Everybody who reads my blog knows that I’m a libertarian. But what are some of the unpopular non-political opinions I hold? Here’s my list:

  • Most people can’t think clearly because their hearts aren’t pure.
  • It is much easier to read, research, bookmark, share and write on modern gadgets. The best books on the internet are incomparably better than almost anything you’d find at the local bookstore.
  • It is much easier to read on Kindle.
  • The best blog posts are better than anything you will ever read in The New Yorker. Continue Reading

Do you write as well?

It was November. Shorts were fading rapidly out of the streets. Many girls queued to the ATM machines near my home in night clothes around midnight, their t-shirts knotted at their waist. Aren’t their parents home? I don’t read newspapers, and I don’t watch TV. The bright fellows I follow on Twitter and Facebook don’t like news either.  So, I didn’t know what was coming. I slept for many hours without knowing that those clever girls were trying to get cash before the news got through to everybody.

There are always enough such girls to go around in Noida. My landlady’s niece is one of them. When I first met her, she was sitting on the bed, pouting and sulking, complaining about some ridiculous thing. My landlady and her mother tried to calm her down, but that didn’t have any effect on her. I, the scholar and gentleman, was at my desk, poring over tomes on economics of culture. It was not that I did not see her, but my mind wasn’t there. When her mother said that it was time for them to go, she snapped straight and scratched her back, raising her top. She then turned  around  and  smiled  at  me,  her  eyes  twinkling.  I  raised  my eyebrows, glanced at her and smiled. “Bye”. Continue Reading

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“Dear board members and investors, I don’t think you guys are intellectually capable enough to have any sensible discussion anymore. This is something which I not just believe but can prove on your faces also! I had calculated long back (by taking avg life expectancy minus avg sleeping hrs) that I only have ~3L (hours) in my life. ~3L hrs are certainly not much to waste with you guys! Hence resigning from the position of Directorship, Chairmanship and the CEO position of the company. I’m available for the next 7 days to help in the transition. Won’t give more time after that. So please be efficient in this duration.”

This is Housing.com CEO Rahul Yadav’s resignation letter. This is “bad English” and “bad manners”. But, unlike most people, I’ve always greeted these sort of statements with sympathy, tolerance and respect because I know where this comes from, without even knowing anything about such people. And this morning, I read this interview:

Rahul has a general disregard for humankind. Yes. “While growing up, I observed things and always kept thinking. Why are the trains so dirty? Why is this thing like this? Why are people not working hard? Why are hostels so dirty? Why is everything so broken? Why are people so dumb?” he asks rhetorically. However, he is optimistic about changing all this. 

Again, this is “bad English” but I think this is obvious:

Rahul looks outside the window at the lake and says, “Well, food will also change. It is something that hasn’t changed over the last couple of centuries. More and more people are working on computers and are getting tensed about what they eat. It creates stress and is something that is always on the minds. Lifestyles are changing but the food hasn’t. Our generation will be screwed but then we’ll realize and course correct,” he says and Rahul believes this to be the fate with most things on planet earth.


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How many batteries do you have?

I read a story about an eight-year-old Aspie boy in Tony Attwood’s “The Complete Guide To Asperger Syndrome”:

The door bell rang, heralding the arrival of another guest for Alicia’s birthday party. Her mother opened the door and looked down to see Jack, the last guest to arrive. It was her daughter’s ninth birthday and the invitation list had been for ten girls and one boy. Alicia’s mother had been surprised at this inclusion, thinking that girls her daughter’s age usually consider boys to be smelly and stupid, and not worthy of an invitation to a girl’s birthday party. But Alicia had said that Jack was different. His family had recently moved to Birmingham and Jack had been in her class for only a few weeks. Although he tried to join in with the other children, he hadn’t made any friends. The other boys teased him and wouldn’t let him join in any of their games. Last week he had sat next to Alicia while she was eating her lunch, and as she listened to him, she thought he was a kind and lonely boy who seemed bewildered by the noise and hectic activity of the playground. He looked cute, a younger Harry Potter, and he knew so much about so many things. Her heart went out to him and, despite the perplexed looks of her friends when she said he was invited to her party, she was determined he should come. And here he was, a solitary figure clutching a birthday card and present which he immediately gave to Alicia’s mother. She noticed he had written Alicia’s name on the envelope, but the writing was strangely illegible for an eight-year-old. ‘You must be Jack,’ she said and he simply replied with a blank face, ‘Yes’. Continue Reading
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The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

An important truth about literature is that its greatest pleasures are beyond most readers. Only people with an artistic bent of mind can enjoy great art. But, there is more to it. Great literature demands deep learning, and an over-learning of the fundamental principles of human nature that comes from hard-won experience.

Consider this passage in Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time”, on  Christopher. He was then a thirteen-year-old high IQ boy who has the cognitive strengths and weaknesses of what they call “Asperger Syndrome”, though Mark Haddon never claimed that the boy has Asperger. The fact is that he sees things as they are:

“I colored all the cars in with red paint to make it a Super Super Good Day for Mother. Father said that she died of a heart attack and it wasn’t expected.  I said, “What kind of heart attack?” because I was surprised. Mother was only 38 years old and heart attacks usually happen to older people, and Mother was very active and rode a bicycle and ate food which was healthy and high in fiber and low in saturated fat like chicken and vegetables and muesli. Father said that he didn’t know what kind of heart attack she had and now wasn’t the moment to be asking questions like that. I said that it was probably an aneurysm.” Continue Reading

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If you believe you are Jesus or that the Communists are after you, then your belief is likely to be regarded as a symptom of schizophrenia.

