India isn’t exactly known for efficiency. The chaos that slams your senses as you step off the plane into the Land of Dharma stands in contrast to the sense of stillness that India’s old wisdom brings. Today’s India is in constant churn. Still shackling off the chains of colonialism and bureaucracy, India can appear to move at the cumbersome pace of an elephant; but sometimes, that elephant charges.
FinTech is an arena of speed and nimbleness. Firms move at the pace of a nimbus cloud as startups rise and fall in an increasingly competitive space that promises to transform a world moving from analog to digital. Security is also placed at a premium, as conflict transitions from firing mortars and metal to acquiring capital and computer power. But above all, what is needed in FinTech is efficiency.
A country known for a fetish for over-administration would be assumed to be one of the last places to find quite possibly the most advanced and successful FinTech “stack” on the planet. Cause and effect enjoy playing coy and serendipitous games with each other, and it is in India where we find the confluence of separate information streams merge into the exceptional India Stack.
One writer who caused an evolution of my thought is the fiery Nassim Nicholas Taleb. His brash yet precise style, swashbuckling smashing of intellectuals, and ancestral Mediterranean insights provided an alternative thought diet in a world that force-feeds the same message to me on television, social media, and amongst my friends here in a buffet of American coastal elites. From the jest of randomness, the beauty of black swans, the advancement of antifragility, and piercing skin in the game, Taleb created a dancing sequence of jabs and hooks to create a battle-hardened mentality to approach the world and knowledge.
One of the biggest yet most nuanced lessons I learned from Taleb was that of scale – how inputs yield outputs differently, depending on size and magnitude. An easy example of this common-sense concept is the difficulty in enforcing an exercise and diet regimen for oneself versus one’s entire family versus one’s entire community and so on. Trying to do good things is easier and possibly more effective in the long run when done on a smaller scale.
It’s one thing to change oneself on an individual level, another to create a visible shift in societies, and another to execute proper governance accounting for different groups along with the externalities and the headaches that come along with policies.
The Search for Truth
Satyagraha or the holding of truth paved the road in Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for India’s independence. Inspired by the ahimsa of Hinduism and Jainism, Gandhi brought his own interpretation taking an ancient concept to new frontiers.
Economic strategy such as boycott of imported goods (swadeshi)
Admirable qualities that built the legend of the Mahatma, the great soul. Selflessness at its apex captured the hearts of Indians across the subcontinent in a mass non-violent movement at such a scale that it has no parallels in world history before or since. While an individual taking on satyagraha is highly laudable, expanding it to society proved a double-edged sword.
With the British reeled from a cataclysmic World War at home and a cracking crown jewel in the Raj, their leaders eventually acquiesced to the rightful demands of an independent India. Truth had met victory in the eyes of the Mahatma’s disciples, but this satyagraha would now face a much older foe that had made its home in the subcontinent over centuries.
Naiveté crept into a population until it was maimed by the madness of a maniac with Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s call of “Direct Action” severing the dreams of Gandhi and millions of other Indians for a united India. What Gandhi and his ideological descendants, Gandhians, got wrong is how values apply at scale. Stunningly noble principles for individuals could not be forced upon a people who were facing a polar opposite ideology filled with aggressive malice and cultivated by despicable men to match.
The beauty of satyagraha was smeared with the ugliness of Islamism and this duality incarnated by way of a bloody partition. An assassin would cite the suicidal idealism of Gandhi as the gunpowder to his fatal and fateful bullet that transformed a man into a martyr and Gandhi into a god. The last breath of Gandhi permeated throughout Indian politics since.
Forsaking looking at others’ faults and focusing on your own to improve are great actions on an individual level. Trying to apply this mentality at a large scale is impossible and can be disastrous. Gandhi’s goal to apply the kindness and tolerance that he practiced throughout his life at a larger level provides a testament to the dangers of this ruinously beautiful ideal.
Primus Inter Pares
While I may have been harsh on Gandhi, his satyagraha was a very inspirational movement that achieved its primary aim (with the help of several violently resisting Indians of course, too) and would echo in the minds of different generations and geographies. Its failures would only truly come to fore when reciprocity broke down as scale increased and satyagraha faced the sinister.
