Category Archives: social institutions

What to preserve?

Here, we will focus on our cultural heritage rather than our natural one, since the latter has been the focus of popular attention in the recent years.

The preservation of certain forms of art, architecture, handicrafts for fear of their being lost in the mists of time has been a matter that has preoccupied many a diligent individual. As is probably well recognised, it is only the form of the cultural artefact (be it art or anything else) that is preserved, not the substance. It is easy to explain the previous sentence with an example. Indians all over celebrate some or the other form of a harvest festival. This makes sense because India has been (and continues to be) a predominantly agricultural nation. Many Indians are no longer farmers and nor do they have any remote connection with farming, and yet they continue to celebrate such festivals in towns, cities and even places outside India. Thus, they continue a tradition that makes sense only in an agricultural setup even when they no longer live within such a setup. Thus, the form of the harvest festival is preserved (with some modifications maybe), but there is no substance backing it. It is similar to Christmas being celebrated in a predominantly secular West.

Most cultural traditions have an inherently multi-faceted nature: they are not purely religious, nor purely economic or purely anything else, but a mixture of all these. When the factors that underpin these traditions change, the traditions themselves must change to adapt, else die out. This is the stage at which preservationists intervene, and try to preserve a snapshot of the dying traditions for posterity.

Most cultural traditions are naturally evolutionary, since socio-economic conditions change over time. To preserve a snapshot means to pull that tradition out of the context that makes it meaningful and ‘museumize’ it. There is also an inherent bias in the preservation of such traditions: those which are aesthetically striking and appealing (like music and dance) have a better chance of being preserved than others (like how to milk a cow or how to make dung cakes).

Without taking sides as to whether it is important or not to preserve certain parts of our cultural heritage, one must still ask as to what end such preservation is directed. Most farming traditions, for example, arose in a context where there were no chemical fertilizers and pesticides or even irrigation. Now, as we realize that chemical farming cannot go on indefinitely, there is definitely value in preserving these traditions. Here, we are not only preserving certain agricultural practices, but also a world-view that appreciates the necessity of maintaining a balance with natural processes. Only within such a world-view will these agricultural practices make sense, and are meaningless otherwise.

A great example of trying to revitalise not only a tradition but also the context is Gandhi’s attempt to revitalise the khadi economy in rural India. This was to be accompanied by socio-economic reform at the village level by ‘constructive workers’ and large scale marketing in the urban areas to make it economically viable. There was also the moral dimension to it in asking the urban rich to relate to their underprivileged brethren by spinning some thread on the charkha. With Gandhi’s death and an intellectual tide that was against his ideals, this attempt was museumized as well into the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), and only with the emergence of new organisations like Dastkar and Desi are such traditions looking to re-emerge.

It is only when cultural traditions make sense within a certain world-view can they be innovative and inventive and alive. Otherwise, they have to be kept on ‘life-support’ at a great social and economic cost. The preservationist’s attempt to create an unchanging snapshot of the same will only result in decay and perversion of the traditions, like has been done by various politicians and ‘cultural’ groups looking at gathering power by projecting themselves to be the saviours of ‘the great ancient Indian traditions’. The vitality of a tradition lies in its ability to respond to its present context. This response may lead to strange results, like handloom weavers wearing modern polyester sarees and ‘modern’ urban elites wearing traditional handloom garments, but it shows that a world-view is refusing to die and responding to changing (albeit unfavorable) circumstances.

Humanity has matured to a sufficient extent to understand what is necessary to maintain its continued existence on this planet, though it has not matured enough to act on this knowledge. It is something like learning to dance: understanding how to perform a particular step is much easier than getting your body to execute it. We know with some confidence what is the world-view that will help us live in harmony with the rest of nature. Ensuring we develop and preserve traditions that take us toward this end should serve as a thumb rule in making the decision about what to preserve, and what not to.

Mysore and the rhythms of its Geography

Just finished the first volume of Fernand Braudel’s Civilization and Capitalism. It is truly a magnificent piece of work and would encourage anyone interested not just in the tales of kings and queens and their betrayals and affairs to read once in their lifetime.

