Monday 29 November 2010

Ta ta to Tata's clean image.

The question that always puzzled me was why Indians maintained that the Tatas were above corruption. This begged the question of how anyone could operate in India- let alone on the mammoth scale of the Conglomerate- and remain clean. Indeed, if they weren't paying bribes it would be evidence that they possessed an insider advantage denied their competitors, not to speak of the aam aadmi who had to pay bribes for every little thing.
 In other words not paying bribes, in a corrupt country, is only evidence of saintliness if your are actually starving- clearly not the case with the Tatas.
Ratan Tata told a story of how he missed out on launching an internal airline, in a tie-up with Singapore Airlines, back in the 90's because he wouldn't pay a 15 crore bribe. But, on examination, what he actually said was that a fellow industrialist told him 15 crore was the price and Tata mumbled something in reply about wanting to sleep at night with a good conscience. No Minister had actually dared ask for money from Tata.

Interestingly, it was through the Singapore Airline thing that Tata met Nira Radia. whom he helped get to the position that she is in today. Radia was close to the BJP Civil Aviation Minister, Ananth Kumar, and- though her father had converted to Islam- also had ties to a Hindu godman. Perhaps, Ratan Tata thought of her (she speaks to him in a girlish English Public School accent) as an acceptable liaison with the Hindutva regime that appeared to be going from strength to strength.
Even if Tata never used Radia to influence policy- the fact remains that her stratospheric corporate rise owed much to her connection with Tata.
What Tata seems to be saying is 'We're Tatas. We're entitled. We don't have to pay bribes like other Johnny-come-latelies. We wouldn't even know how to go about doing it. That's why we hired Nira Radia. She keeps track of that sort of thing for us. From time to time, I go on TV or whatever to say 'We're Tatas we don't pay bribes because India owes us. We're entitled. Just hand over the resources in question and shut the fuck up.'
Shut the fuck up or else what? Might the Tatas say ta ta to India? Fat chance! India has to pay for their follies overseas- like their Jaguar Land Rover acquisition.
So it's ta ta to Tata's clean image- and a good thing to. Ratan Tata's successor will be able to get down and dirty, same as the other robber barons, and perhaps then there would be less need not just for the Nira Radias of this world but also this pretense of journalistic integrity and N.G.O probity and P.I.L purity that has so poisoned public discourse.
On a more positive note- one of Nira's sons appears to have been kidnapped by her business partner back in 2001 and held for ransom. The plucky lad got free and escaped to tell the tale. Strangely, the kidnapper- despite being the grandson of a C.M- even saw a little jail time. What I thought funny was that the business partner had lured Nira's son on the pretext of showing him a revolutionary new phone tapping device- the family's fated nemesis it appears- except of course the lad got free as, no doubt, will Nira Radia.

As for the Tatas- the truth is, their 'clean image' knocked points off their share rating- so what Ratanbhai has been doing is signaling that he has a jajmani hold- a high caste prerogative- over the Night Soil carriers of Indian political life. So he is 'touchable'- because the media bhangis are in his debt, and can be hung out to dry at his say so- and therefore his brand should continue to command a premium. After all the dastoors from whom he is descended count as equal to Brahmins.
Unlike the Hindu Brahmins, the Iranian Magi refused to permit middle castes to learn to read and write. There is a story of a great merchant who offered the Shah the gold he needed to defeat the foreign invader in return for permission for his sons to learn Pahlavi. The offer was turned down. In India, there was never a monopoly on literacy. To begin, most Pandeys and Pujaris were illiterate- they had a monopoly of chanting some stuff- not on the language or on scription.
The Tata's relationship with the Media is now under the microscope. What really stands out is the staggering sense of entitlement and hereditary privilege the Tatas glory in. Suddenly Rahul Baba looks pretty small potatoes. Mayatwatiji is quite wrong to say Rahul takes bath after visiting Dalit home. Rahul is a political bhangi. People of Mayawati's caste take bath after meeting bhangis of his sort.
I, of course, am not a bhangi. I never clean my toilet or wipe my own arse- to leave a protruding turd is all the rage in literary circles here in London- and it is to appeal to High Caste Hindutva sentiments that I pen these lines.

The fact is- Rahul's paternal grandfather's father was probably a Hindu and in any case his paternal grandmother's family weren't quite quite- if you know what I mean.
So, it's perfectly all right if the Tatas use him as a bhangi. In any case there is a convenient Dalit- a man of the highest education, intelligence, loyalty and personal integrity- one moreover a dark-skinned 'Madrasi' like myself- to take the fall.
It's all Varnashrama Dharma don't you know.
Nobody can escape the consequences of their lowly birth.
Equally, Tatas- merely by birth- escape all contagion of dirty corruption.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Homework assignment in Indglish Ars dictaminis- the case of the buggered goat

In 1922, a trooper of the Bengal lancers sodomized a goat in Waziristan.  To avoid a vendetta, the Colonel of the regiment authorized a sizable cash payment to the clan whose pet had suffered the indignity and then indented for reimbursement from the Dept. of Military Accounts in Calcutta under the rubric of 'livestock- sundries'.

Clearly this was very wrong of him. It was more a case of 'livestock- sundaris" as Assistant Head Clerk Harish Babu joked. 'Do not joke,'  Head Clerk Mukherjee admonished him, 'the goat was of masculine gender- not a beautiful sundari as you maintain- in any case the point at issue here is just a goat- at most it can be treated as sheep and reimbursed at that rate- however, what is happening here is that the sum demanded is more than that for a camel! There is an important precedent involved.'
'But what can we do?" Harish Babu asked, 'Colonel Sahib has already spent the money. God knows, those Afridis on the Frontier are quick to anger.  It's a cheap price to pay for peace. The Director is sure to pass the file if we attach a note.'

'Oho? We are just to pass all the indents of these military Johnnies are we?' Mukherjee was a slight man, but he had fighting spirit, 'We are simply eunuchs sitting here, are we? Tell you what, call Niradh Babu- M.A (fail) Calcutta University- he will know how to deal with the Colonel."

Director of Military Accounts, Cedric Cubbon ordered a pink gin but the bearer continued to hover at his elbow. 'Pink Gin- fut a fut!' Cedric said starting to get annoyed. 'Huzoor, I iz bringing just now only- but, one thing to present for attention?'
'Sahib, one Colonel Sahib is here. Drinking all day. Shouting your name. Saying 'buggered goat, buggered goat, I'll give that damn competition wallah buggered goat!' Sahib, better you should know.'

Cedric stiffened. He was a small man and wore thick glasses. He'd gotten into Military Accounts after failing to make the cut for H.M Customs & Excise. He had spent ten years in Aden- a punishment posting- before finally getting this promotion. Though he looked unimpressive, he was a brave man. Had it not been for a large family back home in Liverpool, who depended on his remittances, he'd have volunteered for the Irish Guard in 1914.

Still, it wouldn't do to confront the drunken Colonel right now. Cedric returned to his office, called for the relevant file and prepared to send a note over to the Colonel- perhaps with an invitation to luncheon at Flury's, or something of that sort.

But, any notion of offering hospitality to the Colonel was swiftly banished from his mind once he started reading the file.

The new Babu on his staff- what was his name?- Aradh? Niradh?- weedy little chap- had written a very cogent memo. The rules, for Military Accounts, governing compensation for sodomized animals were pretty clear. Precedents stretched back to Agincourt.
As Niradh pointed out- buggered goats are classed as 'deodand' everywhere east of Adelaide-  they are considered as having caused death or mortal sin and thus are confiscated to the Crown. No question of compensation arises.

The Colonel's response, if one filtered out the flippancy and ill tempered sarcasm, amounted to the bald unsubstantiated assertion that the goat had wandered over the Durand line and thus the law of deodand did not not apply to it because, in Islamic Emirates, a buggered animal might be eaten by anyone other than its violator.

There were two grave objections to the Colonel's memorandum. First, it amounted to a topographically conservative interpretation of the Durand line which undermined Imperial security. Secondly, it conceded the very point it sought to dispute- viz. that compensation could only be paid on the per pound weight mutton scale- not the much larger sum actually indented for.

Your homework assignment for today is
1) Write a note from Niradh Babu, observing all the conventions of Indglish ars dictaminis, addressed to the goat (assume it is a British subject for the purposes of this exercise).
2) Write an open letter from the goat (in the style of Zaid Hamid) to Niradh Chaudhri for publication in the Dawn newspaper.

