Wednesday, October 31, 2007

M.S. Swaminathan on India's urban-rural divide

"The disconnect between farmers and researchers can be overcome by bringing Internet and telecommunications to rural villages, he argues.

Swaminathan's research foundation aims to set up at least one village telecom kiosk for every six villages. Farmers will be able to go to the kiosks for information about livestock management and crop diseases.

One of the keys to this scheme is training villagers to become advocates for ICT in their communities. Many past ICT projects have failed in India, largely because they failed to listen to the villagers themselves. "
The longer source article is in Nature.

Partha Dasgupta's primer on economics

is drawing some attention. I recall Partha Dasgupta's comments from the foreword "Poverty, Environment and Society: The Role of Natural Capital in Economic Development": "Despite the interdisciplinary nature of my enquiries, the lens through which I have studied the social world has been that of economics. I have assumed a point of view of the circumstances of living that gives prominence to the allocation of scarce resources - among contemporaries and across the generations. One hallmark of the viewpoint is to study human well-being in terms of its commodity determinants and the institutions that shape our lives. Another is to reason quantitatively. Moreover, because it is subject to empirical discipline, the inquiry encourages approximations. Inevitably, the viewpoint is partial. But increasingly I have come to realize that it is possible to look outward from that partial view to catch a glimpse of the larger enterprise called "living".
I do that regularly in the essays that follow and, in the one methodological essay in the present collection, I respond to several prominent critics of contemporary economics by showing that they misunderstand the foundations of my discipline.

While re-reading the essays here, I noticed that I have rarely ever published an article in which the bird I was ultimately able to catch was in fact caught. This is because I have rarely ever known what it was that I was really after. Maybe I knew it subconsciously, but I doubt that. In my case, a discovery has meant a growing realization, not a blinding revelation. Usually, it has taken me several publications, brick by metaphorical brick, before I was able even to understand what the phenomenon I had been working on was, let alone to uncover the pathways that give rise to the phenomenon. I don't know whether this is a common experience among scientists, but I doubt it. I suspect there is nothing common among the processes by which we gain an understanding of the world around us."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Links: October, 28

Raj Chetty explains some of his background and motivation in this Rediff interview (via V.K. Chetty):
"In my case, I realised that my long-term objectives lined up better with a PhD than other paths. At a young age my dream was to discover something that would have a great impact on the world and help a lot of people. I think I was very aware of issues such as poverty and lack of growth partly because of my background, having grown up both in India and in the US. I remember, quite vividly, going to the Taj Mahal when I was eight. It was immaculate and beautiful inside. But outside, you see extreme poverty in Agra. Experiences like that sparked my interest in understanding how to improve the economy. "

Two articles on non-Smithsian developments; one by James Fallows and another by David Ludden (via Brad DeLong links).

Discussion on Tyler cowen's article on private contractors; in particular the first comment by Bruce Wilder:
"Tyler Cowan: "the overall problem is not private contracting in itself; ... but rather ... the sins and virtues of . . . governments"

There you have the whole of Tyler's philosophy.

The rest of his op-ed treats us to a tour of a few of his many unfounded prejudices, helpfully re-lit from novel angles to support his thesis.

Ordinarily, Tyler is obsessed with progress. It is actually one of his more endearing traits, and a founding concept of his blog, Marginal Revolution. It kind of disappears in this op/ed, though. A necessity, if you are going to argue that "privatisation" of warfare is not a regression to the brigandage of the 16th century.

Efficiency is another Tyler favorite, which is replaced, here, by an undefined, "flexibility". ". . . the use of contractors is not a free lunch" Tyler helpfully informs us, but he never gets around to mentioning just how much more, American mercenaries cost then the also paid soldiers of a volunteer Army. Of course, very few of our soldiers in Iraq are Republican campaign contributors. But, then, how could they be? General Petraeus costs Uncle Sam less than the lowliest thug employed by Erik Prince, and charged to Uncle Sam through three layers of contractor and subcontractor."