Good behavior scales badly. Bad behavior scales goodly.
An essential lesson to impart here is that the kindness that we should all so admire shouldn’t be extended frivolously in the world at large scales. Strive to be exceedingly kind to all the individuals in your life, but expect less of a return as familiarity decreases and quantity increases. The world of geopolitics and governance is witness to how might towers over magnanimity as scale maximizes. And it is here where we need to examine a powerful chapter across world history for the past several decades – social justice.
Today, however, social justice movements have been plagued by vague goals and a lack of dynamic leadership. Faceless protests descend into rioting at an alarming rate with politicians taking advantage of the chaos and righteous movements thwarted by themselves. No Gandhi’s, no Dr. King’s, no Mandela’s lead the wave of change today. The absence of these emissaries who create a dialogue between the masses and politicians means that when social justice is applied at scale, it descends into disarray with vultures disguised as politicians picking and prodding at a soon to be carcass of a movement. Justice has inherent danger when applied at scale and needs the right leaders and values to guide it properly.
On the flip side, there are also the potential horrors of hyper-local justice such as in the panchayat system of rural India, where a clan of elders decides the fate of the accused, sometimes with cruel and Hammurabi style punishments. We are seeing this hyper-local eye for an eye type justice now extrapolate to larger scales amongst many intelligentsia and political leaders, a notion that would lead to disastrous strife if the scale continues to ramp up.
Bruno Maçães, a prominent political analyst and now part-time philosopher, proposes that America is entering a period where fantasy supersedes reality. The digital world at your fingertips is shaped by the hand of technology. What you see and consume on your timeline is a lens with a distorted scale of the world. What is anecdote becomes amplified into annals as the speed of the extreme races past the mundane on the information superhighway.
Outrage oscillates the Overton Window wildly as technology’s reality distortion field melds our perception. This pendulum pushes our politics in an increasingly divisive direction as upstart politicians wield clout and clicks on social media steering agendas into fantastical territories that are disconnected from realities and history. Technology and social media have brought notions of the past closer to us than ever as rabid battles over who oppressed who pan out in the digital theatre of war.
Elite consensus is upended by guerrilla historians, sometimes erroneously but many times rightfully. These intellectual insurgents zoom out and in on specific instances to promote their perspective, occasionally out-of-context but every so often right on the money. The thin selection of stories published by establishments has given way to an explosion of untold chapters bypassing traditional media and academia, all with the help of technology.
However, this has directly lead to an exacerbation of the application of justice. Crimes of the past are scaled out to include those in the present. Justice morphs into its fraternal twin, revenge. Now, I don’t believe it’s right to silence the discussion of the horrors of the past as that is essential to reconciliation. However, this discussion must be joined with efforts to bring real justice – opportunity and truth – to those who have been oppressed and not extend the hatred of the past to the descendants of oppressors in the present. Funny enough, the answer to opportunity may lie in economics (whether welfare reform, access to capital, ease of business, tackling inequalities, etc…) rather than culture wars.
Today’s society values performatives over pragmatism. In the quest to fight historical injustices, we can’t ask for revenge that spirals into a wheel of fire. We should remember the great effort to organize mass non-violent movements such as satyagraha and civil rights in an era today where the embers of violence quickly follow the gasoline rhetoric of many of our politicians and “activists.” For only great men, great women, and great movements transcend the limits of scale and sculpt our tomorrow.
Economic growth in India has made the question of immigrating to the US vexing for a lot of young Indians. The old attraction of more material prosperity no longer holds, you can buy everything in India. The difference between siblings in the two countries is no longer the car, the modern electronics and superior amenities. In many ways, immigrating to the US has become a more ‘experiential’ move, with terms like ‘job satisfaction’, ‘latest technologies’ being used in addition to the touting of cleaner, safer and more hip environs.
So should you, as a young Indian teen or adult seek American shores? I was in the same situation nearly two decades ago, and took the plane to the US very unthinkingly, almost like an instinct. I always wished someone would have told me what the possible implications of such a big decision would be, the doors it would open as well as close. I seek to do so for any young person interested here. This post is not going to be about details of work and life in the US versus India, but rather the big picture.
