Inequality Accentuated


The latest scandal to plague that acclaimed paragon of justice, equality, liberty and virtue which is the United States is absolutely stunning. For we are talking here about the status of higher education, on which parents around the U.S. and the world have laid their trust on to facilitate a high quality, fair, and meritocratic education for their wards.

And it is damning to know that it is by a simple incident that the whole racket came to light – I will let you folks read up, but the FBI discovered the scam when an investor from Los Angeles revealed it to them, probably to get a reduced sentence for his securities fraud that he perpetrated on thousands of investors in his company’s stock.

This only demonstrates that sheer wealth and greed could easily blind the rich people, whose only ambition is to seek more wealth and unequal access for their children in an unfair world. The rich folks who benefitted in this higher education scam did not care about the losses that otherwise qualified candidates endured simply because the rich took away what should rightfully have gone to them in the first place.

The more shocking thing is that world beating universities such as Stanford, Georgetown, Yale, and other such universities could have been taken for a ride by their own admissions committees and athletic coaches. It would be very hard for them to claim innocence as these criminals who perpetrated the crimes belonged and worked for the universities. I am sure they would argue that they have been led down the garden path by coaches and admissions officers who probably colluded to get admissions for totally unqualified candidates and fake athletes who should have been thoroughly vetted.

This scandal, in which over 50 rich people have been implicated, is likely to lead to a class action suit by aggrieved and qualified candidates and their parents. The U.S. government is taking the right actions, and thank God, there is no interference by President Trump or his infamous Education Secretary, so far. Such happenings would have led to political action to shield the rich and famous and powerful parents from criminal action in third-world countries, for sure. To the credit of the FBI, they pursued the scandal over many months before culpability was clearly established and arrests could be made.

I am waiting to see if Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the Wall Street would defend these criminal parents. Not likely, but the other rich parents who have not yet been caught should be planning for escape from the clutches of whistle blowers and the FBI. And, there must be many such rich folks. They better be scared. Such scandals should not be allowed to taint the storied reputations of leading universities – I hope the universities acknowledge their lack of oversight and assume the blame for what has happened. That is the only honourable thing to do. A very long wait to do so would surely lead to emergence of a bad reputation for these universities (there must be other universities who are not yet caught in similar situations). The affirmative actions by the admissions committee has not only led to admissions for deserving Black/Hispanic/Asian candidates, but has also led to admissions for fake athletes who are sons/daughters of very rich parents and many of them with fake SAT scores. The SAT tests are going to be tainted as well, as the College Board allowed tests to be taken by purported candidates who did not actually take the test by themselves – they were helped by guides to change their test responses, or they allowed an expert test-taker to take the test on their behalf.

It hurts as my son just took the SAT test, before this scandal broke.

Well, the world is unjustly unfair. Universities were supposed to be fair and equitable, but that does not seem to be the case anymore. As my wife commented, such things should have been happening for a long time in various ways, but this is the first time people got caught. She also feels that this is not the end of the story, and the rich will continue in whatever way possible to execute similar actions, simply because they can afford to do so. Even if they are not paying a fixer to get admission for their wards, they can always spend lots of money in legitimate test preparation, which is denied to candidates with lesser means of course. Most test takers prepare on their own with test aids and tools, not spend hard-earned money of their parents to blow on test preparation agencies.

I am disillusioned to say the least. This was (and is) not the case when I took the Joint Entrance Exam for getting admission to the prestigeous Indian Institutes of Management (the IIMs) some three decades ago. It was extremely difficult to prepare and take these exams, there was lot of sweat to say the least. During my time, almost 100,000 candidates took the exam for just 600 or 700 seats in the three IIMs. Imagine if that exam were fixed by unscrupulous fixers and rich parents!

Well, the U.S. is having more than its share of troubles, of late. One thing I am totally impressed about is that the U.S. government does not interfere in the administration of justice. I do not know if the judges are impartial given that they are appointed by either one of the political parties (their respective governments) with widely differing ideologies. However, the execution of the process of investigation is commendable – there is absolute respect for the independence of investigators without undue interference even from their own bosses. We do not have such independence in many, many countries around the world.