Andrew Leonard reports ecouraging trends from South Korea:
"South Korea, write World Bank researchers Woojin Chung and Monica Das Gupta, is the first Asian country to reverse the discouraging trend of "rising sex ratios at birth" -- by which is meant families taking advantage of new sex-selection technologies (or good old-fashioned female infanticide) to favor boys rather than girls. (Thanks to Ben Muse's Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement blog for the link.)

The trend is all the more noteworthy because until relatively recently, South Korea's authoritarian government did its best to legislate societal adherence to radically Confucian traditional values that emphasized the primacy of the male lineage and the extreme necessity of having sons to care for one's ancestors, both living and dead. In the view of the authors, Korea's example offers promise for other Asian countries, especially India and China, where "son preference" is also rampant and social demographics have become highly skewed."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mike Reay on the uses of economics

Mike Reay's "ACADEMIC KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERT AUTHORITY IN AMERICAN ECONOMICS" based on his interviews with American economists was linked before. He continues the study in "The Uses of Economics". It seems throw some light on the influence of American economists. Here is a fairly long quote from the introduction of the paper:
" Such notions of ideology and hegemony fit into a wide range of work on the symbolic authority of scientific knowledge, its tendency to be viewed as ‘objective’ and incontrovertible, and its complicity in ‘co-constructing’ naturalized social and political institutions (e.g. Habermas 1970, Shapin & Shaffer 1985, Latour 1987, Haraway 1991, Gergen 1994, Jasanoff 2004). However, these ideas of the influence of economics are also somewhat in tension with work on the large-scale shift and perhaps even decline in the authority of science in Western nations since the 1960s. Some researchers in this field suggest that universalizing scientific ideologies are breaking down because their very dominance has revealed their internal inconsistencies and limitations (e.g. Lyotard 1984(1979), Beck 1992), while others explore the commercialization of academia and of expertise formerly monopolized by national governments that might conceivably lead to an external pluralism problematizing claims to universal truth (e.g. Leydesdorff & Etkowitz 1996, Slaughter & Leslie 1997, Nowotny et al 2001, Krimsky 2003). Either way, science is thought to no longer easily serve precisely the kind of global legitimizing,
coordinating, and naturalizing functions that observers such as Bourdieu and Callon
ascribe to economics.
The influence of American economics thus poses something of a sociological puzzle. If it really involves hegemonic technocratic domination, how can this be reconciled with notions of the apparent transformation of scientific legitimation? And if it does not involve such domination, what was in fact going on with its global spread
alongside neoliberal political regimes? The following discussion attempts to resolve this puzzle by looking more closely at how neoclassical economics was actually used in the United States towards the end of the Twentieth Century. It does this by considering a range of work on the activities of professional economists – often by economists themselves – and on knowledge-based authority and the practical utilization of science. It also uses an original set of face-to-face interviews with professional economists working in a variety of different academic and non-academic jobs at century’s end.
It argues that both ideological/hegemonic and skeptical/pluralist phenomena were being generated by three underlying features of how economics was used. The first of
these features is the existence of three basic effects of economic expertise, paralleling Steven Lukes’ famous three ‘dimensions’ of power; substantive influence on particular decisions, symbolic exclusion of others from decision-making, and background framing of possible courses of action. The second feature is flexibility. This refers to how, as predicted by a range of work on social construction and uncertainty in science, economics could always sustain a range of answers to specific policy questions, such that different groups could use it to support different, often conflicting claims. The third feature is the softness of the influence of economics, that is, the way it tended to fall short of strict
determination of outcomes, and hence left room for other political, cultural, and
interpersonal processes. Taken together these underlying features of knowledge not only help explain the situation of economics in the US, but also suggest ways to improve and combine models of ideology/hegemony and pluralism/contestation in modern science."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Photos from Andhra Pradesh

Found these nice photographs mostly from Andra Pradesh while following up a racchanada message .
The linked news item in Telugu from AndhraJyoty says that some of the statues of gopis in Velpuru Venkateswara temple (on the road from Tanuku to Attili, West Godavari dt.)were considered obscene and clothed in some sort of undergarments. That seems to be the gist of it but my Telugu is rusty and I may be mistranslating a bit.
Googling 'clothing naked statues' shows that there are many other instances.

