Interviews talks to Chandran Nair


Chandran Nair asks why more people in Asia have mobile phones than toilets.
He talks about the crisis of capitalism, relentless consumption and underpricing.

Chandran Nair from Debate

We need to talk about what does world prosperity look like, in a constrained world and in this part of the world we must reject the Anglo-Saxon view of the world, which comes from a different historical perspective. Five billion Asians in 2050 cannot live like Americans; you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that, game over. The oceans will be empty, so what do we do. So we need to have a different way of discussing, how we organise ourselves, what the rules are, what are your rights. Car ownership isn’t a human right, but try telling that to the Americans. I don’t know whether they give up the guns or the cars first, but you know that’s a discussion, I wish them all the best.

But here, we will have to have a different narrative and it takes a hard conversation to have that.
You know that is why I feel lonely many times.

The crisis of capitalism, I am trying to jump to a couple of things here is absolutely reliant on promoting relentless consumption, right. Because it requires more and more people to consume, you don’t need it but you will have it. That’s all the subliminal adverts etc. I wont go there, very dark area. But that is what crisis of capitalism is, but you need to understand to promote relentless consumption, it does two things. This is why I think it is very dangerous and we need to confront it, especially in this part of the world. It firstly seeks to under-price so when we talk about the premium commodity, it firstly seeks under-price every product. It is called competitive advantage in the business school, Harvard Business Model. Supply-chain that externalise costs, why the Apple Computer is so cheap etc. We think this is geniuses at work, externalising costs. So it seeks to under-price and externalises costs, then blame China for pollution, right?

The Ethiopians will get their turn by the way and then it does that by eventually fighting regulation and what does it do when it fights regulation, it excerpts the state. So you need to see what consumption in this form does before we sought of have the discussion about commodity’s, premiums etc. There is something much more insidious much more bigger we have to understand before we talk about purpose.

Wal-Mart for instance, the largest sort of selling stuff, they are supposed to have a carbon neutral this and that. But Wal-Mart’s mission is to sell more, endlessly, relentlessly it is not to save humanity or make sure that every Indian in Chinese has food, this is not the point. That does not make them bad etc. But you need to understand what they do and they do that by seeking to under-price resources.

My biggest example of this is mobile phones. Today you can go to Hong Kong and get a mobile phone essential for free. You know what mobile phones made of, expensive hydro-carbons, rare earths, metals, how come this stuff became free? It is under-pricing, it is written into the business model, taught at the Mackenzie’s etc. and then put out to this part of the world.

To the extent today that we have more people in Asia with a mobile phone than toilets. How did the toilet become a luxury item? No premium on toilets. So I think we need to understand this, I hope you don’t think I am being extreme but it is only extreme because these sort of subjects and this sort of approach to where we are in the 21st century has become taboo, in business circles. This is what we need to talk about. Any of you who work in business, look at what you produce and look at the under-pricing, what’s the true price of a burger. Go figure.

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