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The Power Of Abstract Thinking

The Power Of Abstract Thinking

The root cause of most social ills is not that people are not activists or poverty-eradication thinkers. These are character flaws, and weak character is never in short supply. I am perhaps the first person to make this claim, but even “eminent” Indian intellectuals are not capable of making rapid fire abstract associations. By this, I mean the power to think quickly, to build arguments and counter-arguments, to spot non sequiturs, and to instantly pick holes in the arguments of their opponents. This is a major cause of social evils.

Look at the Sen-Bhagwati debate.  A key position of Amartya Sen is that “There isn’t a single place where growth has taken off without an educated and healthy workforce.”

Is it true that Indian poverty and weak economic progress is largely a result of a physically weak and uneducated workforce? The assumption is that Indian workers earn less because they are capable of exerting less physical and mental effort. Now, don’t deny this. Taken seriously, this is what this claim implies.

If this is true, transporting them to a different country, keeping their education level and health constant won’t improve their productivity and income levels significantly. But, we know that a low skilled Indian worker who moves to the US might see his income instantly rising twenty fold. In a prosperous country, they will live longer and healthier, being incomparably more productive. This means that there are cheaper and quicker ways of raising their income and productivity than building huge schools and hospitals, and hoping that growth will take off in a generation or two. This also means that the problems lie elsewhere.

Consider the “malnutrition threat”. The world has been producing more than enough food to feed everyone for long. There is no intrinsic shortage. Jack M. Hollander had argued a decade back that:

“If the world’s average crop yield reaches only that of wheat production in the United States today (3 tons per hectare), the world’s nine billion people could enjoy an average daily consumption of 3,000 calories and use less than two-thirds of the land area under cultivation today.”

Why is there a “malnutrition threat” if more than enough food is produced globally? People earn very little in third-world countries because the income levels of people are determined locally. How much you earn is largely determined by where you are born, other things being equal. So, people in poor countries end up with less access to food because of irrational policies, and low mobility. The easiest solution is, of course, not to change policies and wait for income levels to rise, but to make sure that income levels are not locally determined—by allowing them to live in the first world, if they wish to do so.

These are obvious arguments.

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