Unpopular Non-Political Opinions I Hold

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 “Unpopular Non-Political Opinions I Hold”

Should Writers Read?

When I was in college, one of my prized possessions was a biography of Sachin with its margins filled by a school girl. Her email password was “Sachin”. The letters she wrote to me were beautiful, though she did not read. In her letters, there was not a single word that would send the reader to the dictionary. I rarely see such purity in literature. The truth is that there are eight year olds who write more clearly than virtually all editors in this city. Writers are born, not made. What separates a eight year old who writes clearly from a literary giant? Plenty of talent. Tens of thousands of hours of hard work. 

I read Jai Arjun Singh‘s article on young tycoons of mass market fiction a few weeks ago. He is surprised that many popular Indian writers are convinced that reading isn’t their thing. I don’t know what they are smoking. People have many misconceptions about writing, because they have never really gone through the process of being a writer. I know people who believe that you write from your “heart”. But, writing is an intellectual process. Great writing stems from a great mind. To think deeply, you should feel intensely. But, this does not change the issue.

Then, there are people who believe that you can learn how to write by reading style manuals. It is true that if you grow up reading a lot, you will acquire very valuable skills. If you write for many years, you will acquire skills that writers so need. But, this does not mean that the process can be reversed. It is not possible to become a great writer by acquiring verbal skills—or by learning where to place commas. As the great H.L. Mencken once said, They write badly simply because they cannot think clearly.

I don’t know where all these assumptions come from. To begin with, English grammar is too complex to be learned as a set of rules. Any good psycholinguist will tell you that a 3 year old’s understanding of English grammar will be far more sophisticated than any grammar text in the world—if she grew up in the US or the UK. Now, imagine the complexity of the mind of a Nabokov or a Faulkner. Language is mindbogglingly complex. It cannot be taught as a set of a finite number of rules. This is why “schoolma’ms, bucolic college professors, and other such pseudo-literates” fail so miserably at writing, despite their attempts to learn how to write and edit (!) from style manuals. This is also why such beliefs are often found at the lowest rungs of the society—and never in great writers.

As I said, great writers are born, not made. But, this does not mean that great writers were born with skills in English composition. They were born with an innate fluency with language. They were born with certain attitudes of mind. But, they acquired the skill to write beautiful, fully formed sentences. How? As Steven Pinker points out:

“No one is born with skills in English composition per se. Those skills may not have come from stylebooks, but they must have come from somewhere. That somewhere is the writing of other writers. Good writers are avid readers. They have absorbed a vast inventory of words, idioms, constructions, tropes, and rhetorical tricks, and with them a sensitivity to how they mesh and how they clash. This is the elusive “ear” of a skilled writer—the tacit sense of style which every honest stylebook, echoing Wilde, confesses cannot be explicitly taught. Biographers of great authors always try to track down the books their subjects read when they were young, because they know these sources hold the key to their development as writers.”

This cannot be explicitly taught because such skills are too complex to be explicitly taught. World class performers in many fields spend roughly 10,000 hours to acquire competence of the highest order. In writing and science, you need far more hours of practice. I am not even counting the tens of thousands of hours we spend reading. Of course, this is an oversimplification. The amount of practice you need varies from person to person. But, even the best writers work excruciatingly hard. Again, this does not mean you will become a great writer by working as hard as Naipaul, though it is true that Naipaul works really, really hard. You most probably will not. Not one in many millions is born with such enormous talent.

Talent is rare—rarer than people think. A few years ago, I read an article economist Jagdish Bhagwati wrote for Mint. It was badly written. This is not because Jagdish Bhagwati is abysmally read. This is not because Jagdish Bhagwati is lazy, stupid or inexperienced. He was 80 years old when he wrote this. Many believe that he is Nobel Prize material. There could be many reasons. He was not born with an innate fluency with language. English is not his mother tongue. Perhaps he did not read much in his formative years. He grew up in the 1930s when people did not read much. Most Indians were illiterate then. Asians generally have low verbal IQs. Academia does not punish bad writing. Academic journals place too many constraints on writers. They do not write because they are genuinely curious, or because they have a strong desire to speak their mind. They are forced to write. That is how the academia works. There are, of course, other reasons why academic writing stinks. Academics are not able to get outside their own heads. It doesn’t occur to them that what they write is beyond common folk. But, I doubt whether this is why Bhagwati writes so badly. 

