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.

 

The Human Cost of Zoning in Indian Cities

scep1_corporatetower_1Read my article “The Human Cost Of Zoning” on FEE.org. I hope zoning in the third-world gets more attention with essays like this. I am glad that Financial TimesTyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok, ACI Scholarly Blog IndexOrange County Register,  Urbanomics and economist Ajay Shah blogged about this article. Quartz shared it, and NYU Stern School Of Business’ Urbanization Project, Marron Institute,  and Brandon Fuller tweeted it.  Continue reading “The Human Cost of Zoning in Indian Cities”

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.”

Totally Conventional Views Which I Hold

 

 

  1. If our hearts were pure, we wouldn’t need our heads to tell right from wrong.
  2. Certain things are right, and certain things are wrong. Even if no one would ever prove why.
  3. If people become nice, the world would be nice.
  4. If people calmly listen to others, most human conflicts wouldn’t arise in the first place.
  5. To paraphrase Bryan Caplan,“Raising kids is the most meaningful thing most people will ever do with their lives.”
  6. You perhaps shouldn’t follow your “dream”.
  7. Creative men often do stupid things. 
  8. Politicians are crooks.
  9. Humility is very valuable. (It is a very valuable form of humility to understand that there is much one can learn from far more intelligent, learned fellows.)
  10. Most mothers prefer normal children, not exceptionally intelligent or stupid ones.

Bryan Caplan’s list here, and Tyler Cowen’s list here.

                                                       

Sherlock Holmes Had Asperger Syndrome

sherlock_holmes_by_puppet_girl86-d4orteuThe Aspie girl said that I am very much like Sherlock Holmes. My mind works pretty much the same way his does. I read the series too long ago to have noticed, but Sherlock Holmes is an Aspie. Tyler Cowen thinks that Sherlock Holmes is the most developed autistic character in the Western literary tradition. I will tell you why, by reading more into the first chapter in “A Study In Scarlet”.

In the beginning, when Dr. Watson meets a friend who asks whether he would like to share a room with man named Sherlock Holmes, this conversation ensues:

“You don’t know Sherlock Holmes yet,” he said; “perhaps you would not care for him as a constant companion.”

“Why, what is there against him?”

“Oh, I didn’t say there was anything against him. He is a little queer in his ideas–an enthusiast in some branches of science. As far as I know he is a decent fellow enough.”

You mustn’t blame me if you don’t get on with him,” he said; “I know nothing more of him than I have learned from meeting him occasionally in the laboratory. You proposed this arrangement, so you must not hold me responsible.”

“If we don’t get on it will be easy to part company,” I answered. “It seems to me, Stamford,” I added, looking hard at my companion, “that you have some reason for washing your hands of the matter. Is this fellow’s temper so formidable, or what is it? Don’t be mealymouthed about it.”

“It is not easy to express the inexpressible,” he answered with a laugh.

Continue reading “Sherlock Holmes Had Asperger Syndrome”

New Year’s Baby

Today is my birthday. I was a New Year’s baby.  What did I learn in all these years? A lot. I was never a lazy boy. 

The most radical shift in my thinking in 2013 has its roots in an encounter over a year ago. It was an afternoon in December I interviewed Tyler Cowen. I knew that Tyler is a colleague of Bryan Caplan, and has an astronomical IQ. Bryan influenced my thinking more than any other intellectual, of past or present. I had not read much of Tyler because I found his views too anti-capitalistic for my tastes. But, I pulled a few all-nighters and read all the books of Tyler that I could lay my hands on—except “Create Your Own Economy”. 

I remember that day. I was late for the talk, but I was being instinctively fair. I stood there on the stairs, watching the girls in the registration counter. A very young girl held a pen close to her chin. She looked like a doll. I asked her, “But, it was supposed to begin at 3 O’ Clock.” She said, “It was supposed to begin at 3, but some people who are supposed to come are caught in a traffic jam. It will begin at 3:30.” It began at 4. I once told her that I will write about her in my darling novel. Since then she has been annoying me saying that she wants to see what I had written about her.