For higher marks you may also
3) Write a poem, in the style of J.H. Prynne, capturing Cedric Cubbon's stream of consciousness as he resolves to fight the Colonel himself rather than permit him to sodomize the equestrian statute of Sir Mark Cubbon as an act of vengeance upon his namesake.
For lower marks
4) rewrite 'the Critique of Post-Colonial reason' using only such vocables as might issue from the throat of a buggered goat.


Thursday 25 November 2010

Our Thanksgiving's Turkey and Naipaul's pull-out.

I have long accepted the inevitability of the American festival of Thanksgiving spreading to these shores like 'trick or treating' on Halloween or sodomizing postmen on Boxing day.
This article here suggests a that a world=historical event has occurred which is truly worthy of commemoration as part of a new pan European Thanksgiving festival which Brussels can standardize and enforce.
The important point to focus on, in this context, is not the Gauginesque mental image of an engorged and purple Naipaul asthamatically pulling out of the Ingresian iridescence of a feathered and odalisque Turkey- but that this is the only truly incontrovertible moral argument for the expansion of the European Community into Asia Minor.

Personally, I blame David Cameron. That boy aint right.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Hitler's sole poem- an Indglish translation

'In July 1917 we set foot for the second time on what we regarded as
sacred soil. Were not our best comrades at rest here?- some of them
little more than boys--the soldiers who had rushed into death for their
country's sake, their eyes glowing with enthusiastic love.'

Wagner's Valkyrie wing brushes
The country-boy who rushes
 Jewmerica's machine gun nest
For his Courage, Love fuels
His eyes blaze like jewels
A German heart to attest

Tho' his death throes are cruel
Eyes scorched by eyes' jewel
A weeping Valkyrie flies alone
Let his Mutti take him home.

Hitler and Hindutva

The word Hitler sounds like the Hindustani 'hutti' (obstinate). In ordinary parlance to say so and so is a Hitler means that person is strict and unyielding on questions of principle. Many years ago, I was translating a Jain book and was astonished to find a Sadhavi (nun) described as a Hitler. She was nothing of the sort, as I can personally testify. She radiated gentleness and, in addition to all her other tasks and duties, was a fine artist. Yet the scholarly young Nun to whom I explained my objection to letting the epithet stand in the English translation was reluctant to sanction the change I requested. I tried to explain that the name Hitler, in the English language, is synonymous with Evil incarnate. My appeal fell on deaf ears. No doubt, Hitler had done bad things but that was just politics. After all, Ashoka paid a bounty of a gold coin for the head of every Jain monk- thousands were slaughtered- until, one day, the head of a Buddhist monk, whom he personally reverenced, was brought to him. At that point Ashoka called off the massacre.
The important point was that he was an Emperor and, for some inscrutable reason, the Govt. of India had selected him as one of the Great and the Good.
Incidentally, what had kindled his ire against the Jains was the report that some members of their creed described Lord Buddha as belonging to their own Nigrantha tradition- scarcely a sufficient provocation for Ashoka's pogrom- but, well, that's politics.
I should mention, the Sadhavi in question was not alone in thinking 'Hitler' a term of praise. President Zail Singh astonished the world when he said something of that sort. Since Mrs. Gandhi was routinely described as a Hitler in the '70's her supporters naturally thought Hitler was worthy of praise. In any case, during the Second World War, Zail Singh was being tortured in the dungeons of the Maharaja of Patiala because of his stalwart role in the Freedom Struggle. As Niradh Choudhri points out, at that time, almost all the Nationalists wanted Hitler to win the War.  Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, though a Socialist at heart, did not scruple to travel to Germany to solicit help from the Fuehrer himself.
Nehru and Indira, however, were never seduced by Hitler's personality cult. Indira expressed her horror and revulsion at the events of the Kristallnacht (attacks on Jewish temples and places of business triggered by the assassination of a Nazi in Paris). Both adopted a double standard towards Stalin and the Soviet Union but that fitted well enough with India's geopolitical needs and, in any case, the West was at that time still deeply Racist. America was merciless towards its own 'colored' population and perfectly happy to Nuke gooks in far away places if they failed to bend the knee to what Wall Street thought best.

The question now arises as to whether the Hindutva parties gain a competitive advantage by appropriating the 'Hitler' epithet? While Mrs. Gandhi's legend still lived in the minds of the voters, this was simply a non starter. Now things have changed.Sonia and Rahul emphasize their empathy for the poor and steer clear of anything that smacks of 'India Shining'.
Perhaps, at present, Narendra Modi can get away with laying claim to that mantle- but only because he was successful in ending the cycle of riots that began in 1969. But, it increasingly appears, his charisma is not exportable to the Hindi belt. This is a good thing as Gujerat might easily slip back to its bad old ways without him.

More generally, the question arises- could Hindutva bring forth a Hitler? But who was Hitler? An Austrian. The Hapsburg's had only allied with the Germans because it kept their own fractious German minority on side while the dynasty explored ways of conciliating other nationalities. This, at any rate, was Hitler's view. He himself, like the Hapsburgs, involved Germany in a second and more ruinous war simply so as to shore up the position of Germans like himself who resented the rise of other nationalities in territories on its borders.

Perhaps, with demographic changes in the East, a new type of Hindutva might arise amongst Hindus expelled from their homes which, however, lie within India's borders. From amongst them a Hitler might emerge who, being excluded from local and State level Politics, has no option but to spearhead a Pan-National movement.
It seems inevitable that India will face its own financial melt-down a few years down the line and, coupled with loss of territory in the North after a humiliating military defeat arising out of corruption and a collapse in morale amongst the armed forces, perhaps then and not sooner we might expect to see a Hindutva Hitler.

The provision of Gas chambers and so on, however, in view of fiscal constraints, will continue to be the responsibility of the Private Sector and though Union Carbide can no longer be inveigled into a second Bhopal, globalized Private Equity will certainly step forward to supply the deficiency, always provided of course that the present Administration honors its commitment to cap liability at acceptable levels.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Evelyn Waugh and Naipaul's final scoop.

William Boyd has an excellent article on Naipaul's latest here.
Boyd draws a parallel between Waugh and Naipaul which admirers of the former might find puzzling. Waugh was funny, he wrote like an angel, his irony so perfect it verges on theodicy.
Naipaul's books simply aren't in the same category. I suppose the argument could be made that Naipaul- considered as a colored man, paid for jeering at colored people- can without impropriety be called a colored Waugh on the principle that you can call a nig-nog anything.
But this is an argument that tends not to be made in my presence- the fact is, though my cheeks display tints of peaches and cream, this is only because I'm a messy eater. Long years in London have not altered my complexion. Furthermore, just to be clear, I'm not setting myself up to be Naipaul's successor and so, absent a sufficient monetary inducement, I can't put forward this argument myself  because, it seems to me, Waugh saw himself as part of one great indivisible Civilizing force at the center of things.
There can't be a colored Waugh any more than there can be a Black Catholicism as opposed to a White Catholicism. 
Yet, to my mind, there is a connection- less a case of artistic genealogy than its proctologically inartistic inverse- between Waugh and Naipaul. What that is, I will reveal at the end of this blog post.

First, let me come clean and admit that the only reason I consider Naipaul to be important is because I am a Hindu. Why does Naipaul's religion- unlike Ved Mehta's or Niradh Chaudhri's- matter to me?
Well, Naipaul came to writing- it seems to me- out of a sense of filial piety. His father, Shivprasad, had gained a little education and his writing talent had gotten him a job as a reporter. Hoping to benefit people of his own background- i.e. Hindu agriculturists in the backwaters- Shivprasad allied himself with Indian Reformist movements so as to combat social evils amongst his erstwhile peers and hoping to put them on the same path to progress as the brown converts to Presbyterianism and the urban Afro-Caribbeans.
Perhaps the young man adopted too shrill a tone, or perhaps people felt he was getting too big for his boots- the upshot was that his life was threatened. He had to make an ignominious recantation- my memory is a goat was sacrificed to Kali or something of that sort- and suffered a nervous breakdown in consequence- one morning he looked in the mirror and could no longer see his own face.
I mention this because it was under somewhat similar circumstances that my grand-father (who was fond of quoting the patriotic writings of Swami Vivekananda in a hilarious Bengali accent) was forced to sodomize the equestrian statute of Sir Mark Cubbon as part of a Hindu College hazing ritual- one which, like the practice of Suttee amongst Supremos of the Congress party, the benighted partisans of 'Hindutva' and the so called 'Sangh Parivar' secretly encourage  to this day- a fact seldom mentioned by the supposedly 'Liberal' media.
Like Naipaul, I too have written books about India. Indeed, my last novel 'Samlee's daughter' stands shoulder to shoulder with Naipaul's books on the vexed question of the proper attitude to the fair sex- we both agree that Hindus must abandon chivalry for artillery- though I must admit I haven't yet worked myself up to actually dealing out blows to the little dears, considering it prudent to confine myself to chucking my teddy bear in their general direction before bursting into hysterical tears..
Like Naipaul, I too revere Mahatma Gandhi- a strenuous wife-beater of the best type-  and identify with him- though my literary output is less voluminous- precisely because he too returned to India with fresh eyes and could see things which had become invisible to the natives. Simple things. Don't shit all over the place. Carry a spade with you and cover up your feces. As for this business of swinging from tree to tree eating bananas and hanging by your tails- that's got to stop. Granted the tourists like it- but I'm more than just a tourist- my ancestors came from India- so just fucking stop your monkey tricks already. You guys are making me look bad.

