Wednesday 29 December 2010

Stalin cynical, Roosevelt great

The halt of the Russian forces at the doors of Warsaw as the Poles rose in revolt under  General Tadeusz 'Bor' Komorowski is universally condemned as the most cynical decision of the Second World War, where Satlin let the Nazis kill of any potential threat to his power in Poland.

The Russians maintain, at least under communist rule, that they had asked the Poles not to revolt because they (the Russians) were too exhausted  and stretched to attack Warsaw. Hence, the decision not to come in aid of the rising had, from their point of view, more to do with saving Russian lives than taking Polish ones. Obviously, this logic cannot matter to Western historians.

The other day, I was watching A Tale of Three Cities: How the U.S. Won World War II, a lecture by David Kennedy. In the Q&A session following his talk, someone asked if Roosevelt’s decision to postpone the second front in Europe in spite of Stalin repeatedly asking for it was not a cynical decision, by which he saved American lives at the cost of many Russian dead. Had UK and USA attacked France in 1943 instead of waiting till 1944, they may have taken many divisions off the eastern front. Kennedy replied that while Roosevelt may had wanted to save American lives, that’s what he was voted into office to do. Hence, he can’t say that Roosevelt was cynical. He was doing his duty as USA’s president.

Well, that logic cannot apply to Stalin, because the Red dictator had no value for Russian lives. Didn’t he send troops to the front without guns or ammunition? Didn’t he gamble with underequipped armies? Did he not kill millions in gulags and by execution? He did. But can’t the Warsaw decision be militarily and morally correct in  spite of all this?

Also, what were Stalin’s choices during the second world war? The Nazis had already shown that they were out to kill Russians, not conquer them. In fact, they killed and enslaved many who welcomed them as liberators from communist dictatorship. So, it is very unlikely that Stalin would have saved lives by letting his forces surrender.

Prof Kennedy made another interesting point during the Q&A. He said that by his estimates, USA supplied around 20% of the martial the Russians used. Now, western historians make it seem as if all the Russians’ material came courtesy Uncle Sam. While that 20% may have been decisive, it wouldn’t have mattered hadn’t the Russians been able to come up with the balance 80%.

It’s not my intention to be an apologist for Stalin and his gang. However, if we want to learn from history, we have to be objective. More importantly, historians must  remember that they are not propagandists.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Usury English style = Inclusive growth

In an editorial titled Microfinance and financial inclusion, the Financial Times says, "A crackdown (on microfinance in South Asia) would not help anyone, except perhaps traditional moneylenders and feudal landlords… Microfinance's advantages over traditional sources are that loans are cheaper and free of the social conditions attaching to credit in feudal relationships… As to the charge of gouging, microlenders have small margins in spite of their high interest rates… Evidence suggests the Indian suicides were the result of borrowers taking on too much debt from multiple sources. Credit practices must be improved to prevent this. Lenders should disclose interest rates to stimulate competition. This requires intelligent regulation.

Microfinance brings a crucial service to poor people. Rather than being attacked, it should be helped to do an even better job of assisting them to assert their financial autonomy."

The piece raises a number of obvious questions. First, why do microlenders have small margins in spite of high interest rates? Is it because their overhead costs are high? Or do borrowers default in large numbers? Or are they plain badly run?

Second, if credit practices were improved, would microfinance companies be able to charge the high interest rates? If I knew the probability that a borrower may default, can I still charge him a high rate? For instance, credit card companies in India justify charging usurious interests to all customers with the excuse that credit ratings are unavailable in India (without ever bothering to explain why they haven't developed ratings of their own over decades of operating in India): They cannot do so in civilised countries because credit scores are available.

Third, what does 'financial autonomy' mean?

Finally, why are people committing suicide when overwhelmed by loans? As per FT, microfinance is 'free of the social conditions attaching to credit in feudal relationships.' So what is it not free of? What are those borrowers afraid of? (Let's say you put money into my scheme, which doesn't work out. Now, I'd be sorry about it, but it's quite unlikely that I'd be so ashamed or petrified by failure that I'd kill myself… unless you had some abnormal bodily or psychological hold over me. What hold do these microfinance companies have?)

That South Asian politicians, in particular, and people, in general, are incurably corrupt is truer than the sun's rise in the east. Nonetheless, it does not logically follow that everything they say is to benefit landlords and usurers, more so when microfinance can offer far bigger bribes than the former.

Friday 17 December 2010

Brains leaking

In an article titled, Rahul Gandhi warned U.S. of growth of extremist Hindu groups: WikiLeaks on leaked cables from American diplomats in India published by WikiLeaks, the Hindu writes: "Their (American diplomats') view of Indian politicians is variable, however. The failure of Sonia Gandhi, who chairs the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition, to overcome opposition to a nuclear power agreement is criticised heavily.

A deal would see, the U.S. diplomats said, a big boost for clean energy in India and a market worth $150bn for American companies. 'Mrs Gandhi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity,' one cable sent in November 2007 said."

There is something very disturbing about this, a typical sample of what's been coming out in the press thanks to the WikiLeaks. It's the childishness of the remarks. 'Mrs Gandhi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity… 'raucous democracy' of India… "If you want to end malaria you have to get rid of the swamp," the Indian national security adviser told the FBI director last year.

The picture that emerges from embassies and government offices across the world is not of sage statesmen or sly scoundrels, but of mediocre people who haven't outgrown the editorship their class magazines. Too clever by half, yet unwilling or unable to cope with complexities, and seeking comfort in cynicism. Was diplomacy and international relations always like this?


Monday 13 December 2010

9% growth… from selling the country

“Rajeev Chandrashekhar, a Rajya Sabha MP and former FICCI president, has pointed out that agriculture has grown at a dismal one per cent and manufacturing at no more than three per cent. The so-called miracle has been achieved through phenomenal growth in mining, real estate, construction.” So says Neelabh Mishra in his article in Outlook, titled The Banana Sheikhs.

Read this with Jagdish Bhagwati’s lecture The Unfinished Reform Agenda. The good professor says nothing about the sources of growth, even while  he rages against Indian novelists being allowed to write on the economy.

When ordinary people cannot see the growth they are supposed to be enjoying, who do they turn to, economists with figures or novelists with facts?

Friday 26 November 2010

Mahabharata as a ripoff of Godfather

I was watching the movie Rajneeti on YouTube and looked up its Wikipedia entry. It says: "Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times found that while it aimed 'for something trenchant about thwarted destiny and ugly ambition in modern Indian democracy', it 'mostly winds up with a convoluted and tonally awkward Godfather rehash, with nary a character worth rooting for...' Frank Lovece of Film Journal International said, 'More pulpy than political, this Godfather-ripoff Hindi electoral drama is a candidate for oblivion in U.S. theatres. ... [I]t all eventually becomes so ridiculous and over-the-top violent that there is nobody, nobody, to root for.'"

Now, the movie's director has made it quite clear that it is a modern version of the Mahabharata. This is immediately apparent to any Indian viewer. And since it'd be hard to find an Indian who doesn't know the basic story of the Mahabharata, the director doesn't have any new story to tell. Hence, the question of confusion doesn't arise, at least for the main audience of the movie, Indians and Indian diaspora.

As for not having a character to root for, the original story doesn't have any. So one can't say that's a deficiency. In fact, that's something that makes it interesting hundreds of years after it was written. Here's a story with many heroic characters but no hero.

But what made the two American reviewers search for Godfather in Rajneeti? It is about a family war, but so are many Indian movies. It must be the 'quickie' early in the film, because Godfather I had one too. It does not matter, of course, that the quickie in Godfather was used to define a character (Sonny) while the one here is central to the plot.