Have a great weekend, folks, and think about the status of higher education and the scandal that is taking the world by storm,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th March 2019

Why the rich shun taxes


Anyone who has followed the World Economic Forum debates would have surely chanced upon the illuminating one in which Dutch Historian Rutger Bregman heavily criticised the rich for not paying their share of taxes.

The traditional view of economics and politics has been that the rich would want to be taxed less, as they believe that they could directly contribute to nation-building in a more productive and efficient manner, instead of letting governments fritter away the increased taxes in an irresponsible and inefficient manner. After all, is it not true that business entrepreneurs are more adept in building functioning businesses and creating more jobs with the increased money that is available to them by way of reduced taxation?

Sounds good and appropriate?

May be not.

Our societies (in almost all countries) are characterised by income inequalities and non-inclusive growth benefitting few rather than the many. Inclusive growth remains a dream for many nations which aspire to equitable income distribution and growth benefits for all. Is it wise to just leave this most important objective of governments and societies to the whims and fancies of the richest people of the world? Of course, there have been good examples of the very rich people like Bill Gates, but there are also many, many bad or poor examples of rich folks who do not invest their less-taxed money on much-needed job creation or philanthropy.

Achieving a reasonable level of income equality is a very essential pre-requisite for national economic development. Such equality will then extend to education and healthcare for the citizens. As we know intuitively, any society will develop in a holistic manner if we address education, healthcare, infrastructure and systemic issues plaguing the society leading to crime and inner-city violence, etc., So, equitable income distribution is an absolute must for a society to develop faster without its attendant ills, and put it firmly on a path to economic and social growth.

But then, the rich do not want to pay more taxes. As the U.S. just demonstrated, the U.S. Congress successfully passed the tax reform bill which essentially reduced the tax rates for the wealthy (Republicans favour less taxes and less role for government in nation-building as core fundamental principles of their Party). When the wealthiest nation in the world is not playing ball to raise taxes on its most wealthy citizens, it means that the rest of the world is going to be disillusioned, thinking probably that they are on the wrong trajectory, based on what some academics state in their opinion pieces. Then the world would lose its battle against income inequality.

I quote here from the World Economic Forum 2019 event transcripts (I could not resist it!): “The ratio between executive pay and that of an average worker has grown from 30:1 in 1978 to 312:1 today. The top income tax rates in 1970 worldwide was 62%; that has been negotiated down to less than 38% in rich countries, and 28% in developing countries. In many countries, high tax rates on the rich have been abolished, while $170 billion every year is taken to tax havens.”

I am sure it is clear to my readers where the developed world is headed: less and less taxes for their wealthy (as their governments probably do not need the increased tax collections that are absolutely possible and needed for reducing their own countries’ income inequalities and providing for their homeless people sleeping on the streets). This is not a good thing even for the developed world.

What about developing countries? Many developing countries are unfortunately characterised by heavy levels of corruption, money laundering, stashing of illegal money, public bribing to win elections illegitimately, and weak systems of judiciary to counter the encroachment by the executive and the self-serving legislatures. This has become a never ending downward spiral of less and less money being devoted to national development and eliminating poverty. Of course, we can argue that pulling poor people above the line of poverty is a more urgent need in these countries than accomplishing income equality or reducing income inequality. But then, the poverty lines are set so low that it would take many generations before the poor folks could reach any semblance of equality in the society, while at the same time not having equal access to education and healthcare.

It is important for governments to realise that they cannot forsake the development of their countries by surrendering to blackmail by their rich people to take the business elsewhere, like what many tech companies did in the U.S. over the past couple of decades. Under pressure from President Trump’s administration, companies like Apple have finally agreed to bring their money back from low tax jurisdictions to the U.S. and invest in job creation in the U.S. [sorry folks, I have to give credit where it is absolutely due, and in this particular case, President Trump did the right thing to exert pressure that was much needed to make tech companies behave – after all, they should show some patriotism, not just driven by economic greed caused by low taxes elsewhere].

It is not at all surprising that the rich do not wish to pay more taxes, and are, in fact, working to persuade their governments to reduce not just their income taxes but even their inheritance taxes. They mostly think they are smarter (and most of them are) than the rest of us. They think that they are capable of strongly influencing their politicians and governments. They think that they can invest the extra money left in their hands in ways wiser than what their own governments can do.