In less enlightened times, these children were called lazy. But, today a boy who can’t sit still is sent to a psychiatrist, and he is instantly branded as a case of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But, what if these children simply don’t like sitting still? As Bryan Caplan observed, “No one accuses a boy diagnosed with ADHD of forgetting to play video-games.”

When I was a teen, I was taken to psychiatrists many times because I read while having food, did not sleep on time, and bunked classes—and because my parents had a hell of a time raising me. But, what if I liked to read while having food, wanted to sleep when I felt like and did not like being lectured to? And what if the problem was with my parents and not with me? You never know.

Once an intelligent man (and I have not seen many intelligent men) told me: “If people do not have a prejudice against you, they will have no issue with the things you do. It does not matter how crazy it is. But, if they are prejudiced against you, they will find everything that you do crazy. I won’t tell you his name, but there was a famous cricketer who had the habit of running naked on the field before a match. But, his team-mates and the authorities did not have issues with him. They were so tolerant.” Continue Reading

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The Power Of Abstract Thinking

The root cause of most social ills is not that people are not activists or poverty-eradication thinkers. These are character flaws, and weak character is never in short supply. I am perhaps the first person to make this claim, but even “eminent” Indian intellectuals are not capable of making rapid fire abstract associations. By this, I mean the power to think quickly, to build arguments and counter-arguments, to spot non sequiturs, and to instantly pick holes in the arguments of their opponents. This is a major cause of social evils.

Look at the Sen-Bhagwati debate.  A key position of Amartya Sen is that “There isn’t a single place where growth has taken off without an educated and healthy workforce.”

Is it true that Indian poverty and weak economic progress is largely a result of a physically weak and uneducated workforce? The assumption is that Indian workers earn less because they are capable of exerting less physical and mental effort. Now, don’t deny this. Taken seriously, this is what this claim implies.

If this is true, transporting them to a different country, keeping their education level and health constant won’t improve their productivity and income levels significantly. But, we know that a low skilled Indian worker who moves to the US might see his income instantly rising twenty fold. In a prosperous country, they will live longer and healthier, being incomparably more productive. This means that there are cheaper and quicker ways of raising their income and productivity than building huge schools and hospitals, and hoping that growth will take off in a generation or two. This also means that the problems lie elsewhere. Continue Reading

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“Doing charity is intrinsically difficult. Steve Jobs once said that he is not deeply engaged in philanthropy because there is no measurement system—-It is very hard to measure whether you have succeeded or not. But, according to the Bain and India philanthropy report, 80% of the individuals and 90% of the NGOs are satisfied with the efficacy of their philanthropic activities. Many economists think that this is because people often donate for the “feel-good” factor, and prefer to believe that their money goes into the right causes. “

“And, charity will never be sufficient. Economist Jagdish Bhagwati once said that an outright redistribution of wealth would only increase the food consumption of the poor by one chapatti a day. Some economists have estimated that sharing the total wealth in developing countries would leave its citizens with a few dollars a day. It is clear that charity will not solve the problem of world poverty.” 

Do read the whole article in the Business Standard:  Do Indian businessmen have cash registers for hearts?

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The Fountainhead

I read a very interesting essay on Samir Jain in “The Caravan”. It is hard to miss the parallels between the story, and the career of Gail Wynand in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead. Samir Jain”s Times Of India is the world’s largest English language newspaper, in terms of circulation. Gail Wynand is my all-time fictional hero.

Gail Wynand was roughly based on William Randolph Hearst, a 20th Century American Newspaper publisher.

Do read:

Samir Jain, who will be 59 in March, has a capacious memory, and he recollects, nearly verbatim, much of what he has read. Strict rules of engagement govern Jain’s meetings, some of them even written out explicitly as instructions from Bennett, Coleman’s management and distributed to new editors. “You aren’t supposed to look at your watch, for instance.”

Without advice, assistance or plan, he began reading an incongruous assortment of books; he would find some passage which he could not understand in one book, and he would get another on that subject. He branched out erratically in all directions; he read volumes of specialized erudition first, and high-school primers afterward. There was no order in his reading; but there was order in what remained of it in his mind.  Continue Reading

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Sainath is one of India’s most well known Journalists. He was the winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award for journalism, literature, and creative communication arts. Amartya Sen once said that he is “one of the world’s great experts on famine and hunger”. He is a passionate defender of the “little man”. Even his libertarian critics admit that he does a wonderful job in point out facts which most libertarians would readily concede. However, the conclusions he derive from the facts he present are worse than absurd.

In his latest article in The Hindu, Sainath makes a case against fuel price decontrol. At the same time he points out that the “food price inflation” is at seventeen percentage. This is the typical collectivist attitude, Ayn Rand had in mind when she criticized people who desire cheap gasoline and at the same time want the industry to be taxed out of existence. They see no connection between these two positions. They are unable to perceive beyond the proximate benefits. Governments have been unsuccessfully trying to control prices for at least four thousand years. It was a disaster everywhere. It leads to shortages, black-markets, long queues, wasted time, poor quality products, expensive methods of production, and in the long run, higher prices. It might even breed further controls and take us straight to a socialist totalitarian cage. Sainath’s argument that “fuel price decontrol will profoundly affect the prices of just about everything.” is true in a sense Sainath didn’t intend it to be. Contrary to his belief there won’t be a general rise in prices if fuel prices are decontrolled. If the prices of fuel are high, people will cut down their purchase of other goods and its prices will fall. Only an expansion of money supply can cause a general price rise. Continue Reading