Saturday, October 31, 2009

Some online Telugu books

The blog భువనవిజయము has links to some interesting Telugu books. Among them is Arudra's Vyasapeetham. I found this and several other Arudra books in Kalyan Mukherjea's house this march and enjoyed reading. It covers several topics from mythology to different types of interest (money). It did not seem to be as thorough as his books and articles on Vemana, the relatioship between Rama ans Sita, Gurajada Apparao but the beginning of analysis on several topics somewhat reminiscent of Tapi Dharmarao. There is probably much material here for further investigations.
The site has links to some free Telugu books including some my Mallampalli Somasekhara Sarma and G.V. Krishnarao.
Telugu Parisodhana has also made many books available online or has links to them.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Two book reviews from EPW

T.N. Madan reviews Fazrana Shaik's "Making Sense of Pakistan" in Sense and Sensibilities in Pkistan.
"From the time of Sayyid Ahmad Khan late in the 19th century,many Muslim politicians
were apprehensive that the introduction of democratic institutions from the local up to the national levels would reduce Muslims to the position of a minority in a country (more precisely north India) where they had been the ruling community
for more than half a millennium. This produced what Shaikh calls “the minority complex” ........."

Shaik recommends a conscious effort to renounce " a type of militant Islam that is at odds with Islamic traditions indigeneous to South Asia".
However, there seem to be many elements common with India. The Indian trajectory is discussed in Sujeeb Mukherjee's review Indian Democracy: Puzzle of Unanswered Questions .
See also the discussion in 3quarksdaily on Pervez Hoodbhoy's article
The Saudi-isation of Pakistan. The discussion goes back up to General Zia-ul-Haq's regime.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A new book on democracy

From the Wikipedia article on The Life and Death of Democracy by John Keane:
"The Life and Death of Democracy stresses that, understood simply as people governing themselves, democracy implied something that continues to have a radical bite: it supposed that humans could invent and use institutions specially designed to allow them to decide for themselves, as equals, a thought that may seem very common now but was extraordinarily innovative at its conception. Following this path, the book challenges the common view of democracy as a timeless fulfilment of our political destiny with built-in historical guarantees, emphasising that democracy is not a way of doing politics that has always been with us or will unquestionably be with us forever, but instead an evolving, adaptable concept of a rather frail nature, especially at times when there are signs of mounting disagreement about its meaning, its efficacy, and desirability.
Under the third part of Monitory Democracy, The Life and Death of Democracy addresses the viability of democracy in modern times and post-1945, where democracy becomes globally accepted as the political governing form par excellence but is also met with serious criticisms of inefficiency. The presence of new democratic institutions along with mutations of older ones on the national (public integrity commissions, judicial review procedures, parliaments for minorities, public interest litigation, citizens’ assemblies to name just a few) and international level (forums, summits, regional parliaments, human rights watch organisations, etc) is examined giving to this last part its title. John Keane considers monitory democracy to be the most complex form of democracy yet due to its intricate network of institutions and inner dynamics while its fruitful evolution is not taken for granted. On the contrary, this part explores the sustainability and irreversibility of this trend, traces its development and examines it against the background of past democratic experiences and future challenges. Democracy is not a done deal or something accomplished according to the book but still an unfinished experiment that “thrives on imperfection” [5]. For this reason, it advocates the imperative to think in entirely new and fresh ways about democracy’s virtues."

The author's Home Page has links to a number of reviews and here is a critical review via 3quarksdaily The democratic wish by John Gray.

There is also the problem of monitoring groups, think tanks etc being funded by powerful groups. This seems to have happened in the US (the books by Edward Berman and Jane Roelofs mentioned in an earlier post give some evidence)and there is a general feel in many comments in 'The Economist's view'(see comments in "Let A Hundred Theories Bloom") that regulators and elected officials have been captured by special interests. With many states having large police and military, which is at least powerful against its own citizens, it is not clear how the powerful special interest groups can be thrawted in a demacratic set up.
EPW has review of a book The State of India's Democracy edited by Sumit Ganguly and others.

Two articles on cancer

Naked Mole Rat Wins the War on Cancer
Cancers Can Vanish Without Treatment, but How?
(both via 3quarksdaily)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Some Indian Music Links

Indian Raga:Classical Music for the Uninitiated (via Blogbharti)
Man Panchhi Albela has links to many of my favourite Hindi songs and also has has link to a song from Ksudita Pashan in the post A Dozen 'Piyas'.
A couple of links that were posted earlier:
Film Songs in Rags
Short Takes: Bageshree: Rajan P. Parrikar

A strange political history book

Political History of Andhra Pradesh - Narisetti Innaiah Which according to this blog post:
"Sri Narisetti Innaiah’s new book Political History of Andhra Pradesh was released by Sri Ravipraksh on Sunday 18th October 2009 on TV 9 channel,creating history and a new trend. ...........
This book is hailed as the most useful reference book for all journalists and people interested to know many fascinating facets of political spectrum of Andhra Pradesh; covering with 100 years of history. Many interesting supplementary tables like hereditary politicians and defectors are appended."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

From the blogs

Michael Johnson of 'The Primate Diaries' in Science and the Worship of Truth ays that science is more like religion that worships doubt. I am not so sure about this but there are interesting passages along the way like "Having studied primates for many years (specifically bonobos) it's very easy to spot similarities between human societies. Primates, whether bonobos or humans, are fond of forming groups and developing social hierarchies. Individuals rise within those hierarchies based on ability and political patronage. This is so obvious that it's not often appreciated.