Well, if one similar scene makes a movie a remake of another, Godfather III is a remake of Pather Panchali. Why? Because there is a scene towards the end of former where the godfather lets out a silent scream over the body of his slain daughter, and this scene is similar to the one in Pather Panchali where the father cries uncontrollably when he comes to know of his daughter's death. In the latter scene too you don't hear his cries; instead, there is piece on the taarshenai.

What's my point? That Rajneeti is not a remake of Godfather but a retelling of Mahabharata? That's obvious. What's less obvious is why the two Western reviewers started on the wrong foot - they assumed that an Indian film must be ripoff - and ended with a completely wrong logic.

Of course, one can't blame them completely, because a great many Indian movies are ripoffs, but don't journalists have a responsibility to do a background check? Or is that unnecessary for brown people?

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Give North Korea a bad name and blast it

Today’s FT piece by Zbigniew Brzezinski (America and China’s first big test) is typical of what’s out there: North Korea is bombing South Korea without rhyme or reason, because its regime is insane.

But what do the North Koreans say? According to a communiqué published by their state news agency, “The south Korean puppet group perpetrated such reckless military provocation as firing dozens of shells inside the territorial waters of the DPRK side around Yonphyong Islet in the West Sea of Korea from 13:00 on Nov. 23 despite the repeated warnings of the DPRK while staging the war maneuvers for a war of aggression on it codenamed Hoguk, escalating the tension on the Korean Peninsula.

The above-said military provocation is part of its sinister attempt to defend the brigandish ‘northern limit line,’ while frequently infiltrating its naval warships into the territorial waters of the DPRK side under the pretext of ‘intercepting fishing boats.’

The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK standing guard over the inviolable territorial waters of the country took such decisive military step as reacting to the military provocation of the puppet group with a prompt powerful physical strike…"

For all I know, the North Koreans are lying. But once one reads the communique they don’t seem half as mad as they are being made out to be. My question is why no news source finds it fit to even mention the North Korean rationale, more so because it is readily available on-line. Is there more to this than a communist dynasty gone crazy (Other reports certainly make you suspect it has. Here’s a headline: Kim Jong Il Inspects Newly Built Soy Sauce Shop at Ryongsong)  

Saturday 6 November 2010

They drink urine and burn widows. No wonder they are so poor

In an article Possessions and the Extended Self Russell W. Belk writes, “Another example, perhaps repugnant to Western observers, is the drinking of the urine of Vedic priests to partake of the psychogenic properties of the Amanita muscaria mushroom that these priests ritually consume (Wasson 1972).” In the same article, he writes, “Until outlawed 100 years ago in India, the wife, as ‘property’ of a deceased husband, was expected to join him in death (Bordewich 1986).”

The first sentence implies that Eastern observers may not find the drinking of urine repugnant. Anyway, a little searching shows that Wasson’s conclusion was probably based on a single line, one that merely said that if you drank much soma (And scholars are far from anonymous what soma was), you urinated a lot. The drinking of urine was Wasson’s conjecture. (I invite you to Google the topic. It’s easy.)

And while I don’t know where Bordewich got his data from, I am quite sure it wasn’t from any sane source. The burning of widows accounted for a minuscule number of deaths when it was legal; and it was outlawed in British India in 1823, not 100 years ago (Belk’s article came out in 1988). To say that sati or widow burning was ‘expected’ is to say that white Americans were expected to lynch blacks (I do not mean anything derogatory by ‘white’ or ‘black’) every time they had an unsolved rape on their hands. Neither lynching nor sati was fiction; but that did not make either routine. Anyway, Bordewich wrote in The Atlantic, which is not an academic journal. 

Academics are supposed to be looking for the truth, but when it comes to darkies, who cares? If these people are so poor, ignorant and corrupt, can they be humans like us? No, they must be absolutely irrigational and abnormal. Of course, we need not bother if they outnumber us 3:1 or 4:1 and, hence, whatever they do should to be the norm, not what we do.   

I believe open racism is easier to deal with that this sort of bigotry, which comes out routinely in mainstream media and even in academic literature. Well-meaning Westerners may not recognise the problem: one hardly expects professors, journalists and columnists to be racists, and Easterners dare not write against the pillars of society. For if they do, they show how insecure they are, how afraid of ‘losing face’.

Anyway, I would very much like to do research on this topic, to show if this racism can be objectively exposed, at least as far as academic articles and books go.   

Friday 22 October 2010

Why the CWG was like the Second World War

Unnecessary. If one chap can run faster than another, why should a billion other chaps care? But we do. Same with war. Always Caesar's; never ours. But there has never been any shortage of cannon fodder.

Pyrrhic victory. Rs 75,000 crore – Rs 65,000 per Indian, when our per capita annual income is Rs 44,000 - plus several score lives, and untold misery for the workers and the citizens of Delhi. Enormous opportunity costs all around. How does it matter whether the games were successful?

Wrong victors. Chinese died. Russians died. We died too, more than Americans and British put together. In terms of fraction of  population,the Yugoslavs and Poles were bothered. But Errol Flynn won. With a little help from Churchill. And anyone who doubts that is a racist or a communist. Just as anyone who wants Kalmadi investigated is a traitor.

Well, the Greeks had a successful Olympics in 2004; by last year, they were bankrupt. And other Europeans wanted to degrade them to Arab status, that is, they were no longer fit to be whites, never mind the foundations of Western civilisation and all that.

What will be our fate? We start brown.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Sao chuhe khake billi haaj ko chali

I was quite liking this discussion (everyone’s corrupt, not just us) till the Nigerian investigator pointed out that China and India were now the new corruptors of Africa, even as governments in developed countries enforce anti-corruption drives. And the whites just started off.

Well, well, well… Anyone asking how much white money is invested in these Chinese and Indian companies, and in these evil economies? And where does the fruits of our evil eventually go?

China’s Head of Press & Public Affairs in the UK writes in today’s FT: “In 2009, foreign-funded enterprises in China accounted for 55.9 per cent of the country’s total exports, contributing almost two-thirds of China’s trade surplus… Take “Barbie dolls” as an example. A Chinese-made Barbie doll sells for $ 10 in the US, out of which the Chinese manufacturer gets only 35 cents.”

(The diplomat does not say whether the Americans are making nearly 2760% profits on dolls, or explain why they may not be doing so, but that’s another matter.) 

It reminded me of a wedding in a very rich family. The bridegroom was, most probably, a graduate from a western business school, and understood that as long as your books were ok, white people will willingly look the other way while doing deals with you. But he needed black money for his wedding expenses. Of course, in India there is no distinction between company and family money.

So he hit upon a bright idea: He made his suppliers do the shopping, and asked them to bill him. (I don’t remember how he adjusted the tax. Most probably he expected the suppliers to grin and bear it.) And you had ad agencies ordering a ton of flowers and chemical companies ordering jewels.

Look ma, my hands are clean! What rubbish.

Monday 6 September 2010

In 1947, India was ahead of China…

Almost every article on the Indian economy reminds us how far behind India is from China.

But how many articles have you seen that note how we lag France, Germany or the Czech Republic? The whole idea is absurd, given that historically (i.e., in the last 200 years) these countries have been so much ahead of India.

Why is comparing India and China ok? Well, both have over 1 billion people – and, far more importantly, India’s per capita income exceeded China’s in 1947 and 1948 when India became free and China became communist, respectively. Hence, the history of modern India begins from 1947; and that of China from 1948.

Do they?

Because drawing back a few decades shows a quite different picture, and shows just how much difference war can make, even to a colonised country. Why is it so easy to forget that, in relative terms the second world war (which began at least 10 years earlier in China than it did in Europe), hit China and India quite differently, and that was bound to reflect on macroeconomic indicators? (Relative is the operative word here; in absolute terms, India probably lost more people to war than the rest of the Commonwealth combined.)    

