The Necessity of Socialistic Capitalism


Capitalism has long been established as the most efficient way of generating wealth by effectively leveraging a variety of inputs such as capital, labour and other resources in producing something of value for mankind’s consumption. This is my understanding of the success of Capitalism as an economic practicality which has long superceded other forms of economic theories. Countries which have tried pure Socialism or pure Communal Economics (such as Communism) have long since failed in generating wealth for the countries and its people who pursued such economic philosophies.

Note: I am not an economist and my MBA has generally been useless in producing new thoughts in me – whatever I have conceptualized has been based mostly on simple common sense and some maths, and I have been more interested in a variety of topics, the articulation of which needs some level of mastery of the English language, which is where I am still focused on. If you find wrong economic principles, please send me a comment or email and I will make a correction after validating your point.

However, it is an acknowledged fact that Capitalism has had many flaws which have resulted in skewed distribution of wealth. In fact, wealth in a Capitalistic society such as the U.S. is largely concentrated in a fraction of its people – the GDP per Capita or per Capita Income is a wrong measure as it averages the inefficient distribution of wealth. It is a fact that social equity has not been achieved in any Capitalistic society, and it is not unusual to see large numbers of homeless people even in generally wealthy cities such as New York and San Francisco. There is nothing inherently wrong or immoral in the Capitalistic ways of economics. Combined with the manner in which the fundamental building blocks of society is constructed, Capitalism aids in making the rich folks richer as they get access to more business opportunities and more doors open for them than for the middle class or the poorer sections of society. Further, people who have been fortunate in securing high levels of education, obtain a disproportionate advantage over others in aiming for and securing significantly higher income and wealth. Social networks are skewed in favour of alumni networks or economic networks, so it is easy for the graduate of an elite institution in the U.S. to secure admittance to an elite club of alumni who are already in powerful positions in large corporations or banks, or founders of startups which go on to create wealth.

Where does that leave an average person in a Capitalistic Economy?

Where does that leave a relatively poorer person in such an economy?It is a known fact that Capitalism generates wealth and it also ensures that folks who are left behind are in no position to compete well in an equitable manner. I would like to be challenged here. I am one of those from an elite Indian management school who did not have the advantage of economic advancement before my time in that school, but secured a significant leeway once I passed out of that school. My classmates and I had a disproportionate advantage over others not from elite institutions of repute who received multiple placement offers from global companies.

Coming to think of it, while it is not something which went through my mind while doing my MBA, the fact that ivy league students possess undue advantages over even others who are from lesser reputed schools is well established, and this advantage then percolates up into the economic ladder of the society. I have seen many examples of such progression.

How do we bring social equity into a Capitalistic society? Bernie Sanders, the U.S. Democratic politician and a potential Presidential Candidate, is a proponent of social equity. His popularity even amongst teenagers was tremendous, as young people are waking up to the reality of social disparities which had made the U.S. rank low in economic equity (I am not getting into Gini Coefficient!).

In my mind, I think the only way to get there is to follow the “reservation” system – provide unequal access to education for the economically disadvantaged folks. Eliminate access to people who will automatically get access because they are big donors to educational institutions. Average and poor people need to get access to higher education to upgrade themselves – they might need lots of economic and social support and that has to be provided by the government. This is not a “subsidy” – this is “equal access which will now be termed as unequal access”. Once the proper set of conducive factors are in place, then the disadvantaged students will be able to compete with students who have had an “unequal” access in the past because they came either from wealthy families or were able to invest in better preparing for higher education via tuition, etc., which the poor people cannot afford.

Once education is handled properly, then the economy will reset itself with a broader perspective instead of largely being driven by economic greed alone; by principles which suitably combine Capitalism with Socialistic philosophy which should benefit the society at large in an equitable manner. Unless we tackle education in a fundamental way, society and economic philosophy cannot be reformed, and things will continue as before with no reforms and no changes which will benefit all.

It might feel strange that I am advocating “reservation” (the topic of reservation is a very sensitive one in India and is also practiced in other countries such as Malaysia – India has just passed the first reservation bill for the economically poorer section of the society without looking at their caste or religion, though the previous reservations based on social backwardness still exist on the statute), but it is worth considering given the economic neglect perpetuated by the Capitalistic ways of economic wealth building. Think about it deeply, and you will discover that it makes sense not just in a developing country such as India, but even in developed economies grappling with social and economic inequities.

Well, I think this is a rather heavy topic for weekend ruminations!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th January 2019

Singapore


The India Puzzle


April 2019 is fast approaching……..

India will complete 5 years of BJP Government rule in the next 3 months, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While the jury is still out on whether the BJP Government delivered on its promises to the electorate (made in 2014), one thing is absolutely crystal clear: the image of India as a nation state has completely transformed in the eyes of the world.

I may or may not agree with policy decisions or actions/inactions of the Government. Every government has its own party driving its policies and actions. Every government has its own compulsions as well as prerogotives. Every government tries to do its best, yet falters occasionally. It could be because of ideological differences or internal squabbles. It happens in every government and every political party.

