Friday, September 13, 2013

Our Future is in OUR hands

There are a lot of Indians who hold a very pessimistic view of India. They believe that India is a poor casteist society whose glory days lie in ancient history. That India is a land saturated by 'goondas', a land where corrupt leaders rule the roost. That there are way too many people in India to have a realistic chance at prosperity for all. That Indians are somehow genetically inferior to the industrious Japanese (Japan being a nation which shares a similar population density, but has an order of magnitude more income per person).

I would like to argue that there is absolutely no reason for this inferiority complex. Indians are as industrious as any of the other peoples of the world; some of the world's smartest minds are (and have been) Indians.  (note that this is not a nationalist statement - one in 6 people in the world is Indian - and therefore, stands to reason that approximately 16% of the smartest people in the world are Indian)

In this article, I'd like to highlight a talk by one of India's (and humanity's) biggest fans, Professor Hans Rosling, whose talks in TED are a huge attraction. In a very unique and quantitative way, Professor Rosling professes a very optimistic and rosy view about all of humanity, India included. He is of the firm belief that the average Indian will achieve a western standard of living within a single life-time - and he proves this by extrapolating trendlines is his TED Talk.

Economists agree that a young developing nation (with a lot of people in the "earning" age of the population distribution) is more likely to grow (and frankly needs to grow). Nations like Russia and Japan have lots of old people (an inverted population pyramid); as a consequence, no one expects them to grow very significantly. Of late, China has been making use of its demographic "dividend" growing at consistent astronomical rates since 1979. (However, due to their draconian one-child policy, it is expected that their growth will decelerate soon). India also has a demographic dividend - that's part of the reason why the last 10 years have been the best in India's recorded history, as far as average economic growth rates are concerned. However, there are growing concerns that the dream is rapidly fading away due to the cowardly policy stands of the center government. And slow growth right now will be nothing short of a humanitarian disaster - as the hundreds of millions of India's young need jobs.

There are several ways to put a population to work. And not all of them are equally successful. Consider this: America was not always as rich as it is now; Japan (with the same population density as India) was not always as rich as it is right now. China was poorer than India 30 years ago.  In almost any region that has achieved "western" levels of per-capita incomes one thread is common: freedom. Economic freedom. When you allow people to do what they want to, it just happens that they do a good job of it and generate wealth. They generate wealth that no amount of central planning ever could. And this wealth generation is the best way to mitigate poverty.

As someone who has spent a lot of time in America's universities and in the silicon valley, I would like to reiterate that Indians are as capable as any other race. There is nothing that his necessarily holding India back, other than a lack of economic freedom; something that politicians in India have annexed in the name of "socialism". India has been experimenting with socialism over the last 60 years. While there have been significant strides made (e.g. in fostering a robust democratic tradition, something most countries in the world still struggle with), India is a significant laggard in human development. Data shows that this is due to an oppressive regulatory environment that has stifled economic freedom.

It is up to the people of India to make their vote count and to take the side of economic freedom and rapid development.It is up to the people of India to make their vote count to make prof. Rosling's vision come true. The key to good human development at the bottom of the pyramid isn't hand-outs and subsidies; it's economic freedom, entrepreneurism and free enterprise.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Everything Will be On Record -- And it will be awesome!

I have thought about this a lot. And I have now become convinced that, in the near future (in the next decade, say), every interaction you have with anyone else, every little walk you take outside your house, every single thing you say, will be recorded. And this will not be a bad thing.

And in most countries, it will not be big brother who is recording you -- it will be you, yourself. You will be wearing a wire all the time -- every conversation you have will be picked up by a hidden camera and microphone on your person (tethered wirelessly  to your smartphone, possibly) ; it will be recorded and immediately uploaded to the cloud. You will do it; everyone else will do it; and everyone you know will know that you're doing it - and you will know that everyone else is doing it. Furthermore, friendly algorithmic agents in the cloud will determine if you are in imminent danger - and will dispatch appropriate authorities to your current location, should such a determination be made. All this without any violation of privacy -- they're acting on fully your behalf. 

By far the biggest benefit of this will be felt in the developing world. A developing world, where there's lots of poverty - and subsequently, lots of corruption, bribery and exploitation right now. I believe that this is all set to change because of technology. I believe that when used appropriately, technology can bring an unprecedented level of transparency to human-human interactions, potentially striking a debilitating blow to current self-sustaining cycles of corruption. 

Consider the following scenario, which most Indians will be able to relate to. 

You're in a government office, trying to secure some paperwork to take possession of your new house. Things are great, except for the clerk at the registration office, who wants a few tens of thousands of rupees to line his pockets with. You really have no way out of this situation -- he's going to irritate and harass you until you pay up.

Now, imagine, if you had a hidden camera/microphone on your person - and you recorded some fairly incriminating statements and expressions from him (demanding bribes, for example). And then you proceeded to hand this tape over to one of the hundreds of news channels which have mushroomed of late in India. This naming and shaming that will ensue will possibly act as a disincentive from further corrupt behavior.

The tea-boy who sees a minister get off light after running that red light could hand over embarassing records to the media, for instance. And if the police don't record acts of sexual violence  and say something misogynistic instead -- you now have a video of a shameless, corrupt cop to upload to youtube.

This will, of course, bring about a 'blackmail' culture for a while. But I am convinced that this is a transient. Soon, every government employee, scared that they will be falsely named and shamed, without telling their own side of the story, will start recording everything they do. Maybe their employer will do it for them. Soon every human interaction will be recorded by both parties. And this will bring rise to perfect transparency. The same clerk in the registration office that we talked about earlier will now work under a camera, which is recording everything you say to him; everything he says to you. Your personal microphone is also recording everything you say to him. If you offer to bribe him, you're in trouble; if he requests a bribe, he's in trouble. Your only option is to follow the rules. His only option is to follow the rules.

Big brother isn't watching you. But if you do something wrong, the wronged party can rewind the tape and show big brother.And if some party wrongs you, you and rewind the tape and show big brother.  And if big brother isn't willing to listen, big news media is going to be more than happy to listen.

And this will kill corruption.