Again, don’t be too quick to assume that all academics are lousy writers.Almost all my favorite economists and social scientists write well—-or at least, decently enough. Why? Like good writers, they are avid readers too. The best economists, for example, know other social sciences fairly well—at times, extraordinarily well. Some of them read more fiction than most literary critics do. 

But, Jagdish Bhagwati is not an exception. Most experienced academics and journalists write badly. The sad truth is that this is a very difficult skill to acquire. Somerset Maugham once said that there were only six writers in human history who knew how to write flawless English. I agree with him. All of us fail ourselves, to some degree, because it is such a difficult task. It is not at all surprising that many obscure Babbits fail miserably.

This is why I am surprised when I hear that it ain’t necessary that writers read. I even see people who believe that editing is very different from writing—and that it ain’t necessary that editors read.  Jai Arjun Singh is quite perceptive in such matters:

Being a reader is inseparable from the question of a writer’s abilities. When you start reading from an early age, not only do you develop certain standards, you also realise how much good work has already been done. And it makes you humble – it might even make you diffident about your own work, which can be a problem. But at least it prevents you from being cocky and overconfident and thinking “I think I have a great story to tell, and the world is just waiting for my book; literature begins with me.” During our session, I asked Singh the obvious question: if you don’t read yourself, on what basis do you expect others to read your books? I didn’t get a coherent response.

I’m not a literary snob: my favorite authors include many genre writers like Stephen King, Agatha Christie and Thomas Harris, all of whom have reached very large readerships; as a film critic too, I constantly defend the value of good mainstream films, and my latest book is dedicated to viewers “who are smart enough to take popular cinema seriously”. But at the same time I’m also uncomfortable about some of the narratives that have grown around mass-market writing in India – such as the inverse snobbery on view when bestselling writers scoff at “pretentious” literary types and wonder why anyone would waste six or seven years writing a “heavy” book full of “complicated” words.

This is a view I completely agree with. I do not believe that popular cinema is less artistic. I never believed that popular literature is less artistic. I read many popular writers, and I am convinced that some of them are better than most great names in literature. It is obvious to me that people look down on popular literature because they have such poor judgment. They have such narrow minds. They do not know that Shakespeare was once considered a popular writer. Many great painters and musicians who are considered great today were profit-minded. Sales were very important to Ayn Rand, though she did not place money above the integrity of her work. 

I do not look down on popular Indian writers. One of the best things that happened to Indian literature is that there is a now a larger market for popular fiction. This does not mean that the Indian reader is reading more trash. This means that the Indian audience is now more mature. At last, there is a market for literature.  One of the greatest tributes you can pay a society is that people are now consuming literature like potato chips. Indian writers do not comprehend Chetan Bhagat because they do not have the brains to see marketing as an art. But, the anti-intellectualism in these self-styled writers is worse than annoying. They are immature, but they think they have the whole world figured out.

Why do people believe in such nonsense? My best guess is that people are mad. They have no sense of reality. They do not know where they stand. This makes me melancholy, because they are unskilled and unaware of it. Cognitive psychologists call this the Dunning-Kruger effect. They are not able to see this. If you are not fluent as a writer, it is hard to say how fluent you are. Nabokov once said that you can’t even give your phone number without giving something of yourself. They are probably fooling themselves, and their readers who are semi-literates. But, they are not fooling their betters. Now, it is obvious why hardly anyone outside India read the many young Indian writers who are tycoons of mass market fiction. The more sophisticated audience in the west is less tolerant.

What If Mumbai Were Taller?

To borrow an invaluable metaphor from Voltaire, if Alain Bertaud did not exist, it would have been necessary to invent him. When I read about Indian real estate, I almost never come across anything that is good. Alain Bertaud’s work is a rare, honorable exception. If Mumbai were a beautiful, livable city,  many great minds would have lived in Mumbai. They would’ve written about Mumbai. Even in such a dense city, there isn’t anyone who can write intelligently about housing and urban policy.