Scientists and Cardinals both rise to a given position in their field based on how their work is regarded by their peers and how well they play the game. If you identify someone as a potential ally or you want to curry favor with someone higher up than you are there are a few standard tactics. You help promote their work, praise them in public, invite them to conferences, and help them advance in their field. In bonobos this is called social grooming (though, admittedly, bonobo conferences are probably a lot more fun). This reflects a tit-for-tat political exchange that is universal to our species as well as many others.

Scientists also have a creed, or a set of beliefs that guide their action. This creed is that the natural world demonstrates predictable patterns that can be deciphered with careful analysis. Rather than study the Bible incessantly and debate what it can tell us about God's plan, scientists study nature. If you like, you can even go as far as Thomas Carlyle in his criticism of Charles Darwin and state that scientists are beholden to a "Gospel of Dirt." The method of science is to bounce ideas off of reality in order to separate the ones that work from the ones that don't. Christians and Muslims have their sacred text, scientists have theirs. However, this is where the comparison end."
Rajib Khan has several interest posts, some relating to evolution.
The arcs of evolutionary genetics always cross back follows up the discussion in "The Red Queen" with recent experimental evidence. Take away sentences: "To use an example with contemporary relevance, clonal lineages are undercapitalized when market conditions shift and overleveraged and stuck with only a few viable strategies. Sex may not offer up the same short term yields, but it is a diversified portfolio designed to weather, and even benefit from, downturns and market volatility. Until a great selective moderation, males are here to stay." See also The arc of evolutionary genetics is long and The arc of evolutionary genetics may be irreversible .
Rahul Siddharthan in Magnetic monopoles from classical physics
" The recent experiments have not discovered a new phenomenon of nature -- the laws of physics don't need to be rewritten. What they have found is something that would behave exactly as a collection of magnetic monopoles would behave, if observed at not too fine a scale."
Basheer Peer in Outline of the republic (via Amitava Kumar):
"In the end, military campaigns – no matter how sophisticated – will fail as long as the Pakistani state refuses to see Waziristan, Balochistan, and swathes of South Punjab as the brutally marginalised and chronically underdeveloped areas they are. For 60 years now, Pakistan has avoided the expense of infrastructure development, and controlled the frontier through financial assistance to tribal leaders – whose authority has now been usurped by militants. Among the four million people who live in tribal areas like Waziristan, the literacy rate remains a mere 17 per cent – the figure for women is only three per cent. To regain its legitimacy and authority in these places, Pakistan will have to deploy more than troops. Next door in Afghanistan, the United States is learning the hard way that an occupying army may not be the best tool with which to build a functioning state, and Pakistan may soon confront the same problem.

Before I left Pakistan, I met with Aitizaz Ahsan, the leader of the Lawyers’ Movement, whose mass protests restored Pakistan’s chief justice to his seat and united hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis across regional, political and class barriers in a non-violent, democratic exercise. When I asked Ahsan about Pakistan’s future, he did not mention military victories, in Waziristan or elsewhere. “When the dust of this conflict settles,” he said, “we have to rebuild a new country, move from being a national security state to being a welfare state. We have to rebuild our blighted public schools, we have to make the feudal lords give a little bit of Pakistan back to its poor farmers, we have to integrate the tribal areas as a part of the NWFP and build modern infrastructure and systems of governance there. We have to give people on the margins a stake in Pakistan.”"

Friday, October 23, 2009

An online thesis

I found a possibly very interesting online thsis rejected by the student himself while looking for follow ups of Edward Berman's The ideology of philanthropy : the influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations on American foreign policy and Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism by Joan Roelofs. The thesis is available here. From the summary:
"The Democracy Manipulation Model outlined in this thesis builds upon Antonio Gramsci’s work on the maintenance of ideological hegemony, and incorporates the Joan Roelofs critical analyses of liberal philanthropy, and William Robinson’s writings on the elite manipulation of popular revolutions. The Model’s central focus on the manipulation of media landscapes draws upon Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s seminal work on the political economy of the mass media, and the thesis utilises Steven Lukes three views of power to describe the dynamics of social engineering. Case studies presented in this thesis examine how elite funding bodies have consciously manipulated all manner of media systems (including organizations that are commonly perceived to be Left-leaning or progressive) in both the US and abroad in an effort to manufacture public consent for elite interests. It is hoped that the Model outlined in this thesis will provide a useful tool for progressive activists struggling to eradicate capitalism and replace it with an alternative, sustainable and equitable form of democratic governance."

Guardian on "What the Dog Saw"

From Guardian article on Malcom Gladwell's book "What the Dog Saw" (via 3quarksdaily):
"This is what Gladwell does best: he takes an idea, recasts it as a human story, and works it through to its conclusion, taking a strip off conventional wisdoms as he goes. Even when the patterns he identifies are spurious or the conclusions flawed, the arguments he raises are clear, provocative and important. It's as if he is saying, read this, then go and think for yourself. His pieces, he says, are meant to be "adventures".

Gladwell's most recent book, Outliers, was knocked by some critics for stating the obvious: that successful people put in a lot of hours, but crucially are often in the right place at the right time and seize the opportunities life throws their way. Before that, Blink drew flak for urging readers to go with their gut feelings, except when their gut feelings were wrong.

