But, We Do Not Have Enough Evidence


Some real world conversations:

After a report release, an economist is giving Gyan to people who are listening to him in rapt attention. We shall call him Mr. A. As usual, my face assumes the expression of a man who has never cracked a smile in his life.

Mr A: “A country can extract oil to raise its GDP. They can do it for five years. They can do it for ten years. Perhaps, they can do it for twenty years. But, we cannot increase the GDP for ever. The people in that country do not know it now because they have not heard of my arguments.”

(What I am thinking: This is of course, a lame argument. We all studied this in school. Everyone knows it. People have been making this argument for at least 3,000 years. Only that the world is incomparably more prosperous today.)

Me: “But,  the earth is full of resources, 4000 miles down, to its center.”

Mr. A: “Fair enough. But, that was not my point. I was talking about conserving resources like trees, wetlands….”

Me: “But, that depends on the incentives to conserve those resources.”

Mr. A: “Yes, but, I am afraid my boy, the data we have is against you.”

(What I am thinking: What would change people if the right incentives won’t?)

Me: But, the most polluted cities are in poor, and controlled economies.

Mr. A: “Perhaps, but I am not taking a position on it. I think you are *probably* right. Soviet Russia had a very disgraceful record. But, this report is not on the constitutional framework, but about how to measure the GDP given the constitutional framework we have.”

(What I am thinking: So, I am probably right? Perhaps it is true that economists can develop models and make normative judgments evading the facts of reality. Economists need not be curious about the constitutional framework.)


An economist has published a study on agricultural jobs. We shall call him Mr. B:

Me: “I read your study which suggests that employment generation schemes like NREGA does not kill private jobs. But, when the money is channeled from the private sector into public projects, it kills private jobs.”

Mr. B: “Do you have any data to support your position?”

Me: “Ummm, well, No. But, it is obvious that when the government taxes people to fund their darling projects, many private jobs are lost.”

(What I am thinking: Isn’t that a truism? Sound economists have always known it.)

Mr. B: “I have been trying to prove that for the last 6 months. But, there is no evidence to support that.  Journalists are superficial. To you, it is a two minute job. If you are so smart, why don’t you write the story yourself? Why do you have to ask me? Who gave you my number? Go, ask him. @^^&(#!%”

(What I did: Hangs up the call, petrified,wondering how someone of his age can be so insecure.)


Here, another conference is going on. Mr. C’s think tank hosts it.

Me: “I work with the Business Standard. I am doing a story on Indian think-tank performance….”

Mr. C: “What is your name?”

He then reads my name badge and says: “Oh, I know you. You worked with Barun.” There is a clever smile on his face, as if he is saying, “You can’t dupe me.”because I had once written about him. I knew that the news must be getting through to him.

This was what I had written about him: “Not long back, I read the experience of an author who lectured at this organization’s seminars. The think-tank long owed him some money, but the president was not willing to reply to his mails. What differentiates many of them from outright criminals is the respectability in the eyes of simple-minded men.

There are enough cases in which men declare themselves as ‘think-tanks’ and gleefully live off the bounty, jumping from one international conference to another. My Facebook feed is often filled with status updates that can scarcely conceal their pride: ‘Having beer in Singapore’; ‘I will be in the United States next week. New York City only!’.”

Me: “Indian think-tanks don’t perform well. I think it is partly because the country lacks talent, and partly because of the low salaries…..”

Mr. C: “Who said that we don’t pay good salaries? Have you asked people? How do you know that we do not have talent? What evidence do you have?”

He then says laughing, “Aaha. You are recording it.

Me: “It is obvious that Indian salaries are pathetic. And I can’t see any other explanation for incompetence of such a large scale other than lack of talent.”

Mr. C: A think tank is not a place where people come to make money. A think-tank is a place where people work because they are passionate about the job.

(What I am thinking: Incentives matter. Why is this even open to argument? Perhaps, passion can be a substitute for a decent dinner?  My interest in money is far lesser than that of normal people. But, even for me, it is not a substitute for the good things in life. People are not honest.)

 Mr. C: “I thought this was about the splendid performance of my think-tank. But, you have all the answers. We are not talented. We cannot pay good salaries. We are corrupt. So, why are you talking to me? Why can’t you write it yourself?”

(What I am thinking: You do not have to ask people, or work with an Indian think-tank to know where they stand. All you have to do is to compare the published work of reputed Indian think-tanks, and that of the best think-tanks in the west. Only that it is obscene to make such a comparison. Why isn’t this obvious?)

Conclusion: People are fundamentally screwed up.

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