‘Did Copper-nick-us?’ An Ode To Nicolaus Copernicus. & How Mankind Fought Back

Kind Attention: Mr. Copernicus (Dead: May 24, 1543)

At the outset, one hopes you are dead, and well.

Very few in their lifetimes can lay claim to fanning a Revolution. That you managed to overturn centuries of the Old Order is testimony to your towering presence in the annals of history. With one disarmingly simple observation, that the Earth revolved around the Sun, you changed the course of Science, decimated greats such as Aristotle and Ptolemy, and dwarfed the Earth and Earthlings alike with your mighty brain. Mankind has never been the same since.

You set us on the path of ruin.

You were born in the city of Thorn. We, Sire, live in one.

Pardon the sudden change in track but your passport to Science immortality inadvertently set in motion a chain of events so intriguing and dastardly that we, hapless humans, are paying the price for your intellectual bravura. All was well before your tome, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, shook the world. Man was exultant in the secure ignorance that Earth, his home, was the center of the Universe. Let us pause awhile to digest that feeling.

For someone living in a post-Copernican world, the idea of being the Center of Everything is a pleasing thought, a much coveted Holy Grail position, and the closest to experiencing Nirvana. It is gratifying to believe that those small and big spheres strewn around the vast expanse of darkness that few care to see, are silently, obediently, doing your bidding. Revolving around you, in daily obeisance. You ended our tryst with ignorance and shattered our world of dreamy illusions. For that, we shall ever remain ungrateful.

Whilst earlier, Man found satisfaction in simple, trivial and quite useless activities; star-gazing and sleeping, for instance, post your Revolution, we have been forced to attain a level of sophistication in our activities. With the realisation of our triviality in the larger scheme of the Universe, we have endeavoured to conjure up novel ways to create an illusion of leading a meaningful life, of etching our ‘special’ place among…no one, really.

Come, take a closer look. Woven in the tapestry of trivialities, you shall find novelties that are likely to boggle even a mighty a brain as yours. Dislike for fellow humans has increased gradually over the centuries, since your Revolution. Much of this can be attributed to your heliocentric discovery. Earlier, everyone was equal, united, in a Universal sense. Now, it is the opposite. The sceptre of inconsequential existence has forced humans to seek solace in inhuman endeavours, in an amusing attempt at differentiation. Our yearning for differentiation and infusing some semblance of meaning in our lives has led us to specialise in an art-form called Social Networking and in the mad pursuit of papers of (supposed) value.

…which brings me to one of your rarely known talents. Finance and Economics.

You, Sire, were a true genius. Of that there cannot be a shred of doubt.

Not many of us know that you lay the foundation stones for what eventually became the Gold Standard. And the metallization of currency. Truly remarkable indeed, for a Scientist. That you even managed to carve a name for yourself in history, untouched by that manipulative successor of yours, Sir Isaac Newton, is commendable.

You stated what eventually became famous as Gresham’s Law (bad money will drive out good money). In a remarkable display of sanity sadly absent among most of our present-day Economists, you cautioned us about the ill-effects of inundating economies with ‘cheap’ money. That ‘cheap’ money shall dominate at the expense of the ‘strong’ money. We, Sire, have not listened, for we haven’t cultivated the habit of listening to the whispers of Reason.

While you did your bit to remind us of our uselessness, we have retaliated by repudiating all of your sound principles of currency management. We tried our hand at using metals as currency, but wily fellows clandestinely but repeatedly nicked the gold, silver and copper content out of our coins. The bad money was driving out the good. But we continued believing that our coins had the same value as the days of yore. Yes, Sire, go ahead, let out that chuckle.

Time wore on and we realised that we didn’t have enough metals to put into our coins, so we blasphemed your principles further. We decided to abandon metals as a base of currency, for good. We moved to paper. Paper gave us a free rein, with no upper bound. We could print as much as we wanted (till the trees bid us goodbye). Our appetites have been insatiable since. We now have so much paper floating in the world, the ones in our wallets are well-nigh useless. Yet, we continue to believe that papers are valuable; hence the maddening pursuit of monetary enrichment. Yes, Sire, go ahead, let out that chuckle.

