Monday, April 30, 2007

Some Economics Links 30/4/07

ABSTRACT: "Connection to academic knowledge is a defining feature of modern expertise, and it is often treated as the key to maintaining professional authority. It is unclear however just where and when it has to be made, and how it might fail. Interviews with economists working in a variety of different settings in the United States suggest that most of their academic knowledge is too abstract to be of much substantive use, and their academic standards of scientific rigor may play only a minor role in legitimizing their day-to-day authority. This does not threaten their status however, because economists have become entrenched in a variety of organizational settings as possessors of a craft-like ‘core’ of valuable skills. The momentum of this basic institutionalization suggests that while connection to elite academic knowledge is a defining characteristic of modern expertise, it may not always be central to explaining ongoing expert authority."
A socioligist describes the Transnationalization of Economics:"The Construction of a Global Profession:The Transnationalization of Economics" by Marion Fourcade.
This article relies on an analysis of the institutionalization of economics worldwide during the 20th century to argue that the logic of professional development in this particular field has come to be increasingly defined in global terms. Connections to (mainly) U.S.-based standards of work and professional practice are routinely used in the local competition whereby different professional segments and groups seek to assert their authority on particular jurisdictions (scientific, corporate, or political). In this process of professional construction (or reconstruction), economies are being transformed through complex transnational mechanisms which, ultimately, feed back into the identity and jurisdictional claims of the economics
profession itself, both in the “core” and in the “periphery.”
"The strength of Marx’s picture is that it brings to light the dual character of the capitalist developmental logic—the intensification of exploitation through both technological upheaval (the vertical or temporal dimension) and worldwide expansion (the horizontal or geographical dimension). Just like the capitalist production process, economic ideas and
technologies are never fixed—they work continuously at their own revolution. And just like capitalism, they strive for international diffusion. Professionals—private consultants, public technocrats, and scientific experts, many of whom are trained economists—constitute the main vehicles of these transformations."

Dani Rodrik stimulates candid conversations at the core according to Steve Waldman:
“Dani Rodrik's wonderful post on free trade and prices has started an extraordinarily candid conversation among economists. Economists sometimes rudely pretend that critics of free trade simply fail to understand "Ricardo's Difficult Idea", and that skepticism amounts either to ignorance, a kind of literary snobbishness, or simple corruption. In doing so, despite protestations to the contrary and rich nuances hidden in journals, economists as a group have grown doctrinaire in policy arguments regarding trade. All of a sudden, thanks to Dani Rodrik, they've begun to fess up.” And many links to the conversations in the post.
Dani Rodrik's attempted summary.
Fun with economics from Alex Leijonhufvud and
Alan Blinder( the second article needs subscription or Jestor access).

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Judith Harris on "Why home does not matter"

Judith Harris whose research on the effects of home and parenting figured prominently in the works of Steven Pinker (How the Mind Works), Steven Levitt (Freakonomics) and Matt Ridley (Nature via Nurture) returns to the topic with a new book and an article in Prospect:
It is very readable and there is a lot of research and common sense in what she says but I am not sure about her theory of basing her conclusions on the modular brain theory. This theory is not that widely accepted. See, for example, Herbert Gintis's comments in " Adopting Minds and Evolutionary Psychology" available from the papers section of
UPDATE: Here is alink to author profile of Judith Harris and her research :
Apparently she was dismissed from a doctoral programme and is an independent reseacher.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Latest from Jayaprakash Narayan

The April 10 post from the much admired Jayaprakash Narayan of Loksatta makes a strange reading:
He first describes his conversion to market economics:
"It is now universally acknowledged that the ‘invisible hand’ of the market is a greater force of common good than the benevolence of the rulers. But even 30 years ago, this was not so obvious. I entered government service as a starry-eyed socialist with great faith in the power and intentions of the State. Then, in early 80’s, my stint as special officer of Visakhapatnam Steel Project, then India’s largest public sector project (Rs 8000 crore), looking after land acquisition, rehabilitation, labour relations and public order issues, cured me of my illusions. I learnt to my consternation that public sector in India is largely the private sector of those in public office, giving endless opportunities for pelf, privilege, patronage and petty tyranny. Mercifully, things have improved since then with progressive expansion of competition and choice. The communications and consumer goods revolution, and accelerated growth are two obvious gains of liberalization."
He then goes on to say that market cannot be the panacea to all problems and pins his fath on philanthropy:
"But that is not how the capitalist West behaves! The charities of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are known to all. The great North American Universities of Harvard, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Vanderbilt, Stanford, McGill, Duke, Illinois Institute of Technology and Vassar College were all built through private charities. Smithsonian Museum, and several foundations – Ford, Kellogg, Rockefeller, Mellon, Carnegie and Kresge – are all promoting public causes with private funds. Those wealth creators understood the best value their money could get, and pursued public causes with vigour."
See for some of the problems with this approach. The approach of Loksatta of fighting corruption , raising public awareness, building social capital have been much admired and according to World Bank reports have reduced corruption in many cases. I am not sure whether faith in philanthropy is a substitute for the more difficult path which JP followed earlier.

