Who Are My Favorite Bloggers?

I think everyone should read Ezra Klein’s interview with Tyler Cowen, because Tyler is one of the greatest minds of our times. 

“I have never come across a mind quite like Tyler Cowen’s. The George Mason University economist, and Marginal Revolution blogger, has an interesting opinion on, well, everything.”

But Tyler said something about the rationality community which I don’t agree with at all—And this is so typical of him.

Ezra Klein

The rationality community.

Tyler Cowen

Well, tell me a little more what you mean. You mean Eliezer Yudkowsky?

Ezra Klein

Yeah, I mean Less Wrong, Slate Star Codex. Julia Galef, Robin Hanson. Sometimes Bryan Caplan is grouped in here. The community of people who are frontloading ideas like signaling, cognitive biases, etc.

Tyler Cowen

Well, I enjoy all those sources, and I read them. That’s obviously a kind of endorsement. But I would approve of them much more if they called themselves the irrationality community. Because it is just another kind of religion. A different set of ethoses. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but the notion that this is, like, the true, objective vantage point I find highly objectionable. And that pops up in some of those people more than others. But I think it needs to be realized it’s an extremely culturally specific way of viewing the world, and that’s one of the main things travel can teach you.”

I read about half a dozen blogs every day, and Ezra seems to have covered almost all. Here’s my list. 

Bryan Caplan’s blog on Econlog is my favorite blog.  I’ve been reading Bryan for over 13 years. Bryan is the most objective thinker I’ve read, and I learned much of what I know from there. That’s because a blogger can add many dimensions to a blog post. Bryan also introduced me to many other thinkers like Thomas Szasz, Michael Huemer, Robin Hanson, Tyler Cowen, Steven Pinker, Timur Kuran and Daniel Kahneman. Bryan changed my views on parenting, economics, and philosophy—and many other fields.

Robin Hanson’s Overcoming Bias is just too good. I haven’t read anyone who looks at human nature so objectively and perceptively as Robin does. Economists and other social scientists don’t take office politics very seriously. Robin is a rare, honorable exception. Robin’s book “The Elephant In The Brain” will be out in January 2018. I’ve started reading it, and it’s quite good.  Robin is an economist who is far too ahead of his time. 

Scott Alexander is another brilliant blogger. I find his way of looking at the world truly compassionate and perceptive. His understanding of the world is more in sync with human nature than most other great intellectuals. 

I just discovered Julia Galef. She’s young and is pretty good. I’ll soon read more of her. Julia Galef has a great book list here. 

Tyler cowen and Alex Tabarrok run Marginal Revolution, one of the best economics blogs. Their stuff on India is more informed than the work of Indian intellectuals.  Alex is in Mumbai now, and I met him over a month ago. I started taking Tyler seriously after I read his work on Asperger. I didn’t know what I was missing. Read my interview with Tyler. 

Less Wrong is, again, great, great stuff. Generalizing from one example is my favorite article. That kind of thing makes me see everything in a different light.


Private Truths, Public Lies And The Age Of Abundance

Years ago, I spent my mornings talking to an exceptionally smart Canadian teen on the internet. She loved to entertain her virtual friends by taking her clothes off. When I asked her why, she said that it was a pleasant experience for everybody concerned. But, the last thing she wanted was her mother knowing it. One day, she said that she was depressed. She said that she felt bad about being a harlot over the Yahoo Messenger. I knew this before she said it because I knew enough about human nature to be suspicious of such claims. But, the internet is the best teacher I can think of. 

A decade ago, I loved reading the Orkut scrapbook of a 16 year old girl who shared her nudes for everybody to see. I was a silent spectator who enjoyed her conversations with men who entered her space hoping that there is so much that is possible. She was wise beyond her years—smart as a whip. When we once talked, she said that I should have known her horrible reputation. Her language skills were excellent, unlike that of men who stalked her. When someone called her a snob for being a grammar Nazi, she said, “When I was in middle school, I used to read high school textbooks. Nobody ever helped me.” Years later, I heard that she killed herself at UC Berkeley, where she was studying Physics. Without the internet and social media, we would not have known much about the inner worlds of outliers like her. If we knew more, she would have….she would have, well, survived.

The internet tells us that we are all so similar and so different at the same time. Nothing is more important to morality than deep insight into people who are very different from us. Moral refinement is the fountainhead of human progress. The most prosperous societies are where morality and fairness are valued to the largest degree. If moral refinement is the fountainhead of human progress, this outweighs everything else that the internet gives us. I argue that this is the most underrated fact about the internet. This is an extraordinary claim. But, one day, the internet will be celebrated for this, more than for anything else.

