Change A Coming??

We are just a few days away from the US presidential elections people and Obama just launched a half hour television commercial. Later on we are going to be all about how Obama, probably the candidate with the toughest chance at winning, grabbed the oval office by the sheer power of a stupendous marketing campaign. Probably the most effective in the history of the presidential elections since time immemorial etc. etc.

But is this chap really going to win? I remember asking indi about this once. Back when Obama had just managed to catch up with Hillary in the democratic primaries and was struggling to maintain a marginal lead, when it looked unlikely that he would do so, and when many a pundit was talking about how Hillary will just rise back up after a ‘temporary setback’. Indi seemed pretty confident that he would win the primary, and I think that he’s pretty much confident that he’s gonna pull off the presidential campaign as well and personally, I think I'm with him. (Indi, I hope you don’t mind the airtime and content.)

But is Obama really going to make a change? Is he really going to turn the world as we know it upside down? Or will he have more of a ‘Sarkozy affect’ (my own term) and simply strengthen politically the power of America and take practical positive steps to push forward the economy? Time will tell I suppose.
Meanwhile, ominous notions of John F. Kennedy-esque assassinations circulate (and I don’t mean dumbasses like these). JFK was a reformist, possibly the best thing that happened to the States in the context of genuinely ‘wholesome’ global policy. Obama seems to have built his campaign on top of reformist pro-change rhetoric (As for his foriegn policy, well, McCain just may be striking a soft spot or two IMHO), will he practice it?  And if he does, will he have to pay for it? After all, as a friend of mine said, he’s just the president. Or will be, if McCain doesn’t win, or the ‘aliens’ decide to grab him or kill him with oh say, two bullets before the elections.

Who murdered the financial system?

Turns out we all dunnit, according to this chap. Many thanks to Deane for the pointer to Swaminomics.

Big Brother

The Island wants you to live! Linc, The Company is after your son! Hiro, the virus! It was unleashed in the future by The Company. You need to save the bloody world. Again.

The Big Brother is watching you. Wiretapping is scary...they are LISTENING!!!

Damn. What is this thing about popular culture that simply ices your testicles? Or at least my testicles cos ‘The Company’ (pronounced with full emphasis on the capitals and the inverted commas) is all I’ve been hearing about lately. ‘The Company’ is unleashing a virus, ‘The Company’ wants you dead. I mean, ‘Lost’ is a Robinson Crusoe-esque shipwreck (ok, planewreck if you will) story and it turns out that the very island they are stranded on has got a hidden agenda, and uses all the stranded people as pawns to achieve its goals. I’m talking about an Island here. I mean it’s an inanimate object.

I don’t know exactly why, but the notion that there is a higher unseen entity controlling your every move and attaching strings to you every way you turn, has reached a level of mainstream popularity that to me is quite novel. Think about it, not so long ago it was only the stoners, the UFO people, and my A/L english master who waxed lyrical about ‘hidden agendas’, things that are ‘not what they seem’ and ‘they have got you fooled’ etc.

I was, and am one of those people mind you, no not a stoner or an english master. Well correction, not always a stoner, and as for the UFO's well, all I can say is that i believe in the possibilityof aliens existing. Another post on that maybe  But i've always been a conspiracy nut. If being intrigued by a possible conspiracy makes me a nut.

Someone once told me that the American people were being ‘prepared’ for a black president. He was of course referring to the black president seen in the first season of 24. This post 9/11 trash TV show if you ask me. The first season was great and Elisha Cuthbert was hot but then the whole thing got boring. Kind of noticed that the black president disappeared rather quickly in the following seasons too, I don’t know, maybe Obama should watch out.

Confessions of an Economic Hitman’ is a great book. And a must read for all you ‘Company’ skeptics and fanatics out there. It sets out the true story of an ‘Economic Hitman’ working for big corporations involved in exploiting mainly third world/developing counties. Read that, and you’ll get some good insight into how the whole thing worked (this mainly concerns the mid to latter decades of the 20th century), and possibly get an inkling as to how modern mega-powerful corporate interests work too.

Popular culture reflects general sentiment among the larger public. So this is really where Wall Street meets Main Street, inside people's minds. People are increasingly suspicious about big organizations and corporate interests controlling goverments and are increasingly wondering how much privacy and control they really have in their lives. Obama is popular in the polls and Obama is the one promising to cut down the power of Big Organizations. The world is caught in a Big Brother frenzy.

