Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Number of the day: 750 million hours

Indians totally ❤️ TikTok. We spent 750 million hours on the damn app in 2019—a staggering 240% increase in time spent compared to 2018. It also emerged as the most downloaded app, followed by Facebook, video-sharing app Likee, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. Indians totally love phone apps, in general. The number of app downloads jumped by 200% between 2016 and 2019—compared to a 45% increase in global growth.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The gigantic abyss between haves and have-nots

Every few months, we get a new update on the state of the very unpopular 1%—the insanely wealthy people who have waaay more than the vast portion of humanity. The latest report from Oxfam doesn’t have anything new to report, but its numbers are still shocking.

What’s this report? Every January, Oxfam—a confederation of 19 charitable organizations focused on global inequality—releases its report on poverty. It usually makes headlines because it is released right before the glitzy World Economic Forum held every year at Davos, Switzerland.

World Economic Forum? Think of it as the ultimate Page 3 party for the insanely wealthy, famous or influential. Except they all talk about the state of the world as opposed to the state of their badly behaved help. Need more? Here’s a BBC News explainer.

OK, how bad is it? Considering the world has now descended into a poorly scripted apocalyptic Bond flick (we’re looking at you climate change), the messenger inevitably brings bad news. According to Oxfam’s latest report:

  • The world's 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60% of our planet’s population.

  • Also: The richest 1% have twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people.

  • Wait it gets worse: the 22 richest men have more wealth than all of Africa’s 326 million women. 

Wait what was that about women? They suffer from the (super) double whammy of gender and inequality. And here’s how bad their numbers are:

  • Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid work every day. Its value: $10.8 trillion per year—which is “more than three times the size of the global tech industry.” So take that Zuck, Bezos, blah blah.

  • Also: it would take a female domestic worker 22,277 years to make what a tech company CEO makes in one year! 

  • But 42% of women around the world cannot work regular paying jobs because they have to take care of children, elders and the ill. Also: cook, clean, wash, mend… got it? Good!

  • Money quote from the report: “Our economic system was built by rich and powerful men, who continue to make the rules and reap the lion’s share of the benefit. Worldwide, men own 50% more wealth than women.”

What about India? Under the ‘no surprises’ section

  • The combined wealth of 63 Indian billionaires exceeds India’s 2018-19 Union Budget. The budget for last year: Rs 24,42,200 crore

  • Our richest 1% have four times more wealth than the poorest 70% of our population.

  • Indian women and girls put in 3.26 billion hours of unpaid work a day which adds up to Rs 19 lakh crore a year—and is 20 times the entire education budget of India in 2019 (Rs 93,000 crore).

  •  FYI, India is only second to Russia when it comes to income inequality, as per a recent UN report. (OTOH, according to the methodology used by the World Bank, South Africa is the most unequal, followed by Namibia.)

Has it always been this bad? According to an analysis in The Telegraph, India’s top 1% now holds almost 35-60% of the nation’s wealth, while the top 10% holds almost 70-80%. Twenty years ago, the share of the top 1% was only around 25-35%—and the share of the top 10% was around 55-65%. And that’s the bigger worry. The wealth gap isn’t new. It’s just getting wider with each passing year.

Why is this happening? Let’s stick with India—and start with why it isn’t happening. The popular theory is that the income gap is widening because of a more critical ‘skills gap’: “The argument goes that technology is skill biased. Those who are able to use technology experience an increase in productivity and wages compared to their less-skilled counterparts.” But the reality is that countries that have far greater skill gaps  between the ‘haves and ‘have nots’ still have a smaller wealth gap than us. And let’s face it: we now have engineering graduates delivering your Swiggy orders.

So what’s the real problem? There are a variety of answers. Some point to the fact that 53% of all Indians are employed in agriculture which contributes only 17% of our nation’s GDP (aka wealth). Or we can blame “neo-liberal policies” that are geared toward rewarding capital, and gypping labour. The bottomline is that the world appears to be stuck in a poverty trap: low income leads to low opportunities to upskill, which leads to even lower income.

Also, everybody loves a winner: The system quite simply treats the rich differently from the rest of us mere mortals. No bank will ever reject the (horribly bad) loan application of an Anil Ambani or Nirav Modi. For all the talk about cracking down on black money, tax policies around the world have more holes than a Golmaal film. And they are designed to allow the top 1% to keep the greatest part of their money—while you cede that TDS even before your salary hits your account. 


