Sunday, February 15, 2009


The Indian Railway King;
Lalu is a happy man: happy to have risen to become rich, beloved, and reviled all over India; happy that a grateful nation credits him with whipping its beleaguered rail system into profitability; and happy that he’s managed to do all this and somehow stay out of jail. Under his leadership, Indian Railways has gone from bankruptcy to billions in just a few years. When Lalu presented his latest budget to Parliament on February 13, he bragged, "Hathi ko cheetah bana diya" ("I have turned an elephant into a cheetah"). What’s his secret?

“Cow dung,” he says. “I have 350 cows, including bulls. Cow dung—no need of gas.” Everyone tells me about Lalu’s “rustic common sense,” though I’m unsure how burning manure for fuel has made Indian trains suddenly run profitably. But his point is a broad one, about systems efficiency and country wisdom and resourcefulness. “Railways is like a Jersey cow. If you do not milk it fully, it gets tenail,” a swollen and infected udder. Milk every last drop out of Indian Railways, Lalu told his subordinates, and it will prosper....

Only Bollywood does more to unite India than its railways. The statistics beggar belief: every year, Indians take 5.4 billion train trips, 7 million per day in suburban Mumbai alone. New Delhi Station sees daily transit of 350,000 passengers, which is roughly five times more than New York’s LaGuardia Airport, and enough to make Grand Central look like Mayberry Junction. The railways’ total track mileage rivals the length of the entire U.S. Interstate Highway system, even though the United States is three times the size of India. Among human resource problems, the railways of India are an Everest. Its employees outnumber Wal-Mart’s by a figure comparable to the population of Pittsburgh. The world’s only larger employer is the People’s Liberation Army of China. (The third-largest employer is the British National Health Service.)

If This Stimulus Isn't Big Enough, Could There Be a Sequel?;
The stimulus got "less stimulative," Rivlin said, as it passed through the Senate and some of the things that offered "the biggest bang for the buck" were scaled back, such as more money for food stamps.

Nigel Gault, an economist with Global Insight, was among several analysts who cited the addition of a fix for the alternative minimum tax as one of the bill's disappointments.

"Telling people you're not going to impose a tax increase on them they weren't expecting in the first place is not stimulus," he said.

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