Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai Attacks

This is not the first time Mumbai has been attacked by terrorists. This is not even the first terror attack in India. Bombings, shootings, religious violence and such are common in India. In fact, last summer there were a series of blasts in Hyderabad, just a couple of hours before I boarded the flight back to the US. This summer there were blasts in Ahmedabad, close to where I was living. That being said, I do not remember any other time since the 1993 serial bombings that Mumbai has been under seige. I have been watching CNN and Fox news on and off, and I do not remember any other time that US News media have spent so much time reporting Indian bombs. To most of them terrorism is only Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden. I find it aggravating that everything has to be compared to Al-Qaeda. India has been attacked by several different groups that have been around long before Bin Laden became a household name in the US.  Here are two groups that are the usual suspects in India for any such attacks: Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba. I do not care who these guys are and if they are really to blame for half the stuff they are alleged to have committed. However, there is a pattern to such events in India. Here is the usual chain of events after any such attack in India:
  • Attack happens somewhere in the country (usually medium to big sized city)
  • Indian Media goes ballistic, reporting live and being ridiculous for the most part with speculations, accusations (not even allegations), a lot of gory images, and the same story repeated for 3-4 days on every single news channel. In fact they even use the same news feed on every channel. 
  • Prime Minister and other politicians go on live TV to say they will do all they can to bring justice to the victims and their families and hunt the terrorists down.
  • Either the Prime Minister or the Local Minister/Politician, offers a boatload of tax payer money as ex-gratia payments to the victims, the injured and their families. (In the current Mumbai case it is Rs.500,000 to those killed and Rs.50,000 to those injured)
  • PM usually blames Pakistan based groups (usually with no proof)
  • Pakistani officials deny it vehemently
  • A special task force is appointed to investigate
  • Two days later, something new happens and this is forgotten
  • Life goes on as usual for all until the next attack, when the sequence of events are replayed on TV sets across the nation.
Cruel as it sounds, we are used to such terrorism. I am surprised at how many Indians living in the US say that they feel very unsafe in India, and demand that the government do more to make them feel safe. Do they really believe that terrorist acts cannot happen in the US? Besides, what can the government really do? Can the government really watch out for every single person without infringing on basic rights of freedom? Its easy for me to sit here and speculate about the incompetence of the Indian government and officials. However, are any of the other Western, developed countries really better? They certainly seem to have a more organized set-up, but how can one compare events that are not comparable and say one group of responders are better than the other. I am certainly not defending the Indian task-force response to the attacks. I am not an expert. Besides, there's enough BS from people in the media already. Where the heck does Deepak Chopra get these ideas from? I do not see the Obama connection. Neither do I see this as a concentrated attack on Hindus. If anything, I see this as an attack on rich and affluent people. 
In my opinion, these attacks are a never ending cycle. Now that the Jewish community has been attacked, I am pretty sure the US is all riled up to bomb some places in Kashmir, or wherever they find that these groups are from, as part of the war on terror.   Here is my earlier thought about such attacks and my solution to it. 
Amidst all the drama in Mumbai, here is a story that would have otherwise hogged the headlines. My prayers are with all the victims, in India and elsewhere and their families and friends. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Happy Retirement Prof.Tullock

GMU Economics Department and the Law School organized a reception in honour of Prof.Tullock who retired earlier this semester. It was wonderful to see him again and talk to him. I was pleasantly surprised that he even remembered me from his class. He even told me that the only reason I got an A+ in his class was because he was a generous grader. Here are a few pictures from the evening (Courtesy Brian Hollar).

He was very easily persuaded to pose for a photograph 

We will all miss you Prof.Tullock, and I am glad I could be in your class. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Analytical narratives about India

Its not an easy task to write analytical narratives about India. For almost five years, I have been trying to write interesting papers about institutions, entrepreneurship and so many other aspects of economic life in India, and my efforts are constantly frustrated because the subject is so vast. It is just impossible to tell a simple story about India. Its a complicated mesh with several layers of stories each intertwined with the other in such a way that trying to untangle them is simply impossible. One cannot tell one story about India without referring to several others in the background that are driving the primary narrative. This frustrates academic writing, because for every economic story there is a reference to at least ten others in the background and you cannot tell just one story and not tell the others, so pretty soon the focus of the narrative is a tome rather than a laser beam. This is true even if one is writing for Indian audiences, because your perspective reflects on all the stories and not just the one you are writing about, so you need to re-explain phenomena that are popularly understood differently. 
All that being said, it is fun writing about India, especially because of those hundred other stories, and as I dig into history, I am constantly surprised with things I did not know about India. I could be happy at no other job than research on India. I guess that is why I am enjoying writing my dissertation. It is focussed on three small stories without cluttering the narrative with the background stories!! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

George J Stigler

Everytime I read an article by a great economist, I am reminded of my love for this discipline and am inspired to work harder and persist at what I am doing. Today, I had a lean phase where one of my dissertation chapters refused to progress. So, I decided to wiki famous economists and since I had been thinking about the economics of regulation, decided to learn more about George Stigler. Although I knew of his contributions to the Economics of  Regulation literature, I did not know he had written so much on the History of Economic thought. I have always admired Stigler, I now have a new found love for him as well. Well, one thing lead to another and I just finished reading his Nobel Lecture, "The Process and Progress of Economics". How can one read this lecture and not be inspired to keep working on new ideas!! Here is an excerpt from the conclusion (emphasis mine).
The fascination of scientific work does not lie in the craftsmanlike utilization of the tools of a science. It is admirable for the gymnast to put his splendidly disciplined body through intricate maneuvers, and it is no doubt equally admirable for the scientist to put his disciplined mind through a sequence of complex analytical or experimental maneuvers. The great fascination of scientific endeavor, however, is precisely in the speculative pursuit of new ideas that will widen the horizon of our understanding of the world. This endeavor is not that of a graceful intellectual gymnast: on the contrary, the scientist is stumbling about in a jungle of ideas or facts that seem to defy system or logic, and usually he fails to emerge with anything but scratches. The dangers of the search include the chance that a gifted rival will reach the goal, and the danger is not reduced by the fact that the rivalry is conducted under what for able and ambitious competitors are unusually chivalrous rules. Still, learning more about how this search for new knowledge proceeds is itself a worthy search for new knowledge, and we shall not abandon it.
I will remember to not be frustrated in the future when I stumble through ideas in a paper.