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Posted by on Jan 15, 2011 in Economy, TG Roundup

A Brush with Free Market Capitalism at Hyderabad Airport

As I was walking out of Hyderabad airport, I noticed that there are two private companies offering to exchange foreign currency. The counters were manned by three people each and were competing with each other for business. It was 4.00 AM in the morning. As soon as the salesmen see a prospective customer, they all start shouting loudly “good morning sir, welcome sir, let me help you with your exchange etc.”. You can imagine how a passenger who just got off a 20 hour journey would feel about being sought by six salesmen shouting out at every prospective that dares to look at them. Some passengers were simply startled by the sudden outburts of sales pitch while others were annoyed with this uniquely cacaphonic Indian experience. I am sure how some of my fellow Indian travellers must be thinking: “When will India change?”, “When will we learn to behave in a more civilized fashion?”, “You would never see anything like this in New York or London.” etc.

I had a completely different take on the experience. I was ecastatic and told my wife about how much I am enjoying this scene. She was perplexed and said, “what do you mean?”. I answered, “Don’t you see? It is free market competitive capitalism in play!”. (to all the nay sayers, yes, yes, yes it is still a limited version of the system).

People often have short memories. Just a decade and a half ago, when I landed in India, there was a state run bank tasked with exchanging currency. The hours would indicate that they open at 4.00 AM. Even after waiting for an hour, no one would show up. Since you are late for your domestic connecting flight, you give up and walk out of the airport. As soon as you walk out, you will be mobbed by hawkers begging for your dollars for a spectacular exchange rate, usually 20% more than what government offered. This is the illegal havala market. You need the rupees, but you wonder if you will get caught by a cop while you are in the midst of making the trade. What if you want to conduct the trade by stepping over to a darker side of the parking lot. But, what is the guarantee that you won’t get mugged by this stranger? That was the state of affairs about 15 years ago

Coming back to today’s Hyderabad airport. I randomly picked one of the two counters to get my money exchanged. I told the salesmen that I admired how hard they are working to earn my business. The sales person heard me just fine, but asked me to come again. He is used to customers who reluctantly do business with him and are often annoyed by his cacophony. So, I once again repeated that I admired how hard they were working to win my business that early in the morning. The guy looked at me closely to see if I am mentally stable. He promptly handed me my rupees and didn’t even bother to acknowledge my compliment and quickly went back to his shouting routine.

India is barely scratching at the surface of capitalism. It is still a bureaucratic system, and the Indian elite continue to lean left with their socialist philosophy and do not grasp the morality of capitalism. For leftist elites in India, capitalism is a system of greed and selfishness. Saying that, one cannot ingore the small steps being taken towards freedom and capitalism- albeit reluctantly and slowly. There is a prevailing sentiment that India is booming. I see India’s economy operating at 1/100th of its true potential.

1 Comment

  1. Chakravarthy,

    Not everything that works is a triumph of a free-market and not everything that is broken is a failure of the Government.

    In case no one mentioned to you – have you noticed that you are trying to see everything through “Ayn Rand’s” colored glasses?

    The world is more complex than Rand’s vision where CEO is God and the Government is Satan. For God sake please recognize the fact that she is just a fiction writer!

    For a balanced view of the world, I suggest you also read Orwell. Unlike Rand who tells you how the world should be, Orwell tells you what the world is like. And that’s my bottom line.

    Here is what I learned and chose to do in my life time:

    There is no such thing as a completely free market. It is a fantasy. The system is taken advantage of by the people in power, people with influence (e.g. media) and people with a lot of money. Fraud is pervasive – not just in government. I cannot change the system, but I chose to navigate this complex and corrupt system with certain ethical standards of my own.