But, I find Alain Bertaud’s position that raising the floor area ratio (FAR) will not raise Mumbai’s population density strange. For beginners, Floor Area Ratio is the ratio between the floor space constructed on a plot to the area of the plot. For example, if the FAR is 2, a 2000 square feet building can be built on a 1000 square feet plot. If the FAR is 3, a 3000 square feet building can be constructed on a 1000 square feet plot. The higher the FAR, taller buildings can be. In Mumbai, the FAR is 1.33, while in some cities, FAR in the city core can be as high as 25. In Hong Kong’s city core, for example, a 100 storey building can be constructed on the plot on which a 4 storey building can be built in much of South Mumbai. In fact, this is the major reason why space is so congested in Mumbai. This is the single biggest reason why housing is so expensive in Mumbai.

To put it shortly, this is Bertaud’s argument, as best as I understand it.

Density=Population/Built-up Area.

So, density would change only if the amount of land developed changes or if the number of people in the city changes. For reasons unknown to me, Alain Bertaud maintains that changing the FAR does not change either the population in the city or the land developed. Bertaud thinks that if FAR is lowered, people will deal with it by consuming less floor space. Similarly, if FAR is raised, people will, at best, consume more floor space. Bertaud claims that this will not change Mumbai’s population.

But, I suspect people are more likely to move to a city where floor space is abundant, and rents are low. Wouldn’t that happen if FAR is raised in Indian cities? Better amenities attract more people. Spacious houses will have the same effect, right? How on earth can someone believe that this wouldn’t happen? Wouldn’t Mumbai attract more people if it were a more livable city? I have never lived in Mumbai. I would love to live in India’s most cosmopolitan city. But, I have never considered moving there. Why? Having lived in large houses much of my formative years, I won’t be able to adapt to such congested spaces. Delhi is bad enough. I can’t be the only guy who thinks along these lines. Remember: I am a misanthrope who loves density.

When there is more floor space, there will be more job opportunities too. This would, again, have the same effect.  I am willing to believe that this is an empirical problem. I am willing to believe that the number of people who wish to migrate to Mumbai has nothing to do with how spacious Mumbai’s houses are. But, I would like to hear why.

Post Script: Tyler cowen thinks that Indian cities are under-crowded. And if they are in fact, under-crowded, wouldn’t more people migrate cities when it is easy to build tall? (Alain Bertaud would say that density and crowding are not the same.) Robin Hanson thinks the same, though I am not sure in what sense he used the word density:

“City density, and hence city size, is mainly limited by the abilities of the conflicting elements that influence local governments to coordinate to enable taller buildings. Remember those futurist images of dense tall cities scraping the skies? The engineers have done their job to make it possible. It is politics that isn’t yet up to the task.”

Bryan Caplan thinks that if real estate markets are deregulated in such cities that would lead to more affordable housing elsewhere. This is perhaps the most interesting view I have come across. But, I’m not sure how easily it can be reconciled with the fact that Mumbai has about the highest disparity between personal incomes and housing prices. 

Tyler Cowen has a very interesting post, on why migration to cities is unusually low in India, where financial returns from migration is high: 

Indian migration to the cities is much lower than for China or Indonesia. The explanation that we propose for India’s low mobility is based on a combination of well-functioning rural insurance networks and the absence of formal insurance, which includes government safety nets and private credit. In rural India, informal insurance networks are organized along caste lines. The basic marriage rule in India (which recent genetic evidence indicates has been binding for nearly two thousand years) is that no individual is permitted to marry outside the sub-caste or jati (for expositional convenience, we use the term caste interchangeably with sub-caste). Frequent social interactions and close ties within the caste, which consists of thousands of households clustered in widely dispersed villages, support very connected and exceptionally extensive insurance networks. Households with members who have migrated to the city will have reduced access to rural caste networks.”