Hans Rosling’s TEDtalk Asia's rise -- how and when graphically shows exactly what I mean. What’s happening becomes clearer still if one notices how USA and Japan do during and just after the second world war. The former’s growth parallels India’s; the latter’s plight parallels China’s.

I am not suggesting that Indians should take any comfort from these figures. I am, however, suggesting that leads and aberrations do matter. And to deliberately leave them out is a travesty of both economics and history.

(Incidentally, how did Rosling estimate those numbers?) 

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Why does the universal become the peculiar in India?

An article in today’s FT (Search for a workable solution by Amy Kazmin) says, “Not every Indian company looks to the state to churn out the skilled manpower it requires. Larsen & Toubro, India’s largest engineering and contracting compnay, tries to bridge the skills gap with seven Construction Skills Training Institutes it runs across India… Yet L&T has struggled to find enough recruits, given the deep disdain for manual labour embedded in Hinduism’s hierarchical caste system. ‘It is not attractive because of the physical content of the job,’ says Mr Jayakumar. ‘There is a social aspect also; this will take time to change.’”

In a country where people carry human excreta for a living, why is Jayakumar feeding this rubbish and why is Kazmin swallowing it?

Anyway, I am yet to hear of any society that (as a whole) prefers manual labour to desk jobs. So why blame Hinduism for something universal?

And is there no chance that L&T’s curriculum or marketing is at fault?

Elsewhere, the article says, “In reality (…) corporate executives have quickly found that progress depends on the attitude of the training centre’s principals – most of whom are risk-averse career civil servants who still report to a sclerotic state bureaucracy.

Ms Gautam acknowledges that ‘there are teething problems’. At her training institute, for example, she has proposed letting hair and beauty students take commercial customers in their training salon, which would generate revenue to cover ongoing expenditure, such as hiring a technician to maintain the centre’s 100 computers. However, the idea has met with fierce resistance. ‘The principals are scared,’ she says. ‘For them, commerce is a very dirty word.’”

Kazmin obviously doesn’t think anything may be learnt by talking to any of those principles. For example, the principle in that particular school may have been reluctant to start commercial activities because that would mean competing with the very parlours that employ her students after they pass out. Or she may be plain lazy and not want any extra work.

Or she may believe, as other academics do, that places of learning should not get into commerce because there are potential conflicts of interest. There is nothing utopian in this. Many businesses would want the status quo and want academics to approve, if not praise, whatever they are doing; yet business as a whole benefits when research breaks the status quo, doesn’t it?

Anyway, why can’t the students simply be apprentices in regular parlours and pay more fees? Doesn’t that happen in many schools, including business schools? Why does the school have to be a shop?

My problem is not with this particular institute, of course, but with this type of one-sided reporting about the Third World, which by giving half or quarter of the picture only harms business. But somehow business likes it, or market forces should have brought in better journalism.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Broken families and rich individuals

In the video RSA Animate - Crises of Capitalism, David Harvey, a Marxist says that the present crisis has everything to do with fall in real income per family in the Western world; in this one, Crisis of Capitalism, The Critique,  someone debunks Harvey by pointing out that income per capita has increased and that the fall in income per family is simply because there are more families now, that is, if a population of 100 were split into 25 families of average size 4 (persons per family) 30 years ago, now that same population is divided into, say, 50 families of average size 2.

I have heard the same explanation from the Kublai Khan of capitalism, Jack Welch.

It looks too easy to be right.

First, where is the data? Let’s say fewer people are getting married in the West these days. Does that also mean that the size or nature of the family unit, on average, has changed drastically?

Second, if the income per family has dropped, why should one not worry about it? Doesn’t the amount a person spends, and saves, depend enormously on whether he or she is in a family?

Just take rent or mortgage. Suppose a family of four spends x by living under one roof (average spend per person = 0.25x); and a pair of divorced parents with the two children living with their mother spend 1.2x (father’s rent = 0.4x; mother and children’s rent = 0.8x; average spend per person = 0.3x, 20% more than the average for a 4-member family). Does that not make a significant difference?

Plus, the mother’s income may be less than her married counterpart’s because she has more on her plate (no-one to share her load with).

The father, on the other hand, may be spending more on conspicuous consumption than his married counterpart does.

In fact, both parents may be spending more on sex (wining, dining, gifting, grooming to entice mates, or straight cash) than they would have had they been in a family, where sex it is essentially a bonus (free gift?) of family life.

And while married parents (or parents who operate as a family in spite of not being married) may save to provide for the future, parents who do not operate as a family may, for financial and psychological reasons, save little.  

I mean, the word income has very different meaning when applied to a person than when it is applied to a company (where it means profit). So why don’t Western commentators take that into account?

Friday 23 July 2010

Public sector hotels and private hospitals

What are more important, hotels or hospitals? I’d say hospitals. But the government, which is supposedly incapable of efficiency or honesty, should be in defence, education and health and leave everything else to the private sector, whereby market forces will ensure efficiency and fairness.

But if we had to choose, wouldn’t we take efficient hospitals over efficient hotels every time?

Well, we use hotels every year, but hospitals very seldom. So maybe… Besides, if I die, it won’t matter if the operation succeeded or not. But I will probably survive dinner and so it does matter that it is good.

Anyway, Nehru was a fool. that much is sure. So if he got the satte into anything, it shouldn’t have been there. Because no fool can do wise things.

It doesn’t matter where India started from. It doesn’t matter where it reached under him and how much his daughter and grandson screwed up. It doesn’t matter that there are no parallels with which we can make a comparison. If India 1962 wasn’t UK 1962 or even China 2010, Nehru’s stupidity is self-evident.

The point isn’t whether Nehru was a fool or not. The point is getting the diagnosis right, because while Nehru is dead, I’m alive, and my future depends on fixing what’s wrong, not propaganda.

Western Democracy?

Salazar, Franco, Mussolini, Zog, Metaxas, Horthy, Piłsudski, Antonescu, Hitler, Dollfuss, Stalin... plus two enormous empires, French and British, with zero rights for darkies and yellows. So what is the democracy we must learn from them? 

Thursday 22 July 2010

Hindus won in India

Subramanium Swamy says here that Hindus did not lose to Muslims because in spite of 1,000 years of Muslim rule, India is still 80% Hindu. He also says Indian heritage is mainly Hindu. 

First, you’d need a very special reading of history to get those 1,ooo years because it forgets all Hindu and Sikh kingdoms existent when the British created their Indian empire. Those 1,000 years should be in mad heads like Zaid Hamid’s and Pravin Tagodia’s. Strangely, it is in almost all our heads’. In this video, a medieval historian repeats it, and I suppose he is typical. I have heard it more times than I can count.

Second, Dr Swamy gets his demographics wrong, which is strange and perhaps not an altogether innocent mistake considering he teaches economics. While my country is 4/5 Hindu, the Indian subcontinent (India + Pakistan + Bangladesh) is 3/5 Muslim. So, Hindus can still be ‘congratulated’, if they must be, but the ‘margin’ doesn’t look so impressive any more.

If we could wish away religion, I wouldn’t care about the margin either ways. We can’t. Also, we cannot wish away the role of religion in shaping our thinking, even if we may be atheists. 

Which means whether it is 4/5 or 3/5 perhaps does matter in understanding ourselves. To use Indian as synonymous for Hindu is not only dangerous but stupid (unless one is doing it deliberately to incite hate).

I would be very surprised if you found only Hindu beliefs if you somehow dag into my mind; and not at all surprised if you found Muslim and Christian beliefs as well.  If our language, clothes, architecture and food were ‘polluted’, should we not expect that our minds were polluted too?

I am not saying Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai or that the Christian English civilised us or that everyone except Communist historians are communalists . I am saying we Indians have at least three religions in our heads. That’s all.

