Atanu Dey On India's Development

Five years of Opinions and Perspectives

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
– Marcus Aurelius [121 CE - 180 CE] (Emperor and stoic philosopher.)

This blog had its first post on this day in 2003. For five years, I have been expressing my opinion and perspective on a range of topics that deal with development and India. I had been writing a blog at Berkeley, “Life is a Random Draw”, for a while before I started on this one. I shut down the Berkeley blog as maintaining it was becoming a bit of a bother. It was my colleague Rajesh Jain who suggested that I should write a blog on economic development of India.

Economic growth and development is at the center of this blog’s concern. With very rare exceptions, every opinion and perspective here is somehow tied to development. Education, urbanization, energy, transportation — are obviously connected with development. But so are the institutions and ideologies that have a strong impact on economic activity. Communism and monotheism are religious ideologies that are corrosive and harmful to development.

Rule of law, as opposed to the rule by people, matters. India gets infected with personality cults repeatedly. Gandhi (the man), Nehru, all the other Gandhis (starting from Indira and anyone related to that family) are prominent examples. Perhaps “rule by people” happens because “rule by law” is not an option for India given its conditions. I think that rule by law requires knowledge and understanding of what laws are, and appreciation of what the distinction is between laws and people. Unfortunately, too many Indians are illiterate and uneducated. The education system is flawed. But even among those who are literate (and many of whom are even educated), the constitution — the set of rules and meta-rules — is a big fat closed book.

I am fascinated with the phenomenon of personality cults. That explains my fascination with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (SSRS, for short) who has anointed himself as “His Holiness”. I suppose if sufficiently large numbers of people consider you holy, you can wear the “His Holiness” without embarrassment even though you continue to preach humility and service. SSRS matters because understanding the associated personality cult helps explain the fanaticism that motivate people to extreme acts of good and evil. Monotheism is just an example of personality cults taken to an extreme by billions of people. Jesus and Mohammed are personalities whose cult followers basically impede development, not just economic growth.

Freedom is at the core of being a sentient being. Liberation from bondage is what development — personal as well as social — is essentially. Liberation from the tyranny of others is political freedom. That is why I am a liberal. That is why I support freedom of expression. Liberation from the tyranny of the state is economic freedom. That is why I oppose socialism, and support free markets. Liberation from slavery to evil ideologies is human freedom. That is why I oppose monotheism and support the Indic philosophies, particularly Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism.

Economic development is tied to economic policies. They are like recipes. With the same ingredients, you can cook up a fabulous dish or you can cook up something quite unpalatable. It depends on which recipe you use. Recipes are ideas. You don’t have to invent all recipes yourself. You can look and learn from others. Recipes accumulate and they don’t get used up when you use a recipe. I believe that economic growth and development is possible provided we use the right ideas. Determining which ideas are right is difficult for some. Nehru got those wrong and India continues to suffer from his socialistic ideas.

I believe that ideas matter more than objects. Technology is embodied ideas. Technology is ideas made into objects. The greatest change the world has seen of late has occurred in the information and communications technologies (ICT). The tools it has made possible have become accessible to billions of people. Its impact on development will be profoundly transforming — most of it will be for the better. Why ICT matters for development more than other technologies is that ICT transforms the marketplace of ideas. It increases the supply by reducing all sorts of costs related to the generation, storage, transportation, and distribution of ideas. Cost-reducing technological change in competitive markets always implies a reduction in price. Lower prices imply greater quantity consumed. Better ideas in more heads mean greater possibility of good things. Hence development.

A word of thanks

Thanks to all of you who have bothered to read and comment. I do get hate mail from those who find my frankly stated opinion challenge their core beliefs. Mostly they are monotheists and followers of SSRS. But the hate mail is more than compensated for by the emails of support that I get. I hope to continue to be of use in this blog.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

  • http://avadhoot.blogspot.cm avadhoot

    Hi,
    I for one, have immensely enjoyed your blog for more then 2 years now. Thanks for providing your ideas on India’s development.
    And plz keep blogging

  • tombombadil

    That’s 5 years of good work, Mr.Dey. Well done. More than anything else, you give me another perspective on matters close to myheart. Do continue the good work.

    I have read your views on monotheism and religion and so on, and even if I don’t agree with them, I do acknowledge them as consistent and thoughtful. You have, however, remained somewhat silent on atheism. What views do you hold on this subject?

  • http://brahmanisone.blogspot.com Ramakrishna

    Dear Atanu,

    It was a pleasure reading your opinions and perspectives over the years. Being one of the early readers of your blog, I can happily say that your blog helped a lot in my education! I learned a lot, I unlearned a lot and I re-learned a lot.

    Thanks, again and again

    Ramakrishna

  • http://acorn.nationalinterest.in Nitin

    Atanu,

    Congratulations. Now for the next five!

  • http://kalabaaz.com navneet

    Well said Atanu.

    Best of luck with all your efforts as you continue to share your insights.

