Monday, 31 July 2017

Sujatha Gidla's 'Ants among Elephants'

What is the story behind the story Sujatha Gidla tells us in 'Ants among Elephants'?

In order to tell ourselves that story we have to ask about her 'vrata' and therefore 'varna'- her vocation and therefore the colour of her collar. 

Was she a rocket scientist whose wings were clipped by the Wall Street crash?
A budding FinTech maven forced to don the uniform of a subway car conductor?

Is literature- that too the mythologising literature of the emigre seeking to recover a parochial family history already much eroded by the collapsing fabric of an abandoned motherland-  her substitute for something mathematical and arcane which has to do with the book-keeping of giant Corporations operating in Global Markets? 

Or is what we have here a simple, eusebiac, exercise in filial piety?
A touching tribute to the great woman who gave birth to her and brought her up?
Of one thing we can be certain.
Like V.S Naipaul, Sujatha Gidla comes from a very gifted family.
Her theme is similar.

Naipaul, in Trinidad, wondered why the Hindu is inferior to the Brown Christian who in turn is inferior to the urban 'Blacks' whose ancestors, as Sir Edward Cust had noticed, were too smart and solicitous of a better future for their children, to remain as simple cane cutters in the countryside. Cust pays lip service to the High Church notion that Christianity might reconcile the ex-slave to servitude. But he repeatedly lets slip the fact that Black West Indians had a thorough grasp of the  principles of the Christian Religion and were determined to rise up by its lights. Cust is disparaging of the Indian coolie brought in under articles of indenture. Their physique is unimpressive, their features unprepossessing; still, they are merely Hindu and thus incapable of emulating the superior rationality and self-confidence of the African origin ex-slaves who were quitting the plantations in droves.

Gidla, a Telugu speaking Mala Christian, whose parents were lecturers, faced the opposite situation when growing up. To her it seemed that the Hindus were superior to the Christians. However, in reality, this had to do with two quite different things- firstly, Caste prejudice against 'Untouchability', which she mentions openly and secondly something more damaging and invidious which reveals itself over the course of her narrative. The fact is, some of the menfolk in her family, though very bright, had developed some unfortunate habits or predilections of a type once in vogue amongst antinomian 'Dalit Panther' poets and the artistic milieu which sustained them. 

This meant that some women connected to the family may have been exposed to predatory behaviour. The author mentions two of her aunts as both having an irregular connection with the same 'bowlegged, cross-eyed, drooly-mouthed Hindu man'.  For a young girl growing up in a small town, this meant not just humiliation but fear of an every present and existential sort. It is astounding that Sujatha did so well at school as to secure admission at a prestigious Engineering College. Indeed, her scholastic success- she later did Research connected with the Indian Space Program at IIT Madras- would be noteworthy even if she had been born in America or Europe.

However, it is only recently that the intellectual success of women has brought them security and respect. Even now, in some small towns, it is the conduct of the men of the family which determines status. For reasons I have hinted at, it appears her family did not have the social standing which was their due, by reason of their superior intellect and attainments, within the Christian Community in Andhra Pradesh. That community has risen up over the last two decades by its own efforts. But, it is superior adherence to conventional morality, not some Naxal nostrum, that has enabled these pious and thrifty people to rise up and contribute so much to Society.

Sujatha, following her mother's lead, took pride in her very poetically gifted maternal uncle who was a Maoist and thus spent periods underground. In other words, the family- more especially the girls- would have felt menaced by the Police and Paramilitary outfits as well as by the goons commanded by local bigwigs associated in one way or another with the ruling party. As I say, what Sujatha accomplished, what her mother accomplished, was extraordinary in itself. Yet something more extraordinary yet was to come out of Sujatha's research into this Uncle of hers. We now have a book that we can put on a par with Naipaul's 'House for Mr. Biswas' while being its polar opposite. The two books illumine each other. Do they also cancel each other out? Perhaps. Let us see.

Sujatha, a physics student, comes to the great question of Sociology by way of her encounter with a 'High Caste' Syrian Christian girl, Jessie, from Kerala.

After Regional Engineering College I went to yet another citadel of engineering education. I went to Madras to attend the Indian Institute of Technology. IITs are the most elite, most cosmopolitan technical institutions in India, the Indian equivalents of MIT and Caltech. I was a research associate in the department of applied physics working on a project funded by the Indian Space Research Organisation.
In the ladies’ hostel, my eyes were dazzled by the sight of the other girls. They were all so beautiful, rich, happy, charming, high-class. I felt as if I were surrounded by movie heroines, but with brains. And in the hostel I saw many more of those elusive superior Christians.
One thing I noticed quickly: they all came from the southern state of Kerala. That movie I had seen, I found out later, had been made in Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala, and dubbed into my own native language of Telugu.
These Kerala Christian girls lived in the same wing of the hostel as me.
Jessie’s beauty was otherworldly. She was always flanked by two brahmin girls, her loyal sidekicks.

Supriya Abraham, when she descended to the ground floor to go to the mess, was like a star from the sky deigning to visit the earth.
The brahmin boys who fawned over these Christian girls would look at me in disgust. In my town, Christian girls were called crows, pigs, scavengers. One boy in my neighborhood used to call me and my sister “shit lilies.”
I wanted to make friends with these Keralites. Wasn’t I a Christian like them? But they shunned me just as any Hindu would. I was deeply hurt, more deeply than when it happened with the Hindus.
But I was determined to find out why I was different. Jessie was kind, one of the only girls who would talk to me. Her room and my room were on the same floor. I tagged along with her to church even though by then I already didn’t give a damn about God.
I asked to see photos of Jessie’s family. They were obviously wealthy. I started probing, asking questions. Jessie explained, “We are brahmins.” She told me her family came from a brahmin caste in Kerala called Nambudiris. Nambudiris are so high in rank that they look down on all other brahmins.
“Why did you become Christian?”
She explained that among the Nambudiris, in ancient times, the eldest son inherited all the property, and only he was allowed to marry. The rest of the sons inherited nothing and had to find lower-caste mistresses or remain celibate.
When Jesus’ disciple Thomas traveled to Kerala, some disgruntled younger Nambudiri sons left Hinduism altogether and were baptized by Thomas.
“So we are brahmin Christians,” Jessie told me.
But I refused to believe her. Is that all it took? Some Christians decide to claim brahmin heritage and everyone believes it? It was too far-fetched. When I came to America, I met more Kerala Christians. By this time I was brazen. Every time I met one, my first question would be “How come you have high social status whereas we don’t?” They all told me the same story: they were brahmins converted by Saint Thomas. “When?”

“Fifty-two AD.”
So what is the relation between religion and caste? Between caste and social status? Between social status and wealth? Between wealth and caste? I thought about these things incessantly.
I decided to find out how my family became Christians. I called my mother. That was when she began to tell me the story of our ancestors.
What is happening here? Why does Sujatha not mention the fact that Syrian Christians tend to be fairer skinned & have 'sharper' features than people like me or her whose genes owe more to the 'Ancestral South Indian population' and less to Eurasian pastoralists or iron age agriculturalists?

 Put more simply, migrants have tended to do better than indigenous populations. Those who arrived last- this includes smart people like Sujatha who emigrated to the States quite recently- often work harder or show greater entrepreneurial skill or scope and thus end up as an envied 'upper class'. The travails of Dr. Devyani Khobragade  are a case in point. She, like Sujatha, came from an educated Dalit family- albeit Buddhist, not Christian. Their original castes were commensurable- Khobragade came from the Mahar caste of Dr. Ambedkar while Sujatha was a Mala. These are dominant, ritually higher, castes within the Scheduled Caste fold and tend to monopolise the benefits of affirmative action. Khobragade, a diplomat accredited to the U.N in New York was accused of enslaving a Christian woman of higher caste and subjected to a humiliating strip search by the authorities. India asserted Diplomatic Immunity and kicked up a fuss. Otherwise the lady- a medical doctor- might have faced jail time. This happened four years ago, when Sujatha herself, having been squeezed out of well paid work in Finance by the sub-prime crisis, was more humbly employed on the New York subway system. At the time, the victimisation of Khobragade seemed to play well with indigenous New Yorkers envious of the prosperity of highly educated immigrants from South Asia and elsewhere.

Sujatha's ancestors had moved from one religion to another and, having acquired 'cultural capital' were able to move up the occupational ladder. This by itself made them more likely to migrate geographically. Once they did so, their social status changed for the better- if that is what they wanted. However, migration is not always frictionless. It is an irony of the Telengana movement that it targeted Andhras occupying well paid jobs, like Sujatha's uncle. This pushed him down the path of an even greater, but wholly irreal, radicalism. He might have been shot as many of his ilk were shot. He might have become rich as some of his comrades did. In the end he did neither but simply added noise to signal.

