Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rethinking GDP

The post Science Envy/ in 'Stumbling and Mumbling' led via Brian Appleyard to 'United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation' hearings on
Rethinking the Gross Domestic Product as a Measurement of National Strength in March, 2008. It has interesting testimonies, particularly by Robert Frank and Jonathan Rowe.
Rowe's GDP Testimony describes the origins of the concept of GDP and some of the later developments in US. Here are some excerpts:

"“The welfare of a nation can, therefore, scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined above.”

That’s what the man who invented the GDP – its predecessor, more precisely – told Congress regarding the use of his invention. Yet Congress has done exactly what Kuznets urged it not to do. Congress and everybody else.

How exactly that came about is another long story. It began with the gradual seep of the new accounts into the political arena. In his 1936 re-election campaign, Franklin Roosevelt noted that the economy – as defined by the national accounts – had increased under his watch. It was a number: who could resist?
Then came World War II, when the national accounts played a central role in the
mobilization effort. A bitter debate erupted in Washington over the nation’s
production goals. Corporate leaders insisted that the mobilization must come out of the existing level of production They didn’t want to be stuck with excess capacity when the war was over. Kuznets and others argued to the contrary that the U.S. had vast troves of untapped capacity; and they used the national accounts to prove it.

FDR sided with the “all-outers” as this group was called. They appealed to his belief in the energizing effects of challenges; Roosevelt took their high estimates
and made them even higher, the better to make his point. (The planners then had to shift gears argue the case for system limits, which the national accounts also helped them do.) Then the accounts helped to coordinate the war production so as to prevent bottlenecks and snafus. By 1944 war production alone had surpassed the nation’s entire output just ten years before.

It was as close as the nation ever has come to pure economic planning; and much reviled, it helped to win the war. Post-war surveys revealed that Germany had no such planning tool, and Hitler’s production program had been greatly hindered as a result. America had become the “arsenal of democracy” in part through a top-down approach made possible by the national accounts. A paper published by the Russell Sage Foundation called the use of these “one of the great technical triumphs in the history of the economics discipline.”

This was heady stuff, and it was just a start. As the war was winding down, the
accounts served again to guide the shift back to a peacetime basis without relapse into the dreaded Depression. Consumption was the key; the Cold War, with its Pentagon spending, was not yet in prospect. As war production diminished, shoppers would have to pick up the slack. The national accounts showed exactly how it could be done. As John Kenneth Galbraith put it in a series of articles for Fortune Magazine, “One good reason for expecting prosperity after the war is the fact that we can lay down its specifications.”

The new Keynesian economists such as Galbraith were now the Merlins of prosperity, and the national accounts were their magic wand. Consumption itself was taking on a heroic stature; the returning troops were handing off the mantle of national purpose to the shoppers who would replace them in keeping the industrial machinery in motion. (The heroic imagery persists in media accounts today, as when we read that consumers will provide the “engine” for recovery, or that they will “pull” the nation out of its recession.)"
Another discussion comparing GDP and GNP/I in Dissent.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A petition

Dear Friends,

I have just read and signed the online petition:

"Condemn the arrest of Andhrajyothy Editor and journalists"

hosted on the web by, the free online petition
service, at:

I personally agree with what this petition says, and I think you might
agree, too. If you can spare a moment, please take a look, and consider
signing yourself.

Best wishes,

Gadde Anandaswarup

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Children concerned by parents' web habits

says The Local, Sweden's News in English (via Naked Capitalism):
"Children in Sweden are becoming increasingly concerned by their parents' internet habits, according to a new report from Children's Rights in Society (Barnens Rätt i Samhället - BRIS)."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ramguha's latest