Blogs that make you think

Peter Klein has a list of five blogs that make him think:
Robin Verghese of up with his own list. Many blogs seem predictable after a while. I keep shifting. Some that I have been visiting regularly in the recent weeks (whether they make me think or not is not clear) are 3qurakedaily, Andrew Leonard's "How the world works" at (, Madhukar Shukla's AlternativePerspective, Rajshekhar's fracturedearth and Mark Thoma's Economists's view. No offence meant to others whom I visited in the past and am likely visit again.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Dani Rodrik wins the first Albert O. Hirschman prize

From :
"I’m delighted with the choice of Dani Rodrik as the first recipient of the SSRC’s new Albert Hirschman Prize,” said Craig Calhoun, president of the SSRC. “Professor Rodrik’s work on development economics exemplifies the kind of social science values and engagements evident in Albert Hirschman’s work, as well as the kind of necessary knowledge the Social Science Research Council aims to bring to public affairs.”"
An excerpt from the Rodrik-Subramanian paper " From 'Hindu rate of groth' to productivity surge: The mystery of the Indian growth transition" (

"Our analysis focuses on the transition to high growth in the 1980s, and we have little to say about the 1991 reforms and the experience of the 1990s. We take the view that igniting growth and sustaining it are distinct challenges, requiring different sets of policies and approaches (Rodrik 2003, Hausmann et al. 2004). This paper is concerned exclusively with the challenge of igniting growth and the story of how India seems to have overcome it.
A key fact that we establish at the outset of this paper is that the turnaround in this performance—the decisive break with the Hindu past—occurred around 1980 and not in the 1990s as most accounts have it. We are not the first to make this point: De Long (2003) and Williamson and Zagha (2002) have both emphasized that the approximate doubling of India’s growth rate took place a full decade before the 1991 reforms. Nonetheless, it is impossible to read the standard policy-oriented accounts and not leave with the impression that it is the reforms of the 1990s that have brought superlative economic performance to
India (Ahluwalia, 2002; Srinivasan and Tendulkar, 2003)."
T.N.Srinivasan's response to the above paper:

One version of Ahluwalia's views is here:

Dani Rodrik has recently started a blog:
UPDATE: Rodrik-Subramanian reply to Srinivasan's comments here (coutesy of See also

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A digger's story

From The Age on Anzac Day the story of a digger who gave his all and more:
"SOLDIER, prisoner of war and butcher, Ernest Brough has had more cause than most to think about life. For a start, at 87, he has lived a lot of it. Of one thing he is certain: it is worth more than mere money.

He lives humbly in a small, cluttered house in the Geelong suburb of Belmont, with the layers of his life piled around him.

When he sold his country block outside Geelong last year, he donated most of the proceeds — $300,000 — to St Vincent's Hospital for a new heart machine. "Money doesn't count much when you get old." he said. "I'm doing all right without the $300,000. I get a disability pension. I'm OK." "
Much more in the article. Onlt a few days ago, there was a story of businessman planning to spend around 7 million dollars for his 70th birthday bash.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Science and religion meet

in Bihar. From (via HUB)
"Hindu priests are blessing children with polio drops instead of traditional holy water, sweets or fruits to help eradicate the crippling disease in an eastern Indian state, an official said on Wednesday."

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lalita Mukherjea has a new blog

Lalita, a daughter of the Arudra couple and wife of a mathematician friend Kalyan has a new blog
where she started posting her poems in Telugu and English.

Latest from

The post gives a sampling of previous posts which have links to some important and often readble articles. I found the articles from the post "what economists should learn from sociologists' and a few others that I have been able to read quite interesting. There are also some reading recommendations on economics books from Enjoy.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Larry Sumners in Asia

Following Larry Sumners Speech in New Delhi"Ramgopal Agarwala, the senior adviser to R.I.S., or the Research and Information System for Developing Countries, quoted Mr. Summers extensively in a proposal that all Asian countries contribute to a fund that diverts money away from United States Treasury bills and into Asian infrastructure.

“If exposure to the United States deficit is not managed well, we cannot rule out a possible global recession, even depression,” said Mr. Agarwala, a former World Bank economist based in China, adding that Asia has a crucial role to play in correcting these imbalances.

The governments of China and India have both announced that they will invest their foreign exchange reserves in new areas, which will divert them from United States Treasury bills.

