Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Product Space map

The other interesting conversation I have been having this week on forums, reading about on blogs and talking about with friends has been on the topic of getting the people on the bottom of the pyramid to become wealthier so the per capita wealth goes up and hence the GDP.

The finance minister was picked on by people in forums for harping on growth rates. Unless we have a measure which can include happiness quotient you cannot distinguish between good growth and bad growth. Nevertheless, we know despite the fact that we stand fourth on the GDP right behind China, we languish way below around 130 on the per capita wealth. One of the key imperatives has become to get the GDP up rapidly while trying to ensure the growth comes from the bottom of the pyramid and not from the top and more importantly it is environmentally sustainable.

It has been pointed out that if India and China were to get their per capita up to wealthier levels there will be a shortage of commodities. So, as if the growth challenge was not enough, environmental sustainability has to be built into the growth. Less populated countries had the luxury to have one of the factors of production, Land, to be taken for granted. If they ran out of land they had colonies which provided land for their production needs. India and China have to consider this factor of production a scarcity which then makes them rely on Labour and Capital to increase their growth

Traditionally, the economies of poor and developing countries often depended almost exclusively on a handful of products at most. Why has it been so difficult for these countries to start up new activities suprring economic growth and lifting themselves out of poverty? Researchers have found that a country that has developed the means to generate and export one product can easily branch into the other provided it chose a set of products that leveraged the Capital and Labour developed for that product.

The resulting network, which the four researchers call the product space, maps out world exports. The map shows how industries gather in clusters according to how likely it is that that those industries thrive in the same countries. The rich countries of the industrialized world tend to have broad portfolios of industries, and accordingly occupy large areas of the product space, usually including much of the network's core. Fast-growing developing countries such as China, Thailand, and Hungary are strong in some of those central, well-connected regions. The poorest countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, tend to specialize in a few of the peripheral products--such as oil for Nigeria and copper for Zambia

India would do well to draw out a product space map to identify the areas which can help speed up the growth and get us on the path to higher per capita. While we are at it lets also put in a carbon credit infrastructure, and yes, bring back the $1.5 trillion black money to double the GDP in one day.
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Black Money and the Indian Economy

As per a 2006 report by Swiss Banking Association, India with $1456 billion or $1.4 trillion has more money in Swiss banks than rest of the world combined. This doesnt include amount stashed away in the other tax havens around the word or the ones in suitcases.

To put it in perspective how far does this money go?

- Twice the GDP of our country
- Is 13 times larger than India's foreign debt. Which will mean India can be debt free and still have 12 times more money to invest in infrastructure which can increase GDP.
- 75 crore poor people can get 1 lakh each, which can earn them a decent 1K per month in FD interest alone and put capital in the white market to fund projects.

There is culture of hoarding among Indians. I cant put my finger on why that is. Is it our lack of a social security system that makes us hoard? There is a PF system that is more reliable than any other in the world, but we still hoard.

The bottom line is we are hoarding for a future that may not exist. On the other hand if that money were utilized for creating a better infrastructure today it would be far more effective than hoarding for a world that may not be worth living in.

BJP today took this up as a major poll plank in a news conference. LK Advani (prime ministerial candidate in this elections) promised to make efforts to bring back this black money if they came to power. The move by BJP to announce this is in response to comments by people in the media that there arent any substantive issues being discussed and that the agenda has largely been negative. There was also a deliberate avoidance of mention of the poster boy Varun Gandhi who the media have whipped up to keep ratings up. I am waiting to see how the media takes up this topic.
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Have we finally caught up?

ET reports, in a recent conclave Jason Pontin, the charismatic editor and publisher of MIT's "Technology Review" - the publication of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - confidently proclaims that India is going to dominate the innovation space.

The nature of the technologies emerging from innovation labs around the world today is completely democratic, having the power to touch billions - the literate and the unlettered, the affluent as well as those at the bottom of the pyramid.

If the Indian innovators, tuned to the needs of the less advantaged in their country, are coming out with technologies to address this space, then large multinational corporations, admittedly driven by marketing compulsions, are also now focusing on this segment.
Most of these innovations have been in the field of IT. This is because of the international exposure the knowledge workers have got and their understanding of the enterprenurial spirit of the west. But it is quickly spreading to other domains as well.

Traditionally Innovation has been the preserve of the west. Availability of capital and the ability to take risks made them pioneers in consumer R&D. Since independence India's R&D was government driven and focusssed on basic sciences. A closed and socialistic economy with not much of a consumer movement didnt help either. The opening up of the economy in 1991 has brought with it consumerism as well as availability of capital. It was still a trickle in the early days but is now changing rapidly with access to internet and the blossoming of the knowledge economy.