So what’s the solution? Higher taxes on the very wealthy, according to Oxfam and rock star economists like Thomas Pilketty—who has called for a global wealth tax that would eliminate billionaires entirely. The reasoning: Higher tax revenues allow the government to invest in public health, services and education… and bigger statues? Yeah, that logic doesn’t quite work in every case.


Learn more: CNN has details on Oxfam’s global report, while Times of India covers the India angle. For a counterview, this older Vox piece sums up the criticism of Oxfam’s methodology. Al Jazeera op-ed looks at how neo-liberal policies contribute to inequality in India. The Guardian offers a nerdy, big-picture answer to the question: Is inequality rising? The World Bank’s poverty and inequality data portal allows you to explore the stats in different parts of the world.

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vowing to never, ever walk the streets of Hyderabad

More bad news on the virus front: The newly identified coronavirus has killed a third person in China, and spread to South Korea as well.  The number of cases is now more than 200. And Beijing has finally admitted that it can spread from one human to another. Chinese premier, Xi Jinping, now says that the outbreak “must be taken seriously” and that every possible measure should be taken to contain it. Don’t know what this is about? Read our explainer here. (New York Times)

IMF blames India for declining global growth: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lowered its world growth estimates for 2020 to 3.3%. The reason: the decelerating Indian economy—which has impacted 80% of the global forecast. The IMF also slashed its estimate for India for 2019-20 to 4.8%. The slightly happier news: It expects the economy to reverse course soon, rising to 5.8% in 2020 and 6.5% in 2021. (Mint)

UN stands up for climate refugees: A landmark ruling declared that it is unlawful for governments to deport migrants who are fleeing catastrophic climate change in their home countries. Experts describe the judgement of the UN human rights committee as a legal “tipping point” and a moment that “opens the doorway” to future such claims. Point to note: Tens of millions of people are expected to be displaced by global warming in the next decade. The Guardian has more. In related news: Times of India has a dire but worthy list of the species that we have lost to climate change and destructive human activity.

In happier climate change news: A number of top insurers and pension funds in the world will now allocate a “temperature score” to their portfolios. It measures how much their investments contribute to climate change: “A single score, they say, can help them navigate the reallocation of capital from heavily polluting sectors of the global economy likely to take a financial hit to greener companies poised to profit.” Reminder: last week, the $7 trillion investment firm Blackrock announced that they will pull their money out of all firms that get more than 25% of their revenue from thermal coal production. (Reuters)

Robert Vadra’s troubles are mounting: The country’s most controversial damaad is being investigated for money laundering. The most recent development: The Enforcement Directorate has arrested one of his close associates, CC Thampi. The NRI businessman allegedly helped Vadra funnel money via a number of shell companies to acquire real estate in London. The ED claims that these properties were purchased with $4.9 million in kickbacks received in a 2009 petroleum deal. Indian Express has all the confusing details you could possibly need.

US immigrants rush to get a passport: Over a twelve-month period ending September 2019, 8.34 lakh immigrants became US citizens—an 11-year high, and a 9.5% spike compared to the previous year. Of these, 52,194 were Indians. The likely reason: President Trump’s erratic immigration policies. And maybe: the upcoming opportunity to vote him out of office in the presidential election in November. (Times of India)

Your Delhi elections update: includes the news that BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has opted out of contesting the assembly elections. The reason: “During our meeting with the BJP, our oldest ally, we were asked to reconsider our stand on CAA but we declined to do so. SAD is of the firm stand that Muslims cannot be left out of CAA... We are also strongly against the NRC.” Related read: The Print looks at the many memes, gifs and viral videos unleashed by AAP’s social media team. We have to admit they’re pretty darn cool.

BJP officially has a new party prez: Interim president Jagat Prakash Nadda—who took over the reins from Amit Shah back in July 2019—has ended his probation period. Want to know more about him? Read these profiles here and here. 

Jean Paul Gaultier says goodbye: The legendary designer will end his 50-year career with a grand finale: his upcoming Spring/Summer 2020 couture show in Paris (Watch his announcement here). The Cut has some of his iconic runway moments, including Madonna’s topless moment.