Jinnah

Jinnah was quite clear about the role of Indian politicians. They must never mix religion with politics: one was a private matter, the other public service. Political differences should be settled by debate and not taken to the streets to create mob hysteria. The right to vote should be restricted to the educated tax payer and not be extended to the illiterate and those who do not contribute to the cost of administration. Primary education should be compulsory. What is truly amazing is that he found many takers for his ideas and was acceptable to the Indian National Congress as well as the Muslim League. Unlike most other Indian politicians, he was not overwhelmed by English governors and viceroys: he spoke his mind to them without mincing his words. He carried on verbal warfare with Lord Willingdon, Governor of Bombay and then Viceroy of India. In short, he was for a time India’s top political leader, till Mahatma Gandhi arrived on the scene. Gandhi not only infused religion into politics (!) but also took politics to the streets through his call for non-cooperation and boycott of government-run institutions, including schools. Jinnah found this distasteful and difficult to digest. Besides these, Gandhi showed a marked preference for Jawaharlal Nehru as the future leader of the country. Gradually, Jinnah was pushed off the centre stage of Indian politics to become more and more a leader of the Muslims. As The Manchester Guardian summed him up: ‘The Hindus thought he was a Muslim communalist, the Muslims took him to be pro-Hindu, the princes declared him to be too democratic, the British considered him a rabid extremist—with the result that he was everywhere but nowhere. None wanted him.’

—Khushwant Singh, The Good, Bad And The Ridiculous

I don’t believe in this freedom struggle business. I think Indians shouldn’t have kicked out the British. But, for someone in his right senses, it is hard not to read this and say, “What a decent fellow!” When compared to the mushheaded freedom fighters, that is. 

Why Would Sachin Do That?

1891996“Four years ago, while working with Chappell on his book Fierce Focus, I read his diary. It was exhaustively detailed. Chappell wrote it for himself, not for publication. He has not consented to my raising it now. But he has, it seems, been traduced, and ought to be defended. The diary records only one visit paid by Chappell to Tendulkar’s home. It took place nearly a year before the World Cup, on May 9, 2006, the day before Chappell and Dravid were to take the Indian team to the West Indies for a Test and one-day tour. Tendulkar was months away from playing. In private and in public, Chappell was placing unstinting faith in Dravid. This is the meeting to which Chappell’s statement refers. His diary records no other visit to Tendulkar’s home. So what’s going on? Was there a second meeting? Conspiracy theorists might say Chappell doctored his own diary, to delete a meeting such as Tendulkar describes. However, he would have needed to do this between 2007, when the diary was finished, and 2011, when I saw it. The only conclusion is that he has done this deliberately. Why would he do that? Perhaps to win favour with Dravid, who, while not possessing Tendulkar’s godlike status, has universal admiration and respect from cricketers of all nations for his unimpeachable integrity, a quality in which he is second to none. There is a certain cruel logic by which Tendulkar should throw Chappell under a bus. By the end of his tenure after India’s poor showing in the 2007 World Cup, Chappell was the convenient fall guy for all of India’s problems. Tendulkar may be playing a dangerous game by challenging others to go public with what they really thought of his behaviour over the years. Or perhaps there is no danger at all. Greatness on the field brings its own shield of invulnerability, and off-field, financial power adds a sword of intimidation. To fight for the truth is seen as too much bother, too difficult, too politically fraught. Too scary. Cricket Australia has bowed its head to realpolitik before, and there is no sign that it will change course. But for as long as free speech is suppressed in public, private resentment will fester.”

—-Malcolm Knox in The Sydney Morning Herald

“Why would he do that?” This is a good way to put it, because there is too much paranoia about paranoia. This question has roots in the weak-hearted fool’s inability to accept the human condition. Jealousy explains much of what people do, but this is an explanation that sounds too ugly to the little people who are too nice to see the truth. People don’t have self knowledge. So, when this question is posed at “conspiracy theories”, the proper retort is often, “Perhaps the dirty old shmoe was jealous?”