Subir Gokarn, the chief economist at Crisil, a ratings agency in India, said that Mr. Summers’s remarks about “the race to the bottom, and the adverse effects of globalization” strike a chord in Asia." See also Brad DELong' remarks in his weblog; and the comments there.

Some ideas of William Easterly

In view of the recent Easterly-Sachs debates, it may be useful to go back to Amartya Sen's review of Easterly's "The White Man's Burden" and Easterly's response.
From Sen's review:

“All of this is a great pity, since Easterly's book offers a line of analysis that could serve as the basis for a reasoned critique of the formulaic thinking and policy triumphalism of some of the literature on economic development. The wide-ranging and rich evidence -- both anecdotal and statistical -- that Easterly cites in his sharply presented arguments against grand designs of different kinds deserves serious consideration. In a less extreme form, they could have yielded an illuminating critical perspective on how and why things often do go wrong in the global efforts to help the world's poor.
The challenge is to respond to the plight of the hopelessly impoverished without neglecting to insist that help come in useful and productive forms.

In fact, Easterly makes exactly that point once the blast of rhetoric is turned down: "The good news about the noisy anti-globalization protesters, the hard-working NGOs, the rock bands and the movie stars, and the rich-country governments' increased interest in the Rest coming after 9/11 is that the constituency for the poor is growing. It's time for the rich-country public to insist that aid money actually reach the poor." Although not coming until after page 200, those sentences provide a better summary of the contribution of The White Man's Burden than do the rather extreme slogans to which Easterly chooses to give pride of place.
On the basis of his own investigations, Easterly is in an excellent position to systematize such insights. But this does not quite happen here, despite Easterly's occasional suggestions for how to make international aid more effective and less wasteful.
Perhaps the weakest link in Easterly's reasoning is his almost complete neglect of the distinctions between different types of economic problems
There is much of merit in Easterly's perceptive vision about initiatives, incentives, and communication. We should be grateful to Easterly for the wealth of material he has presented, thereby enriching the development literature. We may have less reason to celebrate -- or even to accept -- the diagnosis of idiocy and obduracy he gives to those whom he calls "planners." But there is a strong case for judging a book by its best contributions, not its weakest points. My hope is that the "searchers" among the readers of The White Man's Burden will look for the convincing arguments Easterly does provide rather than for those he does not.”
From Easterly’ response to Sen:
“I have two responses: first, a "rhetorical drubbing" can promote accountability; second, the book does in fact offer positive alternatives to the conventional approach being drubbed.”
A drastic example of the sort that Easterly fears from Martin Walker’s review of “The White Man’s Burden”:
“From the air, one curious fact became clear. The vast swath of scrubland known as the Sahel, which translates as “the shore,” marks the transition from the true desert to the fertile lands of the south that are watered by the Volta and Niger rivers. It was dotted with recently built wells, and with their pumps and concrete rims these new wells were the epicenters not of the drought but of the death of the land around them. Great pans of dried mud and rutted dust stretched out in vast circles from each one. So after endless interviews with aid workers and local people and farmers, the real dimensions of this tragedy became clear. The drought was a man-made disaster, a tragedy of good intentions and of foreign aid.

The Sahel tragedy would fit perfectly into William Easterly’s new book, The White Man’s Burden, whose real message is in its long subtitle—“Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.”
The grand project to make the Sahel more fertile, for example, began in the late 1950s when most of West Africa was under French rule, and the French built hundreds of wells to tap the underground aquifers. They also built rural health clinics, which meant that more babies survived and fewer adults died. A population explosion then followed, of humans because of the health system, and of livestock because of the wells and the need to feed the extra human mouths. Families that had two cows and a camel and a dozen goats very quickly became wealthy with new herds, a process that could be measured in the rise of the bride-price from one cow in the 1950s to a dozen by 1970.

But these extra animals, while plentifully supplied with water, also had to eat, and the Sahel was too fragile an ecology to feed them. So they ate everything, the scrubby thorn trees and the sparse grasses that stopped the thinnest of topsoil from being blown away in the Sahara winds. And the first places to be overgrazed into desert were the areas around the new wells. So while it was true that the Sahara was advancing by fifty kilometers a year and more, it was jumping from the dead zone of one new well to the next. The French aid program, while a short-term triumph, produced an ecological disaster, and the Sahel drought was nature’s way of killing off the population explosion and restoring the delicate balance between the Sahel’s limited supply and the voracious demands of the animals and humans.