A shocking demolition drive in Bangalore: Local authorities razed over 200 sheds and shanties in one of the poorest parts of town, rendering hundreds homeless. The reason: BJP MLA Arvind Limbavalli tweeted a video of the settlement in North Bangalore, claiming it was occupied by “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.” But activists insist that the residents are from other parts of Karnataka and states such as Assam, West Bengal, and Bihar. In fact, when the police arrived, many held up their aadhaar, voter ID and employee ID cards to prove that they were Indians. Point to note: Two months ago, the city police detained 60 Bengali-speaking migrants and took them to the Indo-Bangladesh border via train. The News Minute has details, photos and clips. 

In related harassment news: As part of its Operation Chabutra, the Hyderabad police is now accosting citizens on the street—and demanding their Aadhaar details, photo and fingerprints! The police calls it a “routine check up to catch offenders.” This Twitter thread recounts the latest instance. This older News Minute story has more on the legality of this so-called operation.

China declares war on plastic: The world’s biggest source of plastic waste is cracking down on single-use plastic. All non-degradable bags will be banned across the nation by 2022. Also out: single use straws by 2020. Point to note: “The country's largest rubbish dump—the size of around 100 football fields—is already full, 25 years ahead of schedule.” (BBC News)

Cool stuff we learned on the internet: includes the following:

  • The Mirror—not to be confused with the humble lower cap 'mirror'—is the hottest trend in fitness. It costs $1,495, plus a monthly subscription of $39. And it broadcasts any exercise class—boxing, yoga, dance, cardio, strength training—directly onto the mirror, or is that Mirror?

  • The latest innovation in baby dentistry says no to drills and injections, but instead seals a decaying tooth with a tiny metal cap.

  • The smart tactics used by the women of Shaheen Bagh to battle the dirty tricks of those trying to destroy their credibility.

  • This cool video of an artist who created a battery-powered paper city using electric ink. 

  • And in our category of totally must see: The Instagram account of Turkish photographer Uğur Gallenkuş. His photos mesh everyday scenes in the West with images from war-torn countries. 

News that makes you go wtf: include the following:

  • Jaw-dropping drone footage that shows massive dust storms sweeping across New South Wales.

  • New research that shows alcohol is more likely to kill women than men.

  • The South Korean film ‘Parasite’ made history by becoming the first foreign-language film to win the ceremony’s top prize: best cast in a motion picture. But… not one of its actors won a single acting award?

  • Andhra Pradesh will now have three state capitals. Enuf said.

  • Top social media Influencers are propositioned on an almost daily basis—i.e. offered pots of cash in exchange for sex. Yes, they are mostly women.

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • This fabulous woman who unleashed a high-kick on the red carpet at the Screen Actors Guild Awards… in stilettos!

  • Speaking of SAG, here are the best-dressed stars, all in one place.

  • Jeff Bezos taking a spin on Amazon’s new fleet of electric delivery rickshaws 

  • The new trend of up/downscaling the Christmas tree into a (very pink) ‘Valentine’s tree’.

  • This gorgeous rendition of ‘Hum dekhenge’ in Tamil. 

  • The January 26, 1950, issue of The Hindu—the day India adopted its Constitution. 

  • This heart-warming thread on a Syrian refugee boy in Canada who wanted to play ice hockey. 

  • This baby flamingo learning to stand on one leg. Being a toddler is hard!

  • The wonderful news that more than 100,000 artworks from Paris museums are now available online for all of us to admire.

  • This thread of stunning Parvati and baby Ganesh paintings.

  • The Mumbai police is very proud of the regal (fully Bolly) uniforms designed by Manish Malhotra for their mounted police unit. Twitter was less impressed: "Mumbai ki garmi mein, itna traffic mein, you people are expecting a poor policeman to dress up like this?”
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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Say No to Stress’ Edition

Our lives are littered with gadgets designed to add ease and and comfort to our lives. Yes, we are more stressed out than ever. Here are two novel approaches to tackling that inner demon.


Just say ‘pyt’ 🤷🏽‍♀️

Danes are among the happiest people in the world. And it has less to do with ‘hygge’—their word for the process of creating intimacy—and more to do with ‘pyt’ (pronounced pid). Think of this delightful word as the Danish equivalent of zen, and it’s very useful for dealing with the everyday stress of being human.

Read: Forget “hygge.” The most useful Danish word is about stress | Quartz 

Sex, Love etc 2

A ‘chill out’ guide to creating a low-stress life

There are a lot of such guides out there, but we loved this one because it offers some cool out-of-the-box tips. Example: activate your vagus nerve. Or: Embrace that twisted ankle.

Read: How to Chill Out and Relax Already | Outside

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