The first thing you realise when you are done reading the Structures of Everyday life is the different time scales at which human life goes on. The fastest time scales deal with fashion, politics, wars and heroes, and has traditionally been the kind of history we learn. Then comes the structures of society and economy, which change more slowly, and the kind of change that the Marxists like to worry about. As I mentioned previously, movement (of something) is what is of most interest, and it is due to this reason the these two types of history are dominant. The third type, which Braudel’s book brings about is the material life of the masses, what they ate, drank, wore, built houses with, ploughed fields or carved stones with, moved from one place to another with and how these change. These facets of life are shown to change at a very slow pace, and to a large extent these determine what is possible or not. This is due to the fact that however quickly the more ‘enlightened’ people may want the world to change, the change must happen at the level of the majority of the population, and they change very slowly and reluctantly. Only violence on a large scale can change things at the pace the saviors of the world would want it to change, as the world has witnessed often.

Consistent with my views on evolution/history, the question I would like to pose is the following: How did the geography of Mysore determine how its people lived and interacted with each other and with the world around them? What are the constraints they faced, and how did they go about eliminating them or working around them?

The geography of the Mysore region is somewhat acceptable to humans at best. Being on an elevated plateau, the temperature are somewhat tolerable. The Ghats form natural boundaries on the east and the west and the south. If any water happens to flow on the right side of the Ghats, one can hope for life to exist, and luckily, there happen to be a couple of rivers which are the lifeline of the region, mainly the Cauvery, Tunga, Bhadra and the Krishna. However, these are not perennial like the Ganga and this is a huge constraint to the development of human societies by restricting transport and agricultural options. The soil, on the whole is not the greatest unless we look at the river valleys. The land is mostly uneven and thus prevents the construction of large scale irrigation works like canals. Indeed, the Mysore region was known more for its local tank irrigation (which is why there are so many lakes in the region) than for its canal system like in say Tamil Nadu or (for a better contrast) North India. The 1881 census listed more than 20000 irrigation tanks in the Mysore Region. The fact that this region receives rain from both the forward and retreating monsoons probably encouraged water harvesting activities further.

One of the major issues with large scale irrigation works is that it cannot be done by one or two villages — it has to be planned, executed and maintained centrally. My knowledge of Mysore history is not all that great, but I would expect the growth of strong, large kingdoms (native to it, not like the Vijayanagara Empire) to be less preferred as opposed to local chieftains because the local geography did not necessitate such structures. This would imply that there were strong local governance structures, something one has to explore in more detail.

When irrigation is not there, certain types of crops are out, especially rice. In fact, if one looks at the geography of crop cultivation in this region, rice and sugarcane were almost always grown very close to river beds, with the rest of the higher regions being cropped with millets and pulses. Rice, then, would be an unlikely candidate for staple food, and the food habits of villagers even fifteen years into the past bears testament to this fact. Rice was mainly an export item, which was sent to the various ports along the coast.

Agriculture being highly dependent on rainfall, any shortage was always a disaster. This induced people to hoard grains from good years. The population itself would probably have followed the vagaries of the rainfall, with a drought causing a famine and corresponding reduction in population. However, data to support this in precolonial india is simply not present. Also, it would have encouraged cultivation of more hardy crops like millets, giving another reason why ragi and its cousins are very popular in this part of the country. Go to the coast, and people prefer their boiled rice over ragi rottis.

Iron was the only mineral of any consequence during olden times that was found in the Mysore region, and it produced some of the finest steel the world has ever seen. It was exported to Persia (probably in return for Persian horses) and swords made from this steel are supposed to be the reason of the superiority of the Persian army over the Europeans for quite some time.

Thus, it can be seen that the geography and climate play a very important role in shaping the various activities that any culture or civilization has to perform to sustain itself. It constrains the type of polity and economy that can develop. When the British arrived, they probably would have felt suffocated by the economic environment they found themselves in, and resolved to change it to suit their needs. Capitalism arrived on Indian shores like an unstoppable force, only to meet the immovable object of the daily life of its inhabitants. How they managed to get it to move to their rhythms is another story.

