Monthly Archives: December 2010

What makes an Entrepreneurial Society?


If there are two countries in this world that have an Entrepreneurial spirit embedded deep within their genes, its USA and Israel. What has caused this? Why have these two countries turned out to be fountainheads of entrepreneurism? What makes these two societies hold their Entrepreneurs in such high esteem? Its not simply a matter of having an economic system favorable to this cause, for there are affluent European countries which have liberal capitalistic economies and yet have shown only feeble signs of Entrepreneurism. Though Americans have descended from the Europeans, why are the former so entrepreneurial and the latter very much less so? One can argue that Europe has a more socialist mindset but then that would be missing the wood for the trees.

Im currently re-reading the book ‘O Jerusalem’, the fascinating account of how the Jewish state of Israel came into being, sixty years ago. That’s when I realised why this Entrepreneurial spirit is found in abundance in Israel and by a similar analogy in America.

The book illustrates the travails of the early Jewish settlers who migrated from Europe into the Holy Land(Palestine) in the early 20th century to build the state of Israel. They came from all parts of the world. They were of all shapes and sizes. All colors and hue. But they all had a single goal: To build a state on their traditional land so that they would never have to face persecution at the hands of non-jews again.(How valid it was to do so in Arab Palestine is a violent debate that has not ended even today.) But all these early settlers had was the land that they had bought. A desert for most part. They had to make the desert bloom if they wanted to establish a suitable home for themselves and the future generations of Jews that would come to inhabit those lands.

These settlers then set to work on building the farms, industries and institutions which would be needed to sustain a modern nation state. They may have had successful professions in their old homes in Europe. But here they were all alike, starting on a blank slate. So, lawyers dug ditches, pianists milked cows, teachers laid bricks etc. Whatever was needed to be done. They did not have the vestiges of past civilizations to fall back on. Everything that was needed  to run a country had to be built ground-up, brick-by-brick. And these settlers rose up to the challenge and how. Everyone took responsibility for building a pillar for Israel. Everyone became an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneur: a person who starts or organizes a business company, especially one involving risk.

What better example of entrepreneurs than these brave Jews who established Israel? What greater risk than doing it in the middle of a desert surrounded by hostile forces? Despite all the political turmoil, Israel remains one of the economic marvels of the world. Having built everything themselves is the reason I suspect that Israeli society holds Entrepreneurship in such high esteem.

A similar analogy can be extended to USA. North America was settled by peoples from Europe. Here too there was no legacy of civilizations ancient. Everything had to be started from scratch and the earliest settlers did just that. As the East coast became populated, the settlers ventured into the unknown lands of the West. The settlers initially struggled to cultivate the lands of the Mid-West due to the thick upper-crust soil. A man called John Deere then invented a steel plough which enabled the settlers to cultivate the land successfully. John Deere is now a massive farming company. The settlers overcame other odds too. Wind-pumps were used to draw up water from deep down, for irrigation and animals. Dry Farming, special ploughing and other methods were used to conserve moisture. Hard winter wheat (e.g. Turkey Red), introduced by Russian immigrants, was found to be suitable for the climate. New machines were invented.

Here too, like in Israel, development came on the back of immigrants and settlers. People who had left behind their pasts and took ownership of their futures. People who did not conform to the standards of comfortable living and constantly pushed boundaries, literally. Its only natural then, that with such a rich history, the societies of USA and Israel have entrepreneurship embedded in their cores.

In Europe and Asia it was different. Ancient civilizations had left behind sound structures and systems that did not have the need to be replaced. Occupational patterns set in the days of yore continued unquestioned. There was never a need to build anything from scratch. A well established order then, held back these societies from toying around with ideas of self-ownership to the extent done in America and Israel.

I guess entrepreneurial societies are a function of their historical legacies.

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Movie Review: Restrepo


Restrepo is a documentary movie about a platoon of the US Army that battles the Taliban in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, for a year. Having been pinned down by the Taliban on all sides, the platoon decides to fight back and build a new outpost called Restrepo, named after one of the fallen soldiers, deeper in the Korengal Valley. This was done to put further pressure on the Taliban and provide an additional fire-base for the US  troops. How the platoon defends these posts and fights the Taliban is captured in this documentary.

This is unlike any other war movie you would’ve ever seen. No visual gimmicks. No recreated sound effects. Its gritty. Its hard-hitting. Its as real as things can get. The explosions are in-your-face. The gunshots ring in your ears. By having no specific storyline, the movie successfully captures the raw war zone in all its grime and glory.

The movie gives the viewer a very good insight on how the war in Afghanistan is being fought by the US troops and why they are finding it so difficult to win the war in this “Graveyard of Empires”. The platoon takes fire from an almost invisible enemy day and night. The majestic mountains belie the darkness they hide within, as the sounds of gunfire erupt in all directions forcing the platoon to scramble for cover, wondering where on earth they were being fired from. The Taliban are never seen, yet they cast an ominous shadow on all the valley, like ghosts from another world. They have their informants in the villages who pass on crucial info about the Americans. The platoon cajoles, bribes and threatens the villagers, yet fail to wean them away from the influence (or fear) of the Taliban. The villagers know that one day the platoon will be gone and then they will have the Taliban to answer to. That basically sums up the entire US strategy in Afghanistan.

Faced with a battle hardened and blood thirsty enemy, a harsh and indomitable terrain and a hostile local populace, the platoon struggles for its survival everyday. Their body language clearly shows that they know that victory is all but impossible against such odds. Most war movies Iv seen involve soldiers shouting out patriotic slogans and being happy to fight in battles and die for their nation. Here its different. Is it because the platoon knew that they were faced with an impossible task? Or is this how all soldiers in all war zones are? Weary and tired of war. Disillusioned by the deaths of countless friends. Broken by nightmares of blood and fire.

A gem from the ’70s


Suddenly remembered this song in the morning. Its been stuck in my head since.

An absolutely beautiful composition by Illaiyaraja, great lyrcis by Valee and sung by the evergreen SPB, from the movie Ilamai Oonjal Aadukirathu. A great movie too, starring Kamal Haasan and Rajni. Definitely among their best performances. The last scene as Rajni drives off in his car is very poignant.