Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Writers Block

I have been battling the worst writers block I have known for a while. The past few months or so, I have been following Pete's suggestion, slightly modified, of writing 2-3 pages every other day. The ideas and examples usually bombard me such that by the time I finish typing them I lose some of them. The last week, the maximum writing I have done is 3 sentences for Wagner not including Levy's exam which was about 5 pages double spaced. The result is that I missed presenting my paper today. I had a few sentences on path dependency of expectations and I wonder if that renders it easy or difficult to model in the walrasian framework. Certainly, if expectations are assumed to be constant and exogenous then we can model them in a comparative static model. What if as is observed some expectations are not just spontaneous, but implicit? If lets say we try to model them in the neo classical or a game theoretic framework what happens? Of course I do not want to model it, but is it feasible in an alogorithm or something like Potts' formulation? I know that at some point we have to concede defeat to ignorance in itself and due to uncertainty. In the absence of the latter there is no action. My mind is churning but my muse has abandoned me!! Hopefully she will grace me soon!!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Criminalization of Politics in India

The Constitution of India needs to be amended to prevent those with criminal records from being nominated to stand in any elections. It is a shame that we allow individuals like Phoolan Devi who was a notorious dacoit, Lallo Prasad Yadav, who ruled Bihar while in prison, and now Abu Salem, who is in jail accused in the 1993 Bomb Blasts and who had to be extradited from Portugal, to be in political power. How can we expect the country to prosper when we elect criminals to power? The problem is not with the government, the problem is with us who elect such people to decide on our behalf. How many of our politicians are actually qualified to hold the ministries they do? What qualification does Lallo have to be the Railway Minister? What qualification did George Fernandes have to be the Defence Minister? Democracy in India is in ruins. We have a highly qualified scientist as a President, but he has no powers to do anything. We have two extremely intelligent economists as the Prime Minister and Finance Minister, but they can do nothing better than promote regressive socialistic policies and nod their heads to the communists who they have to appease to be in government. I can understand an ideologically polarised country like the US; however, I fail to understand a pathologically callous population like Indians. These are supposed to be some of the brightest minds in the world, but within the country they choose to elect Phoolan Devi and let Abu Salem contest elections.

The Association for Democratic Reforms was started by a few professors at IIM. The one election year that I was there I knew they published the criminal records of all contestants. Here is an interview with Prof.Trilochan Sastry. Here is their webpage. Despite Prof. Sastry's interview statistics, Modi is still Chief Minister of Gujarat. Who in the population reads such reports and acts on it. Even if they want to act on it what options do they have? Do we have better candidates? The whole political lot in India is brimming with criminals and the choices are between those that have a foot long rap sheet and those that have a mile long rap sheet!! Sometimes I wish I could wipe it all clean and start with a fresh slate and do it right!!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

My personal blog

I finally decided to go ahead with a second blog for personal stuff. In the process I decided to upgrade to blogger beta powered by google and lost all my beautiful fonts from the original. I still like the colours and looks so I kept the template and emailed google about the loss of fonts. Hopefully they will fix the bug soon. Iam the Non Resident Alien, so those of you who just want to keep up with my experiences here (and skip my rants on the economy and politics) can just go to the other blog. I will update the blog instead of sending you long emails and that way you do not have to bother with unsubscribing ;-). Have a great Diwali!!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Don't let your child run!! He could get hurt

A Massachusets school has banned kids from playing any chase games during recess because they could get hurt!! (Read the story here) Well!! Time to arrest those parents, who let their kids run, for child endagerment and gross neglect!! What are the next age kids going to be like? A couple of weeks back we had a similar discussion in Prof.Wagner's class where he told us his experiences as a kid when he could get into fights at school and it was just the natural process of socialisation of kids. My brother and I used to fight a lot when we were kids. We have beat each other, wrestled each other and he even gave me a purple ear from boxing once. That hasn't made us violent as adults, nor has it made us love each other less.