Why did Indian Christians not do particularly well under the British- save in 'first order' professions like Teaching or Medicine? We know the answer to that. India was administered according to immemorial Indian custom. The Raj sought to coopt existing 'elites' so that what Dadhabhai Naoroji called 'shakkar ki churi', the knife of sugar, could cut and cut while everything seemed sweet as sweet.

Socialistic policies did the Dalit Christian no favours. A few of exceptional ability- like Sujatha- did rise up but the mass of the productive populace, more especially in rural areas, saw no corresponding improvement in their own life-chances. Naxalism proved a false God- it turned out to be a Casteist gangsterism. Dalits were expected to do the dirty jobs and supply cannon fodder.  But caste based radicalism of a literary sort- with its dreary distinction between alethic 'crow' poets and hypocritical 'nightingale' poets- did not Épater la bourgeoisie at all but, rather, confirmed middle class stereotypes. Antinomianism is all very well for Aristocrats. A drunken helot is all the more a helot for being drunk. As for sleeping with high caste girls- well, someone has to and perhaps the lower classes are inured to insanitary tasks.

In the end, Sujatha's Uncle said, his life became 'a terrible joke'.

Meanwhile, with economic liberalisation, things began to change for the productive classes. Corrupt caste based Politicians and a gerontocratic 'Left Liberal' Academia fought a rearguard action. For those, like Sujatha, who had emigrated, memory became a barzakh, a limbo populated by phantoms; to try to write the story of how one had come to be meant quitting the world one still shared with one's peers in order to populate an 'antarabhava', a liminal state, suspended between two worlds, one wholly Mythological and Manichean, which couldn't die because it never existed, and one purely Normative or Notional and thus powerless to be born.

Sujatha, wisely, has chosen to write in a naive style. Perhaps she is genuinely naive. But, like Kipling, but, unlike Rushdie or Roy, she 'shows more than she knows'. Why? She is attracted to poetry but poetry is just another word for work. But work is what Physicists study. Forces may be unified by some grand theory, distances may have some hidden and paradoxical metric. While all else abides our question, Work is free.

My uncle Satyamurthy, who was also known as SM or Satyam, was a principal founder in the early seventies of a Maoist guerrilla group recently declared by the government to be the single greatest threat to India’s security. But the story of his political awakening began much earlier, when India was still under British colonial rule.
In August 1942 Gandhi called on the British to “quit India.” Gandhi had been a principal leader of the nationalist agitation for more than two decades. Never in all that time had he taken such a militant tone.
Now that it seemed as if something was finally going to come of all the talk Satyam, eleven years old at the time, had been hearing, he embraced the nationalist cause. For over two hundred years, the British had ruled his country and stolen its vast wealth. Freedom from that rule would naturally change everything, including his family’s situation. He had heard that the white lords lived in bungalows, ate bread they sliced with knives, and wiped their mouths with cloth. When they left, surely all Indians could live like that.
Gandhi called for “open rebellion” to back up his demand. The Indian people had been waiting for such a call. But they did not heed Gandhi’s strictures to keep the struggle nonviolent. When British troops fired on protesters, they fought back. Young activists attacked police stations, cut telegraph lines, burned post offices, derailed trains carrying war supplies.
He had heard that the white lords lived in bungalows, ate bread they sliced with knives, and wiped their mouths with cloth. When they left, surely all Indians could live like that.

Satyam longed to take part in these acts of rebellion. He searched high and low for those daring heroes. But alas, within twenty-four hours of Gandhi’s speech, all known supporters had been locked up.
Gandhi, in prison himself, deplored the destruction. He relied on the threat of mass resistance to weaken the British hold on power and persuade them to hand it over to native elites. But the last thing he wanted was for the masses to arm themselves and take power in their own hands.
When Gandhi called off the Quit India Movement, Satyam lost respect for him. Satyam dreamed of contributing his own blows against the empire. At times he felt his body had been taken over by the ghost of Bhagat Singh, a revolutionary anti-imperialist martyr hanged by the British. Satyam scrawled “Quit India!” inside abandoned buildings and defiantly walked on railway tracks, which was forbidden in those days out of fear of sabotage.
Despite his disillusionment with Gandhi, Satyam was not drawn to his main rivals, the Communists, because they did not join the Quit India Movement. Satyam asked his Communist neighbor why not. The boy explained,
“We must support the British in the war. They are allies with U.S.S.R.”
“But why should we care about U.S.S.R.?”
“Because it is the country for all poor people in the world.”
Satyam wasn’t convinced. His family was poor and so were all his neighbors. Because of this poverty his mother had died, and his father had gone away. Everyone said it was the white lords who were looting India of its wealth and impoverishing the country.
Satyam supported Congress, the political party allied with Gandhi at the forefront of the nationalist cause, because it opposed the British. But his hero wasn’t Gandhi; it was Subhas Chandra Bose, who had led a militant faction in the Congress. Unlike Gandhi, Bose held that the British could not be pressured to leave India willingly but had to be forced out. To this end, he sought help from Britain’s imperialist rivals: Nazi Germany and Japan. He raised an army in Singapore—the Indian National Army—to liberate the subcontinent. He would later die in a plane crash before his plans could be realized. But he remained an idol to the restive Indian masses.
Satyam bought a cheap, mass-produced portrait of Bose in the bazaar. One night he and Carey snuck into Satyam’s classroom and tacked it on the blackboard. This was Satyam’s act of sedition.
The next morning, the teacher demanded to know who was responsible. Satyam kept quiet. “Whoever it was,” the teacher announced, “I salute you! I am proud to be your teacher.” In those times, even some teachers in government schools were brave enough to express nationalist sympathies.
But the repression of the Quit India Movement meant Congress activists were lying low. It took Satyam a long time to find any. When he finally met them, it was by sheer chance.
Since barber-caste people will not touch untouchable hair, Satyam went to a “Christ barber”: a Christian trained in haircutting by the missionaries to serve their fellow untouchables. But the Christ barbers were not professionals. They cut hair in their spare time, working for free and without proper equipment. Satyam was tired of being ridiculed by his classmates for his poorly cut hair.
A caste friend from school insisted on taking him to his own barber, Veeraswami. Veeraswami, a fervent nationalist, believed all Indians, caste and outcaste, must come together to fight the British. Satyam had finally met a bona fide activist. Veeraswami not only cut Satyam’s hair, he gave him political lessons and kept him supplied with seditious reading material. As young as Satyam was, Veeraswami talked with him seriously and introduced him to the like-minded people who congregated in Veeraswami’s shop.
After World War II ended in 1945, the Labour Party came to power in Britain. The new government recognized that it was no longer possible to maintain direct colonial rule over the subcontinent. The best hope for protecting British interests there lay in transferring power to the Congress Party. The political prisoners rounded up during the Quit India agitation were released (except for Communists), and elections to form native governments in the provinces were announced. The British viceroy would stay in power in the center for the time being.
A short, chubby boy had a strange question for Satyam, one that Satyam had no answer to: “Do you think this independence is for people like you and me?”

In preparation for these elections, Congress held their own elections for party leadership. Satyam, now fourteen years old, was voted treasurer of the Gudivada Youth Congress. He was the only untouchable to hold office on the town committee.
When his Congress friends came to see him in the home his grandmother had recently purchased in the new untouchable colony of Slatter Peta, she proudly referred to him as “ma Jawallalu” (our Nehru). His siblings idolized him, bragged about him to their friends, and made all his ideas their own.
In his final year of high school, Satyam led a student strike. The strike demanded an end to the “detention system” that required graduating students to pass an exam at their own school before they’d be allowed to sit for statewide final exams some two months later. The policy was seen by students and parents alike as unfair and oppressive. When agitation against it broke out across the state, Satyam led the struggle in Gudivada. He gave the strike a political character, turning it into a protest against British rule.
He stole his father’s military shirt to dress up a straw effigy of imperialism that the students set on fire in the center of town. The strike lasted a month before the government gave in and abolished the detention system. It was a sign that the old colonial structure was giving way.

At midnight on August 15, 1947, India’s Independence Day, the day that Satyam had been dreaming of these last five years came at last. He could not sleep that night. In the morning he washed up carefully and put on his best clothes. He left his room early, not wanting to miss anything. Students from colleges all over the district, joined by thousands of municipal workers, thronged to take part in the celebration on his campus. The crowds swelled like a river in monsoon.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, the students and workers sang in one voice:

A different world,
a different world is calling us.
As he joined in the singing, Satyam’s eyes filled with tears. British rule was over, but the real work of independence still lay ahead. “They are leaving,” he thought. “But we will have to build this nation.”
In their speeches the politicians, intellectuals, and trade-union leaders all talked of bhavi bharata pourulu—“future citizens of India.” Who were they? They were him. Young men such as himself.
The celebrations went on all day. As he watched the dances and dramas and competitions, Satyam realized that in all those crowds of students, he knew no one well enough to talk to. They were all dressed in their best, and what a difference there was between his best and everyone else’s. The girls wore fine saris and the boys all had on nice Western shirts and trousers. Beside them, in his white cotton lalchi (a traditional men’s shirt) and pyjama, Satyam looked out of place.
For weeks he had worked side by side with the other students, day and night, to help prepare these celebrations. But the solidarity he had felt was no more. Now that the common enemy was defeated, the differences between him and the other students came to the fore. He noticed he was not included in any of the performances.
The difference between his family and the rest of the untouchable community was small. They were all ants. But now Satyam was an ant among elephants.

The celebrations continued into the evening. The program included a fancy-dress contest. A girl dressed up as a Lambadi—a member of an impoverished tribe in Andhra whose traditional costumes are remarkably colorful and ornate—won the first prize. “Would a real Lambadi woman get this admiration?” Satyam asked himself as the girl—the darling daughter of a rich Hindu family—got up before the applauding crowd to receive her prize.
As he looked on, a short, chubby boy Satyam had never before seen came up to him and introduced himself. He had a strange question for Satyam, one that Satyam had no answer to: “Do you think this independence is for people like you and me?”

Some years later, Satyam began studying at the prestigious A.C. College in Guntur. But when his father’s rising debts sank the family into deep poverty, Satyam no longer had money to pay for college. He was in a painful predicament. He knew no one at A.C. College, no one in the entire city of Guntur, whom he could turn to for help. He did not pay the mess bill for July. He was given a month’s time, but when he failed to pay the following month, the administration added his name to the list of delinquent students posted at the entrance of the mess hall for all the world to see. To avoid running into his classmates he started going to the mess just before it closed, after everyone else had left. Even then, every time he walked in, the manager would look at him as though to say, “You don’t pay bills and you show up to eat?” Satyam skipped meals as often as he could.
Poverty was nothing new to him. All his life he had been poor. In Slatter Peta the difference between his family and the rest of the untouchable community was small. They were all ants. It mattered little if one was a bit bigger than the others. But here at A.C. College, Satyam was an ant among elephants.
No other student was in his situation. He suffered from hunger, but even more from loneliness and shame.
Now Satyam was all alone in a strange town with no one to ask for help. His family had made a mistake in sending him to A.C. College. They had been greedy. They wanted too much for their own good.
Satyam was ashamed that his classmates might have seen his name posted at the entrance of the mess hall. He had no money for books or lab records or term fees or exam fees. He couldn’t afford to dress the way students were supposed to, in shirt and pants. The strap of his thongs was broken and secured by a safety pin that kept coming undone. So he stopped going to classes.
A nation is not the soil. A nation is the people.

With nothing better to do, he started reading newspapers at the college library. After finishing the papers, he would wander into the stacks.
The A.C. College library, located above the lecture hall, had a large collection of Telugu literature. Satyam had never been particularly interested in Telugu literature. What he had seen of it in his high school textbooks had bored him. Classical Telugu poetry was of two kinds: puranas (mythological poems in praise of the gods) and prabandhas (courtly poems in praise of the rulers). They were written in a highly formal dialect that borrowed heavily from Sanskrit. To most Telugu speakers, including Satyam, it was all but unintelligible.
While looking through the stacks in A.C. College library, Satyam discovered a new kind of poetry that took as its subject matter neither gods nor rulers. It was about ordinary people and contemporary life. The verse, Satyam found, was free of the strict and complicated metrical rules that marked the older forms. The language was modern colloquial Telugu, easy to understand and yet beautiful. Satyam read the Navayuga Vythalikulu (Harbingers of the New Era) anthology of Muddu Krishnudu. It was the first anthology he had ever seen, a selection of modern Telugu verse.
Much of it was love poetry. Reading it, Satyam felt new sensations stir inside him.
He went on to read every modern poem in the library. Poems by Joshua, Devulapalli, Nandoori, Duvvoori, Thripuraneni, Karunasree, Gurajada. These were pioneers of navya sahityam, “new literature,” as the movement he had chanced upon was called. While on the floor beneath him lecturers lectured and students studied, Satyam read. He read eda-peda (left and right). He learned to hide in the library when it closed at night and even slept there sometimes.
The father of navya sahityam was Gurajada. His most famous poem was one he wrote in 1910 called “Love Thy Country.” Two lines in this poem had a great impact on the political consciousness of Telugu speakers:

A nation is not the soil.
A nation is the people.
Two simple lines and yet so powerful. It was as though Gurajada was explaining what a nation was to the many for whom this was a modern and abstract notion. These two lines followed Satyam wherever he went.
I don't know if Sujatha is a good writer or a bad writer. Since she is writing in English, that question is not for me to decide. However, this is good 'Indglish'- because the Telugu behind it is good Telugu. Well, at least, for older people like me. Actually, that isn't true. Mahakavi Sri Sri shat that bed when I was still in short pants. Still, there was a time when, as Sujatha says, Gurazada's works were actually appropriable by workers so a new type of Work might commence.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Audrey Truschke on Section 295a

Audrey Truschke is an Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers. She has had an expensive education and has access to Wikipedia. Yet she writes this-

Section 295A is a broad and highly subjective law.
Is Audrey right? Let us look at what 295 A actually says-

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India], by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.

This does not seem over broad. There has to be a deliberate and malicious intention. There is nothing subjective about it. Either you intend hurt and act with deliberation or you don't. This is a matter of fact, not opinion. It does not matter whether there is any actual insult to anybody. Furthermore, no subjective element enters the definition of 'insult' whereas there is a subjective element in the, public order related, notion of 'outrage'.
All that matters is whether a malicious intention against a definable class existed and whether it was accompanied by an overt act.

Audrey disagrees- she writes
In a nation of more than 1.3 billion people, anyone who finds offence against their religious tradition can invoke the act. Moreover, the law is based on personal sentiments and so it is open to wide interpretation – and abuse.
This isn't true. I may feel offended by something you have written but I have to prove you acted maliciously and deliberately in order to target a particular class of people who share a particular religious belief. My personal sentiments are not germane. The only thing that matters is the motivation for your action.

Why does Audrey mention India's population? Presumably she means that India is a diverse country and thus what causes offence to one sect may not do so to another.  Suppose you write 'I like cats'. Perhaps this offends some sect which views cats as emissaries of the Devil. Could you be successfully  prosecuted? No, provided you had no such malicious intention towards that sect.

Audrey has a curious view of Colonial Law which severely punished any offence against an official or Institution of the Empire under the rubric of 'seditious libel'. However, no action was taken against such officials or other citizens of the Imperial power who maligned or maliciously insulted any or all of the colonised people on the basis of Religion or Race.

Audrey writes-
Section 295A, like many of the country’s laws, is a colonial  hangover. In the late 1920s, the British enacted the law in order to calm a violent Hindu/ Muslim conflict sparked by a Hindu-authored tract about the Prophet Muhammad’s personal life. The law rested, in part, on the colonial idea that Indians were more like children than adults and so were unable to handle the freedoms enjoyed by Europeans. Despite these colonial origins, independent India has retained this law and the state has been banning books ever since.
Did the British enact 295A? Nope. They would have had to prosecute a lot of Christian missionaries as well of British journalists and writers in India if they had done so.

India was moving towards self-rule in the Twenties. 295 A was mooted by Indians for Indians and thoroughly discussed in the National Assembly by the likes of Lajpat Rai and Jinnah. It wasn't a 'Colonial hangover' at all.  Had the law 'rested, in part, on the colonial idea that Indians were more like children than adults' then there would have been no Indians in the National Assembly. The entire direction of British policy would have been different. Instead of moving towards representative institutions and dyarchy, it should have been going in the reverse direction- reducing the representation and influence of Indians in Government.

Many Indian politicians expressed reservations about 295a. An Indian Law Professor writes-
Various amendments meant to circumscribe the scope of Section 295A were discussed, but ultimately it was thought that the requirement of “deliberate and malicious intent” which was an ingredient of the offence under Section 295A was enough to allay all the fears. Jinnah, who served on the select committee, believed this was enough to protect an “honest man.” The Home Member, J. Crerar, argued that the kind of individual most likely to be prosecuted under Section 295A would be “some obscure and scurrilous scribbler writing from some obscure den or pot-house in a bazaar.”

It is noteworthy that Britain rejected reform of the blasphemy law in 1930. Why did it do so? Was it a 'colonial hangover' from the Norman era? More recently, the British Parliament has considered legislation to protect all Faiths on the lines of Section 295A. Why? Do British Members of Parliament now take the view that British people have suddenly become 'more like children than adults and are thus unable to handle the freedoms enjoyed by Europeans?' Perhaps, this is also the reason for Brexit.

In 1972, the British Colonial Government of Indira Gandhi (real name Ingrid Godwin) beefed up Section 153. Why did she do so? It was because Indians are like children. Audrey knows this because she has visited India. She wrote a nice story book about Aurangazeb but those nasty Indian kiddies thought she was an idiot. Narendra Modi (real name Nicholas Maugham) should take action. He must confess that the entire Indian political establishment is actually pukka Angrez. English people understood that they had to disguise themselves as Indians so as to continue to rule India without being accused of Colonialism. Still, they had to continually beef up 'hate speech' laws because...urm... well Audrey says so.

Should we believe Audrey? Is she an honest and diligent researcher who publishes truthful statements? Speaking of a recent court case, she says-
(Dina Nath) Batra alleged, for instance, that Doniger’s book defamed Swami Vivekananda, a 19th-century Hindu monk, by accurately quoting him as once saying ‘give me beef ’. Batra argued that, while Vivekananda did in fact say this, repeating the historically accurate statement is nonetheless offensive to modern Hindu sentiments and hence illegal.
A Christian Missionary is the source for the supposed beef eating of Vivekananda- a practice the Swami considered to be incompatible with present day Hinduism. Did Batra really argue that Vivekananda ate beef? Nope. He says the Swami did not eat beef.

Why is Audrey telling us such a stupid lie?
I suppose the answer is that History attracts only the stupidest students.
Truth, even historical truth, repels stupidity.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Modu's whistling arrowhead

Must Hegelian Irony yet, Merlin's Monstrous Debt, us thus manciple? 
Or a bad Actuarial bet underlie our Revelation Principle?
Time was, Touman's infinite Empire of the Xiongnu
Time is, a whistling arrowhead from Modu

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

With my last breath I'd defend Brexit

 Were I a newly ennobled hero who could the Nation rouse
& tho' horse after horse sink under me, yet win at Cowes
With my last breath I'd defend Brexit
Long after the last Banker legs it.

Since Volatility's jump is Liquidity's sump or else Creodes' Sea-roads shrink.
Prince! Thy vaunted moat is only such crusted port as Dons were wont to drink.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Remember the Li Equation & the Gaussian Copula?

Remember the Li Equation & the Gaussian Copula?
The bad actuarial math which caused the Crash?
 In uberrima fides - a Lie Noble for Popular-
 Relationships Reinsure Love as Trash

Prince! Not Merlin's 'Monstrous Debt' escheats Eternity
Nor Profit's Prelacy, Knightian Uncertainty

Friday, 21 July 2017

Why did Indian scientists and mathematicians fall behind China?

The short answer is they didn't really.

What happened was China decided Science & Maths were good things at about the same time that India decided that Stupidity & endless Moralising were even better things provided someone else kept refilling one's begging bowl.

Still it seems strange that India had a head start and chose, quite democratically, to throw it away.

The fact is, some Indians started studying Western Mathematics and Science about fifty years earlier than any Chinese.
By 1850, there were some Indians teaching in private Colleges, or Institutions funded by the East India Company, who sought to publish and circulate their findings amongst Western scholars.

Master Ramachandra, of Delhi College was the most prominent; his name has come down to us as 'De Morgan's Ramanuja'.

Speaking generally, English speaking Indian savants of the period faced acute social and financial pressures. On the one hand, they could secure a safe bureaucratic career by doing 'applied' work rather than 'pure' theory. However, if they were really good at their job, then, like Radhanath Sikdar, they would be denied transfer to the more lucrative branches of officialdom.

On the other hand, if they wished to gain employment as a College instructor, they had to produce credentials of a costly and inutile sort before sacrificing their working lives to the intolerable drudgery of cramming the mandated curriculum into heads destined to be sacrificed to a like bureaucratic maw. Ramachandra may have hoped that conversion to Christianity, or loyalty to the Company would help him. It didn't. It marked him as a fool. Mastery of Sanskrit mimamsa could raise a man up in the estimation of John Company and make his fortune for him in the law courts. Mathematics held little prestige. It is noteworthy that Ramachandra made no further contribution to Mathematical research after his conversion. I suppose it was no small thing to have survived the Mutiny, when converts like himself were butchered. Still, it is sad to think of him sinking back into the drudgery of the scholastic round- he, who had once thought to overturn the tyranny of the Mullah and the Padre! was now as but their puerile drill-master.

De Morgan, in his preface to Ramachandra's book, seeks ineffectually to differentiate Hindus (he calls Ramachandra a Hindu because he uses the term in a racial sense) from naked cannibals- albeit, not the South Indian Hindus, amongst whom De Morgan himself was born, who struck him as being identical in appearance and culture to such incorrigible savages as, I suppose, were constituted by those Tasmanians whom European Enlightenment was busy exterminating about that time

De Morgan's point is that Mathematics can't progress save by speculative means and the methods of pure a priori ratiocination. Hindu stagnation in mathematics illustrates his thesis. Their racial inability to maintain the spirit of pure inquiry is what led to the ossification of their Mathematics into a set of 'practical rules'.

Clearly, the methods of pure Mathematics or Theoretical Science can only be inculcated in minds that work on their own. But the same is true of linguistic ability. It is not enough to be able to convey your own wishes in a particular language or to ensure that they are complied with by a fluent speaker. Unless you can wish to say anything anyone else might convey, you haven't really mastered it at all.
Why? Intention is a register in intensional discourse and can only be discriminated by an equal intention.

De Morgan's thinks that some external entity can generate a particular type of cumulative creative thought in a Society, by initially offering some impetus or encouragement and then afterwards rewarding merit. This has a Darwinian ring. If we want to breed a race of monkeys that can type Parliamentary speeches, we initially settle a group of monkeys in the Visitors' Gallery at Westminster and to encourage them to press keys on typewriters in return for bananas. We periodically check on the monkeys to see if they are taking down Mr. Gladstone's speech correctly and suitably reward those monkeys which come closest. While this is a theory which certainly explains much in Hansard that must otherwise remain opaque to the eyes of even the most Gadamerian hermeneut,  I confess, it isn't really convincing.
 It violates De Morgan's own principle of induction.  A series with a particular property can't be defined inductively if there is an exogenous determinant of fitness for inclusion. Even if the monkeys end up doing a better job than any human, so long as monkeys don't talk or think like Mr. Gladstone they can't be said to have transcribed his speech. There is some causal connection between what they are doing and what Mr. Gladstone is doing. But that connection is not the same sort of connection as subsists between a human transcriber and a human speaker. For a start, no monkey can bear witness as to the accuracy of his transcription. Thus, if Mr. Disraeli calls upon Hansard to show that Gladstone, on such and such a date, declared his willingness to eat his own cat, contingent upon an eventuality which has since come to pass, no monkey can confirm that this is exactly what happened. Thus, if Gladstone gets out of his commitment by eating his head gear rather his own pussy, no charge of bad faith can be sustained against him.

More generally, there can't be a 'Chinese Room' type examiner in a Turing Test of either mathematical method or linguistic capacity.
Well, either the monitoring system is itself an equal or superior application of the method that is being tested, the capacity that is being assayed, or else it can be gamed. (There is an argument from Razborov & Rudich, re. 'Natural proof', which explains why.)

If monitoring capacity is equal or superior and interacts with what it examines, it isn't exogenous at all.

You can get a 'zero knowledge proof' for information but not one for intensional consistency.

There can't be a 'hands off' approach to Paideia.

Victorian England knew very well that this was the weakness of the 'capitation' system.
If you pay Schools to cram a certain curriculum, all you get is better cramming and lower comprehension. 
The same problem arises at the other end of the social spectrum.
If you discriminate mathematical talent through demanding Examinations- e.g. those for the Cambridge Tripos in which top scorers received the title of 'Wrangler'- you don't necessarily get creative mathematicians. Indeed, the system may be adversely selective in this respect. The young man who has gained a sinecure by holding his nose to the grindstone may choose to stick it in no theoretical nook where it fails to earn an equal or immediate reward. The fact that the English Tripos was more 'mixed'- i.e. physicalist and computational- than the new 'purer' methods of analysis gaining ground in France and Germany- meant that the great British scientists of the second half or the century, most of whom had done the Tripos, appeared to confirm, not challenge, a common sense view of the world as pervaded by some electromagnetic ether or other guarantor of sound Newtonian substantivism.

De Morgan, writing at the mid Victorian noon-tide, could not envisage how swiftly his own country, and its Capital City where he himself taught, would be eclipsed and rendered provincial with respect to his own profession. This passage of his holds a melancholy interest-

Why did London sink while Berlin rose?
The answer is, firstly, that German Universities competed with each other for able Professors and Students. Endogenous competition promotes 'run away' effects. Savants are more ready to go where pure speculation takes them because they answer to no exogenous monitor or system of reward. The Germans increasingly adopted the 'Seminar' system- popularised by Indological philology- which in turn meant future competition would be Research based thus reducing the importance of exams or disciplinary regulations. In part this was because students had more power because they could more easily 'vote with their feet'. However, it was also the feeling that Germany was obliged to find its Empire in the Mind- not the Indies- in order to equal or surpass the glory of England or France or Russia, which drove the startling ascent of German academia.

In Britain, many pedagogues, having exhausted their intellectual promise in the slog towards a Fellowship, idled away their time in petty intrigue while the Port went round. Meanwhile, the profits of Industry and the tributes of Empire piled up so quickly against the wolf at the door that none questioned a habitus of decreasing effort and increasing rewards. Though the day was short and of frost and fire, they slept before evening.

In Germany, by contrast, there was a nexus between Universities and the newly emerging knowledge based industries whose fate was tightly interwoven with the Financial institutions which supported their growth. This nexus relied upon and was relied upon by the State. However, all too palpably, that State was so menaced or menacing that nothing was really secure. Speculative thought carried less risk and greater reward precisely because it allowed one a sort of 'internal emigration' to, not a changeless Platonic realm, but something dynamic and Heraclitean.

Writing in the 1850's, before Germany had begun its Industrial ascent, De Morgan may be forgiven  a certain complacency. Yet, by that iron law of irony every Zeitgeist imposes upon its own arbiters- more particularly Professors of Logic- he was bound to say the most foolish thing possible about his own country while writing about a native of one of its far dependencies. 

Thus, he paints a rosy picture of the apple cheeked English yokel, or soot begrimed Scottish mechanic, turning joyfully to the pages of 'Tensor Calculus Tidbits' as a way of recruiting his spirits before turning back to his wearisome task. No doubt, women and children employed in the textile mills could no longer 'bend over the Principia of Newton' as was the wont of English weavers in days of yore, but surely the Bobby on the beat, or the postman delivering letters, or the rag & bone man on his rounds, paused every so often at the Newsagents to keep abreast of the latest developments in Galois Theory or Algebraic Topology.

Turning aside from De Morgan and returning to India, we can but sympathise with the Sikdars and Ramachandras whose youthful promise was quenched by the drudgery of bureaucratic or pedagogic employment. In Bengal, a greater concentration of wealth and the emergence of a highly emulous bildungsburgertum did create a better atmosphere. Calcutta University was intended to be a first rate institution with high entrance requirements. It pushed up standards but also contributed to a sense of failure and inadequacy in the rising generation unable to cram such indigestible fare for the meagre reward of a Babu's berth.

Thus, though on the one hand, by the turn of the century, India was getting its share of Senior Wranglers, there was also, on the other, a disproportionate and larger recoil from, and rejection of, Western paideia. 

In any case, it was lawyers- not professors or bureaucrats- who were making the big bucks. The Mathematical Sciences were at best a hedge against a decline in Social Status. They were certainly not a route to the top nor did they hold the key to a Political Revolution which might have the equivalent effect of saving one from poverty and powerlessness. On the contrary, once even London returned barristers gave up their horsehair wigs for khaddar caps and exchanged Macaulay's orotund English for senile or sententious versions of the Vernacular, it was clear that the pure Sciences would play a diminishing role in independent India. Thus the Bose for whom the boson is named made no further contribution, not because of an obstruction placed by European racism, but because of the distraction posed by local politics.

Were there any creative Indian mathematicians prior to the advent of the great Ramanujan? 
Apparently, only one- Syamadas Mukhopadhyaya- but the general level of instruction in Mathematics- and later Statistics- continued to improve- which is why Ramanujan could receive a leg up from Indian amateur mathematicians.

Indeed, even in 1950, Indian students in Statistics and O.R were ahead, not behind, their coevals in America. Still, the fact is, Maths declined in prestige. It actually became more difficult for a talented mathematician without a degree (which would have involved cramming a lot of Milton and Botany and other such useless subjects) to get a University appointment. Influential patrons like Professor Hardy could help but that sort of patronage could also be counterproductive. Andre Weil says Hardy spoiled many Indian mathematicians. They continued working on problems which had ceased to be of interest. But Weil himself was not to last long in India. Genius or not, he was after all an unclean White man and unclean White men were ceasing to matter. Being the right caste or belonging to the right clique or having married into the right politically connected clan was what mattered. Even if you got your Professorship, you'd be pensioned off at 55- as happened to Ananda Rau.

The case of D.D Kosambi, who worked with Weil at Aligarh, is instructive. The poor fellow, though a Harvard man and well connected, could not hack academic politics and, like his father, ended up taking a lowly lecturer's position in his native place. His boss was a Cambridge Wrangler who, true to form, never touched Mathematics again.  Kosambi could scarcely flourish having been so cut off from his peers. He was sacked because his students couldn't understand him. They just wanted to pass their exams and get jobs. How or what was he meant to make them understand?

At this juncture, Knowledge based private industry came to his rescue. He was offered a high salary to do pure research for the Tata Institute. I believe he was the first Indian to be sent abroad for work to do with the development of the electronic computer. Nehru, who was socially at ease with the scions of wealthy industrialists who had received a similar education as himself and whose families had financed Gandhi, created some Research Institutes funded by the Government but run by these plutocrats. The results were not particularly impressive. However, it must be said, purely Government sponsored Institutes seem to have performed even worse.

Perhaps, if there had been wholly private investment in Fundamental Research, the story would have been different. In the case of early work on the electronic computer, it took many years to pay off. But pay off it did and on a scale few could imagine.

 For Kosambi, however, there was the more immediate attraction of Chinese Communism and posing as some sort of Marxist historian cum philologist.

Around this time, he published a proof of the Reimann hypothesis in some Indian Journal devoted to Agricultural Statistics. Was it all a practical joke? Perhaps. Still, the damage was done. Kosambi is remembered as some sort of jhollawallah retard- more particularly when he published a second proof of the Reimann conjecture a couple of years before his death.  Why did he do so? The Communist J.B.S Haldane- who took Indian Citizenship for some silly political reason- was also behaving oddly around this time. The truth is, posh people who think they are smart go stir crazy in 'Soft State' Bureaucratic milieus. Ultimately, I suppose, it is the hypocrisy that gets to them. In proper Communist countries, you have brazen lies and people getting shot. That can be quite invigorating for Leftists. In India nobody got shot and nobody bothered to lie. Everybody just talked nonsense incessantly.

The pity of it is Kosambi could have been a great mathematician and an effective populariser of Science. Interestingly, an early contribution of his has secured him joint credit along with Cartan & the (slightly later work of the ) Chinese mathematician, Chern, for what is increasingly called KCC theory which, for a reason De Morgan pointed out, bears some resemblance to Master Ramachandra's work. But, thereafter, Kosambi went increasingly off the rails.

As he said to his friend, Norbert Weiner, who greeted him as a 'Wise Man from the East!'  he was just a 'wiseguy from Cambridge'.

Why? India was falling behind in not just Science and Mathematics but also the ability to write sensibly about History or even poetry- even verse as pellucid as Bhratrhari's. Everything had just come down to cramming and vomiting so as to get a bureaucratic berth. For alumni of either Cambridge, something more was required- viz. hypocrisy and fraud. Statistical methods can't prove the Reimann conjecture. It is hypocritical and fraudulent to pretend otherwise, but who the hell cares? Let's just go ahead and do it anyway. That way we will be trusted as ideological allies rather than 'useful idiots' from whose eyes the blinkers might at any moment drop.

It may be objected that Indian savants could have developed a professional ethos and subjected each other to the discipline of peer-review.  But, their economic base was so slender. Indian mathematicians and Statisticians did club together and set up periodicals but how could they assure quality control? Who will tell the V.C that his paper on Gandhian Mathematics- based on going on hunger strike till intractable equations experience a change of heart and solve themselves- is worthless drivel?

In any case, Indian politics had been on a increasingly irrational trajectory from about 1917 onward. People who spoke the same language and who lived in the same village suddenly declared that they actually spoke completely different languages and belonged to wholly different nations. Ideology could not provide social cohesion. The only thing two ideologues of whatever stripe could agree on was that everybody else was an evil schismatic bought and paid for by some sinister foreign power. Stalin came to loathe the Indian Communists because they kept demanding he kill every other Indian Communist- more particularly those with whom they themselves enjoyed the closest or most cordial relations. Why couldn't they just knife each other? It was all just a case of Brahminical disdain for manual labour. 

The Soviets did take a lot of Indian students and treated them generously. However, these students were convinced that the White man would not pass on his secrets and wanted to keep the brown man permanently ignorant. So, Indian students astonished their Soviet hosts by the extent of their corruption and concupiscence. By contrast, Indians who paid their own way to the States worked their asses off and fast traced to citizenship.

One reason Universities and Govt. funded Research Institutions had to start treating Math mavens properly was that they now had options. If you harass them too much, they'll just book their ticket to America and never look back.

Still, it is the growth of indigenous private sector Knowledge based industries which are dependent on a newly assertive and self respecting professional class of academics and researchers which will restore Mathematics to its rightful place in India. 

What about China? They started later than us but, because they invested heavily in getting the best instruction, they started producing great mathematicians very quickly. Furthermore, they were not obsessed with paper qualifications. 

Take Hua Luogeng. He had no formal qualifications. He happily turned from pure to applied research when the needs of the Nation- or Chairman Mao's whims- demanded it. Interestingly, it was Norbert Weiner- a colleague of D.D Kosambi's father- who enabled Hua to study with Prof. Hardy in the Thirties. Hua survived the Cultural Revolution because Mao perceived him as an 'applied' man of the people, not a bourgeois purist.

One of Hua's friends was the utterly brilliant Shiing-Shen Chern who settled in America. However, after Nixon's trip to Beijing, people like him were able to reconnect with the Chinese mathematical community which had suffered so much during the Cultural Revolution. Hua played a role in making this possible. Once America and China had restored their traditional friendship, the diaspora helped lift up the native country. This was a symbiotic, not parasitic relationship. As China became wealthier, a two way relationship has been established. The next Shing-Tung Yau may well be of diasporic origin but live and work in China.

Of course, it should be mentioned, China- unlike India- had made a point of importing the best Professors on high salaries as soon as it became a Republic. Universities were truly National institutions- not a method of rationing jobs in the Bureaucracy. Furthermore, unlike Indian Research Institutes where the bureaucrat or socially prominent insider held the power and the technical staff were expected to display sycophancy not results, China followed the Soviet model of protecting Defence related Technicians from the Ideological Commissars and, in some cases, even shielding them from the excesses of the Cultural Revolution.

It is ironic that the 'Mandarin' mentality prevailed in India as 'Competition Wallahs' lorded it over Scientists while the country which devised the system of Competitive Exams developed a dynamic indigenous Defence Research capacity. It must be said, that not all Indian Research Institutes are moribund. Clearly, it has some remarkable people and very successful programs. However, this happy outcome was the product of a lot of skillful behind-the-scenes politicking. This was not the initial expectation in the Fifties. Many Scientists believed that Nehru would set up a Technical Cadre of equal rank to the Administrative Cadre. The manner in which this initiative was strangled by the IAS makes for horrific reading. Fortunately, military and economic setbacks in the Sixties weakened the grip of the 'Babus' so some useful work got done. Strangely, it was the Hindu Nationalist party- whom we all firmly believed to rustic retards- which carried forward the 'Nehruvian' vision. The Leftists were no use at all.

China and India have changed a great deal over the last thirty years. Both now have a cohesive indigenous class of professional scientists and mathematicians who can be safely left alone to get on with their job. Increasingly, they will be self-funding. India can quickly acquire World Class institutions, of a type China already has, simply by disintermediating the U.G.C and giving the private sector an increasing role. Government money can't come without strings attached otherwise bogus or corrupt institutions- like Nalanda International University under Amartya Sen- will turn into scandalously mismanaged money pits.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Let Vulcan burn & Goyim thirst

How, to a plough share, turn the sword of Mars?
Or stone to death the adulterous stars?
Let Vulcan burn & Goyim thirst
Christ's cherev was widowed first.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017


Before I met you, you'd flee me through lonely forests again and again
But, because my Love's trees were all 'Ashokas,' always in vain.
Red they would flower as fleetly as you fled
  Now torn up by the roots lest they reveal where I bled.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Income inequality & Junk Social Science

Kumhof & Rancierre, published a paper in 2010 linking inequality and financial crashes-
The United States experienced two major economic crises over the past century—the Great Depression starting in 1929 and the Great Recession starting in 2007. Both were preceded by a sharp increase in income and wealth inequality, and by a similarly sharp increase in debt-to-income ratios among lower- and middle-income households. When those debt-to-income ratios started to be perceived as unsustainable, it became a trigger for the crisis. In this paper, we first document these facts, and then present a dynamic stochastic general equilibrium model in which a crisis driven by income inequality can arise endogenously. The crisis is the ultimate result, after a period of decades, of a shock to the relative bargaining powers over income of two groups of households, investors who account for 5% of the population, and whose bargaining power increases, and workers who account for 95% of the population

The U.S has experienced a number of economic crises over the last hundred years. Two of these are linked to poor regulation and incredible stupidity on the part of Economic pundits.  The Great Depression led to unemployment peaking in 1933 at an unprecedented and never repeated 25 %. The 2007 crisis, by contrast, led to unemployment peaking at just 9.8 % in 2010- i.e over half a percent less than it had been in 1983. Why was the early 80's recession worse for America (it took fifteen years for Unemployment to fall back to its 1973 level) than the recent one where Unemployment has quickly gone back to its 1999 level in half the time? The answer is that cost-push inflation mattered in the Eighties. Monetary policy proved an ineffective panacea because inflationary expectations weren't the only problem- distributional issues, different interest groups trying to increase their share of the pie, were highly salient. Since inflation favours borrowers over lenders, we would expect the rich, or those with more institutional power, to favour a credit rationing regime which permits them to have higher leverage. Once inflationary bias is removed, however, absent effective Regulation or Prudential screening, we expect the reverse. Instead of credit rationing, we expect Banks to over-lend so as to increase fee income. This, by itself, fuels a speculative bubble.
 In 1983, the top 5 percent exhibited a debt-to-income ratio of just over 80 percent and the bottom 95 percent a ratio of just over 60 percent. Twenty five years later, the situation is dramatically reversed, with a ratio of 60 percent for the top 5 percent and almost 150 percent for the bottom 95 percent. 
One big change between '83 and 2007 was that a global savings glut sought a home in the seeming inflation proof US dollar. Clearly, certain asset classes were over-valued. After the US Government took over the downside risk, even this constraint was removed. Thus household deleveraging- and the associated output contraction- could be reversed or otherwise compensated for. The American story is not now one about rich people trapping poor people into debt. It is about poor Chinese savers lending to rich Americans.

Kumhof & Ranciere's model is as follows-

 The key mechanism is that top earners, rather than using all of their increased income for higher consumption, use a large share of it to accumulate financial wealth in the form of loans to bottom earners.
Notice, if inflationary bias exists, that 'top earners' may end up earning a negative real return. Wealth distribution becomes more equal if they persist in such behaviour.
By accumulating financial wealth, top earners allow bottom earners to limit the drop in their consumption, but the resulting large increase of bottom earners’ debt-to-income ratio generates financial fragility that eventually makes a financial crisis much more likely.
Financial Wealth represents a Present Value on an income stream. If top earners lend money to bottom earners just for present consumption, then, unless bottom earners' real wages rises more rapidly than their debt service burden, the Net Present Value will be negative. Moreover, if real wages are rising, it is likely that Technology is improving. It would be better to invest in Technology than to engage in usury- more particularly to NINJA (no income, no job, no assets) creditors. If real wages are falling, then it is folly to lend to people who are barely solvent as it is.

No financial crash has ever occurred because rich people lent money to poor people. The Wall street Crash happened because of highly leveraged speculation by people who were rich or hoped to become so very soon. There was a stock market bubble which led brokers to jump off skyscrapers and the banks which had lent them money to become insolvent. There was no widespread default in either consumer or mortgage credit which triggered the Crash.

Similarly, in 2007-8, it was not the case that the poor defaulted on 'subprime' while the rich did not on 'prime' mortgages. On the contrary, prime mortgage default greatly exceeded subprime default. This was a speculative bubble- not a story about poor people borrowing to feed themselves and then having to go bankrupt because they couldn't meet the interest payments.

Though both share a background of incredibly stupid Punditry and poor Regulation, there are two big differences between the Great Depression and our own more recent Recession.

1) Our Monetary authorities coordinated efforts to bail out the Banks. Thus, there was no repeat of the disastrous collapse of credit and economic activity which marked the three years preceding F.D.R taking office. Fiscal policy, too, has been more elastic. There has been no great increase in tax and tariff rates. However, some small countries with fixed exchange rates or those lacking monetary sovereignty- like Greece- did experience simultaneous fiscal and monetary contraction. 

2)  F.D.R was able to turn the economy around within months of taking office by passing the Emergency Banking Act. Within a year, the Banking sector was restored to health with only about a 15 percent haircut for depositors. Similarly, in our own era, the US essentially nationalised the downside risk on mortgages and supplied enough liquidity through Quantitative Easing to permit deleveraging on a wide class of assets.
By contrast, F.D.R's Government was not Keynesian and resisted fiscal reflation. One reason for this was because the superior alternative appeared to be that of directly tackling structural inequality. However such initiatives proved to be contentious, difficult to administer and yielded little in the way of a 'multiplier' effect. Thus, the New Deal ran out of steam before politically or racially sensitive distributional questions gained salience.  In effect, some workers and enterprises gained at the expense of others through Cartelisation. Push-back from the Courts gave policy makers a good excuse to drag their feet on more substantive measures.

Very wealthy people in 1933, were prepared to, in the words of Joe Kennedy, 'sacrifice half their wealth, in order to keep the other half under the Rule of Law'. There was a genuine fear of Revolution in the air. Nothing similar happened after 2008. The very rich viewed the crisis as a shake out of wannabes. Many in the Media pushed a narrative about the crisis having been caused by Government action forcing 'sub prime' mortgages on an unwilling market. In other words, an attempt to improve the distribution of wealth had backfired causing financial chaos. Moreover, our recent Economic recovery- in the narrow sense of unemployment headcount- has been predicated on, if not a lower then a less secure, real wage whereas by the second half of the Thirties many workers in manufacturing were seeing an increase in real wages and living standards.

Bearing this in mind, let us return to Kumhof & Ranciere's thesis. What does it amount to? Essentially, it asserts that a bad loan made to a poor person will make you rich while a bad loan made to a rich man will make you poor.

This is nonsense. Stupidity and a piss-poor Regulatory Environment will lead to bad Loans. We all know that it doesn't matter whether those loans are made to poor people buying worthless properties out of desperation or to the inventors of perpetual motion machines or to a country which is about to lose a War or undergo a Communist Revolution. A bad loan is a bad loan is a bad loan.

Some rich people as well as some poor people borrow money imprudently to invest in a bubble. There are some lenders who turn up their noses at poor people who want to get in on a bull market. Those lenders will still go bankrupt if they lend to imprudent rich people who over-leverage to cash in on that same bull market.

Even if Banks started employing bouncers to chuck out poor people who approach them for a loan, still, those poor people's savings get pooled by Institutional investors and thus are at risk from a bubble. Moreover, even if all poor people are excluded from credit markets altogether, they would still be affected by the negative wealth effect on aggregate demand of a speculative bubble.

Kumhof & Ranciere believe that poor people are 'Loan Liars'. They think it rational to cheat their way to credit and then to 'rationally' default. 
The crisis is the result of an endogenous and rational default decision on the part of bottom earners, who trade off the benefits of relief from their growing debt load against output and utility costs associated with default. Lenders fully expect this behavior and price loans accordingly. The crisis is characterized by partial household debt defaults and an abrupt output contraction, a mechanism that is consistent with the results of Philippon and Midrigan (2011) and Gärtner (2013) for the Great Recession and the Great Depression, respectively. When a rational default occurs, it does provide relief to bottom earners. But because it is accompanied by a collapse in real activity that hits bottom earners especially hard, and because of higher post-crisis interest rates, the effect on their debt-to-income ratios is small, and debt quickly starts to increase again if income inequality remains unchanged.
So that's what happened in 2008. Lying cheating scumbags- the poor whom we shall always have with us- made a rational decision to default on loans and become homeless. This led to an economic contraction which affected the rest of us.

Damn those pesky poor people! They deliberately go to all the trouble and expense of acquiring a subprime property only to get thrown out onto the streets a couple of years later. Why? Poor people like being homeless. Sleeping rough is great. Why pay utility bills when you can sit under a street lamp for free?

Lenders weren't irresponsible at all in getting suckered by these pesky poor people. They fully expected poor people to default because ...urm... that's the assumption built into this model.

Kumhof & Ranciere updated their paper in 2015. They must have known that nothing of the sort they hypothesised actually took place. Poor people who bought property before 2002 did not default or sold up at a profit. Rich people who bought after 2006 did default. Timing was everything because only timing matters in a speculative bubble.

It is true, poorer people have higher default rates but overall, because they have poorer access to credit, they contribute proportionately less to delinquency.

In Kumhof & Ranciere's stylised world, poor people are gaming the system. There is a 'bargaining game' at the general equilibrium level. Why? It is because, in their world, there is no quantitative credit rationing. Lenders always correctly compute risk and borrowers accept these terms with the intention to strategically default. Since borrowers are poor and worse hit by an output contraction, a brake is put upon their sociopathic behaviour. Still inequality will tend to increase because poor people are lying little shits and thus bound to fuck up.

There can be a bargaining game between employees and employers- workers can go on strike for higher wages while employers can shut down operations and shift production overseas.

By contrast, there can't be a bargaining game between poor and rich in financial markets if lenders can always screen correctly for risk. Furthermore the market works to coordinate default on badly screened asset classes such that predatory lending carries higher risk. One caveat may be mentioned. , Where there is an uncertain inflationary bias such that credit rationing creates rents and has regressive distributional consequences, there could be a bargaining game. However, it is likely to feature a decrease in nominal wealth inequality because the rich will borrow from the poor at a negative interest rate.

 However, that is a special case with 'embedded' information asymmetry. In practice, no Brokerage can legally and systematically differentiate or price discriminate between funds whose beneficial owners are mainly poor and those whose owners are generally rich. No doubt, there is some risk of 'insider trading' or of excessive management fees. Regulators may stipulate that a rich guy suspected of this sort of conduct be confined to a 'Family office'- i.e. he can only manage his own money, not leverage his position by tapping the market. 

Suppose there is no inflation and a positive real interest rate. If poor people are stupid, they can be fooled into borrowing more and more money for current consumption. The moment they default on payments, the evil usurers swoop in and sell off their assets so as to recoup their loans. The poor are forced onto the streets where they eke out a miserable existence by giving blow jobs to rich bankers. That's the real story behind 'Occupy Wall Street'. Those weren't protesters at all. They were ordinary working class people whose homes had been repossessed and who needed to suck off a Banker or two just to be able to afford a crust of bread.
In our model, the financial sector intermediates funds between the increasingly richer top fraction of the population and the increasingly more indebted bottom fraction of the population. As the flow of funds between the two groups increases, so does the size of the financial sector as measured by total assets or total liabilities over GDP.
Since poor people, by definition, don't have infinite funds, they are going to default on their interest payments sooner or later- unless of course they aren't stupid and don't get into debt in the first place. If the economy features ubiquitous riskless assets with a real rate of return above the interest rate this process can run and run till all the stupid poor people have no assets and are sleeping in the streets and sullenly sucking off Bankers to avert starvation.
Why hasn't it happened?
The answer is that riskless assets with a positive rate of return don't exist in an ubiquitous or un-problematic way. Models may pretend otherwise but they are bankrupt and probably sleeping on the streets sucking off Bankers to avert starvation.

