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.
Actually nobody “won” any Nobel prize in anything ever. Nobody wins a Nobel prize in anything simply because “to win” implies a contest that participants engage in. Nobel prizes — and other prizes of that nature such as the Indian “Bharat Ratna” — are awarded to certain people or institutions based on the judgement of a select group of people. This process of selecting an awardee is more subjective than say the process by which we decide who won the 100-meter dash in the Olympics in 2004 because in the latter uninvolved bystanders can agree whether or not Charlie crossed the finish line ahead of the other sprinters. In the case of Nobel prizes, people outside the selection committee can — and do — disagree with the judgement of the committee. Continue Reading →
Human societies are rule-based. Rules not just define human societies but rules also differentiate between societies. Sufficiently large collectives of of people (say 100,000 or more) are indistinguishable in terms of their endowments because we all belong to the same species and we are just random draws from the same gene pool with minor variations. IF that is so, then what’s the origin of the inequality we observe in the wealth of nations? Why is Burundi not as wealthy as Sweden? The answer is that different societies follow different sets of rules, and the outcomes differ. Out of all the rules, norms, customs and traditions of a people, the formalized high-level set of rules is called the constitution.
In the following piece, co-authored with Rajesh Jain, I argue that India needs a new constitution. It was published today in Quartz. Here it is, for the record. Continue Reading →
A couple of quotes related to violence and development.
“. . . all societies must deal with the problem of violence. In most developing countries, individuals and organizations actively use or threaten to use violence to gather wealth and resources, and violence has to be restrained for development to occur. In many societies the potential for violence is latent: organizations generally refrain from violence in most years, but occasionally find violence a useful tool for pursuing their ends. These societies live in the shadow of violence, and they account for most of human history and for most of today’s world population. Social arrangements deter the use of violence by creating incentives for powerful individuals to coordinate rather than fight.”
Source: In the Shadow of Violence: Politics, Economics, and the Problems of Development. Edited by Douglass C. North, et al. Cambridge Univ Press 2013.
“Political development occurs when people domesticate violence, transforming coercion from a means of predation into a productive resource. Coercion becomes productive when it is employed not to seize or to destroy wealth, but rather to safeguard and promote its creation.”
Source: Prosperity and Violence: The Political Economy of Development. Robert H. Bates. (2001)
When a fist fight breaks out between two people, the first step is to immediately separate the two combatants. Bystanders quickly pull the fighters apart and effectively stop the escalation of violence. This action is prompted by intuition and basic common sense. If two people can’t ever get along, it makes no sense in forcing them to be in each other’s faces. This idea that people who cannot get along should be separate is not exactly quantum mechanics. But somehow it seems that the great celebrated Mr Mohandas Gandhi could not — or would not — understand it. His one-time friend and fellow Congress leader, and later the leader of the All India Muslim League, Mr Mohammed Ali Jinnah, understood that idea very well. Clearly Jinnah was intellectually superior to Gandhi (which, I hasten to add, does not elevate Jinnah’s intelligence very much) and certainly more rational.
Long time since we had an open thread. So say what you will. Today’s quote is by Walter Lippmann (1889 – 1974), the celebrated American writer, political commentator and journalist. I am currently reading his book The Good Society (1937). A brief quote below the fold. Continue Reading →
Oh what a circus, oh what a show. Silicon Valley NRIs have gone to town. Over the visit of the Indian PM Narendra Modi.
Thousands have gathered in the SAP Center in San Jose, CA, to hear the great man speak. A lot of self-congratulatory speeches will be made, and the successes of NRIs in the US recounted. There is only one truth that will not be mentioned: that all these NRIs are in the US because they voted with their feet. They voted with their feet and came to the US because of what India is. This fact should actually shame Indians and its leaders. But instead they are oblivious to its implications. And it will be a cold day in hell when Indian leaders will ask themselves, these questions: “Why is it that so many hundreds of thousands of Indians vote with their feet? Why do they create wealth for themselves and for those foreign lands instead of creating wealth in India? Could it be because in India the government of India has put massive barriers to the creation of wealth?”