But, why would Tendulkar do that? Malcom Knox’s explanation doesn’t make any sense to me. Even if it is true that Sachin has lied, it can’t be because Sachin wants to win favors with Dravid. Sachin has already hinted that Dravid had declared the innings when Sachin was at 194 in the Multan test. This makes Dravid look like a jealous guy, and this is perhaps not unjustified. The Chappell incident was probably slipped in to make Sachin look like a noble guy who wouldn’t accept Chappell’s offer to kick out Dravid and pull the strings, even after Dravid had stabbed him in the back. Awww.

Dravid seems to have sensed this and that’s why he is hinting that he doesn’t know about that:

“I haven’t really read the excerpts of that book. Also I am not privy to any private conversation between two individuals. I have not heard about this before and I have no idea what happened and I would not want to make any comment. It’s been a long time and it does not make much of a difference to me now. Not looking forward towards reading this [Chappell controversy] but yes anything that Sachin writes on batsmanship and things like what made him the best in the world. I am more interested in reading those parts (!).”

Post Script: But, there seems to be an answer here:

“Then, there is the problem of Rahul Dravid. There was a distinction between the society’s love for Tendulkar and for Dravid. The distinction was based on class. Just as Tendulkar’s ruse was humility, Dravid’s was intelligent discourse derived from apparent reading. A segment of the urban society had a Nehruvian adoration for Dravid. Tendulkar knows enough to embarrass Dravid and the ill-fated coach Greg Chappell, and people tell me that he has spoken at length to the book’s collaborators, but it is possible that he has not retained everything.”

Why Are Hindu Fundamentalists So Ugly?

An exception that proves the rule
An exception that proves the rule

When I hinted that a girl was too pretty to be a BJP supporter, she lashed out at me, asking whether I expected her to say, “Why, oh, Thank You!”, batting her eyelashes. But, Hindu nationalists are ugly for the same reason porn stars are not the prettiest people in the world. Pornography is a fundamental need of human beings. But, when a girl takes off her clothes in a porn movie, people look down on her. Of course, in societies where the stigma isn’t much, porn stars are not so ugly. A guy I know changed his daughter’s name because her name was the same as that of a porn actress. But, when a pretty Bollywood actress takes her clothes off in a photo shoot, people do not care much. Perhaps the contempt toward porn stars is a matter more of appearance than of substance.

The contempt toward Hindu nationalists, again, is a matter more of appearance than of substance. Like the average Indian, most Indian intellectuals and politicians are a lot closer to Hindu nationalists than they think. But, they don’t have self-knowledge. Virtually everyone is a nationalist. Otherwise, globalization and open borders wouldn’t have been so unpopular, even among the most informed economists and social scientists. Despite everything they’ve read, if the best intellectuals cannot shake off their prejudices, it is obvious that such biases are deep-rooted.

But, when someone openly says that Muslims should be slaughtered, or something along those lines, people balk. That does not sound “nice”. But, what they really believe is not too unlike this. Right wing intellectuals and politicians make a career out of this. But, to make a career out of this, you have to be willing to say this out explicitly, loudly, for everyone to hear. If this is not acceptable, you should insinuate that this is what you believe. People with high IQs—especially when they have high verbal IQs—tend to have a highly nuanced and complex understanding of what is socially acceptable, and what is not. (People with Asperger Syndrome are a notable counterexample.) They keep this to themselves. They wouldn’t choose a career in which people draw attention to their pettiness.

Cute.

Attractiveness and intelligence are the most reliable indicators of genetic quality. Looks and intelligence are highly correlated because high status men chase pretty girls. People with high verbal IQs, I suspect, will find more attractive partners than people with comparable general intelligence. Women with high verbal IQs are unusually attractive to men because they are more likeable. Men with high verbal IQs are unusually attractive to women for the same reason a successful author is more attractive to women than a wealthier real estate agent. If this is true, it is not surprising that the right wing intellectuals and politicians are ugly.

There are way too many leftists in intellectual professions. So, it is not surprising that they are far more competent than non-leftists. The best leftists are smarter than the best non-leftists because they are chosen from a larger pool. I haven’t read a competent Indian libertarian intellectual—other than me–because there are not many of them. They are chosen from a much smaller pool and are, not surprisingly, mainly, duds.