Today, the cost of moving out of India is more than the loss of family and ‘culture’. India offers opportunities of its own. It is with this context that we move forwards with our analysis.
Career: Technological Leadership in Prescribed Areas vs Flexibility in a Growing Economic Power
US leadership on the technological front is significant and enduring. America attracts smart people not only from India, but from across the world, including other developed markets. Deliberately or unwittingly, America has been marketed to the world as the place a smart person needs to be in to maximize their potential. This is somewhat like the IPL being the cricket league where a cricketer can compete with the best in the world. There is a reason why America is the only country in the world that has a Google and an Apple.
However, the last two decades have seen a sea change in India’s economic growth, technological prowess and integration with the world. Consider the number of US patents filed from India. From being four orders of magnitude lower than the US, India is now less than two orders of magnitude lower, with continuing growth. Similar trends are seen in the number of scientific papers published in elite journals, where India has moved from 1/20th of US output in 2000 to 1/3rd of US output in 2018. India today offers more opportunities than ever before.
Add to this the fact that the American work visa is exactly that, a visa. The visa is designed to bring in workers in areas where there is a shortage of Americans, so the bulk of opportunities lie in the computer software/data management sector. The flexibility and freedom to explore different career and life paths is severely constrained. You cannot easily leave your software engineering job in a global mega corporation and join a business development role in a start up. You cannot take two months off and wander away to see the world. Your US work visa needs full time employment, every second of your life.
So the trade off here is the opportunity to get a narrow but a truly world class exposure versus exposing yourself to a spectrum of career and life possibilities in India.
Life: Systems vs Services
If there was a one line summary for the difference between life in the US and India, it would be in America you can rely on systems, in India you can get a lot of services.
In America, systems work. The courts, police, municipal authorities all do their job professionally. You will not see mounds of rubble by the roadside and trash everywhere. The air will be clean, government authorities will be professional and accessible. The contrast with India is stark.
When it comes to services, lets just say this, the middle class homes of my relatives in India are a procession of cooks, drivers, maids, gardeners, electricians etc. We have a huge population whom we can now feed very well and transport cheaply around the country to markets which need them. As an example, in India, the service and variety of food on offer in a 3-star hotel buffet for 5 dollars was impressive. On the other hand, there were no Mexican options and stepping out of the hotel, you could literally smell the chemicals in the air.
Spirit: Continuity vs Renewal
Humans are not merely the work they do and the goods and services they consume, transcending our finite selves is a big part of the human experience. This is where notions of family, ethnicity, religion and nationality come into the picture. The US and India offer you contrasting pathways in this regard as well.
Being in India offers continuity and context. You can remain soaked in the arts, sports and traditions you have been familiar with since you were a child, and there is no need to separately make an effort to ‘access India’. You are the market whom the creative and talented people in the economy seek to serve.
America offers the chance for renewal and rebirth. Indeed, for the majority of its existence as a nation, America has offered the tired and beaten people of this planet a chance at reinventing themselves and starting a ‘new life’. The children of those pushed out by their home countries have achieved miracles in the American meritocracy.
So there it is, you can think about these three trade offs while making your decision. Do you want to achieve the summit of computer technology ? Or do you want to explore the world of work before diving into a committed career path ? Do you get annoyed and distressed by the dysfunction of the Indian governments ? Or do you appreciate all the services available to make your life easier ? Finally, do you feel India imprisons you and you need fresh air ? Or can you not bear to sever yourself from your gods and greats ?
Do state capacity and policy really matter when it comes to wealth among regions in South Asia ? Or is prosperity today determined largely by a mixture of geographical and historical factors ? South Asia as a unit is a reasonable region to study because the introduction to modernity in this entire region was mediated by the British Empire.
Seen in the two figures below are GDP per capita ($ PPP) figures for smaller (< 20 million population) and larger (> 20 million population) regions. The entities include the nations of Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, states and union territories of India, and provinces of Pakistan. Some notes about the two figures:
Green bars denote plains regions, red mountain regions and blue coastal regions.
