The Indian Economy Blog

March 9, 2006

India Rising — The Big Scare

Filed under: Outsourcing — Atanu Dey @ 1:48 pm

Triumph of hype and hyperbole over honest reporting. ABCNews has a report titled India Rising: One Billion Reasons to Care which is a study in scare mongering. I am sure that some Indians will misinterpret the report as high praise, instead of the scare mongering it really is.

Take for instance their claim that if your job requires you to sit in front of a computer, then “there is an Indian, perfectly qualified, who would do your job at one-tenth your salary and who’ll work six days a week, twelve hours a day and there are more English-speaking Indians then there are Americans, and most are wired in more ways than one …” That is just the beginning and it gets better as we go along.

The grand marshal of the “Flat World” movement is predictably present to add to the hyperbole, of course. I speak of none other than our very own Tom Friedman. But more about him later.

Crouching by the entrance of a hut in a slum in Mumbai, the reporter asks the woman how long they have lived there. She answers in Hindi, “For many years,” which he reports as “25 years they have lived here.”

Why, the reporter wonders, if Indians are so successful in being clerks for the Americans, is India so impoverished, over video footage of what looks like slums along the Mumbai local train tracks, and answers his own question by stating it is because it is diverse and is a democracy.

Talking about diversity and democracy, the reporter is amazed that India is “home to 150 million peaceful Moslems.” Subtext: “Home to 800 million warring Hindus?” What exactly is he insinuating? That the rest of the world has blood-thirsty Muslims? What was the need for inserting that gratuitous adjective? Memo to ABC: Indian Muslims are no different than Muslims anywhere in the world. People are people.

Anyway, going along we are told that there is a method that evolves from all the madness in India. “It is a miracle,” Tom gushes. And the reporter declares that it is “a sort of a self-organizing system that scientist tell us occurs in ant-hills and beehives.” He drags in CK Prahalad who is reported as saying that “we should look at [India] not with pity but with respect and fear because this is where the next wave of global Titans will arise.”

Did I say the underlying theme is fear mongering?

The clichés come fast and thick in the 7 minute video. “I met Fareed while stepping over rats in a Bombay neighborhood,” starts a segment with a kid sending a SMS on a cell phone. The presence of malls and McDonalds in India is why the 700 million under the age of 35 no longer want to leave home and go to America since 9/11, explains the reporter.

I have an extremely low opinion of commercial American TV. Watching the report once again justified my ill opinion. The average American cannot but be more than a little confused about what India is all about, and more than a little resentful that the filthy Indians are out to steal American jobs and their American way of life. It would appear to him that America is under siege not from Islamic terrorism alone but Hindu office workers as well.

Thanks for the help, Tom. Much appreciated.

21 Comments »

  1. No worries. Now our Indian news channels can make news stories like those too.

    Comment by SloganMurugan — March 9, 2006 @ 2:55 pm

  2. well even Indian channels stereotype vast majority of people in India. All people talk about IT revolution but there are no significant media stories on who were the early pioneers ,what steps were taken by govt of that area or people at large which helped in this metamorphosis.
    Moreover on a flip side you ca;t fault an AMerican channel of giving distorted picture of USA ,when almost all Indians who have not been to USA have some really weired concepts about USA and don’t realize that USA also has conservative areas which can go to the extent of banning aborttion.( no accusation intended).
    My point is that it is useles to expect to trace root causes of a phenomena in a 7 minute feature which no one in the land of happening knows for sure.

    Comment by Anshul — March 9, 2006 @ 8:12 pm

  3. So are we now operating under the premise that the average American gets all his or her knowledge re: the global issues via ABC?

    Comment by Sahil — March 10, 2006 @ 2:23 am

  4. > I have an extremely low opinion of commercial American TV.

    Americans have an extremely low opinion of commercial American TV.
    If you could find someone here with a high opinion of it (who wasn’t getting
    paid to say so), that would be news.

    > The average American cannot but be more than a little confused about what India is all about,
    > and more than a little resentful that the filthy Indians are out to steal American jobs and
    > their American way of life.

    No, not really. We’re not confused, on average, and you’d be hard pressed to find an honest
    American (most are) who would blame anyone for wanting to work, including Indians and Chinese —
    that doesn’t mean American TV cannot find someone to present a view askew.

    You really need to watch less American TV…you are taking it far too seriously.

