Friday, March 24, 2017

Discussions on education

Lots of discussions about education from first principles these days like this one from my friend the admirable Rahul Banerjee Exorcising the maths demon and also on his wall.
About university education, Owen Dixon, a justice in the Australian Supreme Court reminded in 1954 that a university's responsibility remained unchanged: to produce people whose " minds have become better instruments of thought, whose intellectual interests have been stimulated and will often be sustained, and above all who can combine knowledge with reason and both with experience so as to meet the problems of real life."
To some extent, the purposes of school education are similar with the proviso that vocational education also takes place for those who do not want to or cannot go to universities. We do not know what will be needed in future and generally try to ground the students in an all round education which not only teaches facts but also develops habits of thought. For example, we may never use the Euclidean geometry which we learn around ninth grade, but ideas of proof, logical arguments are imbibed at an age where we do not really understand the purpose of such things. It is also difficult to understand every thing that may be need in future but at a young age people absorb like sponges and remember things some of which become clearer later on if one pursues. In my opinion, very few understand calculus in their first attempts, but can acquire some feel and can use it mechanically after a while. And most things we use these days involve calculus, linear algebra and such at various stages. So, one purpose to get these through as much as possible st a young age even if only a fraction use them later on and for most the overall curriculum develops some useful knowledge and habits of thought.  These requirements get larger with time and an average high school graduate now probably knows more than an average teacher a couple of centuries ago. These are achieved through processes of synthesis and pruning. That is for the good part. There are also dubious aims like control, hold children in prison like conditions when their hormones or raging, get them to confirm and become useful tools in the enterprises that the current powers deem necessary. As Foucault wryly asks: ‘Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?’ If Foucault is right, we are subject to the power of correct training whenever we are tied to our school desks, our positions on the assembly line or, perhaps most of all in our time, our meticulously curated cubicles and open-plan offices so popular as working spaces today.'

Generally, there is a disjunct between what we use and what we understand about what we use. All this does not mean laymen like us should not discuss education. Like many other things, there are big chains in every thing and those who try to explain or question existing state of things should study a bit more about these chains and try to explain the consequences of cutting calculus or some other subject from the syllabus and its implications to different groups. Governments are keen about quick successes and appoint various panels to suggest changes and in India often the tendency is to catch up with western success and copy some of their recommendations which may sometimes be influenced by vested interests. For example, this happened with the BT Brinjal recommendations by a government panel. I have some experience with panels as I was once part of a panel to recommend undergraduate syllabus for the whole of India. Since my experience at that time was in reasearch and not teaching, I quietly slipped away from the task. In any case, these syllabi depend on what the governments decide to do at a given time, not arbitrarily but with in some parameters,  and formulated by experts in another chain of expertise parts of which may be dubious. As in the BTBrinjal case ( where the first expert report was a copy of a US government report that was favourable to big business), constance vigilance by NGOs and noise may help to reduce the unsuitability. So I welcome Rahul Banerjee's discussion but on his wall, at the moment it seems to be all over the place. So, my suggestion would be to ask for outside representation in these panels, namely from users interested in teaching and perhaps with some experience in teaching. There are several such NGOs in India.

A readable article on Foucault

Simon Critchley went to talk to his philosophy teacher Frank Cioffi:"Some years later, I went back into his office to ask permission to switch from one course to another. “Which courses?” he said indifferently. “I’m meant to be reading Foucault, but I want to do a course on Derrida.” “Man” he replied “that’s like going from horseshit to bullshit.” "
But there seems to be some thing in the horseshit as this article observes The power thinker
Some quotes:
Foucault wryly asks: ‘Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?’ If Foucault is right, we are subject to the power of correct training whenever we are tied to our school desks, our positions on the assembly line or, perhaps most of all in our time, our meticulously curated cubicles and open-plan offices so popular as working spaces today.
For identifying and so deftly analysing the mechanisms of modern power, while refusing to develop it into a singular and unified theory of power’s essence, Foucault remains philosophically important. The strident philosophical skepticism in which his thought is rooted is not directed against the use of philosophy for the analysis of power. Rather, it is suspicious of the bravado behind the idea that philosophy can, and also must, reveal the hidden essence of things. What this means is that Foucault’s signature word – ‘power’ – is not the name of an essence that he has distilled but is rather an index to an entire field of analysis in which the work of philosophy must continually toil.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mathematics a reality check?

Strangely, doing mathematics seems to be a bit of reality check for me. I still do mathematics off and on and am now trying a slightly different method than before. Last year, revising an unpublished paper, I thought that I saw some thing new that was mildly interesting. Off and on, I worked on it for six months and finally convinced myself after a few drafts. Then I went on a trip came back, it was difficult to get back to mathematics and easier to read other stuff. Finally after four months I slowly started looking at it again and could not understand much. After a few weeks, various steps involved emerged and I could see the general trend though not the details. Before when I was working it was generally rather intense and I used to loose appetite and often sleep until I was exhausted. This time, I started just meditating slowly about each step between doing other things at home and not continuously, even though the particular theme seemed to be in front of my mind most of the time. So, I would let it soak slowly until it seemed more and more clearer and so on with other steps. Then about how to put them together since there seemed different ways of doing it. At the moment much of it is becoming clearer without putting the pen on paper, and I am not loosing sleep. It remains to be seen what happens when I tried to write it down. And whether there is a lesson from this about learning and thinking about other topics.