However, this latest development in the MA school has me concerned on one more front about how much government control over our personal lives has increased and continues to increase. I am not comfortable with the government telling me what I should do and not do with my kids. I would want to bring my kid up the way I want. What is surprising is the lack of protest by parents against this latest move. Why are parents taking this quietly? Should we let the school system dictate that our kids cannot play tag and chase each other in the school yard during recess, because of their perceived safety issues?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

CBI's crowning achievement

The justice system in India is so shoddy that it is considered a great achievement when the CBI closes a case in 10 years and 10 months. The famous Priyadarshini Mattoo case is not over yet. Santosh Singh will now appeal in the Supreme Court and woo politicians and bureaucrats alike to be aquitted of the charges. All of this despite having genetic evidence linking him to the rape and murder of the above mentioned. The case was sensational because the accused is the son of a senior police officer, and justice cranked away because of constant pressure from media and other groups. Imagine the thousands of similar cases that just fall through the big gaping holes in the justice system. All of this is the legacy left behind by the adamantly stupid socialist regime of the dynastic rule of the Nehru family (Tullock calls them a monarchy of sorts) who run the country aground with stupid policies. I am not saying any single party is responsible for liberalization. But 16 years since liberalization we are still a very poor country with goat herd's trails for roads even in big cities like Bangalore, and a murder case with clear evidence takes 10 years to be closed.
to the untiring officers at CBI who think their job is done!!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Guess What!!

I am thrilled to know that my blog is worth $3951.78. I will have it in $100 bills please!! Here's the link.

My blog is worth $3,951.78.
How much is your blog worth?

Yogis and Swamis

Who the heck is Baba Ramdev? If he is well known how come most people I interact with have no clue who he is? Maybe I interact with the wrong circles. It is annoying to see well educated people conned by such people calling themselves Swamis and Yogis. To the latter its just a time tested way to mint money and travel the world at others' expense. Why is Baba Ramdev in Times Square campaigning to eradicate poverty? Why does he not go to any big city in India and try to do something progressive there? I have no respect for such characters, nor for people that fall at their feet. Here is Atanu Dey's post on the same topic.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Urban Riversi

Almost a month ago I was in Birmingham, Alabama visiting friends. Coincidentally, the weekend that I spent there was also the annual Sidewalk festival and there were several events organised for the public. One such interactive event was Urban Riversi. Basically its like a huge tic-tac-toe game played by two teams on urban streets. Street corners had codes we had to find and punch into a special blackberry phone. The organisers in Head Quarters would accept our code and we would get three phrases which we had to enact, take pictures and mail back. Once they were accepted we would have gained control of the street corner and effectively placed our black or white coin in the corner. It was terrific game of skill and speed, and I did not understand many of the rules. I just had fun with Balaji and my new friends in Birmingham. Here are pictures of us doing crazy things. Yeah! We lost!! But it was so much fun running around the city. In one place we had to convince people in a shop that we were just part of a game. They were so shocked to see a bunch of foreigners acting strangely. Thank God it was the South, anywhere else the FBI would have come looking for us acting on anonymous calls from locals. :)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Varna and Division of labour

I have been thinking of my term paper for Levy's class and the idea of Division of Labour in Ancient India seems like a good one. I have always explained the caste system in India as that of people classified based on their profession. Although thinking the same way I never attributed the word division of labour to it untile Levy's lecture a couple of weeks back. I have been reading a translation of the Manu Sastra, and to the extent that I have read it, it seems as if caste was decided not completely by birth. The individual could move up and down the caste system through his profession. Although there are strict laws against immoral behaviour, there is not anything in what I have read till now to suggest that caste was binding upon an individual based on birth. Here is my two penny's worth theory. The caste system existed in India fom Ancient times and although there were some arrogant and ignorant people in the upper caste who interpreted the scriptures to fit their needs there were enough learned among them to offset the corruption. At some point this balance was tipped in favour of the corrupt, but the society still thrived. However, when the British and other foreigners came into the country, for obvious reasons they could not understand the way the caste system worked and made their own interpretations about it and made it widely known through their writings and preachings. The word shudra was given the meaning untouchable and the rest is well known history.

The Varna system was sorely a division of labour story in my opinion. Even the skin colour associated with the varnas is descriptive of the individual's profession. People have taken it too literally in terms of an individual's actual complexion. The Brahmins were devoted to learning the scriptures and teaching them, since they spent most of their time indoors they were pale in complexion (not exposed to enough sunlight). The Kshatriyas were devoted to governance and warfare and so their skin was brown. The Vaishyas were merchants and travelled a lot and were prone to disease and so their skin colour was yellow. The Sudras were labourers who spent most of their time toiling away in the fields or outside in the sun and were black because of that.

