In Defense Of The Passive Citizen

05TH_NOTA_1777943fWhen an auto rickshaw driver in Karnataka ferried people to the polling booths for free on the Election Day, the media called him a great philanthropist. But, is it self-evident that it is a virtue to vote? 

The mainstream media celebrates the phenomenon of the people who do not even know their own age registering their opinion on complex policy matters. They are, after all, eager to vote. The underlying logic is irrefutable: “If ignorance does not stop the passengers from pushing the buttons and pulling the levers of the air craft, this must be noble. At least, they are doing something.” 

But, it is not hard to understand why the admirers of democracy love greater participation. It fits in well with their vision. Their heart lies with the real India waiting to get in, but is still being kept out by the elite. They think that ordinary masses will not go away. It might be their only hope, but they have something called the vote which will humiliate their betters. The Day of Judgment will come once in every five years.

While the middle class and the rich are busy partying, they will march to the polling booth in hordes and push the button, throwing all the rascals out. It would be quite an inspiring sight! 

This is quite a vision. It is also a vision that never materialised in its full glory. Or, perhaps it did, in an ironically grotesque manner. Lalu Prasad Yadav once said: “From a buffalo back, I have landed into the gut of a helicopter. This is democracy.” It is not open to argument whether he was right. What is open to argument is whether this can be considered a merit of democratic politics. 

Read my column in DNA.

Lousy People

OWLSA few years ago, a college-mate messaged me on Facebook. He spoke hysterically. As nearly as I could make out, he was trying to tell me: “It might be true that you write well, but that does not prove anything to me. I will respect you when you tell the truth.” I understood him. This is a variant of, “Even Einstein was a boob outside physics.” The world is full of such people.

Once when I went for a job interview, I saw a lean girl sitting on an over-sized chair. She could not have placed her feet on the floor. She said that she had worked with an investigative news website. She said, “I am not a good writer, but I can break stories. Some journalists are good writers, but they cannot break stories.” I smiled politely. She then asked me, “Will they give us a byline?” I said, “I do not care whether they give me a byline as long as they pay me.” She turned silent convinced that I was not worth talking to. It was a small magazine. I do not know why she wanted that. I sat there, staring at her feet.

I did not get the job because my ex-colleague Miss Touch Me Not was working there. She back-stabbed me. That ugly little creep. I do not blame her because it was my honesty that cost Miss Touch Me Not her previous job. For a while, I had seen her walking through Malviya Nagar like a lost puppy. When she saw me, she gave me a pained look. Her boss had once asked me why I named her Miss Touch Me Not. “I do not think you would have had a hard time touching her.”, he said with a clever smile. I know why he said that. I had never seen her forego an opportunity to touch a man. She used to stay up late in the office, presumably to have a surreptitious hanky-panky with a cute designer. Continue reading »

A Cat, Not A Defective Dog

18dczzw3crv48jpgMe: Do you have Asperger Syndrome?

Krishnapriya: Ummm….I don’t think I have it.

Me: It is a gift. A cat, not a defective dog.

Krishnapriya: Actually, I am not really sure.

Me: So, if I tell you that it is a gift, you will change your position from “I don’t have it” to “Actually, I am not very sure”? 

Krishnapriya: Lol. You think I did not see that coming?

******

Krishnapriya: I am reading up on sins and atonement.

Me: Why do you do that, my dearest child? Did you do anything wrong?

Krishnapriya: I think I have done quite a few wrong things. And I guess I am not one of those people who can forgive or forget quite so easily.

Me: Is that a warning? What wrong thing did you (I) do?

Krishnapriya: Lol. I will read it in your book someday if I tell you. Continue reading »

To The Prime Minister Narendra Modi

India-EU Free Trade Agreement1Globalisation has a bad press. Free trade was never popular. When the UPA government announced the decision to allow 51% foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand organised retail in 2011, the BJP and other opposition parties claimed that this would ruin the nation. A politician even said that she would set fire to the first Wal-Mart store when it opens. But, do you really believe that this would inspire faith and trust in industry?