Will India Become A Superpower? in 'The Outlook'. A long article and any excerpt will not convey its full thrust, but here is one:
"The challenge of the Naxalites; the insidious presence of the Hindutvawadis; the degradation of the once liberal and upright centre; the increasing gap between the rich and the poor; the trivialisation of the media; the unsustainability, in an environmental sense, of present patterns of resource consumption; the instability and policy incoherence caused by multi-party coalition governments—these are the seven reasons why India will not become a superpower. To this, so to say objective judgement of the historian, I will now add the subjective desires of a citizen—which is that India should not even attempt to become a superpower.
To follow the Naxalites is to plunge India into decades of civil war; to follow the Hindu right is to persecute and demonise large numbers of one’s own countrymen; to follow the market fundamentalists is to intensify the divisions between the consuming and the surviving classes (and to destroy the global environment in the process). Rather than nurture or act upon these utopian fantasies, the Indian patriot must focus instead on the tasks of gradual and piecemeal reform. We need to repair, one by one, the institutions that have safeguarded our unity amidst diversity, and to forge, also one by one, the new institutions that can help us meet the fresh challenges of the 21st century. It will be hard, patient, slow work—that is to say, the only kind of work that is ever worth it."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A key to better drugs to fight toxoplasmosis

From a Physorg report ( via Evol. Psych. discussion group):
"An estimated 60 million people in the United States are infected with the toxoplasmosis parasite, but for most infection produces flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, for people with immune system problems – such as those undergoing chemotherapy or people with AIDS – the disease can cause serious effects including lung problems, blurred vision and seizures. Also, infants born to mothers who are infected during or shortly before pregnancy are at risk for severe complications, miscarriages or stillbirths.
Medications to treat Toxoplasma gondii are effective but too toxic for extended use, and they don't affect the cyst form, said Dr. Sullivan.

"A healthy immune system can keep this parasite in the cyst state. Without a healthy immune system, this organism can run rampant," said Dr. Sullivan. "This can be a very serious problem for people with AIDS."

The discovery linking this stress-response mechanism to cyst formation and maintenance not only offers a possible target for new drugs, but it could also lead to a preventative vaccine – for animals.

The Toxoplasma gondii parasite can infect most animals and birds, but it reproduces in cats, which can shed the parasite in their feces. Humans can be infected through contact with the infected feces or litter. People can also become infected by consuming undercooked meat.

A vaccine to prevent infection in cats and livestock could prevent a significant proportion of human infections, Dr. Sullivan said."
An earlier post with some links here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I missed this

Despite trying to follow the developments in agriculture, I missed The SYSTEM of
. The only recent post in the blogs I can find is from
Gururajan. And there is a very interesting 2006 article by Dr. C. Shambu Prasad about the adoptations of SRIin India( This article is also available at the SRI site in the articles section. If anybody knows more about this, please let me know.
I wrote three journalists and writers in India. Here are some of their comments.
"SRI has been around for quite some time now. The state government and some NGOs like WASSAN & Timbaktu have been promoting it. While the initial results are encouraging, the adoption of this new method seem to be abysmally low. Excessive weed seems to be one of the major problems. Lack of training is another issue.
May be its not that easy to change the mindset that has developed over centuries..."
"Evidently such info should percolate down to those who would benefit from it."
"sri is indeed the future revolution. in fact it can be tried with other crops like wheat also. only thing it involves more labour and so farmers are slow at going for it. however, things are slowly moving forward."
More recent discussions and articles available at Farmerfirst.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some posts on migration

New Economist Blog has a few posts on migration. The postSkilled migration boosts innovation discusses paper of Jennifer Hunt: "In this paper I have demonstrated the important boost to innovation per capita provided by skilled immigration to the United States in 1950-2000. A calculation of the effect of immigration in the 1990-2000 period puts the magnitudes of the effects in context." I thought that I noticed this and also in a few cases that I know the immigrants seem to perform better in adopted countries than their native countries. I do not have any real evidence for the second part of the statement except a few cases.
The second is about How rural villages have gained from China's great migration
and a third is about Why people emigrate.
In Rural Development of India , Malapati Raja Sekhar draws attention to a Business India report Urbanisation of rural India which may have implications to urban migration .

Monday, June 16, 2008

Palli Samaj under a communist govt.

Dayabati Roy studies two villages in west Bengal in an EPW article Whither the Subaltern Domain?
– An Ethnographic Enquiry
. Abstract:
"Decentralisation of power and the institution of the panchayati raj system in West Bengal have been expected to aid the disappearance of subalternity (or a state of
powerlessness) by way of caste, class and gender. On the contrary, an ethnographic investigation in a village panchayat reveals that divisions between the elite and the subaltern continue to exist in a complex form despite grassroots democracy in the state."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Talat sings a Rafi song

Chal Ud Ja Re Pancchi (via Namburi Ramakrishna). Telugu version of the song by GhantasalaPayaninche O Chiluka.

