Sunday, December 31, 2006

Allen Orr is disappointed with Richard Dawkins

H. Allen Orr reviews some god books including "The God Delusion" by Richars Dawkins here. It is a free access article. Orr is clearly disappointed.
In my opinion, H. Allen Orr is one of the best reviewers of science related books and has written some nice articles himself. Here is a link to some of his articles and reviews. Some more appeared in the New York Review of Books but not all of them are free access articles.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Recent news from

Sujatha wins Ramanujam prize :
Sujatha was educated in India and has been with the institute (TIFR)since 1985. While she does not think that being a woman has hindered her career, she believes that scientific policies could be more sensitive to the problems that women face.
The US$10,000 prize — named after the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan — was set up last year by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, to strengthen science in developing countries.

Research opportunities for scientists from developing countries:
For the first time, researchers in developing countries will be able to apply for European funding under nearly the same terms as European researchers, as opposed to a limited amount of funding for earmarked projects.
The first round of calls for the European Union's US$69 billion Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) will be announced on 22 December.

About Indian IT industry :
India's IT industry is not as successful as it seems and other countries should think carefully before following suit, writes Athar Osama.
In 2003, for example, India claimed to have exported US$8.7 billion worth of software, most of which went to the United States. But US companies recorded just US$420 million worth of software imports from India — a remarkable 20-fold difference.

The GAO believes that this huge inconsistency arises, in part, from India misreporting financial data. For instance, India counts the earnings of all temporary workers in the United States as part of their exports figures. But this is against universally-accepted financial disclosure conventions suggested by the International Monetary Fund. The result is a gross over-representation of Indian software exports.

And many other interesting items. You can register for free updates at
UPDATE 1: Professor Madhukar Shukla has given the link to another article studying the discrepancies in IT figures.
UPDATE 2: Please see Professor Shukla's post on this topic

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Rational Fool quotes from Upanishads

The Rational Fool has an interesting post about Ravi Shastri's travails after commenting on his beef-eating. The quote from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad goes as follows:

VI-iv-18: He who wishes that a son should be born to him who would be a reputed scholar, frequenting the assemblies and speaking delightful words, would study all the Vedas and attain a full term of life, should have rice cooked with the meat of a vigorous bull or one more advanced in years, and he and his wife should eat it with clarified butter. Then they would be able to produce such a son.

The links are in the post. There is also link in the comments to an article in The Guardian which says that according to a poll in UK, 82 percent see religion as a cause of division and tension. The poll also reveals that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain by almost two to one. I hope that these surveys indicate the correct state of affairs.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dhyan Chand's autobiography

is available online at
It starts with the famous words "You are doubtless aware that I am a common man...." on Madhukar Shukla

It seems that I am not the only one who likes Madhukar Shukla's AlternatePerspective. From
These numbers were brought to my attention by Madhukar Shukla, a professor of strategic management at Xavier Labour Relations Institute in Jamshedpur, India. Shukla's blog, Alternative Perspective, just jumped to the top of the India department of my blogreader with his thoughtful inside-the-numbers look at the startling contrast between export wealth and starving children.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Some American views on globalization

Greg Mankiw
links to this article by senators Byron Dorgan and Sherrod Brown. Excerpt:
We must insist that all trade agreements have labor, environmental and other protections so that American workers can compete on a level playing field. Trade agreements must also be reciprocal. The American market is the most desirable in the world. Every country wants access to it. That gives us a great deal of leverage, if only we'd use it. Barriers to U.S. products overseas should not be tolerated.

Free-trade agreements have protected drug companies, international investors and Hollywood films, yet failed to protect our communities, our workers and our environment.

Mark Thoma links to this post . Excerpt:
Or consider trade-opening agreements. They give Americans access to more low-cost products and services from abroad. This makes Americans’ dollars go further. But the agreements especially benefit the rich, who spend more than the middle class and the poor because they have more income to spend. The agreements also typically impose a burden on working-class Americans who thereby lose their jobs to foreigners. These job losers get new jobs, but studies show the new jobs pay 10 to 15 percent less than the old ones. Even if you assume that access to cheaper goods from abroad adds about 10 to 15 percent to their purchasing power, these working-class wage earners come out about even, at best. That means the overall result of most trade agreements is to widen inequality. Do the efficiency benefits of trade outweigh this result? Maybe a decade ago when inequality was less pronounced. Probably not, now.

From a project (Executive summary here ) sponsored by Democratic Leadership Council:

While public attitudes are complex and sometimes can appear contradictory, this report finds that the challenge for America’s leaders is clear: In the global era, American voters are waiting for a leader and party that can explain how globalization can be made to work for everyone. We began this work with few preconceptions. We knew from other studies that everyday Americans are feeling new pressures on themselves and their families. We found that these everyday pressures have created stark divisions among voters. Some voters look forward to seizing the opportunities offered by globalization, others are most concerned by the loss of economic security and the rapid pace of change. Many Americans hold seemingly conflicting feelings about globalization. They may simultaneously have concerns about lost income and lost job security, but still express a positive overall sense about globalization reflecting our national optimism and competitive spirit. Successful national leadership will address both the concerns about rising insecurity and the hopes felt by most voters.

Links December 26, 2006

After browsing through some of the standard economic blogs, I tried to see whether there are some new age economists and found the names Paul Ormerod and Brian Arthur in the book “Tumbling Dice” by the Australian journalist Brian Toohey.
Excerpts from an interview with
Brian Arthur.:

-- a great deal of economics is done the way it is done for analytical convenience. It is not just that the framework has become, as I said, so persuasive that economists don't feel that they need to look outside anywhere near as much. It is also that the framework itself is 50 percent an approximation to reality and 50 percent analytical self-convenience.

But we're facing a danger that economics is rigorous deduction based upon faulty assumptions. Science after science gets that way from time to time. When it does, we're in real trouble.
: The Libertarians are upset because I'm saying that the invisible hand is not perfect. Indeed, the invisible hand is a little bit arthritic. It's pretty good, but it's slightly less than perfect. I think we need to grow up and recognize this.

Excerpts from another interview which may be relevant to India here .:

These are interesting, especially India. But none are large enough—not even India yet—to make much of a difference.
But a lead in science and in the innovations based on science takes a really long time to build up. You can’t just put in government funding and accomplish this in a decade. Advanced technology comes out of a very deep understanding of the theory and grammar of certain scientific phenomena. It took a huge amount of understanding of quantum physics to produce the laser for example (which lies at the heart of modern telecommunications). And similarly it takes a lot of understanding to translate these scientific understandings into technologies. This sort of understanding can’t just be lifted
from data or knowledge published in technical journals. What counts in these areas is knowing what methods work and what ones don’t, how exactly to “cook” the thing, what ways help to cut through obstacles, and what new directions to pursue next. This sort of expertise is no more easily transferable than is Cordon Bleu cooking. It is a craft—a collection of knowings—of hundreds of particular methods and details. As a craft it resides implicitly in people’s minds and over time, over years, it builds up within small groups in particular high-tech labs and in particular localities. The result is that once a region or a country gets ahead in a set of specific advanced technologies it becomes hard to challenge. I am not saying that other countries don’t have advanced science. I am saying that because of its deep understandings of the sciences behind genomics and proteomics and nanotech, the U.S. is well placed to lead in these new technologies and in the industries they will create.

Seems to be a sort of new age person from this interview ,
and story of a spat with Krugman .
Here is an article which features both Ormerod and Brian Arthur .
And Ormerod on Milton Friedman: here.

These bring me to a recent post by Madhukar Shukla. One wonders whether the sort of problems which MS mentions need thinking about the existing social structures and cultures discussed by Brian Arthur above.
Kuffir has given several links to farmers’ problems in the comments to my post “Why cotton prices are falling?” here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Science breakthroughs of the year

Science Magazine's list of the science breakthroughs of the year 2006 is led by Perelman's solution of the Poincare conjecture and is available here (December 22, 2006 issue):
It also has a list of areas to watch in 2007.
Weirdest science storiesof 2006 according to are available here:

Why are cotton prices falling?

Off and on there have been discussions in this and other blogs( for example, and about the effects of globalization on Indian farmers. It emerged from the discussions that Indian Govt., various state governments, regional rivalries, spurious seeds and greedy merchants are at least partly to blame. But there was no clear discussion of how prices are fixed. I keep seeing various reports like the following that indicate globalization has effect on prices. From

"Why are cotton prices falling?

