India is cleaning

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought his broom and thinks it’s a mess. The campaign is more than a gimmick, as India contends with a long-standing hygiene problem that imperils the economy, exposes millions to sickness and heightens the risk of sexual assault

Thursday marks the birthday of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, and the nation’s new leader will mark the occasion by giving brooms to the top executives of state-run companies with instructions to sweep the streets. He will also wield a broom himself, Bloomberg reports.

“I urge every one of you to devote at least 100 hours every year, two hours every week, towards cleanliness,” said Modi, in a statement last week. “We can’t let India remain unclean any longer. On the second of October I myself will set out with a broom and contribute to this pious task.”

Meanwhile, Modi, the popular new leader of this nation of 1.2 billion people, will also call on state-owned banks to fund toilet construction. In India, some 594 million people still do not have access to toilets, according to UNICEF, posing a major health hazard. (In April, UNICEF launched a video campaign starring an army of malicious, dancing turds taking over the world to raise awareness about the dangers of defecating in the open.)

The announcement is part of Modi’s broader initiative to tackle hygiene issues that expose hundreds of millions to disease and heightened risk of sexual assault.

About 11 state-run power, coal and renewable energy companies have pledged to build 50,000 new toilets in schools, of which work on 1,001 will begin on Oct. 2, according to a government statement.


Dubai’s car problem

Some cities have a litter problem, some suffer from high crime rates and others might have a lack of affordable housing. And then you have Dubai, which for the last several years has been facing the unusual problem of high end sports cars being abandoned and left to gather thick layers of dust at airport car parks and on the roadside across the city. If you’ve ever been to Dubai or anywhere in the United Arab Emirates, you will have noticed they have a serious car culture out there, with a particular preference for the latest and greatest in high-end super cars. But like the rest of the world, Dubai has fallen on hard times. Once the hub of the oil economy and the centre of a booming property market, foreigners, mostly British, invested in the red hot market. Newly wealthy ex-pats bought the lastest Italian and German sports cars to compliment their millionaire lifestyles– and then the global economic crisis came along and burst everybody’s bubble. Thousands of the finest automobiles ever made are now being abandoned every year since Dubai’s financial meltdown, left by expatriates and locals alike who flee in a hurry because they face crippling debts. With big loans to repay to the banks (unpaid debt or even bouncing a cheque is a criminal offence in Dubai), the panicked car owners make their way to the airport at top speeds and leave their vehicles in the car park, hopping on the next flight out of there, never to return. Ferraris, Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes are regularly abandoned at the car park of Dubai International Airport, some with loan documents and apology notes simply left on the windscreen and in some cases with the keys still in the ignition. Last year, a Ferrari Enzo, one of only four hundred manufactured, was seized by police having spent several months in a car park collecting dust. The million dollar motor went on sale at auction alongside other Ferraris, Porsches, Range Rovers and Mercedes plucked from the roadside.



World’s leading trader

China became the biggest trader of goods in the world for the first time last year, overtaking the U.S.

According to figures released by Beijing on Friday, the value of China’s imports and exports in 2013 reached $4.16 trillion. This will almost certainly surpass the American figure, which won’t be released until February — but seeing as U.S. goods traded from January to November 2013 amounted to $3.57 trillion, there is little likelihood it will be higher than China’s.

Historians quibble over whether Qing dynasty China (1644-1912) might have been the world’s leading trader too — meaning that China could be enjoying this status for the second not first time — but regardless, the news is hailed as a great success by Beijing.

“This is a landmark milestone for our nation’s foreign trade development,” said Zheng Yuesheng, chief statistician of the Customs Administration.


Globalization is even better now

There’s been a lot of talk these days that globalization is dead, even reversing – and for good reason. It seems that many of the factors that had been driving globalization have run out of steam. The growth of trade, which has long outpaced the expansion of the world economy, has slowed in recent years. Negotiations to forge a new global trade agreement, the Doha Round through the World Trade Organization, have been stalled for years. Evolving technology is altering the manufacturing industry and convincing some U.S. firms to shorten supply lines and even “reshore,” returning factory work back to America and making production more local and less global.

But ignore the naysayers: Globalization is very much alive and well. The White House, for instance is engaged in a renewed push for free trade with proposed pacts with the European Union and a collection of Asian and Latin American nations under the Trans-Pacific Partnership. More importantly, though, globalization is changing in key ways. It is knitting together a society that, more than ever, is truly global.

In the past, globalization was to a great degree a one-way street — from the developed to the developing world. Money and technology flowed from the U.S. and Europe into China, India and other low-income countries, drawing them into the global trading system. The process was the same with ideas (democracy, capitalism, Marxism) and culture (popular music, social networking, fast food, Hollywood movies). Emerging nations had few connections between themselves, and limited influence over world politics and finance.