Returning to Shivprasad, it is comforting to think of him- like Mr.Biswas, in Naipaul's best novel-  finding consolation in Marcus Aurelius and Samuel Simles. The rigor and majesty of the Latin Stoic- albeit in translation- and the homely message of the Victorian writer, may have given this very talented young man the courage to persevere rather than simply drown himself in rum or slink off to Venezuela.
Shivprasad's own English style was lively and adventurous and suffused with excellent observational humor and shrewd journalistic touches. But it wasn't the chastened prose of a University Graduate. It is tempting to envision Shivprasad, with Roman piety, passing on the torch to the young Naipaul- the torch in question being the notion that writing should serve a social purpose while simultaneously acting as a Stoic askesis, a spiritual and character building praxis, such that the writer doesn't end up simply battering his brains out against Civic walls but, Antaeus like, gains a renewed strength by judiciously alternating the target of his head-butts with the rocky breast of mother earth or some other such abstraction.
This, it seems to me, is not an ignoble project. It has special relevance to the middle aged blogger or small time columnist of low intelligence and narrow interests, who needs to beat his or her toy drum from time to time simply to find an outlet for the sort of nursery scoldings which, before the kids flew the coop, appeased one's paternal or maternal instincts.
After all, one could do worse- join some bunch of hate-mongering hooligans or write poetry or something.

Naipaul won a scholarship to Oxford at a very young age. He did not lack in filial piety. He wasn't a shy and withdrawn fellow but a witty and enterprising young man. His success seemed assured.
Naipaul's sister got a scholarship to Benares Hindu University. If the 'backwardness' of the Trinidad Hindoo was because they had been cut off from contact with the mother continent, then Naipaul's sister had that base covered.
Except of course, as that enterprising young woman swiftly realized, Benares had nothing to teach and everything to learn- except, that is, for intelligent people who might bother with Sanskrit and Prakrit and difficult stuff like that.

But Oxford too posed a problem. It seemed, the 'mother country-' whether India or England- could not provide what the Naipauls needed to keep their father's torch gloriously ablaze.
Why? Well, the truth was there nothing greatly the matter with the Hindu cane-cutters of Trinidad. They did well by themselves, just as the Naipauls did well by themselves. No great 'social reform' was necessary. So what if some village lads got into a lathi fight once in a while? But, they are going to Muslim Pir's shrine for blessing on lathi! Is that not a betrayal of Religion? No. It's nonsense is what it is.

The Trinidad Hindus evolved a good communal religious life which Indian scholars have since commended and commented upon. They did well economically and educationally. If some Hindu guy wants to get drunk and chase tail- that's his choice, he is not 'bringing shame on his community'. If some other guy goes to Harvard and becomes a Brain Surgeon- good for him, it doesn't mean he is some sort of magical oracle or exemplar whom we must revere and follow unquestioningly.

The Naipaul's tragedy arises from a deeply materialistic and spiritually stagnant Society's indifference to the notion that literature can fulfill a great social purpose by telling people to like pick up your litter already and don't roll your eyes when I'm talking to you and for fuck's sake do you have to be so dark? Have you tried bleach?  Fucking proles! They want to take my tax dollars to educate you thickies? This is Political Correctness gone mad! Rivers of blood, I say, rivers of blood will flow especially now that French Cambodian lady-boy David Cameron's got into Number 10.

V.S Naipaul did not do particularly well at Uni. One can scarcely blame him. Academic subjects like English or History or drunkenly getting gay with each other were no longer what they had been at the beginning of the 20's when Waugh went up. Indeed, the Second World War had changed the nature and function of literature, of literary culture, in a drastic fashion. Individuals no longer mattered. People might be permitted to hold opinions, even express them in some socially sanctioned way, but Truth was something churned out by giant machines in which the salaried, State-trained, intellectual was an interchangeable cog. History no longer had a human scale. Well, perhaps with the aid of Gandalf the Grey, the hobbits of the shire could prevail over the blazing eye of Sauron, but as Naipaul, Tolkein's student, would surely have known, the Elvish rune for the Silmarillionic tuirgen was also (as Keshave Chandra Das Gupta has hinted in his magisterial study of Orcish) a homophone for the watery sigil of the voiceless Loerelei whose sodomizing of pygmies to gain supernatural powers (prompting, perhaps, Naipaul's remark that he found pygmies scarcely human) is the key to Pres. Obama's current Afpak strategy  (vide Gayatri Spivak Chakravorty's  Prolegomenon to all future Post Colonial Studies) .

Naipaul faced with the equally arid alternatives of mindless philology or I.A Richards being anally raped by analytical philosophy had nothing to learn at University and, with commendable industry, he applied himself to the task of learning nothing, observing nothing- a habit which has served him well throughout his long and illustrious literary prostitution.
Not that he couldn't write elegantly or do a bit of actual research- 'the loss of El Dorado' aint utter crap- it's just History wasn't a mirror in which he could see his own face and so it had to go. So too did Economics and Politics and Science and... everything that has made the last fifty years such an exciting time to be alive.

Waugh, on the other hand, had a great sense for history, an instinctive understanding of economics- like others of his generation, he was confronted with the failure of Political Liberalism at a time when ideological positions were still very much in flux, dialogue- 'chatter' if you like- was as natural as getting drunk in the nearest dive; the febrile wit, the world weariness, the senile, sententious, Edwardian Socialism of Saki's salons had given place to something new. A great climacteric had been passed. Pieces could be picked up, but more than pieces there were new things, new ideas, new methods of analysis, a new understanding of the human mind born out of the terrible attrition of trench warfare, a new world view was there for whosoever cared to solder it together . Ideas mattered, literary excellence mattered- personality was a cult for the dandy not the dictator- much was recoverable, more was possible- with the innocence of children, Waugh's generation entered a Brave New World.
Not so, Naipaul's cohort entering Oxford under the chilling conditions of Post War Austerity- this would be a year or two after Orwell's 1984 came out- Britain had never had it so bad. Popular novelists of the period speak of amalgamation into the U.S.A or mass emigration to Australia as the only solution to Britain's seemingly insurmountable problems. Naipaul himself later applied for a job with the Indian High Commission!
People like Waugh might still provide literary banquets- and authors a few years his elder still engaged with ideas- but the new market was for processed food- T.V dinners for the suburbs and corned beef for the inner cities. Few, even in the 1970's, could have predicted Britain's phoenix like resurrection as a gastronomic super-power. Modesty forbids mention of my own achievements in this field- though I did once prepare a simple poached egg dish following a French recipe I found on the Internet- and I have it on good authority that my Salmonella is to die for.
Virtually nobody back in the 50's, except perhaps some mathematical economists or displaced Austrians, give us any inkling in their work of the importance our generation would later attach to  things like property rights, mechanism design, markets, diversity as a driver of trade and development and so on all of which revive the role of the individual in his freely contracted social arrangements, the better understanding of which makes the novel, literary fiction, once again central to Civil Society and the Liberal Political Project.
Waugh understood these things. But, over the course of his life- his arduous treks in the wilderness seeking his own soul- he saw and learned something more. Civilization is all center and no periphery.
So is God.
Naipaul isn't God but he has made himself the center of the World he writes about. The Scandinavians- invoking, with Viking wit, its  'suppressed histories'- have given him a Prize for it. But what is that world? It is a world of darkness briefly illumined by his father's stories-
But the habits of mind engendered by this shut-in and shutting-out life lingered for quite a while. If it were not for the short stories my father wrote I would have known almost nothing about the general life of our Indian community. Those stories gave me more than knowledge. They gave me a kind of solidity. They gave me something to stand on in the world. I cannot imagine what my mental picture would have been without those stories.
This, then is the key to Naipaul's dessicating art- his mummifying religion- his vast African spiritual safari which- like Proust's pilgrimage to Ruskin's Venice- occurred not in the sort of time counted off by the clock-face but that other type of time, Bergsonian duration, the Time which really counts- except it doesn't at all, Bergson was fucked in the head; what he says of Time can be said of anything- the door is opened to a Panalethism of a particularly silly sort- Iqbal's version of Islam, Naipaul's notion of everything including Islam- and the ungainsayable historical fact that the former cashed out as the latter.
Naipaul ends his Nobel lecture thus-
I will end as I began, with one of the marvellous little essays of Proust in Against Sainte-Beuve. "The beautiful things we shall write if we have talent," Proust says, "are inside us, indistinct, like the memory of a melody which delights us though we are unable to recapture its outline. Those who are obsessed by this blurred memory of truths they have never known are the men who are gifted... Talent is like a sort of memory which will enable them finally to bring this indistinct music closer to them, to hear it clearly, to note it down ..."
Talent, Proust says. I would say luck, and much labour.