I am not here to condone any negative fallouts, of course. I believe that Mr Modi could have done better by not keeping his silence during occurrence of violent riots against minority communities. He is the PM for all citizens of India, not just for the Hindus. I agree that Mr Modi is a dynamic, energetic, passionate and committed leader, but in order to be a true world statesman, he needs to step beyond his own party shoes and demonstrate that he is a farsighted and noble leader of all Indian citizens. Some of his principles, such as digital banking for the unbanked millions, are truly world-class. In many ways, he is transforming India.

However, taking a nation as diverse as India on a journey of transformation, requires phenomenal drive towards inclusivity. Of course, we all agree that the Congress Party’s philosophy of dividing India based on minority vote banks is not ethical and is no longer tenable. Minority votes should never be leveraged to short change the majority’s interests.

This does not, however, mean that BJP can just pull along India simply based on their allegiance towards the majority Hindus. As I mentioned before, India is the most diverse nation on earth, and that diversity also comes from its majority – the Hindus are a diverse lot and they cannot be taken for granted. For example, I have my own liberal mindset, and cannot be compelled to follow a single Hindu philosophy or a guru who will guide me to enlightenment. I think for myself, and I believe that is not only my own strength and contribution to the overall society, it is also the way most educated Hindus think.

What does this mean?

It only means one thing: no political party can take the Hindu vote bank for granted. There is no such thing as a “Hindu vote bank”, which will only vote for the BJP, because it is a Hindu party.

Time and again, the Indian electorate, whether rural or urban, has proved that it cannot be taken for granted, and it has a mind of its own, in the true sense of democracy. And, let us not forget, India remains as the single largest functioning democracy in the world, and that is not going to be challenged anytime soon. It will make its own collective choices again in April 2019.

The key is the messaging. I think the Congress Party, much in disarray over the past 4 years, has finally found its mojo, and is gearing up to give a run for the money to the ruling BJP. It is happening and it is going to be a challenging race. BJP can no longer assume that it is simply going to get an absolute majority like it did in a major upset in 2014.

Coming back to the external global image of India, yes, that has been a major accomplishment of the Modi Government. No doubt about it. But, the domestic electorate does not care about that achievement. They are rather upset about the demonetization (which did not produce the expected result of unearthing the much ballyhooed black money), and the imposition of high GST tax rates on consumption. In many ways, the Indian electorate operates on local or national issues, and not on international issues. It is no different from what any other electorate, including the U.S. electorate, does.

So, what is the conclusion?

Where is India headed in its next phase of growth?

Is India going to replace its colonial aggressor as the world’s Fifth largest economy by end of 2019?

What is the right thing to do by the Indian electorate in the 2019 polls?

What is my own suggestion?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

India is an evolving, maturing country, economy and society. I believe it will continue to find its feet, irrespective of the options in front of it. It is an intelligent society. No policy prescription on international or national security matters is going to affect the mind of the electorate.

Think about it. On the other hand, the world itself has a stake in the outcome of the Indian elections, at least based on the fact that the global democracy as a form of government is now predicated on its success in India. India has now become a torch bearer of democracy, and the whole world is watching if it will also keep its 7 decades old commitment to secularism. Either BJP modifies its messaging, or the Congress does it as it has always done. BJP has more of a responsibility to consolidating its successes and steering the country in the right direction.

All the Best to Democracy!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th January 2018

The Inherent Corruptibility of the Great Human Mind


It took me quite a while to think and frame the title of this blog post, though I know well what I am going to write about. I added the word “great” after more thought, as I concluded that notwithstanding the negative aspects of the mind, it is still the greatest invention of man (till Artificial Intelligence unseats it from the throne).

The idea for this post came from the introduction chapter of the book “We are the Change we seek – The Speeches of Barack Obama” edited by E.J. Dionne Jr., and Joy-Ann Reid. My wife passed this book to me for weekend reading, asking me not to waste time and instead read something substantive and meaningful (Disclosure: She likes Barack and Michelle, but I am ambivalent on Obama and fond of Michelle). There must be some pointed intention in her to make me read the works of this famous orator of a president.

I did read the introduction fully, and then meandered around the book, read Barack Obama’s farewell speech at Chicago, and so on. But one thing in the introduction chapter held on to me like a leach – it was the quote from a speech delivered by FDR (Franklin Roosevelt) at Thomas Jefferson’s home at the historic Monticello venue on July 4, 1936.

To quote FDR, “……….our nation’s founders had broken away from a system of peasantry, away from indentured servitude. They could build for themselves a new economic independence. Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be. And so, as Monticello itself so well proves, they used new means and new models to build new structures”. Unquote – the purpose of the past is to serve the present and future. History is about testing institutions against standards and adapting them, as FDR puts it, to “enlarge the freedom of the human mind and to destroy the bondage imposed on it by ignorance, poverty, and political and religious intolerance”.

I rarely quote from books or articles or newspapers. Most of what I write germinates from a single idea, a single inspiration. I then think about the idea and bring together the thoughts from a racing mind, in order to make a meaningful blog post.

However, in this case, I felt that I am rather highly influenced by the idea of FDR, and so wanted to give full credit to him, before I leverage his idea for my add-ons!