'Foragers, farmers and fossil fulels' by Ian Morris

A short review by Robin Hanson.
A comprehensive 19 page review by Alberto Bisin

The book is a large-scale history of the world through the different modes of production humanity has adopted over time and their implications in terms of moral values. Morris argues that the predominant value systems of human societies are cultural adaptations to the organizational structures of the societies themselves, their institutions, and ultimately to their modes of production. In particular, the book contains a careful analysis of how the hunting-gathering mode of production induces egalitarian values and relatively favorable attitudes towards violent resolution of conflicts, while farming induces hierarchical values and less favorable attitudes towards violence, and in turn the fossil fuel (that is, industrial) mode of production induces egalitarian values and non-violent attitudes. 

The narrative in the book is rich, diverse, and ultimately entertaining. Morris’ analysis is very knowledgeable and informative: arguments and evidence are rooted in history, anthro- pology, archeology, and social sciences in general. Notheless, the analysis falls short of being convincing about the causal nature of the existing relationship between modes of production and moral value systems. 

From Madhukar Shukla's 'Lives and Lvelihoods'

News from Melbourne University

A fascinating story about tractors

Yes Meyer Wins Abel Prize 2017

From The Guardian and CNRS
Terry Tao comments "I had learned about Meyer’s wavelet constructions as a graduate student while taking a course from Ingrid Daubechies.   Daubechies also made extremely important contributions to the theory of wavelets, but my understanding is that due to a conflict of interest arising from Daubechies’ presidency of the International Mathematical Union (which nominates members of the Abel prize committee) from 2011 to 2014, she was not eligible for the prize this year, and so I do not think this prize should be necessarily construed as a judgement on the relative contributions of Meyer and Daubechies to this field.  (In any case I fully agree with the Abel prize committee’s citation of Meyer’s pivotal role in the development of the theory of wavelets.)"

About migrants

Much of what we know about migration is wrong from Der Spiegel
But there is also news like this "Over the last decade, an estimated $3.8 trillion in capital has left China. Net foreign direct investment over the same period of time has amounted to $1.3 trillion, leaving the country with a net loss."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rahul Banerjee finds himself on the dais with a District collector

Saeed Khan, was an anarchist to the core and despite being part of an organisation he was always in confrontation with it. He was a journalist of the Hindustan Times, Indore edition, which has now wound up and he believed in staying close to the ground. So much so that he did not own any motorised vehicle and moved around on foot and public transport even though he had an Iphone in his pocket which he used to surf the world at a drop of the hat. I was invited to speak a few words about him in today's commemoration and that is how I landed up on the dais. The commemoration event had been well advertised on FB and Twitter and reading this, the District Collector of Indore too came uninvited and was called up to the dais and that is how we were together there.
The Collector said that in his earlier stint as the Municipal Commissioner in Indore, he had been accosted on many occasions by Saeed who was then diligently pursuing all the misplanning and malimplementation that was manifesting itself in the development of Indore city. He said, that in Saeed, for the first time he met a journalist who did deep research on his stories and would fearlessly flay administrative inefficiency. He also said that normally he is continually invited to chair or take part in various public meetings by organisations and had to refuse them most of the time but this is the first time in his thirteen year career as an administrator that he was attending a meeting like this uninvited simply because he couldn't get over the fact that Saeed was not there anymore and he wanted to share his respect for him.
From a write up by Rahul Banerjee on Saeed Khan

Some articles on quantification

The invention of 'The Economy'', dates it roughly to the mid twentieth century. But the trend for quantification started much earlier in the west, even before the sixteenth century as this article on Quantification suggests. And The risks of quantification.

Michael Hudson

a comprehensive introduction to Michael Hudson's thoughts on the economy As usual I find Michael Hudson very interesting.

Tim Hartford on the problem with facts

The problem with facts, slightly longish but well worth a couple of reads, I think.
P.S.  My tentative view. We are in some ways prediction machines for our survival; that is we store information and try to predict to find our way around. The problem is our limited capacity to store quickly recallable information. This is where we have developed short cuts often based an emotions like disgust. The problem is accentuated even for experts with the modern information overload. Atul Gawande describes one such instance in Cowboys and pit crews. Of course there are attempts to see patterns using big databases and so on but these are not amenable to the common man. So we need chains of dissemination to reach the common man to make reasonable judgements. But these chain are also manned by people with similar biases and self interests. So perhaps what we need are people for whom the interests of other people are more important than their own, perhaps people like Asron Swartz or deliberate attempts to cultivate such attitudes.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chuck Berry RIP

Pete Maravich
In India, I find that biographical writing from admirers tend to make characters like Ambedkar to Gandhi to Ghantasala either godlike figures or from full of polemics from critics. Here is one of a player I admired, warts and all. More about Pistol Pete at several places including a few books like this Mark Kriegel

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Giving women a voice
Via Rahul Banerjee's post

Australian cricketers near Ranchi
An article on the visit Inspiring visit gives Aussies a perspective Glenn Maxwell who scored his first century was one of the visitors.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Two on

