Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The flying car

Did you see the news item about a flying car, revealed by Kitty Hawk, a Silicon Valley startup funded by Google's founder, Larry Page ? If you didn't , watch the video below


I now petition Kitty Hawk that the best place in the world to launch it first would be in Bangalore. Everybody knows that a basic version of this already exists in the wonderful city's roads , for after all, a two wheeler can come from all 360 degrees to dent your car even  today. But passing over that lightly, let's examine how and why this would be a major hit in Bangalore

Everybody who works in the world famous Ecospace building would buy it immediately. Ecospace is the world's first building where traffic jams are inside the building area and not outside. Average mean time currently for exiting from parking and coming to the gate is 45 mts. With a flying car, the coder will simply jump out of his office window in it and zoom away.  Similarly coders in cubby holes in every other monstrosity - Maanyata, ITPL, Bagmane in that order - are enough to ensure that Kitty Hawk's order book for the next 10 years is filled up.

Two wheeler riders of Bangalore migrating to the flying car are likely to be confused initially as they are genetically programmed only to ride on the pavement or ride on the wrong side of the road. They will need some significant retraining to take to this new vehicle. Two wheeler riders are also currently used to taking the wife and both kids along with them. It is unclear from the prototype of the flying car as to where the two kids can be placed. Perhaps they can be made to hang from the wings. There is no safety worry -  in Bangalore, even babies are trained from birth on how to hang on while on a two wheeler

The world famous cab drivers of Bangalore will be the world's best drivers on this car, as they have considerable practice in ducking and weaving and zooming. So the maneuvers required of a flying car come to them naturally. They will also be doing a massive public service. As they are used to constant honking, they will take this practice to the air and thereby drive off all the pigeons who currently infest every apartment building.

One of the greatest features of this car appears to be that it can instantly stop and hover in a particular spot. This will be very useful to BMTC drivers who like to stop in the middle of the road in an instant, if the fancy hits them.

There is one problem however. In Bangalore, every type of a cable - be it electricity, TV or internet cable dangles about 2 mtrs above every public space. Kitty Hawk will have to design the car such that it can take off and land passing through the 1 nanometer space available between the cables. In this they will be greatly aided by the dodging powers of the legendary cab driver of Bangalore.

We have one of the most proactive governments in the world in Bangalore. They will instantly build KR Puram, Silk Board and Graphite junctions in the air so that Bangaloreans on flying cars would not be deprived of the unique experiences to be had at the aforementioned places.  They will also ensure that enough airpockets are released into the atmosphere so that Bangaloreans will not get sick from a smooth ride - their bodies having being conditioned to the soothing effects of pot holes.

Another design suggestion for Kitty Hawk would be to provide a glass panel whereby owners can paint or affix stickers saying Bhuvaneswari , Parthiban and Rajasekhar (please note that these will be written in Kannada and therefore will require some additional lateral space)

Drivers will have to adjust their perception of tree branches. Today, the sight of a tree branch on the road means a vehicle has broken down and a twig and some leaves have been lodged in a crack to warn others of this fact. From the flying car, a branch and leaves may be safely taken to be on a living tree.

I am not sure of the impact these cars will have on the traffic cops of Bangalore. Perhaps they can climb trees and tow away the flying cars that have been parked on every branch - the ex two wheeler driver being an expert at parking his vehicle on any vacant area in any terrain.

What I am not clear is  how two drivers who have banged each other will fight. Current practice, which is almost a holy covenant is that you stop right there, get out and hurl the choicest abuse on the other guy.  You cannot move even 1 mtr from the spot (ie move to the side of the road) before fighting).  How this will be done mid air in the future scenario requires deep thought.

All in all, Kitty Hawk must simply relocate to Bangalore and start here. In any case the CEO is probably Arvindkatakshan Ramasubramaniam, who originally went from here. Welcome home, Sir !

Sunday, 23 April 2017

I should have the right to vote out Trump

I am an Indian citizen. I have no right to vote in the US elections. That's fine - US citizens can make their own choices on who to govern them. But when the US starts passing laws that affect the world, expects global compliance and which  have global consequences, then I am not prepared to keep quiet.

Nowhere is the US effect more on other country citizens than in the area of finance. If it starts a war, as it did in Iraq, at least I am not affected too much and its unlikely that the US will start a war with India. But Trump, by the act of trying to roll back Dodd Frank,  is directly affecting me and is therefore fair game in being virulently criticised.

Dodd Frank what ? Yes that's a fair question as unless you are a student of economics you may not have come across the Dodd Frank Act. Here's the context in layman terms

- Remember the financial crisis of a decade ago. It was caused by global financial behemoths (mainly US based) going crazy
- Post the crisis, the Obama administration enacted the Dodd Frank Act to govern the conduct of financial institutions. Massive compliance requirements were brought in and severe restrictions and policing was introduced on what they could and could not do.
- At the time, the Republican Party was in the phase of "Hell No". Therefore the law was not passed on a bipartisan basis. It was mostly a Democratic Party legislation.
- Republicans hated it, largely because they hated anything Obama did. The big finance companies and banks absolutely loathed it.
- The law is complex, fiddly, adds huge costs of compliance and is an absolute nuisance for those in the finance business. All true.  But we have seen what havoc they can wreck on the world if they are let loose. So their complaints should simply be met with a stonewall.
- This is one perfect example of a bad law being infinitely better than no law.
- The consequence of another financial meltdown is that I, an Indian citizen, will have to pay for it even though Indian financial institutions played absolutely no part in creating the mayhem. Like it or not there's no "Buy American" in finance. Finance is global.

