The Human Cost of Zoning in Indian Cities

scep1_corporatetower_1Read my article “The Human Cost Of Zoning” on I hope zoning in the third-world gets more attention with essays like this. I am glad that Financial Times, Bryan CaplanTyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok, ACI Scholarly Blog IndexOrange County Register, FreakonometricsUrbanomics and economist Ajay Shah blogged about this article. Government Of South AustraliaQuartz shared it, and NYU Stern School Of Business’ Urbanization Project, Marron Institute,  and Brandon Fuller tweeted it.  Continue reading “The Human Cost of Zoning in Indian Cities”

The Mellow Heuristic

If our hearts were pure, we wouldn’t need our heads. To me, this is the most beautiful, most insightful statement on moral reasoning. We would never understand how much we really care about morality without fully understanding what this quote of Paul Bloom means.

For instance, I am an Aspie. Aspies are far less cruel than normal human beings because Aspies are more guilt-driven. Normal people feel shame when they lose in the status game. Aspies feel guilt when they do wrong. So, it is not surprising that Aspies often do things which lower their status, but does not leave them guilty. Similarly, normal people are more likely to do things which raise their status, but leaves them guilty. Or, perhaps they do not feel much guilt. It also seems to me that normal people value covert conniving skills more than moral rectitude, though they hide this even from themselves.

What possibly explains this? Rational deliberation plays more of a role in the moral attitudes of Aspies. But, I do not think that this fully explains this. This is probably not detached concern either. I believe Aspies are less cruel than normal human beings because they feel genuine compassion toward victims of injustice. In other words, the belief that thinking people are more rational, and feeling people are mush headed is not true. This is a false dichotomy. The truth is that it is impossible to think deeply without feeling deeply, without being emotionally sensitive.

I will explain. One of the most interesting observations of James Watson is that genetics would lead to a world where honest compassion for the underdog might become possible. This means that we do not live in such a world. It is obvious to me that we do not live in a world where true civility between human beings—let alone compassion—is possible. Honest, wholehearted compassion wouldn’t be possible without a high degree of safety, trust, comfort and reciprocity in human relationships. This wouldn’t be possible without more direct, verbal communication between people. If you think that there is enough of this in the world in which we live in, you are not a particularly introspective or sensitive person. But, it is not surprising to me that James Watson made this observation. From his worldview, he seems to be such a person. Continue reading “The Mellow Heuristic”

Let The Dying Languages Die

“What’s to be alarmed about? The disappearance of a language is not like, say, a local crop failure that augurs starvation. In other words, if some obscure language ceases to be spoken, it is not as if millions or even dozens of people will be unable to talk. All it means is that the people who would have spoken that language will speak a different language. Maybe we should celebrate the disappearance of obscure languages. Wouldn’t there be considerable positive value if everyone in the world spoke the same language? I think it is fairly typical of how the media and the scholarly world have treated the topic. It seems to assume that the disappearance of languages is a bad thing, though it fails to present much in the way of actual harm that has come. First argument: a claim that multilingual children do better than monolingual ones. Is this worth spending billions of dollars in a futile effort to keep various obscure tongues alive? Even if the data on children are correct – and I can imagine they are confounded by having smarter children or more sophisticated parents – the world only needs 2 or 3 languages, not seven thousand. In fact, the future I foresee is that there would be two or three worldlanguages, such as English and Chinese (Mandarin), and every child would learn both. Hence everyone would be multilingual. Getting rid of the other languages would just facilitate this process. There are those who care about language, and I am one of them. Putting this into practice by preserving near-dead languages on some kind of technologically boosted life support is of dubious value. Instead, we should work to conserve the effectiveness of language to communicate. This means respecting grammar, syntax, writing style, and other hallmarks of a strong, useful language, because they contribute to clarity and precision of communication.”

—Roy F. Baumeister, Languages Are Vanishing: So What?

“Losing a language is essentially a loss of data but culture doesn’t bleed, living organisms do. There is a lot of concern among anthropologists about “lost” ways of life. ( I am more concerned with “lost lives” due to poverty, malnourishment and disease.) The educated and prosperous elite sometimes lament the loss of innocence and purity among indigenous cultures. I have seen that here and in India. Mostly the people whom they wish to see hold on to their culture are poor, uneducated and their quaint way of life is a curiosity for us. I wouldn’t go as far as to draw the harsh parallel to a zoo but sometimes I wonder.”

