Empathy and the Global Corporation



New York Times recently ran a shocking “expose” on Amazon with the ominous title “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace” and the even more scary sub-heading “The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions”. The article is worth reading. There are stories of people crying at desks, of employees seen to “practically combust” (not sure what that is, but I think I get the general drift), and then this:

A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a “performance improvement plan” — Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired” — because “difficulties” in her “personal life” had interfered with fulfilling her work goals. Their accounts echoed others from workers who had suffered health crises and felt they had also been judged harshly instead of being given time to recover.

A former human resources executive said she was required to put a woman who had recently returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance improvement plans, accounts that were corroborated by a co-worker still at Amazon. “What kind of company do we want to be?” the executive recalled asking her bosses.

To counter this corporate PR disaster, Jeff Bezos then sent a note to  his employees, where he referenced a LinkedIn post of an employee who wrote a rebuttal. While taking issue with some nominal factual inaccuracies, what the Amazon-employee says isn’t radically different from what the New York Times article tried to put forward. Ezra Klein in his excellent post on Vox explains why he thinks that’s the case [Link] (I agree) but here is my very personalized TLDR.

The Amazon employee, if you go through the note, is not really challenging the basic premise of the story. All that the man is saying, and many would agree with him, is this.

“Yeah these sissies are complaining cause they were not good enough to work in the greatest company on the world (To quote: Not everyone is qualified to work here, or will rise to the challenge. But that doesn’t mean we’re Draconian or evil. Not everyone gets into Harvard, either, or graduates from there. Same principles apply) but there are many people who are great at their work here, are motivated to work nights and weekends, and feel adequately compensated by it.  Take the heat or get out of the kitchen.  Booyakasha”.

Without judging the tone and tenor of his post, or sentences like “Yes. Amazon is, without question, the most innovative technology company in the world” (Psst Tesla) , I find the employee’s very alpha-male response extremely honest, as it pretty much lays out the world view of those that “win” in our present corporate environment.

James T. Kirk: Why would a Starfleet admiral ask a three-hundred-year-old frozen man for help?
Khan: Because I am better.
James T. Kirk: At what?
Khan: Everything.

Yeah. That kind.


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Sen vs Bhagwati


And now that the dust has settled on popular media coverage of Sen vs Bhagwati, a coverage punctuated by sweeping generalizations, grotesque over-simplifications (Bhagwati is Modi and Sen is Rahul Gandhi) and of course the gratuitous, knee-jerk intolerance (“Take back his Bharat-Ratna”) that characterizes much of public discourse today, it may be time  to look at what exactly is the difference between the world-views of these two great economists.

There is much intellectual and theoretic nuance here, which only a specialist can explain.

I am not such a specialist, which is why I believe I am not qualified to comment on this topic.

But I can present to you someone who is.

Dr. Alok Ray, retired professor of economics at Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta who has also held faculty positions at places like Cornell and U of Rochester.

He also happens to be my father.

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The Question of Compensation


One of the simplest ways of explaining to people why they and their successive generations have been saddled by the biggest credit card debt in human history is to just shake one’s head preacher style and say “Human greed”—-greedy black suits on Wall Street and dumb-ass investors hoping to make thousands on the back of the housing boom essentially gambled away your grandson’s college fund while everyone from Manhattan to Washington DC, being in on the take, looked the other way.

This explanation is comforting mainly because it is simple and understandable while at the same time by and large true.

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The Wall Street Meltdown Part 3


[For context, please read Part 1 and Part 2 first]

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) gains 936 points on a spectacular Monday. And then, like the proverbial monkey on the oily pole, drops 733 points on Wednesday, making it the second worst single day drop in Wall Street history.

The stock market has now entered a most dangerous period—-a time of high price volatility. As an investor, you say to yourself—“The market has gone the lowest it can go, equities are as cheap than they have ever been for a long time and I can start buying stocks now.” And the moment you think its safe to go into the water, the market goes into a free fall once again. Naturally, you panic even more and keep holding onto whatever investments you have. Unsure as to which direction the market will go and fearing for the worst, you start having a fire-sale of your holdings. Other people do the same thing. The market drops further. Then perhaps some little gains are made, market sentiment perks up and you again wade in. The shark however sneaks up once again and before you know it, you are holding a bloody stump where once your investment portfolio was.

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The Great Wall Street Meltdown Part 2


[Continued from Part 1. Again this is a long post.]

With investment banks and financial institutes sitting on stockpiles of toxic mortgage-backed securities and  credit default swaps, the same instruments that Warren Buffet had dubbed “weapons of mass financial destruction” (with the only point to note is that unlike the “weapons of mass distraction” and Santa Claus, these really existed),  lenders were as eager to loan these people money as anyone would be to leave their kid alone with Michael Jackson.

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The Great Wall Street Meltdown Part 1


Warning number 1: This is a long post, part of a multi-post series on the crisis in the financial markets.

Warning number 2: I never took an Economics or Finance course in my life. I will not quote economists or provide citations and statistics. Not because I want to be simple and lucid. It’s because my knowledge of finance is extremely limited. All that follows is based on my understanding of the present financial situation, an understanding formed by reading the popular press.

Warning number 3: Which means that everything I say below may be wrong. But what’s wrong in that? At least, I didn’t get half a million dollars bonus and an apartment in Manhattan as reward for being “wrong”. Right?

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