Václav Havel

Václav Havel, playwright and former Czech president, passed away this weekend. He was widely recognized for his struggles on behalf of democracy and human dignity.

The New York Times remembers Havel:

A shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of Communist prisons, lived for two decades under close secret-police surveillance and endured the suppression of his plays and essays. He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation’s most seductively nonconformist writers.

All the while, he came to personify the soul of the Czech nation. His moral authority and his moving use of the Czech language cast him as the dominant figure during Prague street demonstrations in 1989 and as the chief behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought about the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution, a revolt so smooth that it took just weeks to complete, without a single bullet fired.

He was chosen as democratic Czechoslovakia’s first president — a role he insisted was more duty than aspiration — and after the country split in January 1993, he became president of the Czech Republic. He linked the country firmly to the west, clearing the way for the Czech Republic to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999 and the European Union five years later.

The Economist published a personal memoriam:

Mr Havel was (in my eyes) a superb president. He rollerskated through the corridors of Prague castle, exorcising the ghosts of the communist usurpers with his humanity and humour. In what would be a hallmark of his political approach, he made a point of lending support to beleaguered but likeminded figures abroad. He invited the Lithuanian leader Vytautas Landsbergis to Prague, as that country struggled to turn its declaration of independence from Soviet occupation into reality. It was in Mr Havel’s company that I first met the Dalai Lama—also an honoured guest in Prague.

The Washington Post writes:

After being unanimously elected president of Czechoslovakia by the newly free country’s parliament in December 1989, Mr. Havel set the tone of the new era in a speech on Jan. 1, 1990, his first day in office. Communism, he said, was “a monstrous, ramshackle, stinking machine” whose worst legacy was not economic failure but a “spoiled moral environment.”

“We have become morally ill because we are used to saying one thing and thinking another,” he said. “We have learned not to believe in anything, not to care about each other. . . . Love, friendship, mercy, humility, or forgiveness have lost their depths and dimension. . . . They represent some sort of psychological curiosity, or they appear as long-lost wanderers from faraway times.”

Rest in Peace.

Ellen, Leymah, and Tawakkol

At the ceremonies last night three women took center stage to accept the 2011 Nobel Peace Price. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, 73; Leymah Gbowee, 39, a social worker and a peace activist; and Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist and a political activist who, at 32, were all recognized for their non-violent struggle against injustice, sexual violence and repression on the backdrops of the Arab Spring and democratic progress in Africa.

In her address, Mrs. Sirleaf said:

In its selection this year, the Nobel Committee has brought here three women linked by their commitment to change, and by their efforts to promote the rule of law and democracy in societies torn apart by conflict. The fact that we — two women from Liberia — are here today to share a stage with a sister from Yemen speaks to the universality of our struggle.

I urge my sisters, and my brothers, not to be afraid. Be not afraid to denounce injustice, though you may be outnumbered. Be not afraid to seek peace, even if your voice may be small. Be not afraid to demand peace.

Russia Will Join the European Union, Predicts Goldman Sachs

In his forecast for the next 10-40 years, Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs defies the critics of Russia’s continued membership of the Bric team and it’s future economic growth: Russia doesn’t need dramatic growth rates. It just needs to avoid crises.

Russia is often singled out as the Bric country that doesn’t belong in the Brics. Critics say that with its aging population, dependence on oil and gas and widespread corruption, it’s not in the same league as its dynamic rivals – Brazil, India and China

Jim O’Neill, the Brics’ inventor, disagrees. In The Growth Map, a book marking the 10th anniversary of his coining of the acronym, he rejects suggestions that Russia should be dropped from the team. He argues, in his characteristically forthright way, that in terms of GDP her head, Russia has the potential to beat not just the other Brics but “all other European countries” – and join the European Union.

Africa’s Middle Class is Booming

Optimism about Africa needs to be taken in fairly small doses; most Africans still live on less than two dollars a day. But some countries on the continent are doing extremely well, thanks to a boom in commodities:

Over the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. Even allowing for the knock-on effect of the northern hemisphere’s slowdown, the IMF expects Africa to grow by 6% this year and nearly 6% in 2012, about the same as Asia.

Africa now has a fast-growing middle class: according to the World Bank, around 60m Africans have an income of $3,000 a year, and 100m will in 2015. The rate of foreign investment has soared around tenfold in the past decade.

Democracy in China by 2017

Few countries with per head incomes of more than $10,000 a year survives as autocratic/authoritarian/totalitarian nations except for oil exporters. Charles Robertson of Renaissance Capital boldly predicts China could be a democracy by 2017:

China, on about $7,500 and growing fast, is approaching the income level when democratic change often begins. There are powerful arguments about why both countries might be permanent exceptions to the democracy rule.

Jim Was Right about Bric

Ten years ago Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs predicted the four growth economies – Brazil, China, India and Russia together would lead the World’s economic development. And he was right:

A quick look at the MSCI indices for the four Brics since 2001 shows that they have comfortably outperformed the S&P 500. If you invested $100 at the time of O’Neill’s report in November 2001 in each of the four Brics, you would now have $674 from Brazil, $451 from China, $459 from India and $414 from Russia. Your 100 S&P bucks? Worth $112.

The Massive Workforce in China & India

The emerging world, long a source of cheap labour, now rivals the rich countries for business innovation, says S.D. Shibulal, CEO of Infosys:

In recent years China and India have led the way in becoming the new hubs for growth, innovation and talent. They produce close to 700,000 engineers every year. The availability of such a large pool of talent is the much needed fuel to power the growth of industries across sectors in these countries. This has been complemented by the presence of a large middle-class population (160m in India and 230m in China) with rising disposable incomes. China and India are also challenging Western domination as the global innovation and R&D hub, rubbing shoulders with historic giants in global innovation indices. The road ahead for the Bric countries looks extremely promising.

Bric Acronym Turns 10

The Bric acronym celebrates it’s 10th anniversary. The world as we know it today is quite different from what it was a decade ago. To sustain growth, the world’s poor must be included in the development, as S.D. Shibulal, CEO of Infosys puts it:

[…] the biggest challenge that faces the Bric countries is quite unique in that they are countries of contradiction. Countries like India and China in particular, despite leading the Bric growth story, are no different. Take a look at India. It has had average growth of 8 to 8.5 per cent in recent years – but over 300m people still live below the poverty line. It produces over 3m graduates every year from its pool of 480 universities and 22,000 colleges. Despite this, 35 per cent of the world’s illiterate people are in India. Furthermore, over 8m children are still out of school and 240m children are not a part of the schooling system. There are 100m internet users in a country where only 12.5m have broadband. There are also over 600m mobile phone subscribers in India. Despite this level of technology penetration, India ranks 50th in financial inclusion globally.