    RP

    Comment by RP — March 10, 2006 @ 3:42 am

  5. The issue will go away again after this year. For now, the American economy is slowing a bit because of the Fed’s interest rate rises, and outsourcing you can be sure will again come up this year because of this combined with the fact that over here we have Congressional elections to get through. There will be lots of noise.
    However, today monster.com released their employment index for the US, and it was very strong across the board, including for US IT workers. I caught an interview with someone from the company on CNBC, a business channel, this morning, and he said tech hiring was getting stronger all the time over here.
    Summary: lots of noise this year, building to a climax in November, when the elections are held. After that, forget it until 2008, when the Presidential election will take place, because the employment picture over here is actually quite good, and once the politicians shut their mouths, that will become clearer. How big of an issue India & outsourcing will be in 2008 will depend of course on how well employment is doing when we get to that year.
    Don’t let the noise get to you.

    Comment by pantom — March 10, 2006 @ 6:21 am

  6. Media, whether it be print or TV, tends to get carried away by anecdotes and the need to sensationalize. Think back to 1998/ 1999 and the entire Internet hyperbole — the frenzy then makes the current hullaballoo about India/ China, and outsourcing seem tame by comparison.

    Back then, if one were go to by media accounts in the US, Internet companies were going to pulverize “old-economy” American companies — if you didn’t get the Net, you were labelled a dinosaur. Well, let’s see what happened since then

    a) Internet commerce in the US has grown by 30% annually since then

    b) As of 2004, Internet sales as a percent of total retail sales were less than 2%. If I remember correctly, total Internet sales in 2004 were somewhere around $55B. Just by way of comparison, Wal-Mart’s sales alone were in excess of $250B.

    Similarly, white-collar services imports from India to the US (IT, call centers, all other back-office stuff) was around $10B (give or take a billion) in 2005. And the American GDP was $11.5T.

    Similarly, the total employment in India directed at the US was somewhere around 700,000 (give or take a bit). And the total employment in the US was in excess of 140M.

    At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, all this media hype about Indian outsourcing — whether it be from the alarmists in the US, like the folks at ABC or the chest-thumpers in India — is much ado about nothing.

    http://indianeconomy.org/2005/07/16/much-ado-about-nothing/

    Comment by Prashant Kothari — March 10, 2006 @ 7:06 am

  7. If you think ABC report is fear mongering. You need to watch Lou Dobbs at cnn. Now that is down right hateful. Also nuclear lobby is fear mongering. just look at this – http://www.worldwatch.org/press/news/2006/03/03/

    Comment by noname — March 10, 2006 @ 12:48 pm

  8. >Talking about diversity and democracy, the reporter is amazed that >India is “home to 150 million peaceful Moslems.” Subtext: “Home to >800 million warring Hindus?” What exactly is he insinuating? That >the rest of the world has blood-thirsty Muslims? What was the need >for inserting that gratuitous adjective? Memo to ABC: Indian Muslims >are no different than Muslims anywhere in the world. People are >people.
    ————————————-
    Reffering to your comments, I don’t think he is indicating that Hindus are ‘warring’. He is just echoing the general sentiment about muslims prevelant in the US. I don’t know if you have heard about the remark made by President Bush to Laura Bush when he met Manmohan singh in Russia “He is the prime minister of India, which has XX millions of muslims and none of them is Al-Quaida”

    When most of the news in US now a days is rising unrest in Iraq with Muslims killing Muslims, its right for him to justify the Indian muslims are peaceful muslims.

    Comment by Vishal — March 11, 2006 @ 3:08 am

  9. Hello – My first visit here. I watched the webcast before writing this. It appears there are some mixups and reading into what’s not really there in that report.

    First, a general point. Contrary to the perception expressed in this post, it would not occur to an average American to characterize Indians as “filthy Indians.” There are, of course, sure enough to be some Americans, just as sure one should expect as there are 280M odd of us here, who may have characterized Indians that way, but it’s not worth getting peevish with the entire community of average Americans.

    One of the lessons we all (all of us, you and me etc.) learn every time we think critically, and yet forget every time we let our guard down, is that what we hear, what we read from media is a vastly different thing from the actual reality. So, I wouldn’t be too quick to jump on an average American based on what the media says. (Something along the lines of “Just like I wouldn’t buy my stock based on an analyst’s recommendation without substantiating it, I wouldn’t hold any opinon based on a media analyst’s opinion” applies here.)

    Now to a few specifics.