Maybe Nandan Nilekani's famous demographic dividend, is finally beginning to pay off. Speaking of which he got away easy on my favourite show

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Nandan Nilekani
Daily Show Full EpisodesImportant Things w/ Demetri MartinPolitical Humor
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Lessons in Social Networking

This report in TOI and Outlook was a reminder of how we as a society treat freedom of speech and expression in the web 2.0 world.

Ajit D was a 19 year old blogger who setup an Orkut community called "I hate shiv sena" attracted around 5000 members. There were several posts and discussions by anonymous persons who alleged that Shiv Sena was trying to divide the country on region and caste basis.

Reacting to these posts, the Shiv Sena youth wing's state secretary registered a criminal complaint at Thane police station in August 2008 based on which FIR was registered against Ajith under Sections 506 and 295A pertaining to hurting public sentiment.

In its ruling the supreme court bench said, "We cannot quash criminal proceedings. You are a computer student and you know how many people access internet portals. Hence, if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct."

While IPC recognises libel, Shiv Sena did not file a case under Sec 499. A case was filed under Sec 506 (If threat be to cause death or grievous hurt, etc) and Sec 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs).

The web 2.0 has brought social networking to the hands of teenagers who are barely out of school. They use the medium like a dairy. They gossip and post entries about their desires and feelings like they would on their dairy, except they now have the ability to attract crowds from around the world who can share their thoughts. This brings with it attendant legal issues like the case above. Do these kids know enough law to be safe rather than sorry?

The most destructive piece was the below

The Bench remained unmoved by the submission that if the case was not quashed, similar cases could be registered in other states and even in foreign countries. "If a case is filed in a foreign country go and face it. You should know what you are doing on internet," the Bench observed

This raises uncomfortable questions on multiple fronts. It would be naive of us to believe the internet is going to consist of social networks whose participants will know the laws of all the countries. If I made a comment on China should I be asked to understand the constitutional rights of China to be able to post? If a person knowing chinese law posted a comment on my site would I be held responsible for that comment even if I didnt know the laws he was operating out of? This kills the whole concept of collaboration to protect a bunch of intolerant people.

Does the supreme court understand the implications of the internet and social networks? Does it understand that the kind of control they want to exert is not acceptable in an internet world?

I dont think the laws of the brick and mortar world can be applied to the world of web 2.0. We are making a big mistake which should be corrected before too much damage is done.
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Jon Stewart and The Daily Show

I am impressed by Jon Stewart. Undeniably a democrat. He takes cover under the comedy central banner but not the one to pull his punches. I dont live in the US so I dont watch him on TV but catch up when his shows get uploaded on The Daily Show website

I see Nandan Nilekani is up on 18th. Hopefully it will be just the book discussed. Nandan needs to be on guard as Jon could rake up some rhetoric on the outsourcing and job losses. The fight against the H1B visa tightening can be hard to defend in this economy where US is fighting high unemployment rates.

I was up early waiting for the Jim Cramer toasting. I found links on YouTube earlier than the full episode came up on the daily show website. Jim came in with his sleeves rolled up for a fight and went back with the tail between his legs. What nailed him was his video's on never meant for TV. In those videos he explained how he manipulated the market and news networks to make short term gains.

But like Jon said this isnt just about Jim Cramer. Its about how the financial news networks position themselves as advisors to the public. And when things go wrong hide behind the disclaimer that the market is risky and you are by yourself on your research. That is irresponsible to say the least. If they, as a financial information and news provider are not reliable for data as research what then are they there for? Why should anybody watch it if it is just a talk show spreading rumors with no value? Might as well move the shows to comedy central and do stand up comedy. Wrong calls are fine but if you are unable to dig out facts and rely solely on the word of the company representatives on TV then you must be naive. You also are then guilty of being an accomplice.

I find CNBC-TV18 India a little better on that front. I did find after the Satyam saga they tried to come down hard on some companies with shady balance sheet and shady equity transactions and holdings but they are unable to cross the line and call their bluff. Probably for the fear of aleinating their clients who keep them in the business. So how far will they go to holding the companies feet to the fire, It will be intresting to watch. There are some intelligent people like Udyan Mukherjee and Latha Venkatesh. They should take the lead.

Nevertheless, here is the 3 part blowout where Jon skewered an apolegetic Jim Cramer. Must watch

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