Since 1994, international prices have fallen and domestic prices reflect this depression. It was $1.10 for one pound of cotton in 1994 [Rs.2,500 a quintal]. It fell to 40 cents a pound. Today, it is 54 cents a pound [Rs.1,800 a quintal]. Between 1997 and 2003, we imported 110 lakh bales of cotton. The import tariff is only 10 per cent. Textile mills that export yarn do not even have to pay this tariff.

Our political leaders say farmers should compete in the free market and not rely on the government. But, it is not a free market. The prices in the international market are low right now because contries like the U.S. and China give subsidies to their cotton farmers. In the U.S., 20,000 cotton farmers get $4.7 billion in subsidies. China gives Rs. 900 a quintal to its farmers, that is, half the price. How can our farmers compete? That is why they are committing suicide.

Our government should at least intervene to ensure that the prices of cotton lint do not fall below Rs. 80 a kg. Then farmers will be assured of a price of Rs.2,700 to Rs.3,000 a quintal. It does not implement this policy because it is under pressure from the mill lobby, which imports cheap, subsidised cotton."

See also and two earlier posts of Madhukar Shukla mentioned in the article. Again, this is all for my own reference since earlier there was a query as to how American subsidies can affect prices in India.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Links Dec. 20, 2006

Neweconomist blog on Mixed Joys of Privatization
Government's natural advantage is in raising money cheaply. The private sector's is in running organisations efficiently. Public-private ventures should capitalise on these core strengths, with the government raising the money - perhaps via bonds, as Ken Livingstone has suggested - and the private sector partner running the operation. This makes economic and fiscal sense - but has the key failing of not taking government capital spending 'off the books'.

and Wal-Mart in India
After abandoning disastrous forays in South Korea and Germany, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is coming to India. The opportunity is no doubt sizzling, though if Wal-Mart is not careful, it might end up making a hash of it...

Mark Liberman in
Language Log

This reinforces my conclusion that in today's public discourse, science is treated not as a search for the truth, but as source of edifying fables.

More by Liberman on
Science stories

As I've watched the reaction to Louann Brizendine's book over the past few months, I've concluded that "scientific studies" like these have taken over the place that bible stories used to occupy. It's only fundamentalists like me who worry about whether they're true. For most people, it's only important that they're morally instructive.

John Quiggin on
Stern Report
and David Maddison on
Stern Report
New York Times on
Sleeping Over It

Sreesanth's jig

See Dilip D'souza's blog.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sir Nick's new job

"Sir Nicholas Stern is to become the first holder of the IG Patel Chair at the London School of Economics and Political Science, heading a new India Observatory within the LSE's Asia Research Centre. Subject to clearance under the business appointment rules in the normal way, Sir Nicholas will take up this appointment on 1 June. His successor as Head of the Government Economic Service will be announced in due course."

Monday, December 18, 2006

How the poor live

Stumbling and Mumbling

What exactly does it mean to live on a dollar a day? Here's a fascinating
that tells us, by drawing on evidence from 13 countries. Some highlights:

1. "The average person living at under $1 a day does not seem to put every available penny into buying more calories...Food typically represents from 56 to 78% [of household spending]."
Despite this, hunger is common. Among the extremely poor in Udaipur, only 57% said their household had enough to eat in the previous year, and 72% report at least one symptom of disease.
2. "The poor generally do not compain about their health - but then they do not complain about life in general. While the poor certainly feel poor, their levels of self-reported happiness or health are not particularly low."
3. Spending on festivals - religious ceremonies, funerals and weddings - is high. In Udaipur, median spending on these by people living on $1 a day was 10% of income.
4. In several countries, the extremely poor spend about 5% of income on alcohol and tobacco.
5. In the Ivory Coast, 14% of people on $1 a day have a TV - and 45% of those on $2 a day have one.
6. Many of the extremely poor get income from more than one source. Cultivating their own land is not always the main source of income.
7. Participation in microfinance is not as high as you'd think. The poor seem unable to reap economies of scale, therefore.

An excerpt from the paper (which tallies with some of my observations):

Walking down the main street of the biggest slum in the medium sized Southern Indian
city of Guntur at nine in the morning, the first thing one notices are the eateries: In front of every sixth house that directly faced the road, by our count, there was a woman sitting behind a little kerosene stove with a round cast-iron griddle roasting on it. Every few minutes someone would walk up to her and order a dosa, the rice and beans pancakes that almost everyone eats for breakfast in South India. She would throw a cupful of the batter on the griddle, swirl it around to cover almost the entire surface and drizzle some oil around the edges. A minute or two later, she would slide an off-white pock-marked pancake off the griddle, douse it in some sauce, fold it in a newspaper or a banana leaf and hand it to her client, in return for a rupee.
When we walked back down that same street an hour later, the women were gone. We
found one inside her house, filling her daughter’s plate with lunch that she had cooked while making the dosas. She told us that later that day, she was going out to vend her saris, the long piece of decorative cloth that Indian women drape around themselves. She gets plain nylon saris from the shop and stitches beads and small shiny pieces on them, and once a week, she takes them from house to house, hoping that women would buy them to wear on special occasions. And they do buy them, she said confidently. All the other dosa women we met that day had a similar story: once they are done frying dosas, they do something else. Some collect trash; others make pickles to sell; others work as laborers.

At somewhat higher income levels, I have seen similar things. Women folk bringing sarees from cities and traveling round villages selling them to augment husbands' salaries.
There is also a discussion of the above paper of Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo in

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I often misspell (forget tense, punctuation etc. My excuse is that I studied in a Telugu medium school and have been mostly doing mathematics) and miss the misspelt letters even after a few checks.It seems that spelling may not be that important. Here is a post from the evolotionary-psycholgy group:

Try to read this. I'm sure you can....very interesting.

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too
Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe can.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it.

I could read this at normal reading speed, which seems just a little absurd.

Posted by
Robert Karl Stonjek (Thanks Gene Johnson)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

No politics in economics?

From an interview with David Card;
I've subsequently stayed away from the minimum wage literature for a number of reasons. First, it cost me a lot of friends. People that I had known for many years, for instance, some of the ones I met at my first job at the University of Chicago, became very angry or disappointed. They thought that in publishing our work we were being traitors to the cause of economics as a whole.

Mark Thoma

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Two of 'Ankuram' organizers

ANKURAM is an organization in the twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad which helps girls from the ages of 3-17 with education and professional skills.

'Ankuram' children

Interesting post on Abdus Salam

Pl. see
for an interesting article on Abdus Salam and very interesting comments and links in the comments ( see the links in saima nasir's comments to articles by Parvez Hoodbhoy).
Pakistan’s space research agency Suparco was created by him and it is only symbolic that a group of Shia workers of Suparco were put to death in Karachi in 2004 by sectarian terrorists. Like Dr Salam, a lot of gifted Shia doctors have had to leave Pakistan because of the state’s twisted policies.

Dr Abdus Salam got his Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979. It was a most embarrassing moment for General Zia who had ‘supplemented’ the Second Amendment to the constitution with further comic disabilities against the Ahmedis. He had to welcome the great scientist and had to be seen with him on TV. Since the clerical part of his government was already bristling, he took care to clip those sections of Dr Salam’s speech where he had said the kalima or otherwise used an Islamic expression. It was Dr Salam’s good luck that one of the believers did not go to court under Zia’s own laws to get the country’s only Nobel laureate sent to prison for six months of rigorous imprisonment. Dr Salam then went to India where he was received with great fanfare. He had gone there to simply meet his primary school mathematics teacher who was still alive. When the two met, Dr Salam took off his Nobel medal and put it around the neck of his teacher.

One wonders why in spite of many new research institutes in India, where some of the elite ones have facilities comparable with the best in the west and with light teaching and relative job security, India has not been able to produce scientists of the calibre of C.V.Raman, S.N.Bose, Meghnath Saha, R.C. Bose, C.R. Rao (just to mention a few trained in India). In Pakistan,this article indicates the problems. It may be much more difficult to analyze the Indian situation; after all Vedic mathematics has not been a great success.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More University-Industry links

From Guardian :
Sir Richard Doll, the celebrated epidemiologist who established that smoking causes lung cancer, was receiving a consultancy fee of $1,500 a day in the mid-1980s from Monsanto, then a major chemical company and now better known for its GM crops business.

