Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Americanized world need a culture shift

As they say:The world is not being globalized, it is becoming Americanized. The USA has tremendous influence on the world. Most of the new ideas come from US and the rest of world blindly accepts it without any second thoughts. Such is the power of America. Fortunately, most of these are wonderful ideas and the world has benefited by pursuing these. There are plenty of such examples: from Freedom of expression to Internet, and from Free Market Economics to Conveyor belt Batch process. Largely american ideas have shaped the world for a better place to live in.

But today I want to discuss few 'American' ideas which went terribly wrong. The US as well as the 'Americanized' world need to take immediate steps to correct them to see a better tomorrow. And unfortunately we have not seen any radical action or paradigm shift in the mindset of the americanized world to correct those mistakes.

Let me start with the great American Greed. Some say that greed is good and for progress we need greedy people. Greed motivate people to start new things, take risks and make large breakthroughs. But I feel there is a very fine line between ambition and greed. Ambition is working hard and trying new things for a better future. But greed is a mindset to make fast and easy money without much hardwork. In most of the times greed is associated with dishonesty and fraud which harms majority of the stakeholders. Social cost of greed is huge and today's subprime and credit crisis are example of that. The americanized world need to change its mindset. From peer pressure, rat race and greed to have enormous wealth we need to focus on more phylosophical themes of life like: Peace, Honesty, Satisfaction, Living in Present, enjoying small beauties of life, harmony with people and nature etc. 'There is enough for every man's need but not greed.' Once people can differentiate the need from the greed we can have a more sustainable and inclusive prosperity.

The second is the culture of wasting resources and living in excesses. Byproduct of greed, american lifestyle is an example of living beyond the means. Here are some statistics:In the US alone $48 Billion worth of food is wasted anually, American Credit Card Debt is valued at $950 billion, as per the 2003 data 291 million americans(out of which only 196 million are drivers) drive 231 million cars(more car per driver), In the US alone the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 44% of junk mail is discarded without being opened or read, equaling four million tons of waste. This Economic downturn may proove to be a boom in disguise if this can change the wasteful spending oriented mindset of americans and create a culture of living within the means. If the Obama government takes the energy issue seriously we can see more Green energy sources. At the same time we need to create a culture of public transportation and car pooling simply because those are much efficient systems from energy use perspective and having less environmental impact.

Third culture which needs dramatic change is lack of effective oversight and stopping lobby powers to misuse the laws. Instead of one of the best tracking and policing system in the world we have seen many big oversight failures in the US: Financial Frauds from Bernie Madoff, irresponsible mortgage lending and derivative trading by Wall street. Also in everyday life we see so many crimes starting from prostitution to drugs and Internet crimes to detainee abuse. Narrow mindset of different lobby powers affect the proper growth of the society. We waste huge amount of money in agriculture subsidy; car lobbyists have stopped the growth of public railways and transport system; we have a nexus of insurance companies and medical practitioners creating a inflated healthcare cost; our budget is grossly misused in ineffective programs etc.

Let's think about the solution. Let's accept that we don't have any easy solutions and we can't fix all these in one day or one month. But we need to have a vision and the top leadership need to honestly pursue these dreams. We need to change acts and laws and plan big for future. We need constant communication to the people for chaging their mindset(BTW Obama did a good job in last presidential address). We need to think beyond short term political popularity and take hard decisions. From theoritical perspective these issues look simple because we know the solutions. But in practice actionizing the solutions are challenging because these involve people and changing people's mindset is a tough job. Unfortunately we don't have a plan B.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire and other issues

Tonight is Oscar night and most of the Indians wish to see Slumdog Millionaire(SM) winning Oscar in all ten categories. I see great excitement over this film and several true SM stories in Internet.

Frankly speaking, I think the film is not extraordinary. The storytelling is good but the film looks unreal because of its use of English and Hindi. In India English is a foreign language and a slum dweller is not supposed to speak in English. I think the director could have justified more to the reality if he tried to make the film in Hindi with English subtitles. The music is just OK considering the genious and potential of A R Rahman(although I wish he wins the Oscar; it would be like Einstein getting Nobel prize not for General Theory of Relativity but for Photovoltic Effect equation). I think one of the reason the film has received so much attention in western press is because of its link to famous production house and director. India has made many great films such as Lagaan, Taare Zameen Par which could not make to the Oscar. I think the reason is that these films were more Indian in form and type with lot of music and dance, which was not acceptable to western critics.

The reason I wanted to discuss this film is something different. We have seen a lot of protests against this film. See the details from wikipedia.

