Atanu Dey On India's Development

Stupidity at the core of Human Misery

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Today I came across a document which said in part, “Code of ethics to be signed by Every Minister that will prevent them from benefitting during their term in the Government.” I could not but be touched by the naivete of the author. Forget about the poor structure of that statement, but imagine what magical powers that mentality which gave expression to that idea ascribes to oaths!

Think what a world it would be if the mere act of signing a meaningless statement would prevent people from doing what is at the core of their very being.

Did the author even for one moment consider that you cannot make people who are intrinsically bad behave well by forcing them to take an oath? If oaths would work, wouldn’t airport security be a simple affair of making people swear an oath that they will not blow the airplane into smithereens? Wouldn’t that be better than getting the TSA to grope little children and senile old ladies to prevent the Islamic terrorists from mass murder?

The mind really boggles. This epitomizes what is truly wrong with our world. What’s wrong with the world is the extent and pervasiveness of stupidity.

The fact is that people do what is consistent with who they are. You could hand a bazooka to a Buddhist monk boarding a plane with the complete assurance that nothing will go wrong — aside from the hassle of having to put it away in “the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartment.” But even box cutters in the hands of Islamic terrorists can bring down airliners. The lesson is that who you are matters, not what kind of paper you sign.

People who put their heart and soul in gaining political power in banana republics (such as India) are not in that cut-throat business for nothing. They are in it for the moolah — now a days counted in the tens of billions of dollars. They don’t care about the laws of the land. They couldn’t care less about signing a stupid oath. After all, a very large number of them are criminals. They have broken laws by the score. So why would signing a “code of ethics” stay their hand for even one millisecond?

I tell you, against stupidity even the gods struggle in vain. We just don’t have a hope. Squeezed between do-gooder stupid people and the essentially criminal, we are supremely effed.

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  • sriram

    i commend your fast progression… The question is Buddhas/prophets come and go. Large scale stupidity stays :-)
    What does such conclusion lead me to? What action?

    a) Gita has a beautiful sloka: Karmanye …

    OR

    b) get into meditation/fine arts/music/poetry (basically, self indulgence, escape into platonic worlds)

    to become untouched with the suffering

  • Sid

    Sriram,
    You know that is where we have gone wrong in the current millenia. Everytime we have a problem we hide behind the scriptures. Everytime an individual is required to own his responsibilities in the society, he talks about his own nirvana. Nirvana is all good but it would only happen through good karma. Unless you perform good karma and encourage others to do it, how would you get nirvana? If you have a family then your karma also lies in establishing security and livelihood for your family. Clearing corruption as much as possible as a way to achieve it.

  • sriram

    sid

    option a) is neither hiding nor seeking personal nirvana. it calls for action with no expectation (and resulting frustration, if one fails)

    b) is hard to get to, not that its desirable. its like shutting off/hibernation from the reality

    i go with a).

    Ofcourse the cause for suffering can be attributed to many reasons and people differ. you attribute it to corruption and I attribute it to overpopulation. i dont want to fight over it. whatever it could be, one can still *act* to mitigate the issue.

  • http://www.currentintelligence.net/subcontinental Eric Randolph

    Hi Atanu,
    Unrelated to this post but I’m a recent discovery of your blog and loving it.
    I was wondering what books you would recommend to someone trying to learn about the current state of the Indian economy and the extent to which growth has (or hasn’t) been spread across the classes. Maybe not necessarily just from the Indian perspective, although that’s what I’m most interested in.
    Thanks and keep up the great work!
    Eric

    • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for your kind words about my blog. You write,

      I was wondering what books you would recommend to someone trying to learn about the current state of the Indian economy and the extent to which growth has (or hasn’t) been spread across the classes.

      I have replied to that in a blog post today. Please see “Books about the Current State of the Indian Economy.”

      Atanu

      PS: Loknath, thanks to all the book recommendations and the link to Panagariya’s paper.

  • TiredProf

    @sriram: The problem is overpopulation, and you want to act on it without expectations. If you have a plan other than drunken snipeshooting, let us know.

  • Sriram

    @tiredProf: I do not have a solution for it. Not having a solution does not mean the problem has to be different?

  • TiredProf

    @sriram: You said “a) … calls for action with no expectation … i go with a).” And then you said “I do not have a solution for it.” I am confused how one can act without having a solution. But, quibbles apart, I completely agree with you: Without stabilizing and educating the population, nothing else in India will improve at any significant scale.

