The Shattering of Peace


It is now 14 years since our family visited New Zealand. We loved that country, its fine people, its air and water purity, its clean roads and rivers and mountains. We drove all the way from Auckland in the North Island to Queenstown in the South Island, a distance of over 3,000 KMs in just about 2 weeks. It was a fabulous family vacation, and even today if we take a vote at home about where we want to go for the next vacation, it is unanimous – New Zealand! Though we do not always follow that vote as we go to other places for different experiences!!

We had a great time travelling around New Zealand, interacting with its great people, drinking some fantastic wines, and enjoying the volcanoes as well as the fast rivers and forests and mountains. Outstanding experience!

So, I was so sad when I learnt about the White terrorist from Australia wreaking unimaginable havoc on a peaceful country (he could have done that anywhere, but choosing New Zealand was an abominable decision) and murdering 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch (we had been to Christchurch during our holidays), on a Friday. As we know, Friday is a holy day for Muslims and they go to mosques for lunch time prayers.

While I do not wish to taint this murderous attack as a religious one (Christian Crusaders attacking Muslims) or a racist one (Whites against immigrant Browns), it is inevitable. There is no point in hiding the fact that White supremacy is on the rise around the Western nations of the world (given a positive push by the Honourable President Donald Trump of the U.S.), and could soon emerge as the chief contender for global terrorism trained against immigrants and Muslims specifically, as opposed to ISIS. Both are very bad for the world; while ISIS can only be defeated militarily, White supremacy is better controlled by nation states and their enlightened leadership.

A fantastic example of leadership was on display over the past one week, and that is Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She demonstrated total empathy with the survivors and the victims’ families, and came through as a leader who would also make fast and rapid changes to her country’s gun laws in the aftermath of this disaster, without listening to special interest gun lobbies and wasting time. She was seriously wounded at heart that this attack could happen in her peace-loving and immigrant-welcoming country, and the whole country (including the immigrants and all the Muslim community) rallied around her leadership. They could sense and feel that she was in their midst, truly suffering the consequences of this attack on her “own” society.

I admired her mingling around and sympathizing with the plight of the survivors in a headscarf (similar to a hijab, worn by Muslim women), as a mark of respect and empathy towards them. Thousands of ordinary folks came out in support of the Muslim community around the mosque yesterday (Friday) during prayer time with silence observed, and hands entwined. And, the Prime Minister was there in attendance!

All this shows that a predominantly White country could do positive things towards immigrant victims and survivors who are not White, with the sheer willpower and commitment of the country’s leadership. The Prime Minister’s Cabinet, the Parliament and also the gun owners and gun shops came around in support of the new ban against assault rifles which was quickly implemented. Will this ever happen in the U.S., especially under Trump’s watch? Trump or no Trump, it is not going to happen in the U.S. Thousands of Americans are shot and killed using military-style weapons (which should have no place in a society) every year, including children and innocent bystanders, and the government does nothing except uttering vanities and both parties getting into a fist fight on TV shows in a totally partisan manner.

So, the peace is finally shattered in New Zealand. I am not sure that a country of just 3M people can recover from such a murderous attack. I would argue that apart from banning weapons of mass destruction like assault rifles with high capacity magazines, NZ should also carefully examine who comes in from Australia and other countries wherein White supremacy is firmly in place (though the supremacists might never win a public election). Imagine the reaction if a Muslim terrorist had killed 50 Church goers on a Sunday. The beauty of NZ is that it demonstrated that there is no difference between two such murder attacks. NZ will not go with one or the other – both attacks would eliminate peaceful folks who just turned up for worship and prayers. How would Trump react if it was the latter occurrence – all hell would have broken loose.

In a nutshell, there is no escape from close police monitoring, immigration checks, and gun control – all developed countries are learning that these factors play a very big role as we have seen in the Netherlands, France, the U.K., and Germany. Law enforcement needs to take an aggressive and serious view of individual freedom which transgresses into the larger good of the society. Individualism and religious conflicts cannot be excuses for murdering innocent civilians who play no part in such conflicts, and are after all, normal citizens going after their lives like any of us do.