I think the aspiration to become as learned as the Barhmins is the reason for the fascination with being fair complexioned. In the very long gone past being 'fair' would have been a metaphor for being learned; therefore, when the British and other foreigners came into the country people were fascinated by them because they may have associated their complexion with great learning. During the British administration, when they set up the huge bureaucracy the people with most education would have been the Brahmins so they were obviously picked for the more important posts. This may have seemed to some people of the other castes as discrimination against them due to their caste. Since independence atleast people from all castes go to school and are educated. Therefore any advantage that Brahmins had has disappeared. Therefore, the claim that the forward caste has undue advantage in educational institutions is baseless. It could be true that students from rural areas and economically backward families are discriminated against. Although I am opposed to any kind of reservation or quota system, if there was atleast such logic in the arguments for it I could grit and bear; however, the logic seems to be caste which makes no sense. Even under such circumstances the kids who really do well are the ones that work hard regardless of their caste. These kids (if they are for the forward caste) know they have no chance of getting a government job, and the private sector provides them ample opportunities. Decades of reverse discrimination has left government offices populated with incompetent people, and now when they see that those in the private sector are indeed earning better salaries they now want to turn against the private sector and say that they are discriminating against the backward caste and that there needs to be a certain quota in the private sector as well for the under provided.

Well!! I have gone off on enough tangents and have enough paper ideas to last me a lifetime and gain me a permanent ban from India. More on this as I develop my paper.

Friday, October 06, 2006

F1 Status

Higher education in the US has changed a lot in the last decade or so. A decade back, admission to a foreign student in the US meant financial aid was part of the package. The aid package covered tuition and was sufficient to cover living expenses. These days it has become extremely competitive to get financial aid in most US Universities. Most foreign students I know, atleast in the East and West Coast Universities, have little or no aid and are literally paying through their noses for a US education. They live crammed 3 to a bedroom, 12 in a 3 bedroom 2 bath apartment, partitioning the living room to make an additional room to cut costs. The hope is to live the American dream with a good job after graduation. Unfortunately for many of them, there are not so many jobs to go by either and several of them have to go back and face repayment of huge loans. What induces waves of students year after year to aspire for a US education? In some South Indian communities it is the one sure shot way for the groom's family to demand more dowry and the bride's family to pay less. Its a matter of pride to say that your child is in America. What is the Indian obsession with the 'fair coloured'? We hate them for exporting their culture and corrupting our kids with their morals, but we aspire that our kids live there 8000 miles away from what is indeed home!!

Back to the students issue. With the latest terror threats and increasing xenophobia due to successful immigrants American policy makers are really tightening the noose on foreign students. I have heard it say that since 9/11 the number of institutions/organisations funding educational institutions has gone down. American Universities are apparently cash strapped due to shortage of donors and grants. There could be some truth to this, since a lot of money is being spent on the war effort. What does irk me is that F1 students are not allowed to work beyond 20 hours a week and even that needs to be on campus. However, this law is overlooked in several cases, especially among students working in science and technology labs where they essentially become free labour for the Professor.

Personally student life in the US sucks!! You have no life apart from college, your family is miles away, you do not even realise its festival season, you live pay check to pay check and hope you don't lose your job to the Chinese bloke in your class. What am I saying? Isn't this every libertarian's dream, perfect competition!! :-) Just sour grapes and home sickness I guess!! This post is extremely normative and unbecoming of an aspiring economist!!! :-D

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Adam Smith

Levy's class has an extensive reading list which includes Adam Smith among others. I am way behind in the readings (the class is finishing with the third book, while I am still at the first). How can you read Adam Smith for a whole day, or read the Theory of Moral Sentiments in two weeks? I do not know how the rest of the class does it, I find my mind restless beyond 20 pages. Its too much information and my mind needs to process it and rest before I can continue; am still putting up a brave fight to keep up with the class. This is the first time in my life I am having trouble setting and routine and following it. All Thanks to Adam Smith and Menger who do not let my mind rest so I can sink into blissful sleep. Reading TMS I can see concepts such as Utility and Preference and Diminishing Marginal Utility jump out at me although they are not given such nomenclature. It is very interesting to see Smith's extensive observation and understanding of Human Psychology. Smith is often misquoted as promoting individuals to be selfish; however, it will be clear to anyone who reads the first 40 pages of TMS that he categorises selfishness between the social and unsocial passions and does not say that an individual needs to be selfish. He makes no such normative claim (to the best of my knowledge). The invisible hand works through self-interest and not selfishness. That said, in my own self-interest I need to get back to reading.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Happy Dussera!!

This is the third year in a row I am missing the festive season in India. Missing the sundal (south indian savory made of chick peas), garba tradition. Happy Dussera guys!!