The internet makes us human.

Philosopher Michael Huemer thinks that political ignorance is greatest problem that we face. Huemer believes that political ignorance is a graver threat than crime, drug addiction or even world poverty, because political ignorance is at the root of everything else.  He is wrong. Our moral failures are often a form of politicking. But, political ignorance does not explain everything. It is our poor understanding of ourselves and that of other minds that prevents us from solving much of our problems, including political ignorance.

If you are discerning enough, your Facebook friend list is probably a more diversified portfolio of human beings than your school or office will ever be. The best blogs say more about the inner workings of the finest minds on earth than any newspaper or magazine ever will. When the best minds are unguarded, what ensues is an unusually high supply of intelligent conversation—-and extraordinarily perceptive writing. This is why the internet is very important for moral refinement.

Now, many believe that, on the internet, no one will see the real “You”. In fact, the truth is the opposite. Over 5,000 years ago, the written word did not even exist. Aristotle would not have had much success in those days. But, this does not mean that “Nicomachean Ethics” is misleading or that Aristotle had quite a different personality when he wrote. Aristotle is remembered for his philosophical works, and not for being a wife-beater or for “not holding the gods in honor”.

Moral refinement of mankind would not have been possible without great literature. But, in a world without the written word, Aristotle’s greatest talent would not even have been a voice that people could recognize. To see the “Real Aristotle”, his contemporaries probably had to separate the “Aristotle who did not hold the Gods in honor” from Aristotle, the great philosopher. We face no such dilemma today. There is near unanimous agreement on the criteria Aristotle should be judged on. But, if the written word did not exist, Aristotle’s place in history would have been the same as that of the savages of his time. On the internet, we make finer distinctions. In the future, people will find it obvious that people were so undifferentiated before the internet. Before the internet, there was nothing but a heap of moral uniformity. For the same reason we celebrate language and literature for how far we have come today, one day, the internet will be celebrated for making people morally distinguishable.

The age of the internet is the age of abundance. This is indisputable. But, of all things we find on the internet, what matters the most is the abundance of moral perspectives. What matters the most is the abundance of knowledge about the inner worlds of people. Without knowing much about the inner worlds of people, we would never understand their moral beliefs.

In the real world, we see people. We see how they dress, walk and speak. But, their inner worlds are closed to us, and often to themselves. But, ultimately, their hidden inner worlds drive everything that they do. Hidden motives influence what people do, regardless of what they say publicly. Hidden assumptions almost determine their political and moral beliefs. But, if these motives and assumptions are hidden, often even to themselves, how do we know them? There are no substitutes for introspection, reading and hard thought. But, these are still not enough to know what other people hide, even from themselves. There is no better guide than the internet because people tend to be frank in their virtual lives. Unguarded.

Facebook, Twitter, Instant Messenger, Blogs. Yes.

Frankness on the internet may seem suicidal. A brewing revolution will always be invisible to everybody, but the most perceptive. When people underestimate the price of speaking their mind, many will. Speaking one’s mind will slowly become the norm, tweet by tweet. The price of speaking one’s mind will fall, tweet by tweet. One day, people will find it hard to believe that many of the most obvious truths about human nature were once private truths that no one spoke of.

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

The Antechamber Of Hope

Every morning you leave your cramped apartment in Manhattan’s East Village to go to your laboratory at the Rockefeller University in the East Sixties. You return in the late evening, and people in your social network ask you if you had a good day, just to be polite. At the laboratory, people are more tactful. Of course you did not have a good day; you found nothing. You are not a watch repairman. Your finding nothing is very valuable, since it is part of the process of discovery—hey, you know where not to look. Other researchers, knowing your results, would avoid trying your special experiment, provided a journal is thoughtful enough to consider your “found nothing” as information and publish it. Continue reading “The Antechamber Of Hope”

In Defense Of The Cynical Politician

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 

My Favorite Conversation In The Fountainhead

43-1A conversation that ensues when Peter Keating, an architect tries to send his wife, Dominique Francon, to the newspaper publisher Gail Wynand’s  bedroom, for a building contract. Enjoy Gail Wynand torturing this architect:

“I’ve heard about your brilliant sense of humor, Mr. Wynand.”, Peter Keating said.

“Have you heard about my descriptive style?”

“What do you mean?”

Wynand half turned in his chair and looked at Dominique, as if he were inspecting an inanimate object.