But do Swamy & Co mean that since Hinduism has been around much longer than Islam and Christianity, India is mainly Hindu? By that logic, Western Europe must look for all answers in Athens and Rome and none in Jerusalem. And Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia must find their history in Ajodhya. Can they?    

Monday 19 July 2010

One word definition

India = corrupt; China = communism; Africa = cannibals; Muslims = terrorists. 

How far do we want to go with definitions like this? “These people don’t integrate.” How will they? People integrate with people. Words can’t.

And by the way, do you integrate? Or do you live by yourself, in white expat communities. And believe wholeheartedly that you should not be subject to laws of brown people’s countries.

Let’s get human, man. Please.    

Sunday 18 July 2010

Why education is no good

I start seeing this lecture on Religion & Violence. 

Nehru tried secularism, which failed; and was replaced by BJP or Hindutva which was very successful in politics. They wanted to go back to the vedas, which gave all the Hindus an  identity after years of foreign rule.

When? We had a BJP led coalition, but at no time was BJP a dominant party in the sense the Congress was after the 1984 elections. In fact, we haven’t had a dominant party in the Lok Sabha since 89. What is she talking about?

And which veda was Vajpai, Advani & Co taking us to? Which Hindu rightist is the vedic scholar? What's in those vedas anyways that would make the Hindu's bosom swell with pride, assuming he gets along to reading some.  

Of course, she prefaces this with the British taking over after 500 years of Mogul rule. I recently heard an Indian medieval history processor say something like that (700 years of Muslim rule). Are there people deliberately bending history to spread hate? Or why do they not recognise that vast areas of India were not ruled by Muslims by the time the British expanded their empire?

And, while we are on it, why isn’t British rule Christian rule and the British invasion (conquest) a Christian conquest or Crusade? 

Then, Tamils were favoured in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese were marginalised before its independence. Tamil coolies were the favoured race!  

With scholars like this, what will we learn? That white people don’t give a damn about us darkies? 

Revising god

Dr Zakir Naik is a very dangerous man. He knows the Koran by heart and spends his days quoting it to prove that (a) Allah is all-knowing and (b) Islam is the best religion.

Now, I hold that all religions are bad for us. So Islam being the best of the lot, assuming it is, doesn’t help or hurt matters much.

But the proofs of Allah being omniscient  worries me, because they go unchallenged. 

Well, there are two obvious problems with his proofs. First, it does seem rather strange of Allah to know everything but to tell us so little. I mean, if he knew the cure of, say, cancer, why did he not tell Muhammad that? One may say, “If he did that, cancer would no longer be a punishment.”

(I assume that we get inflicted by cancer and other nasties because that’s Allah’s will, because everything is his will, isn’t it?)

But men, including Muslim men, have discovered cures for other diseases and presumably taken away these diseases’ power to punish.  So why did he give them the power to heal? And what about the poor guys who popped of before scientists came out with the cures? How were their sins different from ours?

The second problem also deals with the progress of science. In one lecture – or tirade – Naik imagines a dialogue between a scientist and a true Muslim (His idea of a true Muslim, not my). The latter asks the former questions about the solar system, then shows that all that we have learnt in the last five centuries or so (for instance, the earth is spherical; the moon has no light of its own) was in the Koran 1400 years ago.

This, according to him, is proof of that Allah created everything because the designer knows from the beginning what others may discover later.

It does seem however that the Koran doesn’t say much explicitly. It doesn’t say, “The moon reflects the sun’s light.” It’s not an astronomy textbook. It says something that can be interpreted as meaning that the moon reflects the sun’s light, or at least does not contradict that. (I may be wrong about this particular thing, but that’s more or less how Niak goes.)

In other words, the Muslim is sure to find something in the Koran that matches current knowledge.

Which puts us in a fix. We know that current knowledge is limited. We will know tomorrow more than we know today, including, in many instances, that we were wrong. Science will have to be revised accordingly. Does that mean the Muslim will reinterpret the Koran too?

If we were to discover that, say, the moon has its own light, will Naik & Co find some verse in the Koran supporting that?

It’s all very strange. But then it’s religion. And “God moves in a mysterious way.”

The most mysterious question is why doesn’t someone expose Naik and get him to shut up?

Friday 2 July 2010

Indians are obsessed with saving face

How many times have you heard that? Many times? It’s true, isn’t it?

But my last nine months with Westerners and many years of reading Westerners’ accounts, about themselves and about us, tells me that there is another way of looking at it.

Everyone wants to save face. Them, us, everyone. But they don’t notice it when they do it. It’s normal.

But is a darkie argues back or refuses to do exactly as told, they can’t take it. It can’t be because he has a point, or his interests are different from theirs. It must be because he’s stupid. Or, if he isn’t, it’s because he can see the Westerners’ logic and his mistakes, but wants to save face.

A few days back, I read an article in which an Englishman argued that the UK should withdraw aid to India because (a) we do not import from them as much as we used to (in relative terms) (b) we have a huge defence spend and © young Indians do not have fond memories of Empire. He acknowledged that millions of Indians are desperately poor, but he put British trade first. 

I can’t see how the two are related. Should we trade inefficiently to buy British? Should we be defenceless because we are poor? Should help be dependent on commerce? If so, doesn’t it, to some extent, become a subsidy for the donor’s goods?

In short, I found the writer illogical and mean.

I’m sure an Englishmen sees the whole thing very differently. And I’m just as sure I feel this way because I’m obsessed with saving face, not because I have a different point of view.  

Thursday 17 June 2010

Palestines and Poles

When one read the FT’s reports and editorials on Israel’s attack on the high seas on the Turkish ships headed for Gaza, one is reminded of another mercy mission to a besieged population: The airdrop of arms and supplies to Warsaw when the city rose against the Nazis in the final months of the Second World War.

The Red Army was, as every Western commentator faithfully repeats, at the doorsteps of city, but did nothing to help the Poles. Nor did it allow the Americans and English to use airfields under its control to drop supplies.

In fact, one account has a Red fighter attacking an English plane, flying all the way from Africa to help the Poles.

The obvious is never mentioned. Like, being on the doors of a city is not the same as having it. Now knew the difference better than the Reds. The Nazis were on the doors of Leningrad for 900 days. And were kept out of Moscow and Stalingrad too.

Like, the Russians were at the end of their tether and were in no position to attack an entrenched German citadel.

Like, they had refused help to the Poles before they rose.

Like, everyone knew those airdrops were worth only propaganda, which the Russians could not have wanted.

Like, no matter how despotic and terrible Stalin & Co were morally, they were militarily right on this one.

The parallels with Gaza are obvious (the Reds are the Israelis, Hamas the Nazis, the Palestines are the Poles and the English speaking nations, Turks), except the ready sympathy and pragmatism the Israelis enjoy has been conspicuous by its absence on Warsaw over the last 70 years.

The English better learn English

A few months back I read an article warning Indians that if we wanted any tourist money we should learn English. Maybe they should do some research in their own backyard.

Because I couldn’t make anything of what bus drivers, waiters and hostel managers were telling me when I was down to Oxford last week, and fared little better with my English classmates.

Yes, it’s their mother tongue, but it’s not modern business English and they know that. Flabbergasting others is one thing; being hospitable is another.

$ 20 billion vs nothing

This is in no way to say that what’s happening due to the BP oil spill is not very bad, but as an Indian I couldn’t help noticing how quickly BP shelled out $ 20 billion and how long it has took for Union Carbide to come up with anything, and the thousands of cruel, callous, illiterate remarks Western business journalists and judges made in between – and continue to make.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Jobs that cannot be exported to China and India

Every American politician wants jobs that cannot be exported. Well, do they ever ask themselves what happens when they buy oil from Saudi Arabia, or coffee from Brazil, or timber from Canada. They pay. And when they pay, the money goes to employ someone in the country that imports.