The first Amazon is going to kill more American jobs than China did from Market Watch. The second a detailed study ( which I only browsed) from the Yale Law Journal by Lena M.Khan:
ABSTRACT. Amazon is the titan of twenty-first century commerce. In addition to being a retailer, it is now a marketing platform, a delivery and logistics network, a payment service, a credit lender, an auction house, a major book publisher, a producer of television and films, a fashion designer, a hardware manufacturer, and a leading host of cloud server space. Although Amazon has clocked staggering growth, it generates meager profits, choosing to price below-cost and expand widely instead. Through this strategy, the company has positioned itself at the center of e-commerce and now serves as essential infrastructure for a host of other businesses that depend upon it. Elements of the firm’s structure and conduct pose anticompetitive concerns—yet it has escaped antitrust scrutiny.
This Note argues that the current framework in antitrust—specifically its pegging competition to “consumer welfare,” defined as short-term price effects—is unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy. We cannot cognize the potential harms to competition posed by Amazon’s dominance if we measure competition primarily through price and output. Specifically, current doctrine underappreciates the risk of predatory pricing and how integration across distinct business lines may prove anticompetitive. These concerns are heightened in the context of online platforms for two reasons. First, the economics of platform markets create incentives for a company to pursue growth over profits, a strategy that investors have rewarded. Under these conditions, predatory pricing becomes highly rational—even as existing doctrine treats it as irrational and therefore implausible. Second, because online platforms serve as critical intermediaries, integrating across business lines positions these platforms to control the essential infrastructure on which their rivals depend. This dual role also enables a platform to exploit information collected on companies using its services to undermine them as competitors. 
This Note maps out facets of Amazon’s dominance. Doing so enables us to make sense of its business strategy, illuminates anticompetitive aspects of Amazon’s structure and conduct, and underscores deficiencies in current doctrine. The Note closes by considering two potential regimes for addressing Amazon’s power: restoring traditional antitrust and competition policy principles or applying common carrier obligations and duties.

Facebook friends

Some Facebook friend seem frustrated with me. They probably consider me as elite material and not doing my bit. But the problem is that I felt most people I met were better than me in some respect or other and I really do not have much to say to them. Secondly, I find things do not come naturally to me. I have to learn, think and work hard to make any 'progress'. How do I know that I make progress in a topic? Most of my time is spent in mathematics where there are accepted norms of proof if you ignore some fundamental contradictions. Generally afte some thing is written, a consensus whether it is correct or not is reached. Since I have a track record with papers written as far back as seventies still being referred to, I assume that I made some progress there.

But in outside areas like social sciences; where I spend a lot of time these days thinking about development issues, it is much more problematic. As words get farther from concrete things, they seem to have a band width, and we seem to mean slightly different things by the same word. I think that this is what makes communication possible and also considerable confusion. So, a conclusion may be that universal models may not be possible and if one is close to real things, some understanding may be possible in specific contexts. I think that mutually understandable language is needed here. Here I tend towards language understandable to common people due to my interest in poverty and development. A case study may be the relative influences of Vemana and Srinadha on the Telugu populace.

Going back to development, I will consider just one aspect of elites. As Brad DeLong said (quoted in the previous post) about moderns "...they engage in complicated symbolic interactions that have the emergent effect of distributing status and power...". It seems to me that this is where the problem is. According to Gabriel Palma in as many as 140 countries, the top ten percent and bottom forty percent together share half the income. As the share of the top ten percent increases which seems to be currently the case, it is at the expense of the bottom forty percent. And the majority of the elites are in the top percent and they like others look after their self interests. I consider this a problem. And that is why I prefer to among the non-elites.

Quotes from Brad DeLong

"But since 1750 or so things have been different. The pace of economic change has been so great as to shake the rest of history to its foundation. For perhaps the first time, the making and using the necessities and conveniences of daily life--and how production, distribution, and consumption changed--has been the driving force behind a single century’s history. Even in the most long-established of professions, the pattern and rhythm of work life today is so very different from that of our ancestors as to be almost unrecognizable. It is these changes in production and also in home life and consumption, and the reactions to them, that make up the center ring action of the history that has made us who we are" and "What do modern people do? Increasingly, they push forward the corpus of technological and scientific knowledge. They educate each other. They doctor each other. They nurse each other. They care for the young and the old. They entertain each other. They provide other services for each other to take advantage of the benefits of specialization. And they engage in complicated symbolic interactions that have the emergent effect of distributing status and power and coordinating the seven-billion person division of labor of today’s economy. We have crossed a great divide between what we used to do in all previous human history and what we do now. Since we are not in the realm of necessity, we ought to be in the realm of freedom." From

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Rahul Banerjee on the recent U.P.elections

Congress is hoist with its own petard "o as long as proportional representation is not introduced in India, there is little chance of individuals or parties fighting for true people oriented development, making any headway in electoral politics. However, there is no need for disillusionment and fear but instead more commitment is needed to pursue grassroots activism which is increasingly becoming a rarity with time." There is also a discussion on his wall.
Related Some political systems handle populism better than others.

