Friday, March 11, 2016

My predictions for the outcome of the Republican Primaries and Caucuses

There is a lot of speculation about who is going to be the republican nominee for president of the United States. Although Donald Trump is clearly the front-runner now, he is hated by the folks in the republican establishment, who would rather see someone like Jeb Bush getting the nomination. Now that none of their favorite candidates are in the race, it boils down to one of the four who are in the race. The second in line right now is Ted Cruz and he is also someone the folks in the GoP establishment love to hate. The other two simply don't have the numbers. The question is why are they still in the race. Marco Rubio is in because he is expected by the GoP establishment to win Florida, a winner takes all state, and deny Trump or Cruz (mostly Trump) a majority needed to ensure automatic nomination. Similarly John Kasich is still in because the GoP establishment hopes that if he wins his home state of Ohio, another winner takes all state, Trump will not be able to gain a majority, denying him an automatic nomination. If all this works, the GoP establishment can field a preferred candidate - someone like Mitt Romney - who will replace Trump, despite not being in the race. But what the pundits at the GoP are not calculating is that Cruz and Trump can broker a deal wherein they could say one of them will get the presidential nomination and the other will be the running mate. It is win-win for them both. Ideally, Trump will become the presidential candidate for the republicans and Cruz will be his designated deputy. Since Ted Cruz is relatively younger he can get a good shot at occupying the White House after Trump's term there - i.e., if Trump gets elected as President. But even if Trump loses the presidential race to the democrats (most likely to Hillary Clinton), it is no big deal, Ted Cruz will still be a favorite candidate for the republications the next time around. So he has a lot to gain by joining hands with Trump. But assuming that doesn't happen and the GoP establishment fields a non-contender as their presidential candidate, this will piss Trump and Cruz off and both may run for president as independents. This will make victory easy for the democrats in this years presidential race. I would not be surprised if Hillary even wins with the highest victory margin in American history if this happens.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

ICICI Bank's Social Responsibility Gimmick

I recently came across a news report on one of ICICI Bank's corporate social responsibility initiative. The title of the report was "ICICI Bank to let women work from home for a year". At first glance it sounds all rosy and kind but ICICI Bank's social responsibility record is abysmal... They sell insurance products as though they are the best investment alternative out there... They hire goons to recover bad debts from the poor and broke... they place unrealistic targets on their sales personnel that many end up choosing unethical means (with their boss's blessings/direction) to meet their insane targets... they don't allow investor's to book their profit, instead they ask them to reinvest in another "scheme"... So I suspected this "women friendly" initiative cannot be as rosy as it is made to sound. Exactly as I suspected, this initiative is biased and is just a publicity gimmick... According to the report, "Women in all roles, except those in direct customer-facing ones, would be eligible for this initiative based on their life stage needs." A majority of women who work in ICICI bank are in "direct customer-facing" roles... So it is pretty much for the upper management and corporate elite... that is a shame!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

