This article is published in the April’2008 issue of the magazine “Management compass”
Nothing but bucks
How money makes the world go round
In his movie presentation on global warming, former US vice-president Al Gore made this statement somewhat humorously, “It is difficult to convince a man about something if his salary depends upon not following it.” Contrary to what Mr Gore had to say in his presentation, reputed Times of India columnist and former editor of Economic Times, Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyer had this to say in his article Global warming or global cooling that scientific truth (of global warming) is rarely mentioned. Why? Because the global warming movement has now become a multi-billion dollar enterprise, with thousands of jobs and millions in funding for NGOs and think-tanks, top jobs and prizes for scientists, and huge media coverage for predictions of disaster. The vested interests in the global warming theory are now as strong, rich and politically influential as the biggest multinationals. It is no co-incidence, says Crichton, that so many scientists skeptical of global warming are retired professors: they have no need to chase research grants and chairs.
This reminds one of the Luddite movement that was launched against the industrial revolution which began in the later part of the eighteenth century. The manual labour-based economy of Great Britain began to be replaced by manufacturing machinery and industry. Their main objection was that the introduction of new wide-framed looms that could be operated by cheap, relatively unskilled labour could result in the loss of jobs for many textile workers and cause widespread unemployment. For a short time the movement was so strong that it clashed in battles with the British Army. Measures taken by the government included a mass trial at York in 1812 that resulted in many executions and transportations (removal to a penal colony).
Since one has to keep the kitchen fires burning, people are bound to be desperate when their very survival is at stake; how does one decide the Laxman Rekha in such matters? Over the years, one gets to read or hear of several examples such as these from different professions. Some software people are of the opinion that the people who make vaccines for computer viruses introduce the viruses in the first place. Some years ago, it came in the papers that the head of an aids related organisation in Bombay stated how some US multinationals were trying to advocate that HIV and Aids were linked, in order to promote their drugs, although there was enough evidence to the contrary. There were a couple of programmes on a prime Indian televsion channel, which revealed how teachers used to threaten children refusing tuitions with negative marking in exams and how doctors were in tandem with laboratories to recommend all kinds of tests which the patients did not need.
This reminds me of some of my experiences in this connection. My father, while taking his mother to the hospital, was advised rest and a checkup was forced on him because he looked emaciated. His blood pressure did appear less than normal but he was advised to stay in the hospital for the night and a temporary packemaker was inserted in his body. Later, a permanent pacemaker was put in its place next morning. This entailed a lot of cost and till today, he is not sure whether or not this was actually required.I myself suffered from slip disc seven years back. I was advised surgery but since spine surgery is dicey, we thought better to take more than one opinion. All the three doctors advised surgery and two of them proactively asked me whether or not I had a medical insurance. The manner in which the question was mooted reeked of something amiss and what hurt more was that one of the doctors was known to me. I once also heard about a commercial pediatrician, of all things. Even children have started being treated like commodities. The recent case of kidney thief Dr Amit Kumar, aka Dr Santosh Raut who had stolen more than 600 people’s organs in the past seven years is an extreme manifestation of this trend.
There are examples from different strata of society. The Times of India (Nov 25, 2007) talks of Maoist insurgencies violently disturbing the peace in 165 of India’s 602 districts and these are largely made up of unemployed young men, which implies that had they been employed, the turmoil, if any, would be of a lesser degree. This has been true for some of the other terrorists as well. The October 29, 2007 issue of India Today reported how in the last six years, 17 officers of the rank of Brigadier and above have been indicted in corruption and misappropriation of funds, which includes the sale of military rations like meat, pulses, liquor and fuel in the open market. The situation was aptly summed up by a retired major general, “Among politicians and bureaucrats, it is an exception to be honest, in the Army, it is an exception to be corrupt. “There are many people of the view that the Kashmir issue had to be kept alive to sustain the Pakistani Army’s dominance and importance in that country.”
We have cases like prohibition not being implemented because of fear of losing excise revenue of liquor industry and ditto for tobacco. The Times of India reported that health minister, Ramadoss stipulating gory picture advertisements after December 1, 2007, as a measure to prevent smoking , said: “Four chief ministers and 150 MPs have met me to tell me that they don’t want anti-smoking advertisements and labeling of products. Seven chief ministers wrote to me pleading for the beedi workers and one chief minister met me three times regarding this. Are the lives of 1.1 billion people not more valuable than the livelihood of 30 lakh beedi workers from this kind of work?”. He further added that it
was unfortunate that the fight against the tobacco lobby had run into opposition from his own colleagues.