While he was being paid by Monsanto, Sir Richard wrote to a royal Australian commission investigating the potential cancer-causing properties of Agent Orange, made by Monsanto and used by the US in the Vietnam war. Sir Richard said there was no evidence that the chemical caused cancer.

See also here , here and here .

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Some recent posts on caste violence

Rahul Ramagundam and Dilip D'Souzain India Together and Abinandanan in Nanopolitan .

Penile morphology of Indian males?

A recent BBC report about condom sizes in India is drawing interesting comments in several blogs . Indiaincut blog gives links to other sites discussing the topic. Following up a hint in the comments of GNXP, I googled and found here :
This prediction by Eberhard is supported by Dixson (1987) who has analysed different aspects of penile morphology in primate species and found that size and complexity are indeed related inversely to the number of males that typically mate with each female. Thus for monogamous and polygynous males the penis is smaller and simple in design whereas in multimale/multifemale, or dispersed species, it is larger and more complex. Many species of birds are of course also monogamous which would further support this theory.

If true it seems that many Indian males have it good, a noncompetetive system to find partners and a system (caste) in which they automatically acquire some status.

Update 12.12.06: The BBC article mentioned above is still among the most e-mailed articles and it appears that Indian males may have interesting times abroad. Another article on condom sizes in BBC News, this time about South Africa.

Friday, December 08, 2006

University-Industry links; examples from South Africa

From :
In summary, South Africa's best university-industry partnerships provide a simple lesson to other countries: strategically planning the form and scale of links that are to be promoted can strengthen development and help improve quality of life."
The examples given are:
"Two examples from South Africa show that such strategic partnerships can indeed balance academic and industrial interests while contributing to national development.

The Tree Protection Co-operative Programme is a biotechnology research network of large paper firms and small timber producers, working on tree pathogens with academic partners at the University of Pretoria, to the benefit of all.

The university research unit is building an international scientific reputation by producing a large number of postgraduate students and accredited publications. It has become a sponsored 'centre of excellence' that attracts considerable government research funding.

The industry partners depend for their competitive edge on the costly research and development and the risk-management strategies the network provides. For example, the university researchers provide DNA technology to produce trees resistant to pests and pathogens.

A second example of a successful strategic partnership is the remote sensing Multi-Sensor Microsatellite Imager project. In this government-funded research network, university, industry and government partners work together to design micro-satellites that can supply affordable high-resolution imagery to African governments. The images can help monitor, regulate and manage resources, for example, water distribution, crop management and settlement infrastructure.

A Stellenbosch University laboratory conducts fundamental research for the network. A spin-off company manages the technology development, while application research managed by a government science council informs the design. Finally, a Belgian university and industrial partner develop specific technical components.

Mutually beneficial network partnerships like these — where university, industry and intermediary partners work towards a shared objective — generate knowledge and technological innovation for all.

They help universities harness the innovation potential of their researchers while still maintaining academic integrity. They meet industrial needs for technological progress, and also contribute to national development.

In a different direction, New York Times indicates how China chose a modest programme in the 80's which turned out to be useful and productive :

But Dr. Panofsky and others, including Dr. Lee, argued that a more modest machine would serve China better.

“We talked them out of it,” Dr Panofsky said. In 1982, in the midst of economic difficulties, the proton machine was canceled in favor of one that would collide electrons and positrons at the much lower energy of around 2 billion electron volts. Such a machine would produce synchrotron radiation, which has medical and other uses as well as a role in particle research.
“It was finished on time and on budget,” said Dr. Chen, who had returned to China from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1980s to work at the physics institute. where he became director in 1998. The size of the Beijing collider was based on what could be achieved at the time, but it turned out to be a fortuitous choice.

“The energy was lower but it was more interesting,” Dr. Chen said.
The energy range of the Beijing collider, 1 to 2.2 billion electron volts per beam, contained a lot of puzzling left-behind physics, including the tau, a sort of superfat electron, for which nature has no obvious purpose, and the so-called J/psi. The J/psi, consisting of a pair of quarks each exhibiting the quantum property known whimsically as charm, set off a revolution and led to Nobel prizes when it was discovered in 1974.

“There is a lot going on in that energy region,” said Frederick A. Harris, a professor of physics at the University of Hawaii, who works often at the Beijing collider. By tuning the energy of their colliding beams, the Chinese researchers have been able to measure the mass of the tau very precisely, as well as carry out detailed studies of the J/psi and similar particles.

In the collider’s energy range, Dr. Chen said simply, “We dominate.”
Dr. Panofsky, of the Stanford accelerator, said: “Most economic growth is not due to new invention, but making things faster and cheaper. High energy physics mirrors this. In China they measure things known to exist better and with higher accuracy than in the West.”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Quote of the day

"Regarding tragedies, my polemic was
again to ask why the tragedy of someone that
comes from our socio-economic, cultural and
professional class should be more poignant
than that of someone else from a different class.
I would rather do with tragedies from no class."
B. Ananthanarayan in the comments of:

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mr. Maxwell follows suit

From this article in New York Times :
"But Mr. Johnson found a way to recover the federal royalties on his own. In 1995, he filed suit under the False Claims Act, a longstanding law intended to encourage whistle-blowers. Under the act, best known for its use against overbilling by military contractors, a private citizen can sue a company, contending that it defrauded the federal government. Companies found guilty have to pay as much as three times the amount of their fraudulent gains, and any person who files a suit is entitled to keep up to 30 percent of the money recovered."

Now Bobby Maxwell whose job has been terminated by the Interior Dept (USA) has filed a suit against Kerr-McGee corporation. If he wins, US Govt., Mr.Maxwell and his lawyers will all make a lot of money just as Mr. Johnson did. It seems to be one way to fight corruption and make money at the same time. I wonder how many other countries have similar Acts.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Interesting Economic Discussions

I assumed that economists are like engineers who fix problems as they come up and sometimes even struggle to figure out the problems. This approach is exemplified by Partha Dasgupta's
“Despite the interdisciplinary nature of my enquiries, the lens through which I
have studied the social world has been that of economics. I have assumed a point of view of the
circumstances of living that gives prominence to the allocation of scarce resources - among
contemporaries and across the generations. One hallmark of the viewpoint is to study human well-being in terms of its commodity determinants and the institutions that shape our lives. Another is to reason quantitatively. Moreover, because it is subject to empirical discipline, the inquiry encourages approximations. Inevitably, the viewpoint is partial. But increasingly I have come to realize that it is possible to look outward from that partial view to catch a glimpse of the larger enterprise called "living". I do that regularly in the essays that follow and, in the one methodological essay in the present collection, I respond to several prominent critics of contemporary economics by showing that they misunderstand the foundations of my discipline.
While re-reading the essays here, I noticed that I have rarely ever published an article in which
the bird I was ultimately able to catch was in fact caught. This is because I have rarely ever known what it was that I was really after. Maybe I knew it subconsciously, but I doubt that. In my case, a discovery has meant a growing realization, not a blinding revelation. Usually, it has taken me several publications,brick by metaphorical brick, before I was able even to understand what the phenomenon I had been working on was, let alone to uncover the pathways that give rise to the phenomenon. I don't know whether this is a common experience among scientists, but I doubt it. I suspect there is nothing common among the processes by which we gain an understanding of the world around us."

But it seems lot of economic thinking is also driven by ideology and politics. Before I loose track of them ( once discussions get in to archives, it seems difficult to locate them), I record URL's of some recent discussions, particularly from Mark Thoma's site .
A general discussion of politics in economics:
See also the discussion
where suddenly this kind of statements jump out:
"Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution. "
Discussion of Christopher Hayes article on neoclassical indoctrination:
Mark Thoma
crooked Timber.
Some Comments in Crooked Timber:
Too much of economics teaching is reminiscent of calculus as practiced by Wernher von Braun (in the words of Tom Lehrer): “Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun.
Posted by Ken Houghton · November 15th, 2006 at 3:30 pm
2) Say, rather, that neoclassical economics is a very useful set of disciplinary tools for somebody whose instincts and intuitions are on the left. They sharpen your arguments and clarify your thought. By contrast, I think that most people whose instincts and intuitions are on the right find their arguments dulled and muddied by too much exposure to neoclassical economics…

Extensive discussion of invisible hand:
Mark Thoma
Towards the end of the comments, there is a lot of quibbling about definitions.

