Co-operation in Capitalism

If I have ever met you in person (or if you have frequented this blog for some time now) then you would know that I often extoll the virtues of the selfishness citing Ms. Rand and her essays on Capitalism.

In fact I at one time have had a heart to heart conversation with the founder of an organization whose heart is based on contribution and co-operation, stating that the philosophy behind Capitalism is different from a contribution oriented nature. It’s a muddle anyways, in fact the more you think about it, the harder it gets to really identify between the dark and light. There are ample examples where co-operation has been utilized for filling the coffers of different capitalists.

As a point to prove his case, this founder asked me to read a book … the Evolution of Co-operation. If you think game theory is fun, then you should definitely read this book! It’s highly recommended. I did read through the book, but I think it has taken me a bit long to fully understand it … just around 2 years or so!

Today, as I was reading a blog article on a news article based on that very book, a blog article by CFA Institute, I realized what the founder meant to say. That Co-operation can exist within a capitalistic system. The problem with most systems (and this is possibly the places which Ms. Rand glosses over) is that they have a tendency to go corrupt, to go weak. Socialism and Communism suffer from it and this was faced by Ayn Rand all through out her life.

But the solution to that problem is not Capitalism (as suggested by Ms. Rand), a corrupt Capitalistic system is worse if not the same as a corrupt Communist system.

However, that’s not the point of this post, the point is simple. That competition can occur only if there are implicit co-operative signals within the market. Signals such as agglomeration wherein competitors flock together at the same place such as an expo, exhibition or a khau galli to sell their goods.

Another personal lesson learnt – ideals are just that … ideal. In real life, you have to deal with corrupted ideals.

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Best gift you can give your children: Education

We had a function at our place yesterday (it’s an annual thing). To say that the place was thronged would be an understatement. During this time, I get to meet folks whom I haven’t met in ages, from various echelons of the society. All there to serve God.

More on that later.

I met two brothers that day, one of them was an auto-driver, his family lives in a chawl in Mumbai, his children also stay in the same area with pretty much no educational qualifications and with a similar future as to their fathers. One of his daughters has been married to a chap in their locality, and has a son. I am not saying they have a bleak future, or anyhting at this point. Just read on.

The other brother, finished his B. Com and got into a PSU organization, he worked hard in this organization for more than 30 years. Now he is a top executive and owns a bungalow in Pune, and a house in Mumbai. He ensured that his son got decent schooling. Now his son is a management consultant earning a top-notch salary. He has a daugther.

The mannerisms and the income levels of both the families are vastly disparate. Like the Hindi saying Zameen aur Aasmaan.

With both of the brothers starting off at the same point, the only differentiating factor that I can ascertain for certain is this -

Education

As future parents, that’s the best gift you can give your children.

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Identity

identityThere used to be a fine oak tree, in a lovely green meadow. Over the years it had grown to be a sprawling tree with lush green foliage. Travellers would often come to that spot seeking relief under the cool shade of the tree. As time went by, the oak had an acorn, and the acorn was of age.

The acorn was enamoured of the outside world and wanted to roll along the meadow and grow into a strapping young oak. The oak loved the acorn, and told the acorn that the oak would be hurt if it were to go away from the tree. The world beckoned to the acorn … the acorn was torn between the two paths of action. The acorn finally decided to play it safe and stick with the oak tree. The oak tree was happy. The acorn was happy that the oak was happy.

As time would have it, the acorn finally fell. It rolled a few feet away from the tree (as they say … the acorn does not fall far from the oak). The acorn turned into a small plant and found happiness in the shade of the oak.

Many years passed, and the plant remained a plant … it suffered from stunted growth and did not fully grow into an oak tree. The plant was competing with the oak for water and minerals and it was not getting any sun shine due to the oak’s shade. The plant remained a withered shadow of the oak. The oak noticed this, and felt sad … the acorn should have been a full fledged oak by now, yet here it was … a sapling living on the oaks resources.

In some years, the oak tree (now old beyond its years) fell ill and began to falter. It was fast losing its leaves, and looked a shadow of its former self. Woodcutters noticed this rich source of wood and decided to bring this sick tree down. Along with the sick oak, was also a weak sapling. The woodcutters took pity on both the trees and chopped them off.

Travellers who often passed by that meadow still talk of the oak tree … but few remember the weak sapling.

How many people do we meet that fail to find a voice when the occasion demands and find their identity?

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Life as a Lane

02040_blackroad_1280x800 I have taken naturally to car philosophy. As I sat behind the wheel one fine evening, this thought came into my mind. That life could be interpreted as a long driving lane with a series of traffic signals, twists and turns, short cuts, the entire works.