So it seems, Waugh's nightmare vision of a man being forced to read Dickens to his illiterate jailer in the middle of the rain forest was no mere nightmare after all- it was a prophesy concerning the art-form he had advanced. Substitute Naipaul for Dickens and you begin to see how that might work.
Perhaps, as Borges was fond of saying, all books are by the same author. Or rather- what Dickens and his ilk started, Naipaul and his ilk finished. Read Dickens as if Naipaul were writing him.Read Dickens aloud as if Naipaul were writing him and Waugh is standing there listening dumb-struck and appalled, having just stepped into this clearing in the jungle.
Except there is no jungle. Waugh already knew that Naipaul would write Dickens. After all, Waugh had a dad who worked for Chapman &  Hall who published Dickens. And Naipaul had a dad who once tried to help his community by publishing some stories and articles. It's not Jungles or Geographies that matters. This kind of winding down is built into literature's 'duration'.

Suddenly becoming a Hare Krishna, or a Wicca Wizard or Sarah Palin or whatever don't look so bad. Except, of course, it's the same mumbo-jumbo as Literature. And African spirituality, African poetry, African Music- all of which wove together everything which makes social life meaningful and worthwhile- are now sufficiently invoked, sufficiently explored, by a sneering reference to muti magic- for to such muti magic must all Literature, all High Finance, inevitably devolve.

Only thus, and not otherwise, now Patrick French has done for Naipaul what he so signally failed to do for himself, can, at age of 78, Naipaul- not a good man, but our man, in Africa- finally telegraph us his scoop.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Ther real cause of the present financial crisis- an Indglish novel

The real cause of the present financial crisis looked up at the bronze sky. The monsoon was late. She went up the rickety stairs to the barsati to dry her hair.
Three storey's below, she could hear Chachee saying to Nani, as they shelled peas together-  'the girl should be married by now. What for all this Creative Writing Programs in U.S and other Godless places?"
Nani said nothing. She had been struck dumb ever since she witnessed the terrible scenes of carnage during the Godhra riots.
Suddenly there was a cry of alarm from one of the neighboring houses.  Chachee got to her feet. "What has happened? Who is there?"
The lugubrious  voice of Kista, the untouchable Merchant Banker, answered. "Arre, see what is happening on your own roof! A girl is being forced to commit suttee by evil Brahmins in cohoots with Narendra Modi!!"
'Nonsense,' Chachee shouted back, 'there is no girl here except my younger brother's daughter- the real cause of the present financial crisis-  but she is not married and hence can not be committing suttee due to only widows have that honor!"

However, the real cause of the financial crisis was wedded from birth to Indglish Literature. Hence she was quite properly committing suttee.
'This will teach them', our heroine said to herself as she burned up in frightful agony, 'Now they'll all be arrested and thrown in jail for abetting a suttee. Serves them right, the cunts. I am elven years old and studying in Class V. Please select my novel for Booker Prize. Compared to me, Arundhati Roy is an ugly old hag. I would like to meet President Osama and fly in a spaceship.'

Saturday 13 November 2010

Jennifer Aniston as the limit case of the class of beautiful fat Australian men

I think it was the late Professor Gayatri Spivak Chakroborty who pointed out that Jennifer Aniston is the limit case of the class of beautiful fat Australian men. I don't recall what the distinguished Professor was late for and, as always, when I use the phrase 'I think', I use the expression loosely. However, the question remains, what truth value can be assigned the notion that Jennifer Aniston is the limit case of the class of beautiful fat Australian men?
I asked Professor Steven Landsburg to do the Math and find out.
"It's true," he grudgingly admitted. "By the logical principle known as ex falso quodlibet it follows directly from my proof that a tax on unearned income is a double tax. Furthermore, we can show, intuitively, that it must be true. First assume strict monotonicity in the class of beautiful fat Australian men. Then think of Mel Gibson without his truss. Then think of Jennifer Aniston waxing her mustache. Then draw a graph with Mel Gibson on one axis and Jennifer Aniston on the other axis. Draw indifference curves through every combination of Jennifer Aniston and Mel Gibson, such that revulsion is held constant. Obviously very small amounts of either cause revulsion to asymptotically approach zero and very large amounts to rapidly converge on infinity. However, in a sense, they balance each other out. Revulsion is least when there is at least one Mel Gibson to drunk dial each Jennifer Aniston and shower her with verbal abuse and at least one Aniston to remind Mel he aint no Brad Pitt. Hence, the indifference curves will be well behaved and follow strict monotonicity. Now draw a budget constraint whose slope is equal to the price you'd pay in the market to see the two mud wrestle. Impose a tax upon viewing Mel Gibson. The budget constraint shifts inwards with a sharper slope. Call the new consumer equilibrium point P. Now draw another budget constraint that passes through P but which is parallel to the old budget constraint. You can clearly see that a higher Indifference curve is tangential to the new budget constraint. This proves that with, tax revenue kept equal, all agents prefer an equal tax on both Mel Gibson and Jennifer Aniston. Since Mel Gibson would actually be a lot less gross if he weren't on diet pills it follows that Jennifer Aniston and a fat Mel Gibson are gross substitutes or become so as the set of beautiful fat Australian men increases with the addition of Mel Gibson. Since Aniston is of at least partly Greek origin, it follows that she'd tend to develop a mustache. Anyway, if all taxes on inherited wealth were abolished, with the burden being shifted to earned income, neither would have an incentive to actually earn any more money and so they'd soon come to resemble each other- well, except Aniston would be a bit more butch.
'This isn't nonsense at all. Crack a textbook why don't you?'

Thursday 11 November 2010

Steve Landsburg's fallacy re. Estate taxes (Death duties)

Landsburg just won't quit with his double-tax fallacy.
This is from his blog of a couple of days ago.
Dick Thaler, writing in the New York Times, says so many wrong things about the estate tax that I don’t know where to begin. But let’s begin here:
First, it is incorrect to say the estate tax amounts to double taxation. The wealth in many large estates has never been taxed because it is largely in the form of unrealized — therefore untaxed — capital gains.
This is just not true. Virtually all of the wealth in every large estate has already been taxed at least once. Namely, it was taxed when it was earned. You do not understand this issue unless you understand the following simple example: Scrooge McDuck earns a dollar, makes some fortunate investments, and leaves a hundred million dollars in unrealized capital gains to his ne’er-do-well nephews. If Scrooge has to pay 50 cents income tax on that dollar, then he invests half as much, earns half as much, and leaves his nephews half as much. Scrooge’s fifty cent tax bill has already cost his nephews fifty million dollars.

In fact, there’s a good chance Scrooge (or his ancestors) earned a lot of that money back in the bad old pre-Kennedy days when marginal tax rates hovered around 93%. If so, 93% of the estate is already lost to taxes. That’s pretty far from nothing.
A more accurate statement might be this:
First, it is incorrect to say the estate tax amounts to triple taxation. The wealth in many large estates has been taxed only once because it is largely in the form of unrealized capital gains. Therefore the estate tax amounts to double taxation, not triple.
Of course, when you say it the more accurate way, it stops looking like an argument for estate taxation.

Why is this silly? Well, in an economy with no market failures (situations where markets screw things up) one might want all economic activities to be taxed at the same marginal rate.  In the old days people said- ah money earned by the sweat of one's brow should be taxed less than money from rents or savings. The problem is if you penalize savings or rental incomes then an important type of economic activity will be under-provided and in the long run everybody suffers.