The rise of the Individual

Have been working on a (one of many!) report for a class that Im doing this semester, and in one of them I have tried to try and get a feel for how humans got to be ‘civilized’, which in our times means asserting the rights of the individual and placing him into prominence. Just posting a few intersting things that I came across during this work. It is necessarily speculative considering the scope, so please adjust maadi.

First of all, we recognize that humans live in at least two worlds – the internal or mental and the external or material. Without doubt, these are inextricably linked, but the demarcation is very much present. The mental world is a world of possibilities and the material world one of actualities. However hard we try, not everything that we imagine can be realised in the material world, and this results in a tension between these worlds.

In the pre-Industrial times, the fact that malnutrition, disease and war were part of the daily life of every common person, and that it required the effort of a large number of people to sustain each one of them, it should not be surprising that the individual was not accorded the status that she is given nowadays. Even to this day, a villager in our own hinterland is referred to as ‘X’s son/daughter Y’.Whatever name is given to the group – clan, caste, village – the group was important simply because it provided security and shelter against the vagaries of nature and the kings above. Obedience and Commitment should be valued over Talent and Thinking if a group under severe pressure is to survive.

There undoubtedly would have been people who tried to stand apart from or rise above the group – that is not a peculiarly modern line of thinking. The complete lack of change in the basic social structure for millenia shows how little influence such people were able to exercise. Kings and administrators, however enlightened, were simply unable to change this pattern of life and this bears testimony to how strongly the group identity
was (and is) stressed over the individual.

The reasons for this are obvious: the individual simply was incapable of leading a life on his own. Clothes, food, shelter were not available without the collective labour of a larger group of people or commerce with this larger group. Remuneration was proportional to manual labor done, and manual labor required to lead a proper life was more than what would have been possible by a single individual. To go against this mode of life would imply becoming a thief, beggar, ascetic or king.

This behavior was thoroughly exploited by those in power, temporal or spiritual, to gain benefit for themselves and their kind, and their travails are the subject of most history. However, for the majority, the material basis for a society which preferred individual excellence instead of (or inspite of or at the cost of) group excellence does not seem to have been available – Liberty simply implies the absence of restraints, not the presence
of a good life.

In the post-Industrial revolution times, however, the tension between the inner and outer worlds of the individual that we mentioned earlier would have been considerably reduced. What Man could imagine, he could create. Of course, this applied only to those groups with money and power. The majority now had to get used to the excesses of the
industrialist as well as nature.

The individual rose to prominence, no doubt helped by the wonders of coal driven technology which enabled her to perform feats which were not possible before.With the easy availability of surplus labor or its mechanical replacement, limitations on what could be achieved was simply a function of what could be dreamed up (and sometimes paid for). With the expanding geographical extent of a single activity, the main challenge was no longer the availability of raw material or motive power, but of organization. It is therefore not surprising that the principles of ‘scientific’ management were explored in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.

With information and not material being the main roadblock for progress, the so-called tertiary sector of society became dominant as well as desirable as a viable career choice for those who were born poor but had no intention of staying that way. With most traditional blocks to social mobility now gone, the tertiary sector provided the respectability and possibility of material wealth that previously was the domain of the landed or the wealthy. It is the dominance of this sector that has shaped the present world. Universities multiplied, with the intention of preparing high quality individuals who were capable of discerning efficient from inefficient, if not right from wrong. In fact, the race to industrialization was eventually won by the USA and Germany simply due the fact that they invested more in the development of engineers and technicians rather than philosphers and artists.

The rise of the heroic individual winning in the face of all odds was given an evolutionary twist by Herbert Spencer, who actually originated the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ in the context of his Social Darwinism. Emancipation from manual labor was exemplified by the growth of amateur sport, which was a way of exercise for the sedentary tertiary sector of society (along with the rise of the gymnasium in the mid-19th century), with the now famous Oxford-Cambridge rowing contests, the Ashes Cricket series representing the ideals of heroism rising above mere material concerns. This trend was of course crowned by the revival of the Olympic Games, whose motto ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ perfectly matching the prevailing spirit of the age.