With one disarmingly simple observation, that paper could replace metals, we changed the course of Finance. Mankind has never been the same since.

You tried to nick us. We reciprocated. And set ourselves on the path of ruin…

——————

But you shall remain one of the most intriguing polymaths ever to have lived on Earth.

You were at the Center of it all.

And, you weren’t.

I remain, your ardent admirer.

HaLin

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How To Make A Living, In Useless But Indispensable Vocations

The aboriginal man, primitivity notwithstanding, probably learnt about the direct relationship between risk and reward. Sit atop a tree, never venture down to hunt and he probably realised that he would be alive and well. Until hunger, or a snake, snared him. Gradually he expanded his sphere of movement and risk reduced, as awareness grew. Now risk lay in the unknown regions beyond aboriginal man’s sphere of influence.

This idea of risk-reward has since been passed on generationally to the present day. But as with serial mutations, the basic idea underwent an evolution of sorts. With survival issues taken care of, man turned his attentions towards recreational aggrandizement. Means took a backseat as ends assumed center-stage.

So it came to be that there are pursuits where one’s pay-off bears no relationship to the risks assumed. Seemingly useless professions have turned out to be incredibly indispensable, in the larger scheme of uselessness. What’s more, riches beckon to those smart enough to embrace these endeavours.

A short primer on how to make a living by indulging in these wondrous professions follows, for the interested. Parent readers might consider sharing this with their children. Others might consider a life-altering career change. Your gratitude shall be well received.

There exist today a battery of vocations that project an illusion of accomplishing a social relevant and useful objective. Mastering this art of illusion is of utmost importance, gaining precedence over everything else. A sample collection of professions is presented below.

Generally, examples of such pursuits abound in service-oriented pursuits; such as Consulting and Economics.

Consulting, first. A coup of gargantuan proportions can be achieved by those adopting this lucrative line of endeavour. The basic dynamics are quite simple. A glossy B-school degree is a great starting point. Demographically, great care should be taken to ensure that the protagonist’s age is on the right side of 25, under 20 is better. Miniscule(/no) knowledge of the real world is a marvellous quality to possess, for this profession. Only familiarity with manufacturing needed is in the important area of enthusiasm. Talent in believing in (and spreading) delusion ranks highly, in the hierarchy of importance.

Investments in ornate adornments, a shiny wardrobe, is a prerequisite. Some familiarity with exotic pursuits – art, wines, single malts, global warming – is desirable, as they have been known to be worthy catalysts in professional advancement. Finally, a set of clients, reasonably schooled in ignorance, would round out the coup. It is of critical importance for 20-and some’s to sermon industry veterans, who have often spent more time in their industries than the tyros have spent on Mother Earth.

Next, is Economics. A PhD in Combinatorial, Fractal, Mental Econometrica is Holy Grail enough. Talents in Confusopoly and sustained usage of terrifying jargon would confer an impregnable moat. Professionals should then master the art of recommending the opposite of whatever is rationally desirable. This has the effect of transferring the burden of the counterfactual on the receiver (who incidentally, pays liberally for this service). Since the professional would make good moolah irrespective of the quality of their track record, risk is minimal for a very fat pay-off. Experience in engendering economic disasters would help in brandishing a colourful resume. Humans are generously endowed with short-term memory, especially with respect to undesirable outcomes. This is the professional’s strongest USP.

Social media pursuits of various kinds come next. One might consider building an ‘app’ that lets users click pictures, then turn them into appropriately grainy masterpieces that no one can decipher, and lo! the Internet Picassos stand to make a fortune. It is not just imperative for the company to generate no revenue whatsoever; it should carry a credible promise of never generating revenue, let alone profits, in the foreseeable future. A company like a Facebook might find it very valuable to buy this invaluable company out for a couple billion papers-of-value.