Kwame Appiah on western civilisation

There is no such thing as western civilisation. Erudite and all over the place. I do not know what to make out of it. Towards the end we have this passage:
"Culture – like religion and nation and race – provides a source of identity for contemporary human beings. And, like all three, it can become a form of confinement, conceptual mistakes underwriting moral ones. Yet all of them can also give contours to our freedom. Social identities connect the small scale where we live our lives alongside our kith and kin with larger movements, causes, and concerns. They can make a wider world intelligible, alive, and urgent. They can expand our horizons to communities larger than the ones we personally inhabit. But our lives must make sense, too, at the largest of all scales. We live in an era in which our actions, in the realm of ideology as in the realm of technology, increasingly have global effects. When it comes to the compass of our concern and compassion, humanity as a whole is not too broad a horizon."
I am concerned about the vagueness of the approach and sentences like the last one in the above quote. How many can have such effect? I have been acquainted with westerns, whatever that means, since 1964 and lived in the west for about half my life. When you talk to your neighbours or people on the street there are cultural differences since most people live locally. The problem seemed to me is that the percentage of people who are in the global circles has increased. It is not just the .1 percent, but this ten percent or so who are influential, from software engineers to bureaucrats in the European Union, who are influential in the global tends. It seems that they like most others are interested in their own well being as they see it and that is not helpful to the majority of the people. Since the influential sections are generally driven by their own self interests, we have system acting like a centrifugal force sucking the wealth upwards. When the economic growth decreases, this force inevitably marginalises the majority and tries to force them in to subsistence. I believe that armed resistance is futile in view of the strength of the centralised governments. There seem to no alternative to some resistance and decentralisation. Perhaps Fragmentation is the solution not the problem.
P.S.Trancripts of the lectures 123, and 4 which is the one linked above. I wrote the above responding to one paragraph in the fourth lecture which expresses a vague hope which I felt was unrealistic. The lectures as whole make a wonderful reading.

French economist Jacques Sapir

specialises on Russia has a wideranging interview. It seems to be translated from French. Some passages are not clear to me. In the English speaking world, we are mostly familiar with The names of British and American economists. Sapir would be consider heterodox I think but he has influential positions in the French institutions. Worth a look.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Kenneth Arrow on socialism

A cautious case for socialism from 1978. Commentary on this article and also "Two cheers for government regulation" by Daniel B. Klein in Kenneth J. Arrow. From the commentary "Kenneth Arrow was of the generation shaped by the Great Depression. Like many of them, he embraced socialism at an early age, and going forward his work was shaped by a deeply leftist sensibility. From several autobiographical reflections, it seems that over the decades Arrow’s thinking has continually moved from ideals he associates with socialism to a more pragmatic—or, perhaps, resigned—sense of reforming actually existing social democracy."
Related The misunderstanding at the core of economics has this quote from the article of Arrow above:
“In a system where virtually all resources are available for a price, economic power can be translated into political power by channels too obvious for mention. In a capitalist society, economic power is very unequally distributed, and hence democratic government is inevitably something of a sham.”

What to expect during Trump time

I have not been paying much attention to Trump since there is too much news and analyses all over the place about him. Here is an assessment by a risk analyst Ian Bremer. The interview starts with:

Ledbetter: In your 2015 book, Superpower, you describe three paths for America: Moneyball America, Independent America, and Indispensable America. Where do you see Trump taking us?

Bremmer: Very clearly, Independent. Obama's big problem was that he kept talking like this Indispensable America guy: "We can do it; Assad must go; Russia must leave Ukraine; we're going to drive the global-trade order withTPP and the TTIP," and all this. And he just did not have the ability to follow through and execute on any of this. The worst thing you can do is create high expectations and consistently fail. Vastly better to say, "We're really going to focus a lot more on the domestic environment. We still have global interests, but they're narrower." "
Along the way:

Is there a risk in the U.S. pulling back expectations and erasing ideas of exceptionalism on the global stage?

Will the American brand be damaged abroad? Here's where Trump could become a big problem. You want the Chinese to be so convinced that the American market model is the one that works that they have to buy our Treasuries, be educated at our universities, buy New York City real estate--it would be inane for them to do anything else. And that will in turn give us an awful lot of branding power. In 1991, you went to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and you met people who truly believed that the American rule of law, independent judiciary, free market economy, and political system were to be admired. They don't believe that anymore. And Trump's view is "Yup, you're right--completely hypocritical. We shouldn't be trying to promote our values, because they're no different from anybody else's." That absolutely damages the American brand."
Final paragraphs:

"Do you factor in some really wacky but plausible scenario tied to Trump?

The one that's more exotic is Trump's conflict of interest issues, with this multibillion-dollar organization that will only be worth a lot more once he's president. That implies we need to think about the United States a little more like South Korea. It's not going to become Russia or China. But if you want to understand how other governments are going to react to [us], you need to look at two sets of policy mechanisms: the official, formal channel; and then the unofficial and informal channels, one of which will be a kind of industrial-policy, state-capitalist system and the other the family. And that's really wild. You look around in 2017 and you realize that the major driver of political risk in the world is this new U.S. government--not doing things that historically were done, and doing things that historically were not done. We may not want to have the leadership role that we once had, but we're still the world's only superpower. The outsize impact of all this stuff on the global economy will. and businesses is extra­ordinary."