To dissect FDR’s idea, you need courage, yes, I mean courage and boldness of vision. Mahatma Gandhi had that courage, to break away from traditions, and release the collective power of the minds of millions of Indians. I may not agree with his collaboration with the British during the Second World War, but that does not take away an inch from the greatness of his mind, which was as astute and visionary as the founders who wrote the Constitution of the United States.

We are held back from progress when our minds are not completely free from the bondage that FDR is referring to in his Monticello speech. When we discriminate people by their race, religion, or colour, it means only one thing – that we have not yet forgotten slavery and the hard lessons of ethnic cleansing. This discrimination exists everywhere, in all societies, and more so in that beacon of human freedom, the United States.

The human mind is highly influencable and highly corruptible. I would argue that the human mind distances itself from morality when it is forced to encounter difficult choices in society. It is rather easy to follow countless others and take the beaten path – why take the risk and chart a new path like what Gandhi did? And, face unknown troubles? It requires big courage, self-sacrifice and a certain moral steeliness.

The societal demand for conformism is a drag on the independence of human thought and freedom of the mind. Society corrupts each and every member who has chosen to be part of that society. If the cult leader (taking an extreme example of conformism) orders his disciple or follower to commit a crime, it is more than likely that the crime will be executed just so that membership benefits continue and there are no repercussions from the cult. You see what I am suggesting? Society controls the freedom of the human mind.

Gandhi protested against the religious traditions of the early 20th Century, and went against established traditions followed by Hinduism. He was a rebel and a reformer, who wanted to transform the Indian society and unlock its long held shackles. He wanted independence from the British rule, no doubt, but first he wanted Indians to achieve independence of their minds.

Human mind, as I stated above, is corruptible, as it is not immoral to amass wealth in whatever way possible. If the mind takes that view, then any logical argument to wean it from its corruptible state would be pointless.

So, in a nutshell, the human mind is corruptible, highly influencable in a negative way, and is not reform oriented due to the necessity to confirm to society’s conventions. Reformers come along once in a while, and try to persuade the people on the critical importance of positive reforms in an egalitarian manner. Mostly they fail, as Obama did, but sometimes they succeed as Gandhi did.

So what do you think?

Is your mind already corrupted? Are you forced to conform to societal norms and demands?

Or, are you a reformer? Do you feel that the society is unfair and unjust? Do you think marginal folks do not get a chance to play a meaningful and impactful role in society? How do you knock off corruption from society?

What should we do together?

There is always time to think, and no time is more suited for thinking than a Sunday evening with a nice drink in the hand and thoughts in that corruptible great mind of yours.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

02 December 2018

The inhibitions of society


Are you making an intelligent guess on what this topic could be about?

You would probably guess it right, I guess.

This post is about the historic, game-changing verdict by the Supreme Court of India on abolishing the British era Section 377 which penalized sexual acts between adults of the same gender. This was a much awaited verdict by the LGBT community.

I am not going into the moral dimensions of the issue or the verdict itself.

It is all about the society in which we live in. For a long long time, the society shunned and ostracized people belonging to the LGBT community, irrespective of any other factors. So the community kept to itself, and operated in secrecy to avoid facing the society and more importantly, the “moral” policing which occurred in many parts of India.

The main premise of the society (which happens to be largely conservative) was always that homosexuality and lesbianism were against the natural order of living. Many a time, there were religious links to the stand taken by the society – it was that God had ordained procreation to occur exclusively between man and woman, and any other form of sexual relationships were anti-religion and immoral. And so on, and so forth.

Society’s worry is about things which are unknown – which it does not understand, it does not know why a different union is required, etc., It is scared.

Obviously, as members of the same society, we had two compulsions: (a) that the society does not approve of such modes of cross-gender living together; and, (b) that non-conformance to the majority view (in excess of 99%) would put even sympathizers into grave difficulties while trying to pursue normal lives. These constructs would challenge any person even if he or she does not belong to the LGBT community, but sympathizes with their cause and right to live in any which way they prefer with any kind of sexual orientation. The society also worried about the impact of such orientation on children and teenagers of impressionable age groups.

If someone asks me straight about my support or lack of support for such societal restrictions, it would be difficult for me to respond. Obviously, I do not wish to take a stand, but that is also timid and smacks of conformance where none is called for. I cannot and do not differentiate against any such orientations if I encounter such people in my business life, as it does not matter to me. I have actually not encountered anyone belonging explicitly to the LGBT community and it is my strong presumption that they are no different from me or my other friends (the “Straight Ones”! – this will no longer be a politically correct expression!!). When there is no impact on business life or corporate situations, why should one bother about social life situations?

Introduction to such a community member in a social context or business networking context is surely not going to affect my view of that person – it should not. However, would I engage with such a person in a family get-together kind of situation – meaning would I invite him/her for a social get-together at my home?

I do not see why not. Of course, I would surely have a challenge if a same-sex couple turned up at my home or for a private function, as I have not experienced such a situation till today. How would I welcome the couple or introduce them as a couple to my family members and other friends?

