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.