'The Sea of Poppies'

by Amitav Ghosh is reviewed in The Outlook by William Darlymple.
Darlymple finds 'lack of nuance unusual in Ghosh’s writing' in parts of the novel but "Poppies remains a hugely absorbing and enjoyable book. Ghosh has abandoned the sophisticated literary experimentation that marked his superb early books such as The Shadow Lines and The Circle of Reason, and is now channelling his creative energies into the skilful story-telling and pacey narrative development which made The Glass Palace such a wonderfully gripping tale."
I am not much of a fiction reader but I found 'In an Antique Land' wonderful and was disappointed by 'The Glass Palace'. Writing one's own view of historical episodes seems to be a bit of cop out since it does not allow much discussion. The success of the effort depends on how nuanced the effort is. The balance was there in "In an Antique Land" but there were already hints of anger at the violence that the west brought to the 'gentle' international trade and of latent patriotism in his outburst with the Imam. The characters of 'The glass place' seemed more one dimensional and the events described are the author's own version of history. May be such novels will make good Bollywood but it is not clear how useful they are to understand historical events.
Darlymple comments
"This is a world, familiar from Bollywood movies like Mangal Pandey, where the Indian characters are invariably drawn vulnerable and big-hearted, while the English are uniformly unfeeling brutes.

Cumulatively this shows a lack of nuance unusual in Ghosh’s writing: after all, anyone who reads the letters of the British in India in the 1830s will certainly find plenty of ruthless racists, but among them there were also many sympathetic Indophiles—gentle converts to Hinduism like General Charles "Hindoo" Stuart who during the period in which this novel is set was writing a long series of articles in the Calcutta Telegraph trying to persuade the Bengali memsahibs to adopt the sari (something he believed would, especially when wet, "eminently contribute to keeping the bridal torch for ever in a blaze"), or wonderful writers like Fanny Parkes whose book Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque, again dealing exactly with the time period of this novel, expresses a deep and perceptively informed love for India and its inhabitants. There were also a surprisingly large number of mixed marriages in this period: after all, as recently as the beginning of the 19th century one in three British wills in India left everything to an Indian woman or an Anglo-Indian child. None of this complexity is even hinted at in the novel, which is almost Manichean in its racial profiling."
This time, it is not clear to me whether such Britishers or children of mixed marriages had any effect on the general thrust of the empire or in Indian 'development'. There are some characters like Bharati in 'Pather Dabi', Kamala in 'Sesh Prasna' but the overall effect of such characters seems mimimal(People like George Orwell are considered more British than Anglo Indian). Despite his deep prejudices (recall his anti-Islam papmphlet) Sarat seems to have brought a fine balance to his novels and stories like Mahesh and I think that this balance is missing in Ghosh's historical novels like 'The Glass Palace'.
P.S.See also 'The Ghazipur And Patna Opium Factories Together Produced The Wealth Of Britain' and It Just Isn’t Manufactured History.
Excerpt fromthe first:"The novel as a form allows you this incredible freedom, it allows you to put in anything you want."
Update (June 23): Anotherinterview (via Churumuri)