In other words, every time America or any other country imports anything, it exports jobs. Of course, it can be argued that if America had a trade surplus it would be a net importer of jobs. But it isn’t quite so because the per capita income in the US is higher than that in most countries it trades with.

The point is that the whole argument is ridiculous, more so because those very same politicians want free trade, exports and what not.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Karl Marx’s bastard

Every biography of Marx mentions he begot a bastard with his maid and that Engels volunteered to be the official father so as to protect his friend’s good name. Strangely, there is next to no evidence on this. This article shows as much. Yet the bastard stays. Why?   

Friday 14 May 2010

Jinnah’s grandson?

Who is this man? He says he’s Jinnah’s grandson. But Jinnah has only one grandson, Nusli Wadia, the Bombay business magnate. So who is this poor man and why is he, the grandson of one of India’s richest lawyers, so poor?

Monday 10 May 2010

Was Friedman an anti-capitalist saboteur?

I had heard so much about The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits that I was quite sure that 99% of the people who talked about it had never read it. I was wrong. He did indeed write what most people think he wrote. 

Sunday 9 May 2010

What about the underlying deal?

Our readings in business ethics includes a series of case-lets featuring ethical dilemmas in poor countries. What must the Western company’s manager do? Not once does the author ask, “How ethical was the deal for which the favour was being sought?”

Why can’t managers be sued for neglect?

If your dentist picks out the wrong tooth, you can take him to court. If the CEO of the company you own shares in ruins it, the most you can do is present him a golden parachute for his troubles. Strange. 

Why are the Greeks protesting?

Daddy’s partners have done him in. So daddy has two options. Declare bankruptcy, and perhaps never get another chance, or to pay off his debts, penny by penny, through hard work and harder living.

He chooses the latter. This means no more chauffeured cars and new clothes for you, but it does mean you will grow up in honour and when you enter the cruel world, you will not be burdened with a stigma.

If you are good boy, you bring your little toys to daddy and ask him to sell them off. And he’ll weep and kiss you. And go back to his backbreaking labours. And you’ll never never complain.

But the Greeks are complaining. Why?

Perhaps because there is more to it than meets the eye.

The Greeks must be thrown out of the EU to teach them and the other PIIGS a lesson they’ll never forget. Very well.

Liar Liar
Pants on fire
Your nose is longer that a telephone wire

But what were they doing in the EU in the first place if they were such a financial risk? If the Greeks were pulling figures out of their hats, did no one notice that those figures belied reality? If yes, European economists are not fit to be described as such. If no, then Germany and France deliberately turned a Nelson’s eye to skullduggery and the rest.

Why? Some say it was because they needed growth figures ‘maturing’ economies could ‘credibly’ provide the EU. In which case, there must have been an pact, explicit or implicit, that when the bubble bursts (inevitable), there would be no punishment.

The Greeks don’t see the other side of the pact being kept, and are understandably furious.

So why is Merkel being so difficult? A godfather who doesn’t take care of his jailed hoodlums’ families will soon find himself in trouble. Why does the Chancellor of Germany not get that simple thing?

Well, one reason can be that the indignation could be window dressing for domestic consumption. The other could be that the Greeks, like the Icelanders, over stepped. The latter took Englishmen for a ride. Surely Tony wasn’t going to put up with that. Maybe the Greeks were over-naughty too.

Black father, white child

Why are there so few families with Asians or black parents and white adopted children? Do non-whites insist on adopting children of their own race? Or has it something to do with adaptation agencies?

I Googled the topic and found an article. In it, an American says that his country had did the most in bettering race relations, but… Why do they insist on denying what is for everyone to see? Is it a test of power? The emperor has no clothes, but who dares call him naked?

Mosquitoes and darkies

“I won’t eliminate mosquitoes because we do not know how the ecosystem will come out if something is taken out.”

Well, why do you want third world countries to completely change their economies in a matter of months, even when history shows that such changes always bring crisis in their wake?

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Everyone but right-wing economists are wrong

In Law’s Order, David D. Friedman writes (while discussing contracts), “...consider a case that has recently been in the newspapers—the attempt by a Spanish judge to extradite Augusto Pinochet from England in order to try him in Spain for crimes he is accused of committing while dictator of Chile. Legal rules that immunize ex-dictators make it less expensive for them to commit crimes while in power. But legal rules that hold ex-dictators liable for such crimes make it more expensive for dictators to give up power. Pinochet is one of the rare examples of a dictator who voluntarily relinquished power to an elected government. If he ends up in a Spanish jail as a result, the next dictator may not make that mistake.”

Q 1.1.  Besides applying economics to a criminal case (which deals with irrational man), perhaps the argument stops short of good economics? Would the extradition not have deterred dictators in power and those with dictatorial ambitions from doing wrong?

Without the extradition, the logic runs thus: “I will torture to my heart’s content. When I am done with it, I’ll give some off some of my ill-gotten gains to the corrupt official of a democratic country, arrange for my exile, and ‘voluntarily relinquish power to an elected government’. History shows nothing will happen to me, because the reward for that is immunity from persecution.”
Extradition would change that, wouldn’t it?

Q 1.2.  On the other hand, when a smaller criminal gives himself up to the police and confesses, he is dealt with leniently. So is there a question of scale (unjustifiable extrapolation) here too?

In Monsieur Verdoux, Chaplin says, “Wars, conflict, it's all business. ‘One murder makes a villain. Millions a hero.’ Numbers sanctify.” By not applying the rules for common criminals to ex-dictators, we can prevent exactly that. (Anyway, voluntarily relinquishment is no more than a euphemism for being sacked by Uncle Sam.)


In The Economics of Law, Cento Veljanovski (while discussing adaptive responses to regulation) says, “There is now fairly conclusive evidence that seat-belt laws have not had a significant impact on road safety. This is not because they are ineffective in protecting vehicle occupants but because they encourage risk-taking and accidents by drivers. Road accidents are the result of the interaction of roads (their construction, topography, lighting and safety features), car design and use, and driver and pedestrian actions. As the roads and vehicles are made safer there is a natural inclination for drivers to take more risks by driving faster and less carefully, and braking too late. They substitute free, publicly provided road safety for costly, privately produced safety.

In the economic literature this effect was first recognised by Sam Peltzman in his work on the impact of compulsory seat-belt legislation in the USA. He argued that because seat belts reduced driver risks and injuries, drivers adjusted their behaviour by driving faster and with less care. This led to fewer driver fatalities and more pedestrian fatalities and injuries, and damage to vehicles, thus increasing accident costs. The economics of the drivers’ decision is simple to explain. A compulsory seat-belt requirement decreases the expected loss of an accident, and leads to offsetting risk-taking by more aggressive driving.

Peltzman tested this simple economic proposition using the US National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act 1966, which made the wearing of seat belts compulsory. Using statistical analysis, he found that occupant deaths per accident fell substantially as expected, but this reduction was entirely offset by more accidents to those not protected by seat belts, i.e. pedestrians and cyclists. While this finding was ridiculed at the time as fanciful, subsequent research by economists and traffic safety engineers has confirmed that compulsory seat-belt legislation has not resulted in a measurable decline in road fatalities.

Indeed, Peltzman18 has revisited his original research to note that the annual rate of decline in highway deaths in the USA was 3.5 per cent from 1925 to 1960, before the legislation was enacted and at the height of Naderism; and between 1960 and 2004 it was also 3.5 per cent!”

2.1.  Again, this analysis may be inadequate. First, distasteful as it may seem, the lives of people in automobiles may be more valuable (i.e., contributing more to the eonomy). Hence, the law does net good.

2.2.   Second, Peltzman didn’t check crippling injuries. Such injuries may be far costlier than deaths, more so if the latter is instantaneous (in which case the accident merely pre-pones the inevitable funeral).