Landsburg, of course, is on the side of the rich and wants money earned from rent, interest or profits not to be taxed at all- because this is 'double taxation.'
Let us take an extreme case to support his view. Granny Sweetums is a widow who earned $1 by scrubbing the floor of  Tax Inspector  Nasty. He promptly taxed her income at 50% leaving her with 50 cents. Granny Sweetums did not spend the 50 cents because she planned to buy her grand-daughter Goldilocks a nice new pair of titties for her 21st birthday. However, instead of giving the money to Goldilocks or pre-paying the plastic surgeon, Granny Sweetums hid the 50 cents in her panties (where not even Tax Inspector Nasty would look for it). Goldilocks would often say to Granny Sweetums, 'Kindly hand over the cash you dumb broad. Don't you know that Death Duty is levied at 50%?"
Granny Sweetums replied 'I would if I could be sure I'd be dead by the time you are 21 and thus legally entitled to work as a porn star. What if I live beyond that time whereas you are run over by a bus? That's why I'm hanging on to the 50 cents.'

Sadly just before Goldilocks 21st birthday, Granny Sweetums keeled over and died. The undertaker found the 50 cents in her panties and Tax Inspector Nasty immediately took 25 cents in inheritance tax leaving Goldilocks with money for only one boob enlargement- thus confining her to the unprofitable early Victorian silhouette end of the Porn industry where she met Steve Landsburg. Being a chivalrous sort of fellow he challenged Tax Inspector Nasty to an internet debate.
"You are guilty of double taxation!" he thundered angrily.
"Not so." said Nasty, "I am taxing an economic good or service which did not previously exist, Granny Sweetum's death created a hedge against the uncertainty and need to maintain a precautionary balance which her previously unknown date of death was responsible for. In other words, something- namely a hedge- has been created for the Estate and it is that which is being taxed. Had Granny bought a hedge in the market that would have been taxed. It is the implicit hedge which has fructified which I now lay claim to. The situation is the same as that of a unrealized and previously un-monetized capital gain on an asset which becomes so when it comes under probate. The moment something enters the market, or is exchanged, an economic activity occurs. The canon of neutrality requires it be taxed at the same rate as any other economic activity. This is different from a simple transfer. Had Granny Sweetums pre-paid the plastic surgeon for the boob-job no tax would have arisen other than the one she paid as Income Tax. By keeping the 50 cents in her knickers Granny was using the money to buy something for herself- viz. a hedge against the uncertainty arising from her unknown date of death. Her death relieved her Estate of that cost which we are taxing as though it had been paid through the market because under the law of probate this money now comes to Goldilocks not as a voluntary gift or transfer but as something on which she has a legal and enforceable claim upon.
'Goldilocks could not have sued Granny for the 50 cents since she had no legal claim to it. However, under the law of probate, Goldi does now have a claim to the residue of the Estate after tax. This  is an exchange, not a transfer, and since it is an economic exchange based on a new state of the world- viz. the reduction in uncertainty concerning Granny's date of death- a good or service has been produced, is measurable, and can be easily taxed-ergo it should be taxed."

But Steve Landsburg wasn't listening. He just repeated the argument all over again on his blog a couple of weeks later.
Goldilocks is doing well as a shadow puppet in Thailand.
Tax Inspector Nasty was fired for racially abusing a typist of Indian origin and sexually harassing a Japanese photocopier. He now writes children's books under the pseudonym Arianna Huffington Bear.

Monday 8 November 2010

Is the Mahabharata about uncontrolled lust?

Satya Caitanya has a series of blogs at Boloji- in one recent post he says -

The Mahabharata is a tale of uncontrolled lusts – lust for land, lust for wealth, lust for power, lust for honour, lust for fame, lust for acceptance, lust for vengeance, lust for pleasure, and, above all, plain sexual lust. It is the story of lust in every imaginable form and the terrible consequences that uncontrolled lust leads to.

I think this is nonsense. True, in the First Book there are cases of Kings suddenly falling in love with a woman and agreeing to make her son his heir- but that's called sexual selection, not uncontrolled lust. Furthermore, these providential loves, far from bringing ruin to the State, provide Kings with sons with more than mortal powers. This is not just the opposite of xxx rated hard core lust, it's the province of fairy tales.

A King is warned that if he has sex, he will die- but he loves his wife so much he goes ahead and does it anyway... not lust, this is a romantic fairy tale.

There is not a single one of the important characters in the Mahabharata who is truly preyed upon by lust in the same sense as that of a Tiberius or a Caligula. Yet, in classical Indian drama, we do find examples of utterly debauched Princes who rape anyone can they lay hands on.

Nobody Shri Caitanya lists here is in the grip of uncontrollable lust. On the contrary, the number of their sexual partners is lower rather than higher than the median for high status men in the Iron Age. Furthermore, it is by no means clear that mid Victorian prudery was the established moral code of the day. On the contrary, except with respect to the semi-magical practice of Tapas (austerities)- there was no prohibition on any sort of intercourse from which progeny might result and, what is more, descent of this sort was rather a matter of pride than shame.
Why is Shri Caitanya misusing the English word 'lust' in this fashion? Is he 'sexing up' his article? But why should he want to? He is a scholarly and (I believe) spiritually oriented man.
Notice, he goes on to misuse this word LUST by applying it to other things like the desire for wealth, for renown, for vengance BUT ALSO FOR ACCEPTANCE! Why stop there, Maharaj? Why not add- lust for Knowledge, lust for Wisdom, lust for a nice cuppa tea with maybe a chocolate hob-nob, lust for updating my status on Facebook, lust for reading something sensible for a change about the Mahabharata?

The truth is the Mahabharata is not about lust, uncontrolled or otherwise. It's not about kama (Eros) but KARMA.
But Karma is linked up with something else- Dharma (Morality, Justice, Duty). And Dharma is difficult to understand.
So that's why Sri Caitanya pretends that actually this great book is about some debauched, vainglorious, tyrants who misbehaved themselves a long time ago.

In his article, Shri Caitanya has this to say about the conception of Sage Vyasa's mother.

'Let’s now move on to the day that most concerns us, the day on which he begets Sage Vyasa’s mother in an act that the Mahabharata describes as dhoomra – a word the dictionary explains as vice, wickedness, sin.
BUT DHOOMRA-as most Indic people know- MEANS SMOKEY OR CLOUDY- like the MIRKY AND MYSTERIOUS way Karma operates- there are other highly specific words for sins and SEXcrimes which can be cross-referenced to Law Books like that of Manu or Yajnavalkya or whatever from which the fine or punishment can be found.


'Everything about the remaining part of Uparichara Vasu’s story is strange and mysterious. Perhaps because the things mentioned are so unacceptable, it is possible that the original story has altogether disappeared and we have to infer it from the hazy and puzzling details that are now available to us in the Sanskrit epic.

'The first thing we are told is that a mountain once raped a river and two human children are born to the river. The name of the mountain is Kolahala and the name of the river is Shuktimati. We are also told that the mountain blocked the river and Uparichara Vasu kicked it with his foot, splitting the mountain and releasing the river.'

So a mountain raped a river? How does Van Buitenen translate this, let me see...does the European PROFESSOR use the word rape? No he says AN INTELLIGENT MOUNTAIN FELL IN LOVE WITH A RIVER. Yes the river conceives by the mountain but the European man does not use the word RAPE.  Vasu honours both children of the River. One is made a general the other becomes (Buitenen's translation) Vasu's BELOVED WIFE.
So what do we have here? Shri Caitanya talking of rape- that too of one from whom Hindus are descended- and the White man who was a top Professor in America using the word 'fell in love' and 'beloved'.
If Shri Caitanya really wants to insult religious people by showing their venerated ancestors to be lustful rapists than let him have the courage to make similar claims about Prophet Abraham or King David. Unfortunately, he was born in the Hindu Religion and so I have to accept it as my fate that my Sacred Book is a chronicle of flithy lust and nothing more.