Second and higher order professions – some cynics refer to these as parasitic professions –  are another promising area. News-makers, media fall under this category. In the only known exception to the Laws of Conservation of Physics, an ability to create something from nothingness is a peerless trait to possess. On this measure, psychiatry may also be considered, though the pay-off is likely to be gradual and plateau beyond a point. Needless intrusion into others’ lives and making them feel it is a moral obligation for them to participate is another art form that needs mastery. Finally, would-be parasites should be able to convince the source that it is the parasite that is superior.

The above suggested pursuits share common characteristics. They are indispensable in the larger scheme of uselessness, project a credible illusion of societal utility, offer fat pay-offs for little or no risk and reasonable certainty of recurring cash flow, over long periods.

Going to/sending your children to the battle front is a monumentally stupid endeavour, carrying huge risks for no reward (very often), often ending in death. In the same breath, devoting one’s life to medical research directed at eradicating dreaded diseases is another useless endeavour. This is generally true for research of any kind aimed at community benefit. Pay-off is dismal and there is no certainty of a successful find that could, in the very least, lead to a Nobel.

Finally, there are professions that carry little or no risk, for little or no reward whatsoever.

If nothing else works, one could always become a blogger.

The Queer Lives Of Inflation and Deflation

Inflation and his brother, Deflation, were strange siblings. Apart from a rhyming name and a penchant for inflicting pain on those around them, the siblings’ personalities bore few pointers to their brotherhood. Each found it impossible to co-exist with the other, preferring instead the peace afforded by solitary existence. Neither was particularly welcomed by humans, who somehow, abhorred their presence, when they tried to make their existence felt.

Disturbed, the brothers attempted to unearth the reasons behind this hostile behaviour. What they found perplexed even the mavens of the Queer…

Like some humans, Inflation started thin and – like most humans – progressively grew heavier with time. Deflation, on the other hand, started fat and progressively grew thinner. Keen observers following Inflation’s growth noticed that the lad grew bigger and bigger with each passing day. On further observation, they thought the cause was an abundance in the supply of Money, which was nourishing fodder for Inflation. Deflation, on the other hand, seemed to grow thinner precisely due to a lack of similar nourishment. A handful of eager beavers, maestros of an arcane art-form called Economics, quickly concluded that controlling the supply of Money could regulate the brothers’ sizes. The consequences were dire…

Inflation noticed that he was a master illusionist. He created an illusion of growth for humans, who were generally oblivious to most things around them apart from the nickels that accumulated in their bank accounts. With time, as nickels grew, humans seemed mighty thrilled. What they seldom noted was that costs of most things that they so furiously consumed were on the rise too, sometimes growing faster than wages. Was there really growth? Inflation was a master of Money Illusion. Inflation gloated on learning about this hidden talent and smirked at the folly of human beings.

Queerly, both Inflation and Deflation held an intense admiration for the comely Gold. Humans, fearful of hyper-Inflation, frequently scampered crazy to Gold, courting her, doing their best to convince her to mollify Inflation’s wrath. She appeared to be successful in her endeavours but her record was patchy, at best. But humans, severely challenged when navigating the scale of time, especially backwards, cared for little but the very near-term. Gold seemed to be doing great and they deified her.

Always keen on growing ever thinner, Deflation pushed prices lower with time. Consumption-friendly humans noticed that their friendly neighbourhood cappuccino prices ticked down with time. Down went car prices, tuition fees, rents, real estate prices, household appliance prices and a slew of other materialistic things that humans enjoyed. But strangely, they did not seem happy with the scheme of affairs. Nickel-happy humans observed that their wages were stagnant or, worse, falling. Shrinking wages and dwindling bank accounts soon led to a congregation of the despondent.

It seemed that Inflation was preferable to Deflation. Few had lived in a Deflation-ruled world. Dread was high as a result.

Some felt the only way to trounce Deflation was by increasing Money. Money seemed like the cure-all. The spigots were opened.

All seemed well for a while…

Things got murky beyond a point, as humans forgot the true reason for owning things. Humans, ever alert to homing in on the scent of euphoria, felt a moral obligation to partake in the speculative orgy. Their frenzied buying was so intense that prices everywhere only went higher. Inflation started growing fatter, too much, too soon. When the bubble popped one fine day, prices reversed. The world looked different. Prices now only seemed to be headed down. Deflation stirred from a long period of slumber, even as Inflation prepared for hibernation. The Economists were invited to exorcise virulent spirits.