In the corporate world, Arthur Anderson and Enron are examples of fraud by the company’s auditors, as their audit and other consultation compensation depended upon the powers in the corporate world. The chairman of Infosys, Mr Narayan Murthy, a man known as much for his integrity as for his numerous achievements in the software industry admits in the book Business Gurus speak, “Since all our operations were outside, we had very few operations here(India) and had no need to bribe anyone. Maybe we would have done it, if forced to by circumstances. Every corporation can take only a limited amount of nuisance; beyond that it becomes very difficult”. One has to admire Mr Murthy’s forthrightness in admitting this. In motivation speaker Arindham Chaudhary’s book Count the chickens before they hatch, it was mentioned that a popular teleserial espousing simplicity was discontinued for fear of losing ad revenues.
Speaking from my own experience, the best boss(an outstanding CEO and later very successful businessman) that I worked under told me once that “ I draft a legal agreement with the assumption that the entire world is a cheat.”. When I started my career, my father who turned around a sick company warned me: “All your inter-departmental communication and not just communication with outside parties should also be in written form. People flatly deny what they may have committed or said” . One of the factors attributed to Dhirubhai Ambani’s success is trust but it is better to tread the middle ground as advocated by a book on leadership by Harvard University which cautions “Trust but Verify”. How is one to know that the person being trusted remains trustworthy throughout his life.
Since most cases are reported in the media, they also have their share of the black sheep. On July 5 2007, The Times of India reported that a Rajkot woman stages semi-nude protest against dowry demand when alleged mental and physical abuse by her husband’s family drove a 22-year-old woman,Pooja Chuahan to strip to her underwear and walk through the city in protest. I happened to be in Rajkot in August on some personal work and could not help asking a well known personality about this incident. She said that while there was some truth in the matter, she had learnt from reliable sources that Pooja had been encouraged to do this by a local Journalist for a news story. Then she narrated her own experience on how she had given an advertisement in a newspaper once and was called by a rival newspaper to give a similar ad to prevent being projected in a bad light in that paper. When I narrated this story to a gentleman from pharmaceuticals industry on my train back to Delhi, he narrated a similar story of his own. The autobiographies of cricketing superstars, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev reflect very poorly on some elements in the media . A former filmstar who used to be asked about his reported rumors reported in the film press would dismiss such talk with a brusque remark “They have to sell their magazines”. It sounded like they could write anything to sell their magazines. Many spiritual books denounce the ad world for projecting wants as needs or necessities.
The examples of lower strata of society are somewhat amusing. When a panwallah was interviewed during the Babri mandir demolition in Ayodhya about his views on the Mandir- masjid issue, prompt came the reply, “Chaahe kuch bhi bane, humare pet pe laat nahin lagni chaahiye”. (Whatever happens, our livelihood should not be affected) This was followed by a Rickshawalla’s comment in Delhi, “ Mandir bhi banao, masjid bhi banao par sabse pahle Rickshaw stand banao. (Construct both Mandir and Masjid but first construct a Riksha stand). The most humorous remark that I have heard in the context of someone trying to defend his professional interest is “It is like asking a barber whether you need a haircut or not”.
One comes across articles not only on politicians but people from other professions on how they go to any lengths to make money in total disregard of all professional ethics. “Some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship god and over these ideals they dispute but everybody worships money” — Mark Twain . It reminds of an old song: “na biwi na bachha na baap bada na bhaiyan the whole thing is that ke bhaiya sabse bada rupaiya.”
One more song which is perhaps one of the all time greats of Hindi Cinema but could not escape the editor’s scissors above but is representative of the situation(particularly the last two paragraphs). It shows that people have a natural tendncy to pull out all stops to safeguard their professional interest .:-
Chingari koi dhadke, to savan use bujhaaye
savan jo agan lagaye , use kaun bujhaaye ?
Pathjar jo baag ujaade, toh baag bahaar khillaye
jo baag bahar mein ujade, use kaun bujhaye ?
Koi dushman thes lagaaye , to meet jiya bahlaaye,
Man meet jo ghaav lagaaye, use kaun mitaaye ?.
Duniya jo pyaasa rakeen, to majhira pyaas bujhaaye
Majhira jo pyaas lagaaye, use kaun bujhaaye ?.
Majhdar me naiya dole, to maajhi paar lagaayen
Maajhi jo naav duboye, use kaun bachaaye?