The middle class household was another centre of emancipation from manual labor. Piped water, electricity, the pressure cooker, the vacuum cleaner being typical inventions from this era. The nuclear family was also probably materially viable only in this stage of societal development. The now considerable leisure time available was spent in exploring recently developed mechanical wonders like the Ferris Wheel and the roller coaster as well as the incredible moving picture.

It was very rarely that the average, emancipated middle class person ever experienced a material world that was not imprinted upon by the internal world of another human. The line between actuality and possibility was blurring, and is almost completely absent in the present day wonders in the desert like the Burj Dubai.

On ends and means, rights and duties

A quite generic model of a human is one who has certain ends that he wants to pursue (gaadi-bungalow, moksha, etc.,), and is looking for means to achieve these ends. Given this, your preferred ends are finally governed by your ethical, moral and metaphysical outlook, and the normal means are politics, economics and religion. For example, if national service is what interests you, you might want to look at politics (replace national with self, and still the same means holds. Politics is such an adaptive thing!). If you wish a comfortable life, you look to the market to sell your goods/services/labor to make money. A normal person will have many such ends, and we end up doing politics, economics and religion. Now, if we are to accept the axiom that each person must be free to pursue any end that she so wishes, the as societal beings, we must come up with a way to ensure that this axiom holds, atleast theoretically.

And thus we come to the concept of a State. Whether it materialized due a ‘social contract’ or as a necessity in a Hobbsean society, the main function of a State is to ensure the above axiom holds. Thus, the State has powers of coercion over its citizens, which is willingly given to it by the citizens themselves (who are given a fancy name: ‘polity’) to ensure that each can lead a fulfilling life. Why this is necessary has been written about before.

There cannot be a common set of ends for all, since each person is unique (not everyone wants the same brand/color of motor vehicles!). There are, in any sufficiently organized society, limited number of means, and they are normally classified as those that do not harm others, and those that do. Since we want each person to acheive whatever he wants to, provided he does not hurt anyone, each person is assumed to have a set of ‘rights’. There are some negative rights (‘right against something’, ‘something’ can be being cheated, murdered, discriminated, etc.,) and positive rights (‘right to something’, ‘something’ can be a good education, employment, etc.,). There have been arguments as to whether the State much only ensure negative or positive or both kind of rights, but that is a different story altogether. Get this if you want to dive into this stuff.

The Indian State is no different, and certain rights are guaranteed by the Constitution. Violation of these can be referred directly to the Supreme Court, without going through any lower courts. We also have certain duties, but these are not enforcable and citizens are ‘morally obligated’ to perform them. This is not the case with other countries, with Switzerland having compulsory military service for all male citizens.

In all political activity seen nowadays, the main cry is to demand for certain rights, whereas duties are never mentioned. Bangalore demands a positive right to water, but Bangaloreans have absolutely no interest even in a basic duty such as voting. The reason for this is a conception of humans as ‘possessive individualists‘, which simply says that people have to make money from their (god-given, or acquired?) skills, and owe nothing to society. Whether it be Dalit, Brahmin, tribal or industrialist, the political scene is full with clamor for rights, new rights, and redressal for their violation. Everybody wants good food at the mess, but nobody (including myself!) wants anything to do with how it runs. It should simply run itself, somehow.

Another approach is to say our duty is to pay tax and obey laws, the rest is the duty of the State. This has worked well in the Scandinavian countries, but in a country as vast and heterogenous as India, this amounts almost to escapism – no State of reasonable size can ever perform the duties of a billion people. The gradual withdrawal from society to ‘attain realization’ amounts to saying moksha can be pursued without the fulfillment of dharma. It is in this sense that modern economics and liberalism have been a liberating force: they have given theoretical justification for people to be liberated from the ‘shackles’ of dharma. Religions were the traditional body of authority which dictated the duties of an individual, but no longer wield the same influence as before.