As Deflation reared his head, the Economist magicians, with their limited but well-rounded view of reality, recommended cranking up the fodder, Money supply. Known neither for prudence nor moderation, the Money spigots ran for far too long. Somebody had forgotten to turn the faucets off. Gradually, Inflation reared his head and Deflation threatened to hibernate. The Economists now recommended the opposite. The brothers were perplexed at these frequent flip-flops. Just who did the humans really like?

In a queer similarity with human relationships, those present went unappreciated while those absent were missed. That there were living entities queerer than themselves was quite enlightening to the brothers.

Neither seemed to understand humans.

Humans reciprocated.

Ostrich Wisdom: On The Art Of Policy-Making

Tucked away in the dusty appendix of rarely recollected fables is one involving an ostrich.

One of Mr. Ostrich’s favourite interactions with time involved letting his head rest underground, for thought-less introspection. One gray day, horrible hurricanes descended upon him, decimating nearly everything. But Mr. Ostrich, with his head underground, didn’t have a clue and escaped unscathed. Another dusty day, a sandstorm arrived at his dwelling, did its work, and took Mr. Ostrich’s home as a souvenir, causing him unnecessary expenditure. But Mr. Ostrich, with his head underground, didn’t have a clue and escaped unscathed. Yet another particularly cold day, snow consumed nearly everything in her cool embrace. But Mr. Ostrich, with his head underground, didn’t have a clue and escaped unscathed.

A monkey came along, disturbed Mr. Ostrich from his meditative state and filled him in on the horrible events. Smugly, Mr. Ostrich declared that his carefully deliberated and thoughtful policy of sticking his head underground had helped him survive the crisis. Gallingly, for the monkey, Mr. Ostrich seemed to delight in assuming credit for this profoundly wise activity.

Soon after, Mr. Smug Ostrich progressed into the after-life. In a queer turn of events, he was reborn. In India. In yet another queer turn of events, he soon assumed office at the Government (Big G, henceforth) and was entrusted with economic policy.

Mr. Ostrich sees Red over iron-ore

A handful of diligent underlings drew his attention to rampant illegal iron-ore mining in the country. This was draining Big G’s coffers of much-needed capital. Mr. Ostrich immediately swung into action, imposing a ban on fresh iron-ore mining. Then, customarily, he decided to go underground.

It wasn’t long before several industries, where iron-ore was an unsubstitutable input, ran into trouble. With characteristic smugness, Mr. Ostrich declared that this would greatly benefit domestic industry by way of reduced iron-ore prices, even as onlookers expressed incredulity. When someone reminded him that Australia and Brazil, larger players in the global iron-ore trade, had far lower taxes; Mr. Ostrich waved his dismissal.

Then, in a move bordering on genius, Mr. Ostrich ordered a 50% hike in duty charged on exports of iron-ore. Two birds with one stone, Mr. Ostrich thought. Big G’s revenues would increase due to the duty hike and domestic industry would benefit from iron-ore availability. But he couldn’t seem to understand why producers weren’t producing any iron-ore!

Here was Mr. Ostrich’s lesson to the world.

A fool-proof method of raising revenue was to ban production and then raise taxes on non-existent exports. Further, his move had succeeded in making iron-ore abundantly unavailable in a country that otherwise produced far more iron-ore than it needed for its own consumption.

Everyone sneered happily ever after. Mr. Ostrich promptly assumed credit. For doing little.

Mr. Ostrich masters the art of buying high-selling low: Sugary tales

Mr. Ostrich was neutral towards sugar and sweetness, in general. But the industry was rather important to his electoral fortunes and so he looked at this industry closely.

Mr. Ostrich was of the opinion that exporting a commodity after a nation’s requirements were met completely wasn’t a smart idea. Even as international sugar prices ruled above domestic prices, Mr. Ostrich declined to use the dreaded ‘exports’ word. Then, global prices collapsed. Mr. Ostrich had a brain wave and expeditiously ruled that exports would now be allowed. Only now, the world had changed. There was too much supply, especially in his own backyard, where supplies were likely to be far more than was required.

