Money maketh the man


Money is like a sixth sense – and you can’t make use of the other five without it – William Somerset Maugham

Demonitisation. This one word captured our imagination, time and in some cases our sleep over the past few days. No, this not another blog about the merits and demerits of it. It is a look at the way we Indians have reacted to the whole activity.

As per Discrete Emotion Theory, all humans have a set of emotions, which are universal. Paul Ekman and his colleagues did a major cross-cultural study and arrived at the conclusion that all humans have these six emotions in them: anger, disgust, surprise, fear, happiness, and sadness.

If there was any one thing that could have brought out all these emotions in us, it had to be money. Let us look at how these emotions played out in the last few days as demonitisation unfolded.

Humour (surprise or happiness): If anyone had any doubt if we Indians have a sense of humour, the last one week sealed the argument. Memes, SMSes, videos, images and more turned up in social media within couple of hours of the news. Photoshopped images of Rs.500 & Rs.1000 notes being used a paper packages to toilet rolls appeared. If you cannot cry, laugh was the message. Perfect timing with great speed.

Conspiracy (disgust/anger): Social media is a perfect platform to spin a web of conspiracy theories. Best of them was this one. Reliance Jio is giving away from airtime and data until December 30 so that Mukesh Ambani can convert his black money into white, which will come back to him in January 2017. How? Beats me. Can anyone explain it to me? Here is another. Urjit Patel was working with Reliance (true) and he had a hand in all this to help Ambani (how?) Though he became Governor 2 months ago his signature is already there on the Rs.2,000 note which means everything was kept ready 6 months ago (mind you it was only the design) ignoring the fact that you can incorporate a signature in few minutes and print in a couple of days! Social media is free and unaccountable so you can get away with anything. Creativity in conspiracy!

Nationalism (happiness): From hailing Modi as a messiah, to predicting death knell of the super-rich to visualizing a great nation, nationalists went overboard. Yes, it will (hopefully) have an impact on the way we do business, use cash etc. but to tout it as a panacea for all the ills in India is stretching the argument too far.

Help, support, and compassion (fear): Fear of loss set in the hearts of those with stacked notes but a wave of compassion arose in the hearts of many for the ones without the mean who will get affected the most. They put their best efforts to suggest ways and means to help these affected. From advising us not to palm off our old notes to unsuspecting petty vendors to asking us not to jump to unfound rumors and news, they have done a great done. Thanks.

Greed (disgust): It is the feeling that one started having for the haves. How to convert black to white is now the biggest trending search item on Google from India! Rich have paid out hundreds of crores of property tax, utility bills etc. in the last few days. Which means they had they had the means to pay, but did not. Why? For what purpose did they stack up that money? It is clear that the rich have not been paying for the public services and get what they want without paying for them! So it is the middle-class that’s has been holding the Indian economy up. God save the Indian middle-class!

We had a chance to see every shade of human emotion in full display in just a few days all thanks to 2 numbers written on a piece of paper. What then is our true worth?



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Opinion polls – question the answers


Did you stop beating your wife?

Tick any one:  Yes          No

He lost the opinion polls, he lost the exit polls, he lost the debates (as per polls), he had lost among educated men & men (as per polls)…but Trump won as the 45th President of America. A country obsessed with data, analytics, supercomputing machines, technically advanced nation with home to greatest brains in social psychology and educated millions could not get the mood of its people right. Why?

Brexit, US Presidential polls or Indian state elections, psephologists are in a bad corner. Time after time, the result is rank opposite of the ‘predicted’ result. Psephology (it comes from the Greek psephos meaning pebbles, which the Greek used as ballots) is a well-developed science. Based on very sound principles, mathematical calculations drawn from the branch of statistics, it is anything but chicanery. Like psephology, psephologists are also honest and skilled people. Even fishes are doing better than they in predicting the winner! Where do they go wrong then?

Poll prediction prepared through the good old survey mechanism. Ask a set of questions to statistically selected samples of populace and extrapolate the same to the world at large. There is no problem with the polls, statistical methodology or with the answers. The problem, I believe, is with the questions. Consider the below questions:

1)Do you like to vote for Democrats or Republicans? 2) Do you like to vote for Hillary or Donald Trump.

On the face of it, both mean the same. Hillary = Democrat, Trump =Republican, right. Wrong. The problem with these questions has origin in a philosophical thought that is 300 years and captured in three Latin words.

Cogito ergo sum. “I think therefore I’m”, said Rene Descartes and it shaped our objective thinking and questioning for the past 300 years. We are and do what we think, don’t we? No. Not true.

In 1994, a neuroscience professor Antonio Domasio offered the opposite view. We are and do because how we feel. Emotions and biological underpinnings influence our decision making more than our analytical skills. “I like, so I do” is the new norm. Simply put, we are not rational but irrational creatures. Coming back to the American elections, the voters liked Trump (for what he promised and because he was not a traditional politician) to Hillary who they believed was a continuation of the past in a new gender. Question is if Trump had run on a Democrat ticket would he have still won? Was Democrat vs Republican a factor or it helped that Trump the person was detached from the Republican aura (as it is many Republican’s disowned him)?

Thanks to this breakthrough thought from Domasio, organisations are now taking a re-look at marketing research in its current form. In customer surveys people tell what the expected answer is but do what they want when spending their money on purchases. One of the most rejected product in marketing research is one of the greatest blockbusters ever – Sony Walkman.

Why are customers or we as individuals unable to tell what we want? The reason is simple: we know more than we can tell, or do we do not what we want, or how we want. If asked to describe what features you want in a phone that do not exist currently, you will either go overboard or just go dumb. When the phone with the ‘right’ features comes to the market you will grab it saying, “It is something I’ve always been looking for!”

Let us accept it. We humans are predictably irrational. We do not know what we like, why we like what we like and why we do what we do. To study such irrational behaviour in such a vitiated, high stakes atmosphere makes the Psephologists job even tougher. Psephologists ask rational questions, people give rational answers and end up behaving irrationally (as per the pollsters). Add prejudice and subjectivity, the whole prediction game goes for a toss.

Want some real world proof? Just track the recommendations of any stock market expert for a period of 6 months. For the fun, track and follow them without investing. For profits, do the opposite of what they say. Dam their disclaimers!



PS: To the question at the top answer Yes or No you are gone. Yes, you were beating your wife, so your past was bad. No, you are still beating, so your present is bad!


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