Stray thoughts on Money, Market and Media

Yours was not, in the beginning, a criminal nature, but circumstances changed it. At the age of nine, you stole sugar. At the age of fifteen, you stole money. At twenty, you stole horses. At twenty-five, you committed arson. At thirty, hardened in crime, you became an editor. 

‘Lionising Murderers’ 
– Mark Twain 

“Because they seemed to represent the best of journalistic virtues – courage, campaigning, toughness, compassion, humour, irreverence; a serious engagement with serious things; a sense of fairness; an eye for injustice; a passion for explaining; knowing how to achieve impact; a connection with readers. Even if you missed their editorships – as I did with Hugh Cudlipp – both men wrote inspiring books about journalism: about how to do it, but, more importantly, about why it mattered.” 

— Alan Rusbridger, 

Arguably the boldest journalist of our time, P. Sainath is of the view that if you replace ‘editor as corporate owner ‘ then ‘Mark Twain’s words retain their freshness and meaning after more than 125 years.’ Also, ‘they are astonishingly prescient.’ Another line in the same passage of Twain’s ‘Lionizing Murderers’ goes on to say, ‘Worse things are in store for you. You will be sent to Congress.’ Now who can deny the truism of these words!

Hugh Culdip, legendary editor of Guardian newspaper, who wrote many books, probably never wrote about business models. He probably never needed one. These days, editors ask this question first, “What should be our business model?”

I’d like to avoid the charge of making invidious remarks about market. I have always believed that ‘markets’ are essential for wealth generation and business activities. Their importance is due to the fact that there are no other options available which can replace markets. However, markets do need adult supervision as recent upheaval have proved. In many ways, it is like having corrupt policemen in a police-station rather than having none at all. And policemen too need supervision of an apt authority. If you leave them loose, well you-know-what-will-happen. If there is no policeman of whatever quality, I am tempted to believe that you will not see the pretty face of human nature. No fear of accountability for policeman is less lethal for society as no fear of punishment for public. Most people abide by laws not because it pleases them, but due to the fact that the cost may be high if they do not. Ultimately we all are from same social pool. Besides, human nature is a puzzling entity as an old Chinese poem says,

When I carefully consider the curious habits of dogs, 

I am compelled to conclude that man is the superior animal, 

When I consider the curious habits of man, 

I confess my friend, I am puzzled. 

Curious habits of man? Does this old Chinese mean greed by that? Greed is not a simple phenomenon to study. Any activity which originates due to some sort of greed can easily be sustained and – for better – can be controlled in Markets. Greed in itself is a puzzling question. There are few faces of greed which are considered good while most of others are considered bad. If I am greedy for knowledge, I will find much more admirer than someone who is greedy for money. Someone who is greedy for money have an advantage over someone who is greedy for someone else wife. Well, public response seems natural. Since my greed for knowledge can not harm anyone but me, it is compensated by people admiration. Greed for money depends on whose money. Till banks, WTO and GATT were looting Africa and Asia and other developing nations, ‘greed were good’ on Wall Street and supported by same public which is now unsparing in their criticism of greed of their executives. ‘Whose resources’ is the question people ask these days. Well, someone’s greed for someone else wife can only be felt by the ‘chosen one’. Others may hate him out of a sense of morality. Because if they chose to praise him then they are undermining the very social thread by which, they believe, their society holds together or of which they are proud of.