Both books were spun out of articles Gladwell published in the New Yorker, and it is easy to see why they met with a mixed reaction. When Gladwell's theories are drawn across a broader canvas, the cracks are harder to ignore. One virtue of What the Dog Saw is that the pieces are perfectly crafted: they achieve their purpose more effectively when they aren't stretched out.

In his introduction, Gladwell tries to head off the familiar criticisms by re-stating what his writing is and isn't trying to achieve. "Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. Not the kind you'll find in this book, anyway. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think." On that basis, Gladwell surely succeeds.

Back to that warning. There is nothing new in this new book, but that is clear from the start. What is less clear is that all the pieces are available free of charge from Gladwell's own website. If you like, you can go there and read the original New Yorker articles, complete with beautiful layouts and cartoons. You can even print them out and staple them together using an industrial stapler from the stationery cupboard at work. A trial run suggests that this could occupy an idle lunchtime.

Gladwell's publisher no doubt paid a lot of money to repackage his free stories and sell them on for a tidy profit. It is a scenario that has the makings of a Gladwellian dilemma. Why buy the book if the content is free? And what does that say about me? Is the feeling of being mugged by the publisher trumped by the virtue of convenience? The book is beautiful and brings together the writing that made Gladwell the extraordinary figure he is today. That alone is worth paying something for, but if you want to avoid mental anguish it might be safer to buy it for someone else."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Some old stuff

Felix Salmon revisits his excellent review of
Freakonmics. Conclusion:

"If you're interested in Steven Levitt the person, then by all means read Freakonomics: you'll learn a decent amount about him and his interests. If you're interested in his work, however, I'd advise waiting for his next book, or maybe trying to track down his original papers. This short and hurried book is not the book you're looking for."

Following up a question in a Deepavali quiz, I find the completion of a story from Pavan Varma's "Being Indian" and learn that Hindu idols are perpetual minors. Pushkar’s problem :
"Mahant Laharpuri, a portly man in his sixties today and an undisputed guardian of the Brahma temple, filed a case in Pushkar courts against Benugopal Sharma, head priest of the Savitri temple. Laharpuri demanded the right to perform pujas at the Savitri temple for five days every year and more noteworthy is his other demand, to take the offerings coming his way on those days. As guardian of the Brahma temple, he said it was his right on the dwelling of the wife. The five days coincide with the Pushkar fair when pilgrim attendance is at its peak. The exact collections of Savitri temple are not clear but a considerable part of its annual revenue comes from the five days that Laharpuri is interested in. The Brahma temple is more visited and is said to collect rupees fifteen to twenty lakhs yearly...... Last year the court dismissed the dispute. However, a fresh appeal has been now filed in the District and Sessions court at Ajmer and the hearing is slated for September 17.

M e a n wh i l e, Bansal says, as defence counsel he had told the court that since Savitri was Brahma’s deserted wife she should be given alimony instead by the Brahma temple. However, this was rejected by the court on the grounds that it cannot be done in regard to idols. Also according to Hindu law (regarding idols) deities are perpetual minors and they are under guardianship of the head priest, and therefore the question of any sort of maintenance does not arise."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Participatory Irrigation Management; a case study from Kerala

"Vermillion (1999), drawing from Ostrom (1990), has classified three types of collective action observed in participatory irrigation management: constitutional
actions—observed at the initial/organizing stage; collective choice—formulation of rules and sanctions that describe the functioning of the system; and operational
actions, which are observed at the functioning stage. Limited information is available describing constitutional actions pertaining to check-dams, as this system has been in existence for many decades. Strict rules are lacking in the management of check-dams, therefore giving less importance to collective choice. Operational actions are more important, as these are essential elements of the successful management
of check-dams." say Balooni et all in Community initiatives in building and managing temporary check-dams across seasonal streams for water harvesting in South India. Conclusions:
"Check-dams represent a traditional water harvesting system and play a vital role in sustaining and enhancing the agrarian life of Kumbadaje panchayat. This motivation, and more importantly the people’s passion to carry forward traditional practices, are the major factors for community initiatives in building and managing the
check-dams. Without check-dams,most of the agricultural land would remain unutilized during the summer, thereby limiting the scope for growing perennial
(cash) crops.

Collective action among farmers is mostly noticeable during resource mobilization and construction of the check-dams. Cost-sharing arrangements vary among the check-
dams in our study. The head of a farmers’ group conducts most of the management activities of a check-dam on behalf of others. The success of this arrangement can be attributed to the homogenous and small size groups of farmers dependent on a check-dam. However, there is a lack of coordination among decision-makers belonging to different check-dams in the study area for timely and simultaneous construction of check-dams. Late building affects the usefulness and viability of check-dams. In most of the check-dams we studied, there is no definite and effective water distribution mechanism. However, with the increasing demand for water, farmers
need to implement allocation mechanisms to avoid conflicts.

There seems to be some reduction in the importance of this traditional water
harvesting system, as seen in the declining trend in construction of check-dams. The reason is not the lack of collective action among the farmers but the increased use of bore wells for meeting irrigation requirements. A decline in the availability of specialized skilled labourers for building check-dams may further contribute to this trend in the coming years. Subsidized electricity causes both over exploitation of ground water and excessive use of capital. Both contribute to the comparative neglect of check-dams. If the subsidy on electricity is not reduced, the government should consider providing appropriate incentives for constructing and managing check-dams, which enable more efficient use of water and also generate the positive externality of recharging ground water in surrounding areas.