The humanitarian airlifts and aid funds that were triggered by the heartrending reporting of this disaster could not do much for the livestock, but they helped save a lot of lives—at a further price. The food and medical aid centers were set up near the big cities where the roads were reasonable, and so towns like Agadez and Niamey, Ougadougou and Timbuktu, became surrounded by vast refugee camps for people who had nothing in the Sahel to return to. The Tuareg and the other Sahel nomads stayed, to become a burden to the fragile governments of poor and newly independent countries like Niger, Mali, and Upper Volta. Political tensions inevitably arose between Muslim nomads and the Christian blacks of the south, and scuffles over grazing rights for the few camels that were left to the nomad refugees turned into skirmishes and even gunfights. It was not what the French had bargained for.”
A more recnt article by Easterly on Africa here. Easterly and collaborators wonder whether thewealth of the nations was already determined by 1000BC.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Latest from fracturedearth

Rajshekar studies microfinance and women's empowerment in a somewhat cryptic study. The first part studies the transormation of MFIs (Micro Finance Institutions). Excepts:
"A brief backgrounder now before I discuss how the business changed for them: MFIs do not operate like traditional banks. That is, they are not classified as depository institutions that take client deposits and use them as lending capital. They focus on lending. The problem with this approach is that it isn’t easy to generate capital for lending purposes. Most of the capital they lend, especially in the early stages, comes in the form of contributions by governments, from philanthropic organizations and individuals, and as loans from governments and institutions that incur interest at below market rates. As an MFI matures, it can start borrowing from banks, and then on-lend it further at its own risk. This is clearly preferable from an operational basis as it demonstrates an ability to exist outside of the unreliable world of voluntary contributions.(26) Now, with the financial constraint lifted, the MFIs were free to expand as rapidly as they like.
It is pertinent to mention here that the rapid growth in MFI lending took place after 2003, with the introduction of ICICI Bank’s ‘partnership’ model. In this model, the MFI becomes an agent of the commercial bank.
.......This pressure to achieve institutional sustainability reflects in policy decisions to expand the scale of the programme, to increase the volume of loans disbursed per borrower, increase interest rates, tighten repayment discipline by enforcing punitive strategies and offer minimalist credit programmes. Minimalist, incidentally, refers to an approach which focuses only on providing financial services, as opposed to the more holistic “microfinance plus” approach which seeks to also provide livelihood support, or so-called “business development” services. Minimalist MFIs (the vast majority, says Ghate) recognise the importance of livelihood support services but take the view they are best provided by specialist NGOs and the public sector.(32)"
"To sum up. If they are to scale up, MFIs need funds from the commercial sector. But, this being commercial capital, the MFIs need to invest these funds in a sustainable, risk-averse. Which means that the MFIs will have to either abjure from lending to the very poor or accompany every loan with very strict conditionalities. In Andhra, so far, they have opted for the latter approach. And that, as we have seen, can hurt the women. An empowered woman would be in a position to resist changes that go against her interests. And yet, if the suicides, in India and Bangladesh, are anything to go by, the borrowers are not always in a position to resist the MFIs."
The second part, which I found more difficult, is about the empowerment of women. Excerpts:
"Much of the euphoria over microfinance as a silver bullet to solve the two problems of poverty and gender inequity rests upon two assumptions. One, pushing up the earnings of poor women by making available enough credit to engage in gainful occupations will help them gain greater bargaining power within their households; and, two, bringing together women in groups will not only strengthen their earning capacities, but also create an institutional space from where they can articulate their interests.(42) Mayoux calls this a virtuous spiral — women’s access to micro-credit leads to more well-being for families leading to greater bargaining power for women within the household, which then is seen to lead to greater empowerment in the public as a group.(43)
Whether this claim stands up to scrutiny has been the subject of much debate. According to Mayoux, for many women, (microfinance’s) impact on social and economic empowerment does appear to be marginal, and some women might be disempowered.(44) That is echoed by the findings of Goetz and Sen Gupta in Bangladesh. They found that on average women retained full or significant control over loan use in just 37% of the cases; nearly 22% of respondents were either unable to give details of loan use, or were aware of how their husbands or other male household members had used loans, but were not themselves involved in the productive process; about 43% of the cases, they found, fell into three categories of partial, very limited, or no control: indicating a fairly significant pattern of loss of direct control over credit.(45)
Schemes like Kudumbashree, they aver, define ‘women’s empowerment’ as increasing their capacity to improve the well-being of their families. Empowerment here, they say, does not mean revolutionary change in power structures, but merely the creation of greater space and flexibility for the poor within the existing limits, postponing the more far-reaching changes to a distant future hopefully reached through the ‘virtuous spiral’.
This, they say, is not good enough. It cannot be. That puts the women in a very defenceless position vis:a:vis the development apparatus – be it the MFIs or the state government.
To challenge patriarchy, one needs to transform economic structures. And so, they write, a feminist interventionist micro-finance programme would define empowerment very differently. In such a context, it would be defined as the women acquiring the capability to transform the newly created opportunities and spaces so that the very limits of existing institutions, public and domestic, are challenged.(57)
The question is whether minimalist microfinance is good enough to deliver that."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