I am sure I will figure a way out of such a challenge. The key thing is to invite them. Personally, it is a big challenge as I grapple with the acceptance myself. I have to convince myself that nature provides for a variation in sexual orientations amongst the citizens of the world, and there is nothing inherently wrong or immoral for two people of the same sex discovering joy in their union. I will not be able to understand such a union intimately, however, and I am not going to deny it or deny my lack of understanding. But I can appreciate.

I belong to the 99% majority I referred to above, though I am a “liberal” with open views (as you might have seen in this blog). I am a non-conformance specialist, as my opinions are usually contrarian to those of the majority, simply because I spend time thinking for myself on issues and do not just depend on others’ views or those propounded by a religion, sect, or government. When I think through issues, I discover facts or perspectives which are not truly reflected in the majority discussions. While I respect the society in which I live, I am not going to accept the majority view in matters of public importance. So, I usually look at the conclusions of the legal system, rather than at conclusions made by an elected government which could come under popular pressure. It is also true that many a time, an elected government does not bother about popular opinion and makes decisions which it thinks are appropriate or required for a meaningful resolution of the issue at hand. Hence, I cannot be blamed for running my own thought process and respecting myself for making decisions or conclusions, which I retain within myself, or publish on this blog. It does not mean that I do not respect the majority view, or the minority view, or the religious view, or the government view. But in the pecking order, my conclusions reign supreme at #1.

So, in conclusion, while I do not understand the physiological or biological mandate for same sex union, I do understand the preference and sexual orientation of one human being towards another that he or she likes or loves. That is perfectly fine, and should be fine with the larger society as well, though there will continue to be challenges as we saw in several court cases in the U.S. (recall the case of the bakery owner who refused to serve the same-sex couple). I am sure there will be similar challenges in India.

There should be no rationale to discriminate against the LGBT community members – any such discrimination should be prosecuted as per law in force. They have their own right to privacy and human rights in equal measure. As the Supreme Court of India said in its judgement “Morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality. Only constitutional morality exists in our country” – Dipak Misra, Chief Justice of India.

Hence, the only conclusion is to accept the LGBT community members as full-fledged members of the same society that we all live in, and not discriminate against them in any form, and slowly integrate them into the social context with open arms while educating our own family members to pursue an understanding reminiscent of the maturity that the human race has already attained.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th September 2018

Child Abuse


I have been influenced by various religious philosophies over the years, but the maximum influence has come about from two – Hinduism and Christianity.

I will not dwell on Hindu Philosophy in this post, and instead focus on the major influence that Christian Philosophy has had on my upbringing.

Like many compatriots from India, I was educated in Jesuit educational institutions in India, which I hold in high regard for the values that they imparted to the students (most of who were not Christians, but Hindus and other religious minorities) and the quality of education that they delivered. My parents, like many other parents, did not send me to “localized” Hindu-focused educational institutions, but rather decided that Jesuit schools were better choices for their academic standing and values that they taught.

This, by no means, demean other excellent localized schools run by various religious denominations in India. There have always been a wide variety of good schools all across India. I am referring to a time line and a place in which it was determined that Christian schools were a better bet.

I am taking time to explain the rationale, as the Hindu ideology is a dominant influence in today’s India, and there are a number of people who would, without deep thinking, jump on to the Hindu bandwagon to the detriment of established institutions belonging to other religious denominations. Such a tendency is detrimental to social development and should not be encouraged by the government of the day.

Given this background, I am pained by the reported abuse of children by Catholic Clergy in Pennsylvania and other places. Such things happen with other religions as well, but the scale of abuse in Pennsylvania wherein thousands of young children were sexually molested by Clergy who were looked upon as saviours is simply shocking. It took a long while for a Cardinal in Australia to be brought to justice recently, and there were significant abuses in Chile, if I recall correctly.

What is also shocking is that the Pope did not proactively condemn these abuses vehemently in the first place. He let the court system to take its due course in Pennsylvania, instead of sacking and excommunicating all Clergymen who were found to be involved in child abuse practices. And, the court was vigorous in its attack on the Church in Pennsylvania, pointedly hitting at the coverups by the Church in all the child abuse scandals, over a period of 70 years!

Catholics apparently are losing their faith in the Papacy and his determination to hold his own folks to account – especially in such a sensitive area as child abuse. The faith had been misplaced it appears!

I just listened to the live CNN broadcast of the Pope’s visit to Ireland, and the Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, referring to the hurt of children who were abused and the families which were broken by the practices of the Clergy in his welcome speech – he is a bold person, other PMs would not have dared to bring up the issue right in front of the Pope seated on the dais. Not only that, Leo Varadkar is openly gay in the majority Catholic nation of Ireland, which also has the distinction of legalizing abortion a few months ago.

Times have changed.

The Catholic Church needs to find its feet and carefully wade through the abuse scandal, and re-establish it credentials with specific actions – not just with words such as “we are sorry for what happened”, and “we feel the guilt” and “we will repent for such abominable sins”.

The irony is that the Church runs lots of schools for young children around the world. Hopefully, there are no more scandals involving young children at a very impressionable age, who will be forced to carry the sexual abuse trauma all through their lives. There is a huge press coverage on the Pennsylvania abuse scandal only if you care to look up on the web. It is sickening, to say the least.