2.3. Mental gymnastics apart, safety belts may have led to saving time (the most precious resource?) for motorists and their passengers, thus enriching the world. Shouldn’t he have looked into average speeds (assuming time saved is directly proportionate to that)? 

Thursday 22 April 2010

But Japan, Germany and China were utterly destroyed by the end of the Second World War…

And look where they are today. India is nowhere, which proves India will never be anywhere.

I agree with the conclusion, but find the evidence somewhat suspect.

Japan and Germany, as the rest of Europe, got huge sums of American aid after the War. And they didn’t have to bother about defence.

Also, in Japan’s case, America opened its market to it, perhaps in exchange of military bases (though this argument is somewhat specious, considering the Japanese had, and have, no choice but to allow those bases).

More important, war did not and cannot wipe out intellect. It’s funny how we go on and on about the importance of ideas in the knowledge economy while refusing to acknowledge that knowhow had anything to do with the rise of war ravaged economies of advanced countries.

Finally, one must wonder where China would be without its American market.

A French friend recently told me, “Don’t think India is getting attention because you are doing something right. We are interested only because we want a counterweight to China.”

Of course, but by that logic cannot the US’s interest in China have something to do with its spectacular rise? In the hullaballoo about some junior minister’s finger wagging at Obama, we nicely forget that (a) the Chinese economy is still far smaller than the United States’ (b) China's military strength is a small fraction of its supposed adversary’s and © its per capita income is smaller than poor European countries’. 

So, is China's ‘takeover of the global economy’ all the triumph of dictatorship, with US having no role to play in it? 

Incidentally, the hue and cry about China reminds one of something else: the Red scare during the Cold War.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

But who has the bigger economy?

“This Chinese girl says, ‘China will come apart if we have democracy.’ But India is a democracy, and probably far more diverse then China. In spite of our many separatist movements, we have managed to find solutions without breaking up.”

“But, help me on this, who is economically better off?”

“They are, undoubtedly. But many democracies in the West have much higher per-capita incomes than the Chinese. Besides, why should there be a trade-off? Would you agree to a trade-off in England?”

Unsaid: “Don’t be silly. How can you compare Chinese and Indians to white men? We can have democracy and good economies; you can’t. You have to choose.

And while we worship in the church of free trade, our high priest and intellectual forefather is Marx. As he proved, only money matters. So make some money, you beggar, before you open your mouth about sacred ideas like democracy.

At the end of the day (as in its beginning and high noon) men live by bread alone, more so if he is yellow, black or brown.”

Unsaid on my part: “There may be more democracy in certain countries than outsiders think. In fact, those unanimous votes may be targeted at outsiders.

If you know that your opposite party in a negotiation is over eager to exploit any disagreement within your ranks, what would you do? Surely, you will work out compromises internally and present an united front.

It may be the same with China and some Arab countries.

When the usual causes of change (elections, free press) are absent, we must play sleuth every time something changes.

Remember, the market is free because customers can vote with their feet. You don’t always need secret ballots.”  

What is the book pirate’s motive

Many books are now available for free online, as are movies. In most cases, these are not legal copies. So why do people upload them for complete strangers to download? Why break the law for people who you will never know and who will not even thank you? 

Idiot salesmen and financial crisis

Whenever there is a crash in any sector of the financial market, or the market as a whole, commentators rush out to condemn the big guys, the bosses with million-dollar salaries and billion-dollar bonuses.

Obviously, they are to blame. But blaming them doesn’t help at all because they are beyond the reach of any authority. They did as the liked and will do as they like, no matter how loudly the rest of us scream.

Perhaps a better target are the idiot salesmen who peddle these financial products to unsuspecting laymen. These salesmen have no idea of finance, probability or statistics and should not be allowed within miles of insurance policies or mutual funds.

Instead they are given nonsense scripts to convert into useless advise. Their real sales tool is their natural gregariousness, which they use unashamedly and perhaps unknowingly to play with people’s trust.

In recent years, some industry bodies (like the ones for insurance and mutual funds) have introduced qualifying tests. But companies take great pride in how they negate these. It’s either “Everyone passes” or “The ones that pass are not the ones that sell. The agent makes his wife give the test and get the certificate, then he goes out and sells. What you need is feet on the street. Why do you need any knowledge? It’s all theoretical (i.e., rubbish) anyway.”

So tests are no good.

Unless they are applied on-the-spot.  

Imagine something like this: An agent comes to see you for product A; you log on to a site that generates 10 random multiple-choice questions about products of that type; this agent has to answer those questions; his score comes up immediately; if it’s below, say, 5/10, you don’t talk.

It can actually work, if the tests are not administered by an industry (i.e., sellers’) body but by a (for-profit?) testing organisation.

Alternatively, such tests may be administered to everyone buying a financial product, i.e., either the buyer or his agent has to take the test. A low score won’t stop sale, but the buyer would know that he (or his agent) doesn’t know, and shouldn’t complain later.

Will people take these tests? No. Or they would have read something now, which they never do. But at least governments would have an excuse.

Also, these tests can be used on samples from time to time, and the scores published (like JDPower ratings), so as to put pressure on companies to pay attention on training.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

A cardboard box costs 100 euros at FNAC

I bought a camera at FNAC yesterday for 79 euros; today, I took it back, to return it and buy a costlier one. I was willing to go up to 179 euros.

First reaction: Collapse. “Why do you want to return it. There is just three of us in this department. I will have to check everything.”

“But I am willing to spend 100 euros more! Isn’t checking worth that?”

With greatest reluctance, the clerk agreed to see what he can do.

Second reaction: “Where is the box?”

“I threw it away.”

“Sorry, can’t accept.”

“Look, can’t you get another box?”

“No. Rule.”

“You mean you’ll walk away from earning 100 euros more because of a cardboard box (that the camera company, Kodak, makes in hundreds of thousands).”

“Sorry, but… You can speak to my boss.”

He looks for another box, shows me the rule, and nothing happens.

What can I say? I just hope this ‘can’t do’ attitude isn’t typical; I fear though that it is.

Monday 12 April 2010

Progress or democracy?

On the day (April 7 2010) FT reported Naxals had killed more than six dozen soldiers in Jharkhand, it ran a piece titled Progress and democracy collide in India by David Pilling. It was a shoddy piece which said no more that what readers could easily find out by Googling.

The title was the worst part.

How is taking away aboriginal land for mines without consent or compensation ‘progress’? If the government is forced to rethink on such evictions, why is that a  collision between democracy and progress? Cannot progress happen with a fair deal?

Singur is repeated ad nauseam. Does anyone in the West, or even in India, bother to explain what the rabble who threw away the gift of industrialisation from the heavenly Tatas want?

I am not saying the farmers were right. I am not saying the Tatas and the state government were wrong. I am not saying the farmers would have acted as they did even if Mamata Bannerjee & Co hadn’t muddied waters. I’m saying readers don’t know what happened and commentators cannot keep on repeating Singur without telling them.  

Or must capitalism take the form of slavery in the Third World? And anything remotely different should be condemned as indulgence in the luxury of democracy, one brown and black people cannot afford.   

Why artists are greedy with millionaires but let fellow artists have their work as gifts

Perhaps the amount isn’t important per se to the artist, but it is important because of what it means to the payer.

The artist gives what he values most, his craft; in return, he wants what the buyer values most, his money. In that fashion, and not through words which are empty to the buyer, the latter must show the former respect. And respect matters most.

With a fellow artist, the trade is in recognition and genuine prise.

Maybe the heart and head are not so different after all.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Shop-floor doctorates

Reading about the ‘alienation of labour’, etc, in economics, it suddenly struck me that I’ve never read or heard of a theory of worker motivation that was developed by a worker. These theories are all by managers.

In the egalitarian West, workers are probably workers because they cannot develop theories. However, there may still be some who may be sent to management school, trained to research and asked to come up with something.