—Ruchira Paul, Cat (or Global Forces) Got Your Tongue?

“If you have a casual knowledge of history or geography you know that languages are fault-lines around which intergroup conflict emerges. But more concretely I’ll dig into the literature or do a statistical analysis. I’ll have to correct for the fact that Africa and South Asia are among the most linguistically diverse regions in the world, and they kind of really suck on Human Development Indices. And I do have to add that the arrow of causality here is complex; not only do I believe linguistic homogeneity fosters integration and economies of scale, but I believe political and economic development foster linguistic homogeneity. So it might be what economists might term a “virtuous circle.”

—Razib Khan, Language Is Not Value-Free

“Bookstore shelves groan under the weight of countless foreign-language self-teaching sets that are about as useful as the tonics and elixirs that passed as medicine a century ago and leave their students with anemic vocabularies and paltry grammar that are of little use in real conversation. Even with good instruction, it is fiendishly difficult to learn any new language well, at least after about the age of 15. While vilified in certain quarters as threatening the future of the English language in America, most immigrants who actually try to improve their English skills here in the United States find that they have trouble communicating effectively even with doctors or their children’s schoolteachers. Yet the going idea among linguists and anthropologists is that we must keep as many languages alive as possible, and that the death of each one is another step on a treadmill toward humankind’s cultural oblivion. Assuming that we can keep 6,000 languages alive is the rough equivalent of supposing that we can stop, say, ice from developing soft spots. Here’s why. As people speaking indigenous languages migrate to cities, inevitably they learn globally dominant languages like English and use them in their interactions with one another. The immigrants’ children may use their parents’ indigenous languages at home. But they never know those languages as part of their public life, and will therefore be more comfortable with the official language of the world they grow up in. For the most part, they will speak this language to their own children. These children will not know the indigenous languages of their grandparents, and thus pretty soon they will not be spoken. This is language death. Thus the oft-heard claim that the death of a language means the death of a culture puts the cart before the horse. When the culture dies, naturally the language dies along with it. The reverse, however, is not necessarily true. Groups do not find themselves in the bizarre circumstance of having all of their traditional cultural accoutrements in hand only to find themselves incapable of indigenous expression because they no longer speak the corresponding language. Native American groups would bristle at the idea that they are no longer meaningfully “Indian” simply because they no longer speak their ancestral tongue. Note also the obvious and vibrant black American culture in the United States, among people who speak not Yoruba but English. But let’s remember that this aesthetic delight is mainly savored by the outside observer, often a professional savorer like myself. Professional linguists or anthropologists are part of a distinct human minority. Most people, in the West or anywhere else, find the fact that there are so many languages in the world no more interesting than I would find a list of all the makes of Toyota. So our case for preserving the world’s languages cannot be based on how fascinating their variegation appears to a few people in the world. The question is whether there is some urgent benefit to humanity from the fact that some people speak click languages, while others speak Ket or thousands of others, instead of everyone speaking in a universal tongue.”

— John McWhorter, The Cosmopolitan Tongue: The Universality of English

How Inflation Fell

UntitledMore than a year ago, I wrote:

“In professions in which perceptions matter, real skills are not valued much. But, no amount of rationalization can change the fact that real skills do matter. In economics, theoretical competence matters. Intelligence and rationality matters. Raghuram Rajan is supposed to take charge as the Reserve Bank Of India governor today. On Twitter, I see many people who question his citizenship and lack of central banking experience. But, Raghuram Rajan is an extremely competent economist. In India, this is not the norm. Ben Bernanke, the current chairman of the Federal Reserve is a talented American economist who understands the importance of inflation targeting. Perhaps it is true that Bernanke and Greenspan did not live up to their potential. But, the first essay on monetary economics many Econ nerds read when they were teens was the previous Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s “Gold and Economic Freedom”, because it was published in Ayn Rand’s non-fiction collection. Almost everything that is being written on inflation in the mainstream media is nonsense, but this paper of Raghuram Rajan and Eswar Prasad is brilliant.

