Tag Archives: government

What Libertarians Don’t Get About Gay Rights

A few weeks ago, I gathered that a friend is a homosexual. There were premonitory signs. He was eager to meet. He’d message me incessantly on Facebook. This doesn’t prove anything. I know another guy who does all this. He’s just weird. Maybe some people are neurotic. Perhaps their communication needs are much stronger. People are not straight forward, and perhaps these guys want to just feel safe.

This fellow is very good at his job. But, he’s still bothered by what happened in high school half a lifetime ago. When a guy tells me he’s depressed without giving me any good reason, my first guess would be that he’s gay. He doesn’t believe in marriage. When I probed further, no good reason seemed to be forthcoming. At some point, I felt he was hitting on me. There was nothing really sexual in what he said, but my intuitions don’t go wrong. I asked him whether he’s straight, and he said, “I don’t even know what I am”. I asked him whether he can give me a plain “Yes” or “No”, he said “You can’t put people in a box.” This is exactly the kind of thing leftist people say when they try to get away with something. I said, “Bye-Bye”. This is not my thing.  Continue reading

How Demonetization Changed My Life

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

The Human Cost of Zoning in Indian Cities

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

Why Do Intellectuals Hate Hindu Fundamentalists?

Against fundamentalism.

Against fundamentalism.

Everyone seems to hate the Hindu fundamentalists. I do not know why. The Hindu fundamentalists are the friendliest people I have come across, over the internet. This is true even in the real world. Whenever I write a blog post or column that they even remotely agree with, they treat me like an ally. If these rascals knew to hide envy—-their honest vulgarianism—some of them would have been tolerable, I believe.

But, I am not the only person to make this observation. Vinod Mehta observes:

“Actually, I have more friends in the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) than in the Congress. The Congress people are very arrogant and if you say anything against them, they hold it against you in perpetuity. Take someone in the BJP, like L.K. Advani or Arun Jaitley. You can write against them. They are grateful for being written about, they understand that you’re just doing your job. But in the Congress, there is this belief that “You will need me sometime or the other.” Therefore, after I had written about some Congress politicians in the negative, I have found that I had finished my relationship with them.”

I don’t think he is making this up. This is cross cultural. 

But, the median economist is a democrat. So, why are some conservatives and Hindu nationalists friendly toward libertarians? Why do many conservatives identify themselves as libertarians? There aren’t many intellectuals that are openly nationalist. They need allies. The liberals have nothing to gain by building an alliance with libertarians because they are way too many liberals. Liberals and libertarians are culturally liberal, but cultural conservatism doesn’t have many takers among intellectuals, activists and journalists. Religiousness and cultural conservatism do not fit in too well with elite culture. If almost everyone agrees on the merits of cultural liberalism, this cannot be a good foundation for an alliance.

The economically literate nationalists see a clustering of socially acceptable justifications and socially unacceptable positions in Hindu Nationalism—-as a package deal. The socially acceptable justifications are, of course, more of a matter of appearance than of substance. If someone asks why they like the mass murderer Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister, it ain’t hard to claim, “I believe in development”. Or that I am against dole schemes. Or that “He gets things done.” The usual fig-leaf excuses. Much of this is product differentiation. Of course, this plays into the hands of their opponents and the leftist intellectuals. They know that the masses love dole schemes, and think(!) that efficiency is a capitalistic concept. The man on the street feels there is something sinister about “development”.

But, in this battle, the Hindu nationalists have finally won. There are only two possibilities. 1) Hindu Nationalism matters more to them than their preference for dole schemes, and hatred toward capitalism and the rich. 2) The masses—dull as they are—are instinctively shrewd. They know that this is the same old wine in many different bottles. They know that Hindu fundamentalists are not anymore capitalistic and that their opponents aren’t any less religious or nationalistic. They vote for the more charismatic leader. This makes sense because if policy preferences aren’t too negotiable, political parties cannot differ too much.

Of course, almost everyone is a nationalist. Almost everyone is culturally conservative. Liberal intellectuals like Arundhati Roy and Pankaj Mishra oppose globalization. What does this mean?They are against ideas, goods, cultural entities and people crossing the borders. This is nationalism and cultural conservatism smuggled in through the backdoor, but people do not notice. Why should they, if they can roll in the mud without feeling bad about it? There is, of course, plausible deniability.