Friday, June 13, 2008

From World Bank blogs

The Global Food Crisis: Will Investments in Agricultural Technology be enough?:
"During the early 1990s, Bangladesh experienced widespread diffusion of green revolution technology in rice, its main crop. As a result, rice production has more than doubled since the early 1970s. The spread of green revolution technology is usually expected to boost wages for farm workers. But we found regional differences in rural wages that run counter to the traditional argument.
The North-West region of Bangladesh (Rajshahi Division) has some of the highest agroecological endowments in the country (Figure 1). But, surprisingly, real agricultural wages were much lower in the Rajshahi Division (Figure 2). Similarly, the probability of employment in the high-wage, non-farm sector was also lower in the North-West (Figure 3). This is puzzling in light of the traditional argument that productivity growth in agriculture raises agricultural wages and also boosts non-farm employment through various production, consumption and labor market linkages. These linkages between the farm and non-farm sectors are assumed to create a virtuous cycle of growth and development in rural areas.
Our study found that access to large urban markets (as in Dhaka and Chittagong) is by far the most important determinant of high-return, non-farm activities: people are more likely to be employed in better paid wage employment and self employment in the non-farm sector if they are closer to urban centers. The impact of agricultural potential depends on how far the village is from the main urban centers: those who are further away from these centers are even less likely to be in well-paying non-farm jobs even if they are living in areas with greater agricultural potential. This suggests that poor connectivity to major urban markets greatly weakens farm-non-farm linkages. And lack of expansion of better paid non-farm jobs in turn slows down the movement of workers from agriculture to other activities, depressing agricultural wages and impeding long-term growth in agricultural productivity itself."
From Wade into the paddy field yield figures at your peril...:
"Most sources (FAO and USDA both pdf files) indicate an average rice yield of a little under 5 tons/hectare (or 5t/ha) in Vietnam in 2006/2007. My rice farmers claimed to be harvesting twice that amount per season: 1ton per "cong" or 10t/ha."
Apparently the discrepancy comes partly from difference of measuring straight paddy or milled rice, measuring in different seasons, location and size of plots used in the samples etc. There is also link to a nice slideshow 'describing the impact of a Bank-financed water resources management project in the Mekong Delta.'

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Paul Romer comments in a blog

A quote fromPaul Romer explains why we need more science PhDs than we think we do:
"Whenever the social return to some activity is greater than the private return, there is a clear justification for subsidizing the activity."

Paul Romer is one of the stalwarts of 'New Growth Theory' and some of his ideas are presented here,here and here.

Peter Roebuck on Chanderpaul

Even Peter Roebuck struggles to describe Shivnarine Chanderpaul . Excerpt:
"Shivnarine Chanderpaul provides a notable counterpoint to the contemporary game. At once he is inimitable and timeless - no more a product of his period than a kitchen clock, and yet not a creature of the past either, for he has scored runs yesterday and today and will score runs tomorrow. Just that he goes about it in his own sweet and deceptively frail way, relying on deflections and glides, hands as opposed to forearms, a wand as opposed to a tree trunk, persuasion and perseverance as opposed to power. He is a rubber man put among concrete pillars. In short, he is a reminder that, even now, cricket has many faces and talent can take many.
Although lacking the force of personality needed to hold the team together, he has often prevented the batting from falling apart. Perhaps the bad times were his making. After all fishermen, like farmers, are a resilient lot. Certainly they do not expect more from life than it is prepared to offer."

Monday, June 09, 2008

Interesting discussion on Hayek

atEconomist's View. George Orwell reviewed "The Road to Serfdom" along with another book soo after it appeared:Review by Orwell: The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek / The Mirror of the Past by K. Zilliacus Observer, 9 April 1944. Excerpt:
"In the negative part of Professor Hayek’s thesis there is a great deal of truth. It cannot be said too often - at any rate, it is not being said nearly often enough - that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamed of.
Professor Hayek is also probably right in saying that in this country the intellectuals are more totalitarian-minded than the common people. But he does not see, or will not admit, that a return to ‘free’ competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, because more irresponsible, than that of the State. The trouble with competitions is that somebody wins them. Professor Hayek denies that free capitalism necessarily leads to monopoly, but in practice that is where it has led, and since the vast majority of people would far rather have State regimentation than slumps and unemployment, the drift towards collectivism is bound to continue if popular opinion has any say in the matter."

But this is not what hapenned. A more modern appraisal by his biographer Bruce Caldwell appeared in an interview in the Reason Magazine. Excerpts:
"Reason: Sometimes the moral of Serfdom is boiled down to what's called "the inevitability thesis": If you get a little planning, you'll get more planning, and then eventually you'll have full-blown socialist planning.

Caldwell: If you look at Hayek's preface to the 1976 version of the book, he says that can happen. But that's not the argument of the book. He did not say that as soon as you get some combination of markets and planning, you are immediately going to go down the slippery slope to socialism and all the restrictions it entails.
Reason: Is it inevitable that top-down, central planning fails?

Caldwell: I don't think Hayek would say inevitably. It would depend on the specific question at hand. Hayek always wrote at a very high level of generalization, so it is difficult to get down to specifics with him, and that is one of the limitations I think of Hayek's particular approach.
Reason: Beyond his critique of wide-scale social planning, what would you say are Hayek's other major contributions to 20th century thought?