Untitled2A lot of people were saying that one man alone cannot do anything, as if inflation is beyond the control of the RBI. But, look at the results.

Why Parsis Love Classical Music And Why They Are Becoming “Extinct”

Parsi-Work-sareesMy father teaches Rohinton Mistry’s “White Hairs And Cricket” in college. Though I had heard from the people familiar with Indian English literature that Rohinton Mistry is the best Indian novelist, I have never really read him. Yesterday, I noticed that Rohinton Mistry is a Parsi, and remembered what Aakar Patel says about them:

“Parsis have civilization; other Indians don’t. Parsis have civilization, but not culture. They cannot speak old Persian and their Avesta they cannot read. For language, they lean on Gujarati, for music they lean on Brahms. Their beautiful women wear saris. Parsis cannot even speak their own first names. The real Parsi surrender came in Bombay when they submitted to the individualism of Enlightened Europe. We hate sweeping statements about Indians, and generalizations about India. The problem is that everywhere in India the same evidence keeps slapping us in the face. We’ve become good at looking away.” 

I am reading about Parsis, a community about which I know close to nothing about. But, let us assume that the Parsis have high IQs. What could have happened? Intelligent people are likely to do evolutionarily novel things. So, they are not likely to cling too much to their own traditions and customs. Intelligent people are also more likely to enjoy classical music because purely instrumental music is an evolutionary novelty. Parsis love western classical music. Intelligent people are also more likely to be individualistic because individualism is an evolutionary novel concept too. The savage was governed by his tribe.

Now, observe. Their population is dwindling. From Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters:

“Demographics show we’ll be extinct in fifty years. Maybe it’s the best thing. What’s the use of having spineless weaklings walking around, Parsi in name only. Extinct, like dinosaurs. They’ll have to study our bones, that’s all.“If, if, if,” said Dr. Fitter. “If we are meant to die out, nothing will save us. “Yes,” said Inspector Masalavala. “But it will be a loss to the whole world. When a culture vanishes, humanity is the loser.”

But, still Parsis live longer than ordinary Indians. This is not surprising. Intelligence and other positive traits are correlated. Intelligent people live longer than normal humans. So, what could have happened? Though the Parsis live long lives, the incidence of genetic abnormalities is high. Some researchers inferred that genetic abnormalities and high IQ are correlated because this is true of the Ashkenazi Jews too. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) But, I am surprised that all of them missed a very obvious explanation. The Parsis marry late, or not marry at all, and this was true even in the late 19th century. Their fertility rate is lower than Japan’s.

“Zubin Shroff, a Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health, has been working on a new demographic study of the Parsis for the past two years, and using data from 2001-06 he has observed a TFR of 0.88. I recall him telling me that, when he disclosed this figure to a professor of demography at Harvard, she had a look of complete horror on her face. To provide some context, let us look at what the TFR is like amongst general populations in some countries. According to a United Nations report published in 2006, TFR between 2000 and 2005 was, for each country?s total population, 3.11 for India, 2.04 for the United States, and 1.29 for Japan. In other words, indicators for the Parsis of India are well below that of Japan, a country where the government has thrown a significant portion of its resources into reversing its population decline and educating its population about how, precisely, its population has fallen.”

But, why? High IQ people marry late or not marry at all. Marrying late or not marrying at all, or being childless is evolutionary novel. So, children born when parents are older might have genetic abnormalities even if the parents are smart.

Satoshi Kanazawa observes in The Intelligence Paradox:

Marriage and parenting are among the very few exceptions to this pattern in a comprehensive review of American life. In fact, “very bright” individuals are the least likely to marry of all the cognitive classes. Only 67% of these “very bright” white Americans marry before the age of 30, whereas between 72% and 81% of those in other cognitive classes marry before 30.  The mean age of first marriage among the “very bright” whites is 25.4, whereas it is 21.3 among the “very dull” individuals and 21.5 among the “dull” individuals. The more intelligent you are, the later you marry. The pattern is similar in parenting. For example, general intelligence does not confer advantages in giving birth to healthy babies. For example, 5% of white babies born to “very bright” mothers suffer from low birth weight, compared to 1.6% of those born to “bright” mothers and 3.2% of those born to “normal” mothers. Only babies born to “dull” mothers (7.2%) and “very dull” mothers (5.7%) fare worse. The lack of IQ advantage continues later in the childhood. “Very bright” mothers are more likely to have children who are behind in motor and social development or have the worst behavioral problems. Specifically, 10% of children born to “very bright” white mothers are in the bottom 10% of the motor and social development index, compared to 5% of those born to bright” mothers and 6% of those born to “normal” mothers. Similarly, 11% of children born to “very bright” mothers find themselves in the bottom 10% of the behavioral problems index, compared to 6% of those born to “bright” mothers and 10% of those born to “normal” mothers.  It is important to note that the problems suffered by children born to “very bright” mothers are not just social and behavioral—for which there might be varying and changing cultural definitions of what constitutes “normal”—but are also physical, such as birth weight and motor development, for which the criteria of normal development are objective and invariant.”

