Why don’t they feel the pain?

Ever wonder why poor nations are poor and rich nations are rich? I don’t. I believe I know why the poor stay poor and the rich get rich. Consider this from The Wall Street Journal of Jan 19th. The report is titled India and US to Improve Ties. Here is an excerpt:

Washington also sees India becoming a big buyer of U.S.-made arms. In the past two years, India has purchased roughly $200 million of American arms and is in negotiations to purchase P3 Orion maritime-patrol aircraft from the U.S. The deal, valued at about $1 billion, could be the biggest arms deal ever between the two nations.

There you have it. The rich sell arms to the poor and the poor pay for it through the blood, sweat, and tears of its starving millions. To be sure, it is not the starving millions who are interested in fighting the poor of the neighboring countries. These millions of poor unfortunates are merely the slave labor that supply through their toil goods that the rich buy in exchange for the arms they ship to the armies of the poor nations.
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We are Made of Stuff

… We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

   
Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Writing in the Dec 28th, 2003 edition of The Week, President Kalam says, “In the 21st century, knowledge is the primary production resource instead of capital or labour.”

I have been unable to fully comprehend that insight, fundamentally because it does not make any sense. Sounds profound but makes no sense. What is a ‘primary production resource‘? Did Kalam imply that once upon a time capital and labor were primary production resources but knowledge wasn’t? What changed so that labor and capital got displaced and now knowledge holds that position?
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Two stories about development


FOR A HUMAN CHARACTER to reveal truly exceptional qualities, one must have the good fortune to be able to observe its performance over many years. If this performance is devoid of all egoism, if its guiding motive is unparalleled generosity, if it is absolutely certain that there is no thought of recompense and that, in addition, it has left its visible mark upon the earth, then there can be no mistake.

Thus begins one of the most inspiring stories that I treasure. It is by Jean Giono and the story is called The Man who Planted Trees. It is a short story and there is a story about the story itself which I will go into another day. I have yet to meet someone who did not find it inspirational. The story concludes thus:

I am convinced that, in spite of everything, humanity is admirable. But when I compute the unfailing greatness of spirit and the tenacity of benevolence that it must have taken to achieve this result, I am taken with an immense respect for that old and unlearned peasant who was able to complete a work worthy of God.

Stories teach us a lot provided we take the trouble to think about what they mean. I like stories that teach a deep lesson — a lesson that has wide applicability. One such story I came across in Douglas Adam’s book Last Chance to See and the story is called Sifting Through the Embers.
From areas such environmental degradation to economic development to personal striving — that story has something important to say. I will not give the punch line away right now. For now, I hope you enjoy the two stories.

A Brief Biography

Atanu Dey suffers from a rather severe form of attention deficit disorder. After his bachelors in mechanical engineering, he moved to computer science and received a master’s degree. Product marketing at HP in the Silicon Valley kept him occupied briefly for six years. Then he traveled in India, US, and Europe for five years before realizing that he knew nothing about economics. So he studied economics at the University of California at Berkeley and received his PhD for his thesis on the Indian telecommunications sector. His critique of the New Telecom Policy 1999 is worth a read, even though his thesis will only appeal to hardcore economists and is guaranteed to distress socialistic Indian policy makers. Playing hooky while at UC Berkeley, he slummed at a junior university called Stanford as a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow 2001-02. Rumor has it that there he actually developed a model which he calls “Rural Infrastructure and Services Commons (RISC)” that promises to bring about the economic transformation of rural India. Someone asked him to demonstrate that claim and so he is off in India trying to implement the RISC model, leaving behind a lot of very relieved people in California where he spent nearly two decades. In his spare time (about 90% of his total time) he listens to classical music, practices Vipassana meditation, reads physics, gives lectures on Buddhism, maintains a sporadic blog, and occasionally makes sense. He plans to become a philosopher when he grows up. He would also like all to know that he is a published poet.

Inspiration

As one lamp lights another, nor grows less,
So nobleness enkindleth nobleness.

Those are lines from a poem (Yussouf by James Russell Lowell) that I had memorized in school many years ago. They immediately came to mind when I read about Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, or “Dr. V”, a few months ago. Reading about Dr V was empowering and I wrote Unsung Hero — Dr V in my weblog.[1] Today Karthik emailed me another article about Dr. V. Once again, there was that same feeling of being inspired, of being empowered to do what needs to be done.

Dr. V. created the Aravind Eye Hospital. I quote from the latter article:

Since opening day in 1976, Aravind has given sight to more than 1 million people in India. Dr. V. may not run a business, but it’s important to note that Aravind’s surgeons are so productive that the hospital has a gross margin of 40%, despite the fact that 70% of the patients pay nothing or close to nothing, and that the hospital does not depend on donations. Dr. V. has done it by constantly cutting costs, increasing efficiency, and building his market.

It costs Aravind about $10 to conduct a cataract operation. It costs hospitals in the United States about $1,650 to perform the same operation. Aravind keeps costs minimal by putting two or more patients in an operating room at the same time. Hospitals in the United States don’t allow more than one patient at a time in a surgery, but Aravind hasn’t experienced any problems with infections. Aravind’s doctors have created equipment that allows a surgeon to perform one 10- to 20-minute operation, then swivel around to work on the next patient — who is already in the room, prepped, ready, and waiting. Post-op patients are wheeled out, and new patients are wheeled in.

Aravind has managed to beat costs in every area of its service: The hospital’s own Aurolab, begun in 1992, pioneered the production of high-quality, low-cost intraocular lenses. Aurolab now produces 700,000 lenses per year, a quarter of which are used at Aravind. The rest are exported to countries all over the world — except to the United States. (In order for Aravind to get its lenses approved for sale in the United States, it would have to pay for an FDA study and a clinical study, which the hospital cannot afford.) Aravind even has its own guest house, and students and physicians from around the world come to teach, study, observe, practice — and boost their training.

So here I begin this journey with the proper invocations to Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles, the One with the Broken Tusk, and with thanks to Dr. V. and his vision.

NOTES: 

[1] That UC Berkeley blog is not available any more.