Speculating whether India can spawn innovative companies like Apple and Google is a favourite parlor game among venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.
It’s clear that there is staggering talent and creativity in the country, and it seems more a question of when and not if, provided the proper environment is created. Young entrepreneurs and engineers are bubbling with enthusiasm and energy and spending time with them fills one with optimism about the country’s future.On the other hand, a casual scanning of the daily news can be rather depressing. Riots, murders, suicides, mass protests, corruption, political scandals have become so commonplace that they are no longer a surprise. Human tragedies have been turned into mere statistics. While India is touted as a growth engine for the world economy, it also has the largest number of children suffering from malnutrition and among the highest incidences of crimes against women.
Businesspeople and entrepreneurs are said to make up “India” while farmers, laborers and other low-income groups form the other India, known as Bharat.
The government tries to put the interests of Bharat before India, calling for inclusive growth and championing job creation programs.
How can India and Bharat be bridged?
In a few days, Cupertino, California-based Apple’s hotly-anticipated iPad will hit the market. Led by the legendary Steve Jobs, Apple has upended many industries in the last decade, including personal computing, entertainment, wireless telecommunications and retail. His vision continues to guide strategy and product development at what is arguably the world’s most innovative company. His personal story is just as illuminating for how economic and individual freedom catalyze innovation.
Steve Jobs was born in 1955 to a Syrian immigrant father at the height of the post-War Baby Boom. Before co-founding Apple in 1976, Jobs dabbled in calligraphy, electronics and psychedelic drugs, even travelling to India in search of spiritual enlightenment in 1974 after dropping out from college. Back then, electronics and computers had no serious hope of becoming as mainstream as they are today, and were the exclusive preserve of hobbyists.
The vanguard of this group was a motley set of people who styled themselves as the Homebrew Computer Club, which would probably qualify as the first industry association for the computer and electronics business. Steve Jobs was among the early members. From unlikely beginnings, Jobs co-founded the company that became the vanguard of the computer revolution. He did not go to an Ivy League college, nor did he come from an affluent family. In fact, Jobs recounted recently how he’d travel to the local Hare Krishna temple every weekend while in college because he didn’t have enough money to eat.
It’s not for nothing that America is known as the land of the free. Steve Jobs is one of the best-known examples of how a culture of freedom and openness in America has allowed individuals to prosper based on ability and effort. That culture cannot be replicated quickly or easily. The first step is to boost economic freedom. Much to the disappointment of venture capitalists and others in India Inc., job creation and not economic liberalization has been high on the agenda of the government.
The distinction between job creation and income growth is not as well understood as it should be. Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman once visited China at the height of Communism, and was taken to a construction site. He asked why the contractors were not using machinery and modern equipment, and was told that the project was part of a government job creation program. Friedman replied that the spades used by the labor force should be replaced with spoons, and that would increase employment even more! The lesson is that it is easy to “create” jobs, but harder to grow incomes because incomes rise only when productivity increases. Productivity increases when companies compete and innovate.If we are serious about creating jobs, we should focus on creating an environment where people like Jobs prosper. Bharat will become more like India.
In the current regime, India is being turned into Bharat. Well-intentioned policies that claim to employ the poor are distorting the labor market by incentivizing people to migrate back to villages from cities. The country must urbanize if it has to develop economically, it cannot continue to live in villages.
Much has been made of India’s demographic dividend. An average of nearly 1 million people will be entering the work force every single month for the next 20 years, a scale unprecedented in human history. The only comparable event is the post-World War II Baby Boom in the US. This is an opportunity, and can be a huge challenge, because all those people will want to be well-fed, educated and productively employed. It would be futile for the government to even try employing so many people. If harnessed properly, this talent pool can transform the Indian economy. If the creativity of this human pool is allowed to flourish, it can change the world. India can produce many Apples and Googles.
Otherwise, the country will remain impoverished and torn by social strife in coming decades, and will naively celebrate the success of its diaspora, for the best and brightest will simply migrate in search of a better life.
Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of the Reliance group, famously said once that it was imperative to manage the environment when doing business in India. The environment should be changed so that entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs can create jobs and businesses can focus on managing innovation instead of the environment.
Originally Published: http://navam.in/1nNU8sm