August 10, 2010

Choppers of India Unite!

Now that Sen. Charles Schumer (D — NY) has termed Infosys a 'chop shop,' righteous indignation and condemnation will pour forth like water down the Niagara.

The 'insiders' know that it's all political posturing ahead of the mid-term elections.

Is Infosys a chop shop?

Well, if Infosys was into the leveraged buyout business, then this 'slur' might have made some sense. As it is, it's nonsense of course and I expect Tom Friedman to write about this in his next column.

Friedman got the 'inspiration' to name his book The World Is Flat from Nilekani of Infosys after all.

What does Infosys do though? What does the broader Indian IT industry do?

It certainly can't claim to be an innovator in the sense of a Microsoft or Google or Apple. What Indians are learning to do is acquire IT skills and some domain expertise and then be able to do 'regular' paying white-collar jobs that earlier Americans used to do.

So, these 'safe' jobs for average Americans are vanishing in astonishing numbers. That makes the Indian IT industry somewhat of a convenient scapegoat in the current difficult economic climate in the United States.

Manufacturing has of course shifted lock, stock and barrel to China from the U.S. However, that's a done deal and so there's no point in crying hoarse over that particular split milk.

The outsourcing of good, high-paying white collar jobs is still a work-in-progress and so it makes some sense for politicians to shed some crocodile tears over it.

I certainly sympathize with the plight of the poor Americans. Whereas the average young American professional might aim to earn $100,000 by the time he or she is 30, Indian professionals would be happy to earn one-fifth of that. Earning $20,000 in India would make the person very rich indeed!

This is of course what happens when the world becomes flat. The imagery that I like to think of is that of liquids kept in different containers.

As long as the world economy was not interlinked and intertwined, it was like the liquid containers were not connected and there was water in the different containers up to different heights which is to say the standard of living was different in different countries. There were rich nations and poor nations. However, a globalized world is like connecting all these containers and so water will tend to adjust itself across all the containers so that it's at the same level in all of them.

In the economic sphere, what this translates to is that the fact that there are poor nations on the planet such as India and China — with huge numbers of people — will mean that the wealth of the entire global economy will tend to get spread evenly across the entire globe. So, Americans can't expect to maintain an exorbitantly high standard of living even as people in the poor countries continue to remain in abject poverty.

So, in a way, the problem of over-population becomes a global one. I am concerned as a citizen of India about the abysmal lack of consciousness of Indians about this horrendous situation. I guess now is the time for people in the rich nations to concern themselves with such 'global' problems. Over-population and poverty in any nation becomes not the problem of a particular country but everybody's problem.

It's a good thing after all. It's high time folks on planet Earth realized that we are all inhabitants of one tiny, little oasis floating in space.

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