Pardha Dasgupta's defence of traditional economics:
here and Pardha Dasgupta gives a lesson in math. economics here.
Partha Dasgupta's comments on Stern Report discussed in
Brad DeLong.
There are too many referencesto Mark Thoma and Pardha Dasgupta. It is just that I feel at the moment that Mark Thoma is really struggling to explore the relevance of economics. About Pardha Dasgupta, I heard in the early 80's that he used to travel around India on his bike trying to study the economic and social conditions. I will spend the next few months trying to understand some of these discussions.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Muslims in India

From the Indian Express on Sachar Report :

"Tucked away in one paragraph on page 21 of the 404-page Sachar Committee report on the dismal presence of Muslims in virtually every sector is one finding that holds out a glimmer of hope when it comes to Muslims in employment.

Business Process Outsourcing (BPOs), the heart of the services boom in the economy, the report says, has provided a window of opportunity “where, interestingly a large number of Muslims seem to find employment. It was found that the proficiency of English was the only criterion for gaining employment — sheer market forces were determining recruitment, rather than affiliations of any kind.”"
See also Peter Foster's post.
Update(Jan, 07, 2007):a recent article

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Water from thin air

Saw this in Sumankumar's blog (
"A company that developed technology capable of creating water out of thin air nearly anywhere in the world is now under contract to nourish U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq.

The water-harvesting technology was originally the brainchild of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which sought ways to ensure sustainable water supplies for U.S. combat troops deployed in arid regions like Iraq.

"The program focused on creating water from the atmosphere using low-energy systems that could reduce the overall logistics burden for deployed forces and provide potable water within the reach of the war fighter any place, any time," said Darpa spokeswoman Jan Walker.

To achieve this end, Darpa gave millions to research companies like LexCarb and Sciperio to create a contraption that could capture water in the Mesopotamian desert.

But it was another company, Aqua Sciences, that developed a product on its own and was first to put a product on the market that can operate in harsh climates.

"People have been trying to figure out how to do this for years, and we just came out of left field in response to Darpa," said Abe Sher, chief executive officer of Aqua Sciences. "The atmosphere is a river full of water, even in the desert. It won't work absolutely everywhere, but it works virtually everywhere.""

Could this be some sort of fog catching technology? Later part of the article says that the technique needs at least 14 perecent humidity.

Paul Tough's "What it takes to make a student"

which appeared in New York Times on November 26th on "closing racial/economic education gap" is drawing positive reviews from many quarters. Here is a post from AFT (American Federation of Teachers) NCLBlog which links to many other comments. Look in particular the comments of Jal Mehta, CitySue and Kevin Carey.

Kenneth Davidson on Cole Report

From Age opinions :
"It is the actual knowledge of the Commonwealth that the information was false or misleading that is material ... It is immaterial that the Commonwealth may have had the means or ability to find out that the information was misleading, or that it ought reasonably to have known that the information was misleading ... the question whether the Commonwealth may have had constructive knowledge (in the sense that it ought reasonably to have known the truth or that it had the means and the ability to find out the truth) is immaterial. A false statement may still operate on the mind of the person who merely has constructive knowledge so as to result in the person being misled or deceived."

Brilliant. The Houdini defence. It is what we know we know that makes us guilty. That which we know we don't know gets us off the hook. Effectively, the Government's innocence was written into the terms of reference of the Cole inquiry, bolstered by the choice of commissioner who showed his mettle to the Government's satisfaction in the two-year inquiry into the building industry.
Update: See for more information and discussion.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Recent reports from SciDev Net

India gives West Africa 250 million US dollars to develop biofuels: story here .
Modifed (eatable) cotton seeds :
"Scientists (not from Monsanto) have genetically modified cotton to make its seeds — which are full of high-quality protein — fit for human consumption"
and wheat gene discovery that could fight malnutrition:
"Scientists (from University of California at Davis) have found how to boost the protein, zinc and iron content in wheat, which could help to solve nutritional deficiency that affects two billion people worldwide, especially in the developing world".

An Indian Cultural Heritage Site

Impressive site .
Some more can be found at

Inspiring video

I have been watching this off and on for the last few days
Got it from this post in Crooked Timber.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wal-Mart to enter Indian market

Pl.see .
It may be recalled that Wal-Mart and Monsanto are on the Board of "Indo-US Knowledge Initiative On Agriculture Research and Education." Some concerns are expressed here , here and here . Some recent developments here .
Reliance has already entered the retail market in some places and this gives some early responses. Witsoe in here suggests that organized retailing may help small farmers.

Interesting speculations on autuism

Seed magazine has an interesting article on autuism by Simon Baron-Cohen , professor of developmental psychopathology and director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University. Apparently, autuism is on the increase from about four in 10,000 in the 70's to one percent today. It is not clear from the article in which countries this increase has taken place but media reports indicate high incidence in places like the Silicon Valley. Cohen's guess is that systemitizing mechanism is set at higher level in the case of autuistic children and that there is assortative mating at work: people who are attracted to systems are more likely to have a partner who shares this characteristic. And modern life is throwing such people together. Cohen gives some testable predictions. My friend Perepa Joshi's son is researching on autuism and I hope to get some feed back one of these days.

Routes to happier life

One of them according to

"Every night, she was to think of three good things that happened that day and analyze why they occurred. That was supposed to increase her overall happiness.

"I thought it was too simple to be effective," said Miller, 44, of Bethesda. Md. "I went to Harvard. I'm used to things being complicated."

Miller was assigned the task as homework in a master's degree program. But as a chronic worrier, she knew she could use the kind of boost the exercise was supposed to deliver.

She got it.

"The quality of my dreams has changed, I never have trouble falling asleep and I do feel happier," she said.

Results may vary, as they say in the weight-loss ads. But that exercise is one of several that have shown preliminary promise in recent research into how people can make themselves happier - not just for a day or two, but long-term. It's part of a larger body of work that challenges a long-standing skepticism about whether that's even possible."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Links between diet and violence

From The Guardian (via Evolutionary-Psychology group):

"....Taken together with a study in a high-security prison for young offenders in the UK, it shows that violent behaviour may be attributable at least in part to nutritional deficiencies....

For the clinician in charge of the US study, Joseph Hibbeln, the results of his trial are not a miracle, but simply what you might predict if you understand the biochemistry of the brain and the biophysics of the brain cell membrane. His hypothesis is that modern industrialised diets may be changing the very architecture and functioning of the brain.

We are suffering, he believes, from widespread diseases of deficiency. Just as vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, deficiency in the essential fats the brain needs and the nutrients needed to metabolise those fats is causing of a host of mental problems from depression to aggression. Not all experts agree, but if he is right, the consequences are as serious as they could be. The pandemic of violence in western societies may be related to what we eat or fail to eat. Junk food may not only be making us sick, but mad and bad too.
An earlier pilot study on 30 patients with violent records found that those given omega-3 supplements had their anger reduced by one-third, measured by standard scales of hostility and irritability, regardless of whether they were relapsing and drinking again. The bigger trial is nearly complete now and Dell Wright, the nurse administering the pills, has seen startling changes in those on the fish oil rather than the placebo. "When Demar came in there was always an undercurrent of aggression in his behaviour. Once he was on the supplements he took on the ability not to be impulsive. He kept saying, 'This is not like me'."

Demar has been out of trouble and sober for a year now. He has a girlfriend, his own door key, and was made employee of the month at his company recently. Others on the trial also have long histories of violence but with omega-3 fatty acids have been able for the first time to control their anger and aggression. J, for example, arrived drinking a gallon of rum a day and had 28 scars on his hand from punching other people. Now he is calm and his cravings have gone. W was a 19st barrel of a man with convictions for assault and battery. He improved dramatically on the fish oil and later told doctors that for the first time since the age of five he had managed to go three months without punching anyone in the head."
"Over the last century most western countries have undergone a dramatic shift in the composition of their diets in which the omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to the brain have been flooded out by competing omega-6 fatty acids, mainly from industrial oils such as soya, corn, and sunflower. In the US, for example, soya oil accounted for only 0.02% of all calories available in 1909, but by 2000 it accounted for 20%. Americans have gone from eating a fraction of an ounce of soya oil a year to downing 25lbs (11.3kg) per person per year in that period. In the UK, omega-6 fats from oils such as soya, corn, and sunflower accounted for 1% of energy supply in the early 1960s, but by 2000 they were nearly 5%. These omega-6 fatty acids come mainly from industrial frying for takeaways, ready meals and snack foods such as crisps, chips, biscuits, ice-creams and from margarine. Alcohol, meanwhile, depletes omega-3s from the brain.

