Category Archives: Society

Unlearning the Economics as We were Taught

I think the biggest challenge we face is the process of unlearning. Wise men of the Wall Street pontificated in a manner that the Sermon on the Mount paled in comparison. The sermon is atleast three generations old and has been itched in our folklore as taught, researched and proliferated by creating the ‘selection criterion’ which, as one Mr. Darwin informs us, led to the survival of those who won this process of ‘natural selection’. The inviolability of the gospel has been ensured by the enlightened media-owned and manned by the graduates of the Wall Street school of management. If loss of a child’s innocence is the price to be paid for the TRPs-so be it. It is personal proclivities, deviant psyche and perversion of the few, now decides how should we bring up children, run families and marriages-thanks to M/s Ekta Kapur and Karan Johar, brought up with silver spoon and chose to be single-they tell us how Indian families should be run and that there is nothing wrong if institution of marriage is sent down under and make decisions on the model of societal and social transactions.

I have observed many traditional Indian business families- the way they managed their monies in day-today matters and it looks so very different from the way I looked at my own spending habits-though my financial status ranks nowhere in comparison to theirs. Then this at times comes perhaps because of the feeling ‘already there’ of theirs against ‘this thrift won’t in any case take me there’ so why bother. This infact gets compounded when you see beautiful citi ad targeting Indians-a young man taking his parents to their first overseas vacation-well that becomes a goal to achieve-incidentally on a credit card. Mr Ramadoss-no good in banning ads on smoke, alcohol and narcotics-this dream sell is worse than all these put together.

The extravagance and opulence has been to a large extent been on the basis of deceit and knavery at the extreme-the gullible trusted and the knaves who were trusted used age old art of ‘confidence trickster’-one pioneered by the thugs. Incidentally the hallmark of thuggery was the faith- of thugs in themselves and the fact that they have divine mandate to do so, being able to lure-the gullible by winning over their confidence and being ruthless-when they went for the kill for the entrapped. How similar it has been with our dream sellers of our banking system!!!!

Remember Arthur Hailey’s ‘Overload’ where the key offenders are profiled as people who have large houses and large cars, forced in to a life style which forces them in to ‘meter tampering’. How true it is! (Incidentally, American Express, which caters to credit card business targetted at the wealthy reports that it upped its provisions for credit-card losses from $810 million to $1.5 billion in the latest quarter, a sign that even upscale consumers are having trouble).

An Indian who had earned USD 1.2 mn a year ended his and his family’s life last week in US. Well we all thought that 1.2 mn $ is decent sum for someone to lead a comfortable life. But not unlike the villains of old bollywood movies, where the parasitic hangers on used to cling on to the rich and get them in to bad habits.  Gullible families were by the persistence of media and aggressive marketing were lured in to what was desirable but not affordable. Has the sub-prime crisis not reminiscent of the ponzi scheme-you need to get in to unsustainable chain of events where those on the vanguard has to push out the frontier out get more trapped/tricked just to ensure that you have veneer over you of people who are weaker than you-it is such chain of implosive collapse that present financial crisis has been engendered.

In days when my hairline and waistline were healthier, in a fit of philosophical angst post liberalisation (early 90s, I think in Kanpur), I noticed how a basic law of mechanics help us to distinguish between the orient and the occident thought-Whenever we restrict a degree of freedom, there would be a reaction: Indian concept of mardyadaa has been the same-our upbringing has been on how should we conduct and restrain our lives and carnal desires-husband-wife, parent-child… to how to spend … so on & so forth-infact every social intercourse and the very act of living has maryadaa circumscribing it. Whereas the western thought has been to remove all the restrictions-so we have a society where divorces are record high, live-in relationships outnumber marriages, children not out of marriage equal those out of the consecrated relationships.

So the same mindset is reflected when there is enlightened clamour of less regulation and doing away with what we have. West are exhorting Indians to fix what have been serving well, getting in to a scenario where old laws do not apply and the new ones do not exist.

So it goes…

(2009-10)

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The Crash: Role of Formal B-Education

The value system and paradigm of analysis is something which the schools provide to their pupils and it is on this parameter their standing rests. Not singling a school or the other, it appears that the schools not only taught the business principles but  also taught them the dogma of laissez faire in its most raw form and also drilled in the models of success which shortened the horizon of thought to a quarter. Industry and its compensation models made the long term planning subservient to quarterly performance-battles were won, but the war was lost.

No longer did the schools considered it fashionable to teach what went in to create an enduring business-something which would have run for ages and supported millions of individuals. That business is more than the mathematical models is something every self made businessman understands as no business fully is end-to-end based on machines and mathematics.

Unfortunately the basic lessons were forgotten; every student of physics knows that his work presupposes a set of clearly defined assumptions and the moment you lose sight of these, you may land with untenable conclusions. Business has to address a need of a segment of people who can afford that solution. This relationship is driven purely on the perceived value and that’s why we stress upon value creation and delivery as the raison detre of business. Surely a person who can ill afford a house would love to own it, esp. when the wisest of salesmen assure him that he would get a solution well within his means. The person did see value in it but the targeting was wrong and that’s where the link gave way-wrong make-believe assumptions drove the models to disastrous conclusions.