Asceticism or the theory of karma cannot justify the non-performance of dharma. Renunciation, as taught by Buddha, Mahavira or Sankara, which involves a complete removal of oneself from society to attain moksha has found rebuttals by the actions of reformers like Basavanna, Rammohun Roy, Gokhale, Vivekananda and Gandhi. Even Buddhism requires of enlightened individuals to alleviate suffering by removal of ignorance, which is what Buddhism considers the root of suffering. While this purely mental view of human suffering may not be correct, but it is aleast something. The new age philosophers/activists, especially Gandhi, believed that only through active participation in civic duty can one harmonise artha, kama, dharma and moksha. Gandhi himself, though a continuous seeker of moksha (which he called Truth as well), used the instrument of politics to achieve this end. Of course, his idea of politics which was to uplift the underprivileged, unlike present day netas.

And thus from Gandhi comes the most clarifying present day articulation of what one’s dharma should be in this day and age:

I will give you a talisman. ‘Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: Recall the face of the poorest and most helpless person whom you have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he be able to gain anything by it? Will it restore him the control over his life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and starving millions?’ Then you will find your doubts and self melting away.

Review: A Pedagogue’s Romance by Krishna Kumar

Contrast between the Ideal and the Real
Contrast between the Ideal and the Real

This book is a collection of the author’s short essays and deals with a wide range of topics, ranging from spitting and its implications to selection of ‘talented’ students for special attention to concern about lack of understanding of adolescent development in the Indian context to concern about elimination of Nature and Handicrafts from schools.

Anyone with an interest to work with children and would like to understand what one is getting into rather than jump right in and wreak unintended havoc (like yours truly) must give this book a shot. Not only does the author try to discuss the various reasons why education in India has become a new means of social exclusion, like the caste system, but also what can be done to make it better, and what should be the ultimate goal of an education.

Even though the themes are varied, all of them have a strong connection running through them: As the author puts it (paraphrased) :

Education is reflection in the process of relating (to one’s environment, society, etc )

Reflection, in the sense of leisured observation and understanding. Most of the author’s analyses use this as the analytical looking glass to view the system by, and obviously it fails miserably to live upto such an ideal. He discusses many problems which make education such a difficult system to reform like lack of social status for teachers, competitive and narrowly focused, results-oriented pedagogy and the social scenario within which a school is embedded. He also deals with gender issues and induction of everyday life into schooling.

He deplores a system which is so mixed up as to require a separate ‘value education’ or ‘moral education’ class. Another major issue, that of a scientifically based caste system which is being set up due to our primary schooling system, which eliminates almost 80% of children by class 10 takes up quite a bit of his time.

Culturally and linguistically relevant education is also something that he stresses and having handicrafts as a core curricular activity to both learn the value of manual labor and save the varied heritage of India which is fast disappearing.

Definitely worth anyone’s money.

Religious conversions: views

Problems related to conversions seem to be hitting all parts of India, from the poverty-stricken tribal Orissa to the highly literate and affluent Mangalore. Militant Christianity came first, then militant Islam and now militant Hinduism. God alone knows what next, maybe militant scientologists!

Before anything, let us get one thing straight: these are middle and upper class/caste fights in which lower castes/classes get affected the worst. Religion and culture come to the mind resting above a full stomach. It is quite unfortunate that those affected most are the ones who historically are the ones affected most. Therefore, oppression does not really go away by conversions or Bajrang Dal activism, but merely takes a new form.

Christianity has always been an agressive (or as the Church prefers to call it, evangelical) religion. This seems to flow from Christ’s command to ‘spread the Good News’ . Considering the fact that most Christians do not follow Christ’s other words – like ‘remove the splinter in your eye before pointing to the one in your brother’s eye’, which essentially means getting your house in order before anything else – it is puzzling that they are so fond of spreading the Good News. Similarly, Brahmins who never have given a damn about the lot of Dalits for centuries are now trying to ‘reclaim’ them from the proselytizers. Both stink more than a little of hypocrisy.