    First, we must not forget the measure by which we mete out the merit to any news coverage, and that is: all news is for local audience. Yes the clip is available on the world-wide web but the target audience is in U.S. That local audience, at this present time, and in these days, has a particular backdrop. I can speak for it, because I am writing this from the U.S.

    For all the obvious reasons – in particular the event 9/11 itself – there is a genuine apprehension about our, speaking as an American, relation to the Muslim community. There is a tremendous amount of genuine dialog, fear, uncertainty, pensiveness attached to this relationship. There is a search for commonality, for something that was once quite obvious and given in the pre-9/11 days, but which got muddled in the confusion of the aftermath. I am not talking about academics or historians with a vast (in particular the latter who are nothing about “politicans with their heads turned back” in the words of Lord Acton, I think) knowledge of religious histories, but your ordinary, average Americans (who are once again variously Blacks, Jews, Irish, Muslim, etc., you get the point.)

    When Tom, or anyone else, uses the phrase “peaceful Muslims” he/she is speaking directly to the American among us, among the audience, as a way of answering this search: “Yes, this is, this “peaceful quality” that we have forgotten that existed, is well and truly preserved here.” I guarantee you there is not a whit of “800 million warring Hindus” subtext here because this subtext would not make any sense to an average American. Not many Americans really know much about the communal rift between Hindus and Muslims, at least not enough to register such an insinuation, if it were made.

    “I have an extremely low opinion of commercial American TV. Watching the report once again justified my ill opinion. The average American cannot but be more than a little confused about what India is all about, and more than a little resentful that the filthy Indians are out to steal American jobs and their American way of life. It would appear to him that America is under siege not from Islamic terrorism alone but Hindu office workers as well.”

    Ok, now you are getting me all riled up. There is a bit of defensive tone exhibited here, as if there’s a sociological stigma attached to how India is perceived in America, that is not at all warranted. In fact, it’s awkward. First, when the phrase “American way of life,” is used these days in America, it is more often to refer to a democratic, consuming, freedom-loving, permissive, etc., way of life, as a specific contrast to our fight with the mullahs from you know where. Second, this whole outsourcing debate is slowly but surely on its way out. By and large people (that is media) who perpetrated it first have realized that the story is a bit more complicated and the currency of populist indignation is devaluing rapidly. Occasionally you’ll see stories like this, and its not news to Americans. They are slowly but surely moving on to thinking about how to transition to the next phase of the economy. This outsourcing debate just did not result in that kind of quick-to-pick-a-fight with India attitude among Americans here. Sure it hurts but it’s business and if there’s one thing Americans know, it is business. So we are moving on.

    When 9/11 happened, it so happened that here in America, there was a vague, nebulous, unquestioned, unexamined equivalence among terms such as poverty, terrorism, millions of muslims, absence of democracy, depravity of women. One term automatically called out the rest. Tom Friedman is a shrewd salesman and his points to American audience – worth making everytime in my opinion – go to disentangling such an unexamined and unquestioned equivalence. Far from fear mongering, all I see in Tom’s comments is a clear message that such equivalence is not correct. It helps.

    “The presence of malls and McDonalds in India is why the 700 million under the age of 35 no longer want to leave home and go to America since 9/11, explains the reporter.”

    This is not an accurate characterization of the reference to “post-9/11″ made by the reporter. The reporter first said – and yes once again the devil is in the details – that, and I paraphrase, “Post 9/11 visas have become tough to get” as a lead into the poll taken by the radio DJ asking folks whether they want to go to America or stay in India. A resounding answer from the polls that the preference is to stay in India and compete with American.

    “He drags in CK Prahalad who is reported as saying that “we should look at [India] not with pity but with respect and fear because this is where the next wave of global Titans will arise.”

    Exactly what part of the above quote is “fear mongering?” But then I asked this question already.

    Regards,
    Crazyfinger

    Comment by Crazyfinger — March 11, 2006 @ 11:17 am

  10. Crazyfinger, welcome to Indiaeconomy.org and thanks for taking the time to write a detailed response.

    Item: was the report accurate? No, it made more than a few factual errors, which I suspect arises from the hype and hyperbole employed to sensationalize, not to inform. How many Indians “are connected in more ways than one”? I would say about 50 million and that is a generous estimate. There are around 20 million PCs in India, just about the number in the population of LA and SF Bay area combined. Cell phones: 70 million in India. Very low bandwidth on top of that. Indians are very very poorly connected, in more ways than one. The report makes it appear as if everyone is surfing the web.