Bold x-axis labels indicate entities with major metro areas.
Bold borders around bars indicate non-Indian entities.
There are roughly five bands of wealth we can identify:
Rich smaller entities of India: Goa, Delhi, Sikkim and Chandigarh. These have GDPs of around $20-25000.
Richer large entities consisting of Indian states and Sri Lanka. GDPs are around $10-12000, and these are predominantly coastal regions.
Succesful agrarian states of India (Punjab and Andhra), mountainous states of India (HP, UT, MZ), Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, and country of Bhutan. GDPs between $8-10000.
Interior Indian states and Odisha, along with all Pakistani provinces. This is the South Asian mean performance of around 4-6000$.
Poor regions: Indian states of UP, Bihar, countries of Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan’s remote area of FATA and India’s remote state of Manipur.
Clearly being on the coast and having a major city help in a major way. In this context, there are three regions which are major disappointments, India’s West Bengal, Bangladesh and Pakistan’s Sindh. All three are on the coast, have major metropolitan areas and even have rich agricultural lands. But their economic performance is significantly below potential.
On the other hand, the economic star of the subcontinent is the Indian state of Haryana. It defies every convention, its not on the coast, lacks a huge metro region and lacks abundant rainfall. But it excels in every aspect of economic activity, its agricultural productivity is second only to Indian Punjab, its industries are varied and well developed and its service sector is a leader in India along with Karnataka. Gurugram hosts genuinely innovative startups, home to at least 7 of India’s 30 unicorns.
An interesting comparison is that between the state of Punjab and the Pakistani province of the same name. Indian Punjab is richer despite lacking a metro area. But there is a convergence in certain aspects. These are rich agricultural areas, with strong remittance networks but they both might lack industrial entrepreneurs.
Bihar, Nepal and Eastern UP together continue to be home to the largest concentration of poor people on planet Earth. This is an isolated region, with no major cities, neglected by every Indian political entity for many centuries now. The Modi government’s national waterway one has already connected the region upto Varanasi to the ocean, upstream will be a technological challenge. Nepal, can look to Indian states like Uttarakand and Himachal for an effective growth strategy.
Although geography and history play a major role, the example of Haryana shows that those factors can be overcome. Market access, aggregation effects and the presence of mercantile communities are the key variables that determine economic performance.
The world breaks down into three major factions: ——post modernists (psychotic in need of urgent medical services) ——Islamists ——“non post modernists and non Islamists” Can Rwanda, the Asian Tiger of Africa, inspire and lead the global “non post modernists and non Islamists”? Can Rwanda inspire and lead the globalists?
America has a national crisis in math capacity, competence and merit. American students sharply underperform students in many countries all over the world. Including Vietnam, which is a poorer country than India per capita. We will heavily refer to the 2018 OECD PISA report in below paragraphs, but the below chart graphic is from the 2015 OECD PISA scores report because math scores are reported for more countries in the 2015 report. Perhaps the 2018 report will be revised to add more countries in the future:
In my view a level 5 PISA score is the minimum requirement for a person to be considered a high school graduate who is literate in math, able to function in the modern global economy, or be qualified to attend college. The PISA report defines a level 5 PISA score or better as a fifteen year old that “can model complex situations mathematically, and can select, compare and evaluate appropriate problem-solving strategies for dealing with them.” How does America perform in the 2018 PISA report?:
United States: 8% of students scored at Level 5 or higher in mathematics
OECD average: 11%
Six Asian countries and economies had the largest shares of students who did so:
Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China): 44%
Hong Kong (China): 29%
Macao (China): 28%
Chinese Taipei: 23%
Note that these six countries were among the poorest countries in the world in the 1950s, far poorer than poor Americans or poor Europeans or poor Chileans can even imagine. In 1979 China was unbelievably poor. Much of the population of China–perhaps as many as 100 million–had starved to death because of extreme poverty in the 1970s. Poor children around the world are outperforming American children in mathematics despite extremely low education spending per student and very low socio-economic level of their legal guardians, where socio-economic level is defined as:
formal education of parents
