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Left-liberals remind me of a conversation between a man and a servant in a movie I no longer recall very well. The man tells his servant that he doesn’t know why “dog” is a cuss word. The man says he loves dogs, that dogs are the most lovable animals he’s ever known—and that he’d be honored if someone calls him a “dog”. The servant calls him just that, and gets slapped hard across his face. Left-liberals are like this man. Left-liberals don’t know elementary social science. But this is not the only reason why they don’t see themselves as cheap, little rascals. They are not introspective enough. So they are not able to see how their conscious beliefs clash with their assumptions.

Now how do their beliefs clash with their assumptions?

A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court upheld death penalty for the four convicts in the Delhi rape case. Liberals condescendingly call this girl “Nirbhaya”. Even her mother thinks there is something wrong with this. It’s a damning indictment of Indian journalism that even today, virtually all Indian journalists believe rape is not about sex. Every self-aware man knows this is nonsense. Every decent researcher who professionally handles literature on gender knows this is nonsense. Feminist dogma is not science. Activists, politicians and journalists are not scholars. It is entirely besides the point that many unhappy single women well past their prime think rape is about power. Facts lie flatly against this. All credible scholars think this is nonsense. But lame Indian journalists are convinced that rape is about power and abuse. Why does this happen? The really smart kids don’t become journalists. So, it’s not surprising you see all the shabbiness of third world self-styled intellectuals in its fully glory in Indian journalists. But why are they so bent on believing that rape is about power? There are many reasons, but this is one reason: They assume if rape has roots in male sexual desire, rape is excusable. Continue Reading

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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
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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. 

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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.”

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what-corporate-structure-is-best-for-startups-considering-vc-funding--29abbcca4cWhen I was in school, during the school elections, the candidates distributed notebook labels and similar “gifts” among younger children. When the catholic nuns found out, we were asked to fork over those goodies. But, they could have bought us only if we were up for sale. Democratic politics is not any different. 

It is perhaps true that politicians can buy voters with a 10 Rupee or 100 Rupee coupons. But, no one compels voters to vote for the politicians who distribute cash and liquor. It is not hard for a man to accept liquor from the local politician and still have a healthy contempt toward him, and punish him. When I once tried to shirk during college elections, a candidate’s supporters chauffeured me to college. To punish these hooligans, I voted for his opponent. I did not tell anyone because I feared that they might retaliate. The point is that for the voter, political virtue is almost free. No one knows what he does inside the polling booth. But, even that he evades. He finds it hard to do the right thing even when it does not cost him a single paisa.  

If the voters have such “soft hearts” and “soft heads”, virtue in democratic politics is forbiddingly expensive. Asking politicians to change is a lot like nagging a brick wall. Indian politicians—or politicians anywhere for that matter—are not known for their decency. It is worse than a waste of time to ask them to act against their own self interest.

Read my column in DNA.

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szaszfaceToday is Thomas S Szasz’ 94th birthday. When I discuss the Szasz-ian view that mental illness is a myth, virtually no one accepts this view as the truth. Even when they are reasonably intelligent people, they do not understand what this even means. They tend to think that this is a hypothesis, or that I do not understand how grave a threat mental illness can be.

But, I think certain facts are obvious. Most people are really dumb. Half the people have IQs below 100. Half the people in India have IQs below 82. You have to remember that someone with an IQ of 100 is still way below someone at the top of the IQ pyramid. The difference between him, and someone whose IQ is 100 is the difference between the person with an IQ of 100 and a chimpanzee. Is it even plausible that the judgment of the large majority of the people of what constitutes normal behavior is likely to be true? Does a chimpanzee know how a man behaves and how he ought to behave?

People do not know that in the mid-19th century, the slaves who ran away were believed to have drapetomania. Drapetomania, of course, was a disease that caused the slaves to run away. A physician Samuel Cartwright believed that drapetomania was caused by: Continue Reading

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sansad“India is the most populous democracy in the world. It is also the country where young men and women were once hauled away to forced sterilization camps. The youth learned that even the fundamental right to propagate one’s kind could not be taken for granted. But they still had the right to propagate political delusions. In 1977, when Indira Gandhi closed the sterilization camps and called for fresh election, the philosophy of population control was quickly voted out of existence. People marched into the polling booths and voted against it with a feeling of vengeance. But this was a rare moment in the history of Independent India because moral outrage in politics rarely has its roots in the love of liberty and justice.”