HRD Ministry's Priorities

I read a recent report in the Economic Times about an initiative of the HRD ministry to identify institutions that will emerge as world class in teaching and research. I welcome this initiative but I am a bit concerned about the priorities of the HRD ministry. Yes, we need to identify potentially world class institutes and such a ranking process can be very helpful but the priority should be on research not on teaching. Don't get me wrong, teaching is important but the quality of a institute has to be judged by the quality of the research that comes out from there. Right now, there is Indian institutes that can match up to the top schools of the world, or even Asia for that matter, in terms of research productivity. We need to fix the teaching as well but it is important to identify that the priority should be research.
I recently had the opportunity to visit three of the top institutes of management in India and interact with the faculty and grad students in these institutes. I made a few observation there. First, most of the faculty that I met there were motivated to do good research. Of course, there was a bit of self selection here... the ones who are not keen on doing good research would not be interested in spending time with a visitor who was invited there for a talk... also the ones who consider themselves to be good researchers already will not be motivated to spend time with me. Second, the amount of time they spend on teaching was insane... it is simply impossible for someone to spend that much of time on teaching and still find time to do good research. Third, even the super motivated ones who squeeze time for doing research are not trained at their grad schools to publish their work in leading journals in their field... in fact they are strongly motivated against it. They even are trained to believe that international journals are biased against the scholarly work of non-western researchers from non-western schools. This is why they aspire to publish their best work in the Economic and Political Weekly rather than in the American Economic Review or the Quarterly Journal of Economics for instance. Yes, international journals have had their biases in the past but they are much more open these days to non-western scholarship. The Chinese and Koreans have been able to overcome such biases, if any. So why can't we? Mindsets need to change and incentives need  to be aligned. My suggestion is not that we start copying what the Chinese did or the Koreans did, which essentially was blindly copying what our western colleagues did. My suggestion is that we learn to embrace our history, experience and current realities in doing our research. This will allow us pursue research that matters. But the trick is making what matters to us also relevant to the world. This leads to my fourth observation: Grad programs should train grad students to engage in phenomenon motivated, theory rich research, using cutting edge research techniques... Further, Grad students should know that the PhD dissertation is not the end of one's research journey but just the beginning. The role of teaching should be to inspire students to enjoy their research and publish their best work in reputed international journals not in obscure domestic ones (or obscure international ones). Only then will research from India gain visibility and recognition.
So when the HRD ministry ranks the potential of Indian institutes, it should use a rubric that places a greater weightage on research than on teaching... this would mean that an institute that affords more research time for its faculty will be higher up in the ranking.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Some perils of blind patriotism

Patriotism is a good thing but it should not blind your from reason. There was a time when great freedom fighters in India like Subash Chandra Bose was ousted from the INC for their extremist views. In some fairness, Nethaji did try to forge an alliance with Hitler, one of the most cruel dictators known to us in the past 100 years. Sure now many feel that Nethaji's actions were justified because he was pursuing a patriotic ambition but his patriotism did blind him... he was forging an alliance with an evil man. And sure, in retrospect, Nethaji and Gandhiji could have worked their differences out. In fact, many condemn Gandhiji for not attempting to save some extremist freedom fighters from the gallows when he certainly had the power to intervene in such matters. Gandhiji too, perhaps, was blinded by his version of patriotism.

An ideal way to sort out differences is to have constructive dialogue and for that you need to go beyond blind patriotism. When the Berlin wall came down it re-wrote Europe's history. It wouldn't have been possible if people remained patriotic to their respective sides. The CPI and CPI(M) are legitimate political outfits because Pandit Nehru took the risk of engaging the communists in a constructive democratic dialogue. It was a banned outfit before Indian independence but post-independence Nehru felt that it was necessary to have a healthy dialogue with the communists, however divisive and seemingly unpatriotic their party's ideology might be. And as he expected the communists' strong leftist ideology checked an balanced the ideology and policies of INC by anchoring the INC to the center. Thanks to the push from the communist parties we were able to nationalize banks and bring credit to rural India. But the communists also went out of line in some occasions. For example, during the 1962 war with China, the CPI leadership often aired China's view on the disputed border between Indian and China. In that sense, they could have been branded as anti-nationals and jailed on sedition charges. In fact, many from the CPI leadership were jailed for their pro-China stance. This event even culminated in the split up of the CPI into two separate parties. But it was continued dialogue between the establishment and the communist parties using the electorate as a judge that actually prompted the communists to revise their stance in later years... had the communist not been brought to the mainstream they would have fought from the outside and created havoc... the damage done by the naxals and the maoists are sufficient illustration for my point.

My point is very simple. If a section of the society is unhappy with the status quo it can lead to an uprising... it can even turn unpatriotic in nature. But the way to deal with it is not to condemn their protests with sedition charges. We need to understand what is making them unhappy and identify means that will make them happy without harming the unity and integrity of the nation. Kashmiri youth in India are unhappy with the establishment because they have had a disturbing childhood and they think that the Indian army and the Indian state is to be blamed for their misery... propaganda from Pakistan is only adding fuel to their imaginations... Clearly, they aren't to be blamed. The government should lend its ears to the youth of Kashmir and find out an amicable way to integrate them into mainland India. Encourage the rest of India to welcome our Kashmiri brethren with open arms. Give heavy incentives for Indian corporations to set up manufacturing and service establishments in Kashmir. Invest heavily in infrastructure and education in Kashmir. We need to find a way to ease the mobility of people in and out of Kashmir from and to the rest of India. If this happens in a matter of a few decades the psyche of Kashmir will be fully integrated with the psyche of the rest of India.