Do any American high school student subgroups perform well in Mathematics? Yes, “people of color” or “minority” Americans perform well in Mathematics. America’s “people of color” or “minority” students are orders of magnitude more likely to get an 800 on the mathematics SAT than European Americans. If we assume this is an extreme tail end distribution issue related to European Americans having a lower standard deviation and non standard distribution in mathematics performance relative to “people of color” or “minority” Americans, we can explore the breakdown of Americans who score between 750 and 800 on the Mathematics SAT. Here European Americans perform far better relative to “people of color” or “minority” Americans. In 2015 16,000 European Americans scored 750 or higher. 33,000 “people of color” and “minority” Americans scored 750 or higher. We further know that 51% of SAT test takers were European Americans and 49% were “people of color” or “minority” Americans. “People of color” or “minority” Americans are [33,000/16,000]*[51%/49%] or 2.15 times as likely to score 750 or higher on the mathematics SAT compared to European Americans. If we examine the 107,900 test takers who got SAT math scores of 700 or higher; 59,900 are “people of color” or “minority” Americans, versus 48,000 European Americans. “People of color” or “minority” Americans are [59,900/48,000]*[51%/49%] or 1.30 times as likely to score 700 or higher on the mathematics SAT compared to European Americans. For data junkie geeks like me there is a lot more data on SAT math score distributions here and here. The Greta Anderson article’s comment section in particular has some very intelligent commentators who have studied the American SAT score distribution. This is likely to be the subject of many future blog posts and Brown Pundits Podcasts.
What about this is worrying?:
European Americans in particular are sharply under-performing both very poor children around the world and “people of color” and “minority” Americans in mathematics.
American mathematics SAT scores have fallen between 1972 and 2016. 1972 is the earliest year for which I could find comparable SAT mathematics scores. In 2017, 2018 and 2019 the SAT mathematics exam was completely restructured to make scores no longer comparable to SAT mathematics scores between 1972 and 2016.
90% or more of current jobs and businesses are likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI), brain electro-therapy (meditation . . . practiced by civilizations around the world for over 5,000 years), brain sound therapy (naad or mantra yoga and their equivalents in Native American, Egyptian, Sumerian, Taoist and other civilizations around the world for over 5,000 years), bio-engineering tissue, genetic editing, and fused AI-brain interface synthesis intelligence. Almost all of these future disciplines are complementary to mathematics.
Future articles and podcasts are planned all six of these future disciplines. If you are curious about fused AI-brain interface synthesis intelligence, please watch my main man Elon Musk:
Some say that the tension and relationship challenges between America’s four big castes–European Americans, European “Latino” Americans, Black Americans and Asian American–are driving low math scores for European Americans “AND” other Americans. One example is where thought leader Mark J Perry explores the possibility that tension between the European American caste and the Asian American caste are lowering American mathematics performance. Excerpts of his article are reproduced below:
There were louder executives at Google. There were brainier ones. There were more aggressive ones and those who were doubtlessly better at throwing a sharp elbow, too. And many more political ones — even if those who have been running one of the world’s most powerful companies continued to think of themselves as benign, long after it was clear to everyone else that they were many things but that.
Most of them are gone. Most are as rich as Croesus. But they’re not at the pinnacle of one of the mightiest companies on the planet.
Because in the end, the nice guy — Sundar Pichai — finished first. Mr. Pichai on Tuesday was named chief executive of Alphabet, the company chassis under which the unbeatable and wildly profitable search engine lives, along with a number of other less impressive initiatives. The soft-spoken executive, who was born in India, had worked his way up a long ladder from product manager to vice president to chief executive of Google. Now this big announcement.
Page and Brin will still control the company. Pichai is the public face. A friend who used to work at Google says
– He’s not too bright – He’s not too courageous – He lacks deep vision
This is probably what you would expect from someone who is there to take Page and Brin’s implied marching orders.
Pichai gets compared to Satya Nadella of Microsoft. But at least Nadella has pivoted Microsoft in many new directions, fundamentally transforming the OS and productivity application company into something much more diverse.
Five thousand years ago the greater Egyptian, Sumerian, Eastern (defined as pan Arya plus China) civilizations were very mathematically oriented. Many caucasians appear to believe that these ancient civilizations were racist. Possibly because of this many caucasians believe that math is racist.