But, for much of India’s independent history, the Hindu nationalists did not have much of success. Why? This never made much sense to me because much of India’s population is Hindu, and I suspect they are fundamentalists, deep down. Why, oh, Why? Perry Anderson seems to be onto something here:

“By the mid-thirties, Congress as a party was close to monolithically Hindu just 3 per cent of its membership was Muslim.  Privately, its more clear-sighted leaders knew this.  Publicly, the party claimed to represent the entire nation, regardless of religious affiliation.  The reality was that by the end of the thirties, it commanded the loyalty of an overwhelming majority of the Hindu electorate, but had minimal Muslim support.  Since Hindus comprised two-thirds of the population, it was already clear that free elections on either an unaltered or universal franchise would deliver Congress absolute control of any future all India legislature.  Common sense indicated that from a position of such strength, it would be necessary to make every feasible concession to ensure that the quarter of the population that was Muslim would not feel itself a permanently impotent – and potentially vulnerable – minority.  Ignoring every dictate of prudence and realism, Congress did the opposite.  At each critical juncture, it refused any arrangement that might dilute the power to which it could look forward.”

Now, this is Hindu nationalism without guilt or shame. You can have your cake and eat it too. That’s a temptation most Indians couldn’t resist. Unlike the Hindu Nationalists, the politicians of the Indian National Congress did not have to verbalize their motives. They were even allowed to openly denounce the religious fundamentalists. This attracted more articulate, witty, charming, educated and affluent individuals, reinforcing this tendency even further.

Power begets power. It ain’t very surprising that most journalists and intellectuals—much as they claim that opposing Hindu fundamentalists does not mean that they support the Indian national Congress—are softer on the Congress. Many of these journalists even claim that Nehru’s mistakes sound foolish, but only in hindsight. (Oh, Like Karl Marx’s? Indian journalists know nothing about the history of ideas. Any good economist before Nehru would have seen this coming.) Is it a coincidence that this is a political party that wielded power for so long? If you notice the political positions of the journalists who lost their jobs in the past one year, when the proprietors anticipated that Modi might come to power, you’d see a clear pattern. But, the Indian National Congress has been in power for many decades, and they would have been setting the precedent for long. Add to this: School and college text-books. It ain’t easy to switch coalitions. Most journalists are liberal. So, this would have been easier for them than for Modi.

There are, of course, other reasons. As Satoshi Kanazawa observes in The Intelligence Paradox:

“The United States is one of the oldest and most well established representative democracies in the world. It is also probably the only major world power which has never had any history of hereditary monarchy. In fact, the nation was founded with the very goal of rejecting the rule of hereditary monarchy. Why then, now that we have firmly established a secure form of representative democracy in the last two centuries, do we act as if we want hereditary monarchy, by electing wives, sons, and other family members of politicians to succeed? Now, I’m sure that, just like any other profession or career, being a good politician requires certain skills and personality traits, and these skills and personality traits may very well be heritable.(Remember, Turkheimer’s first law of behavior genetics? All human traits are heritable. Many of these important traits may be 50% heritable.) So it makes sense that sons and other genetic relatives (but not wives) of former politicians want to pursue political careers and turn out to be good politicians themselves. Wives of politicians may also turn out to be good politicians themselves if there is assortative mating—where like marries like—on the important personality traits for politicians.

My question is, why do the people want the wives, sons, and other relatives of former politicians to succeed in office and vote for them, as if we have hereditary monarchy and politics ought to be family business? Family business is ubiquitous. Everywhere in the world, sons and daughters inherit and continue their parents’ occupations and professions. But politics in representative democracy is different because the continuation of family business requires popular support and consent. The son of the hardware store owner or the plastic surgeon does not require anyone’s consent and support to continue his family business. The son of the Congressman does. If it turns out that people everywhere tend to want family members to succeed in political office, then such desire may very well be part of universal human nature.

Does that mean that humans everywhere naturally want hereditary monarchy (but with popular support)? Is there something in our human nature that would want our political leaders to be succeeded by their wives, sons, and other family members? People sometimes complain that the wives and the sons who inherit their political offices from their family members are not qualified to be elected. Such complaints were particularly strong for George W. Bush and Mary Bono. But this is precisely the point. When a king dies, nobody asks the question “But is the crown prince ready and qualified to succeed to the throne?” Instead he automatically, unquestioningly, and immediately succeeds to his father’s throne and becomes the next king, regardless of whether he is qualified or ready. Nobody complains that the legitimate son of a king is not qualified to succeed to the throne, because his bloodline is his qualification. That’s how hereditary monarchy works.