Let me once again reitierate, the Mahabharata is about KARMA. The episode that has provoked this prurient raving from Sri Caitanya (a Godly man by the looks of things) is not about lust or rape or self-abuse. It is about the strange manner in which our intentions are both frustrated and fulfilled in an unexpected way.
Now we all know that the man's semen must enter the wife's womb for a child to be conceived. In this story, Vasu has to fulfill the duty to his beloved wife while also doing something else commanded by the ancestors. So he sends the seed by a carrier-pigeon to his wife. However, fate intervenes. Man proposes, God disposes. The lesson is that not only the child born to our wife is our son but, through karma, in fact VASUDEVAM KUTAMBAKAM- WE ARE ALL CONNECTED AND ARE ONE FAMILY.
Where is the LUST in such a simple and TRUE revelation of Supreme Deity?
What for such filth? Why such mindless denigration?
Please tell me what is my crime that just because I was born in Hindu family- not some other religion- why MY RELIGION ALONE SHOULD BE HELD UP FOR RIDICULE, CONTEMPT AND INFAMY!?
Answer- sex sells. Let us pretend Scriptures contain Porn. Then, perhaps, young people will be interestedl

Milford Bateman on Microfinance

I will first state the case against Microfinance and refute it with incontrovertible arguments drawn from mathematical economics. (My arguments are supplied in bold italics)

First a must read link to Milford Bateman- scourge of Microfinance and David to Grameen Bank's Goliath, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus- all but explicitly labeling the activities of the Vikram Akulas (That's DrAkula to you, remember he has a Phd from Chicago) of the World as an example of 'control fraud'- like what happened to the S&Ls back in the Eighties.
It is blistering stuff- and a wake up call. Or it would be, if you hadn't me on hand to prove 1) Bateman has a penis 2) Bateman has a White penis. This proves he is wrong.
Bateman had earlier focused on denouncing the way Microfinance had been touted as a remedy in the post-war Yugoslavia or other places where the retreat of the State had left a vacuum in which neo-Liberal ideology could run amok. Crucially, Bateman focuses on the manner in which Microfinance crowds out productive investment in the small to medium sector.
Bateman isn't scared of going up against the big boys- not even Yunus is immune to his scathing attack. This is a link to another blog, by Rajan Alexander, which doesn't so much take a hatchet to Yunus and Akula and Vijay Mahajan as feed them into the wood chipper.

Here is a quote from an article by the Committee to abolish Third World debt-  (Prof.Patrick Bond)
Consider this outlandish claim, made by Yunus as he got started in the late 1970s: "Poverty will be eradicated in a generation. Our children will have to go to a `poverty museum’ to see what all the fuss was about."
According to Milford Bateman, a senior research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London, who is one of the world’s experts on Grameen and microcredit, the reason this rhetoric resonated with international donors during the era of neoliberal globalisation, was that "they love the non-state, self-help, fiscally responsible and individual entrepreneurship angles".

Grameen’s origins are sourced to a discussion Yunus had with Sufiya Begum, a young mother who, he recalled, "was making a stool made of bamboo. She gets five taka from a business person to buy the bamboo and sells to him for five and a half taka, earning half a taka as her income for the day. She will never own five taka herself and her life will always be steeped into poverty. How about giving her a credit for five taka that she uses to buy the bamboo, sell her product in free market, earn a better profit and slowly pay back the loan?" Describing Begum and the first 42 borrowers in Jobra village in Bangladesh, Yunus waxed eloquent: "Even those who seemingly have no conceptual thought, no ability to think of yesterday or tomorrow, are in fact quite intelligent and expert at the art of survival. Credit is the key that unlocks their humanity."
But what is the current situation in Jobra? Says Bateman, "It’s still trapped in deep poverty, and now debt. And what is the response from Grameen Bank? All research in the village is now banned!" As for Begum, says Bateman, "she actually died in abject poverty in 1998 after all her many tiny income-generating projects came to nothing". The reason, Bateman argues, is simple: "It turns out that as more and more ‘poverty-push’ micro-enterprises were crowded into the same local economic space, the returns on each micro-enterprise began to fall dramatically. Starting a new trading business or a basket-making operation or driving a rickshaw required few skills and only a tiny amount of capital, but such a project generated very little income indeed because everyone else was pretty much already doing exactly the same things in order to survive."
Contrary to the carefully cultivated media image, Yunus is not contributing to peace or social justice. In fact, he is an extreme neoliberal ideologue. To quote his philosophy, as expressed in his 1998 autobiography, Banker to the Poor, "I believe that `government’, as we know it today, should pull out of most things except for law enforcement and justice, national defense and foreign policy, and let the private sector, a `Grameenized private sector’, a social-consciousness-driven private sector, take over their other functions." At the time as he wrote those words, governments across the world, especially in the United States, were pulling back from regulating financial markets. In 1999, for example, Larry Summers (then US Treasury secretary and now President Barack Obama’s overall economics tsar) set the stage for the crash of financial-market instruments known as derivatives, by refusing to regulate them as he had been advised.
The resulting financial crisis, peaking in 2008, should have changed Yunus’s tune. After all, the catalysing event in 2007 was the rising default rate on a rash of "subprime mortgage" loans given to low-income US borrowers. These are the equivalent of Grameen’s loans to very poor Bangladeshis, except that Yunus did not go so far as the US lenders in allowing them to be securitised with overvalued real estate.
Yunus has long argued that "credit is a fundamental human right", not just a privilege for those with access to bank accounts and formal employment. But reflect on this matter and you quickly realise how inappropriate it is to compare bank debt – a liability that can be crushing to so many who do not survive the rigours of neoliberal markets – with crucial political and civil liberties, health care, water, nutrition, education, environment, housing and the other rights guaranteed in the constitutions of countries around the world.

Impressive stuff you say? What if I were to prove to you that Patrick Bond has 1) a penis and 2) a White Man's penis? Clearly he's wrong.

My own vision for Microfinance is based on an integration of micro-credit targeted at very poor women with traditional wife-beating activities which should be properly monetized and brought into the market (Coase's theorem) under the rubric of loan uptake and recovery costs, thus enabling domestic violence to count towards the G.N.P. This can not only rapidly lift poor countries out of poverty, but the securitized globally traded assets thus created could be used to fund the bail-out. DrAkula's ex-wife already has her own Domestic Violence N.G.O. It should merge with her husbands operation so as to blaze a trail not just for Third World Countries but also the brave new Post-Obama U.S.A.ruled by Momma Grizzlies escaping the effects of Global Warming on Alaska.

Is Social Choice Theory a waste of time?

Social Choice is something that happens all the time. We can't stop it from happening. But does having a theory of Social Choice
a) improve decision making?
b) not quickly lead to nonsense?
On the evidence- no.
I guess in the old days Social Choice was mainly done by criminals, lunatics and sociopaths- the Robber Baron in his Castle did Fiscal policy (i.e. levying protection money) and Institutional infrastructure (organizing markets and chopping of hands and heads) ; the lunatics (i.e. religious nutjobs) did Capital formation (i.e. Temples and Monasteries and so on) and Division of Labor (enforcing a Caste system and Gender dimorphism and regulating Innovation and Technology Transfer) and the sociopaths (lawyers and merchants and whores) did the rest.

Have things really changed?
Sure. The sociopaths are now in charge. So a Theory is needed coz just cutting of hands and heads and burning heretics isn't cool anymore BECAUSE sociopaths are cowardly little shites.
So we need a Theory of Social Choice.
But why have a mathematical theory of Social Choice? After all, the U.S was dismantling its system of administered pricing just at the time Arrow was working his mojo. I suppose, one argument for Social Choice ties up with stuff related to Market failure- it made sense to show why, Mathematically, that was bound to happen just as it also made sense to show there were bound to be Government failures to balance out the picture.
Arrow showed that there was no benign way of aggregating preferences by means of a voting rule that did not yield perverse results. You're always bound to have some sort of Preference Revelation problem or you're going to be losing important information' or screwing up dynamically or something. Gibbard Satterthwaite & Myerson-Satterthwaite are like a reverse Coase's theorem showing why mechanism design can fuck up.
What if you combine mechanism design in a bargaining game such that 'the gains from trade' are being divided up between parties? Perhaps here the maths would become intractable as an element of impredicativity arises.
In any case, in ordinary life all sorts of people who can hardly count do a pretty good job of doing back of the envelope calculations of things like Shapley index of power for a single-issue voting group. People intuitively understand when preference diversity is too great for a voting type solution. So why should this stuff not just be left to the back-room boys? Why is Social Choice Theory intellectually sexy in a manner that Cost Accountancy or Actuarial Science isn't?

Why not just go back to good old fashioned Cardinal Utility and ad hoc comparisons of different people's Utility- coz that's what it's all gonna cash out as anyway? Either that, or just let different vested interest groups battle it out in the courts and in the media and through the political system? I mean that's the way the world has always worked and Social Choice is a fact of our day to day life BECAUSE ours is a swinish existence. I'm not saying we're all not swine in the ultimate reckoning but just that we don't like our nose rubbed in it.
Where's the harm in tarting up Social Choice with a bit of Math like maybe it wasn't just swinishness but something elegant and beautiful like theoretical physics?
Pigs might fly and mathematical swine soar skyward upon Platonic wings.
In addition to Social Choice Theory, the Dr.Stangeloves of the RAND Corp. had prepared for us a beautiful Armageddon of Nuclear missiles raining down on our heads like so many air-borne pigs.

Still better than being crapped on by angels? Ah, but angels don't exist.

Friday 5 November 2010

Irma Adelman- the woman who could have stopped the Vietnam War.

