Bill Me Later

Bill Me Later, one of eBay’s fastest-growing businesses, offers credit to online shoppers, letting them pay a few months after purchases. Now, from a business point of view this is a fairly exciting update. The service will not only help eBay grow its sales, it will also help Pay-Pal evolve from a mere transactional service to a financial product. Though valid credit-risk issues exist. [Source]

But from a social perspective, it is a development which invokes two very different emotions within me. Firstly, I find it dull because it is nothing new; It is simply another way of offering credit to a hyper-consumerist society. Secondly, and for the same reason, I find it utterly disgusting; It gives us one more reason to consume beyond our economic and ecological limits.

India, traditionally, has not been a country where consumption is appreciated. Our religions, and ideologies, demand self control and discipline in the use of not just tangible material goods, but also intangibles like emotions and senses. Most of us, while growing up, observed our parents making the most of their money, running the household as efficiently as they could, yet spending adequately for important stuff like education or health, and still ending up with a handful of saving at the end of the month.

Why is it then, that despite such an upbringing, this generation, collectively, not only exhausts its entire income in the very first week of the month, but also has virtually zero savings. The situation would look normal, if our lifestyles were mundane. But on the contrary, we dabble in luxury; Everything about us (clothes, gadgets, entertainment, etc.) is branded and expensive. The reason why we do it can be explored upon. But, I want to focus on facilities and social artifacts like Bill Me Later which make it easier and “cooler” to spend more than we should.

The exhibit of desire!! Isn’t it weird that, unlike our parents, we never actually have a list of all the stuff we need when we leave our homes for shopping. We saunter into air-conditioned malls, pick a cart and walk like zombies along the aisles lined with stuff on both sides, filling our carts with not just things we need, but with also a lot of stuff we do not require. Even small shopkeepers have started opening up their display areas to invite customers in, enabling them to pick what they need. And here lies the first problem; The exhibition of stuff appeals to a mysteriously instinctual and very strong urge in human beings to hoard. It makes you believe in needs that you never knew even existed. Retailers are rapidly replicating this experience online, luring us by offering economically unviable rebates (Flipkart, we know what you are doing.). The ease of selection, payment & delivery makes it a better experience, and hence a larger threat.

The death of cash!! Now that you have filled your enormous carts upto the brim, it is time to pay. But you do not need a stash of currency, you just need to swipe your card [and in very near future, may be just tap your smartphone]. The absence of actual currency notes from our transactions numbs our sense of judgement regarding the amount of money we are spending. The use of credit cards worsens the situation as it makes our ability to shop agnostic to our liquidity, making debt an increasingly acceptable option.

The lure of approval!! Annie Leonard’s story of stuff [Link] is probably the best demonstration of the way the businesses use planned and perceived obsolescence to promote more consumption. But are we less responsible? Don’t we try to project ourselves through our snazzy gadgets to hide our imperfections and idiosyncrasies, substituting faster processors for slower wits and sharper displays for blunt manners. Do I really need to buy this thing? Can I find an alternate? Can I borrow it from someone? These are valid questions and we should ask them more frequently. Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you should.

I am not advocating that buying groceries from small local stores, paying in cash, abandoning credit cards and justifying gadget purchases will magically rid us of our economic troubles. I am assuring that these steps point to a direction that leads to a debt and regret free future.

गहराई के सजग अँधेरे

रोमांच हज़ार सीसी की बाइक में नहीं, उस समझ में है कि कैसे इंजन में हर पल हो रहे हज़ारो विस्फोट गाड़ी कि रफ़्तार में बदल जाते है।

नशा व्हिस्की के जाम में नहीं, उस जुनून में है जिसमे खोकर इंसान सिर्फ किसी एक चाहत के लिए अपना पूरा जीवन कुरबान कर देता है।

मौज फेसबुक, ट्विटर या आइ-फ़ोन में नहीं, उन व्यक्तित्व, उन संवादों, उन कल्पनाओं में है, जो दुनिया को बदल देने की ताकत रखते हैं।

स्वाद पकवान में नहीं, भूखे तन में है। नींद बिस्तर में नहीं, थके टूटे बदन में है। सौंदर्य (या बदसूरती) और कहीं नहीं, खुद तेरे ही मन में है।

जीवन को सतह पर ढूंढना आधुनिकता नहीं सिर्फ फैशन-परस्ती और बेवकूफी है। गहराई के सजग अँधेरे में ही उजाले की लौ जलती है।

Russian Economy and the Indian Kids of the 80s

Crude might have showed just a slight decline (thanks to a slowing economy), but leaders at IMF and World Bank are already losing sleep over the petroleum dependent economy of Russia. It seems, for a fall of every one dollar in the price of oil, the Russian government loses around 1.65 billion dollar in oil-related taxes over the course of a year. Though, the cash reserves Russia has amassed [$185 billion] should help it sustain through a 2009 like $60-per-barrel period for two years.

Witnessing the events in and around Russia in the last decade, one can’t help but recall Friedman‘s first law of petropolitics. He states, and I quote, “Price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states. The higher the average global crude oil price rises, the more free speech, free press, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and independent political parties are eroded. And these negative trends are reinforced by the fact that the higher the price goes, the less petrolist leaders are sensitive to what the world thinks or says about them”.

This could easily be seen in Putin’s dealings with dissidence, both internal and external, in the recent past. But what really represents and helps understand the economic decisions of Russia’s leadership is the phenomenon of Dutch Disease or the more generic Resource Curse, in simple words, the tendency of an entity to mis-manage its finances and underperform when there is an abundance of resources. Russia saw a surge in its oil output in the early 2000’s, attributed to privatization and import of technology. A simultaneous increase in the oil demand, and thereby prices, globally, helped Russia in revitalizing its economy. But it failed to take a leaf from the world’s collective history and became increasingly dependent on Oil.

Now, Russia’s fate will be decided by its political will and social conscience. They might understand the importance of diversifying their windfall, or ignore the history lessons and delay reforms until it’s too late. But, the fact that the learning applies equally well to not just other countries, but organizations, people and even processes, should not be lost on any one of us. Scarcity not only promotes judicious use of resources, it also encourages creative ideas for increasing efficiency. Abundance, on the other hand, leads to mis-use and deters growth. This does not imply that abundance is bad; It implies that abundance of any resource comes with an inherent tendency of it being mismanaged and undervalued. Be it the abundance of time, as on a long break between two exams, or money, or even friends (Am kidding!! :D), on a personal level, the effects of “too much” can be easily seen.

I believe Indians (and Asians in general) who were born in the 80’s to middle or higher class parents, can actually look at their entire lives and blame the abundance they witnessed in the upbringing they received, from their parents in specific and the society in general, for a chronic sense of impatience, dissatisfaction and lack of confidence. There was no struggle for basics at home, or vacancies and facilities in public schools. There were plenty colleges where they could graduate when they needed to, and a booming IT, ITeS industry ready to employ them by the time they graduated. A generation which was served everything on a platter not only lost the art of evaluation but also the ability to persevere and face adversity with poise. This I think should be called the “Curse of the Blessed”.