Compensation models also faulted on the fundamentals-if an undeserving gets a million dollars for doing practically nothing, then be sure that a can of coke will cost us a million dollars. The culpability of business schools lies in the fact that present schools have taken students away from the very basic of business-value creation. We believed that mathematics and financial engineering can drive business, and took the practitioners away from the shops and shop floors. It was easy just to perform complex mathematics and be done with the day’s hard work.

B-Schools have enormous resources and conduct extensive research. They also have close relationship with the Governments and often one finds their senior faculty on various consultative groups which drive the policy and influence precepts of governance. How such impending tectonic shifts missed to be registered on these well endowed and equipped research groups is worrying. Absence of models which would have flagged the festering issues is a painful reminder of what happens when dogma clouds the scientific analysis.

One can’t just blame the MBAs, they were product of a system which suffered from institutional over-reach. Absence of any life threatening catastrophe like the present one made it believe that none existed and were never prepared to handle such an eventuality. Its ability to successfully wriggle out of the earlier financial problems made them perhaps complacent and believe that they had solutions to fix all the problems.

I do see value in financial analysis and theory, but I always believed in the dictum, that a true business leader can’t be a mercenary, true business leader has to understand the domain where he operates-something which is both time consuming and arduous, without shortcuts-and should be able to see the complete business cycle. The present crisis saw the glorified ponzi schemes going bust-scum no matter how well packaged or however named shall eventually stink. I feel a fundamental rethink needs to be done under guidance of some of the self made business leaders and successful entrepreneurs from all over the world. People who have truly created wealth and value and not the ones who were the smart borrowers and who showed off well have to be the anchor figures to bring the B-Schools, their curricula, teaching methods and their research on terra firma. This is direly needed as the B-Schools have a very important role in influencing and de-cluttering public policy all over the world-something which has not been talked about much in the current debate.

(2009-10: On role of B Schools in credit meltdown)

Indian End to Western Beginning-the New all American Discovery

The helplessness of being the victims of collective insanity, nauseating role played by the lobby groups and media in bringing the world to such a pass is appalling. The dread that there was such colossal and collective failure in getting the fundamentals wrongly read and interpreted is perhaps something which leaves one shaken-was all that we were taught wrong, where are our management gurus, where are our money spin doctors who just knew everything, where are our evangelists and crusaders of economic reforms? Economic reforms only means that govt. should underwrite the risk while the rich make merry. Where are our all knowing mandarins of planning commission who feel that by legislation human nature can be governed and piece of paper called contracts can get work done. [I have always wondered why have not these people not yet targeted the largest spender of public money-the armed forces and police, why do not there be a tender for manning military & para-military forces-oh I forgot learned finance ministry should set up a regulator in such a scenario-let a beautifully drawn concession for 30 years be granted to whomsoever quotes the lowest]

The other day my niece who studies economics in XI std. told us that consumption is good for economy-her teacher says; well then perhaps our teachers forgot to teach the Keynes’ ‘paradox of thrift‘-what is good for an individual may ignite recession! Well it is not thrift but unbridled consumption that threatens nation states to go under-something which did not happen even in 1929.

Day in and day out we are bombarded by the adverts making a compelling case to spend over our means-we are told by our money managers that PPF is bad, MIS of postoffices should be scrapped-let all money be handed over to a few, handful private entities-so if you retire and find that you are old, sick and without a job and that the fund house which YOU chose has gone under-don’t complain-it was your choice of portfolio/money manager, so please don’t complain. NBFCs of broking firms were ready to give easy credit on phone call to make investments by putting only 10% of the trade amount. We have in a long fit of collective insanity overlooked fundamentals-our intellectually superior management gurus and money managers promised to create a perpetual motion machine and we believed.

What worries more is the impending burst of credit card credit-a staggering $950 Bn-much of it as toxic (I like the choice of word) as sub-prime related papers. To quote from BW <As with mortgages, banks bundle groups of so-called credit-card receivables, essentially consumers’ outstanding balances, and sell them to big investors such as hedge funds and pension funds. Big issuers offload roughly 70% of their credit-card debt.> Well look at the domino structure!!! Well I wonder what have engineers contributed in finance when most of the MBAs are having tech background-we are taught how to decouple problems and how to have containment in our designs. Lessons famously and tragically learnt in Chernobyl disaster have just been these-don’t make the system interdependence so much that physical separation in crisis is not possible [in this accident as the reactor heat escaped the safety systems and power supply to pumps also got burnt-making a reactor rescue hopelessly impossible]. I have always admired the last line of defence followed by nuclear reactors. When everything fails, under gravity the reactor is just flooded with normal water. [In Narora, when power and some safety systems failed following hydrogen leak related blast-in bellowing smoke operators forming human chain poured Boron compound from jerricans to kill the reaction]-well atleast we need to start decoupling the instruments. [in signal analysis every derivative makes the result jerkier unless the input is a pucca sinus wave ] & teach ourselves that there is something called moderation and thrift, which incidentally is one of the few antidotes to the in-the-wings environmental Armageddon.

Toynbee famously remarked <It is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in self-destruction of the human race. At this supremely dangerous moment in human history , the only way of salvation is the ancient Hindu way…>

I am attaching an interesting article on new American discovery-thrift.

Pained…confused and angry,

(written in 2009-this was covering mail to an attached article addressed to my colleagues at RDSO)