After the talk, I walked down. While I was drinking coffee alone, on a table, I saw the PR girl of CCS entering the room. She stood near the door, her eyes flitting around the room. Then she walked to me, and started talking. I thought, laughing inside, “These PR ladies. They have such sharp eyes.” They can spot their prey in a room full of people, in the fraction of a second. I do not know how they do it, but I know that they do it. When they want me to plug their boss, the PR lady is sweet and talkative. But, her boss is grim and joyless. I tell myself, ‘My novel will profit’.

Unlike the typical Delhi intellectual, Tyler was extremely well-read—and a decent fellow. For instance, he did not lose his temper, or walk away when I disagreed with him. His books were among the best that I have read, but he was still too moderate to interest me much. But, it was only in January I read “Create Your Own Economy”. It was on Asperger’s Syndrome. When I read it, everything that happened in my life fell into place, after a lifetime of not fitting in. I spent the whole year thinking about it. 

Sherlock Holmes As An Aspie

He has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest capacity for storing facts, of any man living.

“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptograms, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere.” 

He is not a man that it is easy to draw out, though he can be communicative enough when the fancy strikes him. 

He was quiet in his ways, and his habits were regular.

He has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest capacity for storing facts, of any man living.

Holmes could talk exceedingly well when he chose, and that night he did choose. He appeared to be in a state of nervous exaltation. I have never known him so brilliant. He spoke on a quick succession of subjects—on miracle plays, on medieval pottery, on Stradivarius violins, on the Buddhism of Ceylon, and on the warships of the future—handling each as though he had made a special study of it.

“I was never a very sociable fellow, Watson, always rather fond of moping in my rooms and working out my own little methods of thought, so that I never mixed much with the men of my year.”

Sherlock Holmes had, in a very remarkable degree, the power of detaching his mind at will. For two hours the strange business in which we had been involved appeared to be forgotten, and he was entirely absorbed in the pictures of the modern Belgian masters. He would talk of nothing but art . . .

“He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of them”

“All that I have to say has already crossed your mind.”-Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes

“Doyle and Holmes were both tall and physically strong, both loved boxing and Turkish baths, were both untidy, both had a horror of destroying documents, both were omnivorous readers, and both favored the political union of England and the United States. Both were deeply interested in heredity, ancient manuscripts, and the Cornish language. Pierre Nordon describes Holmes as one of the last defenders of chivalry in English-language literature and most of all as an advocate of the innocent and victims; that is how Doyle saw himself, given the many public campaigns he fought, such as that against colonial Belgian oppression in the Congo. The point is not that Doyle and Holmes were similar in every way but rather that Doyle was well aware of how closely he was tied to his most beloved character. It’s also worth noting that none of Doyle’s other works succeeded in producing any memorable characters at all, perhaps because he had used up the main source material he had, namely himself.”

The quotes are from Tyler Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy

Was Nabokov Autistic?

I am a mild old gentleman who loathes cruelty.

When we were post-toddlers, me and my little brother used to fold the half of a light bed, and wrap each other, taking turns, because we loved the pressure stimulation. The love of pressure stimulation is a common enough trait among Aspies. Yesterday, I read that the “toddler Nabokov would squirm in a snug tunnel fashioned with the divan’s bolsters and closed up at the ends with a couple of its cushions.”

Was Nabokov autistic? I feel so. I asked Tyler Cowen, and he said that he has long had the same feeling, and that he can think of more evidence to support this, though he cannot recall them offhand.

In an interview, Nabokov once said that he had tried to drive only twice. The first time he tried, he was a teen, and the next attempt was many decades later. He miserably failed in both the attempts. He once said that he thinks like a genius, writes like a distinguished author, but speaks like a child—and that what pains him the most is cruelty. He thinks in pictures, he claimed, and that he found it hard to recall names and numbers because it was harder to visualize them. Nabokov had a fascination with other species, like butterflies, which again is a common enough trait. Lepidoptera was his obsession. He was also in love with words, and languages.