Mr. Ostrich was unfazed and assumed credit for carrying out the (non)sensical.

Mr. Ostrich assumes credit for ‘avoiding’ the economic crisis

The 2008/9 crisis seemed to consume the globe. But a handful of nations miraculously seemed to have escaped its tentacles. Mr. Ostrich, promptly, got an invite from the London School of Economics for insights on crisis-warfare. Mr. Ostrich did not disappoint – he never disappointed – and delivered an oratorical masterpiece, assuming credit for ‘steering India through trying times’, for ‘keeping the toxic derivative instruments, that brought the West to its knees, at bay’.

A soul, possibly cynical, broke the bonhomie and reminded Mr. Ostrich that India was largely an underdeveloped marketplace. In financial development terms, as in most other areas, India was a good few decades behind its self-proclaimed competitor, China. Further, India made up a tiny fraction in global money-lords’ investment portfolios. It was a proverbial small fish in a massive pond.

Perhaps, India had gotten away because it was a tiny blip in Earth’s investment radar?

In an admirable display of the rare skill of keeping opinion-altering facts beyond the gates of his brain, Mr. Ostrich, waved the naysayer away. The question remained unanswered as Mr. Ostrich opted to return to his much-preferred state of thought-free meditation.

—–

Someone mentioned that an ostrich’s eyes were bigger than his brain; so they might be expected to see better than think.

Mr. Ostrich seemed an exception. He could do neither.

A Radical Proposal, To Cure The World’s Ills

Much virtual ink, trees, board room/coffee shop/pub debates have been spent in trying to unearth solutions to the economic volcano that erupted 4 years ago. The crisis has had a happy effect on the wallets of experts, who realised that much money could be made by passing opinions that were seldom useful, that no one cared for or acted upon.

This rather sorry state of affairs has urged me to conjure up my own proposal(s) to resolve the pesky problems facing the world. I must declare that I am no expert; which is why, perhaps, it would be worthwhile for the governments of the world to ponder over my well-intentioned gobbledygook.

Suggesting to an over-indebted human – who has seen his income halve or disappear altogether – to assume more debt as a medicine for his ills, not only borders on the amusing but is also grossly detrimental to his well-being.

Here are some humble proposals for curing the world’s ills.

One of the chief causes of our problems is oversupply, in nearly everything that is of every-day utility to man. With an existing inventory of 260 kg of grain for every human, it makes little sense to invest more money/subsidise/incentivise advancements in agriculture that would augment supply. Curtailing investment on this front will not only benefit existing farmers through increasing agri-commodity prices (flat supply, consistently rising demand), it will also alleviate the burden on the tax-paying class indirectly footing the ‘agriculture modernisation’ bill.

The other big issue is Global Warming, a hopelessly over-chorused hocus pocus on an evolutionarily natural phenomena. The history of the universe is one of alternating cycles of warming and cooling. Before the Ice Age, progressive cooling brought everything to a standstill. For a few thousands years of tranquillity. As we emerged from the Ice Age and went about procreating earnestly, the warmth that was felt wasn’t just attributable to physical proximity to other humans; it was due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

As we hurtle forwards in time, that wonderful fellow called Entropy will ensure that things only get increasingly chaotic from here. The Earth will, at some point, burn itself into extinction. As this point is several thousand years away, it is unwise to continually pump money now to find a solution to a natural cycle. The $100 billion spent so far has proved more successful in Warming scientists’ and experts’ chairs Globally, than in finding solutions. Suspending funding for Climate Change Programs would prospectively relieve the planet of several thousands of billions in commitments, funding which would otherwise emerge from the tax-payer’s pocket.

Next, to the vast area of medical funding. When death is the norm, life the exception, it is imprudent to spend vast resources in inventing permanent cures for cancer, AIDS and all other natural catalysts of extinction. Evolution invented them for a good reason. By prolonging lifetimes, the burden of feeding the old falls on the young…who have few jobs or a career or a future to look forward to. Much of the accumulated ills that are upon us today can be traced to advances in medicine, which has increased life expectancy to a point, where the incremental addition of years isn’t worth the lifestyle benefits accruing to humans sparring with expiry dates.