Steve Waldman on institutions

"This usage of “institutions” becomes infuriatingly vague, but that may be why it is so prevalent. We need labels for all the things that we can’t quite pin down, because we know there are things we can’t pin down that are important in their effects.....The way I like to think of “institutions” is this: Institutions are to groups what habits are to individuals." says Steve Randy Waldman In a recent post.
I looked at the above after Ramarao Kanneganti suggested that I look at the idea of 'fairness' which seemed to involve the idea of institutions. Here is a short note on fairness. 
The concept of fairness "Exactly what constitutes fairness will depend on the specific nature of the decision process or institution in question. Consider, for example, a fair trial, a fair contest, a fair grade, a fair price, a fair agreement, a fair election. This variety of contexts entails a corresponding range of criteria of fairness. All of these, however, generally center on equal treatment of people, with departures from equality requiring justification....Aristotle makes the important observation that standards of justice or fairness are different in different regimes. In oligarchical regimes, ruled over by the rich, it is thought fair to treat people differently according to their merits, with amount of property constituting degree of merit. In democratic regimes, in contrast, it is considered fair to treat people alike--and so to distribute political offices through a lottery system--with free birth and citizenship constituting being alike (Book V, Chap. 1) An important lesson of Aristotle's discussion is that there is no universally recognized standard of fair treatment, in terms of either procedures or distribution. Different ways of dealing with people can plausibly be represented as fair, as long as they treat people who are similar in important respects similarly....Much of the attention "fairness" has received in recent years is because of the work of John Rawls and his theory of "justice as fairness." "

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Two on numbers

an anthropogist on the invention of numbers "I think the most likely scenario is one of coevolution. You develop numbers that allow you to trade in more precise ways. As that facilitates things like trade and agriculture, that puts pressure to invent more numbers. In turn those refined number systems are going to enable new kinds of trade and more precise maps, so it all feeds back on each other. It seems like a chicken and egg situation, maybe the numbers came first but they didn’t have to be there in a very robust form to enable certain kinds of behaviors. It seems like in a lot of cultures once people get the number five, it kickstarts them. Once they realize they can build on things, like five, they can ratchet up their numerical awareness over time. This pivotal awareness of “a hand is five things,” in many cultures is a cognitive accelerant. "
I am suspicious of this argument. Some natural number sense on logarithmic scale seems embedded according to this discussion a few years ago What number is Halfway between 1 and 9? Is it 5 - or 3?
Along the way, there is a discussion of Piranha's sense of numbers, that accounting started before writing etc.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Experiences of an Indian government officer ( in Telugu)

Vadrevu China Veerabhadrudu started as a tribal welfare officer around 1987 and worked in Parvatipuram area which saw a Naxalites supported tribal uprisings during 1967-71. One of my cousins who had a phd. InChemical Engineeringwas involved inthe agitation. In 1970 when I went home on vacation, I was told that he was in jail and visited him inthe Rajahmundry jail. He could not get a job later and became a successful farmer. Vererabhadrudu now is the Additional Director if The Tribal Welfare Department of the A.P. Government and has been revisiting the area. In a Post in his wall he described the changes he has seen. Schools which were derelict at one time are thriving with students and new buildings and he describes some of the schools he visited with some historical asides.
Though India has progressive legislation in many areas, service delivery by all accounts is poor. Some NGOs and occasional helpful government officials have made a difference in some place. One place I visited is Alirajpur district in M.P. and the work there mainly associated with various organizations for which Rahul Banerjee ( and ) worked. I am not sure what worked in the Parvatipuram area. I will try to get more details from Sri Veerabhadrudu with whom I got acquainted recently and if I get enough details, translate his post.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Khaleeli law

from why some of our most engaging writers are from the Indian Foreign Serrvice
"Whatever else you do or do not do,” Akbar Khaleeli, one of India’s most distinguished diplomats, once told a group of IFS trainees that included a future Foreign Secretary, Ranjan Mathai, adding, “remember never to do anything in poor taste”. Difficult to define, “taste” is unmistakable. It is not about how one looks and seems but what one does in large matters involving policy and national interest and in seemingly “small” matters as well. This adherence to taste may be called the “Khaleeli law”.
When serving as India’s ambassador in Rome, Khaleeli roundly ticked off one of his juniors for not being exactly helpful to an Indian woman who had been suddenly widowed in the Italian capital. “Now, listen. Do not quote rules to me. The point is simple. This woman has lost her husband. She is Indian. We are the Indian embassy. Is it our duty to help her or not?”
I met him a few times during my college days. He was two years senior to me and he seemed a pleasant fellow.more about him here. He had a somewhat strange and finally tragic marriage. It is described in his words here and the Wikipedia about his first wife

Different versions of democracy

Some political systems handle populism better than others
"One leading taxonomy of political systems is that of Dutch-born political scientist Arend Lijphart, an emeritus professor at the University of California at San Diego. In his classic book “Patterns of Democracy,” Lijphart divides the world’s democracies between consensus systems and majoritarian systems. Consensus democracies tend to have proportional voting, lots of parties and coalition governments. Majoritarian democracies feature two big parties that alternate stints in power........Lijphart finds that, in general, consensus systems deliver better economic results and more voter trust than majoritarian ones."

On improving memory

Friday, March 10, 2017


I rarely loose my keys but I lost them today. After a morning walk I found that I did not have my keys. I thought I must have lost them while taking the handkerchief and retraced my path about one and half times. Then it occurred to me that it was a concrete path and if the keys fell down they would have made a sound. Then I tried to remember when I saw the keys last. It was yesterday when I was watering the plants, our son in law Gavin came to see us. I gave the keys to him and continued watering the plants. So, he must have left them in the house. I came back and they were on the dining table. It seems that I can remember and think a bit. This brings me to the next point.
For a long time, I felt that I have been wasting my time after retiring. Most of the time is spent in reading theories which lead nowhere. May be one should help some underprivileged by doing some actual work. The problem is lack of experience and sometimes one can do harm by trying to do good stuff. One may cause disruptions or raise unnecessary hopes. The easiest thing would be to contribute somewhere taking the advice of people in the field. I finally came to the conclusion that helping teach middle school children somewhere in india with some concepts, homework, preparations for examinations etc helping teachers who are already teaching them may be what I can do. So after some time I found some possibilities around Ongole and I plan to spend 2-3 months there every year for the next few years. Meanwhile Ramarao Kanneganti is looking at other possible schools. It may come down to wandering around various schools or slowly finding one place where I can fit in. So the destination is Ongole this November. Many institutions now are parts of various chains, one may be contributing to status quo.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Doing mathematics again

