Saturday, 31 July 2021

Agnes Callard shitting on Socrates


Behind every great man- lesser men like to think- is a woman trying to push him out of her way so as to claim all the credit and hog the limelight. In the case of the golden age of Athens, that woman was Aspasia. 

Athens briefly attained a truly populist democracy, after Cleisthenes' reforms, under Themistocles and, more briefly yet, greatness under, Aspasia's protector, Pericles who though, like the first named, was of the cursed Alcmaeonid family, began his career- funding the production of Aeschylus's 'The Persians'- signaling support to Themistocles and solidarity with the poorer thetes. This meant prioritizing maritime military operations (where the thetes' contribution- rowing galleys- was vital) while remaining on the defensive on land (which gave less scope for the aristocratic cavaliers).  Though maritime Imperialism has its dangers- unless, like Britain, you are an island and relatively immune to land invasion- it can be associated with burgeoning trade and cultural exchange provided there is a democratic element to the polity and the native population sees the presence of foreigners, who can provide high value adding services, as beneficial to their own social mobility. I suppose, it was in this particular that Solon's reforms- e.g granting citizenship to those who brought their families to settle in Athens- paved the way to that City's pre-eminent glory.

On the other hand, high taxes and costly liturgical duties (like financing the plays of Aeschylus & Aristophanes) imposed on the elite caused a revolt against Democracy once war ceased to be a source of profit and became a drain on resources. Socrates, because of his supposed influence of sprigs of the aristocracy, became a casualty of this civil strife. Part of the charm of Plato's dialogues is that they recall a happier time when it seemed that maritime Imperialism could somehow magically pay for itself and thus the different social classes could prosper together. 

Pericles died when Socrates was about 40. Athens' decline, geopolitically speaking, was swift. The Menexenus is a Socratic dialogue which parodies Pericles's great funeral speech which, Socrates says was actually cobbled together by Aspasia who, it seems, had favoured Socrates in a like manner. The guy also says he will dance naked. Clearly the thing is a parody and there a lot of 'in-jokes' which can scarcely matter much to us. 

However there are two more general points which might usefully be made

1) Athens attained greatness and won immortal renown because it possessed men whose deeds were as impressive, if not more so, than their words. Experts of all types had flocked to Athens. Pericles himself enjoyed the company of the philosophers Protagoras from Abdera, Zeno of Elea, and, most particularly, Anaxagoras, from Persian ruled Asia Minor. Socrates himself was condemned to death for championing the role of the expert rather than trusting to the wisdom of one chosen by lot. The irony here is that the 'elenchos' cross examination by Socrates's accuser (kategoros) succeeds because what may be true of Mathematics or Aesthetics is not true of the Law- which is protocol bound and 'buck-stopped'. 

This is because where there is an accusation, there must be categories such that behaviour which is excusable under one rubric is found not to be so under another. Reality must be 'carved up along its joints' or, as St. Paul says, methexis in Ecclesia is achieved when you 'Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth'.

Socrates failed to establish that what he was accused of fell under the category of things healthful to the polis, not destructive of it- unlike the actions of Critias or Alcibiades. But, the curse of the autochthone is the opposite of that of aristocratic Alcmaeonidae whose oikos may be nourished by exile or Spartan alliances. As is a woman, of light reputation but a heavy protector, nevertheless entirely buried with her disgraced son, so too with the poor, the native, what yet lights up Athens and Jerusalem above cities- which, like Liverpool or Alexandria, Music might abandon, not God- is that which Cavafy could easily find a ship to take himself from. 

Words may be categorically different from deeds but they are not mere wind- or the 'wind-eggs' of Socratic maieutics. Denying the gods, if Justice is a god, provokes the vengeance of deeds on words- even such as represent eudoxa (sound conventional opinion) but which fail to defend themselves successfully under 'elenchos' (cross-examination of the Socratic type).