This blog post is not about accusing the Catholic Religion or Church or the Christian Philosophy. The religion is above all such infractions and sins, it maintains its stature like the other religions of the world. My gripe is only about the hugely negative impact that the scandal would have on peoples’ faith, not just the Catholics, but also non-Catholics who have come to depend on the quality of the academics in Christian educational institutions run mostly by Clergymen and more importantly, on the value systems that were always imparted in these fine schools and colleges.

I hope the Church would take cognizance of such serious concerns, and address the same in an open transparent manner to reduce the anxiety of parents. Of course, the Church has to do a lot more to retain Catholics who have been departing the faith, but that is their core job of running the religion and they have to do what they believe is right. As far as I am concerned, I do not depend on any “middlemen or middle ground” for my faith – I am on my own, as I had written in several posts in the past.

Time to heal the victims, and hope the Pope will do his job on this count, and not delay justice in the future – he should not listen to his own Cardinals who could be wrongly advising him not to apologize, or not to take drastic actions. Now is the time to heal, repent and more importantly, take aggressive actions against erring Clergymen who have turned traitors to the faith which brought them up to where they are in the Church hierarchy with huge trust reposed in them by Catholics and parents.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th August 2018

Form and Protocol over Substance


There are several places in the world where form and protocol and symbolism are more critical and more important over content and substance.

Many Asian countries fall under this rule.

But the most important Asian country where the above rule is strictly applicable is none other than Japan.

Japan still is one of the most innovative countries in the world – no doubt about it, though the innovation is more on video games, automobile technology, bullet train technology, and manufacturing. There may be several other areas which I might be missing out here. However, slowly but surely, it is receding from startup innovation as the country is fast ageing. There is of course, SoftBank which continues to invest in many non-Japanese startups around the world. There are some creative startups in Japan itself, but increasingly we do not hear much about them.

One reason is the ageing population, the other reason is the culture – I am not ruling out many other potential reasons. The cultural impact is severe – to the extent that it dominates over everything else in a conversation. The cultural customs and the resulting inhibitions have ruled out the open, transparent, informal exchange of ideas and thoughts which is an essential ingredient of a startup culture.

Japan is so clean and spotless (more so than even Singapore) that peoples’ minds are trained to spot rubbish rather than see creativity. I do not believe that Japanese can tolerate chaos in their society, or suffer an indulgence towards foreign influences easily. The “openness” is rather severely limited. One other reason is their commitment to speaking almost exclusively in their mother tongue. While speaking in English is limited, it is not unusual – people do understand what a foreigner is asking for in general. However, a free English conversation is always a tough proposition when Japanese language is so much more natural for them to converse in. They also expect foreigners to learn and use Japanese language. All this limits the influence of foreign ideas. If this is the status of English, one can imagine what happens to other languages.

Of course, there are many characteristics of the Japanese society which merit our attention and appreciation. In that society, we can see the result of dedication, passion and commitment towards building an almost egalitarian livelihood for all people. It is also known for people helping each other in times of troubles or catastrophes, as evidenced in the recent floods or past earthquakes. The general standard of living is far better than most countries, and the infrastructure that has been built out in large cities like Tokyo is simply amazing, providing a benchmark to most other Asian cities.

On the negative side, Japan has a real challenge in containing its costs. Everything, almost everything is expensive compared to most other places. Why should a taxi ride for 10 KMs cost more than USD 30 is something I could never understand. Why should a simple meal cost more than USD 12? Why should a coffee cost more than USD 5? And, so on and so forth. Luxury items are priced horrendously high. Apartments are obscenely expensive even at just 350 SQFT space.

Coming back to the discussion on form and protocol, this is an essential part of the Japanese society and cannot be ignored by anyone. The politeness cannot be misconstrued for compliance or agreement. Almost every Japanese is polite and mostly quiet – yes, there is silence almost everywhere except on the roads. You are not supposed to speak in the elevators, or laugh. There is hardly any laughter sound to be heard. You also do not see kids running around in a super market or mall, at least I did not see. It is strange, but that is the way it is. Possibly Japanese parents frown on children making noise or playing around in public places.

It is very hard to imagine that it is the same Japanese society with its staid and polite culture that invaded many Asian countries and attacked Honolulu in the Second World War. There is obviously strong grit and determination in every Japanese which have played out well for them after the War in the reconstruction and rebuilding efforts, leading to one of the most successful industrial societies in human history. You can see the dominance of Japanese brands in every walk of consumption around the world, though these brands are under threat by the Mainland Chinese brands now.

In a nutshell, if you are a foreigner wanting to make a quick entry into the world of Japanese business, it would not be possible unless you first fully understand the critical importance of Japanese customs. If you are meeting a client during a social occasion, your glass (of wine or beer) should be held at a level lower than the clients’ glass. If you are meeting a few client executives in one meeting, the senior most client executive’s business card should always be kept on the top of the other executives’ business cards on top of your wallet which is also kept on the table. You have to bend almost at a right angle when concluding a meeting, and so on and so forth.

Welcome to Japan! Enjoy the Japanese culture, customs and behaviour. Of course, enjoy the fabulously pure Japanese food!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

3rd August 2018

 

 

Secular Life in Turmoil


I have written about secularism in the past.