To test the hypothesis, Hibbeln and his colleagues have mapped the growth in consumption of omega-6 fatty acids from seed oils in 38 countries since the 1960s against the rise in murder rates over the same period. In all cases there is an unnerving match. As omega-6 goes up, so do homicides in a linear progression. Industrial societies where omega-3 consumption has remained high and omega-6 low because people eat fish, such as Japan, have low rates of murder and depression."
Pl. read the complete article.

For the scientifically minded

From AlphsPsy :
" launched tuesday an on-line colloquium about “Representation and Adaptation”. The interdisciplines conferences are among the most exciting intellectual events on the Internet; this one features, among others, Daniel Dennett and Peter Godfrey-Smith, along with scholars from philosophy, AI, and theoretical biology. It tackles the difficult question of how natural selection could give birth to entities as refined as mental representations, while it kept remaining its usual stupid self (full disclosure: Hugo and I are among the discussants, so don't take our word for it, go see the site)."
The discussion here . I am not following the discussion; at the moment it seems to be 'fog upon fog'. There is an an earlier online seminar on mirror neurons at the same site which I found more interesting. But Chris of Mixing Memory is not so enthusiastic about mirror neurons.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Teaching problems

"During lectures, they answer their cell phones, text message their friends and play games on their laptop computers.

Are college students really that rude?

Yes, says Delaney Kirk, a professor of management at Drake University in Des Moines.

But, she adds, it's not their fault.

"It's the same behavior we're seeing in the rest of society," Kirk says. "There's a general lack of social skills.""

Could it be lack of role models? And what we see on TV and newspapers everyday? Profits, market economy?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Scenes and sceneries from Andhra villages

I have uploaded some photographs, mostly taken by my son Rohan, of Andhra villages. If somebody like Kuffir asks "What is the point?", I have no answer. These are the kind of images that I remember frequently and they do not seem to have changed much since I finished school in 1954. There is also one of me singing to my granddaughter Leila. I found that I was loosing my breath and decided to give up smoking. It was 20 days ago and the going is tough. The previous attempt in 1988 lasted four and half years; that time visa to Australia was delayed by 6 months due to some suspicion about lungs. I am still struggling with Partha Dasgupta's papers.

Friday, November 17, 2006

An investment banker's view of democracy

James Macdonald's "A Free Nation Deep in Debt: the Financial Roots of Democracy" first appeared in 2003 and has been drawing good reviews since then (I am now browsing through the book). Here are two old reviews one by Gordon Wood here (which needs subscription) and one by Forrest McDonald here . ( The second review at Both the reviews also review Bruce Mann's "Republic of debtors".
An excerpt from Forrest McDonald's review:

"Now let us turn to the area of public finance. Throughout the ages and until comparatively recently, the main reason governments or states needed funds was to bear the costs of waging war. In ancient times the method was simple: the winner defrayed the costs by looting and/or enslaving the vanquished. For the loser, the cost was not a consideration, for as a practical matter that side ceased to exist. Later, upon the emergence of absolute or nearly absolute monarchies, the economics of statecraft changed somewhat. Kings rarely had credit, for they were apt to renege on their obligations, and the moneyed classes went into hiding or hid their assets whenever agents of the crown came around. Normally, therefore, kings saved their revenues between wars, until they amassed enough to launch hostilities anew. When the funds, unless replenished by looting, ran out, they had to stop fighting. They repeated the cycle again and again.

The solution was the invention of public debt, which was possible only in states that were relatively free, for the essence of a public debt is that it is owed by the citizens of a state to one another. The central thesis of A Free Nation Deep in Debt is encapsulated in its subtitle, The Financial Roots of Democracy, and if allowance is made for the fact that James Macdonald really means free government and not "democracy," the argument is convincing and insightful.

Between the 13th and the 16th centuries, the city-states of Italy created a genuine system of public debt. Next came Holland, which was able to win its long war of independence from Spain even though the "parent" country was far richer and more populous—because Holland had an endless source of revenue in the form of public debt owned by its citizens."

Now a paperback edition is out and new set of reviews. Here is one by James Galbraith which reviews both Macdonald's book and "Economic origins of Dictatorship and Democracy" by Acemoglu and Robinson is available from Mark Thoma's site here. Some excerpts, first about Acegmolu and Robinson book:

"Work of this kind ... is not so much incomprehensible as pointless. It actually isn’t incomprehensible, if you work hard enough, but the symbols are empty, and the description is not of a real society, but of an institutional vacuum, uninhabited by actual human beings, untracked by actual data. No measurement will ever test the theory. ...

And yet, Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy will be heavily cited, lavishly praised, and assigned to advanced seminars in the better graduate schools. Too bad. For it isn’t about democracy. It’s about a cardboard caricature... In sketching their caricature, Acemoglu and Robinson strip the democratic ideal of substantial and also of ethical content. ...".

But Galbraith's parise for Macdonald's book is lavish:
"For MacDonald, a British former investment banker, ... the progress of democracy is the expansion of the franchise, a word with two meanings: its present one of the right to vote and an ancient one meaning freedom from direct taxation. In turn, public debt ...[and] the institutions of finance, missing from Acemoglu and Robinson’s economics, suddenly take on the pivotal role...

It’s a simple but compelling argument. States exist to make war; those who win survive. Public credit is a powerful weapon; states that can borrow win wars. And so even narrow democracies, rooted in parliaments going back to the Middle Ages, have an evolutionary advantage over absolute monarchies, for the king’s credit is always poor. ...

A beauty of MacDonald’s idea is that it can be tested against situations he doesn’t discuss. Thus the democratic decolonization of India fits: It occurred after India had become a large war-time creditor of Britain. And the struggle for democracy in Latin America is complicated by foreign debt, easily analyzed as an external electorate of enormous power–one in obvious economic conflict with the voters who, at best, only hold the internal debt...

Given the simplicity and power of this argument, one reads the epilogue of this great book with surprise and sorrow. In MacDonald’s view, it’s all over. In the nuclear age, deficits and bond drives on the world-war scale are history, and the American citizenry has lost its pride of place as creditor of the American state. Today, financial intermediaries hold about 37 percent of U.S. public debt; Japan and China, along with other countries, now hold about 30 percent. The proportion of U.S. debt owned directly by Americans has fallen to below 10 percent; in 1945 (when the debt was more than twice as large in relation to GDP as now) citizen-creditors just about held it all. He concludes that the link is broken and "for all practical purposes, the venerable marriage between public credit and democratic government, so vital a factor in the history of the world, has been dissolved."

I do not quite understand the reference to India becoming a large war-time creditor to Britain. Perhaps somebody can explain. Another recent review of Macdonald's book is here.

UPDATE: Some version of Acegmolu-Robinson book seems currently avaialable online here. Despite the rave reviews of Macdonald's book, I feel that it is worth looking at other approaches. Macdonald's approach has the virtue of parsimony and explaining situations which he does not consider. But by now, conceptually democracy has a life of its own and like many evolutionary concepts, it has uses for what it was not originally meant for.

Discover's list of great science books

As expected led by Darwin's books. Article and list here .
Now that the Royal Society has elected an economist Partha Dasgupta, I hope that future lists will have some economics books.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A new online business journal

According to Nov. 9 issue of the Economist, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has launched an Indian version of its popular Knowledge@Wharton online business journal:
The first issue has an interview with Finance Minister P.Chidambaram who says that "India can supply food and clothing to half the world".

Two recent posts about SEZs in India

Jayaprakash Narayan in his blog suggests:
"Third, in all developmental projects like special economic zones, land losers can be given equity in the form of ownership of a portion of the developed land. This will give farmers a share in the prosperity and make available more land for development."
Crooked Timber on uses of IT refers to this article . Excerpt:
"Raigad district (Maharashtra): Roughly 140 kilometre from Mumbai, farmers are turning to technology to fight for their rights.

