RSS

Tag Archives: climate

Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs by Muhammad Yunus

Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity's Most Pressing NeedsBuilding Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs by Muhammad Yunus

My Rating★★★★☆

Is Yunus the only practicing (as in the type who never came across the proverbial armchair yet) nobel laureate in economics? (his field is, if not the nobel)

His ideas and beliefs are rooted in and grown from the experience of running what sounds like hundreds of companies and offshoots and sister concerns – almost all successful, launching an entire industry and redefining one of the oldest businesses of the world.

Yet, in spite of full awareness of the credentials of the author, everything inside a reader militates against the seemingly utopian picture Yunus paints. You want to shout at him: all this is fine but REALITY is different! But the reader forgets – Yunus has seen and succeeded in the stark reality of one of the poorest, most torn landscapes in the world and he is proving that the ‘reality’ that economics teaches us is a very constrained reality. All the talk of incentives being the fuel of the human growth engine fall flat. But you don’t give in, you keep drilling deep holes in every cheerful statement of Yunus throughout the introductory chapters, after all you have years of economic training to back you up.

Finally Yunus gets to the case studies, and you read on with growing astonishment that the very principles outlined earlier, the principles that you had in your economic wisdom so thoroughly cut into pieces, all seem to just work on the ground. You scratch your head and try to figure it out. Then you forget your criticism and congratulate yourself on your own positive outlook towards humanity. Until next time.

View all my reviews

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Wizard of Oz as An Economic Parable: A Short Introduction

The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

My Rating★★★★★

The Wizard of Oz as An Economic Parable: A Short Introduction

This might be common knowledge or it might not be. Some economics textbook claim this is a wonderfully esoteric nugget: The story of Oz was an economic parable. Take that, all you who said economics can’t be fun.

Redistributions of wealth caused by unexpected changes in the price level are often a source of political turmoil. From 1880 to 1896 the price level in the United States fell 23 percent. This deflation was good for Haves (creditors – primarily the bankers of the Northeast), but it was bad for Have-Nots (debtors – primarily the farmers of the South and West). The deflation was blamed almost exclusively on the now notorious Gold Standard and a proposed move towards Silver was instead the craved for alternative.

The Silver issue dominated the presidential election of 1896. William McKinley, the Republican nominee, campaigned on a platform of preserving the gold standard.

William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee, ranged boldly against Gold and for Silver. In a famous speech, Bryan proclaimed, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.’’

Not surprisingly, McKinley was the candidate of the conservative eastern establishment, whereas Bryan was the candidate of the southern and western populists.

Then came The Wizard of Oz.

The midwestern journalist, L. Frank Baum tells the story of Dorothy, a girl lost in a strange land far from her home in Kansas. Dorothy (representing traditional American values) makes three friends: a scarecrow (the farmer), a tin woodman (the industrial worker), and a lion whose roar exceeds his might (William Jennings Bryan). Together, the four of them make their way along a perilous yellow brick road (the gold standard), hoping to find the Wizard who will help Dorothy return home.

Eventually they arrive in Oz (Washington), where everyone sees the world through green glasses (money). The Wizard (William McKinley) tries to be all things to all people but turns out to be a fraud.

Dorothy’s problem is solved only when she learns about the magical power of her (otherwise ordinary) silver slippers. (Unfortunately the movie forgot the parable and omitted the silver slippers – thus depriving the majority of the audience of the real delight in the victory!)

The Republicans (The Wizard) won the election of 1896, and the United States stayed on a gold standard, but the Free Silver advocates got the inflation that they wanted after gold was discovered in Alaska, Australia, and South Africa. Even later, Gold was abandoned altogether and the fraudster wizards was never heard from again. Dorothy and Baum had the last laugh over the unwanted magical oppression of the Yellow Brick Road and the green-tinted world. Well, at least from the road.