An argument of Sir Arthur Cotton

"n 1878, Arthur Cotton had to appear before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on India Affairs consisting of 18 members (not one of them an engineer) to justify and vindicate his stand that irrigation expansion any day deserves a better investment than railways: "... the railways cannot carry either the quantities, or at the price, that is essential in India, ... or nothing can be more certain than that in the present case the future of India's millions depends greatly upon whether money is still expended upon Railways, to cost £9,000 a mile and carry 30,000 tons at one penny, or upon canals to cost from £2,000 to £8,000 and carry two or three million tons at one twentieth of a penny, and whether districts are to be put into the state of Tanjore, Kistna and Godavari, or left in the state of the rest of the Carnatic last year and of Orissa, Bihar and Central India a few years ago... " "
See the rest of the article for a plan of Sonti Ramamurthi which has not been followed up.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Some cleaning hints from Ecofriend

aboutremoving stains,
cleaning toilets and
natural air purifiers.

The boy who played chess with Kurt Vonnegut

Andrew Leonard writes about Vonnegut:
Several more links about Vonnegut at 3quarksdaily. Andrew Leonard writes frequently about India in his blog (he is the same chap who praised Madhular Shukla and wrote about Glenn Davis Stone's work on Indian agriculture). Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

When everybody wore No.42 uniform

From Age Sports.:
" All over the major leagues, on the 60th anniversary of his first major league game, dozens of players, including the Los Angeles Dodgers team that won 9-3 against the San Diego Padres, wore uniforms with his No. 42 on the back in honour of Jackie Robinson Day.


Wherever the Dodgers played, especially in St Louis and Cincinnati, black people from all over the South travelled to cheer him. But not everybody accepted him. Early in the 1951 season, the Dodgers arrived in Cincinnati after a life-threatening letter was delivered to the Reds' offices.

"Our manager, Charlie Dressen, got up and read the letter to us about how if Jackie took the field, he'll be shot," Carl Erskine, a revered Dodger right-hander of that era, recalled.

"There was complete silence. But then Gene Hermanski (the Dodgers left-fielder at the time) "piped up: 'Hey, Skip, I've got an idea. If we all wore 42 out there, they won't know who to shoot.' " Everybody laughed, especially Robinson.

When the Dodgers went out to warm up, Robinson was standing near Reese who joked: "You mind moving over a little, Jack, this guy might be a bad shot."

Robinson's trailblazing in baseball pre-dated the civil rights movement, which he later championed.

But until Sunday, Hermanski's joke was the only time it had been suggested that No. 42 should be worn by all the Dodgers, much less by dozens of other major leaguers. It should happen more often than once every 60 years."

Two interesting posts about China

one at Angry Bear and another at Brad Sester's blog.. Check also the comments, paericularly those by Dave Chiang in the second. One of Dave Ciang's comments:
"At this economic juncture, Chinese economic strategy in regards to its cache of US Dollar foreign reserves, is to minimize the damage to its economy when the dollar-centered global financial regime unravels. China is certainly recycling some of what it earns from trade surpluses to buy natural resources, companies, technology and oil wells abroad. But more investment flows are coming into China than are leaving it; this is what finances the factories that dot the Chinese landscape and the skyscrapers sprouting everywhere in its cities. Meanwhile, China’s current-account surplus translates into a vast build-up of dollar holdings. Whatever else China’s leaders may think about the United States, they can have no illusions that the dollars they have accumulated can ever be redeemed for anything close to their current purchasing power values. The Chinese also hope that when the dollar-centered global financial regime unravels, they will have an economy sufficiently developed to withstand the economic shock. With booming inter-regional Asian trade, unless the US Economy plunges into a depression, the continental Chinese economy is rapidly rising to the critical mass for self-sustaining domestic growth. That will allow it to deal with the collapse in American purchasing power when the US is finally forced to live within its means. The political fallout is another question entirely. The collapse of the dollar will take with it the US global hegemony project; the United States will be hard-pressed to sustain its global military reach in a world where it must earn euros or yen to pay its foreign creditors rather than print more Federal Reserve paper."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Euler's 300th birthday

celebration is drawing several articles particularly about his beautiful equation:
He was one of those who could work on any area of mathematics on any day and in the days when proofs were not always sound could feel his way through most complicated concepts and computations. Some say that he and Jacobi were the only two comparable to Srinivasa Ramanujam for their feel for astonishing formulae and he was probably the first to realize the many valuedness of the logarithmic function. He was also a religious man and there is this 'story' of his proof for the existence of god. If you sum the series 1-1+1-1+1-1+1... by one grouping (1-1)+(1-1) get 0 and if you sum it 1+(-1+1)+(-1+1)+..., you get 1. Apparently this was how god created something out of nothing. The precise notion of infinite sums, called convergence, became clearer only with Cauchy but Euler got away with playing around with non-convergent series.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Rain forests sold for bags of sugar?