Caldwell: Another very important one has to do with the role of prices in coordinating social action where knowledge is dispersed.
Reason: What do you think Hayek's legacy in the 21st century will be?

Caldwell: To the extent that the ideas in papers like "The Theory of Complex Phenomena" get developed, that could be a big part of his legacy. He didn't get very far in developing the concept, but it's the basis for his claims that what we can know in the social sciences is ultimately very limited. It holds that pattern predictions are the best that we can often do when it comes to society. He suggested that it's better to provide explanations of the principle by which something works than to make precise predictions of how people will act.
Understanding the limits of what we can do is an important legacy. And so is understanding that in trying to do too much, we often end up making situations much worse."

Coming back to the discussion in Economist's view, there are many interesting comments by erudite people, The one I liked best so far is by Denis Drew. Excerpts:
"Hayek’s criticism of central planning that “vital information about an economy is inherently local” and that central planners are too distant to be able to access that information in any nearly useful way can be flip-flopped on “dispersed planners” which is what we may fairly call the Hayeks and Milton Friedmans of the world.

Unfettered local economic actors (those countless hidden hands) are too far distant from the sight of the urgent central needs of society to leave the accomplishment of such goals to their shortsighted hands. Trusting the unfettered free market automatically to bring about the best overall (central?) social outcomes amounts magical thinking.

Neither local actors nor central planners know enough about each other’s milieu to act efficiently on each other’s behalf, so, we must choose a practical balance to get the best of both worlds – in a word “compromise” between giving all power to one or the other.
Leading to the notion that where to come down should always and only be decided by what experience discovers works in the everyday world – theory corrected by experiment just like any other science –
The motto of policy makers should be the same as doctors' (another group that has to come up with answers in real time; not in a hundred years when the perfect answer finally arrives): First, do no harm. IOW, if you haven’t enough (experimental?) practical success with some procedure, limit yourself to recommendations at most. For example, the IMF has no business forcing the Philippines into becoming a net importer of rice."

M.S.Swaminathan on food problems

M.S.Swaminathan considered the father of the green revolution in India had the following thoughts on the eve of Rome Conference on World Food Security:
"Compounding the problems arising from poverty and unemployment are the new threats to human security arising from the rising cost of petroleum products and the consequent diversion of land and crops for fuel and feed production. The answer to these questions lies in improving the productivity and profitability of major farming systems in an environmentally sustainable manner. In most developing countries affected by high food prices, agriculture is the main source of rural livelihoods. They should hence initiate steps to take advantage of the vast untapped production reservoir existing with the technologies on the shelf, and thereby build a sustainable food security system based on home grown food. For example, in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the average yield of food crops like sorghum, maize, millets and grain legumes is less than 50 per cent of what can be achieved. Most of the farms in the developing countries of Asia are small in size, often less than two hectares. The smaller the farm the greater is the need for marketable surplus in order to get some cash income. Carefully planned agricultural progress can help to create simultaneously more food, income and jobs. It is only agriculture, including crop and animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry and agro-processing that can promote job-led economic growth. Modern industry, in contrast, promotes jobless growth, which will lead to joyless growth in population rich nations.

Besides responding to the immediate food needs, the global community should help nations affected by the food crisis in the following areas:

— Help to launch a Bridge the Yield Gap Movement in order to close the gap between potential and actual yields in the major food and feed crops through mutually reinforcing technologies, services and public policies.

— Strengthen the rural infrastructure particularly in the area of post-harvest technology including processing, storage, value-addition and marketing.

— Give the highest priority to providing small farm families with opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing at the time of harvest; small farmers are more concerned with present trading than futures’ trading.

— Ensure that the ongoing Doha Round of Negotiations in WTO results in methods of promoting free and fair trade. This will involve cutting down of heavy farm subsidies by industrialised nations and providing more income earning opportunities for developing countries through trade.