Another possible reason many caucasians appear to believe that math is racist is because they fear it might unfairly advantages “brown” people (Asians, Arabs, Latinos) and “brown” cultures (eastern philosophy including Toaism and Confucianism, native american religion) at the expense of caucasians in the new global artificial intelligence, neuroscience, genetics economy.
Could part of the anger against math come from fear that mathematics, science, technology, seeking the truth through thought, seeking the truth without thought might be haram or blasphemous? (Obviously most Abrahamics do not believe this and this is not a critique of Abrahamism.)
I believe that mathematics is part of art; and that it derives from beyond normal gross thought. From what in Sanskrit is called Buddhi, Vijnayamaya Kosha, Ananda Maya Kosha, Sukshma Sharira, Kaarana Sharira, the subtle heavens.
Perhaps the anger against mathematics is part of a deeper anger against the subtle heavens? If so, one possible way to look at this is that to transcend the subtle heavens (including mathematics) it might be helpful to love them and love our way through them. Or to love and respect the racist (subtle heavens–including mathematics) until we transcend the various subtleties of thought and feeling.
A growing part of the global caucasian intelligentsia are attacking Hong Kong protesters as far right fascists. This is part of a growing trend among xenophobic caucasians attacking Asians for “white supremacy”, “nazism”, “racism”, “oppression”, “patriarchy”, “imperialism”, “colonialism”, “hegemony”, “exploitation.”
Why is this happening? Is it just jealousy? Is it that many caucasians fear that “darkies” own a growing percentage of global wealth, earn a growing percentage of global income? Is it fear that “darkies” have growing competence, capacity, merit, mental health, intelligence? Is it fear about improving “darkie” academic outcomes?
I am not sure. Can everyone share their thoughts?
How should us “darkies” react?
I believe in loving and respecting our enemy with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds and all our might. This includes everyone who is disrespectful, not loving, racist, bigoted, prejudiced, white supremacist, Nazi, facist, oppressive, hegemonic, exploitative, patriarchal towards us. And everyone who accuses us of being disrespectful, not loving, racist, bigoted, prejudiced, white supremicist, Nazi, facist, oppressive, hegemonic, exploitative, patriarchal. And everyone who labels and mislabels us. And everyone who falsely accuses us.
Everyone has the right to freedom of art and thought. If we truly love and respect others, then how can we not respect their right to disrespect and not love us?
The sweetness of love will gradually melt their hearts.
Some might say that this works for most people who are mean to others, but is insufficient for dangerous people. For particularly dangerous people, we can combine the deepest of love and respect with dialogue. And for the most dangerous people, we can combine love, respect, and dialogue with other things.
Can there be any other way?
This topic is one of the reasons The Brown Pundits Podcast would like to interview Irshad Manji:
Irshad Manji has touched the sweetness of the heart, the silence that is always with us. And while I agree with her that we should respect and love others, and not label others. I don’t think we have the right to limit the freedom of art and thought of others by asking them not to label and mislabel us.
One example that inspires me is how Krishna dealt with harsh bigotry, criticism, false allegations, others mislabeling him, disrespect, bigotry, prejudice, white supremacy, Nazism, fascism, oppression, hegemony, exploitation, patriarchy. Krishna insisted that others be allowed to criticize Krishna.
I would be curious to listen to Irshad Manji’s thoughts about this.
Back in the mid-90s people on the newsgroups and message boards we would complain about people with AOL addresses. More recently, I think one reason Twitter is a problem today is that so many people are on the platform, and that means more stupid people are on the platform.
Another aspect I’ve noticed is the prominence of “Indian Twitter.” India is one of the top countries for the platform. Many of these people are quite dumb and inane…but most people are that way. The chart above shows how many people from India are on the internet. It strikes me that a bit of the “OMG AOL people are on the internet!” effect is going on. This too shall pass.
Note: In the last few years Bangladesh has apparently zoomed up the list of internet penetration due to various initiatives. The ranking surprised me, especially in light of the fact that Bangladesh sends very little traffic to this website even compared to Pakistan.