Some economics links, October 25, 2007

Nouriel Roubini revists his predictions from last year and says:
"As for decoupling of the rest of the world from the US slowdown this author argued as early as August of 2006 - and again throughout the fall of 2006 - that the decoupling view was conditional on the US achieving a soft landing; instead, conditional on a US hard landing twelve separate financial, trade, currency, confidence and other channels would imply that the rest of the world would not decouple from such a US hard landing."
Dani Rodrik on economists with snake oil. From Roubini's post it seems that some main stream economists are not exempt either.
Brad Setser on who is holding up the dollar:
"The funny thing is that the emerging world has been able to muster support for massive, global intervention needed to hold the dollar up –"
James Surowiecki supply side economics via Brad DeLong
"It’s more like saying that the best way to treat sick people is to bleed them to let out the evil spirits."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

George Monbiot on Matt Ridley

in Business Guardian via Felix Salmon:
"Ridley and I have the same view of human nature: that we are inherently selfish. But the question is whether this nature is subject to the conditions that prevailed during our evolutionary history. I believe they have changed: we can no longer be scrutinised and held to account by a small community. We need governments to fill the regulatory role vacated when our tiny clans dissolved.

I can offer nothing more than speculation, but Ridley has had the opportunity to test his beliefs. He took up his post - which was previously held by his father, Viscount Ridley - in 2004. Under his chairmanship, the Economist notes, Northern Rock "pushed an aggressive business model to the limit, crossing its fingers and hoping that liquidity would always be there". It was allowed to do so because it was insufficiently regulated by the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority. When his libertarian business model failed, Ridley had to go begging to the detested state. If the government and its parasitic bureaucrats had not been able to use taxpayers' money to clear up his mess, thousands of people would have lost their savings. Northern Rock would have collapsed, and the resulting panic might have brought down the rest of the banking system.
Wherever modern humans, living outside the narrow social mores of the clan, are allowed to pursue their genetic interests without constraint, they will hurt other people. They will grab other people's resources, they will dump their waste in other people's habitats, they will cheat, lie, steal and kill. And if they have power and weapons, no one will be able to stop them except those with more power and better weapons. Our genetic inheritance makes us smart enough to see that when the old society breaks down, we should appease those who are more powerful than ourselves and exploit those who are less powerful. The survival strategies that once ensured cooperation among equals now ensure subservience to those who have broken the social contract.

The democratic challenge, which becomes ever more complex as the scale of human interactions increases, is to mimic the governance system of the small hominid troop. We need a state that rewards us for cooperating and punishes us for cheating and stealing. At the same time, we must ensure that the state is also treated like a member of the hominid clan and punished when it acts against the common good. Human welfare, just as it was a million years ago, is guaranteed only by mutual scrutiny and regulation.
I doubt that Ridley would be able to sustain his beliefs in a place where the state has broken down. Unless taxpayers' money and public services are available to repair the destruction it causes, libertarianism destroys people's savings, wrecks their lives and trashes their environment. It is the belief system of the free-rider, who is perpetually subsidised by responsible citizens. As biologists we both know what this means. Self-serving as governments might be, the true social parasites are those who demand their dissolution."
P.S. Matt Ridley is one of my favourite science writers. I liked his "The Red Queen",large parts of "Nature via Nurture" and "The origins of virtue". Allen Orr is critical of parts the later two books as mentioned in one of the early posts.

Innovation Race

India lagging behind say some Indian scientists:
"Although India's potential is high, it is not nurturing innovation, Sri Krishna Joshi, scientist emeritus at India's National Physical Laboratory, told delegates at a conference on inventions and innovations in Delhi, India today (15 October).