Some of my previous blog posts are listed here:

Secularism under threat

The Debate on Secularism

Spirituality departing from the land of discovery

The rising intolerance

I am adding on to the above posts with some additional thoughts on a bright Sunday morning here in Singapore, as I gaze across the expanse of a water reservoir which is serene and calm. I am disturbed with the onset of these thoughts, so the calmness around me is surreal.

I believe no religion owns a country or a people, around the world. Religion is the creation of man and woman. For thousands of years, the religious faith of a group of people had provided to them a solid hold on their lives as well as guidance to lead their lives. Religions, unfortunately, had been the cause of wars between people and untold millions of deaths.

Religion is not a necessary prerequisite or condition for sustaining a faith on things which matter to you. It is nice to have a system of faith which is what a religion should provide to its followers. A religion cannot dictate what someone should do or should not do. Of course, these are my personal views (as always).

So, my point of view on secularism is rather simple – since no religion should own a sect of followers or people, no one religion can control a country. This surely and firmly applies to democracies (theocracies are not being discussed in this post as I have not understood their rationale for existence in this multi-religious, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan world). This would mean that democracies should disown ALL religions, irrespective of the majority affiliation to any one religion.

What does this mean in practice? A Catholic country with majority of its people Catholics, cannot have Catholicism embodied in its constitution as the “state religion”, as long as it remains a secular democracy. The same applies to other religious denominations. Coming to the example of India, it is enshrined in the Constitution of India that India is a secular democracy, though over 85% of its population are Hindus who generally follow Hinduism as their religion. The founders of India did this with a clear purpose in mind – that India is a very diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious country even at the time of its Independence in 1947. A Hindu theocracy would have seriously impacted the emergence of a peaceful India as a nation-state.

Think about the wisdom of the founders and original thinkers of Indian Constitution. They were not ordinary folks, they were serious people who contributed to the formation of India. Were they wrong? Absolutely not.

The racism and the attendant violence that the U.S. witnesses every day is because the government and law enforcement are discriminating on colour of people and their ethnicity. European countries are having huge problems on absorbing new immigrants because their social integration into European societies has not been possible due to the differing customs and religious practices. India did not have many of these issues for several decades. In India, law enforcement did not shoot at people they do not like.

“Untouchables” – the class of people that Mahatma Gandhi tried hard to integrate into mainstream Indian society – are in a far better position today than at the beginning of the 20th Century. I would argue that they are in a better situation due to strong affirmative actions than the African-Americans in the U.S.

Given all this complexity in various large nations, the only solution is to maintain a religion-neutral, race-neutral, ethnicity-neutral, and colour-neutral system of governance and law enforcement. The argument that the majority religion is being neglected and more importance is being paid to minorities is not appropriate, as majority population can always elect a party that they want to run the government. Religious sects across a large country cannot easily integrate election voting, that is just a dream. Individual people vote according to their conscience mostly (at least the people who understand partisan politics which is dominant today everywhere in the world). Religion can never integrate a society, it can only disintegrate it.

So, in a nutshell, secularism is the only way forward for the world, at least for the democratic nations of the world. If a party or government is formed on theocratic principles, then that is doomed to fail in the medium term as the majority electorate would realize their folly in electing them in the first place. No religion can run a government, and no government can operate a people as though they are religious levers to be pulled up for convenience.

I am absolutely sure that many folks may not like what I am writing here, nevertheless I believe that it is very important to express one’s thoughts and discuss the same with folks who are interested in the global development of the world. Anger against a particular religion, majority people, or minority people is not going to solve any issue. Every one is equal in this world and secularism ensures that as far as religious faiths are concerned.

Have a wonderful weekend, and see you next weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2018

 

The Bourgeois Class of India


I have been in 3 great cities of India this week.

Delhi, Mumbai and then Chennai now.

One thing I can say with confidence after this trip – the middle class of India is fast becoming the “upper middle class bourgeois” society.

What I mean by that is not a surprise. The middle class of India is growing wealthier by the day, and could soon become the second wealthiest emerging market group in the world, right after China.

And it is going to be of more than 300M people in size – this estimate could be wrong due to measures that differ from the rest of the world. However, it is an indisputable fact that this fast moving and growing middle class is establishing a new set of contours for the society, in which peoples’ attitudes are dominated by materialism, lack of spiritualism, contempt for the poor people and those at the fringes of the society who couldn’t make it, and of course, more materialism in whatever they aspire for.

I do not think I am wrong in my assessment.

I saw a variety of folks and things during my travels – modern men and women, young people who seem to dominate the corporate circles, the polish exhibited by 5 Star hotel staff, the prices of everyday common items, the approach of doctors to healthcare problems of society, the packed cinema halls even during weekday evenings, the footfalls in super rich looking malls, the luxury car brands which seem to have now arrived firmly on the Indian landscape, etc.,

I look for evidence via what people say and what people do. I am careful in spending – I get only what I need, not what I would want in my dreams (I do not dream by the way) to carry on with life, I focus on achieving simple things successfully in a daily routine, and I do not let others think that I am from a privileged background (I am not). I look for attitudinal changes – which are prevalent all over India in the metropolitan cities – which makes a society what it is. The new bourgeois class of India is super confident of itself. It commands a status in society that was previously the prerogative of the rich and famous. It is a high-spending, brand conscious class. It is not family oriented. It is selfish, it cries for attention, it is snobbish, and it is focused on exhibitionism.