  • malapati

    Dear Atanu,

    It is always really refreshing to read your thought process. Your blog is the only one I read every post without missing (in fact, I miss reading a newspaper or TV news etc for many days but not this blog).

    Thanks for sharing your perspective,
    Raja

  • Vaidehi

    Congratulations !

    Please do continue to write your non pc thoughts. Your wide exposure and openmindedness bring a certain touch of freshness and originality. Also post more quotes of philosophers and great literary figures. In today’s frenetic pace one hardly gets to hear them.

    We should thank you for letting us express our feelings and opinions right or wrong.

    Glad in a way you mentioned ssrs. As the following by Sandhya Jain sums up similar cults and the myriad problems facing us. She ends it with a touch of hope.

    http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=250&page=36

    Best Wishes !

  • Erodejimmy

    Hi
    Thanks for the good work that you have been doing till this day and keep writing.
    I learnt a lot of things about being good and doing good through you.
    Thanks again for your good work.

  • BytePro

    Dear Atanu,

    It’s been a pleasure to read your posts since there is content, and lots of it. I am no economist, but some simple insights have been accessible courtesy your posts. For instance, that it is supply side competition that matters was an eye opener. Have been a regular reader and hold education issues near to my heart. As you put it, ideas matter more, and the ability to deal with them :-) .

    Thanks for the fun and joy!

    - Abhijat

  • vishu

    Atanu – I echo what Ramakrishna has said.I have learned and unlearned a lot. Many of my opinions have been shaped by your writing. IAfter living in Mumbai I was of the opinion that cities are a disaster to live ,but your writings helped me to understand the need of better cities in India. I have mixed opinions on your take on Monotheism.
    It has been and will remain pleasure reading your blog.
    Vishal

  • http://sudiptachatterjee.blogspot.com sudipta

    Atanu, it has been an immense pleasure reading your blog all this time. Thank you so much for sharing your ideas and thoughts: you have helped me think better as well. Hope you keep writing these brilliant posts for a long long time to come.

  • atlantis

    heartiest congratulations atanu….reading your blog is akin to having fresh coffee in the morning!!! thought provoking ideas written with compelling command of language is your forte!!
    keep up the good work at the sake of being repetitive….
    keep writing !!!!

  • http://www.mobilepundit.com/ vcbothra

    Kudos on reaching this milestone in your blogging journey.

    I think its time to consolidate your dispersed thoughts in a book, which has the potential to reach a wider audience.

    One need not agree with everything you have to say, but there is no denying that you are one of the clearest thinkers who is not afraid to speak out his mind. I believe that no one can accuse you of pseudo/faux thinking.

    Best wishes for the onward journey and hope that you will be motivated to continue writing.

  • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

    Thank you all for your very kind words. Only a few of the above are paid endorsements :)

    (Veerchand Bothra, the check is in the mail.)

    So I guess I will keep blogging. I am working on a very exciting project. I have developed an extremely simple model which attempts to explain why people view the world differently. In a few days I will write a brief introduction to it. Stay tuned.

  • pankaj

    Atanu dey Keep it up best blog about ” Superpower” india.U dont update it as u used to .Thanks

  • mallikarjunasj

    Thanks to your blogging, I could sharpen my concepts about what me and my country needs.
    Please be in writing,

    With Metta,
    Mallikarjuna.

  • http://idlinginc.blogspot.com idlinginc

    Some random thoughts.

    It would be criminally negligent of any person passionate about India not to read this blog. Information is infinite. Needs to be filtered. A lens is required to inspect information. Deeshaa offers both. It gives direction.

    First, do no harm. (monkey and the fish). Good intentions don’t mean anything.

    Rural development is the development of rural people, not rural regions.

    Most critical issues: Energy, Education and Freedom.

    The Future of Energy.

    Standards.

    Importance of criticism.

    Telecom, Transportation, Cities

    Zero Degrees Humanity: Mark of a truly civilized human being is the ability to read a column of numbers and then weep

    Competition for the market cannot replace competition in the market.

    ##########################
    My only beef is with the people who interact with this site.

    (1) Quantity: Quantity is important. It gives a signal, how many people are actually passionate about India. Usually, this is a pretty good indicator whether India would change or not. One man or a few can’t change, a critical mass is required for a tipping point. A few hundred comments for every post is not too much to ask.

    A commenter said, he reads every post and agrees completely, hence does not actively comment. But, that may be true of all blogs.

    (2) Quality: Most commenters don’t read what is being said and just hold on to their strong beliefs. I may be guilty of the same crime. :) I’m not saying that everyone should agree, that would be pointless. One does not hear refreshing and contrarian points of view. Nor does anyone ask the right questions. When we don’t ask the right questions, there is no progress. All scientific progress is by questioning.

  • http://the-redpill.blogspot.com vakibs

    Congratulations on reaching the 5 year milestone :)

    I like your provocative tone, and it definitely inspires debate. Keep going !