Nabokov claimed that he always had to write the answers down, while giving interviews or lecturing. He also hated pornography, and four-letter words. Nabokov was also an amusic, but, of course, there are many Aspies who love music. I myself cannot read or write when I am not listening to music. Nabokov was a synesthete, and was a calculation prodigy, but lost the skill at 7, after a bout of delirium. He wrote in his memoir, This gift played a horrible part in tussles with quinsy or scarlet fever, when I felt enormous spheres and huge numbers swell relentlessly in my aching brain.” When I once fell ill, I too felt that the chain of arguments inside my mind were too hard to cope with. I could hear these sentences inside my head, which I often repeated to myself, for clarity in the writing process.

Post Script: I am of course, using the concept autistic in the sense Tyler Cowen uses it: “People with the cognitive strengths and weaknesses of autism.” If Nabokov was autistic, he, of course, was autistic in the sense Tyler himself is autistic, or Warren Buffet is autistic. Tyler’s is the best work on autism I have ever read. It is also one of the best works that celebrate human heterogeneity. Manu Joseph’s novel, The Illicit Happiness Of Other People, is again, an excellent defense of human heterogeneity, though he gets things in the reverse. Unfortunately, neither of these works are explicitly Szaszian.

Autism Light In The Illicit Happiness Of Other People

The Illicit Happiness Of Other People

To see human nature as it is, you have to be someone who finds the norms of the society bizarre. You have to be someone who finds it hard to identify with them. You have to be an outsider who lives here, on earth, among people. Continue reading “Autism Light In The Illicit Happiness Of Other People”

The Nerds Shall Inherit The Earth

There were times when brawn mattered more than brain.

A lady who thinks that there is always a touch of Aspergers in high IQ men was describing a friend of hers: “He is able to walk, speak, write and care for himself. He is a wonderful writer. But, he does not make eye contact. He cannot read social cues. He does not understand sarcasm. He tells inappropriate jokes. But, he is very kind, and assumes that every one is honest.”, she said.

I asked, “There is a boy who stays behind my flat. He is often surprised when I say “America’s Great Depression, Page no. 63, Last paragraph.” or words to that effect when he asks me questions like, ‘Where does Murray Rothbard discuss the effect of savings during an economic depression?’. It was a book I had read seven years ago. Is that how your friend is?”
 
She said, “Yes. That is how our friend would answer. He remembers every word he has ever read of every book, even from thirty years ago.” I named him. When she asked, “How do you know?” I replied, “His knowledge is encyclopaedic.”, and she said, “You are very astute.” Continue reading “The Nerds Shall Inherit The Earth”

The Interviews with Tyler Cowen, Avinash Dixit and Cyn-Young Park

Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen is one of the greatest minds of our times, and one of the economists who have influenced Bryan Caplan—my favorite living thinker.

Excerpts from the interview I did for Business Standard when he was in Delhi:

“Q. You think that an artist is as much a trader as a businessman, and that the making of a Bollywood movie demands as much talent as that of a Satyajit Ray movie. Many would disagree with that.

A. They should try making a good Bollywood movie. When you make a Bollywood movie, a lot of co-ordination is required. In my view, it is not less of an art than a Satyajit Ray movie. It is harder to make a commercial movie, because the audience has less patience with you.  You really have to grab their attention somehow.

Q. Why do you think that Amartya Sen has done good work in economics, despite the fact that he underestimates the importance of corporations and capitalism in eradicating poverty?

A. I think that he grossly underestimates the importance of corporations and capitalism, but, he has done a lot of good work. His work on missing women is important. His work on development and capabilities is very important. But, when it comes to policy, I think he is often wrong.”

Read the whole interview here: Wal-Mart will help improve agricultural productivity in India: Tyler Cowen

Continue reading “The Interviews with Tyler Cowen, Avinash Dixit and Cyn-Young Park”