    Next, the report claims that more people in India speak English than there are people in the US. Wrong. Urban India has lots of English speakers, and a very generous estimate would be 50 million English speakers. That is not even in the same ballpark as the number of Americans. This is not esoteric knowledge. It is common knowledge. Yet the report carelessly threw that in. Mind you, the reporter is supposed to have traveled thousands of miles in India. He should have observed a bit more carefully.

    In my post I remarked that a report like this adds to the paranoia about outsourcing to India. I grant you that 7 minutes is not sufficient to go into anything of any complexity, leave alone talk about India. But the least they could do was to get the facts straight.

    I am against the misrepresentation, not the facts. I will be the first to claim that indeed that generally Indians are filthy, for whatever reasons. Yes, Indians do live in exceedingly crowded places. Yes, they are incredibly poor and poverty-stricken. But using that backdrop to shock the viewers is not journalism, it is the yellow variety.

    You got riled up with my conclusion that the report inspires fear of Indians. I stick by my conclusion. Having lived and worked in the US for decades, I consider the US as much home as India. I draw negative conclusions about the US just as often I do about India. I therefore get riled up when instead of responsible journalism, a major news source distorts reality.

    Comment by Atanu Dey — March 11, 2006 @ 1:53 pm

  11. Atanu,

    This is my first visit to this blog, and I already like it.

    I am getting lots of thoughts as I read your insight. I am in US now for 4 years, and couldn’t help but agree with some of your observations.

    Unfortunately, I do not have time to respond in detail, but one thing I definitely share with you is that I really get angry when the reporters/journalists do not show the true picture, and when they cannot even stick first to facts and figures. I have seen this a lot in the media here (US). There is always a hint of sensationalizing some events or interviews. Then, I realize that the reporters/journalists are just trying to use the airtime for their own benefits first (recognition, news, etc.), and I am surprised to see that they always seem to try to carve out their own audience, loyal audience, who will keep watching their newscasts and interviews.

    I don’t understand this. It’s like they want their own fan base. The actual journalism or reporting then takes a backseat due to this.

    This is just my observation; nothing else.

    Keep blogging :-)

    Comment by Amit Kulkarni — March 11, 2006 @ 8:20 pm

  12. Atanu has written “I am against the misrepresentation, not the facts”

    Dear Atanu, I would side with Crazyfinger here. As a member of the media, I belong to several journalist forums and mailing lists. These are closed mailing lists – you cannot belong to them unless you are also an accredited member of the media. The public does not get to see these mails. But we do. The typical mail format looks like this STORY: blah blah REAX: blah SPIN: blah.
    In other words, we journalists decide among ourselves what the story( what you call fact) is, what the reactions( what the public thinks as polls suggest, or in the absence of polls, what the public would most likely think if we got around to asking them) and what the spin(how to present this story to receive maximum coverage) should be. We then write copy according to the consensus arrived from online, offline and backchannel exchanges. This is nothing outrageous or illegal about this, though public might find it that way at first glance. This is simply SOP, we are in the business of selling newsprint, and facts matter, but how we present the facts also matters. We are not an academic journal, we are news. As such, there is no misrepresentation, it is simply representation a segment of audience may not agree with, but a larger segment which comprises the majority readership of the newspaper/channel do agree with. As a well known example, NY Post will always present a right-wing interpretation of events, NY Daily a left-wing, each catering to its audience. This is not conspiracy or collusion, it is simply how things have evolved over the years. There are turfs and these are respected. This should be no secret to you, a well respect economist. In your own profession, there are conservative economists like Martin Feldstein and liberal economists like Paul Krugman, neither of whom is misresrepresenting data, only representing their position on the data, naturally without
    representing the other position, simply because it will get represented anyway by the other side. Another example is right here – IEB represents a viewpoint most likely to be interpreted as India Rising, a progressive upbeat view of the liberalized Indian economy. I suppose you have heard of another blog The Other India, which represents, shall I say the drainage inspector view of India. According to The Other India, unjust slum demolition in the heart of Mumbai has resulted in largescale dislocation, indebted farmers all over India are commiting suicide, dowry deaths are rampant etc. Are they misrepresenting facts or is IEB ? The uncomfortably honest answer is that both are catering to their respective audience. Please do not get riled up about these things.

    Comment by Just a journalist — March 11, 2006 @ 11:17 pm

  13. Commenting on Just a Journalist’s post. I can’t remember the last time someone, a journalist or not, gave such a frank opinion of the news business. The point is – news is a business. However, the media and reporters enjoy an undeserved exalted status in our minds that anything coming out of their mouths or pens is regarded as THE FACT.