But, this isn’t because high IQ and genetic abnormalities go together, but because high IQ people are more likely to be evolutionarily weird.

The Genius Must Pay A Terrible Price

unemployedmanRothbard was a wonder. At the conferences he would rarely appear until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. He would then give a great lecture on economics or history. Long after the other faculty members had retired for the evening, Rothbard would remain going strong. I remember one time when around midnight he declared that he was hungry. “Let’s go!” he said with his infectious enthusiasm and he, myself, and a handful of other students hopped in cars and proceeded to a local restaurant where we talked and debated for hours. At the time this seemed natural but in retrospect I am amazed that a man with such knowledge would be willing to spend so much time discussing ideas with quite ignorant people. I should add that Rothbard never encouraged sycophants and his manner was such that no one was ever afraid to debate with him.

I learned later one reason why Rothbard was pleased to talk with students at the Mises Institute summer conferences. He had no students to speak of during the rest of the year. As a naïve young person seeking out a university for graduate studies I immediately thought of Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute where Rothbard was then teaching. I remember vividly the day I called BPI for an application to the graduate economics department. “But Sir, we don’t have an economics department,” the secretary told me. “What,” I said incredulously, “you must have an economics department; you have one of the world’s best economists on staff.” But sadly it was true. I still find this a damning indictment of my profession and the American university system.”

When it was published, I missed this essay of Alexander Tabarrok in Walter Block’s “I Chose Liberty”.

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.

If Natalists Can be Caught Thinking Of Mandatory Sterilization…

sansad“India is the most populous democracy in the world. It is also the country where young men and women were once hauled away to forced sterilization camps. The youth learned that even the fundamental right to propagate one’s kind could not be taken for granted. But they still had the right to propagate political delusions. In 1977, when Indira Gandhi closed the sterilization camps and called for fresh election, the philosophy of population control was quickly voted out of existence. People marched into the polling booths and voted against it with a feeling of vengeance. But this was a rare moment in the history of Independent India because moral outrage in politics rarely has its roots in the love of liberty and justice.”

“In the 1950’s, when a pair of American researchers asked a mother in Khalapur in Uttar Pradesh what kind of man she hoped her young son would be when he grew up, she said, “It is in his fate, no matter what I want.” Yes. It is in his fate. True in 1950. Truer in 2014.  Today, the most valuable of all possessions that a young man can have is the intellectual equipment with which he is born. If God had sent him to earth marking his place at the top of the IQ pyramid, he should count his blessings. He can flee to fairer lands. But, then, our most valuable possessions are not a gift of the Indian republic.”

Read my column in DNA.

We Need A Baby Market

Murray Rothbard (1926-1995)

Today’s newspaper says that a court ruled that Indian couples should be given preference in child adoption over NRIs, Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) and foreigners.  Why?  I do not understand this. In the first world, the living standards are higher. The child abuse laws are stricter. Why would the Indian government want to cause gratuitous suffering to babies who would have otherwise had a wonderful life in the first world?

The news report says that the child should  first be shown to Indian couples. If it does not work out, the child should be shown to NRI couples, then to couples with OCI cards and then to foreign nationals. This makes no sense to me because there is little incentive now for foreign couples to adopt Indian children.  