We spent unnecessary billions building nuclear weapons, only to wind up unnecessarily spending billions trying to keep them in check. Wasted billions notwithstanding, we unnecessarily spend billions trying to find solutions to incurable diseases, which have the potential to naturally correct the excesses of the world.

As an extension of the above, years of pontificating about the benefits of birth control (accompanied by liberal spending) has achieved little in arresting population growth. A rethink is called for.

Forced living beyond a certain upper age limit in the constant company of (medicinal) drugs with little mental peace seems like an unwelcome prospect. Not of much utility, at best and exacerbating problems, at worst. In a modified version of Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal, thoughtful rationing of the old is a solution worth considering. By reverting to the norm of bygone centuries, progressively reducing life expectancy would entail much lower investment and would engender vast long-term benefits.

The above proposals carry additional benefits. Apart from offering the prospect of slashing unnecessary expenditures, the proposals offer global governments an opportunity of lending a touch of realism to the ongoing Utopian programs of austerity.

A Socialistic Plutocracy

Numbers are sometimes useful in clearing a cynic’s attic. Here goes. A quick comparison of UK and India:

Entry car price / average graduate starting salaries: UK = 35-40%. India = 75-80%.

Petrol prices are about equal, so are personal income tax rates, so are real-estate rentals/capital values  (in Tier 1 cities). I could go on…

…so I will.

So are cappuccino prices, so are typical eat-out prices, so are F1 ticket prices (sans mongrel performances)…

The NHS in the UK, though battered and bruised, does its job decently well, generally. So does Social Security. (St. Paul’s Cathedral tent-bearers and Occupy Wall Street notwithstanding).

Indians are self-governing NHSes, each individual relying on instant outlays from one’s already tax-lightened wallets to ensure continued healthy existence. Health Insurance claims? They discharge their wallet weight reduction responsibilities reasonably well; while taking great care to ensure their own coffers are well-inventoried.

Probably it makes sense to peer at the Gini Index (a measure of income inequality. 0 being no inequality, 100% being maximum inequality). India figures at about the same levels as UK but below China.

However, it is important to zone in on how the things that count are counted.

Scratch the surface a bit and it turns out that the Indian measure has historically considered consumption expenditure and not incomes in measuring inequality. Given the each-to-his-own Social Security situation, saving rates are higher than the West. When income is taken into account, India races ahead of China on inequality.

So, we have a situation where prices of common consumption goods are generally on par with UK, income inequality is higher than its self-confessed economic competitor, China; service levels leave much to be desired…and yet, prices keep inching up.

While this grand entertainer is underway, the economists powers-that-be claim inflation is 10-11%. A few trips to the countryside will quickly puncture this hypothesis. A burger in a rural town costs only slightly lower than in a Tier 1 city. Considering that store rentals are a fraction of a city outlet, not to mention income levels, it is intriguing to see outlets prospering with such pricing.

Many will be quick to pounce on me, alleging that I have presented only a rudimentary picture of reality. It is probably a good idea (for the pouncers) that I stick to rudimentaries. When one pencils in the chasm in service quality levels, the divergences in consumption versus incomes become stark.

We are moving towards a picture of reality that points to the following:

  • Indian consumption patterns are evolving. And, rapidly. An increasing share of an individual’s wallet is being directed towards consumption. As a result, prices are galloping ahead of income growth and is likely to continue to do so. I can hear the dusty debt clock ticking
  • The parallel economy continues to exert a major influence on prices. A thorn named Anna Hazare could prick this bubble. While one remains skeptical, sustained momentum on this anti-corruption/black money front could trigger a reflexive correction in prices

The above scenarios point to two divergent implications for investing. If the first dominates, consumption appears to be an enticing story. If the latter gains ascendancy, the opposite positioning is called for.