 Trying to rewrite what I was doing last year, I found that I did not understand it any more. It took a few weeks to get in to it again. The main problem seems to be getting started. I am not sure why I am still doing mathematics. May be the old unresolved problems are unconsciously bothering me still. One advantage seems to be that other things look easier though the methodology and experience with mathematics is probably not suitable for thinking about other things apart from noting some logical inconstinencies.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Ravi Varma

I came across these two posts about Ravi Varma, the first about the early influences of painters from Naik kingdoms who migrated to Kerala: Ravi Varma and Ramaswamy Naicker-The rivalry
and the Bombay phase and some of the faces which appeared in his paintings as well as the commercial aspects of his work Three muses... Both very readable and most of the material new to me and give some glimpses of life in Kerala as well as Bombay during those days. There may be more more posts in the blog about Ravi Varma. Ravi Varma faces were a part of our growing up since we saw them all the time on posters, calendars and pictures at home. It was so common place that I did not pay much attention to the phenomenon.

A discussion about group-IQ

Whether and how much it depends on the IQs of individual members and the composition of the group like the presence of females and sensitivity of group members. In the discussion, some of the members of the original papers which did not agree with each other participate.
Perverse Incentives and Replication in Science a post of Steven HSU at information Processing.
See also the discussion at Economist's View
"Stephen Hsu has a nice blog post on this topic. He writes about this common pattern:

1. Study reports results which reinforce the dominant, politically correct, narrative.
2. Study is widely cited in other academic work, lionized in the popular press, and used to advance real world agendas.
3. Study fails to replicate, but no one (except a few careful and independent thinkers) notices.

#1 is spot-on for economics. Woe be to she who bucks the dominant narrative. In economics, something else happens. Following the study, there are 20 piggy-back papers which test for the same results on other data. The original authors typically get to referee these papers, so if you're a young researcher looking for a publication, look no further. You've just guaranteed yourself the rarest of gifts -- a friendly referee who will likely go to bat for you. Just make sure your results are similar to theirs. If not, you might want to shelve your project, or else try 100 other specifications until you get something that "works". One trick I learned: You can bury a robustness check which overturns the main results deep in the paper, and your referee who is emotionally invested in the benchmark result for sure won't read that far.

Hsu then writes:

"one should be highly skeptical of results in many areas of social science and even biomedical science (see link below). Serious researchers (i.e., those who actually aspire to participate in Science) in fields with low replication rates should (as a demonstration of collective intelligence!) do everything possible to improve the situation. Replication should be considered an important research activity, and should be taken seriously""

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Igor Shafarevich RIP

One more on divergence

"Outside Europe, the institutions of apprenticeship were far less effective. Kinship relations still dominated many other economies, especially China (Greif and Tabellini 2017). While guilds existed in the Ottoman world, India, and in China, we have found no evidence that they did much more than secure exclusionary rents by prohibiting non-members from entering their industries. Apprenticeship remained largely a family or sectarian affair. This is not to deny that kinship relations remained important in Western Europe as well – but in economic history, degree is everything. Recent work trying to understand the Industrial Revolution and the Great Enrichment that followed it has increasingly focused on upper-tail human capital (Mokyr 2009, Squicciarini and Voigtländer 2015, de la Croix and Licandro 2015). In that story, the human capital of top-level artisans and the way it was produced played a larger role than has been realised so far." from 
More than family matters: Apprenticeship and the rise of Europe
See also discussion in Naked Capitalism
Related on tacit knowledge
Some possible sources of tacit knowledge natural experiments

Monday, March 06, 2017

Another of Rahul Banerjee's experience

Rahul Banerjee is a IIT Khargur graduate who started working for the tribals soon after his degree in eighties. Since then he has built a base in Alirajpur district of M.P. from agitations ( against the Narmada dam and went to jail a few times for his activities) to building self help groups. At some stage, he married a Dalit day and they continue their work together and some times independently. She is working for Ph.D. And also trying to build a residential school for handicapped tribal children. He makes a living now by writing reports for various organisations on sewage, water management  etc.Some of his experiences are chronicled in a book reviewed here. I have known about his work for about ten years and met him twice, once for about a week and travelled with him in the area of his work with Bhils. He is a deeply read and thoughtful man and also good at practical work from sewage management at home and schools to arranging for wifi and solar power.
Here is one of his recent experiences from his Wall:
"Today, while I was going to the market village in Udainagar to get some steel for the centre we are building on Subhadra's farm, an Adivasi woman I know, hitched a ride. She said she was going to exchange her old brass utensil for a new one. I said that wouldn't take much time so I would go along with her and after she did her exchange we would get the steel also and come back. The old utensil weighed 1.65 kg and the new one she chose weighed 1.85 kg. The merchant who is also a moneylender, as is usual in Adivasi areas, said that she would have to pay Rs 690 over and above the old utensil she was exchanging. All this while I was sitting in the car but since the woman didn't have that much money she came to me and asked me whether I could lend her Rs 200. I asked her what was the price being asked and became suspicious. So I got down and went to the merchant and asked him what the prices of the old utensil and the new utensil were per kg and he said Rs 250 and Rs 450 respectively. I did a quick calculation and found that she would have to pay Rs 520 and not Rs 690 and told the merchant as much. He then said that a tax of 12% would apply on the purchase of the new utensil. This was another red herring because for unbilled transactions throughout india no taxes are paid. Nevertheless I did a net search and found that the VAT in Madhya Pradesh for brass utensils is only 5% and also the price of new brass utensils was only Rs 400 per kg. The merchant then said that the least he could give the utensil for was 600 and the Adivasi woman was ready to give that amount but since she had only Rs 500 she still had to borrow Rs 100 from me. I told her I wasn't going to lend her money so she could get fleeced in this way. She then said that it didn't matter and she would pay Rs 500 and pay the rest Rs 100 later. With that we parted ways with her happy with her brass and I went for my steel!!"