In India atleast, religion has been an integral part of a person’s identity from time immemorial. Then why is it that people are so easily converted (which amounts to a drastic change in identity), and why are most of the converts from Hinduism to other religions rather than the other way round ? Consider the following issues:

  • Hindu rituals, for the most part are still in Sanskrit
  • Priests are still Brahmin
  • There are still temples which disallow Dalits
  • Reformation movements like the Bhakti movement have been largely suppressed or sidelined or have corrupted into mainstream thinking
  • Dalits in the hinterlands still suffer systematic deprivation and lack access to schools and healthcare

OTOH, consider features of Indian Christianity:

  • Christian rituals are adapted to the local cultural milieu. Attending a mass in English and in Santhali are radically different experiences
  • Anyone can become a priest. Most candidates who join do not become priests but come out after getting free education upto graduation and a good exposure to social service and philosophy
  • Most schools and hospitals run in tribal areas are either secular or Christian

It must be quite easy to see why religious conversions are quite high from Hinduism. New converts to Christianity get rituals highly customised to their culture, access to education (though there is usually no discrimination for admission – most Hindus would like their children to study in a ‘convent’ school). New modes of Christian worship like Praise and Worship are extremely popular among new converts and this is something that contemporary Hindu worship sorely lacks, i.e, they need to jazz it up a bit! ISKCON does a decent job of this, effecting quite a few reverse conversions, but seems like they want more white people than tribals!

It is hardly surprising that Hindus view conversions as a threat, because they are. But they have themselves to blame for the position that they are in. Any social institution that fails to adapt to changing circumstances will eventually die. Hinduism is nowhere close to this, but tensions are a sign that as a social institution (not as a philosophy : the two are very different entities) has not kept up with the times. If you don’t work for the upliftment of the poorest, don’t hold counselling sessions for youth in these fast-changing times, don’t change modes of worship to suit changing tastes and perceptions and then complain about a Christian conspiracy to undermine HInduism, you are basically missing the point. What people need is not a religion, but a means of upliftment – socially and psychologically. It is no surprise that various godmen like Sri Sri Ravishankar, Ganapati Satchidananda and innumerable others in metros like Bangalore are gaining in popularity – they offer a modern solution to contemporary human problems.

Tensions rooted in conversions to Christianity are not going to go away: like I mentioned, Christianity is quite fundamentally a proselytizing religion. What needs to be done is to adapt and stay abreast of the times – tastes, values, predispositions, culture are quite rapidly changing nowadays. It remains to be seen when Hinduism can address these issues, considering its massive inertia and elitism.

The New Industrial State: Review

Halfway through John Kenneth Galbraith’s most famous (and controversial) book, and thought of writing up the main thesis of the whole thing. There are two kinds of social analysis: one based on a set of axiomatic rules, and another is based on empirical investigation. Galbraith is of the latter category, and always seeks to undermine the former, in extremely enjoyable prose (I would put it almost at the same level as Bertrand Russell’s prose!).

I had written some time ago about how liberalisation looks at the ground level, when the gloss of Times of India / NDTV / CNBC coverage is not present. Galbraith’s main thesis is on the same lines, with obviously more content and better form. One of the intentions is to provide a candid view of the Industrial system as it existed in the ’60s, another is to undermine the ‘theology’ of conservative economics and (even contemporary) economic pedagogy.

The reason conservative economists like Hayek get irritated with Galbraith is that he is, first of all, not given to using equations for everything, and often indulges in ‘lesser’ subjects like sociology and psychology to supplement his analysis, and not purely economic theory (with its implicit preconceptions). His broad generalizations can cause his arguments to seem unfounded, but a person with first hand experience with the corporate (like most reading this) will definitely strike a chord with his reasoning and arguments.

Profit maximization, pre-eminence of capital, informed choices by a consumer, free markets, firms being subordinate to the consumer by the working of the market mechanism are some of the fundamental notions that any standard economics textbook would try to instill in a reader. However, to say that this represents reality is a matter of faith and not fact, argues Galbraith. He takes the Corporation as a case study to drive home the point.