View all my reviews

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

India Unbound: The Social and Economic Revolution from Independence to the Global Information Age by Gurcharan Das

India Unbound: The Social and Economic Revolution from Independence to the Global Information Age

Click to Buy From Flipkart

India Unbound: The Social and Economic Revolution from Independence to the Global Information Age by Gurcharan Das

My Rating★★★★☆

Through most of the reading I wanted to be critical of the book. I was disappointed that the wisdom that was characteristic of the Das who wrote The Difficulty of Being Good was not much on display in his exploration of the 2nd of the four foundational principles (Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha) of Indian life [sic]. I could only conclude that it must be difficult for one man to take on the challenge of elucidating all four. I also had some fun imagining that this might be even more the case if he ver decides to turn to the third of the big 4!

The reason for this criticality was that it was constructed as a personal history – it was supposed to be a growing up story for India, entwined with Das’s own. For most of the book this imbued it with a needless tragic sense and also made it seem artificial. The view seemed to be too one-sided, almost like a deliberately bourgeoisie history. There was something not quite right in the telling and while Das’s smooth writing mostly glosses over this, it did come out plainly in instances such as (for example) when he talked about the psychological basis for indian’s inability to cooperate and work in a team atmosphere. A patently absurd Freudian explanation that even the author seemed to know as just playing for the stands.

In all, there seemed to be too much of being wise after the event and Das seemed reluctant to put behind his early enchantments and disillusionments with Nehru and his dreams, not seeming to realize that the models were the best ones available back then. This was exactly the sort of wafer thin analysis that lends very easily to the sort of creeping criticism for India and ‘our ways’ that is characteristic of the modern ‘middle-class’.

Then somewhere towards the end, Das gives up the pretense of telling his own story and plunges into a reflective and more clear-headed assessment of present day India, no longer overshadowed by the perceived failures of the past. From being a depressing saga, the book suddenly leapt into the sunlight of such intense optimism and sudden lack of generalizations. The tide turns with the account of the exciting days of reform. The drama and the personae are wonderfully captured and in spite of being a well-worn story it literally keeps the reader at the edge of the seat as it unfolds like a Bollywood drama, full of machinations and quick steps and side steps – a subtle dance that Das takes great pleasure in composing and unravelling.

From then on the writing takes on a breathless character, as if Das in his old age has recaptured the spirit that was supposed to awaken Independent India half a century ago. That explains the title of the book, though he could just as well have titled it “Gurcharan Unbound” – after all, it was not just India that reinvented itself towards the end of this ‘personal history’. In doing this Das vindicates his narrative choice – the narrative moods were meant to capture the turbulent see-saw of emotions that the nation itself went through. Das does it beautifully, it was just that I failed to appreciate it till the very end.

View all my reviews

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Economist Presents: Economics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy by Simon Cox

Economics: Making Sense of the Modern EconomyEconomics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy by Simon Cox

My Rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is easy to be stunned by the manifest foresight that a book like this can showcase. But the reader has to remember that in a magazine like The Economist, a number of contrasting ideas about the current world economy would always be sloshing around. To later make a selective compilation of those articles that proved to be ‘prophetic’ is an exercise in exclusion that is designed to present a false sense of confidence or analytical foresight. Just because a collection of articles from a magazine turned out to be quite close to the mark, there is no reason to believe that any random article you might pick up from this week’s Economist will be of equal predictive value.

I have nothing against the magazine or the book. I greatly enjoy the magazine and to a more moderate extent liked the book as well. But the blatantly triumphant endnotes trumpeting the date of each article and a further note on how the world actually played out was grating to say the least.

View all my reviews

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 15, 2013 in Books

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by Patrik Ouředník

Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century

Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by Patrik Ouředník

My Rating★★★★★

It is hard to put a finger on what this book tries to do but it does something important. It narrates history in a detached way without giving any undue importance to the ‘major’ events. It is one of those rare instances when its brevity is the greatest strength of a historical narrative. It is not that lacks in detail detailed, don’t get me wrong here. It does go on about how people did things to each other and developed theories about each other, about how people and nations thought and acted, about large numbers and statistics of war, and about how absurd it all was. It never says in so many words that it was absurd, of course. But it makes you realize that when history is told by someone who has (or seems/ attempts to seem) no agenda or alliances or a spirit of inquiry or even an interest in educating the readers (etc.) but is just told, told as if it is just something that happened – then that narrative has the power to show you how small everything was and how collectively we are a bunch of such magnificent buffoons. There is a touch of Douglas Adams in there somewhere, in that humor and in the sad irony that keeps on putting a half-smile on the reader’s face despite the subject matter being dealt with (Hint: I am not talking of Adams’ sci-fi books here). It is only apt that Ouředník is also the translator of Beckett and Queneau and perhaps most pertinently, of Rabelais.