My point is that we are acting like we are electing hereditary monarchs. Despite all the complaints about their utter lack of qualification, George W. Bush was reelected for the second term (a feat his father did not achieve), and Mary Bono continues to be reelected today. The fact that they and others may not be qualified for their office therefore supports my speculation. If the desire for hereditary monarchy—political succession within the family—is part of human nature and universal among all humans, then it means that such a desire is evolutionarily familiar, and the desire for representative democracy—or any other form of government—is evolutionarily novel.

Our ancestors during most of human evolutionary history were undoubtedly more egalitarian and democratic than we were in the recent historical past, during the late agrarian and early industrial periods.  However, all the accoutrements of modern representative democracy—such as the secret ballot, one person-one vote, universal suffrage, and proportional representation—are all evolutionarily novel. The Intelligence Paradox would therefore suggest that more intelligent individuals and populations have greater desire and capacity for representative democracy than less intelligent individuals and populations.

Indeed this appears to be the case. In his comprehensive study of 170 nations in the world, the Finnish political scientist Tatu Vanhanen showed that the average intelligence in society increases its degrees of democracy.  The more intelligent the population on average, the more democratic their government. Vanhanen’s finding suggests that representative democracy may indeed be evolutionarily novel and unnatural for humans. It does not necessarily mean that humans naturally prefer authoritarian government, the only major alternative form of government in the world today to representative democracy. After all, authoritarian government is also evolutionarily novel. My suggestion is merely that it may be natural for the human mind to expect their new political leader to be a blood relative of the old political leader, and that pure representative democracy, where political successors are not related to their predecessors, may therefore be unnatural. Natural does not mean good or desirable, and unnatural does not mean bad or undesirable. It simply means that humans did not evolve to practice representative democracy.”

Should Jonathan Gruber Have Lied About Having Lied?

gruber2.rOnce when I asked an economist how the government should cure the fiscal deficit, he said that the government should cut spending. “The government shouldn’t run schools and colleges. The government shouldn’t run hospitals. The government shouldn’t run the police and the courts. The government doesn’t do anything well—except perhaps running the NHAI roads.” Then he asked, laughing, “Do you disagree with that?” I said, “No. I don’t disagree. This is obvious. Everywhere I see idiots. I haven’t talked to an honest guy before.” He said, “Thank You. But, you can’t quote me on this.”

Call him a hypocrite, but my respect for him went up. The establishment economists do lie, or at least they do not tell the whole truth. Whatever the ethical aspects of the matter, this is the necessary price they pay for being part of the establishment. We’re better off when the establishment economists are otherwise sane, thoughtful fellows. Would you rather have sincere mad scientists as appointees? I’d pick economists who cannot help speaking their mind over others any day.

Once when a proposal to raise the tax rate on the rich in India was under discussion, in a meeting with the Finance minister, all the economists present disagreed with the proposal. When I was at the finance ministry, an economist who spoke after the meeting had as much as said so. After an hour, I noticed that the finance ministry had issued a statement saying that there was a near-unanimous consent on the proposal. I couldn’t even believe what I read. When I asked an economist, he said that he was surprised to hear this too, but he was not willing to be quoted on that.

I am not willing to believe that “They are doing this for the nation.”, but I am sure that they see this as a necessary price to pay for having a say in policy matters. But, irrespective of whether they would like to believe it or not, are they right? I suspect “sincere” policy making is scarier.  India’s central bank head, Raghuram Rajan, for instance, is more sensible than he comes across. Inflation has fallen drastically in the past one year.

Few days ago, Rich Weinstein, an obscure investment adviser publicized tapes of establishment economist Jonathan Gruber’s cynical comments on Obamacare. Now, this is what Jonathan Gruber said that angered people:

“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass. Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.” 