 But Plato has Socrates suggest that his death will bring Athens a great windfall- as when Orithuia was abducted by Boreas and, becoming his wife, caused that God to intervene against the Persians at Cape Sepias. This recalls to my mind the first book in the English language known to be written by a woman which invokes the Word made flesh in the figure of our tender Mother Jesus (who) can lead us easily into his blessed breast through his sweet open side, and show us there a part of the godhead and of the joys of heaven, with inner certainty of endless bliss.  This book was published by a chaplain to a foreign Queen some three hundred years after it was written.

Aspasia, herself a foreigner,  was supposed to have had an affair with Anaxagoras (and also one with the young Socrates before he saw the light shone out of the backsides of beardless youths) was accused of corrupting the women of Athens to satisfy Pericles' perversions. However, Pericles had introduced a law barring those with a non Athenian parent from citizenship. Thus 'perversion' had been kept at bay.  It is noteworthy that Anaxagoras, a foreigner, was attacked by the
ecclesia for his religious beliefs though, unlike Socrates, he was not killed. After all, laws differ in different jurisdictions. Exile is not death nor the fact that far away folk have different customs any outrage to what we consider eusebia.

Of course, a polis may abstain from striving for hegemony while still attracting high quality immigrants with valuable skills. The problem with going in the other direction is that lots of your own most talented people may be driven into exile because they object to costly wars and demagogic corruption. Medea's children, had they been of an age to reason, would have abandoned her before she could slaughter them, thus gaining immortal renown for her spiritedness.

Still, the fact remains, if greatness departs a City so does a particular aura which would otherwise envelop its thinkers and poets. They would be seen as merely providing a service, competing with the hair-dresser or the personal trainer or the accomplished courtesan. 

2) When the substance departs and only a shadow remains, Love becomes an end in it itself, not a means to some other sort of mutual burgeoning or 'sumphusis'. This may be good for literature- Dante droning on about Beatrice- but literature is merely a type of entertainment, though no doubt it may be colonized by a credentialist paideia. 

Anaxagoras settled in Athens at about the time of Salamis. His proto-scientific and humanistic attitudes appear reflected to us in the lapidary yet lucid periods of Euripides which ever flash and melodiously flow the more dazzlingly for destined to a sunless sea. 

 Socrates too, with Socratic irony, dissimulates ignorance even when it genuinely was ignorance rather than an incontinent, or superbly spirited, embracing of a fate Anaxagoras, a foreigner, avoided. There can be no doubt that Socrates loved Athens as only an autochthone could. But Love is about deeds as much as words, substance as much as shadow, and making babies as much as babbling meretricious shite about maieutics. Socrates, it is true, did not commodify his ultracrepidarian irony. But Plato, with the sure-footed cunning of the rich, did well out of it. 

Why did Socrates, a native born Athenian man, follow Aspasia- a mere woman and that too a foreigner- in eroticizing the cultivation of Intelligence or the skillful application of Reason? It is tempting to say that wealthy, or well born, men could make choices and change the fate of polities. Women and the poor- Socrates was the son of a stone-mason who seems not to have profited in any way from his undoubted charm and intelligence- might have little choice but choose to protest greater love and devotion to... not things as they are but as they might be viewed in an idealized world. In this sense, a mistress might claim to be enchanted by- not the balding old coot who supports her financially- but the dashing gallant burnished by his own legend. 

Wisdom is valuable in so far as it enables us to choose wisely. If one has little choice in one's life, it may be wise to profess a love of wisdom- perhaps people will trust you with more choices to make- but with this proviso. The Wisdom one loves is not one which always decides in one way or another. Rather, as Socrates says, love of wisdom is about being able to give as good a reason against as for any matter at issue. Thus love of wisdom might burgeon as the profession of talking about choices without ever making any. The ageing prostitute and more useless type of pedant- though unlovely and ignorant- may yet, by the charm of their conversation and the passion they simulate without stimulating, make a shabby genteel living. By contrast, anyone can be a martyr, a witness to a truth of Thymos and, ironically, dissimulated ignorance is as an Adamic fall or Cross-tree's portion of gall. The Logos puts on flesh, while yet the flesh puts off death but only so death triumph over death. 