Well, well, now you get the overall picture – where the society is and where the rich at the top are. Don’t get me wrong – it is not illegal to be rich, but it is unconscionable not to be willing to pay fair share of taxes or avoid and evade taxes altogether. What happened to the people in the middle and bottom of the pyramid who helped the rich man’s enterprise to get to where it is today? Without them, can anything of value be produced in any industry or business? Did they get their due share of incomes? Did the rich even bother to find out if these folks got their fair access to education for their children, healthcare for their families, and so on and so forth. Did the governments bother at all? As long as democratically elected governments are subservient to purely economic interests, the situation on the ground is unlikely to change, and income inequalities will continue to persist.

Good to think about during a Sunday………..

Have a great week ahead, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th March 2019

Wrong Expectations


This post might get me into trouble, I guess!

As my readers know well, I am a “liberal” in mindset, outlook and approach, but sometimes I have taken sides with conservatives when I feel the rational logic resides with them on a specific topic, though it has not been often. Everyone has a right to their own view, and everyone has a right to not support others’ views irrespective of the popularity or otherwise of such views.

I believe that liberal views promote an equitable society with a good balance, in general. However, I have always taken cognizance of the fact that conservatives have a certain hold on the richer, more well-to-do sections of the society which oftentimes get not only a seat at the table, but also get to make the rules of conformance in society. It is very true in a generally traditional, conservative and religious society.

Notwithstanding all the segmentation and fragmentation of societies the world over, there is one principle that I will never compromise on and that is, give equal opportunity to both sides (and to a third side, if that position exists!) so that arguments and counter-arguments can be heard and understood well. It is upto any individual to make his/her own conclusion, and it is also his or her prerogative to voice or not voice the same, in other words, you cannot force anyone publicly on a vote of conscience. This means tolerance and acceptance of contrarian views, though you may not agree with those views which could be anathema to your views. Tolerance and acceptance are not the same as acquiescence and agreement!

So, I read with interest the news coverage on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s wife going back to work for a strict evangelical Catholic school in Virginia. I warned you, my readers, that this could get rather sensitive! Some mainstream newsmedia covered her decision to rejoin the school and teach there, due to the avowed principles of the school against the LGBTQ section of the society and its non-admittance rules against any member of that group. The school further states that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and so on and so forth.

Without going further into the individual person’s choice to be associated with such a school, notwithstanding the fact that she is the Second Lady of the U.S. Government as the wife of the Vice President, it is not up to any one else to pass judgement on her action or behaviour – simply because she has the individual right to do so and the freedom to follow her heart. There is no official government endorsement or support for her action.

Mike Pence condemned the attack on his wife’s decision to serve in the school and also the attack on “Christian education”. I am not sure what he meant and which media really attacked, but as a beneficiary of Christian education right from Kindergarten to High School, I can only say that without the dedication of Christian education system, many of us in India would not have succeeded in life, despite most of us belonging to the Hindu religion.

Coming back to this Virginia school, I totally and unequivocally disagree with their principles, but they exist in a free society and they have teachers and students enrolled. So, there is a section of society in the U.S. which agrees with those severe and incompatible restrictions, and endorses such a system of education. I can tell you however, that there is no such Christian school ever that existed in India!

Coming back to Mrs Pence’s decision, I respect her choice – both Mr and Mrs Pence are openly espousing the cause and rationale of Christian Evangelism, and there is nothing wrong with their position. They have an inalienable, constitutionally protected right to do so. We have to give equal importance to such positions which are not hidden from sight and are openly stated and defended. In this moralistic or religious clash, no one can claim to be right or wrong. Both sides could even be right!

My personal position, as I stated earlier in this post, is that I am not taking sides with any one philosophy, I am a liberalist with my own views on almost everything under the Sun, and I will not endorse any position if that is not compatible with rational logic. I am not a political person, neither am I a deeply religious person. I am not a Christian but appreciate the service that the Christian school system rendered for me. I try to learn about and appreciate other religions as a philosophical curiosity venture than anything else. I have more and enough blog posts on my blog site to justify what I am stating above!