India's education system "kills any spirit of innovation" by failing to close the gap between industry and academia, said S. Srinavasa Murthy, professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

He said very few PhD theses in technical institutes are linked to industry and innovations, and the bulk of academics — even at the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology — are not industry-savvy because their promotions are only linked to publications in peer-reviewed journals.

A World Bank report released this month (4 October) also warned that, despite an impressive growth rate of eight per cent in gross domestic product since 2004, India's full innovation potential remains unrealised.

Of the top 50 applicants for patents in India between 1995 and 2005, 44 were foreign firms, while only six were Indian. "

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sanskrit Knowledge Systems

on the Eve of Colonialism is a relatively new site that I have come across in a Telugu discussion group 'racchabanda'. It looks interesting and will make available digital copies many manuscripts. However,the few available science related articles by the team members that I browsed through do not look particularly impressive.
P.S.(25th October)There is some interesting discussion in'racchabanda'
See inparicular the messages 18603-05 by Hanuma Kodvalla.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A message about rural women from

Rural women have to fetch wood for cooking from a long distance away. They suffer bruises during collection; headache / backache / neckache during the walk back; and respiratory diseases from smoky kitchens - apart from depleting trees and ground cover more rapidly than it can self-generate.

Integrated Research and action for Development (IRADe), Delhi, has been working on this issue and has succeeded in getting the Planning Commission to incorporate this issue in the 11th Plan but both need realistic ideas on how to reduce these problems.

e.g. Should every village have a planters' cooperative which grows such trees within 1 km; Or should subsidised LPG / kerosene be provided; OR are alternate energy sources e.g. biogas, solar cookers, etc. feasible?

Please email your suggestions for this and any other rural problem.

Happy Dussehra!
Vinay -- helping to conquer the evil spirits within and without

Saturday, October 20, 2007

World Bank on Agriculture

From WSJ blog:
"After decades of preaching the benefits of urbanizing and industrializing as the best path to development, the World Bank is going back to the roots — agriculture.

“We need to give agriculture more prominence across the board,” said World Bank President Robert Zoellick as the bank released its annual World Development Report. The bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, are holding their joint annual meeting this week.

While 75% of the world’s poor live in rural areas, only 4% of official development assistance goes to agriculture, the bank said. Growth in agriculture is about four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors, the report concludes. To turn agriculture into an engine of growth, efforts must be made to increase productivity, and to connect farmers to global markets, the report said."
P.S. (21/10/07)World Bank Report here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Confirmation for Dunbar's theory of gossip?

Robin Dunbar's theory of language and gossip developed in here and in his books "Grooming, Gossip and evolution of language" and "The Human Story" (See also the Wikipedia article on Dunbar's number)seems to get some more confirmation in recent research according to "Facts Prove No Match for Gossip, It Seems":
"The donor was told that the source of the gossip didn’t have any extra information beyond what the donor could already see for himself. Yet the gossip, whether positive or negative, still had a big influence on the donors’ decisions, and it didn’t even matter if the source of the gossip had a good reputation himself. On average, cooperation increased by about 20 percent if the gossip was good, and fell by 20 percent if the gossip was negative." (via 3quarksdaily)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


New Scientist has a discussion on the spinning dancing girl and says that "What this animation does not involve is different sides of the brain, as the initial post claims. What you see is purely due to your perceptual and cognitive flexibility."
I am not so sure. Reversal rates seem to vary and some can see only clockwise or anticlockwise motion.
This Wikipedia artcle says:
"Reversal rates vary drastically between stimuli and observers, and has been found to be slower for people with Bipolar disorder ("sticky" interhemispheric switch in bipolar disorder)".
Combining motion and sound has interesting effects like the McGurk Effect.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Duetting is symptomatic of monogomy?

