Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who's a better ass?

(Note: This is a copy of the email I'd sent to Mr.Azim Premji, Chairman of Wipro.)

Please allow me to tell you a personal story before making my point.

Recently a bank tracked me down from Delhi(from where I had shifted away 8 years ago) and 
said I needed to settle a credit card debt that was unpaid for 8 years. They were OK with me 
settling the card upto the card limit, even though the accrued interest was way higher.

While I was feeling like an ass to have defaulted on a credit card, I realized the bank was more 
of an ass to have forefeited the interest income for all these years and more so for pressurising me 
to settle now in a downturn when I could have been in a rut myself.

This betrays poor business controls and poor empathy.

Could'nt the same be said of Wipro who "discovers" that hundreds of people are not performing upto the 
mark and lays them off in a downturn - at a time when the job market is already very tight?

Poor cost control;poor empathy. Neither good for shareholders nor for employees.

Even Mr.Jack Welch,ex-Chairman of GE - who was once called "neutron Jack" for laying off people in 
hordes, had a performance review system that weeded out the bottom 10% regularly with the logic that 
it was unfair to wait till people reach their middle-ages to tell them they were not making the cut.

As someone who had extensive relationship with GE and Mr.Welch, you may have a better perspective than I on this.

If anyone needs to be fired now, it's your business leaders who report hoarding the largest of poor performers.

--End of Email--

On second thoughts, there is a perverse incentive for companies to retain hordes of poor performers to be laid off during downturns. Laying off people in large numbers combined with recruitment freeze and "no salary hike" provides the much needed boost in profit margins when the market is tight, leading to headlines such as "Wipro net profit up;sees revenue fall"! 

It's cynical,short-term but shit happens!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chennai Law College violence: Much Less To Be Condemned

I watched the Chennai Law College violence and no doubt, it was damn shocking and cruel. Especially the guy who deliberately and meditatively kept hitting the legs of a fallen student.

The intellect cringes and recoils in abomination while emotions rage in condemning the violence.
Few days later and after the effect has cooled down, I realize there is much less to be condemned.

Our reaction to this violence is not unlike our canned reaction to anything so shocking - including to reported violent episodes of ragging in colleges. Our solution is always the extreme - stop ragging altogether in the latter case, and stop political muddling altogether in law colleges.

The solution to reduce road accidents is not to stop driving altogether but to educate and enforce safe driving practices.

Why do I think political muddling is so essential to law students? Or for that matter, to any student whose study and practice involves understanding, shaping and enforcing public policy, such as political science?

A complicated country like ours with a feudal,multi-layered society fraught with prejudices and disparities can not afford to educate it's public policy students on a purely intellectual level, insulated and isolated from the socio-political realities of it's immediate society.

Such students need to learn to come to terms with, navigate and shape the socio-political complex, from both within the curriculum and out of it - right during their education.

It's not like our engineering ( or medical) education, where the totally one-dimensional education that is insulated from the realities of the immediate society, enables the students to conveniently move to US to pursue higher studies and take great pride in becoming an assistant-secretary in a US administration or reaping moolah in the Silicon Valley, with no ripple effect on the society of origin. More than a fair share of the top IITs and IIMs are situated in the most socially,economically backward regions of this country.

But the inevitable question arises: is violence an acceptable form of coming to terms with the socio-political complex, in this case, caste-politics? No, but it is a knee-jerk,intermediary step in the process of learning - of coming to terms with a disparity and prejudice that is so real and in front of us, like a mad dog gnawing it's teeth.

That is the first step in the process of intellectual,emotional sublimation -  all those students whose ugly part of the soul has been put on public display, can be reasonably expected to analyze and refine their approach to negotiating the socio-political complex. 

The police, who were only meters away, watching over this incident haplessly was another positive high-light of this incident. That clearly brought out the power-relation dynamics that exist between the police and the lawyers, in general, prevaling in Tamil Nadu ( not sure of the rest of India). 

In a developing country, where human rights violations by the police can, as a rule, be taken for granted, the lawyers having an upper-hand is a good situation to be in, even in a bad case.

Neglecting the social dimension of a public policy education can only make the education itself very ineffective and insular. Perhaps there is a way to tone down on the violence.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Trickle Down Economics Busted. What now?

Trickle down economics busted here: In the Real World of Work and Wages, Trickle-Down Theories Don’t Hold Up

Wealth creation has been a noble pursuit. It was alright to dedicate oneself to the research and application of the latest management - financial and otherwise- thoeries to the creation of wealth. After all, every piece of the economic puzzle had it's place - they all worked in tandem and meant as well for the top 1 percent as to the bottom 10 percent.

Even development minded liberals did not have to be apologetic about aspiring for invidual riches by working up the innumerate opportunities for creating and capturing value. The larger the value created, the larger the impact. Richer you are, the better everybody was, including the bottom 10 percent.

Atleast this has been the logic of the trickle down economics. Atleast until the lower trenches and subsequently the rarefieds of the American economy bore the brunt in the current decade. Suddenly exploring the ugly behind of the theory has become fashionable. Even markets are found to have limitations.

India has been a living and breathing proof of both the limitations: that trickle-down theory and the "invisible hand" of the markets cannot reach across the inflection of the non-linearity - that serious handicaps in information and capital access can break the back of the linearity assumption of the theories. That incentives and self-interest driven economic participation dont work the same way - irrespective of whether you're in the top or bottom 10 percent. That whether you were obscenely rich or hunting for the next meal, whether you had a Harvard degree or only high school education, you did not react the same way to the incentives or had the same level of access to capital and information to be an effective participant in the markets.
Every beauty has it's patches.

It's a beauty that the current economic fiasco is attributed to the failure of the trickle-down theory and it's feedback upstream. Somehow, when you factor in globalization - ushered in largely by the Internet and the bursting developing world population - and ever increasing opacity of risk instruments, this seems to be a pretty case of drawing right conclusions from wrong lessons.

In any case, we needed to wait for experience to affirm scientific intuition.

But once we realize the broken linearity of the effect of incentives and access(to capital/information), is development such a divergent path from the one of wealth creation? Is there a possibility of reconciliation?
What does it mean for development-oriented liberals who are young enough to choose which path to take?

Another time!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Philosophy Rant: Ambition without a Rationale

Watching this YouTube video Candidates@Google:Barack Obama,I synched upto a particular idea of Obama - "Running for President can't be just about ambition this time; there's got to be a rationale"(19:00 onwards in the video).

I think this is true for any substantial undertaking. Lately, I realize a particular limitation of raw ambition - it can interfere with genuine learning, a free-ranging exploration being a fundamental, atleast an early, part of it. Ambition seems to be fundamentally at odds with learning - not necessarily scholarly but even worldly.

The fallout of such pre-mature ambition is that one seeks success merely for the sake of it.
No, I am not talking about Bill Gates.

Why Blogging was not for me?

I've tried some excuses to not writing a blog. Here are some:

1)Everything seems too obvious to be written.
2)The ones that are not obvious to me, I dont understand at all - and I prefer to save everybody else from another half-assed opinion.
3)I am too private - You cant speak all that you think - not especially if your thinking is self-admittedly too contrived,bit perverted and often very direct.
Conclusions are sometimes more acceptable than the path of reasoning one took to arrive at'em.
4)You keep changing - what I was y'day, I despise today.
5)You've a broad interest(attention-deficit?) - the blog may never have any focus.
6)Should I wash my daily linen in public?
7)What if people draw conclusions(find out?) about you from your writing?
8)Where do you begin?

Well, the real reason turns out to be that I'm laazzyyy!!

"Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you." - Proverbs of Hell, William Blake.