Leadership,Poverty and Social Security

Leadership, Poverty, and Social Security.

Professor BM Hegde,

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I think leadership comes from integrity – that you do whatever you ask others to do. I think there are non-obvious ways to lead. Just by providing a good example as a parent, a friend, a neighbor makes it possible for other people to see better ways to do things. Leadership does not need to be a dramatic, fist in the air and trumpets blaring, activity.”
Scott Berkun

This short, pleasant, crisp, lucid, and imaginative booklet needs to be studied in depth by everyone concerned with mankind’s plight in today’s world. I found the book unputdownable and finished reading it in one go, as I was absorbed in its underlying mission of humanism in every walk of life viz: political humanism, business humanism, and even economic humanism. At the end of the book what impressed most was not the economics or the MBA knowledge of the author, but his concern for the less fortunate in society which must have stemmed form his deep sense of spirituality. Neither the western economic teaching nor the curse of business administration courses would have given him this insight into the all pervading abject poverty that is threatening to destroy mankind-both rich and the poor. Today the poor, all over the world, pay for their poverty with their lives. Until the last person gets three square meals a day there will be no peace on earth even for the rich! We have had five large annihilations of all life on this planet; the last one destroyed even the Dinosaurs. All the five were due to external meteors. The sixth one in the horizon is going to destroy all of us and that would not be due to any external force but due to man’s greed, destroying mankind as a whole! The widening gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots” will do us in one day.

Unfortunately, our educational system teaches all the wrong ideas to students. Big business follows the corporate philosophy of Bernard Mandeville and his student Adam Smith, while the scientific community (technology included) follows the wrong teaching of Darwin’s theory of struggle for existence. Incidentally, Darwin was also a student of Mandeville at some time in his career. Both these two gurus goad us to struggle for existence at the cost of others, while the real science and economics should follow co-operation as the basis of mankind’s growth. Both streams of learning in India today (a copy cat of western teaching) destroy the spiritual wisdom that was at the core of our educational system in India up until the time Thomas Babington Macaulay destroyed it to give us “Englsih” education to prepare a few Indians who are “Indians in colour and blood but British in thinking, morals, ethics and action.” One such example in economics is in order here as the author is basically an economist, and a good one at that.

The Nobel Prize in economics in 2002 went to two professors of economics in Chicago, Vernon Smith and Daniel Kahneman. Today economists also do laboratory research. Their famous “Dictator Behavioural” experiment in the Chicago stock market gave them the inference that all human beings are hard wired to be altruistic. They wrote the paper and bagged the Nobel. Their own colleague in the department, John List, thought that this inference was contrary to what one sees in the world. He repeated the same experiment in the same stock market with one difference. While Vernon Smith had told the subjects of his experiment that what they do in the market will be carefully observed by researchers, John List, their colleague, on the other hand, told his subjects that they will not be observed at all at the stock market. John’s results universally showed that all human beings are anything but altruistic. They are all Homo Economicus-wanting to have more and more for themselves and nothing for others! But the truth did not get the Nobel Prize.

Thanu Ramaswamy, the celebrated author of this wonderful booklet, is a seasoned economist and management guru who reminds me of that famous book “Small Is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered” a collection of essays by the famous British economist EF Schumacher. The heading “Small Is Beautiful” came from a phrase by Schumacher’s teacher, Leopold Kohr. Like Schumacher, Ramaswamy also has seen the other side of the divide and has come to this wonderful conclusion that it is the poor man at the receiving end of all our economic theories, put forward by our ministers day in and day out, who needs to be saved before he perishes. In the process he will pull all of us down otherwise. I had strongly objected when the famous New York Times journalist, James Freidman, wrote the book about the world being flat after interviewing a couple of IT gurus in India. His book had such a distorted version of India that the book almost laughed at the 67 million malnourished children dying in thousands daily in India suffering from a disease NIDS (Nutritional Immune Deficiency Syndrome) a disease not recognized by the “Corporate Monstrosity” of modern medicine. Ramaswamy also believes in the phrase “Small is Beautiful” and has brought out this compendium in a small format. This is the prime reason why I agreed to review this book. Today people might buy big books but rarely read them. Small books are read from cover to cover. I congratulate the author.

Some of the sayings in the book are worth quoting to be highlighted. “Dishonest industrialists, scandalous politicians and corrupt officers are reported to have deposited large amounts of money in foreign banks in their illegal personal accounts” on page 22 reflects the scams tumbling out of the ruling party’s cupboards by the day! I wonder if there is any exception to the adjectives that the author uses in today’s set up, the various political party’s notwithstanding. I think when a man/woman gets into politics corruption creeps inside unbeknownst to him/her. Ramaswamy’s chapter on motivational economics reads very well and hope will motivate the readers to follow on the footsteps of the writer. Ramaswamy goes on to say that “hunger in India has reached its highest level with rural economics all over the country on the verge of collapse — .Human cost of liberalization has been great.” Ramaswamy’s mission reminds me of the struggle started by the young British MP, William Wilberforce (24 August 1759 – 29 July 1833), against slave trade at a time when the western economy depended only on slave trade. He was asked to go home by people as his mission would certainly not succeed they thought. But the young man never stopped his fight eventually to get the Slavery Abolition Act passed in 1833. Slavery, those days, was akin to poverty today. I wish and pray that Ramaswamy’s mission will succeed sooner than later.

Writing on leadership the author stresses on the character of the person as the most important force. In fact, character is what one does when no one is looking. John List’s experiments showed that all the players at the stock market cheated because they did not have the right character. Our netas depend on their reputation which, in fact, is only their shadow, character is what they are. Our leaders did not even hesitate to eat the money from cow feed! Leadership crisis touched upon by the author seems to be a disease suffered by all countries in this era. Look at the collapse of the American mega economy. For the first time in 100 years, USA lost its economic preeminence when they got the AA+ status in place of their AAA. This does not bode well for mega economies. Starting from Jawaharlal Nehru India opted for mega things not bothering about the Father of the Nation’s warning about the fallacy of that policy. If only we had followed the cottage industry pattern of Gandhiji we would not have had farmers’ suicides in such large numbers.

This is a timely warning to the nation that unless we change the direction of our ship we will soon have a major shipwreck. This book gets very high marks in my assessment and must be read by every one concerned with mankind’s future on this planet. The author needs to be congratulated for putting so much wisdom in so few pages. His extensive training in economics and management and his life long anubhooti from his work including a stint at India’s Planning Commission made him wiser by bringing out the philosopher in him at the end of it all to goad him to write this Bible for the people in charge of nations. Nothing can be perfect. Better editing would have eliminated a few typographical and grammatical errors in the first couple of chapters. This final note is for the publishers for its second edition which will come soon.

“Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.”
Coco Chanel

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