

If the government had not taken such a bold step all the way back in September, 2019, it would’ve had more money to give to the poor. More money to help fight the pandemic. I’m sure that all of us would rather pay higher taxes and receive benefits from the government in return, than have the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer.

#UncleTim- What is it? Where did it start from?

Twitter Blocks 'Uncle Tim' From Trends Section After Senator Tim Scott's  Speech
Senator Tim Scott- image from Yahoo News

President Joe Biden of the United States has been pressuring the Congress to pass the new Criminal Justice Bill, and push for police reform, before the 25th of May, 2021- the anniversary of George Floyd’s death- in his first State of The Union address.

In response, Senator Tim Scott, a Black Republican, remarked, “America is not a racist country.” This remark resulted in outrage on social media, and led to the #UncleTim tag reaching the #10 spot on ‘trending’ in twitter.

‘Uncle Tim’ is a play on the phrase ‘Uncle Tom’, the protagonist of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an abolitionist novel written by Harriot Beecher Stowe in 1852. Uncle Tom is often used as a derogatory term to refer to those who ‘betray’ their culture by supporting the opposition or by being complicit with oppression. Typically, it is used to refer to a Black person who is subservient to white people.

Twitter allowed the attacks on Senator Tim to run for almost 12 hours, before it stopped the tag from showing up on the website. Many have criticised him for his comments, which have been called ‘inherently contradictory’, due to the fact that he earlier mentioned the discrimination and racism he faced. However, others have praised the Senator. Fox News anchor Martha McCallum praised him for resonating with the people and for his sincerity, while fellow Republicans too have applauded him for being a representative of the conservative viewpoint in the country.