In the extended social order we call society, individual persons are the basic interacting units who attempt to realize their individual objectives, individually and collectively. Some of these objectives or goals can be realized by organizing privately, and others only through collective actions. Organized private activity is called “the market” which meets the private needs of the people. For those goals which require collective action, collective decisions have to be made.
That is what “government” is. In James Buchanan’s view, government is “that complex of institutions through which individuals make collective decisions, and through which they carry out collective as opposed to private activities.” And “politics” according to him “is the activity of persons in the context of such institutions.” Continue Reading →
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK is generating a lot of enthusiastic support from many, as expected. I don’t waste time on following the hoopla. It’s all a sideshow that wastes real resources that India can ill afford but gets done because those who enjoy the pomp and circumstance don’t bear the costs. Indian taxpayers — which we must remember are not just those who pay income tax but it includes even the poorest of the poor — pay for the politicians, bureaucrats and their hangers-on to live it up. It is another symptom of the deep malady that inflicts India: Colonial rule. Continue Reading →
I will be in Los Angeles this weekend. There’s a “Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas” (regional non-resident Indian day) in LA. Details here.
I have never been to one. I am going to this one to basically check out what the tamasha is all about. Many years ago I had attended the mother of all tamashas — a PanIIT meeting.
“What’s PanIIT?” you say. It’s a meeting of a group of completely self-absorbed engineers from IITs with very inflated egos who congratulate themselves on how astonishingly amazing they are and how they are the almighty’s gift to humanity, if not the entire creation. Go read my report on the 2006 PanIIT meeting that was held in Mumbai. Also see my thoughts on the 2008 PanIIT where I talk about the funding of new IITs.
Friedrich Hayek’s Law, Legislation and Liberty. Vol. 3 The Political Order of a Free People. 1979. Chapter 13, “The Division of Democratic Powers.” Pg 31-32.
A system which may place any small group in the position to hold a society to ransom if it happens to be the balance between opposing groups, and can extort special privileges for its support of a party, has little to do with democracy or ‘social justice’. But it is the unavoidable product of the unlimited power of a single elective assembly not precluded from discrimination by a restriction of its powers either to true legislation or to government under a law which it cannot alter.
Not only will such a system produce a government driven by blackmail and corruption, but it will also produce laws which are disapproved by the majority and in their long-run effects may lead to the decline of the society. . . .
A further peculiar sort of bias of government created by the necessity to gain votes by benefiting particular groups or activities operates indirectly through the need to gain the support of those second-hand dealers of ideas, mainly in what are now called the ‘media’ , who largely determine public opinion.
Here’s a quote from Friedrich Hayek’s Law, Legislation and Liberty. It appears in the 3rd volume, The Political Order of a Free People, in the chapter on MAJORITY OPINION AND CONTEMPORARY DEMOCRACY, page 4:
May it not be true, as has been well said, that ‘the belief in democracy presupposes belief in things higher than democracy’? And is there really no other way for people to maintain a democratic government than by handing over unlimited power to a group of elected representatives whose decisions must be guided by the exigencies of a bargaining process in which they bribe a sufficient number of voters to support an organized group of themselves numerous enough to outvote the rest?
What are things that are higher than democracy? A belief in the sovereignty of law, and obedience to the rules of just conduct.
To the memory of the British Empire in India,
Which conferred subjecthood upon us,
But withheld citizenship.
To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge: “Civis Britannicus sum”
Because all that was good and living within us
Was made, shaped and quickened
By the same British rule.
Early in my study of economics in the 1990s, I came across Tibor Scitovsky’s 1976 book “The Joyless Economy: an inquiry into human satisfaction and consumer dissatisfaction.” Reading it, I realized that I was in the presence of a kindred spirit. I read that book with delight and an increasing understanding of what economics was all about. It was about humans and how they attempt to satisfy their innate drives, most of which derive from their biology and their evolutionary history as primates. Though I lived only a few miles from him (he lived in Stanford), I did not know it then and therefore never attempted to meet him. I later got to know that I also shared my birthday with him. Here’s how. Continue Reading →
Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature makes for interesting and informative reading. He answers the question, “Why violence has declined?”, which is the subtitle of the book. It does come as somewhat of a surprise that violence has historically declined in most of the world. The book provokes many “Aha!” moments. Read it for fun and profit, as they say. Here I post an extended excerpt. It’s a bit that will enlighten and delight the pseudo-secularists in India. (I am kidding. The p-secs would rather have red-hot nails hammered into their privates than admit the truth of what Pinker writes in this bit of his book.) Continue Reading →
From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either the one or the other, but not both at the same time. The equality before the law which freedom requires leads to material inequality. Our argument will be that, though where the state must use coercion for other reasons, it should treat all people alike, the desire of making people more alike in their condition cannot be accepted in a free society as a justification for further and discriminatory coercion.
A careful reading of that essay (link above) is guaranteed to lead to profit and enlightenment. Read it a few times.