More importantly, on the humour front, the contradictions are noteworthy. The supposedly capitalistic UK (and West, in general), debt-drowning problems notwithstanding, has a socialistic character; while the economic plutocracy known as India masquerades as a socialism!

The supposedly poor live in ornately constructed mansions in the countryside, deriving incomes from farming and land-leasing that generally do not disturb the tax coffers. But (un)surprisingly, they continue to appear poor. The wealthy, on the other hand, live in cities but do their best to re-emphasize their roots to poverty and/or farming at every possible opportunity. The incentive system goads the poor to continue remaining poor, or at least project an illusion of poverty; while the  wealthy are heavily incentivized to continue in their state of inertia.

What about the unwearying middle-class, tax-paying common man?

Source: Unknown

The Business of Begging

Friendly neighbourhood beggars are often necessary appendages to society, serving as outlets for altruism. I came across a beggar recently who took my breath away (quite literally), and who, inadvertently, gave me some merry insights into an arcane area – Begging. As I wasn’t polite enough to learn the protagonist’s name, I’ll call him Begga, the Beggar.

I had seen Begga before, begging his time away, patiently waiting for patrons to cross his path. When someone did, Begga would magically assume an appearance that cried out for emancipation from penury. His normally I-don’t-care-a-s**t-about-this-world eyes would suddenly give way to one that oozed penury and pain. A ragged appearance combined with an impression of destitution almost always resulted in an influx of capital. (He tried his charm on me several times, but received little beyond polite smiles).

I think Begga’s Begged Ratio (defined as: Begging Income/No. of people begged) was way above ‘industry’ standards. With the passage of time, Begga’s superior Begged Ratio attracted competition yearning for a piece of the action. Begga, understandably, wasn’t happy with this development. He had been begging for so long that almost everyone in the neighbourhood recognised him. This made him gloomier than before and for once…those eyes reflected his true state of mind.

One fine day he stopped begging and started counting his revenues. Apparently Begga believed that double checking was better than double counting. Then calmly, he ambled up to a bus stop, standing close to me. A bus rumbled in after a few minutes and I got in, pondering over Begga’s behavior. I took a seat at the back and turned around to face…Begga himself.

Begga sat as if he owned the bus. When the ticket collector came up to him, Begga handed him the fare to the next stop. The ticket collector was surprised too but handed him a ticket anyway.

The next stop could be termed a business ‘hub’. People came by the thousands there every day. Begga had a huge market to tap. With little competition.

I almost saluted Begga…

Thanks to Begga, I got some insights on the business of begging. Here’s a brief:

The Begging industry is compulsorily unorganised. Any move to impose a semblance of organisation leads to industry extinction. It is in the interest of the participants to stay poor…or in the very least, appear poor. The degree of visible destitution is often inversely related to the practitioner’s invisible net worth.

The biggest markets are bus/rail stations and places of worship. There are few laws or policies governing players’ behaviour and Begging industry dynamics closely resemble the Law of Diminishing Returns. Begged Ratios tend to be high in the beginning but wane over time, owing to new entrants and growing familiarity. As time passes by and the major practitioners become well-recognised figures, the industry assumes an oligopolistic character, with a few large players dominating the market and setting a Minimum Level of Acceptance (MLA). This sometimes causes embarrassment to the donor.

Attempts at predatory pricing evoke belligerent reactions and/or takeover threats from the largest players. The smaller players either have to follow or perish or acquire new territories. Since the latter frequently involves expensive outlays of scarce capital, smaller players enter into franchisee/royalty arrangements with the larger players. Or choose to perish, which is often the cheapest available option.

However, only a few players consistently make money. Enterprising beggars like Begga are amply rewarded for their ingenuity. Sometimes the industry exhibits wealth disparity with the rich (relatively) beggars growing richer while the poor grow poorer.

The tax-free nature of the business combined with little debt and recurring maintenance capital expenditure, leads to strong cash-flow generation. Inflation exists only to the extent of hiking the MLA and broader economic recessions have little/no effect on the industry.

I wish Beggar Co-operatives were publicly-listed entities…

Disclosure: While Begga himself is real, the associated discourse is a figment of an overworked imagination.