I was staying at a nice hotel in Mumbai yesterday, and saw several young women walk into a secluded area of the hotel where smoking is permitted. I was in the adjoining restaurant from which I could see what was going on. While the camaraderie was evident  in the giggles amongst the women, it was not surprising they were all smoking, and continued to smoke after their first cigarette since their break time was not yet over. Personally I have never smoked, I do not like smoking, and I do not like to see young women smoking – they are too young to be spoiled into a habit from which they will never be able to recover. The bad influence of the West is clearly felt in such situations.

Well, from the dashing North to the cosmopolitan West and now to the so-called conservative South. I expected Chennai to stay where it has been all along in the conservative spectrum, but that appears to be slowly but firmly changing. I was in a big mall this afternoon shopping for some essentials. While waiting for an auto-rickshaw (yes I use it for short rides if you are wondering) at the mall entrance, I saw young couples (who were not evidently married) holding hands, and sometimes almost hugging each other. I did not see kissing. But this was a revelation – that this is happening in a society which has had tight contours all along, and looked down on other permissive societies up North and West. The other surprise was that nobody seemed to care (except me of course!) – everybody was doing their job and couldn’t care less about anyone else – another sign of the emerging bourgeois class.

Even while shopping, I noticed that shoppers generally went for the highest priced items in a particular category – for example suitcases. Shoppers wanted imported brands, and that too costing 50% more than the India made brands. And, so on and so forth. Surprising? No, not really.

The Indian society is changing. It is changing fast. I do not think I will be able to recognize it in about 10 years from now. It will become the “new” West. The confidence is contagious and I believe this aspect is good for India, if not anything else. You need confidence – a lot of it – to build out a nation on a new trajectory. I also noticed that people were not indulging in political small talk. Only the older ones were talking about politics. Again, that is a sign of times. No young person cares about anything or anyone else, except himself/herself and his/her desires. That is selfish and materialistic. But nothing can be done about it as it has become a #metookindofmovement.

As I travel around, I learn a lot of stuff about the places I visit and the people I see and meet. India is special as I was born and spent a long time there, and I thought I understood India well. I am wrong. I have to learn more by watching India move. And, it is moving very fast.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th July 2018

 

 

Ending Poverty Vs Military Spending


The world spent approximately USD 1.7T on military expenditures in 2017 as per data published by SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). A little over one-third was spent by the U.S., followed by China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and India among the top five military spenders in the world.

It has been estimated by SIPRI that just 10% of this expenditure is enough to end poverty around the world (more than 800M people are below the poverty line) in just 15 years, meeting the U.N. goal to end poverty and hunger by 2030.

Does the world need to spend around 2.2% of its GDP on military expenditures which does not have a measurable ROI apart from waging wars and killing people? Is it necessary to keep investing in military R&D and expansion of war machinery especially when the entire world is hungry for peace? Was there any tangible benefits reaped by mankind by conducting destructive wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen?

In other words, the world can reduce its military expenditure not just by 10%, but by half and still have a decent defense mechanism against enemies. If the world wants peace, where are the enemies anyway?

We are going to finish the second decade of the 21st Century in couple of years. It is a shame that there still are hungry people around the world. It is a big shame that many people still do not have a roof over their heads, or do not know where their next meal will come from. There are millions of children suffering from malnutrition due to lack of food and milk. Poor people exist even in developed countries as we can see them under bridges in many first world cities in the West – the homeless folks beyond even the fringes of the moving world economics and society.

The collective conscience of the world should be focused on solving this intractable problem of poverty and hunger, instead of focusing on increasing the possibility of conflicts and wars by spending more on military. Is there a ministry for resolving human hunger and ending poverty in the major countries around the world? We only see defense ministries who are drafting the next year’s budget with a potential 5 to 10% increase.

World leaders meeting in the U.N. should make a choice between ending poverty and increasing their military expenditures. Even if the regular annual increases are scrapped, enough money will be released to take specific actions in humanitarian relief. If the military budgets are cut by 10%, that would release USD 170B towards poverty alleviation. If this money could be targeted at helping poor children, that is going to create a healthy workforce for the future. Think about it.

It is highly irresponsible for countries to spend more than 2.5% of their GDP on defense expenditures, when the allocation for poverty alleviation projects is not even 0.5%. What are we talking here? What about allocation for education and healthcare? What about allocation for eliminating hunger? Why are governments not allocating enough of their budgets to address the needs of poor people?

For most of us in a secluded area of society, the impact of poverty and hopelessness and hunger hardly strikes home. We rarely ever think about these things. We are happy if the government reduces our tax burden, leaving more money in our hands to spend. So, how are we different from our own governments? Governments spend money on things that they prioritize, not what citizens wish for. Citizens of any country would want better quality of living, better transportation, better roads and infrastructure, better access to education and healthcare, less poverty and less hunger. Are governments providing for these things everywhere around the world?

