Monday, October 12, 2009

Random Thoughts: Will Manmohan get an Economic Nobel?

It is about time our Sardarji got it. The Sardarji who is credited as father of optical fibers managed to dodge the Nobel by a whisker. I often look at that name on the wall of the Subway stop of Kendall Square/ MIT, and marvel at our inability to remember and recognize his name. But Manmohan Singh is  a name that strikes a familiar chord in the West. Had there been no Manmohan Singh, we, Indians, could have been eating chai-pakoda, filter coffee-samosa, thumbs up and chaat in place of MacDonald's Burgers, Pizzas and KFC nuggets. The man who leads the greatest democratic nation in the world, (greatest emphasizes the fact that India has more voters than the living and dead voters of the United States in the twenty-first century), the man who leads the most destitute crowd of voters into a capitalist, globalized economy, the man who has helped India become a keyboard thumping nation of 'code-monkeys' and 'phone-donkeys', making late-night forays into their stylized cubicle prisons from where they answer phone-calls with assumed Western accent / name, that man, his team, his party deserves some Western pat on the back. But maybe Sardarji will not get it for precisely these reasons and others that we will see in rest of my post.

Manmohan will not get it as he is overqualified as a politician. He is too gentle with words, too urbane and he lacks the element of drama so essential for getting credit for things. He does not offer to change the world, he has already done that to 1/5th of the world (or been largely responsible for guiding it through). He does not have a monstrous Prime Minister who has ruled his country before him, he is neither fighting any wars nor spending great amount of public money on financing big banks that hand out million dollar bonuses. Manmohan does not have the charisma to carry a Nobel Prize into the front-page controversy anywhere except in Pakistan and in China. Both these countries are  significant to the stability of the world, and who would want to enrage them by offering the prize to an Indian.

In fact, we Indians would be enraged if he got a Nobel, after Gandhiji did not get one, after no writer after Tagore managed to get one, Bose (aka Bose-Einstein theory) got none, Bose (aka JC Bose) did not get one. We are happy this way; this Nobel is quite inconsistent with Eastern values, where we don't value individualism and temporary success as much as we value good karma, i.e. good action, and success which arises in form of good effects seen by coming rebirths and generations. Nobel prize in economics has been awarded in past to people who guided world economy into great recession of this decade: showing it is a transient award, given for predictions rather than results. It is given for things that look mathematically consistent (though all real life conditions are ignored), for things that help the richest country now remain the richest country with people carrying greatest amount of personal debt, which finances luxuries that requires largest per capita consumption of energy, causing oil companies to become rich by waging monopolistic campaigns in oil-field-carrying nations, causing first rate energy crisis which will follow. It is given to policies that create Banana republics, not to policies that provide cheap health care and education to masses. Exceptions are always there, and of course, if it were not the free flow of ideas that spawned this post, I would have believed and said the opposite to everything I said here so far. I am a socialist who loves capitalism, and a capitalist who wants profits to be well-distributed among the workers. I don't verify facts and figures while writing such conundrums, and sometimes awards are given in similar vein, so maybe my approach to saying things here is  not totally vague.

Maybe the Chinese Premier must be given the Nobel, for allowing Marxism to be reinterpreted in such a way that China has now more billioniares than any other country, that is if we forget to count the billionaires in United States. To redefine communism in this way took less than two centuries after the issuance of Communist Manifesto. I am sure Karl Marx is re-reading his theories and trying to understand what went wrong, that his brainchild Marxism is now interpreted in this way. Also the Maoists in India, who want a China-like communism in India, must be quite confused by the turn of events in China itself. Perhaps by shifting 70% wealth into the hands of 1% people (according to some unverifiable propaganda estimates), by reinventing the meaning and purpose of communist party, and keeping 1/5th of world population under control while they did it, the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Premier have made an unprecedented economic breakthrough that deserves a nod of approval from the Nobel committee. Maybe Arvind Adiga or his character from White Tiger, are already rooting for the Chinese Premier. China already produces every toothbrush, shoenail, nut, bucket, dinner plate, door handle, undergarment, comb, hairbrush, (maybe even flags of other nations), TV remote, table-lamp switch and imitation weapon (read Charlie Wilson's War for details) used by people in rest of the world. Such progress deserves a prize, more than our progress indicated by our Sardarji's facts and figures.

Who knows though, maybe Manmohan will get it anyhow. He might get it as the committee has never given a prize to a person of his community and its about time that the economic prowess of Punjabis was awarded. He might get it as they begin to comprehend that the growth rate on Indian GDP and inflation has defied most of the World Bank estimates in the past two decades. It will be a good idea to award him the prize and claim that International Monetary Fund, and the intellectual and economists are supportive of former professors even after their leaving practices and posts for  offices of political intrigues and power-plays. It is no small matter however that when Chanakya, the famed economist of Mauryan empire from twenty-three centuries ago, was the prime minister, the Indian contribution to GDP of the world was a decent 33%. We are only off by the second digit in that figure, and 3% is not bad by any means. We had 1/3rd of world' population back then, and through middle ages, the GDP was decently high, provoking so many attacks on the nation. To safeguard ourselves from colonists, Mongols, Greeks, Huns, Islamic tyrants from beyond the Hindukush, to safeguard ourselves from a repetition of those bloody wars, we, as a nation, decided to stop being so rich.  But Manmohan wants to make India look rich, and he needs encouragement. He definitely needs encouragement. We could have been spending money on getting rid of insurgents everywhere, on borders, in bordering states, in Maoist-infested states. We could have been spending money on providing possible places for professors and researchers to make their grand discoveries in India. We have avoided all these temptations, ensured that we export our talent, and we keep our farmers dependent on foreign seeds, so that our commitment to world economics is not questioned.

For this level of incongruity in practice and values, in poorman's pocket and rich man's mansion, in supposed technological advances that create only code-monkeys & phone-donkeys, for this level of dedication to profits of world's multinationals, for this level of focus on removing hunger by letting the hungry die, for removing insurgents by giving them the lands they ask for, for liberating India from licence-raj, where politicians made direct fortunes, and taking it into an era of economic liberalization where politicians still make money, and unknown forces get the profits, for all this chaos and trying to make sense of it, I recommend Manmohan for the Nobel prize of economics, and if that is  not possible, for peace. The nomination process for 2010 will open up soon: start casting your votes, folks!