Following on from my last post on a female economist who some think might save us from catastrophic climate change, I present to you another female economist- also of Jewish origin- who could have stopped the Vietnam War.
Irma Adelman went to Vietnam in 1963 to compile some agricultural statistics that some bureaucratic bigwig had demanded for his butterfly collection. Unfortunately, the ditzy young thing got hold of the wrong end of the stick and decided to find out how to stop the war. Strangely- she was an econometrician of genius- she took the utterly bizarre approach of asking people, including poor peasants out in the country-side. They explained that so long as the insurgents kept up operations, the landlords couldn't collect their rents, being holed up in the Cities. Three years of accrued rents worked out at 1.5 times their annual income. Pacification would have ruined the peasants. Adelman calculated that a land-to-the-tiller policy, with compensation paid by the U.S, would have cost half the then military budget- a small fraction of what it would eventually snowball into.

The list of Adelman's achievements and breakthroughs and compassionate insights are too long to list. Indians may be interested to note that Adelman helped in the South Korean miracle whereby incomes for the poor tripled in ten years. BUT South Korea already had land-reform and universal primary education and assets were relatively equitably distributed. They were also prepared to take the pain of a 50% devaluation, tight money at home and a rapid dismantling of distortionary protective tariffs.

However, her econometrics was flawed in two ways- firstly it was not strait-jacketedly Bayesian and secondly not only was she lacking a penis but so was her co-author! Frankly, I think this an utter scandal and a damning indictment of Govt. underfunding for the Arts.
Not everything can be blamed on the Liberals in the Media. The homosexuals too should accept some responsibility.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Refuting Graciela Chichilnisky- an axiomatic approach.

I shall refute the strong version of the theorem that Graciela Chichlnisky is one of the great minds of our age. With scrupulous fairness I will first enumerate her so called claims to fame and refute them with advanced topological methods (these are the statements in bold)
1) Her 1994 paper. 'Intersecting Families of Sets and the Topology of Cones in Economics”, Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society,  showed that the basic structure of the most important forms of resource allocation was connected with Arrow's social choice paradox . The same mathematical structure was also the cause of problems of market equilibrium as well as the core in game theory. Significantly, the common root of all these problems was the issue of when sets intersect, which in economic terms measures social diversity. This is the key issue in finding a solution to market equilibrium, for social choice and for game solutions.

She writes 'In this work I showed with Geoffrey Heal the first necessary and sufficient conditions for the existence of social choice rule. By myself I showed later a rather surprising result: that the same condition is necessary and sufficient for the existence of market equilibrium, the core and social choice—unexpectedly, it is the same conditions in the three cases. Social diversity holds the key. Beyond a certain point, it prevents the economy from reaching market equilibrium, a core solution or social choice rules. This validates the key role of diversity in allowing gains from trade, while at the same time limiting most forms of resource allocation beyond a certain point.'

So what? She does not have a penis.
2) She turned International Trade & Development on its head by incorporating things like increasing returns and the importance of property rights in land to get results that actually mean something.
Her penis is probably quite small. In any case, it's not just about length, girth also counts
3) Listen, you cunt- she's not some silly little Freakanomics media whore pushing factoids at Joe the Plumber- on the contrary she's a big wheel with the U.N and an architect of the Kyoto Protocol- y'know the guys with black helicopters who've got secret censors fitted to your toilet to measure your output of greenhouse gases-so just watch it that's all.
What about testicles? Does her ball sac reach half-way down to her knees? Mine does and it aint a pretty picture. You really wanna go toe to toe with me on this? Well do you, punk?No? That's what I thought.

Fucking women economists! Alfred Marshall was right... fuck's that? A helicopter? Not one of them black helicopters? Can't be coz they're all like stealth and shit so I wouldn't actually hear them till they were right on top of me... no, it wasn't a helicopter...just the neighbor's T.V. Hang on, the neighbors are out of town, what is that bright light? It's moving towards me... pod people! They're gonna replace me with a pod person...say, this anal probe aint so bad...well, that's it for tonight folks. Tomorrow, I'll refute Al Gore.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Guha and the thinkers and makers of modern India.

Ramachandra Guha's book on 19 'thinkers and makers of modern India' is out and seems to have been well received.
I find it puzzling. I'd have thought, the people whose ideas and actions might still be relevant to modern India would have been those possessed of superior rationally and maturity and independence of character rather than mere publicity mongers who abandoned even such see-through intellectual garments as Indian modesty requires, in their headlong rush to jump on every bandwagon or head up any passing mob.
Prior to Independence none of the people mentioned in this book had much power and, perhaps for that very reason, little motive or leisure to think rather than simply strike attitudes. Since the British were brokers of both Power and Knowledge rather than hegemonic monopolists of both- though India could boast its exiles, it was not the case that its exiles competed at the level of pure thought and analysis.

Keynes, in his book on Indian monetary policy, drew attention to a special sort of narrowness that arises from having knowledge only of India and England, that too only at the level of leader-writer Punditry. It is noteworthy that already, at that point in time, there were Indians with a larger vision- however, their failure to synthesize an intelligentsia with a wider horizon than that of the hacks and windbags the British had insisted on engendering meant that Thought, as a shaping force, remained a dead letter- though no doubt it might ricochet unpredictably at rarefied levels of policy framing (a necessary and sufficient qualification for participation in which, the British considered, was an impartial Mandarin ignorance of both empirical conditions in the market and the manner in which public institutions actually implemented policy).

This is not to say there was no dialogue between specialists in different fields. On the contrary, there was a sort of lowest common denominator dialogue such that the Scientist might abruptly claim that the latest radio-carbon results prove that the Vedas were written before the formation of the mountains, or a former President of India, an old Socialist, suddenly start quoting some Ananda Margi nutjob, an Econ Lecturer at some Mid West Community College, who predicted that the Western Economy would collapse in 1990 or something equally silly.
Of course, the President in question had already seen to it that his own children were all 'well-settled' in the U.S and thus his satisfaction in contemplating the downfall of the West was of a purely Philosophical sort.

Yet, India has had thinkers and shapers. Our administrators and  lawyers, even journalists and historians were, if anything, a cut above what one might expect in such a poor country. Who were they? Well, for a lot of 'Indglish' speakers they were Mummy and Daddy and Uncle and Aunty and Granny and Grandad and so on.
But- in so far as they thought and acted in a manner promoting the commonweal- were they not mere imitators of the British, Macaulay's Babu class?
To answer this question, we might begin by asking the question- what features does India have which do not flow, in a purely mechanical faction, from the fact that it was ruled by the British and that it's intelligentsia had some exposure to thoughts expressed in the English language?
What institutions, or adaptions of institutions, make independent India different, rather than inferior merely, to the probable trajectory it would otherwise have taken?
Well, we might start off with concepts and programs unique to India- Ahimsa (ghastly failure), khaddar (a bad joke), Panchsheel (hilarious till the Chinese bloodied our nose), Swadesi (apparently some Burmese nutjob actually implemented this as 'Buddhist Economics', greatly to Schumacher's delight, thus setting back his country by 80 years), Sampoorna kranti (which meant replacing Indira Gandhi with Raj Narain!) and, of course, the grandest success of them all- viz. Bhoodan which culminated in Bihardhan- i.e. the redistribution of land by the voluntary action and consent of the land-lords which resulted in the whole state of Bihar (or at least 97%) being donated to ....urm dunno...but it was what Vinobha Bhave wanted and he had vowed not to leave Bihar till it happened and then it happened and so he finally did leave Bihar and...urm...that really shaped modern India and represented like truly visionary thinking because everybody else thought it was impossible BUT only the Indians actually tried it and thus PROVED ...that they can't think or shape events worth shit.
What of Women and doing away with feudalism and stuff like that? The China got rid of 'foot-binding' in half a generation, India completely did away with things like child-marriage and ban on svagotra marriage and the tyranny of khap panchayats and so on way back in ...urm, except we didn't at all.
The Koreans get rid of untouchability and caste and land-lordism and poor hygiene in the villages and so on- all in the space of what? ten years? fifteen years? In India, Ambedkar converts to Buddhism, though he knew it was the most successful exporter of the concept of Untouchability in history, and... well... urm... the good news is that not only will the Caste system be constitutionally preserved but everybody wants to be classed as 'backwards' if not outright retarded..  
True, every nation has a bunch of wind-bags gassing on about democracy and 'wimmin's' rights and so on. But, not every nation has had democracy for over 60 years with more or less Left wing Govts in power both at the Center and the States. The inescapable conclusion we must draw is that either
a) thinkers and shapers of the sort Guha celebrates had shit-for-brains and zero practical ability
b) thousands of Indians have shown an unexampled genius as thinkers and shapers in ensuring that the thoughts and schemes of the wind-bag do-goodniks ended up frustrating their own ends.