I wish to salute Prime Minister Ardern for her resolute defiance and sombreness in the face of this attack on her country. Her empathy with a small immigrant community in her nation has captivated the hearts of all positive people around the world.

Hope NZ recovers from this disaster with a lot of healing. My best wishes to Kiwis of all colours,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd 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

Moral Decadence


It is a well known fact that most of the rich countries have committed huge sins and transgressed the moral boundaries of ethical living on this planet. Numerous examples of trampling on the rights of other countries and people can be cited in evidence.

Most European countries, the chief among these being the U.K. and France apart from Denmark and Germany have colonized distant nations and subjugated the people of those countries in horrible manner through several centuries. I am not leaving Japan off the hook – the Japanese committed innumerable sins across Asia which included killings and raping innocent folks. The list of sins committed by developed countries is very long, and that would include even the U.S. which has been responsible for countless deaths and disappearances caused by their invasions and regime change policy.

The focus of this blog post is not on these countries or their past sins. It is on the continuing sad story of the Blacks in the U.S. who are being tortured both by law enforcement and the common people due to the colour of their skin, which implies only one thing – deeply ingrained racism, and the very strong feeling that the Blacks are no better than slaves. This is abominable, and the racist feeling seems to be widespread across the U.S., going by almost weekly reporting of incidents whose subjects are Blacks going about their lives in the most innocuous manner possible. If a White person does the same simple thing – such as clearing trash in his own backyard, or waiting to swim in his own condominium’s swimming pool, or just taking a walk along a tree-lines boulevard, etc., no one would even bother to look. But if a Black person were to do any of these daily chores of life, it is absolutely reasonable for a police officer to stop the person and ask for his ID or engage in aggressive questioning. The evidence is mounting every day about such seemingly harmless occurrences, which are shot using phone cameras of bystandes and instantly posted on social media.

Were such things happening in the past?

Absolutely.

The difference now is the instantaneous publicity that is available via social media. And that makes such happenings come through as extremely ugly and damaging to the reputation of law enforcement.

What does it show when such things continue to happen? What does it say about the society in which Americans live? What does it say about the government which runs the country? What does it say about the police?

Only one thing – a precipitous decline of moral values, a huge drop in the perspective of Whites about Black people in general, lack of religiosity in the outlook, lack of influence of the Church or the Synagogue as the case may be, and so on. The moral decadence is stunning. I am not talking here about lack of morals such as indulging in mindless violence or prostitution. What I am talking about is the value of any human being on this planet which cannot be measured in dollars and cents, and cannot be considered as higher or lower than any other human being. White cannot have a value higher than that of the Black, and that assertion applies to Brown and Yellow as well. All colours need to be equal at all times.

Americans and the U.S. government cannot dismiss these law enforcement problems as unusual or rare occurrences – these are surely neither unusual nor rare in today’s America.

It is easy for the Whites and the Browns and the Yellows to attribute the cause of inner city violence to the Blacks. Violence in the U.S. exists all across the colour spectrum and across all sections of the society. One cannot affirm Blacks only to be the chief cause of violence.

Given the poor state of ensuring moral equivalence of human beings in the U.S., the country can hardly claim to be the beacon of freedom and justice for the free world. The “free” world does not exist for the Blacks in the U.S. – they are getting shot at by the police for doing their daily chores. Many Black lives have been taken away over the past year due to arbitrary and excessive use of force and total lack of reasoned judgement on the part of the police. You might have seen the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Across the U.S., well-meaning Whites are very concerned about such atrocious human rights violations, when the U.S. government is screaming hoarse on such violations elsewhere in other countries.

But then, other countries do not care anymore.

Why?

They can clearly see for themselves that the U.S. is one of the worst perpetrators of human rights violations against its own citizens.

So, why bother to change bad behaviour?

No need, let us continue violating the rights of our poor vulnerable citizens – even the mightiest nation in the world does it – isn’t it?

Such is the strong influence of the most powerful nation on earth which purports to be the most honourable country with respect for freedom and justice and democracy, with a Constitution which enshrines individual rights of citizens.