At least in tropical birds and some primates, says Sarah Hrdy in "The Woman that Never Evolved" (page 46, last paragraph):
"Before the report by Telson and Tenaza (published in 1976), no one suspected that Old World Monkey-much less a langur- would be monogomous. Until then, known cases of monogomy in higher primates came from either New World monkeys or gibbons. My own first respnse was increduality. It was only when Ron Wilson played me a recording of a male and female Mentawei langur singing duets that I believed my ears. I had to. As has long been known for tropical birds, duetting is symptomatic of monogomy"

Friday, October 12, 2007

New Economist Blog recommends

"The Origins of Western Economic Success:Commerce, Finance, and Government in Pre-Industrial Europe" by Meir Kohn:
"This is a detailed and fascinating work, written in a clear prose. I look forward to its publication and the ensuing debate."
Most of the draft is available at
From the first chapter:
"Why does one economy do better than another? What is holding back the less developed
countries from catching up with the more developed? What problems do the former communist economies face in their transition to a market system? And perhaps the most basic question: What are the origins of the economic success of the West? Our answer to these questions depends on our understanding of the process of economic
growth. Only with a sound understanding of this process can we hope to formulate
economic policies that promote economic progress and, perhaps more important, avoid
economic policies that hinder it.
Modern economics offers an explanation of economic growth that has its origins in
the work of Ricardo and Malthus.1 This ‘Ricardian’ theory sees the potential output of an economy as being determined by the resources and technology available. At any time, producers exploit this potential to the full: there is no slack. Consequently, for output to grow, the economy needs either more resources or better technology. With no change in technology, output per worker—and so income per capita—can grow only if each worker uses more capital or more land. If more capital or more land is not available, then total output can still grow if population and so the number of workers increases. However, in these circumstances, total output will grow by decreasing amounts—the law of diminishing returns. As a result, as population grows, average output and so income per capita will fall. Malthus saw in this a mechanism that would constrain the growth of population: falling income would raise mortality and so keep population in check. The great hope of escaping this 'Malthusian trap' is technology: better technology can increase output per worker even without additional resources. Consequently, technological progress becomes for the Ricardian theory the key to long-run economic growth. Despite its pivotal importance, however, the theory offers no economic explanation of what determines the rate of technological progress. Rather, it emphasizes non-economic factors: culture—the degree of mechanical and scientific curiosity—and politics—the extent of government support or opposition.
The can-opener in the Ricardian theory of economic growth is the market. The market is simply taken for granted: it plays no explicit role in the Ricardian theory. But in the real world, markets cannot be taken for granted. Contrary to the Ricardian view, it is not technological progress but rather the creation and expansion of markets that drives economic growth. Technological progress is a consequence, not a cause. It is a lack of well-functioning markets—not a lack of resources or of technology—that explains the stagnation of the less-developed world and the problems of the transition economies. The economic success of the West is explained, not by its cultural superiority or by the wisdom of its governments, but by its greater success in developing markets. Of course, the obvious question is, Why do markets develop more successfully in one place rather than in another? Answering that question is a primary goal of this book."

Reality Check

The Age reports Monkey chants for Symonds:
"THE ugly spectre of racism has returned to cricket, with sections of the Vadodara crowd subjecting Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds to monkey chants during yesterday's one-day international at the IPCL Sports Complex.

The incident occurred in the second half of the Indian innings when Symonds was fielding on the boundary. An unspecified number of spectators taunted Symonds with the monkey noises, which have been the scourge of European soccer for years.

In a separate crowd incident yesterday, play was halted for several minutes after a section of the IPCL Sports Complex pelted the playing surface with bottles as Australia's batsmen, Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting, closed in on a nine-wicket victory. But it is the taunting of Symonds that most upset the Australians, who are entering the final leg of the Indian tour."
Prospect of defeat bringsreconciliation talkfrom John Howard:
"Speaking last night to the Sydney Institute, he indicated he now accepted that the symbolic side of reconciliation — which he previously rejected — was important, along with the practical side of reconciliation.

But he is still refusing to make an apology to Aborigines, saying the approach must be acceptable to "traditional" Australia — "people who think this country has basically done the right thing".

