Lately, I have been wondering how we can survive tough times- times like now. Times are not tough in terms of law and order (at least in the West), but in economic terms. Like never before in my lifetime at least, there is a premium on innovation and risk taking. Many who did not innovate have gone belly-up already or are doomed for the chopping block. One should not give to pessimism; one should not bury one’s head in the sand in ostrich-like. Manner. Let me call a spade a spade. Even in the US, or perhaps especially in the US, schools, welfare programs and the like are going to face enormous difficulties - in light of lower tax revenue and increased competition.
However, most of us are quite well off - and better placed than those before us. We are well off in terms of the education we have, the improved health and social networks we have. This is despite the facts that Stanford Business School laid off 49 staffers; Harvard lost $10 billion (30% of its endowment); Citibank, BankofAmerica, GM (world’s largest company by revenue), and a host of who’s-whos have been hard hit. Thus, it is time when no one knows anything any better than you and me.
Like in SlumDog Millionaire, the 2009 Oscar Best Picture, now there is a chance that the underdog might be taken seriously or at least will have a chance of being heard - when the mighty have lost their voices. People in far-flung places do not have the social networks that can propel them while competing with those better placed than them. But, now are the times as were seen during French-British wars, where a 17 year-old peasant girl offered to lead the war-weary defeatist French army —and was accepted as the leader of France!!! They had no option. She led them to victory. All Joans of Arc may not be victorious but in troubled times fortune favors the brave. She was killed later due to palace intrigue -at age 19.
The much-maligned Marwari community in India succeeded only as long as they took risks - financial risks in areas of which they knew little of -such as sugar and textile mills. A close family friend died a pauper at age 60 after leading a life of luxury - I only met him once at my first five star meal - at his expense. He had a hosiery mill, lived in a palatial part of Mumbai, but was wiped out when he could not adapt to changing times. His and my families are from the same ancestral village as I am and his family helped my great grand father escape the searing drought in arid Thar Desert to go to East India. His family later moved their business to Mumbai. Family businesses are still going strong in many parts of the world, but it is individual achievements and innovations that lead to societal improvements. Low cost companies are dong brisk business as my IT roommate tells me.
As costs of salaries in the major Indian metros have soared up to 60-70% of that of the USA - due to hifalutin lifestyle and soaring land prices, it would make business sense to seek out suppliers in lower cost places like Orissa, Chandigarh, Guwahati, Raipur, Kohima, etc. Who will take the risk? Who will lure those seeking lower healthcare costs and college education expenses - as student loans dry up and insurance companies raise premiums? Who will ride the tsunami wave at 500mph to get ahead?
By Umesh Sharma, Washington DC