Tag Archives: reason

Indian Soldier Is Never On A Holiday

Good God! Mr. Noob!

Aakar Patel’s article “The Martyr Who Cleans Your Drains” is brilliant. Sanitation workers are incomparably more likely to die than soldiers. So, why are they not considered martyrs? Why are soldiers seen as heroes? I think the explanation lies in human evolution. People don’t like the idea of doing a task and getting paid for it because they have such poor personal standards. They have all sorts of illusions about themselves. They don’t have the brains or nerve to think on their own. But, if they are paid to do a task, they think there is something demeaning about this. But, the truth is that most human beings do not have the deep specialized knowledge to be truly creative. The most they can do is to take orders, get paid, and say “Thank You” nicely.

But, if they are led covertly into serving ideals that do not challenge the society’s secular religion, like warfare, they are fine. People value covert conniving and the warrior spirit more than they value real skills and co-operation. Soldiers are also high status—martyrs in the uniform. Aakar Patel once pointed out that Gujaratis are more likely to be traders and less likely to be soldiers. The reason is that the mercenary spirit and the spirit of the trading floor are entirely opposed to each other.

A person who reads this article can’t honestly disagree with it. But, they won’t pay much attention to it. Why? It ain’t hard to admit that sanitation workers die more often than soldiers, and that they deserve more respect. But, once you admit this, it would become clear that what soldiers do is no big deal. People are quite willing to die while getting paid to do a task.

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.”

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.


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.

An Act So Strange

“Oppenheimer, by all accounts, was a child with a mind very much like Chris Langan’s. His parents considered him a genius. One of his teachers recalled that “he received every new idea as perfectly beautiful.” He was doing lab experiments by the third grade and studying physics and chemistry by the fifth grade. When he was nine, he once told one of his cousins, “Ask me a question in Latin and I will answer you in Greek.” Oppenheimer went to Harvard and then on to Cambridge University to pursue a doctorate in physics. There, Oppenheimer, who struggled with depression his entire life, grew despondent. His gift was for theoretical physics,and his tutor, a man named Patrick Blackett (who would win a Nobel Prize in 1948), was forcing him to attend to the minutiae of experimental physics, which he hated. He grew more and more emotionally unstable, and then, in an act so strange that to this day no one has properly made sense of it, Oppenheimer took some chemicals from the laboratory and tried to poison his tutor.”-Malcom Gladwell, Outliers

I don’t find this strange. Geniuses don’t want to spend the best years of their lives doing what they hate. So, what would they do if someone stands in their way? Get him out of their way—At any cost.

Post Script: Robert Stadler in Atlas Shrugged was roughly based on Robert Oppenheimer.

“Oppenheimer set the character of Stadler in my mind, which is the reason for the first name of Robert. It’s the type that Oppenheimer projected-that enormous intelligence, somewhat bitter, but very much the gentleman and scholar, and slightly other-worldly. Even his office was what I described for Stadler—that almost ostentatious simplicity. ”

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