Four months ago, the farmers of Pen taluka in Raigad district were told the state government was acquiring their land to help build the 25,000 acre Maha Mumbai Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

That's when an activist of the SEZ Hatao Virodh Samiti, Arun Shivkar, logged on to Google Earth.

“We used Google technology to prove to the authorities that the land is fertile,” said Shivkar.

Shivkar says initially state authorities claimed that only a small portion of the earmarked land is fertile and that some parts of it is submerged by salty creek water, meaning lower compensation for the farmers."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Daron Acemoglu

More than hundred posts later I am no where near to understanding economic matters or the great divergence. One economist who seems to make some sense to me is Daon Acemoglu. Here is a brief description of his work from
economicprincipals :

"Daron Acemoglu's good fortune was to graduate from the University of York at the very moment that the hourglass of development economics was at its narrowest, when all the complications of economic growth had been briefly reduced to an argument about the causes of "technical change."

Like Gerschenkron, Acemoglu had been raised in a developing society -- in Istanbul, a Turk of Armenian descent. His father was a professor of law, later an attorney for banks and corporations. Political economy and development strategy came naturally to the dinner table.

But his parents died when Acemoglu was in his teens. Political science at York disappointed him; he switched to economics instead. And when MIT admitted him to graduate school but failed to offer a scholarship, he did his doctorate at the London School of Economics instead, writing a dissertation on a variety of labor and macroeconomic topics. A year later, MIT hired him to teach -- an intriguing but unknown quantity at whom they wanted a closer look. Four years later they gave him tenure. He added dual citizenship as well.

The committee that gave the 38-year-old Acemoglu the Clark medal last week described him as "extremely broad and productive," noting that in the course of a dozen years he had made significant contributions to the study of labor markets before moving on to "especially innovative" ideas about the role of institutions in development and political economy.

In fact, it was a series of investigations in the history of the European colonization of much of the rest of the world, beginning in the 15th century, that made Acemoglu's reputation, demonstrating that institutions of various sorts were more important to development than economists previously had thought. The "rules of the game" -- the structure of property rights, the presence of markets, and their various frictions, the form that governments take -- are key determinants of what happens next, Acemoglu showed, in some unusually inventive and convincing ways.

Take the rise of Europe in the first place. The importance of the Atlantic trade had long been noted, and various reasons for it advanced. With Simon Johnson of MIT's Sloan School and James Robinson of the University of California at Berkeley, Acemoglu argued in "The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutional Change and Economic Growth" that England and the Netherlands leapt out front because a newly emergent merchant class benefited most from trade -- and was able to successfully demand institutions to protect their property and commerce. In contrast, although they had been the first to discover the richest lands, Spain and Portugal stagnated because their monarchies had managed to capture the early returns, they argued -- and thus were able to thwart their merchants' drive for power.

In "Economic Backwardness in Political Perspective," Acemoglu and Robinson argued that political elites can be expected to pursue "blocking" strategies when innovation threatens their monopolies and when there is little threat to their power from politics. External threats reduced the temptation to block, they found -- producing a model that suggested why Britain, German and the United States had industrialized during the 19th century, while the landed aristocracies in Russia and Austria-Hungary sought to hold back the tide.

In "Reversal of Fortune," Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson argued that colonial powers pursued very different strategies in different lands, with fateful consequences. In rich and densely populated countries such as Mexico and Peru, they extracted wealth; in poor and sparsely settled countries such as British North America and Argentina, they encouraged investment.

And in "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development" they inventively teased evidence from differing mortality rates faced by Europeans in different countries of how the choices made in those circumstanced gave rise to different institutions and so to different development paths.

The Clark committee noted that some of the methods and conclusions were still being debated -- but that a broad and substantial rethinking of the development process was underway no matter what. The appearance this summer of Acemoglu's book with Robinson, The Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy will stimulate much further discussion. The MIT course that he teaches with fellow professor Abhijit Bannerjee on development issues is routinely oversubscribed. And a long list of projects underway testifies to his staying power."
Many of Acemoglu's publications can be found here.
Among science writer-reviewers H. Allen Orr seems excellent. Here is a brief introduction to Orr.
Some more articles by Orr at NY Review of Books .

Friday, November 10, 2006

Elections in Tamilnadu in the old days

It seems Tamilnadu was not doing so badly in the old days. In "Castes of Mind" by Nicholas Dirks, I read that there were divorcee and widow remarriages in temples before the British period (see page 73, line 21 from above). Now I see this story of a record of elections and constitution in Uttiramerur in the tenth century via Mark Thoma :
"In disqualifying a candidate, primary importance was given to elimination of corruption. Not only corrupt persons but those who abetted corruption and the near relatives, were debarred from contesting an election for seven generations."
Original report here .

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sustainable agriculture?

"The story goes back to about one and half decades. There was not enough water to extend his simple method of blossom irrigation (using pipelines) to whole of the estate. They could hardly irrigate a few acres. In 1992, one of the biggest water sources of his estate, flowing from a valley within his land dried up in summer. A shocked Chandranath didn't know how to solve his water crisis.

At this juncture, he chanced upon an article on Abdul Kareem who has grown natural forest in 32 acres of denuded hilltop in Kasaragod district. This had considerably augmented the water sources in the hill. This story inspired Chandranath great deal.

If water source has to be improved, learnt Chandranath, a forest has to be developed in its catchment area. In Chandranath's case, the catchment area of his main water source, a huge valley, was already fully covered with coffee plantation. But that didn't discourage him. He started planting many forest trees in between. Today, after 14 years, an area of approximately four acres has grown into a thick forest. As the forest trees grew, the water source improved. It's running bountifully since more than 9 years.

"There is 15 years effort behind this mini-jungle", explains Chandranath. Most of this area is rock-laden. Top soil depth is very less. The sandy-loam soil loses moisture very early. As such he had to irrigate the forest plants. Once a week from January to April. While planting, cow dung was applied. Small doses of chemical fertilizer once a year in the next two years. "If you take care and do this much of maintenance" points out he, "then the forest will grow on its own." "

Stunning photographs of India

At indianglory
(via ajayshawblog ).

Monday, November 06, 2006

Straight talk by Raghuram Rajan

This article by Raghuram Rajan seems to explain some of India's problems. Excerpt:
"In sum, even in a society where political institutions ensure that citizens' preferences matter, initial inequalities (in education and wealth) may be self-perpetuating. Citizens, fearing that the advantage gained by one group may come at the expense of the meager rents of the other, become like crabs in a bucket, preventing each other from getting out. Uncertainty about who will get the benefits of reforms can further compound resistance. Underdevelopment can persist with the full connivance of the exploited, even with reasonably well-functioning political institutions. Finally, while stylized, the example is consistent with the evidence that far too many poor economies, like India, have underemphasized universal education while overemphasizing higher education and that the poor and uneducated in a number of countries in Latin America have turned against (partial) economic liberalization because they see few of the new opportunities while bearing additional costs."

Entrepreneurship in India

From Knowledge.Wharton :
"In some respects, India seems to be doing everything wrong: regulatory protections for investors are weak, banks don't lend much money to small- and medium-size businesses, and the country's legal system is highly corrupt. Yet when it comes to growing its economy, India seems to be doing everything right.
ndeed, the study, "Financing Firms in India," challenges the conventional wisdom among academics and public policy experts that corruption automatically impedes economic advancement of developing countries, according to Wharton finance professor Franklin Allen, one of the authors of the study.
"The academic literature says developing countries need a good legal system and honest government to grow," Allen states. "We found, however, that a low level of corruption is not a significant impediment to growth because businesses can obtain financing and settle legal differences outside the legal system in ways that are quite effective."

"Small- and medium-size Indian companies have found ways to get around [the limitations of the country's financial and legal systems]," says co-author Sankar De, clinical professor and executive director of the Center for Analytical Finance at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. "They depend on informal mechanisms for dispute resolution. They lend and borrow from each other. In many ways, they bypass formal financial markets and courts of law."

A significant part of the study consisted of extensive surveys of non-state, non-listed private firms of small and medium size, one of the most successful sectors in the Indian economy. These firms have grown faster than the rest of India's economy during the past 15 years, even though the financing of this sector is clearly different from that of state and listed firms, according to Allen.

De notes that these businesses account for more than 40% of the total value added in Indian manufacturing. "Neither the absence of formal legal processes nor the [lack of] access to financial markets and credit seem to have impeded their growth rate," De says."
Pl. read the entire article and also Madhukar Shukla's comments on the informal sector here .

