Once Upon a Sidewalk
Eddie J. Girdner
Published in Third Concept, No, 278, 2009
As I stepped out of a restaurant in New Delhi, India, some piles of books for sale on the sidewalk in Connaught Place caught my eye. It would be instructive to see what the local population was reading, I thought. Or were these bootlegged copies only being picked up by the foreigners living in the city? The first title that my eyes focused upon was The Warren Buffett Way by Robert Hagstram and next to it was The IBM Way by Buck Rogers. With all the poverty one sees around this city, these should prove useful indeed. And then I was hit by a feeling of nostalgia when next to these I saw the old classic, Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, which I had seen selling in the same spot some forty years ago. Was that stuff still selling? Amazing. Surely, it seemed to me, if the way to grow rich was to think, then India would surely have been the richest country in the world for hundreds of years.
And then there was The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman… sure enough! Friedman had ridiculed all those critics who doubted the virtues of globalization and the global neoliberal economy, in this book, particularly those who wanted more government regulation and social welfare, when times were good, that is, just before the collapse of the global economy. Oh yes! That should explain what was happening in India very well, I thought. And making a bid to trump Friedman was Once upon a Wall Street by Peter Lynch. That should make one’s lunch digest better! And on another brightly colored cover Jack Welch screamed out in big red letters: Winning! Well, I don’t know. I guess there must be somebody somewhere who is. It had been a while since I had run into anyone in that category. And Delhi didn’t seem the likely place.
After a couple of days negotiating the streets of Delhi in an auto rickshaw, and comparing these books to what I had seen over the years, somehow they just did not quite seem to suit the climate. But then another book, looking on the brighter side, suddenly proclaimed: Tough Times Never Last but Tough People Do. Now there’s a lie if I ever heard one! Well, getting down to the nuts and bolts of things, I moved my eyes around to Tom Hopkins, How to Master the Art of Selling and Mutual Funds Made Easy, put out by an outfit called Beria Sunlife Mutual fund. Along with those it might be wise to pick up a copy of Consumer is King by Rajyalakshmi Rao. A nice package there to acquire the know-how of getting ahead in the business world and life in general in the world’s teeming underbelly. Mutual funds, here I come! We have all learned what a great investment those are in the last few months! Certainly appropriate for Delhi residents. I wonder if my auto rickshaw driver, making five dollars a day, not enough to send his children to school, should pick up a package of those mutual funds for his future. And next to it all, to give one a broader view, and a more philosophical underpinning, was Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.
The juxtaposition of these titles next to what I had seen on the streets and around the city, the condition of the common people, could not have been more stark. I thought of the thousands of Indian Farmers who had committed suicide over the last few years because they could not even feed their families. I thought of the women construction workers I had seen waiting at the side of a road in Delhi that morning, with their babies, waiting to begin their day of heaving soil and cement and bricks for a dollar a day. They were certainly not following the Warren Buffett way. They may have been thinking, but they were not growing rich. And as far as I could tell, they were not winning either.
Only one writer seemed to have gotten it pretty much right. Right in front of me, there was a copy of Peter Robinson, Snapshots from Hell. Now that ain’t no lie! When there is no future, then why not fantacize about the glories or capitalism? Nowadays, in New Delhi or New York… what’s the difference?
Another title offered was by Mark McCormack, What they Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School. But why buy the book? One could learn much of that just by riding around a third world city in an auto rickshaw or in these days, or sleeping on a sidewalk.
July 16, 2009
Eddie J. Girdner, Professor of International Relations, Izmir University. Author of USA and the New Middle East, 2008.