Some articles on consciousness

For some reason, questtion about god, consciouness and happiness do not seem to bother me (though having been poor off and on, poverty does); may be they will when I am older. I seem to read article son these topics only if they are short and readable and then forget them. Here are three such:
“The Society of selves” by Nicholas Humphry:
Paul Bork’s review of Nicholas Humphry’s “Seeing Red:A Study of Consciousness”
V.S. Ramachandran's latest in Edge:

I would like to believe this

From New Scientist:
"People with Parkinson's disease are less likely to be smokers and coffee drinkers than their healthy siblings, according to a study of family members. The finding adds to a growing body of evidence that some substance in tobacco might protect the brain against this devastating neurological disorder and sheds new light on coffee's effects on the disease."
Twice, when I gave up smoking for a while, my psoriatic arthritis increased.

Getting dirty

may lift your mood:
"Treatment of mice with a 'friendly' bacteria, normally found in the soil, altered their behavior in a way similar to that produced by antidepressant drugs, reports research published in the latest issue of Neuroscience.
These findings, identified by researchers at the University of Bristol and colleagues at University College London, aid the understanding of why an imbalance in the immune system leaves some individuals vulnerable to mood disorders like depression."

Science Trains

and Science circuses planned in China (via 3quarksdaily):
"As part of its 15-year plan to develop nationwide science and technology literacy, particularly among farmers and migrant workers, Beijing has rolled out an 860 million renminbi ($111 million) initiative to introduce China's vast, rural adult population to science. Formally established last year, the program uses unusual means such as "science trains" and "science circuses" to deliver its message. Academics and educators now tour the country, traversing even remote areas of Inner Mongolia and Gansu provinces, where they greet locals, hand out materials and books translated into the nation's minority languages, and unfurl red banners that read "Spread the Scientific Spirit."
"There is a recognition within science policy-making structures that at a time when the level of investment [in science] is rising so rapidly, there is a need to bring people with them in that endeavor," says James Wilsdon, director of the science and innovation program for United Kingdom consultancy Demos, who recently spent five months in China interviewing science officials. "It's important that the vast hinterland of the Chinese population feels that this push for scientific development is about doing stuff that will improve the quality of their lives."

As China pours money into ambitious initiatives like nanotechnology, supercomputers, and its space program, surveys suggest that as much as 98 percent of the population lacks the education necessary to comprehend the basics of science. But scientific achievement is increasingly part of modern China's nationalism, and so the country's uneducated workers—traditional allies in government-engendered nationalism—must comprehend science. President Hu Jintao called recently on government workers to "on all fronts vigorously publicize scientific development...and to instill it in the hearts of the people.""

Monday, April 09, 2007

2007 Reith lectures

by Jeffrey Sachs start on 11th April, 2007. Further information at:

Message from

At , see

-- Process to Obtain: Birth Certificate, Caste Certificate, Death
Certificate, Domicile Certificate, Driving Licence, Marriage Certificate,
Tribe Certificate, etc.

-- Process to Apply for: Inclusion of name in the Electoral Rolls, Passport,
PAN Card, Ration Card, TAN, etc.

- Process to Check / Track: Agricultural Market Prices Online, Causelist of
Indian Courts, Court Judgements, Exam Results, Land Records, Speed Post
Status, Status of Stolen Vehicles, etc.

-- Process to Complain to Central Vigilance Commission, etc.

If you know of other useful online information pertaining to Citizens, do
let us know.


Linguistic Nationalism etc from Language Log

Somewhat incoherent post on linguistic nationalism from Language Log but it has lot of references and comments. As the author Max Liberman says "At some point, I really should arrange all these comments on the political history of language policies into a coherent overall framework...".

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Summary of IPCC Report from BBC

is available here. Excerpts:
"Billions of people face shortages of food and water and increased risk of flooding, experts at a major climate change conference have warned.

"It's the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Key findings of the report include:

75-250 million people across Africa could face water shortages by 2020

Crop yields increase could increase by 20% in East and Southeast Asia, but decrease by up to 30% in Central and South Asia

Agriculture fed by rainfall could drop by 50% in some African countries by 2020

20-30% of all plant and animal species at increased risk of extinction if temperatures rise between 1.5-2.5C

Glaciers and snow cover expected to decline, reducing water availability in countries supplied by melt water
The report states that the observed increase in the global average temperature was "very likely" due to man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

The scientific work reviewed by IPCC scientists includes more than 29,000 pieces of data on observed changes in physical and biological aspects of the natural world.