In passing, I’d like to point out to a class of algorithm in computer science. Greedy algorithm. Like most of the Indians, greedy algorithm pick the best option from available choices. There are many situation in which they work well and produce optimal solutions. If one chose to study them closely, one can point out when these ‘greedy strategies’ are beneficial. If the underlying situation satisfies a property which in mathematics ‘matroid’ satisfies, going ‘greedy’ is optimal. Roughly, in a situation, when you are sure of that yours or others future will not be wrongly affected by the choice you making in present, (‘independence’ in matroids, roughly); then it is wonderful to be as greedy as possible. Greedy algorithm is also fast. Since one have already proved (or believed) that situation is ideal for being greedy, one does not have to spend time in keeping track of past actions. But alas, a man’s future is never independent of his present. In fact, every present was once a future. Hence, it follows that ‘greedy algorithms’ or greedy people for that matter are short sighted. However, it does not mean that ‘greedy people’ will only harm themselves. When other people future is also dependent on their present actions then there are many of those who stands to loose for no fault of theirs. The only fault of theirs could have been that they did not ask questions. Corruption is essentially what arises from this form of greed.

If market acts like a place for (wealth?) creation and (resource?) distribution then one have more reasons to be happy than being worried. But lately, markets have been acting like a place for wealth displacements. Consider the ubiquitous and rather ridiculous argument in favour of globalisation was given then by economists that this will generate the jobs. Ultimately they ended up losing their jobs to India and China. So to create few fat pockets in their own economy, they have ruined those who were in need of jobs. It is hard to believe that this ‘race to bottom’ in which these corporates cut cost (just to give 400% raise to their executives) by cutting down the jobs in their own motherland or by outsourcing them to low-cost nations was so popular among those people who were in charge to do the opposite – or at least to save the jobs which were already there.

People are now asking why these people got away with all of this? Perhaps it is imperative to ask why these people behaved in these ways. I think I do have a partial answers. Anyone who is in acquaintance with rural India, finds himself at surprise by noticing that these people do vote for those people who are corrupt and eat their share. Why do they do that? I have noticed that they do admire them and their urge for ‘wealth accumulation’. I do believe that people do not see anything bad in those whom they strive to become. For example, I may laugh off at Von Neuman’s tendency of ogling over women legs as a small issue but for a feminist its a serious issue of ‘harassment’ . Same way, if I am a marketing student then I can laugh off what Times of India daily publishes, since its marketing strategies are achieving the ‘ultimate aim’ of attracting eyeballs. I can laugh off ‘ecological damage’ in support of mining if someone have already convinced me that this is ‘development’. I can laugh off Arundhati Roy and probably call her a bitch too. I can laugh off Sainath reporting since he talks about poor people and in my world they do not exists. So if my bread and butter lies in Dalal Street, I will surely ignore the rot there.

Public opinion is a very strong shield, and also a sharp sword. These days its the collective public opinion which make and pull down governments – at least in functioning democracies. There is no better way to influence public than using power languages generally provides. Then the question arises whether the future of languages which are not well developed for politics is bleak. Khari boli Hindi (a prosaic language) supplanted Braj Bhasa (a language of poetry) in those political times when Hindi was being made a prominent language in colonial India. English, with its grip over elite Indians and its compatibly with information technology, is slowly replacing (or already replaced?) regional languages. If regional languages are to be saved, they can only be saved by either a social movement against English ( a bad option ) or by making technology available in them. Media and languages are as related as journalists (or stenographers) and newspapers. Now the fight for public opinion can only be fought through media. With such potential, no wonder, journalism these days, is an lucrative profession.

Throughout human history, it is the fight for resources which never ended. Though, these days, mostly, wars are replaced by diplomacy and tactics. Murder and slavery once is now replaced by displacements and ensued poverty and misery. An improvement I must admit. Now for ‘diplomacy’ (or lobbying) one needs agents with influences. Greedy journalists (i.e. short sighted) such as Barkha Dutt and co. tempted to be a part of it and misguide the public and loose the most valuable thing a journalists can ever dream of, credibility.

Talking of markets. Men were equal in start of civilization. Then there was agriculture, and suddenly some of them became more equal. Later, there was Industrialization and few became much equal. Then there was ‘market’ in which ‘greed was good’! And whoever was not on this ‘equality list’ found himself on Forbes lists. Its a curious irony that in advertisements celebration of individualities is mostly done by those corporations who puts a very high premium of professionalism. Isn’t professionalism anti-individual?