In a nutshell, let us not have wrong expectations of people, however exalted or powerful they may be. It is not necessary to agree with their stated positions on any matter. We should have our own thoughts about anything which impacts global affairs. I thought that this purported attack by “media” organizations on Christian Evangelism and School system was something of relevance to dissect and understand. If such an attack has happened, that is also despicable because not all systems and people will toe a Supreme Court judgement – they make their own judgements which, if not illegal, should be tolerated in a free society. In effect, tolerance should work both ways, if you know what I mean. It cannot be unidirectional in terms of complete support to the affected part of society – what about taking a non-supportive, yet tolerant view of the incontrovertible fact that there are people who exist who espouse a totally contrarian view which they think is their right to believe in, espouse and endorse – publicly or privately. The response should not be violence, we have seen that such an unacceptable behaviour happens even in the U.S., and so often in third-world countries (I am deliberately not using the politically correct terminology of “developing countries” here!).

Have a great weekend, and more to come from me during the next day or so,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th January 2019

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


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

Salt Mango Tree


I felt only shame after viewing this Malayalam movie “Salt Mango Tree” on NetFlix along with my wife.

While there are many positive things I can say about my birth country India, there are equally many bad things that exist even today in modern India. I feel very proud when I see global corporate CEOs from India (far outnumbering many other countries), over 100 satellites being placed successfully in orbit by one single rocket launch by the Indian Space Research Organization, the very optimistic young generation in the entire world which India has in abundance, and so on and so forth – it is a rather long list of achievements by India and Indians in a short span of just six decades.

However, the things which went wrong over these same six decades, and which continue to hamper the potential and growth of India still bother me a lot. These should bother all well-wishers of India. What I am referring to here are things like corruption, lack of guaranteed, affordable and accessible education for all, lack of universal healthcare for all citizens, lack of safety and security for women and even for very young girl children, and lack of world-class infrastructure and facilities all across the country including uninterrupted access to electrical power, potable water, proper roads, high speed internet, etc., etc., Though there have been some improvements in the past few years, what India needs cannot be met with incremental enhancements of existing infrastructure. India needs to do what a China has done in the past 30 years of relentless public investment in a non-bureaucratic manner with the sole intention of enhancing the livelihood of its people. Communist China has done a far better job than a democratic India, and I am not going to listen to the democratic nonsense that many armchair philosophers expound on the superiority of democracy. Everything in the corporate world is measured on budgeted outcomes, why not in government and governance?

The movie “Salt Mango Tree” describes one facet of India’s systemic failure in providing quality education for all children. Parents have to run around for getting admissions to prestigeous schools, and are totally stressed out in the process. They have to perform better than their children in school admission interviews. What about children of hawker stalls and poor people? How will they get admission in such schools if the criteria is based on how well the parents perform in interviews? How will they speak in English, let alone come well dressed and well groomed for such nonsensical interviews?

I was seriously embarrassed to see how the movie portrays the anguish of both the parents, who struggle to make a living and save money for their only boy. The movie strongly hints about the so-called “donation” which is nothing but a bribe which parents have to offer to schools. When parents give up on the due process in getting school admissions, they turn towards short cuts such as bribe, and this practice continues throughout the life cycle of their children, embedding and validating the need for systemic corruption. Why would anybody outside the Indian system believe that our quality of education is good and impeccable, on par with the developed countries? Making an incorrect comparison with the IITs and IIMs is wrong, as the folks who get into such schools do so entirely on merit, and they go on to change the greater world in many ways. They are focused on making wealth and very few dedicate their lives to fixing the systemic issues of governance in India (I personally know of only one such classmate).

I am not going to describe the movie here, but the message from the movie cannot be more impactful – to get quality education in India even at the primary level (starting at Kindergarten) today, parents have to prepare well, get trained, perform very well in school admission interviews, and be ready to offer donations. This is not the case in any one of the developed nations of the world. If India wishes to achieve the status of the top 5 countries of the world (not just based on GDP), it has to pay serious attention to education, healthcare, quality of living, public infrastructure, etc., and follow the model of either the Nordic countries or countries like Singapore, where public systems by government trump even the best quality of private systems (which are also available but at a tremendous cost). If India cannot invest at least 5% of its national budget on improving public Education and another 5% on public Healthcare, then the future generations will continue to suffer.