Would you want to chase your dreams in a country with moral decadence as the core principle in differentiating its own citizens? Think carefully. The Blacks have to get Dr Martin Luther King’s dream back in their heads and fight for their freedom which they are increasingly in danger of losing.

Participate in the CNN #MyFreedomDay on the 14th March against modern day slavery.

Cheera folks, have a good weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th March 2019

The pro-life argument


On this one thing of life and death, I am proud to be termed as a “conservative”.

I know that I am liberal (in U.S. terminology I am “left of centre” or left-wing liberal – which I do not agree with as I believe I am a centrist on most issues) in my views (both political and social), as opposed to right-wing conservative views. Being a liberal or a conservative comes from personal experiences and an understanding of what is good for the society as a whole, not just for oneself. It takes some analysis of the environment, politics, and society. It is not easy to “assume” a pole position because that is how the world sees your position. Irrespective of what the world thinks of you, you do have an absolute independent right to think what you want and position yourself in philosophical terms as a thinker in your own right. Who can challenge that?

So, let us now analyze one thing on which I side with the so-called conservatives. We do not have this kind of discussion in Singapore or India, but unfortunately the world gets influenced by what happens in the U.S. on most things. Though both India and Singapore are more conservative on social issues than the U.S., I have not seen such matters discussed in public or court of law, thereby prudently avoiding social disputes which could be rather disruptive.

However, in the so-called first-world great power of the U.S. there are many things being discussed which depicts a society in constant conflict with itself, such as racism against blacks, hatred towards immigrants, vindictiveness against people who hold opposing views, and amongst many such issues, abortion.

Abortion is an extremely sensitive topic in the U.S. My readers would be aware of the landmark Roe vs Wade judgement of 1973 by the Supreme Court of the U.S. I am not going to delve into it, except to say that ruling legalized abortion rights of women. If you have been following U.S. politics of late, you would have witnessed the U.S. Congress members questioning judicial appointees if they support the above judgement. In general (though not always), the Democrats support the abortion rights of women, and the Republicans do not support. President Trump has indicated that he is pro-life, which is another way of saying that once conceived, women lose the right to a legal abortion.

As I said earlier, we do not discuss abortion in our part of the world. However, I felt compelled to write about this topic as it applies to the U.S., as I read about “late-term” abortion laws enacted by some states in the U.S. I personally believe that once you hear and record the foetal (fetal) heartbeats, then any abortion amounts to taking the life of the foetus away from this world without its consent. I am not going to be liked by the abortion proponents in the U.S., as this subject matter is close to the heart of the left-wing liberals as opposed to the right-wing conservatives. I do not wish to colour this matter as a religious topic on which the Church, for example, would have a say. That is not the case (though the Catholic Church opposes abortion, to be sure). In my mind, what matters is the decision-making power of the individual woman who has conceived, and is staring at the possibility of abortion.

This is a hot topic in the U.S. as you can imagine, especially in the light of the change in the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court towards the addition of more conservative judges by President Trump over the past couple of years. Both Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavenaugh are ambiguous on the Roe vs Wade judgement which is acting as precedence for the Supreme Court – given a strong case, they could tilt the court towards an anti-abortion judgement. The liberals are mortally scared of that possibility.

Notwithstanding that possibility, my contention is simple: does a human have the right to take away the life of an unborn (or going to be born) human, once it is unambiguously proved that the would be new-born is having heartbeats, and breathing like any other human? do we misconstrue this issue as the “inviolable right of a woman over her body” rather than a life & death matter, which needs to be investigated further? This is not about legal precedence or religious opinion. It is about making the right decision when that decision involves a new life. How can we compartmentalize this issue as women’s constitutional right only? What about the rights of the unborn baby?

There are ongoing multiple challenges to Roe vs Wade in various state courts in the U.S., such as in Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, etc., While these challenges would be vehemently opposed by organizations such as Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union, various womens’ and medical associations, the point is that this is not about securing or re-securing a constitutional right, this is not about liberals vs conservatives, and this is not about the Democrats vs the Republicans.

This issue is much larger.