This should be required reading for students of History – even as we learn about the great nations and the of great wars and of the heroes and of the generals and of the great science and its advances and of turning points and tragedies, we should also learns perspective and learn that history was just about a large bunch of people making decisions that would always seem absurd (like the proverbial best-laid schemes…) to everyone but themselves – either to other countries or at least to posterity . And that would be a valuable lesson… I am not doing justice to this, as I said it is hard to put a finger on what this book does. Just read it?

View all my reviews

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Makers of Modern India by Ramachandra Guha

Makers of Modern India

Makers of Modern India by Ramachandra Guha

My Rating★★★☆☆

To make the Indian experience more central to global debates is one aim of this book. Another, and perhaps greater aim, is to make Indians more aware of the richness and relevance of their modern political tradition.

After such bold claims, I was disappointed to find that the book is in fact an anthology of Indian political writing. I strongly feel a commentary would have been better to meet the professed aims of the book and could have been made more impact-full with short relevant extracts

The questionable set chosen as “Makers of Modern India” include nineteen famous and not-so-famous names:
Rammohan Roy (Part I); Syed Ahmad Khan, Jotirao Phule, Tarabai Shinde, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak (Part II); M.K. Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, B.R. Ambedkar, M.A. Jinnah, E.V. Ramaswami and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (Part III); Jawaharlal Nehru, M.S. Golwalkar, C. Rajagopalachari, Rammanohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan and Verrier Elwin (Part IV); and Hamid Dalwai (Part V).

As a contemporary alternative to Argumentative Indian, I am not sure it succeeds – except by showing that a connected tradition built on boldness, challenge, contest and contrast existed in the vast correspondences that contemporary Indian thinkers were capable of producing. Guha illustrates this in a way by showing a connected series of thoughts evolving by bouncing around between the set of characters above, original thoughts arising and then being furiously debated and progressing in dramatic point-counter-point fashion (mostly Gandhian ideas of course, but still…) towards action and sometimes even more dramatic reaction in the crucible of Indian Democracy.

The essentially disputatious nature of this tradition is manifest throughout this book. The pity is that very little of this intellectual ‘tradition’ was meant for mass consumption or was based on a focused and sustained attempt at analyzing and evolving systems of thought but seem to be individual contributions to individual problems – a method that has always plagued Indian political thought and has probably resulted in the poverty of thought post-independence.

That sort of integration is probably what is needed before India can submit the results of her social and democratic experiment to the world and from it evolve a new conception of democracy relevant to a more diverse world than that existed when democracy was originally conceived. Guha has taken a first step in this direction and I sincerely hope a more synthetic attempt will follow one day.

View all my reviews

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet

Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our PlanetEco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet by Edward Humes

My Rating★★★★★

Eco Barons is a well-written, and profoundly moving collection of inter-linked real-life stories that is surprisingly dramatic and engaging in its concise chronicling of the lives of these heroes who are making it their life’s work to save the planet in their own outrageous, touching and sometimes idiosyncratic, but always genuine ways.

There are thousands of  environmentalists and activists doing important work in America and around the world. But a few of them go farther—these dreamers, schemers, moguls, and coupon clippers; these eco barons. There are others out there, certainly, more all the time; this book is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is an inspiring selection. The eco barons depicted here stand out because they are  game-changers, accomplishing  something  extraordinary, raising the bar of  the possible, usually after being told that what they are attempting is impossible. They have undertaken an epic project: to set an example for the rest of us.