Eighty-nine percent of these, it believes, are consistent with a warming world."
This is the second IPCC report , the third is due in May and a final summing up in November.

UPDATE: More on the climate divide here. Excerpt:
"In almost every instance, the people most at risk from climate change live in countries that have contributed least to the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases linked to the recent warming of the planet.

Those most vulnerable countries also tend to be the poorest. And the countries that face the least harm - and are best equipped to deal with the harm they do face - tend to be the richest.

To advocates of unified action to curb greenhouse gases, this growing realization is not welcome news.

"The original idea was that we were all in this together, and that was an easier idea to sell," said Robert Mendelsohn, an economist at Yale University.

"But the research is not supporting that. We're not in it together."

The large industrialized countries are more resilient partly because of geography; they are mostly in mid-latitude regions with Goldilocks climates - neither too hot nor too cold.

Many enjoy gifts like the thick rich soil and generous growing season of the American corn belt or the forgiving weather of France and New Zealand.

But a bigger factor is their wealth - wealth built at least partly on a century or more of burning coal, oil and the other fossil fuels that underlie their mobile, industrial, climate-controlled way of life."

Friday, April 06, 2007

ILO-WTO study: Trade and Employment

is available online here. See neweconomist blogfor more information.

Two articles on academic research in India

particularly in social science and humanities. The first by Harsh Sethi is inIndian Express and a follow up by Arun Thiruvengadam is in Law and Otherthings Blog . From Harsh Sethi's article:
"Alongside the horror of what seems to have transpired in Nandigram, though verifiable details are still awaited, is the deep disappointment with the attempt of some prominent Left intellectuals to ‘rationalise’ and contextually locate the actions of the Left Front government in West Bengal.
The end result is not only the paucity of quality research — exceptions apart — in the social sciences and humanities, but worse, ex-ante postulations, over-reliance on experiential insights and ideological biases marking public debate, often to the detriment of public policy. Without falling prey to xenophobia, it is time that we ask ourselves why so often some of the best analysis of Indian problems, both past and present, is available in the work of the foreign or non-resident Indian scholar.
How often do we come across examples of involvement with student learning, mentoring younger researchers or translating key texts in non-English Indian languages. So why be surprised if there is considerable scepticism about the constant carping about work loads, salary scales and retirement benefits? Let’s face it, once tenured in public institutions, there is little demand for performance. More than a shortage of resources, far too many of our academics are lazy; they can get away without working.
As one of my senior colleagues once pointed out, the Indian intellectual environment is characterised by a skewed bi-modal distribution. Most academics do not have the wherewithal to engage in meaningful intellectual tasks. Those that do, once they have made their reputations or established their networks, are chased by a plethora of clients. For them it is a seller’s market. Quality invariably suffers."
Arun is concerned about the paucity of quality research on the reservations problem and says:
"Hopefully, the debate over the case will spur more academic legal research on the issue of reservations in India. It is clear that policy-makers and judges in India will greatly benefit from such research."
Even though many of the foreign researchers are very professional and seem thorough, it is not always clear what their interests are. Again we may need some help and study to sort such things out. See, for example the articles on GM seeds by various experts. In this context, I found the format of some of the articles in Current Anthropology useful. For example the article by Glenn Davis Stone "Agricultural Deskilling..." ( has substantial comments by other experts and Davis' response at the end. This kind of format brings together diverse opinions, researches and references so that the reader has a wide choice and research to base his/her opinions.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Regulating SMS content providers

From The Age :
"Snowballing complaints about "premium" SMS services - paid content such as ringtones, games, news and information sent to your mobile phone - have resulted in new rules for telephone companies and content providers, including the introduction of a universal "STOP" command. Disputed charges for premium SMS were described as the "stand-out issue" in the billing category in the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman's most recent annual report. Complaints in this area jumped from 1708 issues in 2004-05 to 5890 12 months later. Many of the complaints involved consumers disputing SMS charges on the basis they didn't knowingly subscribe to a service or because they'd been unable to stop a service.

The ombudsman's annual report gives the example of one complainant whose son faced a bill for more than $2000 for a premium SMS service he had been unable to stop. In an effort to end the service, the son had contacted the telephone company, who passed on contact details for the content provider.

"However, when he dialled the numbers, they didn't connect successfully and he was unable to stop the messages," the report says."

But there are signs a new industry scheme aimed at preventing such problems is having an effect. Premium services on "19" numbers are regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which last year ruled the industry had to come up with a self-regulatory scheme covering such services."