I’ve noticed that people think liberal intellectuals like Arundhati Roy, Pankaj Mishra, and Paul Krugman write fairly well, but are intellectually blank-cartridges. But, this is nonsense. Language is enormously complex. While it is hard to accept the truth, the truth is often obvious. The best liberal intellectuals cannot see the obvious despite being so intelligent because they are conformists. All the platitudes and pretensions to the contrary notwithstanding, they are wimps.

The prettiest girls are not willing to act in pornographic movies, because it is not hard for a pretty girl to make money without getting naked. Similarly, right wing smarties are not too willing to be intellectuals because they have to choose between living a lie and being marginalized. Most intellectuals are liberal. Intellectuals don’t condemn someone who believes that rich people should be taxed and regulated, or that multinational companies are evil because such prejudices are too deep-rooted. Leftists are cheap, little rascals, but they see themselves as nice people. Even their opponents believe that their “hearts are in the right place”. But, right wing intellectuals and politicians are seen as idiots and rascals. Is it surprising that smart right wing fellows don’t want to be intellectuals or politicians?

Biases of liberals have a good press. Biases of Hindu nationalists have a bad press. But, if bigotry bothers intellectuals so much, shouldn’t it bother them more when people are not honest about themselves?

Post Script: It is not surprising that it is Aakar Patel who made this observation. Aakar Patel is the most objective Indian columnist, though he isn’t very smart.

Why Do Government Enterprises Work So Well?

wordcloudgovfreshIf there is a huge disparity between what people say and what people do, the people who take words quite literally will be the first to notice it. What would the literalists do? The literalists will exaggerate the disparity between the words and actions of people. The literalists are “sincere” because if people do not really mean what they say, God only knows what they might do—Or so they think.

When the literalists notice that the government is a bunch of robbers and mass murderers, they perhaps assume that the bureaucrats and politicians have verbalized their true motives, and have set out to rob and murder people. This is not surprising. They take words literally, and often refuse to act upon motives that they have not yet verbalized.

But, even if the libertarians do not make such extreme assumptions—they almost never do—they do not have much insight into how a politician’s or a government official’s mind works. So, are these politicians and bureaucrats trying to defraud people? Are they trying to serve the masses? Neither? Then, what? If the truth lies somewhere between these two point of views, where does the truth lie? I cannot tell. From what I know, Mr. Libertarian could not either. So, when they see this disparity, the libertarians are outraged, and cannot help exaggerating the disparity between theory and practice. Continue reading “Why Do Government Enterprises Work So Well?”

Why The West Won

Can-Asian-Think-Feature-Cover-v2A wide gulf separates the Indian and western thinkers. This is hard to miss. Indian thinkers are abysmally read, shallow and superficial. They do not understand the concept of abstract reasoning. When I read Indian and western nonfiction, I feel that these are entirely different kinds of literature. But, why? Of course, the average Indian IQ is 81. This means that the average Indian fellow is dumber than 89% of the people on earth. But, the differences in IQ do not fully explain this phenomenon. I have known too many people with high raw IQs—mostly in engineering college—and my experience is fairly typical.

Richard Nisbett and Takahiko Masuda have a good explanation:

“Easterners, the researchers find, appear to think more ”holistically,” paying greater attention to context and relationship, relying more on experience-based knowledge than abstract logic and showing more tolerance for contradiction. Westerners are more ”analytic” in their thinking, tending to detach objects from their context, to avoid contradictions and to rely more heavily on formal logic.”

If the concepts that people are taught to believe are true, I find this a very accurate description. Now, observe. What are the eastern thought habits?

1) Thinking more ”holistically.”

2) Paying greater attention to context and relationship.

3) Relying more on experience-based knowledge than abstract logic.

4) Showing more tolerance for contradiction.

These are precisely what intellectuals (whether eastern or western) see as virtues. The eastern values are not stated with much disapproval.

Now, what are the western values?

1)    More ”analytic” in their thinking process.