"Following its release in India, the film faced criticism from various members of the public alleging that the film fuels western stereotypes about poverty in India and that it peddles "poverty porn" and "slum voyeurism".[47] Tapeshwar Vishwakarma, a representative of a slum-dwellers' welfare group, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the film's music composer A.R. Rahman and actor Anil Kapoor, alleging that slum-dwellers were depicted in a bad light which would be a violation of their human rights.[101][102] Vishwakarma's lawsuit alleged that the name of the movie is derogatory and he was particularly displeased that Indians associated with the film did not object to the use of word "slumdog."[101] Nicholas Almeida, a social activist working in Mumbai, organized a protest against the film on the grounds that it intentionally exploited the poor for the purposes of profit, and that the title 'Slumdog millionaire" was offensive, demeaning and insulted their dignity. The protesters were slum dwellers in Mumbai, holding posters like "I am not a dog"[103] who objected to being dehumanized as "dogs" in the film title.[104]
Protests against Slumdog Millionaire have extended beyond Mumbai to other parts of the country. Slum dwellers in Patna, the capital of the Indian state of Bihar, have intensified protests against the movie. Activists have reported that slum dwellers will continue to protest till the film's director deletes the word 'dog' from the title.[105] Protests in Patna intensified on 26 January 2009, when "protesters tore down posters and ransacked a movie theatre" screening the film. The following day, the police in Bihar tightened security "outside theatres in the state to thwart any further attacks."[106]
Hindu Janjagruti Samiti has protested against the film for its allegedly inappropriate portrayal of the Hindu God Rama.[107][108] The activist group believes that the portrayal of Rama is derogatory and "hurts the sentiments of Hindus". Writing for the conservative Daily Pioneer, Kanchan Gupta reiterated the objections of the activist group that the film provides a one-sided portrayal of the complexities of religious conflict in India, and that the film depicts Hindus as "rapacious monsters".[109]"

All these criticisms may be true from their own perspectives. But I see some missing points in all these criticisms. The truth is that most of the Indians are still very poor. India still faces lot of socio-economic challenges like extreme poverty, human exploitation like child labour and prostitution and religious riots. As the truth seekers press and the movie-makers have all the rights to make stories on these themes. And I think Freedom of opinion actually helps to improve the existing system in a free pluralistic modern society. Our(most of the Indians) problem is that we are not open to critism. We don't prefer to accept the critism and improve on that and rather try to attack the critic evenif we know that the fact is true. We know we live like dogs(in all possible inhuman conditions) but we get upset if someone says that. We are much more discussion oriented and much less action oriented.

We get excited about our glorious past and that is good. India is one of the most fascinating country in the world having rich culture and traditions of music, food, science and phylosophy. We should be proud of this tradition and do our best to promote this to the world. At the same time we should be open to other cultures and learn from their experiments with truth. As a nation we should become more confident in accepting the fact that we are not perfect. We have problems and we are open to learn from our own mistakes and other's experiences. We need to stop arguining whether we are 'slumdogs'. But rather we all should aspire to be 'millionaires'. We need to stop cheap day-dreaming but start dreaming big. You know that Dream is not what you see when you sleep;dream is something that doesn't make you sleep.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

H1B VISA Program etal.

Senate approves 'strict' rules on hiring H-1B workers and there has been a growing controversy whether H1B VISA Program should be stopped completely or at least regulated. Let me first start with the disclaimer that I am a beneficiary of H1B VISA program and continuation of this program will be good for my career. Said that I will try to access the effects of this program on American Economy and also the World Economy in general.

H1B program was created to supplement American workforce with foreign workers having highly specialized knowledge in Business or Technology on a temporary basis. It was designed to help American business to source global talent to remain competitive. And I think this program helped US in many ways to achieve that goal. Best talents of the world are still attracted to study and then work in US making it a hub of continuous innovation. And I believe that is the most important competitive advantage US Economy enjoys over other economies.

It is true that many of the times H1B program(or for that reason any worker VISA Program like L1 etc.) has been exploited by different organizations. Companies have hired foreign workers with skills available in the US mainland. They were paid lower wages than the standard prevailing rates mentioned in the program. These temporary workers have been used as onsite coordinators to move jobs offshore. US corporations and Offshoring companies used this process to increase their profitability. Because of this Nobel laureate Economist like Milton Friedman think H1B is just another government subsidy .