The agriculture of industrialised nations is energy intensive, while most of the traditional agricultural practices in developing countries are knowledge intensive. Therefore, developing nations should not take to the path of energy intensive agronomic practices but should refine the traditional methods of soil health enhancement and pest management and blend them with modern technology. Also, developing nations should fully harness their vast animal wealth. India for example, has over 20 per cent of the world’s cattle, buffalo, sheep and goat populations. It will therefore be prudent to promote crop-livestock integrated farming systems, rather than monoculture of the same crop and variety. In other words, the global energy and food crises have opened up uncommon opportunities for developing nations to promote conservation farming and sustainable rural livelihoods. This will help them to achieve an evergreen revolution leading to the improvement of productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm. Population rich, but land hungry countries like India, China and Bangladesh, have no option except to produce more per units of land and water under conditions of diminishing per capita arable land and irrigation water availability, and expanding biotic and abiotic stresses.

While participation in large high-profile international conferences may be important politically, charity begins at home and we must first attend to our own hungry who constitute the bulk of the hungry in Asia. Our immediate tasks are first to enable the over 4 crore of farmers relieved from the debt trap as a result of loan waivers to restart their agriculture in an effective manner and, secondly, to assist all farmers in the country to derive maximum benefit from the normal southwest monsoon which has arrived in Kerala. A good weather code will involve attention to all links in the production, consumption and commerce chain. The necessary inputs, particularly seeds of appropriate varieties and the nutrients essential for balanced fertilization, should be available at the right time and place and at affordable prices. The extension effort should focus on the adoption of risk-minimising and soil enriching technologies. The minimum support price should be announced at the time of sowing and a remunerative procurement price offered at the time of harvest based on national and international market prices.

Drought & flood codes

In addition to a good weather code, drought and flood codes should also be kept ready. The drought code will involve the popularisation of crop life-saving techniques and the cultivation of low water-requiring but high-value crops like pulses and oilseeds. Tuber crops will also do well even if planted somewhat late. The flood code should have strategies ready for post-flood farming activities. Seeds and planting material of alternative crops should be built up. After floods, the aquifer will contain adequate water and it is important that the post-flood season becomes a remunerative cropping season. Contingency plans for the flood prone plains of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam involving alternative cropping strategies should be prepared forthwith.

With a population of over 1.1 billion, India’s agricultural strategy should aim to keep the Central and State governments in a commanding position with reference to the management of food distribution systems such as PDS, ICDS, and school noon meal programme. In the ultimate analysis, assured and remunerative marketing will hold the key to stimulate and sustain farmers’ interest in producing for the market. Climate change may result in adverse changes in temperature, precipitation and sea level. Dependence only on wheat and rice will enhance vulnerability to climatic factors. Therefore, there should be revitalisation of the earlier food traditions of rural and tribal families, who in the past depended for their daily bread on a wide range of millets, grain legumes, tubers and vegetables. The PDS should include, wherever appropriate, ragi and a wide range of nutritious cereals, inappropriately referred to as coarse cereals, and tubers.

India has the technological and economic capability to demonstrate how farming systems can be adjusted to different weather patterns.

John Thompson of IDS reports on the conference here.
M.S. swaminathan continues his efforts thoughMS Swaminathan Research Foundation and as a member of Rajya Sabha.
The link to the Smaminathan article is from a discussion at The Hub.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Encourage Risk in Research

says a panel headed by Thomas Cech who just left the directorship of HHMI to pursue research. From Encourage Risk, Help Young Researchers, Panel Advises ( the article needs subscription):
"Tight budgets have done more than restrict research; they're damaging morale by making people afraid to take chances, just when it's more important than ever to invest in what could be "transformative" research, a new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences argues. "The constant hunt for dollars is fostering conservative thinking" and thus making a bad situation worse, according to a panel headed by Thomas Cech, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Formed to look at "alternative models for the federal funding of science," the 22-person committee "quickly drilled down" to two messages, says panel member Keith Yamamoto of the University of California, San Francisco: the need to foster early-career scientists and to encourage high-risk research. Released this week, the white paper Advancing Research in Science and Engineering is styled as a follow-on to a National Academy of Sciences report (Rising Above the Gathering Storm) issued in 2005. "This report addresses a very serious set of problems," says Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C.
In what Cech calls its "single most controversial recommendation," the report says institutions should find ways to help researchers with their salaries rather than relying on them to support themselves entirely with grant money--an arrangement that makes them more risk averse.
The report eschews calls for increased funding, focusing instead on how to get the most out of existing research dollars. One suggestion to universities: "Limit excessive building programs" in order to make more money available for promising investigators."
I have seen this process of going for safe research in many universities. Luckily when I started in 1964, some autonomous institutes like TIFR and ISI encouraged quality and there were cases of researchers promoted on the basis of one excellent paper in 5 years without any more papers. Salaries were about 250 rupees a month to begin with with the promise of a regular job with a basic salary of over 400 rupees or so if we were confirmed at the end of first year. 250 Rs. a month was not too bad those days but I started borrowing money from Raghavan Narasimhan who was in charge of our batch. The interviews were brought forward by six months and all in our batch were confirmed. Good beginning salaries and encouragement to learn and focus on good problems seemed to have helped. Once one had a few resonable papers, even change of jobs did not seem to put undue pressure.