My remarks: There may be various local dependencies for the compromise but my feel is that is how things work at many levels. The moneylender may be making similar payments to banks or local protection rackets. These things build up in chains, act like centrifugal force forcing wealth upwards. That is fine as long as many are not living at subsistence level where any emergency can be disastrous. Perhaps technology enhanced  the centrifugal force until it is difficult enhance it further. That is when artificially inflating asset prices starts taking place and the various indices of inequality start increasing. And things start breaking down somewhere or other.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Some good stories

I know from personal experience that people like Rahul Banerjee made huge difference to number people. Particularly tribals in Alirajpur District of Madhya Pradesh. Here are two more stories which give some hope.
Two doctors who transformed one of Maharashtra's poorest regions Ravindranath and Smita Kohle

Prakash Kaur Bibimbap: Rescuing India's ababdoned girls

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Programmed to fail

Utopia Inc. from Aeon:"Why then do utopian communities so often fail? Interestingly, attrition rates for intentional communities are not all that different from many other types of human endeavour. The failure rate for start-ups is around 90 per cent, and the longevity of most companies is dismal: of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1955, more than 88 per cent are gone; meanwhile, S&P companies have an average lifespan of just 15 years. Can we really expect more longevity from experimental communities? And if not, what can we learn from an audit of these experiments? What have been the key factors undermining communitarian living?"

Another article by William Dalrymple on Ajanta

Which I missed and in which he discusses the work of Gregory Schopen ( whose work was linked before Putting the hump in Indian BudhismThe greatest ancient picture gallery:
"Schopen shows how the inscriptions left at Buddhist sites tend to record a far less idealized picture of life in early Buddhist India than the later documents that have been the foundational texts of modern Buddhist scholarship. He points out, for example, that Buddhist monks, far from being the otherworldly creatures often imagined by Western scholars, were frequently extremely worldly and “men of considerable wealth,” running businesses and mints; many were clearly sleeping around, lending money, and writing treatises on such unexpected subjects as inheritance law, medicine, and eroticism; some were even getting into sectarian fights, hoarding weapons, destroying the stupas of rival orders, and abusing and occasionally trying to murder nuns. They were, in other words, not saints but normal human beings."

Friday, March 03, 2017

About food wastage, again

In praise of cash

if plastic replaces cash, much that is good will be lost
"If we are going to refer to bank payments as ‘cashless’, we should then refer to cash payments as ‘bankless’. Because that’s what cash is, and right now it is the only thing standing between us and a completely privatised money system."

Internet connectivity problems in india

Need internet to buy PDS rations? Go climb a tree:
"Instead of making life easier, the government's move to digitalise+ the Public Distribution System has added to the misery of residents of several backward areas, especially Kotra. There are 76 ration centres here of which 13 have very poor connectivity.

At these places, ration dealers have to climb on trees to find internet connectivity to use their PoS machines. People living in small settlements like Merpur, Chibarwadi, Malwiya Khakariya, Peepla, Bhuridebar, Beran, Palcha, Umariya, Samoli have to wait daily for hours to get the

"The only ration shop is many miles from our home but the ration dealer camps on a hilltop which is even far away. Sometimes, it takes 4-5 hours to find even a thin trace of internet network and only then the machine works. The earlier system was better," said Bhola Gameti, a resident."

Debraj Ray on Arrow

here. Debraj seems to have interacted with Arrow from 80s onwards. Before him in the sixties, another Indian who interacted with Arrow was Bagicha Minhas. I met both Debraj and Minhas in ISI Delhi Centre. Both seemed brilliant and of different generations and I am not sure how much they interacted with each other. I was working in pure mathematics most of the time though I gave some mathematics talks to the economists due to the insistence of V.K.Chetty. Debraj' article has the following quote about Minhas:

"Joan Robinson on Bagicha Minhas and the CES production function: “It is a sad comment on the state of our education that a talented young man be brought from India to be bamboozled like this.” "
There is one version of how this came out in the book 
Rumination of a gadfly by Deena Khatkhate which I have not read. The book promises to be interesting, a review here
The post by Debraj Ray has the following quote from a lecture of Arrow;
"“[I interpreted] neoclassical economic theory and particularly the then new and rapidly developing discipline of welfare economics as pointing to an ideal efficient economy rather than the actual one, marked both by massive unemployment and by monopolistic distortion… In true Hegelian fashion, capitalist instability and the socialist counterattack seemed to be synthesized: it seemed possible to have an economy that retained much of capitalist drive and initiative and yet gave room for the government to intervene to avoid at least the worst inefficiencies of unemployment and the idling of other resources. I accepted provisionally what seemed to be a widespread consensus in the euphoria of postwar economic growth. The state had an active role to play in maintaining effective demand and in dealing with the many imperfections of the market system revealed by theoretical welfare economics — the overcoming of market failures and monopoly and the realization of economies of scale…
I have spoken of a provisional acceptance. I still felt it important to explore more deeply the possibility that socialism was a superior possibility. I was more aware of the complexities of operation of a socialist system and sought to develop more deeply the theory of such a system. I also sought to explore more fully the criteria for a democratic social organization… [Today,] the apparent pause in economic growth, the crisis in stabilization policy occasioned by the current inflationary threats and realities, and the loss of purpose in redistributional measures all combine to raise anew the question of alternatives to capitalism.”
Yes, Arrow did make a cautious case for socialism. To me, it was particularly interesting that in the end, the case was made not on the positive grounds of inevitable destruction of the capitalist system, but rather on the normative grounds that such a system could be rife with inefficiencies and unequal treatment."

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The mighty five

which may replace China as the world's factory:"China, the United States, and Germany are currently among the most 15 globally competitive manufacturing countries in the world. But in the next five years, according to a survey of industry CEOs carried out by Deloitte, the MITI-V of Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam are set to enter the top 15 most competitive manufacturing countries. They are the “new China,” the top economies for low-cost manufacturing (i.e., labor intensive commodity type products like apparel, toys, textiles and basic consumer electronics)."

Cost of drugs keeps growing in spite of generic drugs

at least in USA "According to some measures, such as the share of generics in the sales of molecules that have lost patent protection, this policy has been a great success (see Ellison et al. 1997, Berndt 2002, or Grabowski et al. 2014, who show that the market share of an originator drug typically drops below 20% after one year). Furthermore, the number of molecules facing generic competition has also soared since the early 2000s (Aitken et al. 2013).
And yet, spending on drugs keeps growing. For instance, Conti et al. (2015) report that “total US prescription drug spending rose 13% in 2014 [alone],” with increases reaching 31% in some market segments, e.g. for cancer drugs."
The mechanism seems to be "The mechanism we identify is the relationship between price competition and the amounts invested to promote a molecule. Firms most intensely promote molecules that yield the highest profits. When competition is symmetric, this generally favours the highest quality drugs, which is a desirable feature from the patients’ perspective. Yet, when competition is asymmetric – for example, because one molecule faces generic competition while the other remains patent protected – firms stop promoting their genericised molecule, thus shifting demand away from the cheaper products. Figure 2 depicts this strategic shift very clearly. Firms already start decreasing their promotion 12 quarters before patent expiration, with a marked acceleration right after ‘date 0’."

Demonetization and Growth in India’s GDP

from MR "India’sGDP figures were just released and lo and behold they are great! Quarterly growth for Oct-Dec (demonetization, the banning of 86% of India’s cash, hit on Nov. 8) was 7% on an annual year over year basis. Many analysts and critics had predicted a significant slowdown. Prime Minister Modi took the opportunity to take a dig at economists like Amartya Sen who had sharply criticized demonetization saying “Hard work is more important than what Harvard thinks.” (Sen teaches at Harvard). Modi’s BJP party also seems to be doing well in the important elections in Uttar Pradesh suggesting a second term for him."
A more Detailed report expresses doubts apart from the doubts about data:Basically, and to continue the update, the main idea here is not that the GDP figures are being fiddled, but that either the impact from demonetisation was not as severe as expected, that there are unique reasons such as cash in hand or inventory buildupsexplaining the elevated figure, or that official statistics are failing to capture the negative growth effects on the informal sector — which accounts for about 40 per cent of India’s GDP but provides 75 per cent of employment, per the FT.
The questions then are to what extent that will ever be captured in the GDP series or if its weight on the series has been exaggerated by those who expected a lower print.
For what it’s worth, the reporting we’ve done in and around Mumbai, including in textile mills above the city, would seem to confirm that for some industries there has indeed been a massive falloff in demand and a resultant drop in employment.
While small traders in Mumbai say that business is returning, the mill owners we talked to outside the city said they had seen some 80 per cent of their business fall away immediately after demonetisation, and it was only very slowing coming back. Some went further, showing us mothballed machines and suggesting their industry would never fully recover."

A new paper on Household Debt

High level household debt hurts growth "".....economic studies have regularly found that high levels of household debt is a negative for economic growth. Moreover, some economists have found a strong relationship between high levels of consumer debt and economic crises. Yet if you read the business press, analysts and government officials see rising consumer borrowing as a plus for growth. How does that make sense?" discusses a new paper from International Bank of Settlements.

Denmark reduces food waste by 25 percent
"A woman has been credited by the Danish Government for single-handedly helping the country reduce its food waste by 25 per cent in just five years.
Selina Juul, who moved from Russian to Denmark when she was 13 years old, was shocked by the amount of food available and wasted at supermarkets."
Another report
Two strategies we use are1) go before closing times and often prices are cheaper, and 2) buy in bulk and share with other families.