I am not going to conclude on this matter here with my own prescription to solve the problem, I am just positioning the same in my own light, as I felt strongly about foetal heartbeats occurring in general six weeks into a pregnancy. So, now we are faced with a huge human challenge, which only humans can address and resolve. Not the politicians, not the courts, not any religion. May be Roe vs Wade will go unchallenged. May be women will continue to enjoy their constitutional right to aborting their foetuses anytime irrespective of the heartbeats. But one thing is for sure, Americans need more education on this topic than what has been offered to them in schools.

I know that abortion is a very sensitive topic – an extremely touchy subject to most women. I am not against their legal rights. I am just wondering if we have missed the pro-life argument posed by a heart-beating foetus, if it had a chance to present its case in a court of law?

Some critical thing to think about, right?

Of course, I welcome brickbats and strong retaliation from my women readers. As a generally neutral centrist, I welcome their feedback – positive or very negative, no problem with that. If I have to change my views, then there has to be an extremely strong rebuttal, for sure.

Cheers, and have a great week ahead, folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

3rd February 2019


It’s a Middleman’s World


Middlemen and women are everywhere!

You would think that a “developed” country would not require the services of such “agents” to transact any kind of business, due to total transparency and technological aids available to do so. But was I surprised!

Even Western countries make use of agents to sell aircraft, ships, and any kind of equipment. They also have brokers who operate at the consumer level, to sell houses to buyers in a knowledgeable manner. Agents bring localized knowledge and expertise to the sales process. Or, they know how things work in the buyer’s country when big ticket items are transacted. Generally, agents operate on behalf of sellers and favour them as their commission is paid by the sellers, not by the buyers. However, commission is paid on the final sale price, which the buyer agrees to pay the seller, so the agent derives his commission money ultimately from what the buyer pays the seller.

Commonsense, right?

Buyers need to understand and know well in advance that agents do not have their requirements and best interests in their hearts, and are focused on fulfilling the sale as quickly as they can so that they can earn a handsome return on the time and effort invested. Agents meet and / or exceed sellers’ criteria which may or may not meet the buyers’ needs.

Coming back to my original point on anticipated reduction in broking or agency fees in developed countries, unfortunately that is not the case. On the contrary, agency fees actually increase both in absolute terms and as percentage of sales revenues. If advancement in transparency and technology can eliminate middlemen and ensure fair market price discovery and fair competition, then sellers and buyers would be able to conclude sales transactions without the aid of sales agents, right?

The practical reality in the world today is that agents dominate big transactions – even those involving government purchases of military equipment. This is probably because there is some need for certain level of lack of transparency in such dealings.

Transparency decreases when agents are involved. When an agent is assigned the task of a messenger of sensitive price data on a critical transaction, he or she is bound to misquote or misinterpret such data to the detriment of the buyer.

I have interacted with agents in both a developed country and a developing country. I found smart people in the agency profession, most of them quite knowledgeable in their area of competency. If I am transacting a property sale, I found that my own online analysis of the market is inadequate to directly interact with the market and I would be better served by a dedicated agent at a specified fee. I found that he or she could do a much better job in price discovery and advising on the right kind of price at which I should sell my property. The difference between India and Singapore is not on competency or sales aids that a typical agent employs, but more on the emphasis on personalized relationships prevalent in India as compared to more officialized attitudes prevalent in Singapore.

So, what are my conclusions?

I do not support engagement or involvement of sales agents in business transactions, whether involving two businesses or two countries. As we have seen in multiple military procurement scandals, involvement of agents shields corrupt players. Violation of procurement rules is only possible if agents are misused to hide corruption.

However, when it comes to home or car sales, agents’ role is critical in ensuring the seller is not shortchanged due to inadequate market knowledge. Agents also become important to secure interest of qualified buyers, and I was surprised to note that online ads do not produce the same effect because of lack of qualification of potential buyers. Further, attracting potential buyers to online ads does not seem to be working out well anymore.

In a nutshell therefore, middlemen and women do have a place and role in the consumer society – whether it be in a developed or a developing country, though I believe in the not too distant future, robots will take over their role. However, for B2B transactions, it is best if the seller and buyer interact with each other directly, or via an electronic marketplace with safeguards. The dependence on middlemen in such situations will only exacerbate potential conflicts of interest and accentuate corrupt practices.