Trump is now trying to loosen the provisions of the Dodd Frank Act.  Thankfully he cannot repeal it as he needs 60 votes in the US Senate and he does not have them as the Democrats are now the party of "Hell No". But he can dilute it considerably and that's what he is starting to do. An Executive Order came out on Friday. Thankfully for now,  the Order is just asking somebody to do something , as most Executive Orders thus far have been.  Nothing really has happened.

But it will happen. Trump's cabinet and advisers are full of Wall Street types. They have a vested interest in undoing the Act .  They must be resisted with every force. And I'll loudly call for Trump to be resisted on this one. As should you, whatever nationality you are. It affects you and me.

Dodd Frank has lots of faults. It's 2300 pages long. That alone is enough to tell you that Ramamritham has run amok. BUT, before anybody tries to do anything with it, he has to prove that it will improve controls and not dilute it.

For, you see, if you want to be really scared, do not think of nuclear war with North Korea. Or Arctic melt down. Or an asteroid hitting the earth. Get mortally terrified with just this one statistic. The total value of financial derivatives in the world at this moment is some $1.5 quadrillion. By comparison the world's  GDP is $80 trillion

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Élection présidentielle 2017

France goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new President. If you haven't been following this election, then you are missing something. It's a very crucial election and is much more fun for an outsider to follow than the US Presidential elections.

This blog largely tries to steer clear of political issues and focuses on the economic ones. So, although this blogger has strong views on the candidates and knows who he would vote for if he had a vote, he will avoid discussing that here. Instead, the focus is strictly on economic policies, which is of course, only one dimension of evaluating any candidate.

Who's the most dangerous of them all economically ? If the pat answer is Marine Le Pen, a more polished version of Trump, think again. Introducing Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far left candidate who is currently surging in the polls . Nearly 20% of France want him as President .


Here are his economic policies, without comment

  • 90% tax rate for those earning more than Euro 400,000 a year
  • 273 billion Euros higher spending over 5 years
  • 16% rise in minimum wage to Euros 1326 a month (Rs 90,000 a month)
  • 35 hour work week.
  • Exit the Euro
  • Abolish the treaties prescribing a target of deficit to GDP . In other words, simply print money
  • Exit EU, a la Britain, if necessary
  • Join Alba the economic pact between Cuba and Venezuela. Honourable observers of this pact are Iran and Syria
  • Right to housing to become a constitutional right
  • Nationalise utility companies

There is more, but this is enough for the time being.

The system of French elections is such that that he is unlikely to get through even in the first round. But it should give a pause for thought that a full 20% of the French electorate is willing to subscribe to such lunacy.

The right to vote is a heavy responsibility. Concepts like protest vote, angry voter, etc are deadly pitfalls. You are supposed to consider the options carefully and vote according to what you think is best for your country. You can have differing views, but irresponsible exercise of the franchise is catastrophic.

If you are of the view that this is all fear mongering, capitalism has failed, and we should give such a philosophy a try (yes, I am talking to you , if you have felt the Bern), then all I will say is that this has been tried before and the example is there for all to see. Venezuela.

The loony left is even more dangerous than the rabid right.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Buy American and Hire American

When this blogger started blogging in 2009, his very first post was titled "What is American goods, anyway ? " Eight years later, when returning back from a two year hiatus in blogging,  the same theme resurfaces as the second innings of blogging is started.

The trigger for this post is of course Trump's executive order titled the same as this post, which he signed with much fanfare three days ago.  The order , of course, is pure bombast and is only meant to show that the President is doing "something". It simply orders the Secretary of Commerce to tell the world what the hell this means in 60 days and orders sundry other Ramamrithams to specify how it will be implemented  in 150 days. I was not aware that you need an Executive Order to tell people to do their jobs, but apparently in the world of alternative reality, that is required.

Precious little, other than nuisance value, will come of it. For you see, in today's globalised world of supply chains it is almost impossible to determine what is "American" as my first ever post argued.  If "value added" is the yardstick for measuring national origin, then your iPhones are as American as mom and apple pie even though they are entirely manufactured outside the US. If the physical act of manufacturing (read final assembly)  is the yardstick, then the iPhone is Chinese while BMW is American.  If the entire supply chain has to be in the US, most products will simply disappear off the shelves as some of the raw materials and components are simply not available in the US and have to be imported.

The Executive Order gives some clues to the warped thinking - apparently they would like  that "for iron and steel products,  all manufacturing processes, from the initial melting stage through the application of coatings, occurred in the United States ."  US iron and steel has been on decline for decades. Only an idiot will set up steel capacity in the US - after all the next President can sign another Executive Order to the opposite. Not a single new job will be created. What will only happen if this pig headed policy is even half tried is that the existing US steel plants will jack up their prices. The American consumer shall pay.

The problem of disappearing jobs is a real and serious one, but there are no easy fixes. It cannot be tackled by trumpeting economic nationalism. It certainly cannot be solved by sitting on the toilet seat and tweeting whatever comes to your mind.

By the way, the GOP was meant to stand for free markets and trade. It would have been appropriate if a President Sanders were to try something like this. But a Republican President ?

PS : Its nice to be back. Sorry for going away for two years - I was dabbling in a social enterprise in the interim, but am now back in retirement, and therefore back to blogging.

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