I suppose another possibility exists- viz. Guha's brand of caramel centered historiography is an exercise in meaningless pi-jaw of a sort that we, at this time of crisis when the clash of civilizations of the environmental greenhouse gasses of the collapse of the global capitalist system and like I'm sure those fucking Germans will soon go all Nazi and start invading Poland again and like check out that Narendra Modi dude- what if his beard reaches Ayatollah proportions?- and isn't Arundhati Roy silly because in these illiberal times I will defend to the death something or the other and free speech and human rights and like that old song of Amitabh Kumar says 'Hum ko pyaar chahiye'- 'All I wants is Love' and, guess what, I'm doing another fucking big book on guess who- yup, Gandhi- coz that always sells.

But what was original in Gandhi? Hunger strikes? That was borrowed from the Suffragettes and it had already failed. Non-Cooperation, Rent strikes and so on. The Irish had been there, done that and, on balance, won their historic struggle albeit by an own goal. Yes, I suppose Gandhi was doing something novel in supporting Khilafat. But it was novel because it was silly.

More broadly, if we leave aside programs initiated or catalyzed by the British- including ex-I.C.S liberals like Hulme, Wedderburn and Cotton and so on- what are we left with?

Guha includes Jinnah perhaps because his 'hostage-theory' (whereby Indians won't kill Muslims for fear Pakistanis might retaliate against Hindus) was as hilarious and purely Indian as Gandhi's hunger strikes. But both refer to an absence of thought and were destructive rather than constructive of the inheritance from the Raj.

It is a great criticism of Guha's book that he does not mention truly great men and original thinkers like Tanguturi Prakasam who, as C.M of Madras Presidency, proposed the destruction of the textile mills so that they might be replaced by Khaddar. This led to clashes with the Communists whom he locked up- surely the only occasion when that was the wrong thing to do.

Thinkers and Shapers? I praise the wreckers and the mindless bribe-takers. It is they who, between them, have kept India going and salvaged for it such relicts of modernity as the Raj bequeathed it.

The odd thing is that there are plenty of good writers and policy-makers- Judges, Doctors, Engineers, School Inspectors and so on- who weren't the sort of futile numskulls Guha lists. What they tended to avoid was single valued solutions to complex socio-economic problems. In Economics, we have Tinbergen's rule- the number of policy instruments must equal the number of policy objectives. Any ideologue who thinks otherwise- for e.g that women's education /micro-finance or whatever  is a panacea- is either a careerist or  a nutjob or both.

Guha is looking for non-Marxists nutjobs because there is some other Guha who has cornered the market in talking up Marxist nutjobs.
Yet Guha is taken seriously.

Monday 1 November 2010

Stephen Batchelor and the true message of the Buddha.

Stephen Batchelor, in his latest book on Buddhism writes, that Buddha's teachings “seem more to encourage a creation of a self  than a renunciation of a self, rather than present the self as a fiction, Gotama presented it as a project to be realised – the functional, moral self that breathes and acts in the world…This is a useful way of looking at the self for a lay Buddhist person who works in the world than a renunciation model.”

I feel the distinguished writer has not gone far enough. Speaking as Buddhist monk and layman of over eighty seconds standing, I feel the true message of Buddhism involves not the renunciation or creation of a self but its self-projection, along a virtual dimension, such that could you please pick up my dry-cleaning while simultaneously positing a critique of social relations with that fuckwit neighbor of mine whose car alarm keeps going off, not in a purely epistemological sense but within the parameters of a truly democratic dialogic concerned with your remembering to pick up my dry-cleaning- like it wasn't you spilled Thai lemon grass soup on my tux- you fucking retard.'

I personally honor Dr. Ambedkar most for converting to Buddhism because of the extraordinary success it achieved in exporting the concept and practice of untouchability to far off countries like Korea and Japan. The boxer, Cassius Clay who converted to Islam with the name Muhammad Ali- perhaps as a thank you to the Saudi and Omanis for finally getting round to abolishing slavery at around the same time- is my other great hero.

I look forward to Arundhati Roy's next book- hailing Max Hardcore as the greatest Feminist of all time and protesting his incarceration for obscenity.

This is the true message of Buddhism. Only real smart people got utter shit for brains.

Steve Landsburg fallacy re. Capital Gains tax as a double tax on income.

This is Steve Landsburg on Capital Gains Tax-

The New Yorker arrived today, leading off with this letter to the editor about income tax rates:
…The very rich pay at significantly lower rates, because most of their income consists not of compensation for services but of capital gains and dividends, which are capped at a fifteen per cent rate.
This is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and you can’t begin to think clearly about tax policy if you don’t understand why. Even if capital gains taxes were capped at one percent, income subject to those taxes would be taxed at a higher rate than straight compensation. That’s because capital gains taxes (like all other taxes on capital income) are surtaxes, assessed over and above the tax on compensation.
It always pays to think through stylized examples. Alice and Bob each work a day and earn a dollar. Alice spends her dollar right away. Bob invests his dollar, waits for it to double, and then spends the resulting two dollars. Let’s see how the tax code affects them.

First add a wage tax. Alice and Bob each work a day, earn a dollar, pay 50 cents tax and have 50 cents left over. Alice spends her fifty cents right away. Bob invests his fifty cents, waits for it to double, and then spends the resulting one dollar.
What does the wage tax cost Alice? Answer: 50% of her consumption (which is down from a dollar to fifty cents). What does it cost Bob? Answer: 50% of his consumption (which is down from two dollars to one dollar). In the absence of a capital gains tax, Alice and Bob are both being taxed at the same rate.
Now add a 10% capital gains tax. Alice and Bob each work a day, earn a dollar, pay 50 cents tax and have 50 cents left over. Alice spends her fifty cents right away. Bob invests his fifty cents, waits for it to double, pays a 5 cent capital gains tax, and is left with 95 cents to spend.

Landsburg assumes all income is earned and taxed.
Let us suppose the following- income is taxed at 50% and Capital Gains at 20%. I have a choice between earning $100 by working for my Dad renovating a house he has bought for $1000 which he can later sell for $1200 or else receiving a 50% share in the Capital Gain. 
How much tax do I pay if I take my reward as earned income? Answer $50 leaving me $50 disposable income. How much if I go into partnership with my Dad and take my reward as a Capital Gain? Answer $20 leaving me with $80 to spend.

What if I'm an orphan with no capital or access to credit such that I could get into the business of property development not as a paid employee but as a speculator entitled to capital gains?
Well, I'm shit out of luck. My supply of labor will tend to be inelastic meaning that the Taxman will tend to slap a higher tax on me simply because only when supply is inelastic will a higher tax rate yield more revenue.
Now you may argue that to take income as Capital Gains involves a risk- so we are comparing apples to oranges. The answer to this is that workers and self-employed contractors are just as likely to get stiffed- i.e. not paid- and more likely to suffer prolonged hardship than a capitalist who can simply walk away from a project if the market turns against him. Indeed, the bigger the capitalist the more likely this is because his portfolio would be diversified and protected against a down-side by positions on the options market.
If capital is more elastic in supply- as with globalized financial markets it is bound to become- capital gains will always be more lightly taxed especially when you consider that economic rents tend to become quasi rents and disappear in the long run even w.r.t Land.
A situation where a country, like America, is heavily indebted to foreigners is one where taxes on capital have to be globally competitive and are under downward pressure. Since labour is not as geographically mobile and elastic in supply, taxes will have higher incidence on workers rather than those who can derive part or all of their sustenance from inherited or acquired wealth.
Taxation is really about elasticities. If you can transfer your domicile without impacting on earnings, you escape tax and, sooner or later, Tax authorities will recognize this power of yours and negotiate a sweetheart deal with you.
That's what happened to the super-rich and that's why enormous sums of money are being poured into this Tea Party bull-shit. It's also the reason why Landsburg is spending time talking to stupid people on his blog. He knows they are stupid. He knows he's talking through his arse. But, there's a big Capital Gain in it for him so screw all youse.

If Landsburg is involved in his own tax-planning, it is unlikely that he can be utterly ignorant of the numerous advantages to preferring to realize a capital gain at a convenient time rather than maximizing taxable income in the time period where an economic activity occurs.
Frankly, if Landsburg's arguments were true then all the Tax Accountants and Trust lawyers and so on would be out of a job.
Why is Landsburg peddling this ignorant shite? Is he stupid? Mencken said 'no one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public.'