Friday, November 03, 2006

America may get a social democrat senator

From The Guardian
"Bernie Sanders is so far ahead in the contest for Vermont's vacant seat for the US Senate that it seems only sudden illness or accident could derail his rendezvous with destiny, after eight terms as the state's only congressman. His success flies in the face of all the conventional wisdom about American politics.

He is an unapologetic socialist and proud of it. Even his admirers admit that he lacks social skills, and he tends to speak in tirades. Yet that has not stopped him winning eight consecutive elections to the US House of Representatives.

"Twenty years ago when people here thought about socialism they were thinking about the Soviet Union, about Albania," Mr Sanders told the Guardian in a telephone interview from the campaign trail. "Now they think about Scandinavia. In Vermont people understand I'm talking about democratic socialism."
An interesting discussion on social democracy at Crookedtimber is available
Update: He won.

Two online books on Economic History

A new site on economic history gives links to two online books on economic history:
The first one by Gregory Clark A Passage to Alms seems readable to non-experts like me.
The second one is by Brad DeLong Slouching Towards Utopia: The Economic History of the Twentieth Century.
Tyler Cowen describes Clark's book here
Rajeev Ramachandran commentson Clark's book in two posts in his blog:
Abi at Nanopolitan points to this interesting Mark Thoma's commentary.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thought for a rainy day.

Mathematician V.I.Arnold ( according to official rumours, he missed a Fields medal because Kolomogrov did not write a letter in time) says:

Among other important things Poincare explained that 'only non-interesting problems might be formulated
unambiguously and solved completely'.

The quote is from the book "Mathematics:Frontiers and Perspectives" Edited by Arnold, Atiyah, Lax and Mazur, Published by Amer. Math. Soc. 1999.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Some myths debunked

From article by Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi

"In this article we point out inconsistencies associated with the ghost, vampire and zombie mythologies as portrayed in popular films and folklore, and give practical explanations to some of their features. We also use the occasion as an excuse to teach a little about physics and mathematics."

A Daasari ballad

Via Bhupinder at blogbharti. It seems that an old Daasari ballad 'Chenchulakshi' from Andhra Pradesh which I only faintly remember is available now through the efforts of Rolf Killius and British Library. See Derek Beres blog for some comments.

On Levitt and Freakonomics

An interesting review here (courtesy Greg Menikw). My earlier naive comments here. Excerpt from the above review:
" But Freakonomics is no better a guide to our changing times than "Chaos" was to atmospheric science. The influence of that butterfly's wings has been exaggerated."
The review also mentions other popular economics books like Tim Harford's ""Undercover Economist" but not Heilbronners's "The Worldly Philosophers".

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

New HIV drug?

From New Scientist (this may need subscription):
"As an ethnobotanist working with the traditional healers of Samoa in the 1980s, Paul Alan Cox learned of a potion that he described in his field notebook as a treatment for "acute viral illness". It turns out that the active ingredient, prostratin, is a potent anti-HIV drug, at least in the lab. Now nearing clinical trials, prostratin works unlike any other HIV drug, by coaxing hidden virus out of immune cells. This is no tale of bio-piracy, though. Quite the opposite: pioneering agreements brokered by Cox will ensure that proceeds from the drug go back to the government of Samoa and to the village where Cox first encountered the drug's source. Prostratin is just the start, he tells Brian Vastag: next he hopes to find plant treatments for diseases of the mind."
More about Cox here
and here
See here for a picture of mamala tree leaves and the story of the agreement between Samoa and UC at Berkeley.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

UN passes Arm Trade Treaty

From IPS News Agency
"On Thursday, a vast majority of delegates to the U.N. General Assembly's first committee endorsed the resolution calling for the establishment of a treaty to stop weapons transfers that fuel conflict, poverty and serious human rights violations.

As many as 139 countries voted in favour of the resolution while 24 abstained. The United States, the world's largest supplier of small arms, was the only country that opposed the resolution.

Other major arms-manufacturing nations that oppose the treaty but did not participate in the voting include Russia, China, India and Pakistan.
Several emerging arms exporters, such as Brazil, Bulgaria and Ukraine, as well as many countries that have been devastated by armed violence, including Colombia, East Timor, Haiti, Liberia and Rwanda, voted in favour of the resolution.

Expressing her support for the resolution, Amnesty International's secretary-general Irene Khan described the vote as "an historic step to stop irresponsible and immoral arms transfers".

"It will prevent the death, rape and displacement of thousands of people," she said in a statement. "

tompaine's comment here

Will Security Council do any thing about this? Seems unlikely.
Greg Mankiv
refers to this article.
"In this paper, we investigate whether the pattern of aid payments to
rotating members of the council is consistent with vote buying.
Using country-level panel data, we find a large positive effect of Security
Council membership on foreign aid receipts. On average, a nonpermanent
member of the council enjoys a 59 percent increase in total
aid from the United States and an 8 percent increase in total development
aid from the United Nations.
Accordingly, our results suggest
that the United States attempts to influence rotating members both
with direct foreign aid payments and with funds channeled through a
U.N. agency it influences."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Punukula experment

"Punukula village, about 12 kms from Kothagudem town in Andhra Pradesh, and with a population of about 860, was also a victim of the vicious circle of poison. Indiscriminate application of pesticides on cotton and chili had brought in a horde of problems, including deaths resulting from acute poisoning and suicides by debt-ridden farmers. While the sale of chemicals soared, pesticide traders raked in Rs 2-3 million annually from only about 500 acres of land holdings in the village. Farmers continued to slide into debt following the devastation inflicted on the natural resource base. If only the sale receipts from unwanted pesticides had remained within the village, the village economy would have been on an upswing.

It was in 1999 that a few farmers began experimenting with Non-Pesticidal Management (NPM) practices. A year later, in 2000-01, a local NGO Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment (SECURE) with technical support from the Centre for World Solidarity in Hyderabad was able to convince 20 farmers to opt for NPM. The highly contaminated environment began to change for the better. Soil and plant health looked revitalised, and the pests began to disappear. Such was the positive impact both environmentally and economically that by 2004 the entire village had stopped using chemical pesticides. Restoring the ecological balance brought back the natural pest control systems. Along with the pesticides, the pests too disappeared.
With no pests to worry about, Punukula had no reason to go in for Bt cotton. "
A google search for "Punukula" gave several other versons of the same story.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Another nice picture of twins

One here and another link in the article.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A strange note from Germany

(via Rajeev Ramachandran of Teeming Multitudes) We have this rubbish from Gabor Steingart, head of Der Spiegel's Berlin office:,1518,443306,00.html
Apparently, this essay is excerpted from a best selling book. Excerpts from the excerpt:
"Their secret is stoic perseverance, the weapon they use to pursue their own interests while at the same time disregarding ours. What looks like a market economy in Asia, actually follows the rules of a type of society which former German chancellor Ludwig Erhard liked to call a "termite state." In a termite state, it is the collective rather than the individual which sets the agenda. Tasks that serve the aims of society's leaders are assigned to the individual in a clandestine manner that is barely perceptible to outsiders. It is a state that encourages as much collective behavior as possible but only as much freedom as necessary. We don't know what they feel, we don't know what they think and we have no way of guessing what they are planning.
The Asian elite politely brush off everything that matters to us -- the social framework surrounding daily working life, the idea of individual achievement and state-guaranteed fair competition. What we see as essential characteristics of a civilized society, they see as nothing more than bourgeois niceties.

The state (India) or party (China) is responsible for setting prices, promoting technology, ensuring provisions of raw materials, protecting industries and providing the impulse for just about any kind of economic or political activity.
The military alliance which was forged in the Cold War could be carried over into the global economic war."
At this stage, I stopped reading the article. Rajeev quotes Schiller: "The gods themselves fought invain against stupidity".

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Muslim bloggers from India

A few months ago I tried to find some Indian Muslim blogs but could only a couple. One is Annie Zaidi's the other seemed to be mostly about poetry. The second blog has now given a list of 50 Mulim blogs of Indian origin ( which may be corrected). The list is in:
My interest was to see different views on some topics and muslims seemed underrepresented in the media. Here are some more links:

Friday, October 20, 2006

Old age

Just found this among the most e-mailed articles in the last two months from New York times. Excerpts;
"The question is why some age well and others do not, often heading along a path that ends up in a medical condition known as frailty.
Frailty, Dr. Harris explains, involves exhaustion, weakness, weight loss and a loss of muscle mass and strength. It is, she says, a grim prognosis whose causes were little understood.
Investigators say that there is a ray of hope in the finding — if cardiovascular disease is central to many of the symptoms of old age, it should be possible to slow or delay or even prevent many of these changes by treating the medical condition.