Of course, now he claims that these were off-hand remarks. Human nature being what it is, this is what we should expect. Jonathan Gruber has proven not to be a sincere liar. But, would Jonathan Gruber have been an honest man if he had accepted the official party line, lock, stock and barrel? People think that the sincere liars have more integrity than the intellectuals who consciously lie. I have my doubts. I have learned from hard experience that people can convince themselves of almost anything they want to believe. The conscious liars at least feel bad about what they do, but the sincere liars feel good about themselves.  Wouldn’t they go too far?

What is unusual about Gruber is that people penalized him for not having consistently lie dabout having lied. Remember: He is not being punished for being deluded, or even lying, but for not having consistently lying about having lied. Otherwise he would have been damned all along.

He wouldn’t have been publicly humiliated if he had kept his mouth shut. The harm has already been done. So, what did he gain by speaking his mind? Gruber probably felt better saying that he did not really agree with how things were being done. Wouldn’t it be good if this happened often enough? By punishing Jonathan Gruber for making off-hand remarks, libertarians are punishing him for not being a good coalition partner. I think we should subsidize that more. Or, should false excuses inspire more trust?

I do not believe that there is something antisocial about too much honesty, but I think libertarians haven’t internalized this enough:

“Although we claim to value truth above all else, we are also at least dimly aware that there is something antisocial about too much honesty. This dilemma has often been portrayed in literature and film, from Dostoevsky’s Prince Mishkin, whose innocence and honesty destroy the lives of those around him, to the 1997 film Liar, Liar!  in which a lawyer wreaks havoc when he is placed under a spell condemning him to be truthful for twenty-four agonizing hours. Evolutionary biology suggests that no normal person would be capable of such a feat. We are natural-born liars.

The power to deceive is our main weapon in the struggle for social survival. Like it or not, without it, we are sheep in the company of wolves. Similarly, the power to read intentions from nonverbal expressions is our best safeguard against victimization by others. Without it, we are at their mercy.

Immensely rapid, specialized unconscious modules are humming in the background of our minds twenty-four hours a day. We could not get along without them. We could not get manage if we had to consciously coordinate our bodily movements, choose words in a conversation, or laboriously parse streams of sound from people’s mouths into choppy words and sentences. Fortunately, our brains come equipped with pre-installed cognitive software for these tasks, and the same holds true of our ability to understand the meaning of social behavior.

“All social inferences flow from a common set of assumptions, an informal folk-psychological theory of human nature. If the theory is biased, it will deliver faulty appraisals of everyone: not only of oneself, but also of other people. Commonsense assumptions include gems of sagacity such as the notion that self-deception is abnormal, that good people do not lie, that so-called normal people are not motivated by self-interest, and that politicians aspire to serve the public. Such homilies cannot serve as a basis for sound social reasoning, but they are terrific gimmicks for Machiavellian manipulation. The knife of self-deception cuts two ways: you cannot maintain a highly distorted conception of yourself side by side with a true estimate of others.

A savvy social operator needs to have an excellent grasp of human self-interests, because it’s impossible to beguile others unless you understand what makes them tick. However, self-deception, which is also essential for competent social manipulation, pulls us in the opposite direction, leading us to disavow knowledge about human self-interest and encouraging a rather naive conception of human nature. So, there is a tension between the profound psychological understanding needed by the shrewd social player and the dumbing-down of social intelligence required by self-deception. How could nature have engineered the mind to make the most out of these conflicting forces? The obvious solution is to split the mind. It is all right for consciousness to be socially myopic if this helps social intelligence to operate smoothly behind the scenes. Our sheer conscious stupidity about one another is a perfect front for a wily Machiavellian intelligence. If these considerations are on the mark, we must be far better at “reading” other people unconsciously than we are consciously. We must all be gifted, instinctive psychologists, whose conscious minds are left out of the loop. The chasm dividing unconscious astuteness from conscious naivete is a consequence of the way that natural selection has sculpted our psyches to handle the pressures of a complex social life. It is distinctly and quintessentially human.

In short, we are like people playing poker in the dark. We are in the dark because “part of the game of social competition involves concealing how it is played.” from our own conscious minds. As unconscious poker players, we can manipulate the others while remaining innocent of many of our own self-serving intentions. If accused, we can sincerely take offense and claim that it is all in the paranoid eye of the beholder. Self-deception about our own Machiavellian agenda also makes us relatively insensitive, on the conscious level anyway, to the selfishness of others. We sleep because waking up would spoil the game.”—Why We Lie, David Livingstone Smith