All that of course is primarily in the Western world right? You may ask or you may not. Here is SL, we peacefully navigate our ways through the occasional military checkpoint and avoid the occasional drunk driving rap by refusing to ‘blow the balloon’ and casually slipping the ‘ralahami’ a few hundred bucks. But nevertheless, we too are caught up in the whole global corporate game. Just how do we think we are funding our war? Just how do you think those politicos are getting their filthy hands on billions of dollars? This money has got to come from somewhere right? And the people giving it to us obviously know we are not going to pay them back. So what have they already reserved as collateral? Our natural resources? Our UN votes? Its anyone’s guess. Existing governments can simply sell the country's soul to the devil (read, The Company) and temporarily live it up and then transfer the debris of their spoils on to the poor chaps who come into power next (who will probably in turn carry on with the grand traditions of the first) but I digress.

So has capitalism fuelled this and presented to us a world where governments are mere pawns on a chessboard ruled by the multinationals? I don’t know, I haven’t found out yet, I’m still waiting for Lost Season 5, and the rest of Heroes season 3 and Prison Break 4.

Outsourcing, Obama’s Folly

There’s a lot of American outsourcing going on. And not just to Mexico. In addition to Sri Lanka, there’s Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia, I’m not too sure about Pakistan but there’s definitely India. Gazillions of Indians work in call centers, and there are more queuing up. Lots of labor availability means lower wages (by US standards), meaning lower costs, translating into higher profits/lower prices. Mostly the latter due to high competition in developed markets.

Hell man, they’re even outsourcing war right now. And not just to American firms it seems.

And now Barrack Obama wants to stop all that. He wants to provide Americans with jobs he says, but is outsourcing really the demon of unemployment to developed nations like they seem to think?

I would say no. Outsourcing is great for the economy, its ‘spreads the wealth around’ (one of Obama’s axioms as a matter of fact, but I think he was talking in a more local sense as opposed to a global one). But then you’d argue that it may be okay for the global economy, but is it alright for countries taken individually? More importantly, is it good for America? Cos people in the US are losing their jobs to Pakis, curries and brownies faster than you can say ‘Joe the Plumber’.

I would say yes it is. Here’s why.

• Importing labor means outflow of foreign exchange translating into more demand for American exports. Cos the dollars that go out have to eventually end up back in the US right? So this will fuel American industry and actually increase employment there.

• Regular American consumers pay less for services due to reduced prices of goods and serviced whose functions have been outsourced to other countries, leaving them with more disposable income which they will in turn channel towards other industries making them more prosperous increasing employment there as well.

So Americans can only get more prosperous. Sure we’re looking at a group of immediately affected former white collar workers without jobs, but in the longer term, the US and everybody else, would be far better as a result of outsourcing, which after all is probably one of the most visible affects of globalization on the planet.

America, to prosper again will need to focus its energies on those industries I which it is strongest in. The credit collapse seems to have blinded everyone onto thinking there’s something wrong with everything in the damn economy. That’s not the case here. It’s funny; they forgot the one thing that the great guru of modern American free market economic policy, Milton Friedman, advocated when he preached a free market policy approach; ‘Regulate the Banks!’ and look where they are now. Friedman never really offered a concrete explanation as to why, of all industries, only banks needed to be regulated, but I’m pretty sure we can all see firsthand what can happen when the heavily intertwined and confused financial industry, like a Gulliver after a bit too many drinks, hurls on the Lilliputian economy of the world. (for a simple and informative look at at how the subprime crisis happened click here).

I sure hope Obama is just saying that to get the votes in man, cos if he wins and really does do away with outsourcing, all that’s gonna do is cripple the American, and the global, economy a little bit more.

Joe the Plumber, The story behind

With McCain joking about replacing his entire team of senior advisers with Joe the Plumber, this pretty much says it all.

Karuna Amman; On Life, Loves, and Career

Karuna Amman took some time off of his busy schedule to have an interesting little chat with us recently.  Here are some choice excerpts;

On his latest career move...

'Ah well its been an interesting career move, joining the Sri Lankan parliament. Sure we all had our good times running around in the jungles of Vanni shooting both the LTTE and the Government troops but my rebellious days are over, i have realized that it is time to shoulder responsibility and take a stand. I had been contemplating it for quite a while and can safely say after being on both sides that the perks are much better over here! Prabha even skimps on the AC. and we all know how hot it is over there. I think we can be extremely proud of how this nation treats its public servants. when even in England, as i observed when i was there, they are made to travel in (face contorting with painful remembrance) public transport. Eww!'

On his critics..