Truth to be told all these are true but stopping H1B VISA program will not help US or world economy in any way. Protectionist view have never been successful in a Free-trade world where companies look for value. Let me explain why this will not work and what we can do to make things better:

  1. Offshoring work to low cost countries will continue to grow even if H1B programs are stopped. The latest trend in Offshoring is not the use Onsite H1B and Offshore Contractors model. Instead US companies themselves are moving their own operations to low cost companies(For US this means american job loss and Income tax loss, in H1B model at least Income tax revenue was not lost). In this model you can have some key employees(US nationals) in US and a huge back office operations in low cost countries like India or China. That means even without H1B program american jobs(which does not need local presence) will be lost. If the US government even tries to stop offshoring completely the effect will be worse. US companies will lose their competitive advantage and Foreign companies with access to cheap labor will rule US and world economy. In that way much more US jobs will be destroyed. In a hypothetical situation if US stops Free-trade contracts with its partners it will become a country like North Korea(enough said I believe).
  2. I think the only way US and the world economy can prosper is through free-trade and more wealth distribution. For decades US has been living in enormous excess. US consumers have continued to spend by taking loans from developing economics. On the other hand workers from poor countries have continued to work harder to create products, services and finance options to their American sisters and brothers. They saved that money and sent to America so that their US friends can fund their offerings. I believe this model is not sustainable in the long term. We need to acknowledge that the value created needs to be redistributed or at least balanced. That means we need to see a lower consumption and more savings by Americans and less saving and more consumptions by emerging countries. That is the one of the way US and world can maximize economic prosperity and continue business operations. For this we need have more free-trade and growth of american business for world consumption. If implemented properly US can have more high end jobs(thus low unemployment), more balanced budgets and more sustainable economics. On the other hand developing countries can see less dependence on US economy(we have seen huge job losses throughout the world because most of depended on US consumer),better lifestyle and better infrastructure and prosperity. It may sound socialist, but a capitalist economy can not sustain with massive wealth accumulation in the hand of few fortunate people and the rest of the crowd left behind. We need to see money in the hand of common people(bottom of the pyramid) so that they have ability to spend and purchase products and services. Some ideal scenarios for future? An investment banker from NYC happily accepts a job in a micro-finance company in Bangladesh(because he or she will be able to maintain almost similar lifestyle and also do more satisfying job of helping people with money rather than creating synthetic derivative products) or a Indian banker can afford a honeymoon in Mediterranean cruise.
  3. The basic difference between the US and any other coutries is that US is the country of immigrants. No other country in this world has so many hard-working, talented opportunity finders and innovators. US has always been the hub of innovation for new technologies and new ideas and the only way it can continue to survive as a prosperous country is to continue that trend. For that US should keep the border open for truly high quality foreign sudent and workers. Here quality is the keyword. I think what we need to have is a right gating process which is enough comprehensive and clear in its directions so that the exploitations can be minimized. We should ensure that only the very best gets a chance to enter the country. At the same time I think we need to increase the number of intake of foreign students and workers because we are not really doing a good job in global sourcing. I believe that there will a lot of fantastic talent available throughout the world who do not get opportunity or don't have enough information on US immigration. US can do better campaign on those counties to invite right talents by showing opportunities and also change the immigration laws to ease this gating process for the right people(today H1B Visa can only be obtained by a sponsoring company and many of the times right talents do not get those sponsors or are exploited by those sponsoring companies). At the same time US should concentrate on educating its own workforce with latest technology and skills(job skills as well as basic money management skills) needed for the next economy. US should effectively invest in higher education and research(should make affordable higher education) and work on creating a new economy( may be green technolgy, energy technology, bio-technology, space-technolgy,geo-engineering, computer science, business etc.) which will create millions of new jobs save the world from our most pressing issues.

This is the high time that we be ready for the new rules of the new economy. We can not(and should not) artificially stop companies from improving their operational efficiencies. Hence we can not save amrican jobs by stopping H1B Visa programs or offshoring. What we need to think is to create new economy, new technology and new ways we do business. That is the only way we can save american jobs(for that reason jobs all over the world) and see a prosperous world.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Intelligent Cell Phone

I am not a Mobile Technology guy. But I have this idea which can solve lot of problems for busy executives.
Problem Statement:
1. If we are using calling card to make international calls we need to call a 1-800 number and once connected we need to type our registration number and password to make the calls. This is problematic for the users as they have to remember those data or type it every time.
2. For Virtual online meetings also executives need to make call to one 1-800 number and then enter meeting ID and passcode.
The mobile phone should have facility to save the numbers (registered number and passcode etc.) associated with such numbers (1-800 number) and once connected should automatically type those numbers. In this case the user can enter the data once and for all and he can be free from remembering this data in future calls. This solution should have fantastic CBA numbers as the users will have a premium experience with their smart mobile device.