I do not know about your followers, but it is no longer acceptable to claim that you will set fire to the store of a Muslim or a Christian. Why should different standards apply to foreigners? In a sane world, it would not matter whether a corporation that invests in India is native or not. The ideology of anti-globalisation is based on the belief that foreigners are not people—that they do not have equal rights. That is all there is to it. It is, of course, not true that foreign investment would ruin the ruin local retailers. But, even if it would, so what? I understand why the idea of nationalist appeals to you and the Hindu nationalists, but are local retailers the master race for whom everyone else should suffer privation?

Now, is there anything wrong with an American multinational retail corporation investing in India? You seem to be keen on empowering the poor people in India, by transforming them into skilled workers. But, Indian wages are shockingly low by global standards. This is not primarily because Indian laborers are unskilled, but because the technological means of production are primitive. An ordinary Indian laborer who moves to the developed west might see his wages instantly rising, even up to twenty times of that of the wage he could have earned in India. But, this cannot be because he became incomparably more skilled overnight. He has become far more productive overnight because western firms employ more sophisticated machinery.

Read my column in DNA.

Happy Birthday, Szasz

szaszfaceToday is Thomas S Szasz’ 94th birthday. When I discuss the Szasz-ian view that mental illness is a myth, virtually no one accepts this view as the truth. Even when they are reasonably intelligent people, they do not understand what this even means. They tend to think that this is a hypothesis, or that I do not understand how grave a threat mental illness can be.

But, I think certain facts are obvious. Most people are really dumb. Half the people have IQs below 100. Half the people in India have IQs below 82. You have to remember that someone with an IQ of 100 is still way below someone at the top of the IQ pyramid. The difference between him, and someone whose IQ is 100 is the difference between the person with an IQ of 100 and a chimpanzee. Is it even plausible that the judgment of the large majority of the people of what constitutes normal behavior is likely to be true? Does a chimpanzee know how a man behaves and how he ought to behave?

People do not know that in the mid-19th century, the slaves who ran away were believed to have drapetomania. Drapetomania, of course, was a disease that caused the slaves to run away. A physician Samuel Cartwright believed that drapetomania was caused by: Continue reading »

The Writer’s Hell

0406sharmaSUB-articleLarge“SEVEN years into writing a novel, I started to lose my mind. My thirty-seventh birthday had just come and gone, the end of 2008 was approaching, and I was constantly aware of how little I had managed to accomplish. I would sit at my desk at 2 in the morning, unable to sleep, and drink pot after pot of tea and try to write. The panic attacks came then. I would be staring at the screen, examining a paragraph that I had already rewritten 170 times. Suddenly the screen would start to ripple, as if I were peering through water, and I would feel a pain like a punch in the chest. Months passed this way. My chest felt constantly bruised. One December morning, the crisis finally came. I had lain down on my living room sofa and found I could not get up. The idea of another year ending with the book not done overwhelmed me.”

I read this in a New York Times article of Akhil Sharma. I find it hard to write over long periods of time, but only when I write against a deadline—whether self-imposed or not. I have never had a panic attack. I have never experienced sleeplessness. I was never really depressed, except for a short phase in my early 20s.

But, I wonder whether this has something to do with age. Male writers find it hard to write after an age. Testosterone levels start declining from the age of 30. Men do not have the strong urge to be creative, or take risks after the birth of the first child—even though they do not know why something is gone, and gone forever. It is evolutionary psychology that convinced me that I should finish my novel before I reach my early 30s— because it is now or never.  Continue reading »

The Accidental Prime Minister:The Making And Unmaking Of Manmohan Singh

It would be a mistake to think that Manmohan Singh did the best he could. Politicians usually do not. When Baru once sent an SMS to the editors saying the MNREGA was a birthday gift from Manmohan Singh to the people, he was severely reprimanded by Singh. The Congress wanted to maintain that this was Rahul Gandhi’s idea. Sound economists have opposed public work projects for centuries calling it Sisyphism, but Singh was not opposed to that idea. But he wanted to minimize the costs and often reminded his allies that money does not grow on trees. Manmohan Singh was against Arjun Singh’s plan to implement reservations in higher educational institutions, though he was never too expressive about it. Curiously enough, Manmohan Singh claimed credit for the loan waivers issued to farmers, though most economists consider it another dole scheme that would harm the economy.  The PMO has denounced Sanjaya Baru for writing this memoir, misusing his privilege. But that is unfair. Indian government servants rarely write memoirs. They probably want to believe that this is a mark of nobility, but this is often cowardice. Once you have proven your willingness to speak your mind, who will hire you?