“Your wife has a lovely body, Mr. Keating. Her shoulders are too thin, but admirably in scale with the rest of her. Her legs are too long, but that gives her the elegance of line you’ll find in a good yacht. Her breasts are beautiful, don’t you think?” Continue reading “My Favorite Conversation In The Fountainhead”

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

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 “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time”

The Anatomy Of Greatness

Robert Greene understands people really well.

“Robert Greene thinks intelligence is the most sensitive trigger point for envy. A sensible man would regard this “insight” somewhat suspiciously, because intelligence is also his greatest strength. But Mr Greene can say in his defence that he understands people really well. When he writes about the faults and foibles of little people, he does it with the authority of the highest level of scholarship. His erudition would put most academics to shame.”

“As much as he understands people, Mr Greene ignores some elementary facts of human nature. He claims that talent is not inborn, nor it is a product of privilege. But one is confronted by an embarrassing fact: “Success often runs in families.” This cannot be explained away by the claim that talent is a matter of practice or will. Unfortunately for Mr Greene, you cannot have it both ways. Geneticists had long established that many of our differences are innate. Perseverance cannot explain why Steve Jobs thought that his products were a fusion of scientific and liberal arts thinking, and why a designer I once worked with could not spell “Cleopatra”.”

“Another important truth is that most people are conformists. They do not want to achieve mastery by breaking free from all precedents and traditions. Even when they convince themselves that they are being rebellious, they are just replacing one form of conformism with another. There are perhaps people who attempt to go against the tide, but when push comes to shove, they will be back to where they were. Our society punishes non-conformism, and this is beyond reform because conformism is essential for a division-of-labour society. But it is possible that that introspection failed Mr Greene. Before he wrote his vastly popular books on power and strategy, Robert Greene had 80 different jobs. In the longest job he ever had, he lasted 10 months.”

Read my review of Robert Greene’s Mastery in Business Standard

The Hobbesian Myth

Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679)

While most political theorists consider Thomas Hobbes as a political individualist, the most popular argument against individualism in politics is still the Hobbesian notion that in the absence of the state, life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Hobbes’ only disagreement with political sovereignty was that people should be allowed as much as a right to disobey the orders of the king when their life is under threat. Almost everyone has accepted the Hobbesian myth lock, stock and barrel though valid arguments for this seemingly obvious tenet never quite seem to emerge. There is no opponent of anarchy whose central argument eventually does not boil down to the “sophisticated” notion that without a monopoly of force, we will all be at each other’s throat.

Was Hobbes Right?

What if Hobbes was wrong through and through? The structure of rationalizations against market anarchy would crumble, with political authoritarians left with nothing but rubble. Libertarian anarchists think that Hobbes’ social contract theory is discredited by theory and experience. Human history is full of instances in which men found far more efficient, non-governmental ways to settle their disagreements. Continue reading “The Hobbesian Myth”

Market Anarchy

Why Anarchy

Almost every major problem mankind faces can be traced back to the state. The state drags innocent people into war. Involuntary unemployment results when a minimum wage law is passed and labor union coercion is sanctioned. Price controls result in shortages. Rent controls are the main cause of slums. State funded education paralyzes the minds of innocent children. Protectionism leads to poverty and wars. High prices and poor quality products result when Government monopolizes certain industries. Taxation prevents capital accumulation. Various government regulations strangulate the economy. Credit expansion leads to inflations and boom-bust cycles. Some extremely conservative estimates say that there were nearly 262 million deaths caused by the Government in the twentieth century. (It is worth noting that most of the deaths due to natural disasters are indirectly caused by the Government. It should also be said that life expectancy is low and infant mortality higher in countries where Government intervention is more. Such estimates are not likely to take into consideration these facts.) In the light of all this, I see no reason for a person who loves humanity to support the state. It should be obvious from the fundamentals of economics that in any sector, monopoly is bad. How do statists get around this fact? In any monopoly, there is an incentive problem. There is no incentive to provide better service at a low cost. It is not just that. There is no way to know whether the service is provided in the cheapest and best possible manner in the absence of competition. The economic calculation problem which a socialist society faces is applicable to law, defense and security in an anarchist society too. There is no rational means of allocation of resources, as the Government lacks profit-loss signals and the necessary information to set prices.

(My Previous Writings on Anarchy: The Case For Libertarian Anarchy, The Objectivism Anarchism Debate Patriotism:An Obituary, Anarchy Defended, Some Arguments Against Anarchy and Answers, Shanu-Sabhlok Debate , Rejoinder On Classical Liberalism)

Continue reading “Market Anarchy”