Dear PM Modi, when the circus is over, when the performers have done their song and dance, when the photos have been taken, when the NRIs have all patted themselves on a great event they made possible, do ponder the simple question of why are there so many NRIs? Because there is another phrase that describes these NRIs — economic refugees and economic migrants. When will India be such a place that there will be very few NRIs to welcome Indian politicians in foreign countries?
I don’t mean to rain on the parade but those questions need some attention if not a response.
Governments of successful economies don’t create large corporations.
The economic prosperity of a country is usually the consequence of the economic freedom that its citizens have. Entrepreneurs create a large number of small enterprises. Some of these grow up to become giant globe-spanning multinationals not because of government largesse but because some of those small enterprises created value for its customers and grew organically as more people found its goods and services worth buying.
Google, Facebook, etc etc, were not conjured up by some politician, or a bureaucracy, or through government diktat, or any “Make in India” type marketing campaign. For large corporations to grow in India, what is needed is an environment that is conducive to the small enterprise. This will of course not happen because there’s little hoopla one can engage in by freeing the little guy. Continue Reading →
Four days ago, Tuesday, I was in NJ. It was the end of a very hectic East coast visit. I returned the rental car around 9 AM. I had put around 1,500 miles (about 2,500 kms) on it doing trips to Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. The Hyundai Elantra was comfortable and spacious but it handled turns rather uncertainly. Could have been due to the tires but it could also be because I am used to a firmer suspension on my Saab 9-3. Anyhow, the rest of the day was spent in transit from Newark NJ to San Jose CA on Southwest Airlines. The layover was in Austin TX, a city famous for its music (Austin City Limits).
Upon arrival late evening, I got to know that Yogi Berra had passed away that day in Caldwell NJ. Although I have no interest in baseball, I had always loved “Yogi Berra-isms”. Indeed, I consider knowing them as part of a complete American education. In the final exams I set for econ courses I have taught, I always included one bonus question for extra points: “What is your favorite Yogi Berra-ism?” I kid you not. Continue Reading →
Prime Minister Modi is visiting the SF Bay area this weekend. Entreaties to “Make in India” will echo all around. Sadly, little attention has been given to why Indians themselves are unable to make in India, or even make it in India. Indians make it anywhere except in India. Particularly, Indians make it in the US. They are immensely successful as entrepreneurs and as top level managers in major corporations in the US. Why?
I wrote this in February earlier this year. Here it is, for the record. Continue Reading →
My little visit to the East coast — which started very early in the morning of Thursday Sept 10th — ended when I arrived at San Jose on Tuesday 22nd night around 9 PM. I had an exciting visit which included a great deal of going places, meeting people, giving talks and generally having a good time. My colleague, Rajesh Jain from Mumbai, and I met lots of new people and discussed the work that we propose to do. I am sure that I will be writing about that in future blog posts. Right now, I am going to generally ramble on, a stream of consciousness kind of reporting. Continue Reading →
I am going to be in the East coast — NYC, Edison NJ, Boston, Washington DC, and Philadelphia — over the next two weeks. I am making a couple of presentations at the Global Dharma Conference in Edison NJ. My presentations are on Sunday 13th Sept. Aside from that, my colleague Rajesh Jain and I will be traveling to meet people, visit institutions and universities such as George Mason University, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, MIT etc. I may even go visit the Brookhaven National Labs in Long Island for a bit.
Blogging, which is any case very slim, will get even sparser. Be well, go good work and keep in touch.
From Prager University: Was the Constitution written in a way that was designed to protect freedom and limit the government’s size? Has it been effective in doing that? And what’s the Supreme Court’s record when it comes to protecting our rights? Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, answers these questions and more.