In a highly personal and extraordinary admission, Mr Howard said his journey to this point " has not been without sidetracks and dry gullies".

And he laid part of the blame for his failures on the era in which he was born, saying: "The challenge I have faced around indigenous identity politics is in part an artefact of who I am and the time in which I grew up." "

Monday, October 08, 2007

Guardian Obituary of Bain D'Souza

From the
Guardian Obituary of Bain D'Souza(via Dilip D'Souza):
"In the heap of venality that passes so often for government in his homeland, he was one of those diamonds glittering in its depths, men and women who remain, despite all odds, dedicated to the idea of public service, a notion becoming almost quaint in modern India's world of swashbuckling capitalism. His sadness at the decline of those ethics hid from him his own impressive contribution to India's long, tortured progress towards social justice."

Saturday, October 06, 2007


TIFR booklet about
Eminent Indian Scientists with the purported aim:
"The compelling factor for the choice of these few, from among the many in the country, is the time and circumstances under which they worked. Their achievements are nothing short of heroic. With no infrastructure and with little support from the Government of the day, they have built up world class scientific institutions and a scientific heritage we can be proud of. The institutions they built still stand proud and are rated highly by the scientific community here and abroad."
From a recent article on the persistence of caste
"The model of the caste system in the paper is more appropriate to pre-colonial India, or more specifically before the introduction of the British law courts. (Dirks 2001) argues that British policies introduced changes in the caste system. A snapshot of the pre-colonial economy shows a robust thriving economy. Lord Clive in 1757 noted that Murshidabad “is as extensive, populous, and rich as the city of London, with this difference that there were individuals in the first possessing infinitely greater property than in the last city”. According to (Maddison 2003), in 1700 India’s share of world GDP was 24.4% compared to Western Europe’s 21.9%.7 The economy was largely agricultural but was noted for the high quality its manufactures. Another feature which is often called characteristic of the economy was its ability to sustain a high degree of division of labor. At the same time there is not much evidence of a well developed courtsystem.
This leaves us with two questions. First, can we model the caste system to better understand it and the reasons for its persistence over the years? Second, how was the economy able to sustain a high degree of specialization without a strong enforcement system? In answer to both these questions, I argue that the caste system functioned as a means of contract enforcement, thus providing an economic reason for its persistence over the years. I offer a model of how the system provided contract enforcement and check for testable implications. "
From The Age:
"ACCORDING to local newspaper reports, the Indian team spent much of its time here attending Twenty20 world championship victory ceremonies and endorsing sponsors' products. Hardly the preparation a sixth-ranked team requires for a showdown with the 50-over World Cup titleholder, and it showed during Australia's 47-run victory at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium last night.

Save for the batting heroics of Yuvraj Singh, and the solid contributions of Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Dhoni, the Indians found few reliable hands in their pursuit of Australia's 7-290. Perhaps the time for self-congratulations is over."
From Herald Sun:
"THE genesis of India's problem child Shanth Sreesanth and his aggression can be traced to the teachings of Steve Waugh.
Sreesanth has used Waugh's cricket memoirs as his guide to life as an international cricketer.
"I am a big fan of Steve Waugh. In his autobiography he said he always enjoyed proving people wrong. I have read the whole book. It is big and I really enjoyed it," Sreesanth, 24, said. "He said if you are down in the seventh, eight or ninth round you can come back in the 10th.
"He taught me you have to do the small things, the things others refuse to do.
"Steve says to never back down, so that is what I will be trying to do." "
From Economist:
"IT ISN'T just the average working people of developed nations who've taken a more sceptical view of globalisation in the past few years. Members of the economic community, as well, have begun to question the extent to which freer trade has been good for American workers. Just this week, Mark Thoma quoted Thomas Palley at length, arguing that "barge" capitalism generates a race to the bottom, causes job loss in nations with higher regulatory and tax standards, and "promotes downward wage equalisation." Dani Rodrik similarly took Austan Goolsbee to task this week for saying that "globalization is responsible for 'a small fraction' of today's income disparities." "