Saturday, February 25, 2017

This nadu is my land, this nadu is your land ;)

Right from when I was a kid, I have always believed that there is something in people in India that makes us feel it is normal to go far away from the places where we were born and raised.  Maybe the stories of my grandfather were the reason; back in the early 1930s, he went from his home in the southern tip of the peninsular India all the way to Varanasi (Benares) for his undergraduate education.  Given the transport and communication technologies of the day, that kind of a decision is almost unimaginable these days.

Or, maybe because of the stories that I heard about my father, who went all the way from the southern tip of the peninsular India all the way up to a back-of-beyond place in Bihar in order to work at a project that was modeled after the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA.)  Those days, travel from his mother's home to his work consumed five days, which meant that ten days of a month-long vacation were spent merely on traveling!

By the time I was a pre-teen, I had been made aware of the far corners of the world to which people from India had spread.

Such a "will travel" attitude means that soon people of Indian origin pop up in areas all around.  Sometimes, that leads to tragedies too--like in the case of an Indian engineer who was shot dead by a white terrorist.

If we don't get killed, and if we are allowed to do what we like doing, then, hey, a Sendhil Mullainathan happens.

To people like me, who come from a certain part of India, that name immediately tells us that he is one of us.  It is a Tamil name.  

For a few years, I have been following Mullainathan's work to the extent that I can understand.  He has been engaging with the public, too.  Good for him, and good for us.  A chair professor at Harvard, he writes in the NY Times about trump not having an economic adviser:
The Council of Economic Advisers performs a function, and provides a perspective, that businesspeople do not.
By way of background, it is useful to understand how the council, which does not, at the moment, have a chairman, actually operates. In effect, it is an in-house economic consultancy for the White House. The staff produces economic analysis on nearly every issue the president faces.
trump is clear that he knows it all.  He doesn't need any stinking economist to tell him about the economy.  How many economists are as rich as he and some of his cabinet members are, right?  If you are so smart, how come you ain't rich, you stupid economics professor?

Mullainathan addresses this difference between business and economics:
This is a much broader responsibility than you might imagine. For example, suppose a reduction in the size of the Army was being considered. The effect on national security would be a major concern, but even this policy has economic consequences. What would the reduced job opportunities do to people who have made the military their profession? What would happen to the economies of the towns that surround Army bases? What would the fiscal consequences be, such as the cost of early retirement or severance packages that might need to be paid as part of a downsizing? It is the council’s job to marshal the best analysis and evidence to answer these questions.
Ah, those elite professors at liberal universities that keep conservatives away from campuses.  trump and his minions know better.

Chances are that despite the best efforts of the white supremacist party aka the GOP, a smart, good-looking, person of Indian origin might even make it all the way to the Oval Office; just wait for it ;)


Ramesh said...

Never heard of Sendhil. I did read that piece in the NYT but never saw who had written it.

The issue of people from business & industry in the government is a nuanced one. Obviously, just having people from any one sector in government is bad. Running a government is easily the most complex activity on earth and you need talent from every walk of life.

My point in the past has always been people from industry are under represented in government and because of that the best managerial talent available is not being utilised. In the US, at best a few from the finance industry have been in the position of Treasury Secretary, but otherwise, your governments have been dominated by lawyers. A career in industry teaches you to be results oriented, teaches you to be accountable and demands performance. These are excellent qualities to being to government. Trump bringing a few people from business into government is actually good.

The reasons why industry is under represented are many. Firstly managers don't want to come to government because of pay differentials. Secondly there is more than a whiff of dirtiness in politics and governing that puts off talent. Third is the huge problem of conflicts of interest that incidentally is a major issue with your government. Fourth politicians usually detest business people. But I submit, finding ways to being high performing managers from industry to government is a good thing.

Sriram Khé said...

If business folks do not want to give up their gazillions in order to serve the public, I have no problems with that.
if the business folks think they are far superior to the dirt and mess of politics, that means they live in an illusory world of false beliefs that businesses are all clean and virtuous.
if the business folks do not want to deal with the conflicts of interests, then I have no problems if they decide not to enter politics.

The only place where I agree with is this: The mutual suspicion and distrust between business and politics. This adversarial attitude is one that we cannot afford. I would rather that the two worked in ways that complemented each other.

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