The structure, behavior, motivation, goals of the modern corporation, when studied without the rose-colored glasses of what Samuelson or anyone else teaches, shows how divorced economics is from reality. Economists have grudgingly admitted to some points, but they refuse to face reality in the face of decades of work going to waste. Galbraith also questions two social goals that we have only recently taken for granted (He analyzed the USA, whom we faithfully copy with increasingly decreasing phase lag) : The pursuit of growth for its own sake, and development of advanced technology. To think about it for a second, growth is a fundamental necessity for any modern corporation, both to keep its stockholders happy and for money to drive further growth. Fast changing technology also, in most cases, is a corporate goal, which contributes to the former goal in no small measure nowadays. Thus, instead of the corporation responding to accepted social goals, the corporations of considerable size actively work to shape social attitudes. This is in part a result of the members of the corporation to feel that they serve some social purpose. Another is of course to ‘create’ markets, which is what planning is all about.

In places like Bangalore, where the white collared elite are no longer in a desperate search for daily bread, alternate (some would like to call it ‘higher’) goals take their place. The corporation, with its immense reach and resources provides individuals the opportunity to influence a larger mass than it would be possible to do individually. Once an individual is persuaded that the corporation can be moulded in accordance with his/her inputs ( This is definitely true, since decision making is fundamentally a group activity and some individuals are, as always, more equal than others), aligning with corporate goals is easy. You would notice that loyalty to an organization increases with amount of time spent in it, which derives from the fact that you ‘matter’. Making sure that the corporation takes care of all the needs of the employee (financial, social, psychological) is an important part of the way a corporation behaves. Once all needs are taken care of within, there will be no need for an employee to look outside.

The past two paragraphs enumerate various facets of corporate behavior, which are driven by the need to reduce unreliability of markets. Any firm will require adequate supply, predictable labor behavior and reasonably reliable consumption of its products. Without these, planning for the future is almost impossible. There is no way a corporation can plan sales targets without all these factors of production and consumption being reliable. Most large corporations are in the habit of meeting or even exceeding previously set targets. This is not possible if the consumer is left to his/her own faculties to make a buying decision and if supply of labor or raw materials are not reliable, ie, left to the working of the market mechanism. Thus, large corporations must try to control behavior of markets if they are to invest large amounts of capital, which is a given in this time and age. A Reliance can hardly invest a few thousand crores in a refinery unless it is allowed certain concessions from market behavior. BIAL wants no other airport around for the same reason. More the competitors, lesser the power of a single competitor, and lesser their capability to plan.

To be fair, there are many markets (like those of clothing, FMCGs) where influencing consumer behavior is difficult due to a large amount of choices. But Galbraith’s focus is on the large corporation, which along with other large corporations constitute an oligopoly. In a corporation, the tenet of profit maximization fails for the simple fact that if every employee looked to maximize  profit, chaos would result. Thus, instead of personal profit maximization, stockholder profit maximization is the aim. This can hardly be called acceptable behavior in conventional terms. Thus, motivations of the corporation and its employees cannot be profit maximization. Similarly, consumer can no longer be called king, since there are various devices employed to bias his/her behavior. The tenets of economics, due to their lack of recognition of power as a fundamental factor in real-life economic behavior, fail quite a few reality checks.

Due to their reliance on high technology and an organised workforce to realise the same, the power now has moved from capital to organization of people and information. Thus, the class struggles of our times are no longer between those who have capital and those who do not, but those who have skills valued by the corporation and those who do not. This essentially boils down to an Engineering degree in Bangalore’s context. Anyone familiar with Bangalore will have seen how those with lesser education, organised in various groups, vent their frustration in the form of cultural and lingual pride.

A joining letter that my friend received from Oracle had the following sentence (paraphrased): “Oracle believes the the faster the employee is assimilated into the Oracle culture, the sooner the employee will be productive”. Oracle obviously does not have many bright bulbs in its HR department, but compliments to their candidness. The only other context where I have seen ‘assimilated’ being used is by the Borg in Star Trek. Obviously, the large corporation is not very different. I had once, on another blog, used ‘The Borg’ in this sense. Intuition, combined with some touch with reality, is always an eye-opener.