October 10, 2009

When Hope and Vision Won the Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee says here that President Obama's extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples has won him the Nobel for Peace in 2009 . The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Further, 'Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.' ... 'The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations.' ...

All this to a man who is Head of State of a nation involved in two wars, where the defence spend is much larger than some nations. While the US has not got out of Iraq it has ordered more troops into Afghanistan. By that yardstick, an Indian Head of State should have won, since everytime India has suffered a terrorist attack, our leaders have restricted the use of our nuclear weapons. Heck, we constructively restrict our anger to newspapers, cricket matches (at neutral venues, if you wish), pleading before the UN, etc and go about our business. If only we knew that pounding bombs on suspected nations coupled with good oration would have 'captured the imagination' of the Nominations Committee, we would have done that.

The least you guys at the Nobel's could have done was wait for the end of Obama's term to see if his wonderful oration, hope and vision actually translated into world peace.

October 1, 2009


"The sad truth is that incentives have diluted the importance of investment philosophy. While well intentioned and hard working, corporate executives and money managers too frequently prioritise growing the business over delivering superior results for shareholders. Increasingly, hired managers get paid to play and not to win."

- From Micheal Mauboussin's 'More Than You Know'

August 19, 2009

Miracles Do Happen

The taxi I was in was nearing the Kalanagar signal in Bandra East. Three street urchins, boys possibly 7 to 8 years old, on crutches were trying their luck at the vehicles that were waiting for the light to turn green. One would feel sad for these kids, maimed from birth or early in life, thinking of how the world would treat them differently compared to normal kids. Being the rainy season, it started to drizzle.

The boys on crutches continued to knock on closed cars windows while the drizzle became more forceful ...

What happened next was interesting. If you have visited a playschool or watched a play or event put up by kids you will begin to appreciate what I saw. Kids follow the normal course of activity as long as there is nothing that distracts them. If there is something more interesting going on, kids will immediately get distracted and will start to go their own way, following the distraction causing element or staring at it. Something similar happened here.

As the drizzle transitioned to light rain, the boys stopped knocking on windows. One of them shouted something to the other two. To which one of the addressees, balanced himself on his crutches and, with what I thought was his better leg, kicked a puddle which was just getting formed, in the direction of the first guy. To which the first guy replied by using his crutches as a lever to haul himself into another puddle so as to splash water on both the other guys.

The signal turned green. As I waited for my taxi to pull away, the boys were fully engrossed in their newly founded sport. They were now standing on both feet, the cripple that caused them to use crutches visibly gone, playing in the rain. I smiled. They were kids after all, stuck in the Big Bombay Begging Syndicate.

PS: I have always hated to give money to beggars. Have you ever thought of what happens with the change you give beggars? I hear that it makes its way to shady markets where shopkeepers in need of change buy Rs.90-95 worth of change by paying Rs.100. A 5-10% brokerage fee for the Begging Syndicate. The worker-bee-like kids get a vada pav a day and 60ml of tea. So next time you see a begging kid. As him if he is hungry. If he indeed is, buy him some food or give him that spare biscuit pack you have.

June 25, 2009

The 1/4 life Crisis

Does any of this sound familiar …

1. Feeling "not good enough" because one can't find a job that is at one's academic/intellectual level
2. Frustration with relationships, the working world, and finding a suitable job or career
3. Confusion of identity
4. Insecurity regarding the near future
5. Insecurity concerning long-term plans, life goals
6. Insecurity regarding present accomplishments
7. Re-evaluation of close interpersonal relationships
8. Disappointment with one's job
9. Nostalgia for university, college, high school or elementary school life 10.
10. Tendency to hold stronger opinions
11. Boredom with social interactions
12. Loss of closeness to high school and college friends
13. Financially-rooted stress (overwhelming college loans, unanticipated high cost of living, etc.)
14. Loneliness
15. Desire to have children
16. A sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than you

An author somewhere has called this phenomenon (of experiencing the above symptoms) the Quarterlife Crisis and has authored a book about the challenges of living in your twenties.

Though I haven't given most of these much thought, at some point or another some of the above symptoms have clouded my thinking. I could count 13 out of 16 - some more intense than the others … which makes the hit rate 81%. (FYI, I left out 1, 15, 16 - before I get mail asking me about my desire to have children ;))

Damn this! Kiddish before 12, teenager issues till 20, quarterlife crisis till mid 30s, midlife crisis in the 40s, prostrate issues after 50 … when is a brother supposed to be enjoying himself? :)

June 23, 2009

Development is the bane of our existence

Some thoughts as I return from a trip where I had a taste of rural life ...

The capitalist system we work in encourages us to do things faster and better with each passing year. Corporates are incentivised to grow faster than the previous year. Profits must be larger than the previous year. Costs must be lower than the previous year. These invariably get passed on to us which makes us humans enter a race, trying to do things faster than what evolution permits ...

… With each passing year, one works harder, runs faster to move ahead because if you do not others will take your place. You try to do things at 30 - that which you are meant to do when 35, achieve things at 40 - that which you were supposed to achieve at 50 … Why? … what do you plan to do in those additional 5-10 years you may possibly gain? (if you don’t kill yourself in the process)

… it all leads to stress and stress related problems … we then spend billions developing drugs that make us live longer with these illnesses …

The race to scale also incentivises man to standardise … agriculture is also standardised ... killing bio-diversity in nature …

Development is the bane of our existence … the more we invent, innovate, develop - the more we substitute our natural instincts and abilities for artificial ones … all to achieve more - the race to beat evolution, which hastens our doom.

June 14, 2009

Women reservations: Another policy waiting to be misused

The Government of India seeks to pass the Womens Reservation Bill which will result in 33% reservation of the Parliament seats in the Lok Sabha for women. While I am all for the upliftment of women who have traditionally played second fiddle to men in India (I'm talking of the larger Indian society here), I am not sure reservation is the right way to get there. I say that because reservations in the past have been misused. Deserving persons miss out. I say that from personal experiences, where I have seen people take advantage of their caste status to get benefits. Some of these are people I know well.

One of my friends mentions that this move will only benefit upper class women in urban areas who can contest elections on their own individual credentials. Those for whom this policy is meant - the sparky rural woman who has leadership potential but looses out due to male chauvinism - will find it difficult to get a seat. In all probability, political parties will ration this quota among women who already got elected to Parliament leaving less seats for the ones that need upliftment.

Reservations is curing the symptoms of gender inequality. The malaise is much deeper. Today the average rural woman is mostly dependent on her husband due to economic and social reasons. The only way this can change is if women come together in small communities to work, educate themselves, and have their own support system which can incentivise them to be independent. Empowerment is a long journey. The flipside of the current system is that this will lead to more reservations, where women will ask for representation within the current womens quota for backward castes. It will lead us nowhere

June 8, 2009

Update: Know they pension plan

Some time ago, I posted about having adequate knowledge of where investment managers put your money to work. As an update, I managed to get a cash flow plan of the scheme. Imagine my shock when I present valued the 'capital' and the 'fees' (Present valuing means discounting all future cash outgoes to present terms to know what it would mean if everything were to be evaluated on todays terms). The fees were a crazy 18%!!! ... which means that if I invested all monies today, 18% would go to this institution as fees for managing the capital. To give you an idea as to why that is crazy, mutual funds take around 1% (0.5% when one buys and 0.5% when one sells), alternative asset managers take close to 1.5% - 3% to manage wealth. The next time you are sold a plan, inquire about the fees