Sure, Indians are better known for being high-powered CEOs in foreign corporations than Pakistanis. Pakistanis tend to specialize more in the “peaceful” pursuits of high-powered terrorism, which is consistent with the fact that Pakistan is built on the peaceful foundation of the Religion of Peace. So naturally Pakistanis spread peace around the world.
As the population of the Religion of Peace grows in any place, it becomes more peaceful. In time, peace finally reigns. Syria is getting more peaceful by the day, to the point that people cannot take any more peace and are fleeing Syria. Heartbreaking stories of people drowning is merely the froth on a deep ocean of peace.
Enough of the Religion of Peace.
Time to once again ponder the question. Indians are obviously not incapable or stupid. So why are so many forced to migrate out of India to become successful? What’s it about India that Indians find it hard to be successful in India?
I have been poking around in The Federalist Papers recently. Written between October 1787 and August 1788, they are “a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution.” Fascinating stuff. (The complete collection is here at the Library of Congress.) Here’s a bit from James Madison, Federalist, no. 39, on the matter of what a republic is:
. . . we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behaviour. It is essential to such a government, that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic.
Let’s remember that this was written around 1788. That over 225 years ago!
Indian politicians talk a very loudly talk about India being a democracy, meaning Indians have some say in what happens in India. But when it comes to reality, they are understandably reluctant to put their money where their mouth is. Indian democracy should not be limited to Indians merely having the vote for choosing who is going to be their mai-baap, to dictate to them. To be meaningful, democracy should be extended to the relatively unimportant matter of people deciding who are worthy of being honored by having major roads, schemes and institutions named after them.
So far, most of the major roads, institutions and public schemes have been named after members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. It’s high time to change that high-handed, dictatorial method and go with a more “democratic” process. The means exist. A significant proportion of the population has the means to vote for all proposed name changes — and there’s a crying need to change all those names. Here’s my proposal. Continue Reading →
The proposed renaming of “Aurangzeb Road” into “Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road” is doubtless an improvement. It marks a welcome transition from honoring an ancient terrible tyrant to honoring a contemporaneous much-admired administrator who passed away very recently. It could be better but one should be grateful for small mercies in an otherwise merciless world.
I briefly noted in my previous post (“Renaming Aurangzeb Road: The Tyrant“) the tyranny of Aurangzeb. Here I will consider why I believe that we could do better than renaming the road after Mr Kalam. I don’t harbor any illusions that my views will be taken seriously by anybody, least of all the hordes of “Dr” Kalam fans whose first knee-jerk reaction to my characterization of Mr Kalam is name-calling. A thick skin is the first requirement for being a contrarian. I wouldn’t get in the business of calling bullshit if I couldn’t tolerate the reaction from the purveyors of bullshit. Continue Reading →
Though not unique in that respect, India does appear to suffer from a severely debilitating case of personality cult disorder. It is not a minor affliction because, as I will argue later in a separate post, it leads to serious social, economic, and political dysfunction. The condition is chronic but thankfully it is not incorrigible. A little bit of critical thinking among the public at large can eradicate the disease and with it the harmful consequences. Among the many symptoms of this disorder, particularly evident ones are the naming of roads and a variety of institutions after rulers and politicians (which amounts to the same thing.) It can escape no one’s attention that names of the Nehru-Gandhi clan adorn thousands of roads, institutions, and public schemes in India. I conjecture that a list of institutions and schemes not bearing one of those clan member names would be shorter than a list with their names. Continue Reading →
One of my favorites, Beethoven’s 9th symphony is his final complete symphony. Composed between 1822 and 1824, it is considered to be his finest and some even think that it is the greatest composition in the Western classical music canon. In the final movement of the choral symphony, the chorus sings the words to Friedrich Schiller’s poem “An die Freude” (composed 1785). Beethoven conducted the symphony when it premiered. He was totally deaf by that time and so he had to see the ovation that followed, rather than hear it. Continue Reading →