Temporary check-dams are more suitable for water harvesting in our study area than semi-permanent and permanent check-dams. Many semi-permanent and permanent structures, built with government support, have become defunct due to defective construction.The traditional technologyof building check-dams should be sustained in the study area. The role of the government should be limited to providing funds primarily for building traditional check-dams and emergency maintenance operations, with minimal intervention in the management activities of the farmers’ groups. Such limited but critical government intervention is needed to sustain such traditional
water harvesting systems in India and elsewhere."
Another case of community resource management from MR The economics of local forest management (or another lesson in Elinor Ostrom).

Vikram Buddhi case

Yet another dark Deepavali for Vikram Buddhi
By churumuri
. I did not hear this before but it is a shock to see a son's suffering similar to his father's. I remember his father Subba Rao from my Tata Institute days (64-79) as a studious navy officer who used to attend several mathematics seminars in the institute. We used to talk a bit off and on, mostly because of our Telugu background. I met him again around 2002 attending a conference in Tata Institute and was surprised to hear from him all that he has gone through in the mean time. The worst seemed to be over and he was looking forward to a period of study. And now this news.
P.S. An article by the father Roxana Saberi And Vikram Buddhi – Compel A Comparison. See also the comment by the concerned indian and the links he gave:
"What we must demand is a fair trial and also, in the event that he is found guilty, a punishment that fits the crime. For this the only viable defense seems to be that he had no intention of carrying out the threats, and that he should not be singled out from among the many many people who post as bad or worse threats on the internet. Punishing him is not likely to deter others because of the sheer commonness of such online behaviour. If those who provide forums where this behaviour goes unchecked and is in fact highly encouraged, even to the point of addiction are also held responsible then perhaps it can actually be curbed.

I hope a more responsible campaign is launched to protect this young man and his family from this injustice.

See also: a...cd39491024.html a...0a300bdfd7.html "
P.P.S. The story from Openthemgaazine:
(via a comment in churumuri)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Israel Gelfand RIP

NY Times obituary of the legendary mathematician. Though I did not work in any of the fields pioneered by him and read only a few expository articles by him, his name, contributions and his seminars were a part of the folklore. I met him only once a few years ago and was surprised to find him showing interest in my work (very far from the areas he worked in) and even wanting reprints. I guess that he just wanted to know whatever was going on. More links here (via Not Even Wrong ).

Happy Deepavali

deepawali deepawali from Shavukaru reminiscent of Deepavali scenes from my chilhood.
P.S. It is a 1950 movie. I think that the singers are Rao Balasaraswati Devi and Santakumari ( singing her lines in the movie). The lyris are by Samudrala Raghavacharya (from Pedapulivarru, Bhattiprolu Mandal, Repalle Taluk where I finished my ninth grade) and the music director is Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao ( who married in Pedapulivarru and I had the good fortune of seeing him there in 1952).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The language disconnect

Excerpts from a response by N.Kalyan Raman to Ramachandra Guha Intellectual Bilingulaism:
"Increasingly, our public sphere is occupied by social scientists, administrators, historians, journalists, TV anchors, technocrats and plain academics who cannot even hold a conversation of ideas in any Indian language. Such fancies as they do harbour about a sense of community – including activism and inquiry – are played out ineluctably in the metropolitan arena, nearly always among their own kind. It keeps them busy enough, I imagine, but they are nevertheless subject to two inescapable consequences of their choice: ignorance of and disengagement from the life-currents of a larger community.
...we must commend Guha for his reference to “a separation of discourses,” even if he does not elaborate on it. It is indeed true that the English language discourse
is separate from discourses in other Indian languages.It is equally true that in the public sphere, the former is privileged over the latter. While the English language discourse is accessed by other linguistic communities as an integral part of their epistemic strategy, no such osmosis is feasible or permitted in the English language discourse. Seldom do we encounter articles or columns translated from Indian language magazines and newspapers in the English language press. This fails to happen even if the event in question is the siege of Lalgarh or Tamil Nadu’s expression of anguish over the lost cause of Eelam or the post-Godhra riots. Nor does it seem feasible to make the work of Indian language scholars readily available in English translation. Therefore, the “separation of discourses” is largely put in place and maintained by the community of monolingual Anglophone Indian intellectuals
for their own reasons.
Guha’s article could also be construed as the recognition of a crisis in the
monolingual Anglophone community of intellectuals in India. The arena of their
engagement seems increasingly limited to metropolitan life, affairs of the central
government, commerce and industry, the Anglophone diaspora and an endless parroting of voices and ideas from the western world. Beyond this, they have no means of participating in – or influencing – contemporary political, cultural and intellectual currents which would be inevitably shaped by the subaltern classes in the natural course of our quest for a more democratic society."

While there seems to be some truth in this, there semay be other problems as well. For many leftists Marxism has become a theory that explains every thing and they refuse to learn or think beyond that frame.
P.S. Umair Ahmed Muhajir in Blind Spot:
"The more interesting aspect for me is the light this sort of report casts on the extent to which India -- more accurately the urban Indians who are able to do most of the talking in India’s name -- remains West-centric in its thinking, and colonial in its assumptions. Ask anyone about India’s development (human or otherwise), and the benchmarks one is likely to be presented with are Western ones, or of countries that have successfully transformed themselves into advanced capitalist economies on the Western model (such as Japan, South Korea, and most pertinently for the contemporary Indian imagination, China).
But clearly, countries such as those mentioned above must be doing something better than India is, and its time we took them seriously enough to learn from them. A worldview that is hung up on “catching up” with China and “the West” is one that sees “development” in terms of global prestige and national self-image -- not social justice. In seeking to frame the issues in terms of a supposedly inevitable ascension to global power status in the future, we are in the process of making today a casualty."