Poor people do not worry about taxes or at other items of government expenditure. They are worried about getting through today and then tomorrow – day by day. Most of us are not looking at our lives with the same lens – we have been lucky and fortunate to get through life in an easier manner. Have you ever felt hunger with no access to any food at all? Never. That is not the case for poor and hungry children all around the world.

So, we as educated citizens of the world, need to push our own government to reduce military expenditure and redirect the released funds towards eliminating poverty and hunger from our societies. This is the most important thing that a government can do during its term of office. If it does everything else well, but not do this one thing, that would mean it is a heartless government which has wrecked its legacy.

We do not get many chances to address the problems of poor people. The focus is not on them. Let us try to bring it back towards the objectives outlined in this note. United Nations better take action immediately instead of just lecturing in its hallways.

Have a good weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th July 2018

The fragility of human life


When I take a long walk (around 90 minutes) in the morning, I tend to do one of three things – either I walk in total silence focusing exclusively on the terrain ahead, or listen to my old-time favourite songs (almost always Abba or Carpenters or Lionel Ritchie or Michael Jackson, or sometimes Norah Jones), or engage in some serious thoughts with good clarity of mind in a very calm environment (there are very few people walking or jogging at the time I usually go in the morning).

I have always found that thinking hard is tough when I am stationary, or just at home doing mundane things. When I am on a solo walk, I tend to be able to think more vigorously. While there are strong positives for thinking in a calm manner while walking a long distance, there are also some downsides. For example, when the mind flies into the future (or into the past occasionally), I tend to be less careful on the terrain ahead, and have fallen down a few times because I failed to “see” some obstacle on the path (there are many stones before I reach the wood-tiled pathway around a lake that I usually go to). I realized that it is not a good idea to keep falling down and hurting myself (especially on the knees) at my age, so have improved my caution while walking which reduces the intensity of thinking somewhat. The other challenge usually is the speed at which some runners tend to overtake me on a narrow path, forcing me to move to the extreme edges of the pathway which could push me into the lake if I am not careful.

This post is however not about my walking per se. It is more about thinking. I always felt that I should have devoted more of my time in my life to thinking hard about every choice open in front of me, or to every issue in my life crying for my attention and resolution. I spent far less time on thinking, or took the easy short-cut of personal advisors, or fell back on just my previous experience.

I still take advice from others close to me, but I spend more times thinking about all issues and come back home with a clarity which is difficult to beat. The result is that I am able to engage with my family members in a calmer manner, and others in a more effective way. As I walk more, I think more. The latest issue surrounding my thought process is the fragility of human life.

We see death and destruction all around the world when ideologies clash and countries end up fighting unnecessary wars or engage in unwarranted conflicts. A beautiful life which existed yesterday with lot of hopes for its future, is suddenly gone today. The ability of man to pluck another life out of this world has only grown tremendously over the years, and that man continues his life without remorse under the guise of morality, the necessity of a “good” war over evil people, or the essential nature of law enforcement – I am sure there are hundreds of reasons that a man can devise for taking the life of another human being for which he needs to answer in his own after-life – such offenses cannot be hidden or explained away under the guise of moral explanations that a government or religion can provide to the man who is plucking the life away. There is no real serious explanation that can be offered for shooting a suspect twenty times all over his body, especially on his head and chest. There is no rationale for bombing a country with cluster or chemical weapons. There is absolutely no possible reason for trying out one country’s latest weaponry on a country which cannot defend itself against such attacks.

So, what could be the reasons why bad things continue to happen all around us establishing the total fragility of human life, which should have always had a “precious” status in humanity?

While no explanations could be acceptable, the lack of fierce responses from religious guardians is absolutely stunning. When defenceless countries and people are bombed, where is the question of religions taking sides with the perpetrators? Where is the neutrality of religious intervention to stop or deter such devious things from happening?

As I think more and more on such topics, it is not unusual for me to get depressed on our inability to stop or vote against such things – there is no possibility that poeple could question or challenge a conflict or a war, unless there is a direct referendum on the most serious matters affecting this planet as a whole. However, that is unlikely.

Our own lives are so fragile, that we are not in a position to devise suitable advance responses to what is happening to our own bodies as we age. Any amount of preparation or planning is not going to help when the inevitable thing eventually occurs in our lives. We go on steering our lives taking some precautions as and when we feel necessary, but one day the fragility of our own lives will be exposed in a natural manner.

So how do we get ready for such a 100% clear possibility at an unknown date?

Try to think of whatever you had ever wanted to do, but could not do or achieve. Create a “bucket” list of such things. Spend more and more time with your family members. Do some charity. Do not expect any returns, and do not think that you will get to heaven or hell. None of that sort might exist. At the end of the day, what matters is whether you have helped people around you, stood for some good cause, made your family members successful in their respective lives, and garnered respect and admiration from friends and relatives for your ability to successfully steer your life and contribute to society in a manner that you could. Forget about emulating other successful people, or investors, or businessmen. It does not matter.

Well, more in future posts on this topic.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th May 2018