Jai Hind!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Time to address racism in India

Newspapers across India have been reporting the case of violent racial discrimination in India where a 21-year-old Tanzanian girl was repeatedly beaten and made to parade around naked while the police was watching all this. This is pathetic and painful, to say the least. Here is a link to the article This is not an isolated incident. A documentary by the Times of India shows how bad our behaviour has been towards our darker skinned brothers and sisters from other countries.

It is no secret that ours has been a country of racists... It has gained deep roots into our popular culture too. For example, our movies openly promotes discrimination based on skin color. Here is a clip from the movie Sivaji that shows how accepting we are of racism. The director and the "Super Star" in this movie think that this is funny! What a shame!

What is surprising is that the true cultural heritage of this country suggests that we have celebrated diversity in skin color in the past. We have colored our gods black, blue, green, red and white... So perhaps the widespread racism could be attributed to some extent to our colonial past. Whereas our colonial lords discriminated us based on our skin color, we have silently aspired for fairer skins to gain a sense of superiority from the rest of us and equality with our colonizers. This is probably why brands like fair and lovely thrive here. It is high time we acknowledged that we are infested with this disease and actively vaccinate against it. The role of the government is paramount in this endeavor. The government has to actively step in and crack down racism in our country... be it against foreigners or locals.

Friday, January 29, 2016

High Status Firms and Corporate Illegality

I and Rekha recently published an article in the Academy of Management Journal (Krishnan and Kozhikode, 2015). This article was mentioned in today's Globe and Mail. Here is an excerpt from it.

"The research posits that the sense of security enjoyed by elite organizations has been greatly overestimated. Many are so eager to maintain their reputations that they will engage in deviant behaviours – even acts of illegality – out of fear that they may not be able to meet the expectations of associates and shareholders."

The Globe and Mail piece can be found here...

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Is it about time to reinterpret the Big Mac Index?

I feel that the usual interpretation of the Big Mac index is a bit misleading... it is better to interpret it as how much the US dollar is overvalued against the focal currency rather than how much a focal currency is undervalued against the US dollar... A Big Mac is more like a rich man's food in India. A poor man's breakfast – let’s say a plate of 2 Idlis and a Vada – in a true Indian city fast food outlet would cost only about Rs 30 - i.e., about 50 US cents... A Big Mac on the other hand costs three to four times that... So it certainly is not a poor man's food, as it is in the US. Yet, a Big Mac in India costs less than 50% of what it costs in the US. To me, it says that a poor man in the US has to pay twice as much as a rich Indian does to get a meal. So I would say the US dollar is overvalued... an American can buy a lot more (two burgers from India - i.e., two portions of a rich man's food) with one US dollar in the international market than he or she would in the domestic market. Perhaps it is time to revalue the US currency. It might reduce wastage in the US substantially given that most US good are imported. I have seen good quality plastic cutlery (imported, let me add) thrown into trash cans after one use or many times even unused. I often see that a lot of food (with a lot of imported raw materials) wasted in US restaurants… people order a lot more than what they can eat and fast food chains tempt people into buying food that they don’t need. The same goes with toys and clothing… most of which is also imported. When one of my friends from China visited Philadelphia he wanted to buy a souvenir to take home and he decided on a miniature replica of the liberty bell that he saw at a souvenir shop. Though he liked it, he found it pricey. Nonetheless, he picked one up and got into a long queue in the souvenir shop to pay for it. Just then he noticed that it was “Made in China”. He got out of the que right away and said, ‘I can go home and buy one of these for a tenth of that price’. If the US dollar were to the rightly revalued, there wouldn’t be as much wastage and as much consumption of unwanted stuff… I even think that the US economy may truly recover.