More links to economics Nobelists

Edward Glaeser in Honoring the Nobel Laureates explains the work of both. About Williamson:
"To understand Mr. Williamson’s part of the prize, it is necessary to go back 72 years to the precocious product of a 27-year-old English economist, Ronald H. Coase, who won the Bank of Sweden Prize in 1991.

While there had been a long literature debating the effect of firms’ size on productivity, Mr. Coase asked an even more fundamental question: Why do firms exist at all? Why should an entrepreneur hire workers and create a durable employer-employee relationship inside a firm, instead of just writing contracts with independent laborers?

Mr. Coase’s question began the modern discussion, in which Mr. Williamson has played a leading role, of why some transactions occur within firms while others take place in markets.

Mr. Coase’s answer to this question, which has also been Mr. Williamson’s answer, is that “the operation of the market costs something and by forming an organization and allowing some authority (’an entrepreneur’) to direct the resources, certain marketing costs are saved.”

When the costs of transacting in the market are high, either because of costly contracts or sales taxes, then it makes more sense to move transactions inside firms. The phrase “transaction costs” has come to define a school of institutional economists, of which Mr. Williamson is the dean.

Mr. Coase produced an answer to his question but did relatively little to flesh out what transaction costs actually mean. Mr. Williamson took on that task. In a series of remarkable articles and books, he enumerated the reasons markets may be less than perfect, including bounded rationality, asymmetric information, imperfect contracting and ex-post opportunism.

His seminal article, “Markets and Hierarchies: Some Elementary Considerations,” later fleshed out in book form, compared markets with peer group associations and hierarchies. He followed another Nobel laureate, George A. Akerlof, by emphasizing information asymmetries and the difficulty of ascertaining the productivity of particular workers. Mr. Williamson argued that a simple hierarchy with workers, ground level managers and an entrepreneur was a remarkably efficient way of handling production when information was imperfect.

Mr. Williamson clearly saw the limitations, as well as the benefits, of hierarchies. Longer hierarchies invariably involved a loss of information and a failure of subordinates to adhere to the entrepreneur’s original intent. Mr. Williamson’s most cited work, “The Economic Institutions of Capitalism,” is a far-ranging document that thoughtfully addresses the advantages and disadvantages of different modes of economic organization.

Mr. Williamson, himself, was a bridge between Mr. Coase and the more formal treatment of the theory of the firm associated most strongly with my colleague Oliver Hart, and his co-authors Sandy Grossman and John Moore. Their work followed Mr. Williamson, and others like Armen Alchian, Benjamin Klein and Robert Crawford, in pointing to contracting difficulties that precluded arms-length transactions.

Mr. Hart favored a more mathematical approach and a precise and particular definition of particular transaction costs. Mr. Williamson argued that much was lost in the translation to mathematics, especially his emphasis on bounded rationality and the difficulty of adapting well to changing circumstances. A modest but growing literature is now following Mr. Williamson’s call for models of the firm that more realistically reflect humanity’s psychological limitations.

Mr. Williamson’s work suggests that institutions emerge to address the transaction costs inherent in different settings. Ms. Ostrom’s most influential work has focused on the ability of institutions to handle one of the most challenging of all situations."
John Quiggin in Ostrom and Williamson win Nobel:
"Of the two winners, Williamson was on most lists of people (actually, men) who were bound to win sooner or later. His fundamental work on transactions costs and economic organization, largely done in the 1970s and 1980s changed the way economists think about these things. That said, it raised more questions than answers. Economists still tend to use ‘transactions costs’ as a kind of black box, in which to put anything that prevents markets working as they should. My view is that the ultimate answer will be found by dropping the assumption that market participants are perfectly rational agents, capable of considering all possible outcomes of the transactions into which they enter. But I would say that – most of my theoretical work these days is about bounded rationality in one form or another.'
and also answers a question of mine on the limitations of Ostorm approach. Much more in the comments section of CT post Honoring the Nobel Laureates The Ostrom Nobel. It has this quote from Ostrom (CPR stands for Common Pool Resource):
"Evolved norms, however, are not always sufficient to prevent overexploitation. Participants or external authorities must deliberately devise (and then monitor and enforce) rules that limit who can use a CPR, specify how much and when that use will be allowed, create and finance formal monitoring arrangements, and establish sanctions for nonconformance. Whether the users themselves are able to overcome the higher level dilemmas they face in bearing the cost of designing, testing, and modifying governance systems depends on the benefits they perceive to result from a change as well as the expected costs of negotiating, monitoring, and enforcing these rules" and this from gsmoke's diary:
"Based on a survey of several thousand cases, political scientist Elinor Ostrom has listed several basic requirements for locally sustainable, collective environmental management (Governing the Commons, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 90):

clearly defined boundaries
congruence between rules & local conditions
collective-choice arrangements
graduated sanctions
conflict-resolution mechanisms
recognition of rights to organize
nested in & recognized by higher institutional levels
As Elinor Ostrom notes for successful common property systems, "the populations in these locations have remained stable over long periods of time. Individuals have shared a past and expect to share a future..." (Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, 1990, op. cit., p. 88)."
In other words, it is hard.
Political Scientist Elinor Ostrom Wins Nobel Prize in Economics has links to an Article by Ostrom and excerpts to her work and finally (via John Quiggin) The Myth of the Tragedy of Commons by Ian Angus