This case study is fairly close to what happened to us; in our case the phone was lost/stolen and whoever had the phone subscribed to the services and we kept getting the bills. We could not terminate the telephone service since it was contracted for two years. And so on.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Unnatural order on natural numbers

The February 2007 issue of Americam Mathematical Monthly has another short proof of Sharkowski's (Sakowskii's) Theorem. We all know that a continuous map of the closed interval I=[0,1] to itself has a fixed point, that is number x in [0,1] with f(x)=x ( this is one version of Intermediate Value Theorem). Since f(x) ia also in I, we can apply f to f(x) and keep interating . Call the nth interate f^n (x). If f^n (x)=x but not for a smaller integer, then x is called a periodic point of order n for f. The Sharkowski Theorem gives a strange order on the natural numbers asserts that if f has a periodic point of order n, then f has a periodic point of order m for every m less than n in the Sharkowski order. The Sharkowski order is the following: First take odd numbers in the reverse order 3>5>7>.., the multiples of these numbers by 2 in the reverse order 2.3>2.5>2.7>..., then 4.3>4.5>4.7>...>8.3>8.5>8.7>...16.3>16.5>...and finally all powers of two in the usual order 32>16>8>4>2>1. The number one is considered the zeroth power of 2.
That is the strange theorem; I came across it in 80's when some economists wanted me to explain the proofs. Most proofs are elementary but the above seems to be very short (the author thanks Sharkowski for suggestions). The theorem in particular asserts that if f has a periodic point of order 3, then it has a periodic point of every order. This corollary became famous as the statement "period three implies chaos". Some connections are explained in the Wikipedia article's_theorem. Another generalization of the above version of the Intermediate Value Theorem is the Brouwer Fixed Point Theorem. This again has a nice constructive proof (which finds approximate fixed points) by economists Scarf and Eves.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Paul Cohen's Obituary by Barkley Rosser

The conomist John Barkley Rosser Jr. has an obituary of Paul Cohen in his blog:
Rosser Sr. was a famous logician.

Two articles on 'reverse globalization'

From Brad Setser’s Blog;
“The phrase the “uphill flow of capital” seems to have caught on. It is a vivid way of describing a world where poor countries finance rich countries. Or, a bit more accurately, China and some no-longer-all-that-poor oil exporting countries finance the US.

I wonder if the term “reverse globalization” will also catch on. Nasser al-Shaali, chief executive of the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Authority, recently used the term "reverse globalization" to describe one likely long-term consequence of the uphill flow of capital: Emerging markets will be buying companies – not just bonds – in the developed world.

"Reverse globalization - when you have emerging market players going out and acquiring developed institutions - is a tide that no matter how you try to swing against it, will be very very prevalent in the years to come," he [Shaali] said.

You can quibble about the term. Globalization as a term could easily describe a two-way flow of funds around the globe. Call it financial integration. That is basically how the transatlantic economy works. US firms invest in Europe. European firms invest in the US. Their respective positions basically balance each other out.”
Setser concludes:
“Remember, creditors – not debtors – traditionally have set the rules of the global financial game. Right now the US is a debtor – a big one. But the US still expects to set the rules, more or less. My guess is that most US business circles still think globalization means something close to the global Americanization of finance and business. It may. But it also may not.
Reverse globalization may not be a bad term.
From Tina Rosenberg’s article “Reversing Foreign Aid”:
“Historically, the global balance sheet has favored poor countries. But with the advent of globalized markets, capital began to move in the other direction, and the South now exports capital to the North, at a skyrocketing rate. According to the United Nations, in 2006 the net transfer of capital from poorer countries to rich ones was $784 billion, up from $229 billion in 2002. (In 1997, the balance was even.) Even the poorest countries, like those in sub-Saharan Africa, are now money exporters.
No one planned the rapid swelling of reserves. Other South-to-North subsidies, by contrast, have been built into the rules of globalization by international agreements. Consider the World Trade Organization’s requirements that all member countries respect patents and copyrights — patents on medicines and industrial and other products; copyrights on, say, music and movies. As poorer countries enter the W.T.O., they must agree to pay royalties on such goods — and a result is a net obligation of more than $40 billion annually that poorer countries owe to American and European corporations.

There are good reasons for countries to respect intellectual property, but doing so is also an overwhelming burden on the poorest people in poorer countries. After all, the single largest beneficiary of the intellectual-property system is the pharmaceutical industry. But consumers in poorer nations do not get much in return, as they do not form a lucrative enough market to inspire research on cures for many of their illnesses. Moreover, the intellectual-property rules make it difficult for poorer countries to manufacture less-expensive generic drugs that poor people rely on. The largest cost to poor countries is not money but health, as many people simply will not be able to find or afford brand-name medicine.”