Read my review in DNA.

Post Script: The heading was not written by me. What I meant was that it was good that Sanjaya Baru wrote this memoir, because government servants rarely do so. And with all his flaws, Manmohan Singh was a more economically informed Prime Minister than others. It was not an unqualified endorsement of both. I hate politicians as a class.

In Defense Of The Wimp

manmohan-singh-614-3Babies are deeply idealistic about love, because their prospects of mating are quite low on the probability scale. The voters who mock Manmohan Singh for being a wimp are in the position of the babies who hold others to such highly scrupulous standards in romantic love. Many Indians would want to replace him with a strong, decisive leader, but at best, this means that they are spoilt babies.

The average Indian feels no compulsion to yield to the whims of Sonia Gandhi because she does not order them around. He feels no compulsion to not hold strong opinions, because it is virtually free. Not bound by such constraints, he longs to be a Rajah who would smash everything that would stand in the way of creating paradise on earth. But, the truth is that he is not a Rajah and is not likely to be a Rajah anytime soon. He does not have self-knowledge.

But, it is hard for the Prime Minister to have such fantasies. It is hard for him to “man up”, because he derives his power from Sonia Gandhi, and not from public opinion. There are obstacles to overcome, and these obstacles are real. He has to overcome the inertia of his allies and masters. This is especially true, because Manmohan Singh is an economist, and probably has more sensible views. The more sensible your views are, the less you can afford to be a chutzpahnick.

Read my column In Defense Of Manmohan Singh in DNA

The Government Does Not “Fight” Inflation

inflation-road-signThe Reserve Bank of India is in the position of a robber who runs down the street crying, ‘Stop, thief!’ pointing ahead at others. The Indian public seems to be outraged by inflation more than anything, except perhaps corruption. But, outrage is an emotional malaise, a form of entertainment. It does not lead to anything good. This need not be controversial, because virtually no one seems to recognize that inflation is caused by the Reserve Bank of India, India’s central bank.  

If the RBI did not expand the money supply, it is very likely that we would have had deflation. Prices would have fallen, year after year. But, from 1969 to 2013, inflation in India has averaged 7.7 percentage. This is unusually high. The Independent India has reached closer to the informal target of 4 to 5 percentage inflation only from 1999 to 2006, when the central bank was more serious about reining in inflation. Even though the RBI claims that it is “fighting inflation”, price stability was never the overriding motive of monetary policy in India. Continue reading »

The Politics Of Hatred

Rahul-ModiThe large majority of the people who are angry do not have self-knowledge. While seething with hatred, they sublimate their anger into a worldview, to sabotage their enemy groups. For long, Rahul Gandhi has been patronizingly chiding Narendra Modi for practicing the politics of anger. It might as well be true that the Hindu nationalists are practicing the politics of anger. But, the politicians who think that politics is about “love” are not being honest about themselves. The Hindu nationalists see people of a different religion or ethnicity as rivals. The left-wing politicians perhaps hate the rich far more. But, almost everyone hates foreigners, though they do not always go overboard in expressing their hostility. Democratic politics in India is a lot more complex than that, but this does not change the nature of the issue: Politics is about hatred. Politics is about envy and resentment. It is hard to think of a popular policy that is not intended at lowering the status of such enemy groups, and raising the status of the in-groups. If you think that the “well-intentioned” redistribution schemes are any different, you are fooling yourself. Hatred is hatred, and resentment is resentment, regardless of who the voters think to be the enemy group, regardless of how they justify their acts.

Read my column,at India.com