The twice a year reminder that daylight saving time (DST) is a prime example of collective idiocy is here. This morning (Sunday Nov 1st), at 2 AM, clocks in North America were set back one hour to 1 AM. Today will be 25 hours long, and to reverse this gain of one hour, March 8th 2016 will be only 23 hours long. Oh the insanity! Continue Reading →
Markets work. That’s the “First Law” of the Extended Order of Social Interactions. I just made up that EOoSI bit but the ‘markets work’ bit is a genuine law in the sense that it expresses an observed regurality in human societies.
What does it mean? Among other things, it means that when the need (the demand) for something arises, the market spontaneously figures out a solution (the supply) without the need for some controlling authority passing orders to get that need met. Those who address the needs of people are sometimes referred to as entrepreneurs. These are the people who look around for unmet needs and figure out some way of meeting those needs. Continue Reading →
People all across the world follow personalities. There’s something in the human psyche that makes this particular failing so prevalent. Perhaps it confers some selective survival advantage to groups that follow personalities instead of principles. Maybe principles-based thinking is hard for people and there are gains from “outsourcing” the thinking to some chosen person who is believed to be wiser. It shows up everywhere, from messiahs (Jesus is the prototypical example), to gurus (the Pope and other charlatans come to mind), to politicians (Mohandas Gandhi, Hitler, Stalin, etc are exemplars of this breed). Continue Reading →
On Wednesday, it was Mahanabami of Durgotsav or pujo as we Bengalis refer to it in short. I went to check out some puja in the neighborhood with a friend Sudipta and his wife Suvagata. We first went to the Bay Area Durga Utsav Santa Clara, and then to the Paschimi Durga Puja at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds. Both were done quite nicely. The crowds were reasonably large, all dressed up and excited to be there. Pujo is always fun. Continue Reading →
I find fast trains fascinating. Hence this little item caught my attention.
A Japanese magnetic levitation train has broken its own world speed record, hitting 603km/h (374mph) in a test run near Mount Fuji. The train beat the 590km/h speed it had set last week in another test.
Maglev trains use electrically charged magnets to lift and move carriages above the rail tracks.
Central Japan Railway (JR Central), which owns the trains, wants to introduce the service between Tokyo and the central city of Nagoya by 2027. The 280km journey would take only about 40 minutes, less than half the current time. [BBC. April 2015.]
I find it interesting that the BBC did not explicitly mention the French TGV in the list of fast trains. The “Eurostar” category subsumes the TGV trains. Anyway, the TGV are the only fast trains I have had the pleasure of traveling in. Here are a few facts about the TGV:
The LGV opened to the public between Paris and Lyon on 27 September 1981.
The TGV holds the world speed record for conventional trains. On 3 April 2007 a modified TGV POS train reached 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) under test conditions on the LGV Est between Paris and Strasbourg.
The TGV has carried over 1.6 billion passengers.
In almost three decades of high-speed operation, the TGV has not recorded a single fatality due to accident while running at high speed.
“The argument for liberty is not an argument against organization, which is one of the most powerful tools human reason can employ, but an argument against all exclusive, privileged, monopolistic organization, against the use of coercion to prevent others from doing better.” ~ F. A. Hayek
A few days ago on Oct 14th, Rajesh Jain was at “The Next Billion” event of Quartz India in New Delhi. Rajesh spoke with Bobby Ghosh, editor in chief of Quartz Events. Rajesh spoke about the need for a new constitution for India — the point that Rajesh and I had made in an article in Quartz earlier.
“. . . how absurd it is to judge relative performance by rate of growth, which is as often as not evidence of past neglect rather than of present achievement. In many respects it is easier and not more difficult for an undeveloped country to grow rapidly once an appropriate framework has been secured.”
Source: F. A Hayek. The Political Order of a Free People. 1979. Page 190. Volume 3 of Law, Legislation and Liberty.
“Every time you pick up a phone, dial a number, write an email, make a purchase, travel on the bus carrying a cell phone, swipe a card somewhere, you leave a trace, and the government has decided that it’s a good idea to collect it all, everything, even if you’ve never been suspected of a crime.”
That revelation is actually from a second interview given by former Central Intelligence Agency and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, this time to German broadcast giant ARD.
And even though ARD is the second largest public broadcaster in the world (after the British Broadcasting Company), and Snowden’s message easily unearths the largest violations of the Constitution by the US to date, our dinosaur media does not believe this is mainstream enough to cover.
To be clear, you cannot find the 30-minute interview – released via the international video-sharing site LiveLeak on Jan. 27 – on one single American news outlet.”
People should be free to do whatever they can and wish to do. But that does not give license to people to do such things that cause harm to others. Since it would be too inefficient for each of us to individually protect himself or herself from harm by others, it is prudent to collectively create a mechanism that provides “policing services” that prevent anyone from causing harm to others, and in case harm is caused, to provide a means for the redressal of the harm and the punishment of the culprit. This fundamental function of providing policing services is the government’s proper role. Thus the proper role of the government must be limited to restraining people from harming others but not to forcing people into doing particular things.
In other words, the government’s job is solely to protect the negative right of every person, namely the right to be unharmed by others. Of course, there has to be a mechanism for determining what actions are harmful to others. The design of the mechanism that determine the rules — the rules of just conduct — has to be specified by a set of meta-rules. These meta-rules we call the constitution.