'People will always criticize anyone if it is advantageous to them. I don't really care about my critics. it is now time for us all to get together and develop the nation. And if they have a problem with me, they can pay me a visit on the east coast and i will show them what real hospitality is. When im done with them they wouldn't be able to walk straight or sit down for the rest of their term in parliament would surely see the error of their ways and work towards my goal of peace and development.'

On life in general..

'Ah life? well i have always been a trigger happy gun toter an engaging person. That's what I was born to be and my life has been an interesting heavy duty tank roller coaster ride so far. The days I spent in the jungles as a rebel running from both sides were some of the best in my life (smiles fondly with a faraway look in his eyes), but I eventually realized that I couldnt pursue what I felt was my ultimate purpose in life, and that is to destroy the rest of humanity help my fellow human beings, and feeling that i had outgrown the LTTE in terms of my capabilities as a person i was on the lookout for new opportunities. That's when my good friend the president approached me and offered me a post in his bloodthirsty noble institution. And here i am!'

And the Future?

'Ah the future is full of opportunity! i have plans to eventually take over the country launch a campaign to develop the East. Those good people really need to be killed for their own good to be assisted. And i am calling all my fellow politicians and new countrymen to forget the past. I have big plans for you. Embrace me and my policies we shall greet the golden age of Karunaland Sri Lanka together!'

Certain sections in this post have been subject to censorship. Mr. Amman was a bit maerry just after his parliamentary initiation bash and might have er, 'blabbed' a bit.

The Vadai Index

The real price of everything, what everything costs to the man who wants to acquire it is the toil and trouble of acquiring it. Whats everything id really worth to the man who has acquired it, and who wants to dispose of it or exchange it for something else, is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself, and which it can impose upon other people.
That was Adam Smith.

I have always been a fan of vadais, if you don’t know what a vadai is, then you've probably not hung around a lot of Sri Lankan trains, roadsides or bust stops much. They are small, made of dhal and flour, fried, crispy and can usually include a little piece of maldive fish or a prawn or two. The prawn variety is known as an isso vadai, isso meaning prawns, and are extremely popular around Galle Face, before it was shut down that is (by shut down i mean Galle Face, not the isso vadai industry har har).

Excuse me while I clear up my watering mouth. Now vadais are generally very popular in crowded areas and a pack of 5 small maldive fish vadais (back when I was schooling, which was not so long ago) cost about 10 bucks. you'd get some fried chilies to much along with them and iv always considered them to be a tasty treat.

What do vadais have in common with indices and the theory of value? I hear you ask. Well I’m getting there so please do be patient.

So recently I was in Ratnapura on a Saturday for a funeral. Bussed it there alone and when i got there what did I see? You guessed it! a chap selling vadai in a little cart. So i walked over and asked for a pack of 5 maldive fish vadais (generally a bit smaller than your average chicken egg) and i dig out my wallet expecting it to cost about 20 bucks (allowing for inflation) and guess what? chap asks me for 30.

Ok. well I guessed times were hard and the vadais did look pretty crisp. So I shelled it out. So that was a 300% increase in price over a period of oh say, 3 years or so.

So the next day, im driving back from Galle with a couple of friends after catching some test cricket action and we stop at the Aluthgama bridge ‘cos of some accident of some sort and lo and behold, we have vadai seller walking his walk and talking his talk. How much? 5 for 10 rupees! I am like wow so inflation hasn't hit this area of the island has it? We enthusiastically buy 3 little paper bags worth of it. I take one out and suddenly get a bit confused when i realize that I am holding something that looks about the size of a Jumbo Peanut. Pop it into my mouth and can find absolutely no trace of maldive fish either. So that’s roughly a 300% decrease in size (factoring in the missing maldive fish) in vadai sizes over the past 3 years. Times are hard indeed.

So we have two contrasts under close to perfect conditions needed for empirical analysis.
Case 1- The size of the vadai remains roughly the same, while the price escalates to 300%.
Case 2 - The price remains at 10 rupees while the size shrinks to almost 1 third of its former size accentuated by the lack of a piece of maldive fish.

So thats either a 300% increase in price or a 300% decrease in size. So my common sense lead me to conclude, that since these prices and sizes would seem to be rather reasonable in the eyes of a vadai patron (afterall demand must exist, for them to keep selling) it looks like there has been a 300% decrease in value of money over thelast 3 years.

Sounds like a good indicator of the real level of inflation in the country to me. Maybe the Central Bank should consider initiating a vadai index. Or maybe even a basket index of all roadside ‘fast-food’ items if correlation is as obvious as it is with the vadai. Maybe I should start an island wide campaign to generate awareness. This could be a start.