2)    Tends to detach objects from their context.

3)    Avoids contradictions

4)    Relies more heavily on formal logic Continue reading “Why The West Won”

The Kerala Myth

kerala-backwaters-thumbnailThe discussions about poverty and prosperity in India almost never mention IQ.  But, IQ matters more than almost anything.  

Manu Joseph in the New York Times:

Much of Kerala’s wealth comes not from within, but from a work force spread across the country and the rest of the world, chiefly in Middle Eastern nations. But the fact is that, because Kerala has invested in education and health care, it has ensured that a large proportion of its population, and not just its elite, could pounce on opportunities wherever they sprang up.

I do not trust the statistical data collected by Indian researchers. I do not respect the tendency to base one’s opinions on the statistics collected by government bodies in third world countries. But, let me accept these figures for the sake of an argument.

Now, Think. In 1951, Kerala had a literacy rate of 47% when the national average was only 18%. Many economists have argued that Kerala has not made spectacular progress after the Independence. True. Many states like Himachal Pradesh have radically improved the literacy rate. Kerala’s performance is by no means extraordinary. But, this is not the argument I wish to focus on here. Consider the argument that the remittances from abroad do not fully explain the high income level and development indicators in Kerala.  But, if Kerala’s literacy rate was nearly 3 times of that of the national average, and nearly twice of that of the second most literate state, Maharashtra, why is it so hard to assume that Malayalis have, on average, higher intelligence? Though no one has really done a study, I will be very surprised if this is not true. Isn’t it true that for this reason alone, we should expect Kerala to be far more prosperous and literate than the other parts of the country? Intelligence and other positive traits are correlated. So, isn’t it possible that Kerala would be far ahead of other states in health indicators too?

Remember. My point, still, is NoT that Keralites have a higher average intelligence. My question is: Why did such an obvious possibility escape the countless researchers who had praised or denounced the Kerala model? And, if all this is true, what needs explanation is not Kerala’s success in improving its people’s lot, but its failure. 

Ignoring IQ is like ignoring the elephant in the room. From Lynn’s “IQ and the Wealth of Nations”:

“Per capita income has been positively correlated with national IQs since 1820. The correlation between national IQs and per capita income increases from .540 (the average of the Pearson and Spearman correlations) in 1820 to .720 in 1997 to 1998 (the average of six Pearson correlations). Thus, national IQs explain 29 percent of the variance in per capita income in 1820 and 52 percent of the variance in per capita income in 1997-1998. The average of six Spearman correlations in 1997 to 98 rises to .833 and the explained part of variation rises to 69 percent. We conclude that differences in national intelligence provide the most powerful and fundamental explanation for the gap between rich and poor countries.”

Is It Fair To Blame The Farmers For The Price Rise?

ag_imgFarming is considered a patriotic enterprise, and nearly half of India’s labor force is engaged in agriculture and allied activities. Almost everyone believes that in the election season, political parties should pledge to aid this patriotic endeavor to feed the nation.

After the Indian independence, the annual production of agricultural goods has risen many folds. At the same time, the prices of agricultural products have risen many folds too. In surveys, inflation is on the top of the list of the scourges that anger the Indian voters. Except for a short period in the early 2000s, inflation in independent India has always been high. How could agricultural productivity and prices rise simultaneously, year after year? It is surprising that such obvious questions have not occurred to the policy analysts who take such claims at face value. The prices rise when there is more money chasing fewer goods. Remember that even in 2008, when the then President Bush complained about rising global food prices, the average inflation in the United States was only 3.8 percentage. This was the highest in that decade. If this were fueled by the global economic crisis, it would have affected other countries too. But, in the countries were central banks are independent and have an inflation target, the inflation rates were often ridiculously low. India would not have found an inflation of 3.8 percentage worth losing sleep over. In its history, India has almost never seen such low levels of inflation.

But, if so many people produce so little as they claim, perhaps not many people should engage in farming. A short evening on a farm might have convinced the panegyrists of the past that the farmers themselves might not agree with their romantic view of the farmer.

Read my column in DNA.

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.