Does it matter who does the research? I suppose it matters a great deal. How many books like A People's History of the United States  are there? Would A People’s History be the book it is if Zinn wasn’t an ex-shipyard worker? Aren’t histories of, say, the Indian Mutiny written by Indians very different from those written by Englishmen? Could Sharatchandra have written Bamuner Meye if he were a French expat?

Surely some programmes can be designed where workers are researchers and not subjects.

Saturday 20 March 2010

What is the real price of corporate social responsibility?

In recent years, a great deal has been said about CSR. Many have welcomed it; the right has damned it, blaming the fall of capitalism on naive do-gooders who allow themselves to be distracted from the holy duty of business: earning profits for shareholders.

Question: Has anyone cared to find out how much time and money businesses spend on doing good? How many businesses can be listed that may have lost out on profits because the managers were too busy saving the world? Did businesses wholeheartedly dedicated to enriching shareholders do a better job at enriching shareholders than the politically correct but economically illiterate stakeholder lovers?

We’ve heard the illuminating case studies of wonderful companies that went down the drain because the CEO turned saint. How about some data now? 

My guess: The hot air battle is so tempting, nobody’s gone out to find the numbers.

But consider this: Many successful professionals generously contribute time and money to good causes. They do not seem to suffer professionally because of that. In fact, they get publicity and contacts. Can that not hold for a collection of professionals, i.e., a business?

Anyway, I am a bit tired at the brilliant right railing against anything that contradicts Economics 101 (“I don’t care what it is; if it’s not in the textbook, it can’t exist; if it somehow does, it won’t or shouldn’t.”) blissfully forgetting the difference between models, simplifications and approximations (which all sciences are) and sacrosanct Gospel truth (which no science, thank god, is). 

Thursday 18 March 2010

The world goes global; the MBA stays in the USA

Every second paragraph in business periodicals has the world ‘globalisation’ in it.

But how many case studies in MBA courses deal with any but the US markets? Or with non-US companies? Do management texts look at any reader but Americans? Where is that leaving freshly-minted MBAs, including Americans? What will it take for business education to realise it’s 2010?

PS: Another strange thing is that whenever anything outside the West comes up, the professor has to say, "Now, we are not to make judgments here." 

What they mean is: "You Third World guys are children. Excitable. Emotional. Illogical. Otherwise how can your opinions about your countries are so different from ours. You must be wrong because we are always right. So lets not waste time. Shut up."

Anyway, I cannot understand the virtue of not bringing up a topic and not being judgmental. Are we preparing for a general knowledge quiz? 

MIT Bhopal Afghanistan

MIT’s lecture notes on buisness law states that the “India seeks to extradite Union Carbide CEO; Justice Dept refused –> They felt the Govt. of India picked the CEO as a symbolic punishment –> There was no real formal inquiry into the accident.”

On what inquiry did America bomb Afghanistan to the Stone Age?

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Far away, in a strange land

Yesterday, I was listening to Dinesh D'Souza (DD) debating whether Socialism is still Relevant. DD is all free market, of course, and probably got there by growing up in’ soft socialist India’.

Among other things, socialism kills freedom of press. How? Well, in India (the debate was in 1990 or thereabouts), the government owned the TV channels and was the major advertiser in press, besides being the monopoly supplier of newsprint (all of which was imported from Canada). Naturally, it showed only ministers on TV. Predictably, the press, though theoretically free, toed the government line.

Or so DD says.

Is he right? I don’t know. I haven’t got any data except my own experience. My memory says that both the Anand Bazaar and The Telegraph, the two newspapers we took, lost no opportunity of criticising either state or central governments. They had plenty of private sector advertisers to rely on.

And there were quite a few news programmes critical of the government on TV.

But my memory doesn’t matter. What mattered was DD’s audience’s gullibility.

Did anyone ask how the Congress had lost power in Delhi in 1989 if it decided what the public knew. Or how there were Congress governments in states in spite of the party being out of power in the centre. Did anyone go home and check? Did anyone ask an Indian acquaintance or write to the embassy? Did anyone know anything about the case DD was holding up as proof (actually, ridiculing) of the evil of socialism?

I don’t imagine anyone bothered. DD said it was so. He had grown up in India. Surely he was right. Had he not been, Indians couldn’t have been so poor.

We have 7 billion caricatures around, and ideologies and propagandists use us as to prove anything.

Monday 1 March 2010

Baby steps towards saving the planet

I have quite a few nieces and nephews, and I want them all to grow up. Also, I don’t want to die too soon. So I want the world to live as much as the next chap does.

But I don’t know how I can help. Carry your own bottle? Switch off fans and lights? Eat happy chickens? Then take one plane ride and undo all the good work?

Killed by short-term thinking

Marketing’s pet peeve is that finance's short-term thinking is ruining companies. Creating value takes time. Quarterly targets are penny wise and pound foolish.

Perhaps. 

But can we have some examples? Which are those great companies that finance managers have ruined?

It’s sometimes pointed out that while Japanese car companies are headed by engineers, American CEOs are typically ex-CFOs, and the results are for all to see.

But were American car companies making great cars when the Japanese took over? Did they have fantastic plans? Were they seriously pursuing exports?

I’m not for a moment supporting finance’s short-sightedness. However, I do suspect for finance men to drive a company to self-destruction its engineers (and their equivalent in service companies) and marketing guys have to abdicate their responsibility first.  

Why do shareholders want immediate profits?

Why is the world in dumps? Because World Street pushed it there. Why did Wall Street push so hard? Because shareholders were greedy for immediate and massive profits.

The money boys knew it couldn’t be done, but the stupid shareholders wouldn’t have listened. (Did anyone except the lunatic left, who are against pretty mush everything, try warning them?) Besides, each money boy had his bonus and self esteem to protect.

So the money boys cooked up some nonsense numbers which their kindergarten teacher wouldn’t have believed, but the shareholders did, and it all came falling down, and the West became socialist 20 years after Papa Bush, Ronald the Great and Thatcher the Firm had star warred the Marx boys into outer space.

In short, shareholders are to blame for everything.

Alright, but who are those stupid, greedy shareholders? You and me? That is, my Western versions? But why did they want to get rich fast? Don’t they have jobs and businesses of their own, and know better than not to kill goose laying golden eggs? Were they mad?

Or are those shareholders money boys, doing whatever they want safe in the knowledge that they can always blame anything on the lay shareholder, who, though numerous, are powerless?

Capitalism is one thing; oligarchy something quite different. 

Chinese sabres

Every time some Chinese official blows hot or wags his finger at Obama, the Western press go all red about Chinese rattling their sabres. Am I missing something here? Sabres are for rattling, aren’t they? Otherwise why have them in the first place? If the Chinese cut off a few heads, we’d like them even less, won’t we?

Thursday 18 February 2010

Trade ends all ills

Of course. But the Caribbean has traded with the US for quite a few centuries now. And they don’t seem too well off, do they? Wonder why.

Friday 12 February 2010

The Brahman professor

In his lectures on the Middle East, Graham Leonard repeatedly says that Indian and Chinese can’t invent or discover anything because they lack a liberal education that fosters the spirit of inquiry. Hence, an Indian or Chinese engineer or scientist, while knowing the past very well, cannot play any role in shaping the future. To be fair, he does warn his American students that once the Asians learn to think, they will pose a bigger challenge than they do now.

Dr Leonard’s lectures are fairly recent. If he ignored the rocketing number of research papers coming out of China, and the vast number of Chinese and Indian researchers in American institutions, he must have done so deliberately. Therefore, he does his American students a grave disservice, assuming they trust their professor more than plain facts.

It is inconceivable too that Asian researchers rote till their early 20s, then suddenly become original thinkers on touching American soil. Or is there such a dearth of talent among Americans that they are scrapping the bottom of the global intellectual barrel?