Their actions are their message: that there is a clear choice, a difficult choice, a right choice, and to make it is to express the faith that it is not too late to save the world—and that a new way of living can be better, healthier, smarter, and more prosperous.

The first and probably the most inspiring is the story of how the legendary Doug Tompkins, millionaire and the founder of Espirit, abandoned his sprawling fashion empire, found a rugged cabin in the middle of Eden (read Chile), and started saving and restoring paradise, one plot, one fence, and one tree at a time, conquering government antagonism, lobbyists and big industry that wanted to make concrete jungles out of these majestic old-growth forests.

The second story elaborates on two naturalists and lawyers who lived like monks and found a way to use the law to save forests, species, and clean air when no one else could.

Then is the techy tale of a professor and his students building magical cars that burn no gas and trying to redefine the doomsday trajectory plotted by Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Coal and the other leviathans and to set us on a new course. His cars are cleaner, cheaper, faster, more enduring, gives more mileage – how many more boxes do you want your dream car to tick?

Also, there is the story of a cosmetics queen who, like Doug, sold her empire and is spending her fortune to save the last great forests of Maine and having to fight every inch of the way to do it.

Not to be forgotten is the Media Mogul who gave us CNN and Cartoon Network and numerous other entertainments, who owns more land than anybody else in the country and is devoting his real estate might to trying so hard to return the land to its pristine state before humans arrived to despoil it, working step-by-step to re-wilding the lands and to reintroduce native species and to preserve a heritage fast vanishing.

Last, and seemingly the least, but still an eco-baron, is the “turtle lady” who walks along a beach inspecting turtles and single-handedly saved a species – As good a story as the traditional rags-to-riches story that makes for a newspaper headline? Shouldn’t it be?

These eco-barons see, clearly, that what we’re doing as a society is not working. Their response is not to shout about it, or lobby about it, or generate self-aggrandizing headlines about it. Their response is to do something about it, and their results have been spectacular.

Some Resources for the interested/concerned:

To Know more on the Eco-barons:

For the Internet supplement to this book, including photos of the eco barons and their projects, maps, background information, links to their individual Web sites, and more resources, visit http://ecobarons.wordpress.com.

For general environmental information, news, and advice:

Grist: Environmental News and Commentary: www.grist.org and the related blog, http://gristmill.grist.org.

Greenwash Brigade: www.publicradio.org/columns/sustainab….

The Sietch Blog: www.blog.thesietch.org.

Green Options: http://greenoptions.com.

Climate Debate Daily: Get all sides of the global warming debate at http://climatedebatedaily.com.

For advice on ‘living like an Eco-baron”:

Terrapass:  Calculate  your  carbon  footprint  and  find  green  products  at  www.terrapass.com.

NativeEnergy:  Learn  about  and  purchase  carbon  offsets  at  www.nativeenergy.com.

Service trips: Earthwatch Institute and the Sierra Club maintain lists of volunteer vacations that put you to work on conservation and public lands projects.

Earthwatch: www.earthwatch.org/expedition.

Sierra Club: http://tioga.sierraclub.org/TripSearc….

Treehugger: This environmental Web site’s How to Go Green guide offers tips on green home buying, green dishwashers, green gift buying, greening your sex life, and more at www.treehugger.com/gogreen.php.

On “driving like an Eco-baron” 

EPA Green Vehicle Guide: Learn about the greenest cars in America at www.epa.gov/greenvehicles.

Plug In America: www.pluginamerica.com

Green Car Congress: News, reports, and information on sustainable transportation at www.greencarcongress.com.

The California Cars Initiative: www.calcars.org.

Drive Green: Calculate and offset the greenhouse gas emissions for your travel at www.drivegreen.com.

On “eating like an Eco-baron”

Green Daily Green Eating Guide: www.greendaily.com/2008/02/07/eating-….

Eat Well Guide: Find, cook, and eat sustainable food at www.eatwellguide.org.

Sustainable Table: Another excellent resource for local and sustainable food is www.sustainabletable.org.

View all my reviews

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: