Saturday, April 25, 2009
I doubt whether my parents would have ever imagined in the early years of their married life how multinational our family would later become: I am a US citizen, my sister lives in India, and my brother’s application for Australian citizenship has been approved, which means he will become an “Aussie” within the next couple of months. Three siblings in three countries on three different continents!
My brother noted that his wife’s family is even more international—in addition to my sister-in-law who will also soon become an Australian, her brother is an American, one sister is a British citizen, and the youngest sibling lives in India.
Such a multinational existence is obvious when I visit
But, African countries rarely seem to show up in such a global life—seldom do I ever run into anyone in
Even such a rather selective data reinforces the commonly held view that African countries seem to be falling further and further behind in the global economic landscape.
It was not always the case—at least as far as Indians were concerned. Even Mohandas Gandhi, immortalized for leading
Even in our family, I remember getting all too excited when my father got a chance to work in
However, for various reasons dad had to decline the offer. In retrospect, it turned out to be a good thing because
Now, even as my cousins, nephews and nieces head to countries all over the world, there is no mention of any African country at all.
Perhaps it is the childhood fascination about
I am, therefore, excited that I will soon fill the void within me, when I head to Africa—to
It is a small world, after all.
That reminded me of the time when I was in graduate school--I came across an essay where the economist Robert Solow had written a damning critique of my adviser's essay. True to my nature, I brought this up with my adviser, who said something like, "oh, where he knocked me on my head?"
I suppose it is rare for a super-genious to be gracious to others. Many others, like Larry Summers, are also notorious for such behaviors. But then, hey, it takes all types of people to make up this planet :-)
In the NYRB, Solow has a critique of Richard Posner's latest book, A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of '08 and the Descent into Depression. An interesting review for many reasons. In wrapping up the essay, Solow writes:
The problem is rather that Panglossian ideas about "free markets" encouraged, on one hand, lax regulation, or no regulation, of a potentially unstable financial apparatus and, on the other, the elaboration of compensation mechanisms that positively encouraged risk-taking and short-term opportunism. When the environment was right, as it eventually would be, the disaster hit.Like I am going to disagree with Solow and get knocked on my head! :-) Seriously, there is nothing to disagree here. In reaching this ending, Solow has lots of wonderful explanations for the crisis, and dissects Posner for sloppiness. It was interesting to note how Solow threaded in Posner's book on Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline.
In his book on public intellectuals, Posner blames the decline of the species on the universities and their encouragement of specialization. I may be acting out that conflict. Remember that even hairsplitting is not so bad if what is inside the hair turns out to be important.Ouch! That is the Solow knock on Posner's bald head! Oh, the sentence just before that quote? "his grasp of economic ideas is precarious" . Hilllaaarious .... :-)
Friday, April 24, 2009
The following excerpt is from The Hindu
Nuclear weapons in safe hands: GilaniI am not sure whether Gilani understands that the Taliban and al Qaeda does not care about the "dead bodies" :-(
General Kayani vows to defeat terrorism at all costs — Photo: AP
Tactical retreat?: Taliban members leaving Buner on Friday.
Islamabad: Pakistan Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday addressed growing international concerns on the Taliban’s advance towards Islamabad, saying the country’s defence is in “safe hands” and its nuclear programme completely secure.
“If anyone casts an evil eye on Pakistan, it will be over our dead bodies,” said Mr. Gilani while participating in a debate in the National Assembly or Lower House of Parliament.
The Establishment—the academic and policy elite, Wall Street, famous sexy people—are more invested in Obama than they’ve been in any president in decades. If Obama fails, a whole system will go down with him.It seems quite an irony that the "Establishment" depends on this administration to succeed in its ventures. Which is also the reason the anti-Establishment left is trying hard to contain its disappointment with Obama (like this one).
Salam has forgotten to include the military in his list. Obama's Iraq policies, and the escalation in AfPak, are definitely way more in sync with the "Establishment" than otherwise.
The academics .... well, we are a bunch of people with highly inflated opinions of our importance in society!
Salam notes that:
You might say that President Obama has the distinct misfortune of having taken office a few years too early.Here, I think I have very little to disagree with Salam.
When FDR took office in 1933, the economy had already been in a spiral of decline for years, and his first term saw a fairly dramatic fall in the unemployment rate. There’s no doubt that Roosevelt’s New Deal policies helped generate jobs, yet it’s not clear that his policies would have worked as well right after the Crash. And Obama isn’t taking office in 1933. Rather, he’s taking office in 1929, right after another massive financial collapse. Chances are that the sharp increase in unemployment has just begun.In January, when Obama took office, the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent and it has increased in the two months since. Few observers doubt that the unemployment rate will soon reach double digits, and there’s reason to believe that it won’t stop there.
I thank Camille Paglia for helping me out; well, not personally, but through one of her essays. I liked the phrase "libertarian Democrat" that she uses to describe her political leanings. Which is what I am. Paglia, of course, ticks off people, even within the same Democratic fold, when she does not adopt an ideological framework and instead talks as an honest intellectual, and an honest individual.
Life can get difficult for a "libertarian Democrat" in a world of ultra-left Democrats. And more so when every once in a while I include ideas from Cato, or the Manhattan Institute. But, of course, "they" conveniently forget that I gather ideas from The Nation, too. And for the most part, I am straddling somewhere in the middle--the Brookings Institution, for instance, is one of my favorite policy research source.
A specific example to illustrate these dynamics? Take the case of the global use of carbon. The rare occasions I am asked for my opinion, I think I might tick some off with my concerns that the billions in India and China do not have inexpensive options that can replace the use of coal. And that we can, therefore, expect them to increase coal consumption even as we change light bulbs here in the US. And, given the sheer number of poor people there, merely forcing a carbon limit on those countries might be equivalent to trying to keep them poor. A new form of imperialism cloaked by a honorable idea of environmental concerns. Yes, it does not win me friends!
So, imagine if I were to distribute the following excerpt from an essay in the City Journal:
In the first place, I will be asking for excommunication given the (ill)reputation that the Manhattan Institute and the City Journal have among most academic social scientists who are generally way left of the Manhattan Institute. And then the content itself--about coal and carbon.
The oil-coal economics come down to this. Per unit of energy delivered, coal costs about one-fifth as much as oil—but contains one-third more carbon. High carbon taxes (or tradable permits, or any other economic equivalent) sharply narrow the price gap between oil and the one fuel that can displace it worldwide, here and now. The oil nasties will celebrate the green war on carbon as enthusiastically as the coal industry celebrated the green war on uranium 30 years ago.
The other 5 billion are too poor to deny these economic realities. For them, the price to beat is 3-cent coal-fired electricity. China and India won’t trade 3-cent coal for 15-cent wind or 30-cent solar. As for us, if we embrace those economically frivolous alternatives on our own, we will certainly end up doing more harm than good.By pouring money into anything-but-carbon fuels, we will lower demand for carbon, making it even cheaper for the rest of the world to buy and burn. The rest will use cheaper energy to accelerate their own economic growth. Jobs will go where energy is cheap, just as they go where labor is cheap. Manufacturing and heavy industry require a great deal of energy, and in a global economy, no competitor can survive while paying substantially more for an essential input.
Sometimes I wonder whether many of the hard-core academics who are committed to a rapid elimination of carbon from our energy lives have ever been to India. Or China. It is one thing to talk about these things from the comforts of our own living rooms in the US, and is another to see and experience the remarkably poor lives that hundreds of millions lead all over the planet. Those hundreds of millions would love to get out of poverty, and telling them that they cannot burn coal simply won't work.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Where and When Is Stephen Going to the Persian Gulf? - Qatar|
Alvaro Vargas Llosa refers to this same book as the "Idiot's Bible" and recommends that Obama regift the book. Llosa, who is the son of the novelist/intellectal Mario Vargas Llosa, has always been highly critical of the Latin American left--here is an example of his commentaries.
The book shot up in Amazon's best seller lists. The Guardian notes that:
It is not the first time that Chávez has influenced the readers of the world. Three years ago he publicly praised a Noam Chomsky tome, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, at the United Nations. The book surged to the top of Amazon's bestseller list.It looks like Oprah has a competitor in Chavez :-)
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Scientists are now blaming global warming on fat people. That’s quite an “inconvenient truth” for Al Gore.BTW, the global warming/fat people news item is not the joke here. Here is an excerpt from the soon-going-bankrupt-NY Times:
Looking for inspiration to lose weight?
It may be worth taking a look at the results of a report in latest issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology.The study concludes that being overweight or obese “should be recognized as an environmental problem” because of its contribution to climate change from additional food and transport emissions.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Otto von Bismarck observed that God favors fools, drunkards, and the United
States of America. The U.S.A. has been a lucky country, and despite its present
suffering it is unlikely that America’s luck has run out. Relying on the import
of money, workers, and brains for more than three centuries, North America has
been a Ponzi scheme that works. The present crisis notwithstanding, it still
I was reminded of Johnny Carson's quip, "I did not know that," when I read that 90 years ago, on Feb. 25, 1919, Oregon became the first state in the union to implement a tax on gasoline sold at the pump.
The tax of 1 cent per gallon was based on a simple and straightforward idea that construction and maintenance of roadways ought to be paid for by their users. Oregonians intentionally chose this, and not a general tax on the population.
What a novel idea for that time period, when automobiles were still being thought of as horseless carriages by many in this country and elsewhere! As automobile usage increased, other states and the federal government also followed up with gas taxes.
Now, when we purchase gas in Oregon, the price for every gallon at the pump includes state and federal taxes, which have gone up over the years, to keep up with inflation and the phenomenal increase in automobile and truck traffic. Local governments have the authority to charge additional taxes as well. Of course, there is a comparable tax on other types of fuel too.
That same year, in 1919, Dwight Eisenhower participated in the army's exercise to study the logistical issues in moving military vehicles and equipment from coast to coast. It was this, together with his war-time experiences in Europe, which later led Eisenhower to call for a national system of highways when he was elected to the presidency.
The two unrelated events of 1919 continue their influence on us even today, through gas taxes and a complex network of federal and state highways.
At the same time, we are also in the middle of intense public policy discussions related to gas taxes and the conditions of the roadways that seem to be rapidly deteriorating. According to the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, America's transportation infrastructure is falling apart — sometimes literally.
In its report to Congress, the commission recommended implementing a mileage-based fee system by 2020, with modest increases in federal fuel taxes in the meanwhile in order to get out of "the hole we have dug for ourselves."
Well, the forward-thinking public policy pioneers that Oregonians are, we have engaged in an interesting discussion over the last couple of years on precisely this same idea of charging road users not by the gallons of gas bought but by the miles traveled in the state. However, to a large extent, such discussions are not entirely new.
Almost 15 years ago, I was a junior participant in similar policy discussions in my earlier career as a transportation planner in Southern California. Even then, there was very little disagreement on the state of roads and bridges — this was well before the catastrophic bridge collapse in Minneapolis in the summer of 2007, which served as a tragic reminder to those who were in denial about the state of the transport infrastructure.
Thus, after years of deliberations, I am ready for action, once we climb out of these depressed economic conditions. At least before the centennial of the gas tax?
published in the Statesman Journal, April 21, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Suppose that, looking ahead, the Fed commits itself to producing significant inflation. In this case, while nominal interest rates could remain at zero, real interest rates — interest rates measured in purchasing power — could become negative. If people were confident that they could repay their zero-interest loans in devalued dollars, they would have significant incentive to borrow and spend.Krugman says that he provided such an argument in the Japanese context a decade ago. In other words, he tells Makiw, "hey, I have a Nobel!" And then Krugman writes that:
Having the central bank embrace inflation would shock economists and Fed watchers who view price stability as the foremost goal of monetary policy. But there are worse things than inflation. And guess what? We have them today. A little more inflation might be preferable to rising unemployment or a series of fiscal measures that pile on debt bequeathed to future generations.
Since that was the answer I arrived at for Japan more than a decade ago, I have to say that it makes sense in principle.But, you know who has the best answer of all? The Onion. These people have a brilliant idea to add value to the pieces of paper that we refer to as American currency:
But here’s why it won’t work now, at least not yet: we’re talking about making a credible commitment to fairly high inflation over the medium term, yet you still have distinguished central bankers appalled at the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target.
Treasury Department Issues Emergency Recall Of All US Dollars
This is from a different part of the world. Not of a terrorist. An eleven year old girl tortured to death because she could not recite the English alphabet :-( The following is an editorial from The Hindu:
Teaching without tortureWondering what "murga" punishment is? Here is an explanation from Wikipedia.
It is now widely accepted round the world that the deliberate humiliation of children, either through corporal punishment or otherwise, is antithetical to learning as well as the well-being of children. The heart-rending death of 11-year-old Delhi schoolgirl Shanno Khan following brutal punishment by her teacher for failing to recite the full English alphabet string is a stark reminder of the torture that sometimes goes on in the name of pedagogy in several Indian schools. Shanno, according to her older sister, was made to stand in a murga position [a common form of punishment where the victim is forced to hold her or his ears with hands passed under the legs] for over two hours in the hot sun and even placed seven bricks on her back. When the girl asked for water, the teacher kicked her and her head hit a wall and she began to bleed from the nose. Shanno lost consciousness on returning home, and died two days later in hospital after slipping into a coma. This may seem an extreme case of punishment gone horribly wrong but it does highlight a fairly widespread practice in Indian schools.
In 2000 the Supreme Court of India banned corporal punishment for children and directed the state to ensure that they received education in an environment of freedom and dignity, free from fear. In the same year, the Delhi High Court struck down the provision for corporal punishment in the Delhi School Education Rules, noting that such punishment went against a child’s dignity and was not in tune with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which India was a signatory. The National Policy on Education states that corporal punishment would be firmly excluded from the educational systems. Following incidents of suicide by students terrorised by teachers, States such as Goa and Tamil Nadu outlawed corporal punishment. The rule providing for such punishment in Tamil Nadu was replaced by a section that recommended that children should be given an opportunity to learn from their errors through corrective measures such as imposition and suspension from class. However, enforcement is weak and instances of corporal punishment continue to be reported from across India. In fact, many schools practise a variety of methods of physical and emotional punishment. Occasionally, when teachers find mild forms of punishment ineffective, they resort to third degree methods of the kind that caused Shanno’s death. It is time authorities as well as parents and the public mobilised to make it absolutely clear that corporal punishment or any form of deliberate infliction of pain and humiliation on schoolchildren, supposedly for their own good, would not be tolerated any longer.
More so when the news is from India, which everyday offers more plot twists and turns than any soap opera can.
Here is another example. A child actor from Slumdog Millionaire is (or was potentially) up for sale! I have excerpted the following from a news item in the Times of India, which investigates about the reports of the potential sale:
‘We expectJust awful. But, in a way it also exposes the reality of life in the slums.
Rubina More Pics
Slumdog Millionaire child actress Rubina Ali’s father has, reportedly, decided to put her on sale. In a bid to cash in on Rubina’s international stardom, her father Rafiq Qureshi has put her up for adoption, demanding nearly 200,000 pounds (Rs 1.8 crore approx). He offered the deal to an undercover fake sheikh from the international tabloid News of the World. “Yes, we’re considering Rubina’s future,” Rafiq told the undercover reporter. “I have to consider what’s best for me, my family and Rubina’s future,” he added.
Rafiq blamed Hollywood bosses for forcing him to put his daughter up for sale and claims, “We’ve got nothing out of this film.” News of the World’s undercover reporter approached Rafiq acting as the representative of a wealthy Arab sheikh, who wanted to adopt the girl. “Yes, we’re considering Rubina’s future,” Rafiq replied, and asked him to talk to his brother-in-law.
Rubina’s uncle Rajan More confirmed, “Yes, we’re interested in securing our girl’s future. Rubina’s life is miserable and she lives with her stepmother. Most of the time she stays with me because she’s not happy at her parents’ home. Obviously, if you wanted to adopt, we could discuss this, but her parents would also expect some proper compensation. We’re talking of around 50,000 pounds for this to happen.”
Was, therefore, reminded of the stinging criticism of the movie a couple of months ago--that the movie is nothing but "poverty porn". A quick google search, and here is an excerpt from that Times column:
Like the bestselling novel by the Americanised Afghan Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Slumdog Millionaire is not a million miles away from a form of pornographic voyeurism. A Thousand Splendid Suns is obsessed with rape and violence against women, the reader asked to pore over every last horrible detail. Slumdog Millionaire is poverty porn.The columnist then noted:
When we are suckered into enjoying scenes of absolute horror among children in slums on the other side of the world, even dubbing them comedy, we ought to question where our moral compass is pointing.And, this observation in Huffington Post certainly makes us wonder about "poverty porn":
Apparently, tours of Mumbai slums are experiencing a boon since Slumdog Millionaire won eight Academy Awards -- more evidence that this film created an emotional connection between Western audiences and the characters it depicts.A report in USA Today certainly adds credibility to the notion that the movie has triggered a touristy interest in poverty:
Oh well ....
The movie's recent premiere in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) sparked complaints among some of Dharavi's estimated 1 million residents, who live and work in an area smaller than New York's Central Park. But it also has boosted business for Reality Tours and Travel, which leads eight to 15 tourists a day on guided tours of the slum.
Reality Tours co-founder Chris Way estimates that sales are up by about 25% since Slumdog Millionaire's release. Though he credits some of the increase to a gradual rebound in tourism after terrorist attacks in Mumbai killed more than 170 people in November, publicity surrounding the film has played a big role.