Recent comments of Easterley on development

do not seem to be popular with some of the experts: some links here, but Jonathan Dingel thinks Easterly also has a serious point to make. Here is Easterley's response Paul Seabright's criticism:
"Paul misunderstood my point, which is probably due to my inadequate exposition. There is a big difference between saying “a small group of experts cannot cause growth in a whole economy” and saying “all experts are useless.” I was saying the first, and not the second. Paul seemed to think I was saying the second. I nowhere talked about relying exclusively on “common sense.” I am implicitly defining the “development expert” as someone who has the presumption that they CAN cause growth in a whole economy, and saying the time of such “development experts” is definitely over. I think it is much more plausible that development happens in a decentralized spontaneous way through the efforts of many free individuals to seek better lives for themselves, through the market and through democracy. Of course, some of those ways involve many complex endeavors that need the advice and technical training of many specialized experts: doctors, biologists, physicists, engineers, and yes, definitely, economists. Economists give great guidance on everything from trading systems to macroeconomic stabilization to auction design to financial regulation. Keynes in a famous quote said it would be splendid if economists were thought to be as competent as dentists. I think we are getting close to Keynes’ ambition, and all of the things I just cited where we can be good dentists will contribute to economic development. Let’s just not make the enormous leap to the absurd and counterproductive presumption that we dentist-economists can come up with an expert plan that will achieve rapid growth for a whole society out of poverty into prosperity."
Dingel also discusses Abhijit Banerjee's misgivings. Excerpt:
"It is not clear to us that the best way to get growth is to do growth policy of any form. Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control. Maybe all that happens is that something goes right for once (privatized agriculture raises incomes in rural China) and then that sparks growth somewhere else in economy, and so on. Perhaps, we will never learn where it will start or what will make it continue. The best we can do in that world is to hold the fort till that initial spark arrives: make sure that there is not too much human misery, maintain the social equilibrium, try to make sure that there is enough human capital around to take advantage of the spark when it arrives. Social policy may be the best thing that we can do for growth to happen and micro-evidence on how to do it well, may turn out to be the key to growth success."
On a different note Guljar Natarajan discusses the role of NGOs in development here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Collapse watcher

From an article by "Thriving in the Age of Collapse" Dmitry Orlov in 2005:
"My premise is that the U.S. economy is going to collapse, that this process has already begun, and will run its course over a decade or more, with ups and downs here and there, but a consistent overall downward direction. I neither prognosticate nor wish for such an outcome; I just happen to see it as very likely. Furthermore, I do not see it as altogether bad. There are some terrible aspects to the current state of affairs, and some wonderful aspects to the post-collapse environment. For example, the air will be much cleaner, there will be no traffic jams, and people will have plenty of time to devote to their children and to people within their immediate community. Wildlife will rebound. Local culture will make a comeback. People will get plenty of exercise walking around, carrying things, and performing manual labor. They will eat smaller and healthier diets. I could go on and on, but that is not the point.
I feel qualified to write on this subject because I had the opportunity to observe an economic collapse firsthand. I did some of my growing up in the Soviet Union, and the rest in the United States. I have visited Russia repeatedly, on personal trips and on business, during the years of Perestroika, the ensuing collapse, and the lean years of the 1990s. I feel equally at home, or, on occasion, lost, in both places. Unlike most Russian émigrés who witnessed the collapse, I was fascinated rather than traumatized by my experiences there, and have not tried to blot them out of my memory, as many of them have. Also unlike most émigrés, I know quite a lot about the United States, its society and its economy, see its fateful weaknesses, and care about what happens here. When peering apprehensively into the unknown, it is useful to have as your guide someone who has already been there. Since no such guide is available, you will have to make do with someone who has been someplace vaguely similar."
More articles by Orlov here.