Why are Kumhof & Ranciere pretending that capitalists have super powers while the poor are as stupid as shit?
 Michael Hudson- the son of a Trotsykite Labour leader unjustly jailed for 'trying to overthrow the Government' and a famous Cassandra of the Housing bubble- offers us this definition- Junk Economics: A public relations exercise promoted by vested interests to depict their behaviour in a positive light instead of as exploitative zero-sum rent-seeking. Junk economics is a kind of “as if” science fiction with assumptions appropriate to a utopian parallel universe in which rentiers are the heroes. Much as a good novel or play must have characters that act consistently, the criterion of this economic pseudo-science is merely the internal consistency of its assumptions, not worldly realism. Many of the most applauded economists reason logically by a priori axioms about a world that might hypothetically exist.'

No doubt, Hudson was taking aim at Right Wing Economists. Yet his stricture applies equally well in this context. Rentiers don't have super-powers. If they do, it is pointless to resist them.

Suppose there was some mechanism such that a bargaining problem between workers and capitalists could worsen the position of the former through debt. Then a scenario like the following would be feasible-
The real wage over the initial decade collapses by close to 6%, while the return to capital increases by over 2 percentage points. Workers’ consumption however declines by only around two thirds of the decline in wage income, as workers borrow the shortfall from investors, who have surplus funds to invest following their increase in bargaining power. Over the 30 years prior to the outbreak of the crisis, loans more than double to bring workers’ leverage, or debt-to-income ratio, from 64% to around 140%, with the crisis probability in year 30 exceeding 3%. The loan interest rate for most of this initial period is up to 2 percentage points above its initial value, as lenders arbitrage the return to lending with the now higher return to capital investment.

Suppose you are a Capitalist and find the above model convincing. You should go in for Capital widening- i.e. increase production keeping the Capital to Labour output constant. There's no need for Capital deepening or automation or offshoring. So long as you are rich, you'll just keep getting richer by investing in employment generation. As a matter of principle, you may insist that workers sleep on the streets and suck off a Banker or two before showing up at work. That is a matter of personal taste.

Why have real wages increased not fallen since 2010?

The answer, of course, is that Inequality increased between '79 and 2007 to such an extent that the poor were too poor to make the rich richer by getting any poorer.  

What policy conclusion are the author's pushing?

restoration of poor and middle income households’ bargaining power can be very effective, leading to the prospect of a sustained reduction in leverage that should reduce the probability of a further crisis. 

But bargaining power has been declining since 1979 if not earlier! Should the Government 'restore bargaining power' by increasing property rights in jobs and passing pro Union legislation? Some workers may support this notion. However, they would do so irrespective of its impact on household debt because what they really value is higher income. If Debt is an issue, the favour statutory write-offs- a 'debt Jubilee'.
A guy who is told he has cancer is worried by a lot of things- not just being forced to borrow. Nobody says, 'I don't want to get cancer because I'm afraid of getting into debt'. They say 'I don't want to get cancer because I'm afraid of dying a painful death.'

More voters are now net lenders and non workers than ever before. It seems unlikely that democratically elected Governments will choose to boost the 'bargaining power' of a minority of voters.

'Bargaining power' is a red herring.  We can't assert much control over it without letting a lot of other genies out of the bottle. Reforming the tax code by looking again at interest deductions and bogus depreciation schedules, on the other hand, is perfectly sensible. However, we should be doing this sort of reform even if Inequality is falling because it is good in itself.

Kumhof & Ranciere's paper features a wholly unrealistic model and makes a politically infeasible policy prescription. Clearly it is not 'economic' in any sense of the word; rather it is a virtue signalling type of advocacy. Junk Social Science of this sort is counterproductive.  It raises up a bogeyman- 'Inequality' in this case- without providing any corresponding remedy or rite of exorcism. No doubt, this contributes to its own success as part of an availability cascade but it is still a waste of resources.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Trust Kamakshi's eyes

The Professor is droning on about Popperian methods in Poverty Studies
I am sitting in the gods exchanging sly punches with my buddies
Must you look our way? Turn calamitous this day?
Trust Kamakshi's eyes to pauperise her own jeunesse dorée!

Monday, 10 July 2017

More Sex is not safer Sex unless it entails autocephalous self-sodomy

Some twenty years ago Prof. Michael Kremer wrote this paper which helped make 'Freakanomics' sexy. I don't mean Kremer lubed up Arrow or instructed Debreu in the technique of the reach-around but rather that his paper contributed to the notion that Economics Professors have counter intuitive insights which could improve policy making.

The opportunity cost of Abstinence is having sex- a very big deal indeed. The opportunity cost of using a condom is much smaller. As a matter of fact, men rapidly get used to it and the truth is it diminishes the extent and stickiness of the dreaded wet spot. It makes sense to target Persuasive Messages at behaviour which has a low opportunity cost. One sacrifices little- rather, one gains, by avoiding unwanted pregnancies- by using a condom. By contrast, adopting abstinence has a high opportunity cost. Much more than the pleasure of sex is wholly foregone.

Politicians, however, might want Public Health Messages to stress abstinence because they have a particular religious or social agenda to advance which is itself predicated on the irremediable stupidity or sinful nature of the public. They may want to cut public provision of health care for sexually transmitted diseases which are believed to have higher incidence amongst despised minorities. Thus, it may be futile to point out to them that condoms actually reduce the spread of STDs while worthless bromides about abstinence are a stupid waste of resources. Still, in that case, one should hold up such politicians to ridicule and contempt- not suggest that they have made a pardonable error by reason of lack of expertise in economic theory or econometric practice.

What is utterly stupid is to engage in 'preliminary calculations using standard epidemiological models and survey data' to conclude that people do not chop off their own heads and shove them up their own arses in order to talk worthless Junk Social Science shite. Why? Because never in the history of humankind has anyone ever chopped off their own head and shoved it up their arse.

Similarly, never in the history of human sexual relations has acceptance of Abstinence as a superior action-guiding ethical theory altered STD risk for those engaged in sexual intercourse. By contrast, fear of disease or pregnancy, can reduce STD risk even after intercourse commences.

It is not merely the promotion of Abstinence which does not change risk for those engaged in sexual intercourse. The formulation of a Junk Social Choice argument while in the throes of passion is equally useless.

It may be that there is some rare combination of circumstances such that it is feasible to chop off one's head and shove it up one's own arse. Similarly, it may be possible to invent a scenario where public health messages regarding abstinence reduce STD risk during intercourse. However, it is sheer stupidity and careerist Junk Social Science to take the proposition seriously and write a fucking paper about it.

Why does Junk Social Science happen?
The answer is that Economics, as a profession, is not solely concerned with asserting that one can cut one's head off and shove it up one's arse- because, under the standard assumption of perfect information (by which the Second Law of Thermodynamics is annulled) a Heath Robinson contraption can be easily conceived to make this feasible- but, rather, that once one's head is lodged firmly in one's rectum, it will pronounce the most mischievous possible policy prescription with added oracular force.

Consider the following-

This is sheer stupidity.
People who can reduce their rate of partner change can also develop costly signals and screen for risk- in other words the matching mechanism changes. Thus the population is segmented. The equation given here has no value.

The equation assumes that libido is a fixed endowment and that all matches have an identical mechanism. This is scarcely realistic. The promiscuous won't stop banging each other at every opportunity just because they are also banging faithful partners.

I suppose, it could be argued that if some non promiscuous people gratuitously make their genitals available for what is essentially a masturbatory purpose, then there may be some set of miserly and undiscriminating agent who don't get an STD. The problem is that this can't be described as an 'externality'. It is a sacrifice- a very sad one.

Turning to a more cheerful prospect, consider the epidemic of Economists cutting off their own heads and shoving them up their own arses so as to publish Junk Social Science papers.  Suppose the rate of growth of this epidemic is determined by the mean and variance of the number of co-authors per published paper and is correctly specified by the equation given above.

If a certain proportion of less shite Economists decide to reduce the number of co-authors on their papers, or even stop publishing papers altogether, then it must be the case that the rate of growth of the Epidemic will increase. Thus, we can predict that, provided at least one Economist cuts off his head and shoves it up his arse, then more and more will do so. More remarkably yet, less shite Economists who reduce their number of  co-authors will cause a 'negative externality' such that the steady state prevalence of Economists cutting off their own heads and lodging them securely in their rectal cavities, will increase.

As a matter of fact, academic Economics already recognises that its own theorems can represent   a negative externality giving rise to an epidemic of Junk Social Choice which is morally equivalent to Economists chopping off their own heads and shoving them up their poopers.

Thus, contra Landsburg, Economists are not obliged to believe that 'more sex is safer sex' unless, of course, they also collectively commit to an endemic steady state such that a significant proportion of their number suffer autocephalous self-sodomy the moment the thing becomes feasible.