India v/s China: We’ve got Facebook! What’ve you got?

9 Jan


This article was originally published at India’s China Blog. The guest writer is Maitreya Bhakal.

An interesting analysis in TIME magazine, to the extent that it tries to be an analysis:

The ChIndian Century

And don’t forget to check out these two accompanying arguments, one for India and one for China:

The Case for India: Free to Succeed

The Case for China: The Power of Planning

I plan to blog about this general issue sometime soon. Right now however, I just can’t help commenting on just two points for the time being, particularly because many westerners have humongous misconceptions about these issues. Almost every article on the topic contains at least a reference to these two fallacious points.

From the Case for India article:

The only way either economy can keep growth roaring is to develop high-tech industries and innovative companies — a difficult leap that demands the type of smartly run companies India already has. It also requires democracy and civil liberties. By censoring the Internet, controlling the press and stifling debate, Beijing is suppressing the open exchange of information and risk-taking spirit necessary for entrepreneurial innovation. Indians, enjoying full freedom of expression and association, face no such hurdles.

This absolutely bullshit view – that of relating internet censorship and “human rights” to entrepreneurial spirit and scientific research, and concluding that the former stifles the later – is so common, especially in the west, that it really makes one wonder whether people have lost the ability to think. And I am not talking about the ability to think in any profoundly intellectual way – just normal thinking that separates Homo Sapiens as a species from, say, American politicians.

Analysts and Journalists focus only on the tiny, miniscule, 0.0001% of search results that China does censor – and then extrapolate it to conclude that this will negatively affect (“stiffle” is their favorite word) entrepreneurial spirit and scientific research. Yes – China does censor certain search terms. But what does a search result relating to the Dalai Lama have to do with a citizen who wants to begin a tech startup? How pray will a scientist’s research in quantum physics be affected if the Chinese government censors his google search results about Tiananmen?? (I can just see the headline now – China lags in Physics research due to government cover up of Tiananmen massacre, says scientist). How did the team that created the Sunway system (whose theoretical peak performance is 74% faster than the fastest US supercomputer, and it used homegrown chips) be stifled when they realized that they can’t use Facebook and Twitter?

“Screw government grants and cutting-edge research facilities!” – they’ll say. “We want to tweet and protest. We’re going to India – the land of freedom. So what if its richest city has 42% of its population living in slums and where more people have mobile phones than access to a proper toilet??! We don’t care about about living standards!!! We want freedom of speech and a free internet!! And not just the 99.9999% free internet that China offers! No sir – for us, that 0.00001% censored search results are more important!”

Now that I think of it – this will make for a good Onion story. I can just see the headline now – Scientist prefers Facebook over better standards of living. “It will make life better for my children” he says.

Another piece of BS:

We can also make the case that India is more entrepreneurial than China. Indian firms like Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro practically invented the entire offshore IT-services industry — a sector China is now attempting to copy. At their ever expanding campuses, these companies train and absorb thousands of new hires each year while extending their reach to every corner of the globe — management challenges Chinese executives would struggle to tackle.

The BPO industry in India is based on call-center employees answering stupid phone calls from stupid customers in the US and other countries (BTW – that anecdote about Americans calling to say that their computers are not working when they were not actually plugged in – is actually true). All these call center employees (who go by the fanciful title of “executives”) have no technical skills whatsoever – they just read out the instructions that appear to them on their help screen to customers. It is common knowledge in India that people work at a call center iff (if and only if) they can’t get employment anywhere else – and a few do it for the money. It is nobody’s – and I mean nobody’s – first choice. In fact, joining a call-center is considered a sort of slur and an insult – that they couldn’t get employed anywhere else and had to join a call center and had to work night shifts. In a nutshell – they are “unemployable”. This is the sector that has put India on the global map.

NASSCOM says that 90% Graduates and 75% Engineers in India are unemployable. That explains why companies like Infosys and TCS have to spend an average of 6-8 months and spend crores of rupees training engineering graduates. Yes – those people have already acquired degrees – and they still need months of training! A very large number (perhaps the majority, though I can’t verify it) of fresh engineering graduates that these companies hire during campus recruitment drives – are actually graduates from non-software fields, such as Electronics, Telecommunication, Mechanical etc. And then they train them in software and teach them a few languages, and they are ready and qualified to work in a software MNC! Whatever they learnt in most of the past four years gone to waste – never to be used again. In fact, one recruiter from a major MNC once told me that they just require the “aptitude” of an engineer, they are going to teach them everything else anyway!

Name one software product that has come out of this so-called IT superpower. Name one Indian university that has broken into the top 100 in the world. Name just one piece of innovation (software or otherwise) that you’ve heard of that has come from India, despite its “freedom”. But who cares? We’ve got Facebook!

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