  • Loknath

    Eric, I dont think there is any authoritative book by any single author…though many india loving professionals have written quite a lot on India and what was wrong with it and the path to future. “India Unbound” by Gurcharan Das, “Imagining India” by Nandan Nilekani are 2 good accounts of Indias growth story in way that evinces optimism and at he same time tyring to be point blank at leaders who were self-professed gods for a vast majority of people. and also a goood narrative of the impediments..social, political and policy making. But I guess India’s growth story is a result of pent-up demand coming from certain class who were educated but deprived of goods and services for too long and some mutiplier effect hence trickling down. The real development is yet to come. India if fully liberalised can grow at 20% per annum not accouting for the black economy that in India is probably 10 times the accounted for economy…in other words most per capita statistics of income, is definately on the much lower side.

  • Loknath

    Eric, Here is a list I found from the blog http://www.indianeconomy.org.

    I have read some of them, and not all of them talk of India’s growth story as in economic growth but reading some of them would definately give you an independent idea of what would Indias growth story be like. I would recommend viz. “India” by Khushwant Singh, “Inspite of the Gods” by Ed Luce, “India Unbound” by Gurcharan Das, “Imagining India” by Nandan Nilekani. Also check works of Ramachandra Guha. V S Naipaul, Willaim Darlymple, Amartya Sen, APJ Kalam-Wings of Fire, Arvind Panagariya -an econ prof at chicago gsb, freedom at midnight by Dominiqie Lapierre etc who wrote some of the brilliant and fresh India-centric stuff as opposed to the drab, lost-in-the-past-glory sort of books by the leaders of the nation like jawaharlal nehru whose existence the new age informed india abhors incl. this blog from Atanu who time and again wrote on how and why this man was the worst leader India has and why everything went from bad to worse since then.

  • Loknath

    Hi Eric, you may find this 11 chapter report on Indian economy published by Govt of India. You can note chapter 2 on inclusive growth which indeed is a seriou concern.

    http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2009-10/chapt2010/chapter.zip

    The past 2 decade growth in India and its benefits are definately not inclusive as I mentioned above. ONLY those who were educated and somehow survived through nehruvian institutional employment in an engineered economy of shortages till the mid 90′s are the ones who cashed on this opportunity. A sprikling of growith in rural India that has always been way poorer in all respects vis a vis urban India, has managed to corner some money because of the real estate boom where agricultural land got them 1000 times than the money it cost them.. in some cases much more than that.but here again the “informed” people made more cuts. These informed people are local elected leaders and politicians of India as it is rural india that decides who will form the government.

  • Loknath

    Here’s a good one from Professor Arvind Panagariya, “India in the 80′s and 90′s: The triumph of reforms”

    http://129.3.20.41/eps/it/papers/0403/0403005.pdf

  • Kaffir

    Atanu, you’ve mentioned elsewhere that “against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.”

    Since you’ve established that there is much stupidity in India (and in the world), and that even gods themselves fail against stupidity, what would you call your behavior of railing against this stupidity? Logical and rational thinking says to do your own thing instead of wasting your time and energy to fight this stupidity.

    So, are you indulging in the same behavior that you accuse others of?

  • sriram

    @t_prof:
    yes it calls for a bit of explanation.
    the way i look at it: Given that this complex System has degenerated, there is an immense room for improvement. Root cause typically is just one and which if addressed, can probably address the problem in long term.

    At the same time I do agree that short term measures are needed which one could contemplate about and act. the short term measures will not address the overpopulation but more aimed to bring more people to level playing field (by education, by developing critical reasoning skills etc). All at grass root levels. or at a level to achieve a critical mass to trigger a chain reaction?
    just pipe dreams? could be.

    but any action can only be in expectation of no tangible returns to self (ofcourse, apart from personal satisfaction) most actions will have to go through evolution process for improved efficacy

    Please note that overpopulation is an outcome of personal *Root Cause Analysis* based on personal capacity to critical reasoning. i am open to debate/correct myself.