The focus outside India today has turned positive about India after a long dry spell of negative media coverage about the bad things happening in India. I have seen that over the past quarter century (most of which I have spent outside India), and it sometimes used to pain me. I am out of it now and immune to the negative coverage on India. I look for some positive news on India every day. The political news is not encouraging. As I wrote in a recent blog post, my experience in Bangalore traffic in the midst of visiting foreigners was not positive. The “East Asians” detest infrastructure problems as they have long been used to good infrastructure and environment. I make it a point not to bad-mouth India in any manner to them, and I try to keep my views to myself. I tend to talk about the positives and push the envelope for their next visit.

However, as I write here this evening, it pains me again to see that India has not changed in fundamental public services.

Looks like this will be the situation in our life time.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th April 2018

The Digital World


The “Digital World” is happening rather fast in our lives today.

In countries like Singapore (wherein I reside), the government actively and constantly encourages adoption of digital mechanisms in daily lives of citizens. Singapore probably is the most advanced digital economy in the world today. Almost all transactions are going cashless, and the transportation system just announced that they would not accept cash in stations, people would have to use electronic payment cards to use the bus and train systems. Very few people go to bank branches. I keep some 50 dollars in the wallet, and mostly there is no need to use it. I pay for lunches with a pre-paid card, and if there is no balance in the card, I can pay for lunch by tapping my Visa or Master card on the credit card terminal – there is nothing to sign (the danger is if someone gets hold of your credit card, they can not only eat all your lunches, but can also spend a lot of your money using the “pay by wave” mechanism, which does not need your signature or entry of your PIN into the terminal, like it is required in India). All corporate and even personal applications are moving to the cloud, which is more cost-efficient and available any time on demand – there is no need to start up any hardware. All cars on the road are going to be monitored via satellite sometime starting in 2019. Citizens have to make a compromise between safety/security/convenience and lack of some privacy.

Other countries are way behind, but it is only a question of rather short time when every one catches up as the digital movement is inevitable. I was (and still am) amazed at the rapid advances that India has made in several areas in the digital world – the one which personally impacted me was the Income Tax System, which has recently introduced an e-vault mechanism for added security. I submitted an online complaint using their grievance portal, and got a message that any documents to be uploaded have to be in PDF format, and multiple documents have to be Zipped together in one Zip file!

I wondered how many citizens would know how to use digital systems, especially in India. As the tax net widens to capture many people who have not paid income taxes in India till now, there should also be an education system which delivers the modus operandi of filing taxes electronically. How will a farmer who has never used a laptop going to understand and file taxes? Even folks in cities have trouble with various things such as digital signature needed to file taxes or rectification of tax data. So, the need for chartered accountants still continues to remain strong (in India).

In Singapore, I am not filing any taxes as there is a special “no tax filing” mechanism – the Income Tax Department gets the income details of each and every employee electronically, and computes the tax automatically. Only if you disagree with the computation, you have to log in and file a complaint. It is that simple. No need for digital signature or uploading documents – they have all documentation and my identity.

As we move aggressively into the digital world, it is critical to take the older generation along with us – no one should be left behind. This means investment in a support system which guides these folks as they are gently migrated to the digital world. For the folks who are already employed in the information technology industry, it should be rather easy. How about other industries, and how about people employed at the lower rungs of the corporate ladder? Here is where India needs to learn from Singapore – constant communication is the key.

In large countries like China and India, there is also the worry about workforce displacement due to the influx of digital technologies. Again, this is inevitable in all industries, not just in information technology industry. People have to constantly keep themselves updated with new technologies, and enhance their skill levels to compete with technology even while adopting it. There is always a place for skilled people in any industry, and so it is absolutely essential for each one of us to keep ourselves moving in sync with technology. We cannot be complacent, we cannot be slow, that is the reality of today’s life. In fact, we have to be ahead of robots – how? I don’t know, but we have to see how robots are entering our digital lives and identify areas wherein we can collaborate or leverage robots to achieve our corporate or personal goals.

Looks daunting? Yes, it is.

But human mind is innovative, it is complex, it can constantly come up with solutions to new problems and challenges.

I am sure in the digital world as well we will see the ingenuity of the human mind. The key thing is to identify opportunities in our own lives to leverage and benefit from the incessant adoption of new technologies – I am not talking just about apps on our iPhone or Android phone – there is much more going on around us. Look out, read up, skill up…………and enjoy the digital ride of our lives.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th February 2018