Suck Goes to High-Tech India


I expected food to preoccupy me in India. In particular the part where eating eventually makes pretty much all travelers sick had taken up a lot of brainspace as I prepared for my trip. But somehow I escaped what some call Delhi Belly until my last day in the country, leaving me free, up until then, to obsess about something I had thought India would enable me to think about less: money.

Granted, I was not traveling in the India of dhoti-clad ascetics or spiritual seekers. I was firmly in bourgie territory, where everyone's decisions are virtually by definition economic. That said, I found it impossible to travel in India and not have the dismal science on my mind 24 hours per. A loyal Economist subscriber, I was reasonably well-versed in the gospel of comparative advantage and economic-development cycles and such. But confronted up-close with very intelligent, well-educated business executives ten years my senior who make, in absolute terms, substantially less money than I do as a freelance writer — never mind a rickshaw driver who might take home annually about what I pay for one month of health insurance — well, it was enough to turn day-to-day economics into an obsession.

Oddly, this strikes me most on those occasions when I temporarily step out of India and into one of Bangalore's countless Net-access stalls. Websurfing is supposed to be a locationless activity, but when you're looking at Yahoo! or while sitting in India, you're immediately aware that most of the ads are for stuff that you, by virtue of where you are, can't have. It's a little like being a middle-class American and reading a copy of the Robb Report — all those pictures and inaccessible offers may seem irrelevant at first, but before long their very inaccessibility makes you want them much, much more.

Very roughly speaking, everyday expenses in India (food, transport, a place to stay, services of any sort) seem to cost about one-sixth what they do in the States. That means the average income of less than $400 a year translates up to about $2400 of purchasing power — still exceedingly poor by US standards. But a $10,000 starting programmer's salary gets you the equivalent of $60,000 in consuming muscle — more or less even with what your average smartypants CompSci grad in the US might earn. And Bangalore salaries are on the way up: a US firm that had a $60k budget for a starting coder could double a Bangalorean's salary and still be paying him much less.

Bangalore's truly global labor market is warping the local economy in other ways, not all of them necessarily appreciated. In August one city paper reported that Bangalore was experiencing a shortage of M.D.s. The reason: so many doctors had left their practices to go work for the emerging medical transcription (MT) industry, where they could earn much more money. US doctors get their voice-recorded notes digitized, satellite-beamed to Bangalore, and entered into computer files overnight. MT companies need doctors to do the transcribing because they can properly understand the technical language in which the notes are dictated. Their time is worth much more when they act as night-shift secretary for a US physician rather than as a working doctor.


Speak your mind about today's Suck
Goes to India

Let's Go Bangalore!
E-Commerce, Mom and Pop-Style
The Accidental Feminist
Money Changes Everything
The Billionaire Socialist
Those Crazy Kids and Their Cult
From Hyderbad to Worse
Masterbuilders on the March!


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