 If Indians, NRI’s and OCIs do not find a baby worth adopting, why would a foreign couple fly down to adopt this baby? If Indian couples are not willing to adopt a baby, why should NRIs and OCIs fly down to adopt this baby? More importantly, if foreign couples are allowed to adopt only unwanted Indian babies, it is quite probable that the foreigners who do it despite this are guided by not-so-noble motives. As Tyler Cowen observed, not many people are willing to fly across the country for a peck on the cheek:

In their 1972 textbook “University Economics” they presented a theorem that later became known, appropriately, as the Alchian and Allen Theorem. In less technical terms, this simply means that most people won’t fly across the country for a mere peck on the cheek. If access is difficult, you bother only if a special someone or special apple makes it worth your while. When access is easy and nearly free of charge, many of the low-quality apples or small bits seem acceptable and thus they do not get filtered out. Continue reading “We Need A Baby Market”

The Institution Called “Marriage”

This is perhaps not true of orangutans, chimpanzees, and Japanese macaques. They prefer older females.

Marriage is a contract. Governments in many parts of the world sets the default contractual agreement. This does not disprove the fact that marriage is a contract. The government plays a huge role in the employment contract too, but no one argues that employment is a superstition or that a relic of our barbaric past, except perhaps, well, socialists. This is not ideal, but there is nothing unusual about a marriage contract.

Why is this complex? Heterosexual men and women like companionship. They also love to have children. They conjugally pool resources. In the US, for instance, nearly 50% of the marriages end in a divorce. It makes sense to have a contract. I have heard people argue that they are soul mates and they live as if they have but one heart and one purse between then. If this is true, I envy them, but I think that they are lying.

There is a tendency among people who had paid obeisance to traditional social mores for long to now bend the stick the other way, and ask, “Surely you don’t believe in marriage, do you?”  This is nonsense. This is a fraud. This is a revolt against human nature, against common sense. I do not know whether anyone takes the feminist slogan seriously, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” But, when they do, I suppose it just prolongs single-hood. There are of course, variants of this, as Amit Varma said in “To Hell With Family Values . This worldview is perhaps taken seriously by a few: Continue reading “The Institution Called “Marriage””

Nerds As Liars And Hypocrites

Michael Vassar of Overcoming Bias has a good explanation of why people often brand Nerds and upright men as liars and hypocrites: “Some commentators proposed that “Nice guys” feel entitled to sex, and are liars. Why? Suppose that middle-class American men are told, at an age too immature to examine parental commands critically:  “In dealing with women, be X, Y, and Z” where X, Y, and Z are instructions like “Only express sexual interest in those women who you are confident are interested in you, prior to that, always be polite.”  And middle class American women are told, in a similar fashion, “In choosing a man, look for politeness and respectful non-sexual behavior.” But when women grow up, they find that they aren’t attracted to the men they were told to look for.  Maybe they believe, with reason even, that such men are ‘boys’, not ‘men’, and find this unattractive (ultimately because it was and still is evolutionarily unfit).  Instead, most women spurn the timid advances made by the ‘nice guys’ they think they should prefer.  But since they believe they should be choosing such men, they also decide that the men they reject cannot be the type they were told to prefer.  This may explain why ‘nice guys’ might end up labeled ‘liars’. Nerds tend to be literal, to lie infrequently, to greatly resent being lied to, and to not adjust their behavior based on information their brains have not yet verbalized. Nerds are also reluctant to behave hypocritically, e.g. by verbally condemning a behavior while engaging in said behavior. If this is what is socially demanded of them, they will be unhappy with the situation.”

LessWrong too has an interesting bit on such dishonesty: Steven Pinker has an excellent chapter on this in “The Stuff of Thought”. While there are several reasons we  lie, the most important reason is to avoid mutual knowledge:  “She probably knows I just blew a pass at her, but does she know I know she knows? Does she know I know she knows I know she knows?”  Etc.  Mutual knowledge is that nightmare where, for all intents and purposes, the known-knows can be extended out to infinity.  The ultimate example of this has to be the joke “No, it wasn’t awkward until you said, ‘well, this is awkward.'”  A situation might be a little awkward, but what’s really awkward is mutual knowledge, created when someone blurts out what’s going on for all to hear.

Mencken had a pretty sound observation too: “If, indeed, any individual among them shows an unusual rectitude, and refuses spectacularly to take what might be his for the grabbing, Homo boobiens sets him down as either a liar or an idiot, and refuses to admire him.”