The celebration of Forbes list and similar others go quite well with the rising ‘individuality’ in human civilization. The role model for various countries obsessed with ‘macho dream’ of prosperity is United States which celebrates individuality and individual achievements. Most of the sports they play celebrate individuals rather than teams e.g. golf, tennis, F-1, boxing etc. Though in basketball there is team, but if club ABC has won then it is sure that Mr. XYZ must have scored 30. Still, contrary to the  desires of hard-core Socialists, resilience of American society have been astonishing. Habits of United States are important to look out for, especially for my country where a lot of ideas and theories are being imported without any assessment or calibration for native conditions. After the non-traditional middle class of India which have always celebrated ‘wealth-accumulation’ – which have supplanted a traditional one which was a Calvinistic halo –  have captured Indian imagination, this habit is only going to be strong – at least in this century. Americans have shown tremendous philanthropy as well as participation in their local government. In India, this have been embarrassingly low. At best, Indians accumulates for family. Well being of society is a choice few will consider in their ‘to-do’ list. In passing, I would emphasize the question whether ‘obsession with family’ at the cost of ‘society’ can sustain the nation?

Markets, by their nature, are not suitable for family. Since they promotes competitiveness and ‘nepotism’ tends to ignore it, I am tempted to pass a judgment that ‘western markets’ are not compatible with Indians unless they are taught well about them or a sense of ‘community’ is nurtured among them. There are reports that in U.S., over 70% of philanthropy are done by individuals. If this is true, then wealth generated by individual is surely good for a nation. But this argument can not hold true in India where 90% philanthropy is done by government. As Prof Dinesh K. Sharma sometimes say in his class, “If you decide to die poor, great many things can be done with your life.”. I believe by poor he mean ‘lack of money and resources’.  This habit have been missing in our swinish ‘Forbians’.

Now Markets are not suitable for family and kinship then one will tend to find loopholes in them to promote nepotism since the addiction of kinship is deeply rooted in our society. Almost all of the political parties have turned into family business. The city I currently live in, Mumbai is dominated by a political party ‘Shiv Sena’. It’s supremo Bala Saheb Thackeray have been unsparing in his criticism of Nehru that he has converted congress into a family business. Well his ignorance about Nehru notwithstanding, his own political party is now a family business. Even the self-proclaimed Lohiaties Mulayam Singh has launched his son. Most of the grass-root level corruption in India is due to this ‘nepotism’. Either to promote his family and kins or to accumulate wealth for them.

For last one year, there have been a tremendous increase in the literature about corruption in India. These study suggests that corruption has been increasing both in magnitude and frequency. There is no study (to my knowledge) whether my generation have more negative views about it than their predecessors? If answer is in affirmative, then my generation abhor corruption or it is just a lip-service? We’ll get to know. One of the student asked Ramachandra Guha when he was in IIT Bombay about rising corruption and inept politicians. He was of the view that it is true that ‘we do not have equivalents of Nehru, Gandhi and Patel’ but it is being compensated by ‘a rising civil society’. He better be  damn right about it.

The nexus between media and political parties is troublesome. The fourth state has been undermined. It is a curious irony in nature that one decline is often compensated by a ‘rise’. If the decline of ‘media’ – the fourth state – is obvious, then it is also true that we have seen the emergence of ‘fifth state’ named technology. When ‘Wikileaks’ was proving this point, twitter and blogs have forced newspapers to ‘postmortem’ the Radiia tape. Mainstream newspapers tried to suppress it. This is not to say that past was innocent but in past, money and market were the establishment and media was only a supporter. These days its hard to tell whether media is becoming the part of this establishment or ‘have become the establishment itself’. Can one accuse them playing in the hands of corporates when they themselves are corporate houses searching ‘holy grail’ named profit at whatever and whoever cost?


Dilawar

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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

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