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Economics Nobel for a political scientist

seems to be a step in the right direction. From the Crooked Timber post The Ostrom Nobel :
"This is, as Kieran suggests, a vote in favor of detailed, working-from-the-ground-up, empirical work, which doesn’t rely on sharply contoured theoretical simplifications and flashy statistical techniques so much as the accumulation of good data, which reflects the messiness of the real social institutions from which it is gathered. Quoting from Governing the Commons:

"An important challenge facing policy scientists is to develop theories of human organization based on realistic assessment of human capabilities and limitations in dealing with a variety of situations that initially share some or all aspects of a tragedy of the commons. … Theoretical inquiry involves a search for regularities … As a theorist, and at times a modeler, I see these efforts [as being] at the core of a policy science. One can, however, get trapped in one’s own intellectual web. When years have been spent in the development of a theory with considerable power and elegance, analysts obviously will want to apply this tool to as many situations as possible. The power of a theory is exactly proportionate to the diversity of situations it can explain. All theories, however, have limits. Models of a theory are limited still further because many parameters must be fixed in a model, rather than allowed to vary. Confusing a model – such as that of a perfectly competitive market – with the theory of which it is one representation can limit applicability still further. (pp.24-25)"

One plausible characterization of her life’s work is that it is about demonstrating the empirical weaknesses of a ‘cute’ economic model (the Tragedy of the Commons) that assumed a role in policy discussions far out of proportion to its actual explanatory power, and replacing it with a set of explanations that are nowhere near as neat, but are far more true to the real world.....

It is also a vote in favor of supplementing quantitative work with qualitative understanding – Lin spends a lot of time (albeit less than she used to) in the field, soaking up practical knowledge which informs her work in striking ways. She is hands-on in a way that very few economists, political scientists or sociologists are. It is also interesting to note that the Nobel committee pays specific attention to the political implications of her work.

"Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized. Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories."

This reflects what she and her husband Vincent refer to as “polycentricity,” a normative approach to governance which stresses the degree to which higher levels of government should not crowd out self-organization at lower levels. Her work implies that both pure marketization and top-down government control can have badly adverse consequences for resource management, because they rob individuals of the capacity to govern themselves, and because they both lead to the depletion of important forms of local collective knowledge."

Many more links in Mark Thoma's post: Oliver Williamson and Elinor Ostrom Awarded Nobel in Economics,in Marginal Revolution What this Nobel prize means. See the trancript of interviews Rethinking Institutional Analysis: Interviews with Vincent and Elinor Ostrom .
P.S. I did not get any feel for the work of the other winner Oliver E. Williamson. Bruce Wilder in the comments to the above mentioned post by Mark Thoma suggested that Williamson formulated important problems but did not make much headway towards solution. A survey article by Williamson "The Economics of Governance" ia available online. More information in Financial Times.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some innovations from India

Reports on three of this year's Ashden award winners (both reports in clude videos.

IDEI, India, treadle pumps for irrigation:
"The Farmers Friend, a simple treadle pump developed by IDEI, is changing the lives of poor farmers in Eastern India. The low-cost device, used for pumping water for irrigation, has trebled farmers incomes so they can now save and send their children to school. Three quarters of a million pumps have been sold, with sales boosted by promotion campaigns using Bollywood-style films. IDEI is scaling up production fast aiming to sell up to two million treadle pumps by 2010."

India: Bihar business wins global award for green solution to blackouts:
"Saran Renewable Energy has installed a new gasification system that generates electric power for eleven hours per day using locally-sourced biomass, providing a popular, sustainable, and cheap alternative to an unreliable grid supply. The 220 MWh of electricity produced in a year is currently sold to ten businesses which previously used diesel generators, as well as farmers, a school and a clinic. The result is a better-quality and more reliable electricity supply that prevents the emission of about 200 tonnes/year CO2 from the 77,000 tonnes of diesel that would otherwise be used, and helps to secure income for the 100 local farmers who supply biomass."

GERES, solar greenhouses in India:
"GERES has worked with local NGOs in Ladakh to design a robust greenhouse that captures and retains the suns heat. It has built 600 greenhouses that enable villagers to grow vegetables throughout the year - even when temperatures drop to -25°C. Greenhouse owners eat eight times more vegetables than before and their incomes have increased by 30 percent. The project is leading to better nutrition and health for over 50,000 people a quarter of the local population."

Similar research to the last has also been attributed to Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR): Reports from Hindu Oxygen content in Ladakh up 50 per centand Gaae Times Farmers in Ladakh take to greenhouses for better yield.

