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scep1_corporatetower_1Read my article “The Human Cost Of Zoning” on FEE.org. 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

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I met him three years ago, somewhere near North Block. As a rule, I refuse to meet people in the three-dimensional world. I made an exception for him because he once tweeted that I am the most beautifully idiosyncratic Indian writer. “Now, this is somebody who has good judgment. He understands my work, unlike the half-brained slobs I see every day.” I told myself.  We shall call him “Indian”. I do not want to name him and shame him. But, when I think about the “nature-nurture debate”, it is hard to get this fellow off my mind.

When I met him, he said that he “loved” a quote on my wall:

“We all talk about clarity and sanity all the time, but the truth is it’s very dangerous. True clarity and sanity won’t allow you to do anything — it will just make you jump off the building.

I have my doubts. I am the happiest person I have ever known. My hypothesis is that most people find it difficult to get out of their beds in the morning because they are sad. It is sadness which doesn’t allow them to do anything. They are sad, but they do not see the world half as clearly as I do. This was red flag enough.

He was unbearably depressed. I found this bizarre. When I said that I found this hard to believe, he said, “I know that it is strange for a very young man to be so depressed, but this is how I feel now.” I asked him whether he was a victim of “office politics”. He said that “office politics” is not the only source of misery. There are many other. This was news to me.

He said, “I don’t think you are trying to make a point on your blog. It is always along these lines, ‘I said this to her, and then she said this to him.’ But, what comes through is the absolute pettiness that emerges from the interactions between half-anglicized Indians.” The depressed are refreshingly frank.

I tried to cheer him up saying that a Masters from UChicago will take him very far in this third-world city where people are quickly impressed. But, he said that he studied something pointless. I reassured him. He will tower over everybody like an Albert Einstein in newsrooms in Delhi where journalists have IQs in the range of hockey scores. But, he did not budge. He is useless. Pedagogues had as much as said so, in that almighty piece of paper.

It was then his grandfather called him on the phone to ask whether he took the bananas in the fridge. He said, thinking long and hard, “Strictly speaking, that is not true.” He lived with his grandparents. His grandparents and mother were doctors. But, when she was young, his topper-type mother married a never-do-well from the hills. Before his mother jilted this Pahadi idiot who never did an honest day’s job, he was crawling.

On the first day of every academic year, his teachers at Modern School asked him what his father did. He couldn’t stand this diabolic torture. When he was a child, he said, “My mother (Softly) is a doctor (Emphasis added).” Soon, it dawned on him that he could not get away with it. He learned to say that his father was in “import-export business”. But, one day a girl walked to him and said cheerfully that her father was in “import-export business” too. He did not know what to tell her. When he was twelve, he decided that enough was enough. He walked toward the teacher, leaped and whispered in her ears, “My parents are divorced, and my father doesn’t do anything.” That did it for her.

My girlfriend once told me that her schoolmates asked three questions whenever she joined a new school, “In which part of Delhi do you live? What does your father do? Which car does he drive?” In all the cosmos, nothing mattered more to them.

He was bright, but he barely graduated high school. His mother (presumably an enterprising woman) decided to ship out and live in a ghetto in the UK where his grades did not bother anyone. I asked him how he managed to get into a school in the UK. He laughed and asked me whether I was living under a rock for long. “This is the age of decadence. Educational standards have been declining throughout the world.” When he was ejected from University of Chicago at the age of 25, he resembled his father. He had no desire to work.

He said, “Your prose is very ‘westernized’. But, if you like western thinkers so much, why don’t you live in the west? Without living in the west for a few years, you will never understand the west.”

I said that there was no conscious attempt to “deracinate” myself. I do not see things this way at all. The best books are ‘western’. I haven’t really bothered to read Indian writers for the same reason I have never been on a social networking website created by an Indian. This did not convince him. He sighed saying that he did not know that colonialism spawned people who have such dichotomous lives.

He attributed much of his depression to being compelled to live in the west. He loved Nirad Chaudhuri—who loved the west—and Pankaj Mishra, who, for all ranting, still prefers to live there. When I said that we have such fucked up lives, he sighed, “But, Pankaj Mishra is having a swell time, with his British wife and everything.”

Tired hearing that a passage of Nirad Chaudhuri is enough to take libertarianism out of me, I bought Autobiography of an Unknown Indian. I read the first few dozen pages before throwing it away. It was written in the sort of pedantic prose a school headmaster turned out of a public school hundred years ago would have written.  

The west was a nameless, faceless enemy. But, after a decade in the west, Indian streets had become unbearable. “I hate walking the streets because I do not like seeing these lower class people. I never go out, but when I go to the super market, the guy at the counter talks to me. I find that really oppressive”, he once said. He did not like his grandparents either. “My grandmother is so primitive. She is not westernized. I pray for her to die so that I can live in this house with my grandfather.” he said. The feeling was mutual, because he looked like his father.