Some good developments from India

Daring Dalit starts green revolution against myth.
More hereBengal's millionaires | Rajasthan's wonders | Bihar BPO
( both via Rohit)
Good government interventions and co-operatives fromFrontline:
"The young Indian Administrative Service officer soon realised that he has been entrusted with the responsibility of a district that produces the best organic ginger in the world. The average annual production of ginger in the district is 30,000 tonnes and it is grown by about 10,000 farmers. The ginger grown in Karbi Anglong has a low fibre content. Varieties such as Nadia and Aizol, which yield high quantities of dry rhizome and oleoresin oil, are in great demand among domestic buyers and exporters.

The information was enough to give birth to a new initiative under the Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana (RSVY), a flagship programme of the United Progressive Alliance government. Thus was formed the Ginger Growers Cooperative Marketing Federation (GIN-FED) in Karbi Anglong in April 2007 with about 3,500 shareholders. The brainchild of Angamuthu, it had the support and guidance of P.C. Sarma, Chief Secretary, and P.P. Verma, then Principal Secretary, Planning and Development Department.

Within a few months of its formation, GIN-FED was able to spice up the lives of ordinary ginger-growers and free them from the clutches of middlemen. At the first meeting of its shareholders at Diphu, GIN-FED issued to each of them a bar-coded G-Card – the first commodity-based debit-cum-credit card in India for farmers to avail themselves of cash advances of up to Rs.10,000 from banks to cultivate ginger on two bighas of land.

Earlier, ginger-growers had to go in for distress sale of their produce at Rs.2.50 to Rs.3 a kg. Following GIN-FED’s market intervention, the demand for Karbi ginger has grown phenomenally and the same middlemen who once short-changed them now offer up to Rs.15 for a kg. The administration’s initiative has got heaps of praise from elected representatives such as Biren Singh Engti, Member of Parliament, representing No. 3 Autonomous Constituency, Diphu.
Agriculture was not the only success story of the administration’s efforts. The district needed an efficient administration that could address the grievances of the public through speedy delivery of services. Being the main instrument of development, the office of the Deputy Commissioner had to be turned into a accountable, responsive and service-oriented institution.

This became a reality on January 25 when Karbi Anglong was certified as ISO 9001:2000 compliant by Det Norske Veritas, headquartered at Rotterdam, the Netherlands, after the office of the Deputy Commissioner at Diphu established, documented, implemented and maintained a Total Quality Management system. This helped the conflict-ridden district to acquire a new image as one of the best-administrated districts with people-friendly practices. It now has the enviable record of being the first government organisation in Assam, the first district in north-eastern India and the fourth in the country – after Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, and Latur and Jalgaon districts of Maharashtra – to be ISO 9001:2000 compliant."
See also the previous post of Ravi Kuchimanchi on some NRI efforts. It seems that several such efforts of different sorts are needed.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I like this

From Cosma Shalizi's "End-of-Semester Inventory"

Blog posts written: 31
Unfinished posts in my drafts folder: 50

Papers submitted: 0
Papers accepted: 0
Papers published: 0

Monday, June 02, 2008

Preview of next Reith lectures

by Jonathan Spence on China:
"...there are to be four lectures. The first is on Confucius, the 5th Century BC thinker whose teachings came to dominate Chinese ideas of social justice and family relations. .....The last lecture is about changing Chinese ideals of the body, from the bound feet and queue of the Qing dynasty, to the 7ft6in (229cm) international basketball and advertising star Yao Ming.

The other two will explore British and American interactions with China - though Mr Spence hints that while British traders were there first, it is now only the US which realises China's future potential."

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Apna School appeal

"The school has 150 students in just three years and needs Rs 23,550 (Rs 157 per student) to sustain itself for another year. This money is for simple things like books, pencils, chalks, slates, school bags, registers etc. It would be great if you could help us in this cause.

Please do visit for details"