    PS: it will be good to take it offline and as i sought earlier, you could email me sriramb12 at gmailDotcom to save the forum from 1-1 discussions

  • larissa

    Eric,
    A glance at simple statistics, such as how many Indians go to college, how many have an education that extends beyond high school, and whether the colleges and schools that people do attend meet up with international standards, the poverty levels in India, child mortality rates and other human development figures should tell you the true tale of India. This is the kind of thing that one would have to do on one’s own, as the books coming out of India in the English print media are mostly not worth reading. Also try to hang out with people in rural India and not middle class India employed in computer technology and business and government service. You will easily see the magnitude of India’s problems. It is easy to see that life in India is mostly hellish if anything and its future is grim if things do not change in a drastic way…
    Moreover, it has been like that for centuries now…at least for the “average” Indian, whether it be under the Muslims, under the British or under the Congress government (you just see the glaring corruption now because the financial figures are staggering, but it has been going on since Congress took power).
    And while economics is a way to understand some facts about India, economics will not alone tell you what is wrong there…Indeed, trying to subsume everything under “economics” is a modern fallacy…

  • larissa

    Eric,
    Also realize that there is little going on in the way of original thinking in India. Most of what is written on India these days at least in the English print media, is just worth tossing away (save yourself the pain and trouble to read such books), as most of the Indian writers on India merely mirror what Westerners think on India, and the most superficial Western thinking at that. As Naipaul said “The most important judgments on an Indian book continue to be imported” which sums it up for me. There are some good Indian historians on India–most of these books are politically incorrect and eye openers…As for economics, one just has to look up simple statistics for oneself to get a true picture…Human development index and so on and a familiarity of life in rural India, the more backward areas…

  • larissa

    above “the most important judgments of an Indian book continue to be imported…”not “on”–

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  • http://www.currentintelligence.net/subcontinental Eric Randolph

    Hi guys,

    I want to thank you all for your responses regarding books on economics.
    I’m tempted to avoid books by mega-rich businessmen and there does appear to be something of a gap in the market when it comes to a recent, comprehensive and balanced overview of the Indian economy. Bibek Debroy suggested Arvind Panagariya’s Emerging Giant and since his name has cropped up here as well, I might start with that.

    I’m currently researching the Naxalites so my main concern is to step away from the cavalcade of screeching left-wing rhetoric with which I am daily inundated and try to really understand what all this sudden surge of money is doing to India, which I’m guessing is far more complicated than the cliches of both the right and left.

    One book I heard about the other day which I’m hoping to pick up is One Illness Away: Why People Become Poor and How They Escape Poverty by Anirudh Krishna. There was a piece in the NYT the other day about it, using the statistic that in Andhra – 14% of people have been lifted over the poverty line in the last decade, but 12% have fallen below it, which is a small indication of that complexity.

    Anyway, a huge thank you for all your responses. Very helpful,
    Speak soon,
    Eric

  • loknath

    Eric,

    Not discouraging you in any manner, I must caution you that you should resist the temptation of believing in any media and govt. reports on naxalites and naxalism and the historical cited reasons. Naxalities or more appropriate word being “factionists” are born out of a perceived differentiation and neglect in a society where only a certain section of people flourished, thus lending a belief that the latter’s elected representatives have wielded more influence and power to further only their cause at the expense of the children of “lesser gods”. What added fuel to this fire is pandering by the opportunistic politicians aka congress and its allies who have covertly and overtly encouraged their rebellion, lent them a false sympathy for electoral gains, financed their arms and ammunition and turned a blind eye to their destructive indulgences likes setting ablaze buses, blasting railway tracks, loot, murder of policemen and civilizations, raping of minors, butchering children and women and large scale arson. There is absolutely nothing more to it. Almost all factionists or rebels or Maoists (as some leftists honorably accost them) now constitute decisive vote banks to the representatives who enjoy good “relations” with their kin and hence are priced properties of parties likes congress and cpim and they don’t dare displease them. Some Marxist leaders have gone so far to publicly acknowledge the shared concerns and “exploitation” of Maoists and NO ONE dared oppose such a conduct as her party is an powerful ally of the UPA Govt. in power led by the same nehru-ghandy dynasty. These days naxalities are routinely used for organized coercion, abduction, murders and horse trading, threatening the voters to vote for xyz leader. There is lot of money coming in.. some say from China and Pakistan too and I assume you understand how nice are neighbors of India. This complicates the issue further.

  • loknath

    Also to give a picture that is vastly different from what is reported, esp. measures of poverty and other measures of developments, I must again caution you not to trust this in entirity. These statistics come from primary data as reported in surveys and census and the “poor” have always been told to “lie” about their incomes, #children, farm ownership education etc in a way that converys a dismal picture so that they continue to be beneficiaries of various pro-poor, pro-votes schemes doled out by the ex-chequer. Dont be surprised if you spot a rich farmer flashing Rolex watch queuing up for $2 a day in the national rural employment guarantee scheme. I have seen this first hand. These are not exceptions. To put this more directly, rural india is the hot bed of corruption. you can corrupt anyone with few hundred rupees and constitute the biggest bunch of bigots in the world.