  • Some people rest at traffic signals, while others seem impatient to move on
  • Some people jump signals while morality in the form of a khaaki policeman blows a shrill whistle
  • Some people just want to get ahead
  • … those that do, do not know what to do when they are ahead, so they keep on cruising
  • Some people do not want to take risks, so they go with the flow
  • Yes, there are beggars!

I think I can go on and on with this analogy … what do you think?

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The Difference

I do not consider myself as a blind person.

He said this as a matter of fact.

I have seen the U.S. Open, I have seen the Wimbledon, I like to see movies … I do not know why people think that a blind person will not enjoy all these things.

The operative word is see, he uses it the same way as I do. I am talking about Ashish Goyal, who recently won the National Award for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities 2010. He was awarded by the President of India on 3rd December.

Today, Illumine had invited him for a session and all of us got to interact with him. Hearing his story, and how down to earth the guy was touching … heck, if I had graduated from Wharton (with honors) and working in one of the sought after companies, I would’ve preened. Oh, did I forget to mention that he has lost his eyesight due to a degenerative disorder?

Yes, he lost his vision at the age of 22. But Ashish went on ahead to get into NMIMS, get a job with ING Vyasa and then get an admit into Wharton. He incidentally was invited for this session by the same professor who used to hold guest lectures for him as a visiting faculty in NMIMS.

Ashish was even witty enough to share with us some of his funny moments at Wharton. As the session was concluding, some words he said got stuck in my mind -

Sometimes it takes only a small difference from our end to make a big difference for someone.

I do not want to take the credit away from Ashish (I would have shat my pants had I been in his shoes … I almost had lost my eyesight in one eye about three years back and I had been shit scared). What he has done is really commendable. I am sure that the visiting faculty might not even have thought of this when he recommended to Ashish that he give overseas MBA a try, yet that act of providing advice and hope made such a big difference.

How many of us do such small acts of kindness without looking at the outcome?

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Absolutes

When I was working as a programmer during my first job, I had a staunch position and strong opinion on certain issues, and would budge very little from my position. Even when I knew I was wrong (talk about escalation of commitment!). My family soon learnt that the best way to solve such issues was to let me on my own and let me figure out the answer.

As time went by, often I would be in a position where I was forced to re-examine the issues and take a different stance. At a philosophical level, it became easy to write-off such inconsistencies by simply saying that “there can be no absolutes” … “what is truth” … and so on of more such poppycock. In fact this was the subject of a discussion with a friend – the fact that there is no such thing as an absolute, and that the identity of a person is defined by the absolutes he chooses to stand by. These absolutes may not be universal in nature (as in, they may be subjective in nature), but they are absolutes for that person nonetheless.

A child’s mind is put in a mold through the use of such absolutes. “Don’t lie” … “Don’t cheat” … but over a course of time, the individual learns to define his own absolutes … “cheating is good as long as I am not hurting anyone” … “don’t give money to beggars” … “don’t enter the kitchen when the wife is cooking” … well not the last one (but hey, it might exist for you!!).

In short, if you want to develop your identity, develop your own opinion of things (in turn developing your own set of absolutes).

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Capitalism

Some time back I was reading a collection of essays by Ayn Rand, ‘twas titled Capitalism: The unknown ideal. I was foolhardy enough to put my status message as so on a professional networking site (LinkedIn). A friend of mine commented on that saying –

let me know how to ameliorate the fact that capitalism is pro-incumbent. Also how do we bridge the rich poor divide..Raising taxes for the rich?

Then started a slew of replies, back and forth. I did not understand why do we have to bridge the rich and poor divide. I soon put the issue to rest and went ahead with my day-to-day life … until yesterday, when a chance discussion with Amol led us back to this issue.

I do not see why do we, as a society have to strive for collective equality (why else would you want to reduce the rich-poor divide?). Amol said, that it is not fair, that some people should have a good life while others do not even have basic amenities. I agree, its not fair. But such is life! How can there not be a divide, if there were no difference between people, then there would have been no difference between you and me. So where would your individualism go? People can’t be equal, they have to be TREATED equally. There is a difference.

I agree, that the country needs infrastructure boosts … so much so that it should support the basic needs of all. But to expect that the rich feel for the poor and give willingly, naaah … I have no such feelings.

On a light note, let me paint a picture for you of what would happen if all people were equal, here’s a song by Groove Armada, check the video out – If Everybody Looked the same.

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