“In the 1950’s, when a pair of American researchers asked a mother in Khalapur in Uttar Pradesh what kind of man she hoped her young son would be when he grew up, she said, “It is in his fate, no matter what I want.” Yes. It is in his fate. True in 1950. Truer in 2014.  Today, the most valuable of all possessions that a young man can have is the intellectual equipment with which he is born. If God had sent him to earth marking his place at the top of the IQ pyramid, he should count his blessings. He can flee to fairer lands. But, then, our most valuable possessions are not a gift of the Indian republic.”

Read my column in DNA.

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

Read my column in DNA 

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“The mother of such a prodigy is proud of its attainments, and feels a glow when bored friends hypocritically marvel,” advised the adult Mencken decades later in his anonymous publication What You Ought to Know About Your Baby. “Later on she will wonder why her child has watery eyes, constant colds or round shoulders.” Such a boy, he advised, should be taken out of school and turned out to grass, to breathe pure air “and make acquaintance with splinters, bruises and sunburn.”

“Of the whole faculty of the school, once they entered the ordinary classes, the senior dummies liked best Miss Bertha and Miss Elvina, for both confined their chastisements, which were very gentle, to girls and never touched a boy above the baby class. The dummies all boarded at the Institute and were full of complaints about the food. One day, when my lunchbox happened to include a couple of doughnuts, two of them told me that they had not tasted a doughnut for six months, and I handed over both. A week later they told me precisely the same thing and then again a week after that, and so on until suspicion began to dawn on my infant mind and I ate my subsequent doughnuts myself.”

“Some men can learn almost indefinitely; their capacity goes on increasing until their bodies begin to wear out. Others stop in childhood, even in infancy. They reach, say, the mental age of ten or twelve, and then they develop no more. Physically, they become men, and sprout beards, political delusions, and the desire to propagate their kind. But mentally they remain on the level of schoolboys.”

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In the whole of human history, there was not one economist who could write better than Murray Rothbard. But, this is new to me:

“Three burgeoning dictatorships have been much in the news recently, and they provide instructive lessons for libertarians and for Americans generally. The most dramatic, of course, is the brutal takeover of India by Mrs. Indira Gandhi, jailing thousands of political opponents and imposing a drastic censorship on the press. Ever since World War II, theNew York Times and the rest of the Establishment press have trumpeted the glories and virtues of India as the “world’s largest democracy”; massive amounts of foreign aid have been pumped into India by the U.S. on the strength of this rosy view of the Indian subcontinent. At the very least, the Establishment press, standing there with egg on its face, will have to mute its paeans to Indian “democracy” in the future. Predictably, American press reaction has been far more in sorrow than in anger, and replete with pitiful hopes that Mrs. Gandhi will revert to democracy soon.

 

But Indian “democracy”, let alone Indian liberty, has been a sham and a mockery from the beginning. Even in political form, India has suffered from its inception under the one-party rule of the Congress party, with other opposing political groupings shunted to the periphery to preserve democratic camouflage. More important, the Indian polity is one of the most thoroughly rotten in the world: a collectivist mass of statist activities, controls, subsidies, taxes, and monopolies, all superimposed upon a frozen caste system that governs in the rural villages in which most Indians continue to live. Considering this unholy mess, the savaging of the opposition by Mrs. Gandhi comes, not as a sudden and inexplicable act, as Americans tend to see it, but as merely the last link in a chain of statist despotism fastened upon that blighted land. When we discard the myths propagated by the American Establishment, we see that, rather than a source of wonder, Mrs. Gandhi’s takeover becomes all too explicable.”

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Ah.

Some journalists claim that the debate between Bhagwati and Sen is similar to the   Rahul-Modipolitical debate”. But, as Swaminathan Aiyar pointed out, Modi and Rahul are not at the two extreme ends of the political spectrum. Sen and Bhagwati are not at the two extreme ends of the political spectrum.

Most journalists are incapable of making fine distinctions. Part of the reason many of them hate Modi is his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, but, I think that is what they say. Much of the hatred, I think is perhaps because they think that Modi is a capitalistic politician. This is rubbish. No high school anarchist would have trifled with this notion for a single second. Modi is not a very learned politician. Semi-literates are not likely to believe in enlightened ideologies. This is obvious. Libertarians generally have a fairly sophisticated understanding of economics and politics. It ain’t easy.

But, the word “ideology” does not have a nice, neat ring to it. Vijay Vikram, a clear-thinking young man I know has an interesting take on ideology, on Twitter: Continue Reading