The Niche That She Found

tumblr_me72yeT3W81rlif9vo1_500If Howard Roark were an architect in India, he would have been lynched by the mob. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark is a kind, gentle man with strong values and principles. But, in a country where humility is considered the fundamental moral virtue, they would have sent this arrogant young man to a lunatic asylum, to see to it that he is salted away for a very long time. He could not have reached them through rational arguments. It is not surprising that the “mystic muck of India” evoked nothing but contempt in Ayn Rand. I do not blame her.

But, for many young Indian men and women, Howard Roark epitomizes individualism and character strength. There are ardent socialists who consider Ayn Rand the greatest novelist in history. Much to the chagrin of their boyfriends, many women want their men to be like Howard Roark. A collegemate once told me, “Women do not know that it is not possible for a man to be Howard Roark. He can only pretend to be Howard Roark. Hell, he can’t even pretend to be Howard Roark.”

As a teenager, whenever I felt depressed, I turned to Gail Wynand for inspiration. Once when I met a girl who has the same cognitive and personality traits of that of mine, she told me that her favorite novelist is Ayn Rand, her favorite novel,The Fountainhead, and her favorite fictional character, Gail Wynand. It is strange. For nearly four decades after the Indian Independence, every aspect of the Indian economy was “planned” and “regulated” by the socialistic state. The economy has become far more liberalized in the past two decades, but India’s is still one of the most controlled economies in the world. Virtually every literate Indian has heard of Karl Marx. Karl Marx’s political views are much closer to the typical Indian’s than Rand’s. Outside the market niche she has found, Ayn Rand is virtually unheard of. Yet, Ayn Rand outsells Karl Marx by sixteen-fold in India. This is in all likelihood an understatement because I first noticed her works when I was a teenager, in a rickety street stall in a small town. Those were pirated copies.  Continue reading “The Niche That She Found”

Is It Fair To Blame The Farmers For The Price Rise?

ag_imgFarming is considered a patriotic enterprise, and nearly half of India’s labor force is engaged in agriculture and allied activities. Almost everyone believes that in the election season, political parties should pledge to aid this patriotic endeavor to feed the nation.

After the Indian independence, the annual production of agricultural goods has risen many folds. At the same time, the prices of agricultural products have risen many folds too. In surveys, inflation is on the top of the list of the scourges that anger the Indian voters. Except for a short period in the early 2000s, inflation in independent India has always been high. How could agricultural productivity and prices rise simultaneously, year after year? It is surprising that such obvious questions have not occurred to the policy analysts who take such claims at face value. The prices rise when there is more money chasing fewer goods. Remember that even in 2008, when the then President Bush complained about rising global food prices, the average inflation in the United States was only 3.8 percentage. This was the highest in that decade. If this were fueled by the global economic crisis, it would have affected other countries too. But, in the countries were central banks are independent and have an inflation target, the inflation rates were often ridiculously low. India would not have found an inflation of 3.8 percentage worth losing sleep over. In its history, India has almost never seen such low levels of inflation.

But, if so many people produce so little as they claim, perhaps not many people should engage in farming. A short evening on a farm might have convinced the panegyrists of the past that the farmers themselves might not agree with their romantic view of the farmer.

Read my column in DNA.

Does Corporate Funding Undermine Democracy?

what-corporate-structure-is-best-for-startups-considering-vc-funding--29abbcca4cWhen I was in school, during the school elections, the candidates distributed notebook labels and similar “gifts” among younger children. When the catholic nuns found out, we were asked to fork over those goodies. But, they could have bought us only if we were up for sale. Democratic politics is not any different. 

It is perhaps true that politicians can buy voters with a 10 Rupee or 100 Rupee coupons. But, no one compels voters to vote for the politicians who distribute cash and liquor. It is not hard for a man to accept liquor from the local politician and still have a healthy contempt toward him, and punish him. When I once tried to shirk during college elections, a candidate’s supporters chauffeured me to college. To punish these hooligans, I voted for his opponent. I did not tell anyone because I feared that they might retaliate. The point is that for the voter, political virtue is almost free. No one knows what he does inside the polling booth. But, even that he evades. He finds it hard to do the right thing even when it does not cost him a single paisa.  

If the voters have such “soft hearts” and “soft heads”, virtue in democratic politics is forbiddingly expensive. Asking politicians to change is a lot like nagging a brick wall. Indian politicians—or politicians anywhere for that matter—are not known for their decency. It is worse than a waste of time to ask them to act against their own self interest.

Read my column in DNA.

In Defense Of The Passive Citizen

05TH_NOTA_1777943fWhen an auto rickshaw driver in Karnataka ferried people to the polling booths for free on the Election Day, the media called him a great philanthropist. But, is it self-evident that it is a virtue to vote? 

The mainstream media celebrates the phenomenon of the people who do not even know their own age registering their opinion on complex policy matters. They are, after all, eager to vote. The underlying logic is irrefutable: “If ignorance does not stop the passengers from pushing the buttons and pulling the levers of the air craft, this must be noble. At least, they are doing something.” 

But, it is not hard to understand why the admirers of democracy love greater participation. It fits in well with their vision. Their heart lies with the real India waiting to get in, but is still being kept out by the elite. They think that ordinary masses will not go away. It might be their only hope, but they have something called the vote which will humiliate their betters. The Day of Judgment will come once in every five years.

While the middle class and the rich are busy partying, they will march to the polling booth in hordes and push the button, throwing all the rascals out. It would be quite an inspiring sight! 

This is quite a vision. It is also a vision that never materialised in its full glory. Or, perhaps it did, in an ironically grotesque manner. Lalu Prasad Yadav once said: “From a buffalo back, I have landed into the gut of a helicopter. This is democracy.” It is not open to argument whether he was right. What is open to argument is whether this can be considered a merit of democratic politics. 

Read my column in DNA.

To The Prime Minister Narendra Modi

India-EU Free Trade Agreement1Globalisation has a bad press. Free trade was never popular. When the UPA government announced the decision to allow 51% foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand organised retail in 2011, the BJP and other opposition parties claimed that this would ruin the nation. A politician even said that she would set fire to the first Wal-Mart store when it opens. But, do you really believe that this would inspire faith and trust in industry?

I do not know about your followers, but it is no longer acceptable to claim that you will set fire to the store of a Muslim or a Christian. Why should different standards apply to foreigners? In a sane world, it would not matter whether a corporation that invests in India is native or not. The ideology of anti-globalisation is based on the belief that foreigners are not people—that they do not have equal rights. That is all there is to it. It is, of course, not true that foreign investment would ruin the ruin local retailers. But, even if it would, so what? I understand why the idea of nationalist appeals to you and the Hindu nationalists, but are local retailers the master race for whom everyone else should suffer privation?

Now, is there anything wrong with an American multinational retail corporation investing in India? You seem to be keen on empowering the poor people in India, by transforming them into skilled workers. But, Indian wages are shockingly low by global standards. This is not primarily because Indian laborers are unskilled, but because the technological means of production are primitive. An ordinary Indian laborer who moves to the developed west might see his wages instantly rising, even up to twenty times of that of the wage he could have earned in India. But, this cannot be because he became incomparably more skilled overnight. He has become far more productive overnight because western firms employ more sophisticated machinery.

Read my column in DNA.