Now, though, the rise of China, India and other emerging economies is shifting that old, one-way globalization into a new, vibrant multilateral globalization, with major consequences for how our world works.

Look at what’s happening in the global economy these days. The giant populations of China, India and Indonesia were participating in the world economy mainly as workers; they had meager economic power in their own right. Not anymore.

More than half of humanity now lives in South and East Asia, and Chinese and Indian consumers have become the most sought after in the world. Global commerce is changing as a result. General Motors, for instance, sells more cars in China than in America; Yum! Brands cooks up more Kentucky Fried Chicken for Chinese diners than Americans. Hotels and travel agencies from Paris to Bali are striving to accommodate Chinese and Indian tourists. The storied design houses of Europe have opened lavish flagship stores in Asia, which is set to account for more than half of the world’s luxury goods market within the next 10 years.

Emerging market companies are becoming equally important global players. Apple’s chief rival is not a European or even Japanese company, but South Korea’s Samsung; China’s Huawei is the new force in telecom. Firms from emerging nations are becoming more important global investors and job creators, too. Chinese pork processor Shuanghu is buying America’s Smithfield; Ford offloaded Volvo to China’s Geely and Jaguar to India’s Tata. Companies like China’s Lenovo and India’s Wipro are true multinationals that employ people throughout the globe.

Most importantly, emerging markets are linking up to each other in ways never witnessed before. In the past, global trade tended to flow between poor and rich countries, but that has changed dramatically.

According to the Asian Development Bank, almost 56% of Asia’s exports went to markets within the region in 2012, up from 41.6% in 1990. In 1995, total trade between India and China was less than $1.1 billion; in 2012, it surged to almost $69 billion. Over that same time frame, total trade between China and Russia increased from under $5.5 billion to over $88 billion. Free-trade agreements among emerging economies have proliferated in recent years,especially within Asia.

Global politics and finance are no longer dominated by just a few powerful nations either. The G-8 has been replaced by the G-20 as the main global discussion forum, giving greater voice to nations like Turkey, South Africa and Brazil. Tiny Persian Gulf state Qatar is using its financial clout to muscle in on Middle East geopolitics. According to a recent survey from the Bank for International Settlements, China’s yuan entered the list of top 10 most traded currencies for the first time.

Similarly, culture is becoming increasingly globalized as well. How else can you explain grammar school kids in the Boston suburbs dancing to a song in Korean performed by a guy named PSY? Or young people in Seattle or Denver driving to anime conventions in their Hyundais and comparing notes over dim sum afterward? Hundreds of Confucius Institutes promoting Chinese language and culture have popped up around the world. Bollywood flicks and Korean soap operas are wildly popular around Asia.

All of these trends are set to continue. Companies you’ve probably never heard of before might one day offer you a job; what the central bank of India does will impact your stock portfolio; your kids will be downloading music and movies from every corner of the world if they don’t already. Globalization is deepening, becoming more inclusive and more balanced between different parts of the planet. And it is introducing us all to new ideas, products and arts. Globalization is not just still with us; it’s just getting started.


Bitcoin soars

The value of Bitcoin skyrocketed Monday, coinciding with Senate hearings into the regulatory environment surrounding the virtual online currency.

As of 7:04 p.m. the Coindesk Bitcoin Price Index valued the currency at 1 Bitcoin to $675.61, an increase of more than 50 times its value 12 months ago. As recently as late October, Bitcoin was valued at less than $200.

The dramatic increase in price highlights the volatility of the stateless, regulation-averse, encryption-based currency. It also coincided with hearings at the Senate Homeland Security Committee, in which legislators, regulators, law enforcement and interest groups grappled with how to deal with the new currency.

During Monday’s hearing, Bitcoin was primarily characterized as a new technological frontier for criminal activity in need of regulatory innovation. “Regulation both at home and abroad is going to catch up. Because it has to,” said Jennifer Shasky Calvary, director of FinCEN, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman lauded the efforts of law enforcement to bring down the illicit online networks—like the contraband marketplace Silk Road—that run on Bitcoin, saying big busts show that Bitcoin “is not in fact anonymous and it is not in fact immune to investigation. And that is an important message to send.”

Whatever course the regulators take, it’s clear this is just the beginning. For every weakness revealed by recent events like the bust of the online contraband marketplace Silk Road, there is an anecdote pointing to what a mammoth task the U.S. government faces as it seeks to impose a regulatory regime on the so-called “Dark Web.” Not long after it was shutdown, for example, the Silk Road was reborn online, an apt illustration of the game of whack-a-mole that awaits law enforcement on the dark web.

On the other hand, as George Mason U. law professor Jerry Brito noted at Monday’s hearing, virtual currencies are not particularly new. “They’ve been around for years,” he said, citing World of Warcraft gold as his first example. And as FinCen Director Jennifer Calvary said, “Cash is probably still the best medium for laundering money.”