Note to myself

8 Feb

I’ve been thinking.  A bit.  Randomly.  It’s fun.  It kinda feels good after busily occupying myself all day on media-consuming or self-improvement tasks.  Like a starving maniac gorging himself on trash, my mind frantically thought and tripped over itself with a stream of thoughts, novel at the moment, but which I’ll probably reclassify as silly or dumb-as-hell in a few moments.  This is a note to myself to flesh this stuff out:

  • Is working in development worth it? After a year in the field, a worn me said no.  I spent too much time in non-profits, too much time whoring for funding and too much time fighting, whether against local politics, poor management, inefficiency, or convincing people to take help.  I saw, repeatedly, how most projects succeeded when implemented but was left in disarray by the local community two or three years later because a one-year project can’t change attitudes.  Changing attitudes is the solution to poverty. If we can convince the poor to work together to build infrastructure, that they have the power to change their situation, miracles would happen.  But exhausted from convincing individuals individually, I thought large-impact, technology-driven private solutions was the answer.  Grass-roots takes too long and is often not scalable (depends on a lot of local factors, “attitudes” being key among them.)  But all it takes is a few successful small initiatives to change your mind.  For a great idea, I’ll take up the fight again.
  • The biggest challenge India faces is corruption. Despite what people say about its educational system, India is filled with brilliant thinkers.  They claim wacky ideas proliferate b/c India is a democracy (unlike China.)  But the large force of activists still cannot overcome commonplace corruption.  Over 30% of India’s wealth is stashed away in Switzerland.  The news stories I read daily about the local mafia restricting the poor’s access to food or government officials embezzling welfare funds are sad.  For the income gap to be narrowed, corruption must be lowered. India’s problems can be traced to its large population size. How does competition look like when you’re a country of 1 billion and not Communist?  Pretty tough.  The chances of getting into JNU, second-tier to IIT, are harder than that of Harvard.  The chances of getting a civil service job are 0.01%: 1,000,000 applicants and 100 spots.  When the odds are that low and the stakes that high, corruption comes.  India could use public sponsoring of more universities to lower competition.
  • Arbitrage overpriced bath products for local business opportunities: There is a remarkable difference b/w the cost of goods in Bolivia and India, both on the poorer side of developing countries.  Phone in India: 10 cents for 5 minutes; in Bolivia:  $1.14 for 5 minutes.  Rent in Bolivia:  $110/mo. for prime area;  in India: $700 for prime area.  This can be explained by the fact that a dense population has its advantages (cheaper telephone bills) and its disadvantages (more expensive rent).  But the most interesting price difference is for bath products.  In Bolivia, a bar of soap is 1/2 the U.S. price, whereas in India, it is about equivalent to U.S. prices.  It should be relatively cheap to produce soap locally.  If a local company could brand itself to the same popularity of L’Oreal and foreign brands or produce the same quality of product, it stands to make a good deal of profit.
  • Portals are what the internet needs. We’re in an age of too much information.  Google made its money tagging the information.  The next step is organizing the information, keeping only high-quality content, and making sure people know where it is.  I spend too much searching for good class notes on steam phases.  I finally found them spread across 4 Google search pages.  If only there was a portal that had it all in one location and ranked/rated.  Likewise for travel.  If only there was a site with bus schedules and nitty-gritty travel details.
  • Raghuram Rajan sums up my philosophy precisely when he states that Capitalism works only when there is a level playing field. Yes, level the playing field and let there be fair competition.
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