(On the other hand, none can deny that Indian business is enamoured with screwdriver technology and Indian academics have probably missed the bus in research (if one goes by the number of, say, peer-reviewed scientific papers) while China and Brazil have pulled far ahead.

But – here we go again – if -A is true for India, so is +A: With 1.2 billion people, it can’t be otherwise. It can well be that India’s loss has been the West’s gain. As someone said, brain drain is far better than brain in the drain.)

However, my real problem is elsewhere. Teachers in Western collages, like Dr Leonard, now teach international classes. Often, students from their own country are minorities in such classes. How right is it for such teachers to mean ‘American’ (or French or, more broadly, Western) when using the pronoun ‘we’? Would it be ok for a Brahman professor to use the same pronoun, in the same sense, in a mixed-caste class?    

Monday 8 February 2010

Why not Marathi for CEOs?

Chief Minister Chauvan has made it mandatory for Bombay cabbies to pass a Marathi test. Why not make that test compulsory for all Indian immigrants to Bombay? Or take it a step further. Make it compulsory for foreigners who want to do business there. Surely they will only gain by learning Marathi.

Chauvan needs to wake up, fast. And get real. 

My ears have gone sore hearing about the income tax Bombay pays to India. Let India boycott goods made by companies headquartered in Bombay for half an hour. That’ll tell them where that income, so cruelly and ungratefully taxed, comes from.

By 2020…

…China’s chairman will chair the world. It’ll overtake USA in this and that. And will be running shuttle services to Jupiter.

Strange, a world mired in economic crisis (It wouldn’t have been a crisis had it been predictable, would it?) is so sure of what China will do by the end of the next decade! Is the media building another bugbear for American politicians to go after, now that the USSR has left us.

All you have to do is read this book

Prof Douglas Lamont’s online notes on international marketing has a longish passage on India, from which I quote (emphasis mine): “Is there a viable alternative to market capitalism that can bring forth prosperity and equity to the world’s masses? In the West, such fads as Fabian socialism, the admiration of Soviet central planning, the small-is-beautiful movement, and Third World dependency were researched, written up and offered as consulting solutions by university professors. In India, ‘tragically, they were translated into policies, with poverty-stricken peoples as guinea pigs.’

Singapore and Thailand that welcomed outside capital and developed export industries vaulted its people out of poverty into economic Tigers and middle-income countries.

India insisted on self-sufficiency, and its state-enterprises produced shoddy goods—that is, goods which could not be sold in export markets. India didn’t want its firms to make money so they could invest in jobs that would raise Indians out of poverty. Not until 1990 under the pressure of the IMF did India change its economy policies. Today, it has become a dynamic hub of software, Internet, pharmaceutical, and media firms. The Information Age is triggering the start of an economic takeoff towards long-term sustainable economic development.

Problem: Is IT another fad? If the IT and dot.com revolutions are over, should India invest in world-class manufacturing. Why cede this powerful engine of economic growth to China?”

Ok. Now the source of this wisdom. Gurcharan Das, India Unbound, (New York: Knopf, 2001).

Ah, and who’s Mr Das? A graduate in philosophy and Sanskrit from Harvard; who later ‘attended Harvard Business School (AMP), where he is featured in three case studies’; CEO of P&G India; MD, P&G Worldwide (Strategic Planning); author since taking early retirement in 1995; on the boards of a number of companies; regular speaker to the top managements of the world’s largest corporations.

Most impressive, but not omniscient.

Surely, there are others who don’t think the Indian government was quite so ruinous, and the post-IMF story has been quite so rosy.

So why not let students have a little of those views too?

If they’re not going to do business in India, one source is one too many. But if they are, one point of view is fatally dangerous.

Which reminds me. The famed Hofstede Dimensions of Culture counts all Arab countries, from Qatar to Mauritania, as one Arab World. And has some place called West Africa and another called Eastern Africa. But it dutifully takes Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland separately.  

Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that those Scandinavian counties should be clubbed. I’m wondering how useful it may be to bunch together Arab and African nations, especially to someone who has to deal with Arabs or Africans.

 

Google, China and Arabs

Google will quit China because the Chinese government and jingoistic hackers are giving it all sorts of trouble. Fine. But a question. What about numerous Arab dictatorships? Can Google show anything it wants there?

Nigeria’s Alaskan Utopia

A few weeks ago, I read an article recommending an Alaskan scheme for Nigeria.

In Alaska, citizens get money directly from oil companies. This has made Alaskans among the richest Americans. A similar direct payment should solve Nigeria’s problems.

And how much could the Nigerians expect? $ 20 a year. Not a small amount in that part of the world, the reporter assured.

I’m not so sure. Even with all the purchasing power parity and hocus-pocus $ 20 cannot be a fortune in any country. But $ 20 multiplied by a several million, in the hands of a honest government, can mean roads, hospitals and schools.

Except that there are no, and cannot be, any honest government in Africa. Or so the article seems to imply. Hence, western oil companies have decided that they will bypass the administration and deal directly with the people, village by village.

When one compares the economic sizes of villages and oil companies, one is no longer sure that doing good was the only reason behind the oil companies’ undermining government authority. Would any Western government allow such direct contact and contracts between foreign miners and local bodies? Would, say, Obama let the Chinese government negotiate carbon credits directly with his voters?

I don’t know how corrupt the Nigerian government is. Perhaps it is very corrupt. But the way out, for Nigerians, is unlikely to be no government at all.

TV succeeds where all else fails. Or does it?

In the introduction to Super-Freakonomics there is a section on how TV is rescuing Indian women.

Before they come to the boon of TV they give some statics and quote a couple of anecdotes. Then they inform that most government schemes for women’s uplift to have proved ‘complicated, costly, and, at best, nominally successful’.

So what was successful? TV.

Two American economists, Oster and Jensen, found that out ‘by measuring the changes in different villages based on whether (and when) each village got cable TV’ as the unlikely saviour rolled out over the Indian countryside.

The wording is important. Hence I quote: “The women who recently got cable TV were significantly less willing to tolerate wife-beating, less likely to admit to having a son preference, and more likely to exercise personal autonomy.”

After some speculation on the reasons behind this sea change and the veracity of survey the economists’ initial findings on women’s attitudes was based on, the book continues, “Rural Indian families who got cable TV began to have a lower birth-rate than families without TV. (In a country like India, a lower birth-rate generally means more autonomy for women and fewer health risks.) Families with TV were also more likely to keep their daughters in school, which suggests that girls were seen as more valuable, or at least deserving of equal treatment.”

There are two problems with this story. First, it’s old. We have heard a different version while growing up, in which the transistor radio proves to be the most effective method of family control in otherwise entertainment-starved poor families.

Second, it’s very likely that this research mistakes effect for cause and vice versa. Is it not possible that progressive households and villages got TV sooner than regressive villages? The authors do not tell us if there were attitudinal and behavioural differences before any of those villages had TV, and if being able to afford TV may have been the effect, not the cause, of women’s liberation.

Take a different, but closely related, change. In my generation the Indian educated middle class underwent an enormous population contraction.

I don’t have figures but I do have plenty of anecdotal evidence. Only one piece will suffice for now: My father has seven siblings; my brother and I have seven cousins (from our father’s side).

Now, did TV do that or the fact that my father and his siblings are all college graduates married to college graduates?

For that matter, one wonders if it has ever occurred to any economist to research if TV benefited women in the West as it supposedly did in India?

Just as TV didn’t come to the Indian countryside all at once, it didn’t spread over the West in one shot. The data on launch of TV and women’s development shouldn’t be very hard to find. But would anyone even think of linking them for developed countries?

I admit I haven’t read the original paper, but so wouldn’t most of the readers of the book. In such case, shouldn’t the authors have mentioned that possibility? Doubtlessly it must have occurred to them.