Meanwhile, life becomes more effortlessly itself as when a boat speeds to its destination, sails big-bellied with wind. 

The fact is, a wise man may make great choices without ever being able to give reasons for them. However, for those not so favorably constituted, it is useful to have a science of 'formulaic' optimization. True, this is a 'second best' solution- as when the wind fails the galley sails and many hands must work the oars. 

 In category theory- a more abstract and generalizing branch of mathematics- 'adjoint functors' often arise when we are looking for a 'most efficient' solution. In particular, adjointness obtains where directed or directive determinations yield the same results as indirect determinations by 'factorized' universals. 

Consider Socrates. Either he is wise and his action is decipherable through such a 'factorization' or else his wisdom is directly determinative. Alternatively, there are no 'universals' and the man was a fool. A middle way would consider in what respects Socrates was different from those whom he talked to or those who preserved his memory. What was wise for him may have been folly for them and vice versa. Reading Socrates, who himself spoke of 'palinode'- i.e. reversing oneself while in the full flow of eloquence- we may ourselves perform its hermeneutic equivalent- i.e. we reverse the meaning we are receiving. Plato, it seems, had a gift of capturing this process. We 'participate' (μέθεξις- methexis) in a mimesis (a representation rather than an exact record) of a philosophic conversation among well bred Greeks who lived in a place and a time which the memory of our Race gilds and glorifies.

 However, Plato is also known for instituting the first school to be known as an Academy and for insisting that Maths be taught there. It would thus behoove present day academics, more particularly those who write about Plato's Socrates, to apply developments in category theory to a type of moral philosophy which is 'categorical'- i.e. similar in its method to jurisprudence but to an epistemic end. After all, if Plato was right then- in some sense- mathematics is adjoint to philosophy though they are very different in form.

 A ‘‘heteromorphic’’ theory about adjoints is an abstract way of looking at how autonomous behavior can emerge within a system obeying certain laws. Natural language, intelligently used or understood, is- of course- much more useful in evaluating moral claims. However, if one wants to do 'moral philosophy' then one needs to keep up to date with developments in mathematical logic if only so as to avoid programmatic errors. The theory of adjunction deals with situations where two different 'mappings' satisfy many of the same criteria but not all. This is like distinguishing terms which may in ordinary conversation be used interchangeably so as to gain a fresh insight or resolve a particular problem in a superior manner. The reason words which originate in mathematics are particularly useful is because a lot is known, at the most abstract level, about how they can be used and for what very useful purposes.

Making good decisions involves looking at what a thing is related to as its dual or adjoint- in other words something 'symmetric' in one sense but, in another sense, distinguishable by reason of a process. In doing so one has to be careful to see what limits both have. Examining this enables better 'hermeneutics'- i.e. interpretation- without much new contextual information- as well as  better 'heuristics'- i.e. smarter 'self-learning' rules which may enable one to make qualitatively better decisions or else oneself being qualitatively changed. Equally, it may turn out to be a waste of time. It depends on what you are looking for and where you are looking. Studying to be wise if you are as stupid as shit may make you more ignorant and  prejudiced than when you started off. 


As a case in point, Agnes Callard- despite knowing some Maths and Greek- writes in Boston Review.

Philosophers aren’t the only ones who love wisdom.

Not all Philosophers acknowledge that 'wisdom' exists or that it is lovable as opposed to bitter and disillusioning nor that they love philosophy because they themselves can, as Socrates stipulates,  give as good a reason against anything they have argued for. 

To be wise, Socrates says, is to be like unto a God. One may love or otherwise aspire to that condition. But one may simultaneously loathe and studiously avoid any step towards it. 'Ye are as Gods' says another man in another City and the punitive stone falls from our hands. 

 Everyone, philosopher or not, loves her own wisdom: the wisdom she has or takes herself to have.