    On the subject of outsourcing, which was in the original post of this thread, I have not seen much anger among Americans over the loss of jobs. There is concern, for sure, but there is also the begrudging acceptance among people here that outsourcing cannot be stopped by a mandate any more than the import of Chinese made goods sold at Wal-Mart.

    Comment by Sarat Dayal — March 12, 2006 @ 5:22 am

  14. Just a journalist,

    Interesting comments. In this case the journalist seemed to be manufacturing data (as Atanu pointed out) regarding the number of English speakers in India. Regardless of the story the journalist would like to tell, the public should be able to at least expect that the journalist won’t just make up facts to suit the story.

    Comment by walker — March 14, 2006 @ 1:03 am

  15. I have been a regular reader of this blog site for the past few months. This is my first comment though. And this has nothing to do with the gist of Atanu’s writing, although I do understand the sense of outrage that he feels on encountering the rather condescending reporting.

    Please do not be offended. What I would like to point out is the increasing tendency worldwide to use totally wrong usages, mainly usages that originate in the US and that spread outward. In this particular instance, the thing that upset me was the usage of “different than” by Atanu in this sentence:”Indian Muslims are no different than Muslims anywhere in the world”.

    “Different” is NOT a degree of comparison, like taller, shorter, longer etc. Thus, the use of “than” with “different” is certainly incorrect. An apple can be “different from”, or “different to” an orange. But saying that an apple is “different than” an orange conveys no meaning. But definitely, “an apple is smoother (to the touch) than an orange”.

    My appeal to all of you would be to desist from using such typically wrong (American) phrases in your writings. Please use the correct “different from” or “different to”. I am all for gloabilsation and yes, I am aware that nothing is permanent except change. But that does not mean that we should be willing accomplices in the continued mutilation of a common tongue. (Should it have been “accomplices to” – I wonder).

    Comment by Aravind Nair — March 14, 2006 @ 1:56 pm

  16. Hey Aravind (or should I say Hello?):

    On an intellectual level, I do agree with you on the issue of “different than.” On a practical level – and perhaps language is a practical vehicle after all – I wonder when a word, phrase or syntax becomes so much the norm that it should be accepted as “correct.” As a student of English lit in my previous life, I am amused by the English of Chaucer and Shakespeare. Much of their usage will be wrong by modern standards. Actually, many of the “correct” modern English phrases will be wrong by Chaucerian standards. Language is a growing and changing organism. After 33 years in the US, I find some Indianisms of English language as rather odd, but then I realize that I am listening to Indian English, which is very much a legitimate language and not a poorer version of Queen’s English.

    Where does America fit into this picture? Alas, English of the 21st century is heavily influenced by American English, thanks to the global influence of the American economy. I am still surprised by the young Indians’ frequent use of the word, “reckon,” which is simply not a part of common American vocabulary. It is a somewhat antiquated and country-bumpkin word in America, and obviously lifted by the “metro” Indians from American movies. But so what! It is an Indian English word now.

    Since we are on a blog about the economy, perhaps one should admit that language is shaped and enhanced by the economic powers of the user groups using a particular language.

    Comment by Sarat Dayal — March 14, 2006 @ 5:56 pm

  17. Aravind, I wrote “different than” instead of “different from” in error. It is just an error, and has nothing to do with American usage of the language as opposed to Indian.

    I will severly reprimand my editor for not detecting that.

    Comment by Atanu Dey — March 15, 2006 @ 8:28 am

  18. Ok i saw a couple of those vids on abc’s website.
    It was scaremongering and also patronizing in a putdown way.
    I havent watched any major network news and this sort of justifies my reason for it.

    Comment by Guru Gulab Khatri — March 21, 2006 @ 11:36 am

  19. I am unable to find the followup video report. Does anyone have a link? Thanks.
    Atanu

    Comment by Atanu Dey — March 21, 2006 @ 12:02 pm

  20. I cant find the video(s) any more on abcnews.com
    they moved them around.

    try this [link]
    its a query on the news site with india and i did spot the article though not the video

    Comment by Guru Gulab Khatri — March 23, 2006 @ 10:55 pm

  21. [...] “more-12″> What are the pros and cons on the media coverage? There are some blogs like this which are very critical to such a coverage. They argue that [...]

    Pingback by The blog of my Experiments with Truth » Blog Archive » India is Rising — May 19, 2006 @ 8:37 pm

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