His preoccupation with the west colored his perception of everything around him. Whenever he spoke, it was along these lines:

“My grandfather does not know why I lock my door when I am alone in my room. Indians do not understand the concept of privacy.”

“Theory is a western concept.”

“Morality is a western concept. Indians do not even know what “morality” means.”

“Did they understand you? I am sure that they did not. Indians do not know how to reason with each other.”

“Why do these people stare at me? Is it because I am westernized? I smile and make eye contact. I haven’t seen Indians doing that.”

But, despite everything, he loved the idea of India. Everywhere, he searched frantically for true Indianness.

Books, Uncategorized

I met David Friedman at Starbucks in Connaught Place, the Central Business District of Delhi. Starbucks, which exemplifies the age of aesthetics, tends to maintain consistency in look, feel and attitude across the world. But, its store in Delhi’s premier market reeks of traditionalism, with bare cement interiors, local crafts and furniture. The Connaught Place market, though somewhat dilapidated, is one of the most expensive office spaces in the world. Starbucks, which does not have many outlets in India, bought space here because as per its brand values, it cannot afford to open stores where the catchment area does not justify the investment. The young men and women who listened to Friedman consuming expensive retail space without consuming the expensive coffee epitomize India’s leisurely café culture. It is hardly surprising that Starbucks does not have many outlets in India.

Economist David Friedman is one of the most creative minds of our times. Friedman studied Physics at Harvard and Chicago, and has never taken a course for credit in economics or law. But, the finest of minds vouch that Friedman’s class on legal systems is the best economics course in the world. David Friedman is the son of Milton Friedman, the 1976 winner of Nobel Prize in Economics, and economist Rose Director. Rose Director was the co-author of Milton’s best-selling book, ‘Free to Choose’ and sister of economist Aaron Director who was instrumental in the development of the Chicago School of Economics.

Read the whole interview here.

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ArvindKejriwal2While speaking to the public, politicians usually “wimp out”, whatever the ethical aspects of the matter, there is nothing unusual about this. There is no successful politician on earth who has not done that, in one way or the other. Although, it is disputable whether Kejriwal’s economic philosophy is sound but, it is indisputably true that every shrewd politician keeps his sensible views to himself. If Kejriwal speaks the truth, and nothing but the truth, he would soon cease to be a politician. This is true of politics, not just in India, but across the world. Such is human nature. Such is the nature of politics. The median Indian citizen is touchier than the kings and queens of the past, but he expects his political representatives to wear their heart on their sleeves which is not fair. there is near unanimous agreement that Kejriwal knows very little, if anything at all about economics and political philosophy. But, the Delhi legislative assembly elections have proven beyond reasonable doubt that he knows a great deal about electability. Arvind Kejriwal is the living proof of the wise dictum that politics is not about policy. In a sane world, people would have found this bizarre, but this did not really annoy anyone, expect some gentlemen in the upper levels of the society. What bothers the people in a democratic society is the glimpse of a skeleton in a politician’s closet, though every successful politician has many in his ever-growing collection.

Read my column in DNA 

Books

Today is my birthday. I was a New Year’s baby.  What did I learn in all these years? A lot. I was never a lazy boy. 

The most radical shift in my thinking in 2013 has its roots in an encounter over a year ago. It was an afternoon in December I interviewed Tyler Cowen. I knew that Tyler is a colleague of Bryan Caplan, and has an astronomical IQ. Bryan influenced my thinking more than any other intellectual, of past or present. I had not read much of Tyler because I found his views too anti-capitalistic for my tastes. But, I pulled a few all-nighters and read all the books of Tyler that I could lay my hands on—except “Create Your Own Economy”. 

I remember that day. I was late for the talk, but I was being instinctively fair. I stood there on the stairs, watching the girls in the registration counter. A very young girl held a pen close to her chin. She looked like a doll. I asked her, “But, it was supposed to begin at 3 O’ Clock.” She said, “It was supposed to begin at 3, but some people who are supposed to come are caught in a traffic jam. It will begin at 3:30.” It began at 4. I once told her that I will write about her in my darling novel. Since then she has been annoying me saying that she wants to see what I had written about her.

After the talk, I walked down. While I was drinking coffee alone, on a table, I saw the PR girl of CCS entering the room. She stood near the door, her eyes flitting around the room. Then she walked to me, and started talking. I thought, laughing inside, “These PR ladies. They have such sharp eyes.” They can spot their prey in a room full of people, in the fraction of a second. I do not know how they do it, but I know that they do it. When they want me to plug their boss, the PR lady is sweet and talkative. But, her boss is grim and joyless. I tell myself, ‘My novel will profit’.

Unlike the typical Delhi intellectual, Tyler was extremely well-read—and a decent fellow. For instance, he did not lose his temper, or walk away when I disagreed with him. His books were among the best that I have read, but he was still too moderate to interest me much. But, it was only in January I read “Create Your Own Economy”. It was on Asperger’s Syndrome. When I read it, everything that happened in my life fell into place, after a lifetime of not fitting in. I spent the whole year thinking about it.