NPR nominations

Maddipati Krishnarao brought this to my attention:50 Great Voices: Send Us Your Nominations.
For many Telugus, one of the voices will be that of Ghantasala. Many of his songs are available on the YouTube and oldtelugusongs.
Here is one of my favourites palukaradate chilaka ; the music director for the film was also Ghantasala. NTR reminds me of my father in the early 1940's. A short fillow up here; both seem to be missing in oldtelugusongs site.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fast acceptance

Papers seem to be getting accepted faster after retirement. Splittings and C–complexes :
"Received: 7 August 2009
Revised: 26 August 2009
Accepted: 31 August 2009
Published: 3 October 2009"
Previous version of the paper here

K. Balagopal RIP

I have come across the name of Balagopal only after seeing the obituaries in KafilaThe Passing Away of a Hero – Goodbye Balagopal and Outlook Kandala Balagopal RIP . If only I had met him on my several trips to A.P. it seems that I could have learnt some on developmental matters.
Kafila has a discussion of his article Beyond violence and non-violence. Outlook gives a link to his excellent EPW article Andhra Pradesh:Beyond Media Images which discusses factionalism in Rayalaseema, rise of YSR, unintended consequences of developmental activities like:
"The major irrigation source of Rayalaseema, however, used to be the excellent system of tanks constructed by the Rayas of Vijayanagar, from whom the region gets its name. Like the rulers of Hyderabad and Warangal to the north, the Rayas of Vijayanagar got constructed a system of tanks all over the region to husband the scarce water resources and channel them to the fields. Indeed, most of the kings who ruled the various parts of the Deccan, and not merely the Telugu country, built such tanks to provide water for drinking and irrigation to the populace. A characteristic of the irrigation tanks of Rayalaseema is their huge size, probably because rainfall there is even more scarce, and demands even more comprehensive husbanding of water than elsewhere in the Deccan.

This tank system, as indeed everywhere in the Deccan, is however in a shambles, now. Almost nothing has been done for their upkeep during the last several decades. Because of the denudation of the land around, even the slightest rainfall causes inrush of water into the tanks, breaching the poorly maintained bund. The breaches merit only the most cosmetic of repairs, and as a result, the tank bunds are but bundles of ill-repaired breaches. For the same reason, all the tanks are heavily silted, so heavily indeed that they look more like irregular-shaped football fields than irrigation tanks. In the days before chemical fertilisers, the silt was prized by farmers as a source of fertile topsoil, but now nobody is interested in taking the silt to fertilise their fields, and so de-silting, if it is to be done comprehensively, would be akin to a mass waste-removal exercise. As such, it is too costly for the funds governments are willing to spare for the upkeep of traditional irrigation systems.

The upshot is reliance on increasing use of groundwater, through deeper and deeper borewells. But this is a self-destructive game, for the deeper farmers dig wells in competition with each other, the deeper they will have to dig next time round. The scarce rainfall cannot sustain this technology-driven thirst for groundwater. In 2002, in the midst of the second successive year of drought, a middle class farmer of YSR's Cuddapah district had dug a borewell 1,000 feet deep, and still did not find water. ("If only I had persevered a little more, I may have struck oil" was, however, the farmer's only response to commiseration, for a sense of humour rarely forsakes farmers, even in the worst of adversities)."

The Outlook has also link to Interview of Dr. Balagopal by Janam Saxi .

P.S. I came to know today that Dr. K. Balagopal was a grandson of Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma about him I posted earlier in My favourite Telugu scholar: Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma
Hyderabad Book Trust obituary and links to two books in Telugu by Dr. K. Balagopal:
పౌరహక్కులకు మరో పేరు బాలగోపాల్‌ - హైదరాబాద్‌ బుక్‌ ట్రస్ట్‌ నివాళి .
Varavara Rao on Balagopal's Warangal days బాలగోపాల్‌ ప్రజాజీవిత ప్రారంభం - వరంగల్లు (1979-95) .
See also the post in Blogbharti Remembering K.Balagopal and K.Sekhar's comment:
"What surprises his many admirers is why did it take so long for him to condemn the Maoist (PWG)violence? Ideological obstinacy-a strong trait of Marxist scholars is the answer. Notwithstanding such shortcomings Balagopal was a great human being.A symbol of austere living he never carved for celebrity status or foreign trips.His passing away is a great loss to the excluded and the oppressed.He left the world too early leaving his mission incomplete."

P.P.S. The comments in the Kaila post Saluting a Revolutionary: Jinee Lokaneeta by Nivedita Menon give two further links.
A web archive on Balagopal
Telugu articles by Balagopal in Andhrajyothy.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Two views on Obama'a Nobel

Robert Reich in Why Obama Should Not Have Received the Peace Prize -- Yet :
"Giving the Peace Prize to the President before any of these goals has been attained only underscores the paradox of Obama at this early stage of his presidency. He has demonstrated mastery in both delivering powerful rhetoric and providing the nation and the world with fresh and important ways of understanding current challenges. But he has not yet delivered. To the contrary, he often seems to hold back from the fight -- temporizing, delaying, or compromising so much that the rhetoric and insight he offers seem strangely disconnected from what he actually does. Yet there's time. He may yet prove to be one of the best presidents this nation has ever had -- worthy not only of the Peace Prize but of every global accolade he could possibly summon. Just not yet."

Barkley Rosser comment in the Economist's View post Obama's Nobel:
"Actually, LJM came closest to the most important thing that Obama has done, although I gather it was not mentioned in the award. This was his getting Iran to agree to send the majority of their enriched uranium to Russia for reprocessing to use in a medical reactor. This was made possible by his surprise move to cancel the ABM bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move denounced by the war hawks, but which brought the Russians on board for this agreement with Iran. I would also say that his timing in publicizing the second reactor in Iran was optimal for achieving this.

