Good Reads: How India failed to live up to its hype

This week's best reads deal with India's economic disappointment, Germany's problematic switch from nuclear energy, Al Qaeda, and the Great Un-American Western.

Rajanish Kakade/AP
Indian laborers use machinery to dig at a construction site in Mumbai, India, Monday, June 4.

The Great Indian Hype Machine

Hype is a powerful thing. It prompts us to pick up “great” novels, download “earthshaking” albums, or buy shares in a company destined to “change the world.”

Hype is also used to sell countries like India as “emerging regional players” or “economic tigers,” and according to this week’s Economist magazine, India has failed to live up to its billing.

India's growth of only 6 percent, down from it's goal of 8 percent growth, shows India has failed “to live up to rising expectations,” says Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs analyst who coined the term “BRIC” for the quartet of emerging nations Brazil, Russia, India, and China. And it’s a growth level that could prevent India from lifting more of its citizens out of poverty.

This week’s Economist magazine says that hype may have been the problem all along. India seems to have believed its own hype – that it was “destined for fast growth” – when, in fact, there was still a great deal of hard work to be done to loosen up governmental controls on the economy so that it could actually grow. Now that the economy has slowed down to 6 percent, foreign investors and Indian citizens alike are starting to lose faith.

India, unlike the other BRIC countries, is still desperately poor. One businessman and guru interviewed by your correspondent recently declared that "the next fifteen years will be India's worst since independence" and that there was a one-in-10 chance of a revolution. If India's economic miracle turns out to have been a mirage, it will not be so easy to dismiss that kind of talk as cranky.

Germany’s nuclear crunch

When Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor shut down, overheated, and then leaked radiation following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, a number of countries decided that maybe nuclear power was not worth the risk. Germany was one of those countries, and soon after Fukushima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel became an unlikely darling of environmentalists as she announced the phase-out of nuclear power plants by the end of 2012.

But here’s the problem, Der Spiegel’s Alexander Neubacher and Catalina Schroeder write: Nuclear power is cheap. Switching to alternative industries, such as solar and wind, is expensive, and German consumers are having to pay higher costs for their energy. Electricity rates have gone up 10 percent and it is Germany’s working class and poor who are going into debt, they write. Worse: Higher rates are on the way.

Reading about Germany’s economic problems is not a matter of schadenfreude (that peculiar German word for taking pleasure in another person’s pain), but rather quite the opposite. If Germany, the strongest economy in a sluggish Europe, is struggling, that has implications for the broader global economy, including the US.

Al Qaeda’s conveyor belt

US bombs killed another Al Qaeda leader the other day, a fellow named Abu Yahya Al-Libi. US officials say that Al-Libi was Al Qaeda’s No. 2 guy, a man The New York Times called “a virtual ambassador for global jihad” because of his frequent video harangues on jihadi websites.

But the Atlantic’s Robert Wright asks an interesting question: “Is there anybody left in al Qaeda to kill?” With the death of Osama bin Laden (Al Qaeda’s big cheese), and the killing of Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader (“at least three times”), it becomes clear that Al Qaeda keeps replacing its leadership as fast as US drones can kill them. And the global jihad plays on.

As Wright writes:

Even if al Qaeda per se goes out of business, this killing won't have made us much safer in the long run and may have made us less safe.
Why? Because the war on terrorism is like the war on drugs. We keep locking up drug dealers, but the demand for drugs is so strong, and selling them so lucrative, that there's always someone to fill the imprisoned drug dealer's shoes. 

Politics of spaghetti westerns

Back in the 1960s, something happened to that great American art form, the cowboy movie. Audiences stopped rooting for the clean-cut, square-jawed good guys, like Gene Autry and John Wayne, and switched their alliances to the squinty, unshaved villains, like Clint Eastwood and Marlon Brando.

One of the men who wrote those edgier Westerns – many of them produced in Italy – was Franco Solinas, a journalist, Communist Party member, and firm believer in the fugitive as hero. At a time when many young Americans had come to see the flaws of their society because of the brutal and senseless Vietnam War and the continued racism in free societies, these so-called Spaghetti Westerns were immensely popular.

Read this week’s New York Review of Books for a fascinating review of some of Solinas’s films by writer J. Hoberman, who previews some of the choicer bits in a film series that is now playing at New York’s Film Forum from June 1- 21, as well as a bizarre collection of East German and other left-wing European films that turned the original pro-American mythology of Westerns on its head.

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