Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A free idea for you to make millions from

Entrepreneurship is all about ideas. If you have an idea for a great product or service, capital, talent and profits will flow to you. You will become a multi millionaire. In recognition of all the patience you dear readers have shown, this blogger now offers an idea for free - a product from which you can make millions !

The idea is, well, an old fashioned one. The product I suggest to you is the typewriter !! Before you groan, consider the following facts.

The country (to its eternal credit) which is completely fed up with the antics of the NSA is Germany. Even in the erstwhile East Germany the extent of snooping and surveillance probably did not go this far. When revelation after revelation brings home the extent of NSA spying (even to the extent of tapping the phone of Angela Merkel), the Germans have become angrier and angrier. And businesses, and government, have started to react in the only way possible - ditch the computer !

Back comes the good  old fashioned typewriter. German defence contractor Diehl has switched entirely to typewriters and snail mail for all sensitive documents and correspondence. Many German politicians are deciding to follow suit. Not any typewriter mind you. Only the non electronic variety will do. Complete with carbon paper for copies.  A typewriter with not a semiconductor in sight, thank you. That's the only way to be safe from the spies.

Typewriter sales have gone up by 35% and is expected to go up by 100% in the near future. Now, very few make typewriters anymore. In Germany, only two companies of any stature make them - Bandermann and Olympia. And they are Expensive, complete with a capital E. There may even be a waiting list to buy a typewriter; obviously there is no capacity for 100% growth.

Where Germany leads, the rest of the world will follow. Many Americans would be happy to follow suit. Many politicans of all stripes might dutifully switch - not so much because of the spying, but because they would rather that their antics do not leak out, at least in print. Without a doubt there will be 10 million Chinese, perhaps all of them from the Communist Party, who would also like the safety of something that cannot easily be monitored. And while you may not care for it, the shady characters, right from petty criminals to terrorists, would no doubt love the security from snooping.

So build a factory to make typewriters in some village in India. Make a zillion of them. Export the whole lot. Advertise the world over that your products are the only ones that are NSA proof. Guarantee to customers that they cannot be spied upon except by somebody staring right over the typist. As a corollary business, supply carbon paper and printer ribbon at $1000 per pack (Hewlett Packard, you are getting beaten at your own game). And as a future foray into services,  also supply typists - millions of Rajalakshmis available wherever you want. All you then have to do is to count the cash flowing in.

Underneath the frivolity is a serious point. There will be a backlash against the all pervasive snooping. For some things at least it is better to go back to trusted technology of the old - the typewriter, the comptometer, the pen, the paper, and even, perish the thought,  the face to face meeting !

Friday, 18 July 2014

Has the world gone mad ?

I think it has. Nothing but madness can explain the awfulness of the last few days.

The downing of the Malaysian Airlines plane over Ukraine is one of the sorriest events to ever happen. Two bunch of loonies are fighting over God knows what - yes Russia is meddling in Ukraine, which as a country has almost ceased to exist and everybody is bent on killing everybody else. But to shoot a civilian airliner that was simply overflying the country ??? What sort of a nut case or , in reality a group of nut cases wants to shoot that down ? For what ? What did the poor people who just had the misfortune of being in that plane do to deserve this. Reports say a large number of them were actually flying to Australia for an AIDS conference. Some of the leading AIDS researchers have been lost to the world. What a senseless tragedy.

Consider the situation of Malaysian Airlines. What have they done to deserve the double whammy over the last few months. It is now difficult for them to even survive.

And then, there is Gaza. Some terrorists kidnapped some Israeli boys and in retaliation some Palestinian boys were killed. Look at how this has escalated. Terrorists from Gaza are firing every rocket they can at Israel. Israel reacts by meting collective punishment to the entire population of Gaza. Hundreds of innocent lives have been lost, almost entirely Palestinian. Its the poor ordinary folk who are suffering miserably. Very little of sanity seems to exist in that place. John Kerry must be tearing his hair out - against all odds he has invested every ounce of energy he has to make some movement in the peace process. And this is what has happened.

Simply because it has been going on for so long, the awfulness of what is happening in Syria, and its spillover into Iraq is taking third place in this dubious list. Every maniac, criminal and lunatic seems to be there killing everybody else. The innocent civilian suffers, and suffers miserably.

In my own home city, a few hundred metres from where I live, a six year old girl is raped in school  by some staff. A six year old for God's sake.

Today is a day to seriously ask whether the world has gone mad. Amidst this mayhem, matters of business and economics seem almost insignificant. If there are sane people left in this world, hopefully the vast vast majority of us, we should rise and exterminate the madmen. This isn't a rational response, but in today's insanity, little else can be said.

I pray for all those in torment today.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Burn the green card !

Beware, if you are a US citizen, or a green card holder,  living abroad. FATCA is on you !

FATCA stands for the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act and is the latest weapon unleashed in the awful American tax code. On measures of awfulness, FATCA must be a contender for one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed. It takes America's unilateralism - something this blogger has long railed about - to a new level.

Basically FATCA is an imposition of its tax laws on every financial institution in the world, wherever they may be. Every bank, even in Timbuktu, is required to report to the US authorities, details of bank accounts and transactions of all US persons (citizens and green card holders). If they fail to do so, they would essentially barred from doing any business in the US. Terrified of being shut out of US markets, almost every country of any standing has signed bilateral agreements with the US to this effect. Did I mention the word, bully ?

All this arises from the stupid concept that prevails only in  America, and in no other major economy in the world. America taxes its citizens on global income, even if they lived entirely abroad and earned all their income abroad. So such citizens pay taxes in the country where they live in AND to Uncle Sam.  In every other major country, depending on your residency, you are taxed on where the income arose only; not on global income.

The ostensible reason for FATCA is to go after US citizens who are hiding their income overseas and avoiding taxes. While that may be a fair objective,  it suffers from two major flaws - the first that you want to tax global income and second that you are simply trampling on every other country, just because you have the capability to do so.

FATCA came into effect three days ago. It will have major ramifications for anybody connected to the US, but living abroad. Consider the question of privacy. America requires every country to report transactions, irrespective of  the country's privacy laws. And yet if the same country turned back to the US  and asked it to report similar data for its nationals, the US will tell it to go away citing privacy considerations. Did I mention the word hypocrisy.

All sorts of unintended consequences are emerging. Some US citizens living abroad are considering surrendering their US citizenship. The rate of surrender, though still small, has quadrupled since FATCA came on the horizon.  Some foreign banks are basically telling US citizens  to go away and not have accounts with them - they simply don't want to get squashed by the strong arm of the US. Some employers overseas are turning away US citizens, considering them not worth the bother.

Consider the US green card holder living in India. Many take this only to escape the brutal visa regime. Parents of children now living in the US maybe. Now they are caught in the FATCA net.

This blogger is reminded of a famous cartoon in The Economist many years ago. The Economist was commenting on how desirable the US green card is even for ostensible haters of the Great Satan. The cartoon featured a rabid mullah, yelling Death to America in a protest somewhere in the Middle East - and he whispers as an aside to an American journalist - "Can you get me a green card "!

Maybe the time has come to change the punchline. Can you burn my green card !

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