A second finding is just as surprising to skeptical scientists because it seemed to many like a wrongheaded cliché — you’re only as old as you think you are. Rigorous studies are now showing that seeing, or hearing, gloomy nostrums about what it is like to be old can make people walk more slowly, hear and remember less well, and even affect their cardiovascular systems. Positive images of aging have the opposite effects. The constant message that old people are expected to be slow and weak and forgetful is not a reason for the full-blown frailty syndrome. But it may help push people along that path."

But aging seems real. Today after about 10 trips with the wheelbarrow from the front of the house to the back to mulch the garden, I am exhausted. It did not happen a few years ago. May be it is smoking. But then both my grandfathers were smokers and were farming until they were almost eighty.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

An India Shining story from Australia

Excerpts from an article in today's Age (via Jhansi):

"IS AUSTRALIA missing the boat on India? While we are excited by China, are we also aware that old bureaucratic India, old cultural India, staid old India with the legacy of the caste system is actually taking off?"

"Consider these "big-five" indicators of just how far and how fast "good old India" is going:

Å°Wipro has acquired Sweden-based Hydoauto Group AB for $US31 million($A41.1 million).

Å°India is easing bank regulations so that the Reserve Bank of India will open more of the large power projects to external investors.

Å°The global ACNeilsen Consumer Confidence Survey has India at the top of the list by a large margin.

Å°In three years there will be 1.1 million people each with a liquid wealth of $US100,000. There are now 83,000 millionaires in India and growing.

Å° The private equity market attracted $US2.2 billion last year and is set to reach $US7 billion in 2010, the year of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games."
The report also says "Bill Gates has replaced Mahatma Gandhi as the "greatest hero" among the younger generation of India's corporate executives and business students ".

Music and the stars


"In 1969, Brian May, lead guitarist of the legendary rock band Queen, gave up a career in astrophysics to pursue his dream of becoming an international rock star. Now, almost four decades later, the two strands of his life, music and astronomy, are coming back together. He is currently finishing the PhD he started at Imperial College London back when Queen was just beginning to take off.
What inspired you to return to your PhD after all these years?

You get to this age and you think, I'm still alive when some friends aren't, and you ask yourself, "Why am I here? What should I be doing?" So there's that."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

CASI Fall 2006 Study

on 'India in Transition' is out:
The title " India's Second green Revolution? The Sociopolitical Implications of Corporate-Led Agricultural Growth" and the author is Jeffrey Witsoe. Jeffrey Witsoe has a Ph.D. in Social Anthrpology and has earlier written about caste politics in Bihar.
James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter Than the Few" has a discussion on how farmers select seeds on pages 61-62 and refers to a study by Kaivan Munshi about the different ways farmers in India chose wheat and rice seeds
I have not read these completely but all of them look interesting.

More nature vs. nurture stories


"According to the analysis, the blind participants were significantly more likely to make angry, sad and pensive facial expressions that resembled those of their relatives than of strangers.
Scientists say that the similarity in facial expressions among relatives could perhaps have an evolutionary basis. “Family resemblance in expressive styles probably has adaptive value to the individuals in order to recognise kin from non-kin,” says David Matsumoto at San Francisco State University in California, US."

From October 15 Delhi edition of Hindustan Times

‘Jihadi’ monkey behind bars

Soumyajit Pattnaik

THE FIRE of fanaticism has singed all — from men to monkeys. A simian fundamentalist is serving a prison term at Remuna police station in Balasore district of Orissa. Ramu is sentenced for life in an iron cage on the premises of the police station.
Raised by a Muslim family in Jagannathpur village, Ramu allegedly attacked some Hindu children five years ago, sparking communal tension in the area. Police arrested Ramu.

Officer-in-charge of Remuna police station Niranjan Kumar Dhir told the Hindustan Times, “Ramu is has been here for the past five years. He had attacked a few children, leading to communal discord in the area. But we are taking good care of him. We ensure that he takes regular baths and is fed four times a day. The local people bring fruits, milk, bread, biscuits and rice for monkey. Ramu is now part of the outpost.” Ramu deserves freedom but his captors are reluctant. Dhir reckons, “Ramu is a pet. I don’t think he will be able to fend for himself in the wild. And who knows, he might start attacking members of the rival community again. We are managing well with local help”.

The monkey looks docile. Only his eyes with a glint of mischief give him away.

Animal rights activists feel that Ramu should have been handed over to the forest department long ago.

But then, in the time of terror, authorities become flint-hearted. Man or monkey — it does not make much of a difference.

But the monkey won over the men in uniform with his naughty ways and a police peace committee decided to set Ramu free after a “serious debate”.

Once freed, the monkey went back to his old ways, refusing to become “secular”. Ramu continued his jihad and landed behind bars again — this time for good. The police built a special iron cell for the “terrorist”.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Award winning writing?


"We all know that the political world judges Iraq by the absolute badness of what is going on (which means Bush critics find a higher number to fit their priors), but that is an incorrect standard. We should judge the marginal product of U.S. action, relative to what else could have happened. (North Korea, and the UN response, will give us one data point from another setting.) In that latter and more accurate notion of a cost-benefit test, U.S. actions probably appear worst when deaths are rising over time, and hitting very high levels in the future.

Of course the rate of change of deaths is not exactly the proper variable. Ideally we would like some measure of the contingency of eventual total deaths, relative to policy. I am not sure what other proxies for that we might have."
Perhaps a bulwer-lytton award for political writing.


From Steve of, I came to know of KIVA. From their site:
"We let you loan to the working poor

Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back. "

Steve in his write up on Grameen Bank says "already plenty of organizations in India engaged in microfinance (see here for a thorough article on implementing the concept of microfinance in India, drawing on examples from elsewhere in South Asia). With time, hopefully, the legitimate and credible organizations that are doing good work will rise to the top and those that only aim to take further advantage of people will fall by the wayside. For now, I'm headed back over to Kiva to see if I can find a Ugandan barber, or a Kenyan street vendor, or an Indian tailor who need a small loan to invest in some improvements that will help grow their businesses."
I think that I will follow Steve to see some project to fund through KIVA.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Zaheerabad women take on Monsanto

From here DDS activities look interesting and impressive but I do not have any contact with them. Last year I enquired in Hyderabad and the few friends I spoke to said good things about DDS. One said dismissively that it is Vandana Shiva type of organization. Arun Shrivatsava reports on one of their activities here.
A trenchent conpiracy theory by the same author here.
Data on the nutritive content of the seeds collected by the women here.
Update (3rd November,2006) Kuffir refers to Arun Shrivatsava's article in blogbharti .

Some of Kuffir's comments:
why i liked the article was despite its somewhat strident attempts to take a holistic look at the causes behind today’s agrarian crisis.
look at the valid point he makes about ‘warehousing’ receipts - there are many activists/economists advocating provision, through public/private investment, of warehousing facilities so that the farmers 1)have more control over the marketing of their produce and 2) so that they may access credit in lieu of their stocks. but, his interpretation of the reasons behind dismantling the structure of ‘warehousing’ in 1971 is narrow - he says it was because of pressure from fertiliser/pesticide companies - the larger truth is the govt probably believed in the idea that the nationalisation of banks would open the floodgates of credit to farmers.. it also attempted to regulate a large portion of credit towards agriculture and rural india. but that didn’t increased from around 10% of total lending by banks to around 20% or so in the initial two-three years or so after nationalisation..but has remained at the same level for that last thirty five years. also, the beneficiaries were mostly large, medium and some small farmers and not the vast majority of..marginal and sub-marginal farmers in india.

yes, i agree with you that the section ‘truth’ does seem farfetched but..i’ve noticed most indian commentators take rigid ideological positions on agriculture.

but look at the causes he alludes to, apart from irrigation and ‘marketization’: rural electrification, illiteracy, malnourishment, drinking water, healthcare. these are the issues that are driving these suicides, in my view, more than anything else.