How is an agent different from a lobbyist?

That is for another blog post I guess!

Have a great weekend folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd February 2019

Far removed from Reality


The World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded yesterday at the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos.

This time around it was a low-key affair since several powerful countries and leaders did not attend. For instance, President Trump and Prime Minister May did not come due to serious problems that they are currently faced with in the U.S. and the U.K. respectively.

However, many billionaires and world leaders did attend, as participation at the Davos WEF has become an annual pilgrimage for movers and shakers from around the world. The WEF conducts forums in other major countries, but none beats the depth and comprehensiveness of the Davos forum.

There were many key issues affecting humanity that were discussed at this year’s event, such as the alarming negative impact of Climate Change. This is nothing unusual. The point is that most attendees come from elite or political or business backgrounds and are, in general, rich. It would be interesting to measure and report the average net worth of all the invited participants at Davos forum. That should prove that this crowd is far removed from the daily mundane reality of an average (not even a poor) citizen’s life, anywhere in the world.

How can a rather small collection of rich and powerful folks make a critical analysis of problems facing this planet and humanity? How can they “feel” the problems, pains, challenges and issues that a common man or woman needs to tackle in his or her life? Are these people really addressing the “real” issues and coming up with practical solutions to world’s rather intractable problems? Or, are they just networking socially and having fun, either at corporate or government expense? Let us not forget that these elite folks already know each other (mostly and generally) from previous interactions. One obvious objective is to learn from each other – what are the current views of the “elite” and “learned” folks from around the world, have lunches / dinners / cocktails and learn more of each others’ perspectives, etc., There are, of course, multiple panel discussions from which our elite participants will learn even more.

But, what is the concrete action plan to better the life of the average citizen coming out of this most expensive jamboree at an exclusive Swiss resort? Is there something coming out of this event that will affect the life of the common man, is there something that he can even understand?

Such events, are in general, a waste of money, which could be deployed in social projects and alleviate poverty. But that is not the concern of the rich folks who schmooze over caviar and wine. This is the obvious disconnect which exists between such powerful gatherings and life’s realities.

I studied the agenda and the events of WEF held last week. There were many useful and relevant topics covered in the agenda, no doubt. There was significant coverage of environment, climate change and the impact of technology – Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, etc., – these are all very relevant, I should say.

The key question, however, is how will WEF deliberations change the world for the better from a socio-economic point of view. What is the success rate of WEF influencing socio-economic policies of governments around the world which choose to attend the WEF event and actively engage other attendees. My theory is that economics at a theoretical level is of no practical use, unless the main users of economic principles (viz., governments) apply the same in consultation with WEF (not the IMF or the World Bank both of which apply tortuous conditions on countries seeking their financial support). How can some of the useful deliberations at the WEF be successfully applied in large countries such as India, China or Indonesia? What are the resources available to the governments which want to reform their economies? What technologies can be leveraged? What are the practical methods that we can adopt for sustaining the deteriorating environment? And so on, and so forth.

May be these things are already being executed. However, in my research on WEF’s practical applications, I could not find clear cut evidence. I could not put my finger on the specific outcomes which are being followed up by WEF around the world.

If my audience can clarify, I will be happy to post an update to this post. If WEF disagrees with what I have stated, all that is required is a response to this blog post, and I will post the same as a correction to what I have written.

In a nutshell, I would like WEF to understand two things –

1. The utility value of the annual WEF meeting is not grasped by the proletariat, and I have seen no evidence that WEF is making an attempt to communicate as such;

and,

2. The obvious disconnect between the abject reality of peoples’ lives and the economic deliberations at WEF conducted at the apex levels of governments and corporates surely exists, whether acknowledged by WEF or not.

Socialism is emerging even in that most Capitalistic country in the world – I mean the U.S. and its potential ramifications over the next few years have not been understood by the key economic players – whether in governments or corporates. This is also something that WEF needs to address. How about inviting Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the WEF 2020 as key note speakers?

Cheers, have a good weekend folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th January 2018

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