Nobody forecast this would happen. Nobody. And for months we had been hearing that the biggest threat to world peace was Iran getting nuclear weapons. I would say that this is very significant.

Right, Obama has not solved all our problems. He did escalate initially in Afghanistan, although he now appears to be resisting the push from the military for further escalation, much to the howls of the war hawks. His strong opposition to Israeli settlements did not push them into making peace with the Palestinians (and I must note that the Gaza incursion happened on Bush's watch, not Obama's). He has opposed the coup in Honduras, if not as vigorously as anne would like. Also, while he has not been able to achieve his goal with Gitmo, this has been mostly because nobody in the world, including in the US, is willing to take any of those people.

Oh yes, and he has improved relations with nuclear North Korea, albeit with a lot of help from Bill Clinton.

Finally, can anyone name the obvious person more deserving who has not already gotten it?"
The question is whether he will be hamstrung by the Nobel.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Contrasting pictures of rural India

in a special issue by knowledge@wharton and Wall Street Journal Rural India.
The Upside of Recessions
The rural poor fare better in India than China says John Lee India's Rising Tide . In Merging Policy with Practice to Help India's Poor ; "In the subtext of India's recent economic success story lies "the stubborn statistic of 400 million to 600 million people living in poverty," according to Shanta Devarajan, chief economist of the World Bank's South Asia region....
Ravi Kuchimanchi, founder of the Association for India's Development (AID), a volunteer movement with 50 chapters in the United States, India and Australia, resists the characterization of pro-poor policies as "subsidies"; rather, in the course of being implemented they become "exploitation." He pointed to the roughly 140 special economic zones being planned across the country, which have triggered controversies over farmlands being acquired to make way for new construction. "The incentives are going to the companies who take the lands from the exploited people," he said.

According to Kuchimanchi, another such "exploitative" program is the government's "Aanganwadi" initiative, which aims to provide basic health care across the country's villages. Funds earmarked for the program are routinely diverted to local officials' personal coffers, and investigations that result from complaints have been a sham, he said.

Devarajan cited additional problems plaguing health care among the poor. India's immunization rates are below those of Kenya, he said. "You expect the public sector to deliver this, but only 8% of such spending goes to the poorest sections. The doctors and nurses are frequently not available; the average absenteeism among doctors is 40%, and this goes up to 60% in Bihar," a northern Indian state. Devarajan said he saw no solution but to "restructure employment policies" and enforce accountability among doctors.

The same level of accountability should hold for teachers, Devarajan added. "Everybody, including the World Bank" takes credit for getting 93% of Indian children in some form of primary school, he said. However, "60% to 65% can't read a sentence in their [native] language, and 55% can't do a two-digit subtraction problem." These statistics came to light two years ago in surveys conducted by Pratham, a nongovernmental organization in India. The surveys found a "high degree of absenteeism among teachers in public schools," from 25% to 40%, Devarajan noted."

There is an interview with Professor Anil Gupta of Honey Bee Network
discussed earlierhere .
India Defies Slump, Powered by Growth in Poor Rural States saya Peter Wonacott, but K. Seeta Prabhu thinks otherwise in How the Financial Crisis Threatens the Rural Indian Boom .
There are some on money at the bottom of the pyramid, micro finance etc which I have not read yet. I found this initiative interesting: Aakash Ganga: Saving Water for a Rainy Day .

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Finest cricketer-writer

It was Jack Fingleton's writings about the 1960 (?) West Indies-Australia series that drew me to cricket even though I did not see any cricket while in school. It is nice to see an appreciation of him in cricketinfo Jack of two trades.

The upside of some economic downturns

From Sciensmagazine discussion The Upside of Recessions of Life and death during the Great Depression:
"Tapia Granados's team found an inverse association between economic health and population health: Life expectancy fell during economic upturns and increased during recessions. Mortality, meanwhile, tended to rise during economic upturns and fall during recessions. Deaths related to flu and pneumonia, for example, fell from about 150 per 100,000 people in 1929 to roughly 100 per 100,000 people in 1930, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Suicide was the only cause of death that increased during times of economic turmoil. For life expectancy, the patterns were particularly obvious among nonwhites: Between 1921 and 1926, a period of economic growth, life expectancy declined 8.1 years among nonwhite males and 7.4 years among nonwhite females. During the Great Depression, on the other hand, life expectancy among nonwhites increased by 8 years."
From comment by Peter Coffee
"This seems like utterly unsurprising confirmation of what has previously been seen in data on health in England during and following World War II rationing.
"It is ironic, but understandable, that Britons who were young during those years of food rationing were the healthiest generation on record: you only have to look at photographs of the children—lean but robust. There was little meat, butter or lard to clog their arteries and very little sugar or sweets of any kind to create cavities or rot their teeth. Consequently our diet was low in carbohydrates and saturated fat." (
"As soon as wartime restrictions were lifted people celebrated with good old fashioned self indulgence...Consumed calories soared as people over-reacted to the years of rationing. Obesity in young children become evident as parents tried to ‘make up’ for sugar rationing; while dentists saw a return to almost pre-war levels of tooth decay. Heart disease also increased as consumption of fats hit new heights." (
This seems like independent confirmation of the same behaviors."
More discussion in GNXP and Scientific American
Earlier papers by Jose A Tapia Granados on the relations between economic expansions and mortality in US, Spain, Japan, Sweden are linked in