Only in the same sense that everyone hates her own wisdom. Indeed one may say that this hatred is in proportion to her love, or that her wisdom is the apotheosis of her ignorance, or that her cat is her beloved dog, or her beloved dog which is a cat is the lost pizza she delivers to herself in the realm of metaphysical pepperoni and mushroom. 

 What distinguishes the philosopher is loving the wisdom she doesn’t have. 

No. A philosopher is distinguished by the fact that she talks a lot about philosophy. If she gets paid for it- as Callard does- she is a professional philosopher. This does not necessarily entail loving anything- a philosopher may conclude that nothing should be loved- nor does it involve positing the existence of any type of 'wisdom'. 

Philosophy is, therefore, a form of humility: 

in the sense that dogs are cats and cats are a form of philosophy.

The truth is, Philosophy arises out of a desperate desire to acquire or gain a reward for purveying a Credential of a more or less bogus type. Far from representing humility, it can only arise out of an arrogant type of garrulity predicated on an usurpation of epistemic superiority.

being aware that you lack what is of supreme importance.

We are all aware that we lack immortal felicity and the ability to confer this on anyone we like while being able to eternally fuck over those we hate. 

It is of supreme importance to the continuation of your life at this moment that all sorts of things of which you are completely unaware continue to happen or happen in a different way. This is as true of biological processes going on within your body as it is of all sorts of political and economic and military operations occurring which are far beyond your ken. It is not the case that 'being aware of what you lack'- e.g the fact that you lack knowledge of whatever shite you happen to be blathering about- is of 'supreme importance'. 

There may be no human being who exemplified this form of humility more perfectly than Socrates.

History does not remember the truly humble. That's why humility is worth cultivating. 

 It is no coincidence that he is considered the first philosopher within the Western canon.

This is false. Thales of Miletus is considered the first philosopher in the Western canon. There has been considerable interest in pre-Socratic philosophy.

Socrates did not write philosophy; he simply went around talking to people. 

At the close of his life, he neglected not having dedicated himself to 'mousike'- i.e. poetic compositions which could be sung or chanted to a musical effect. He was writing some such shite but, despite his broad hints, his disciples refused to touch the thing with a bargepole. The reason Socrates has left no writings of his own, clearly, is because his admirers were firmly opposed to reading or transmitting his effusions. 

On the other hand, Socrates did criticize writing as tending to weaken the memory and solemnly averred that there was a time when people listened to oaks and stones. 

But these conversations were so transformative that Plato devoted his life to writing dialogues that represent Socrates in conversation. These dialogues are not transcripts of actual conversations, but they are nonetheless clearly intended to reflect not only Socrates’s ideas but his personality. Plato wanted the world to remember Socrates. 

Plato wanted wealthy young people to attend the Academy he had set up.

Generations after Socrates’s death, warring philosophical schools such as the Stoics and the Skeptics each appropriated Socrates as figurehead. Though they disagreed on just about every point of doctrine, they were clear that in order to count themselves as philosophers they had to somehow be working in the tradition of Socrates.

Then Christianity triumphed. Socrates's gods and daimons and oracles were condemned as the lures of the devil. Some theologians did claim to follow Aristotle- but Aristotle had said that Socrates, though coming later and speaking better than Pythagoras, was wrong about virtue. It is not to be found in the rational part of the soul. Faith, for the Church, remains a mystery to this day.

What is it about Socrates that made him into a symbol for the whole institution of philosophy?

Plato could be said to create the 'institution of philosophy'- i.e. the Academy- and the Academy may claim to systematize and further extend the work of those who lived in a ruder, perhaps happier, age. However, it was Plato's emphasis on Mathematics which set his Academy apart.

 Consider the fact that, when the Oracle at Delphi proclaims Socrates wisest of men, 

Everyone immediately assumed he was a babbling fool who was bound to fuck up his own life in the silliest way possible.

he tries to prove it wrong.

Which he could do just by opening his mouth and blathering away. 

 As Plato recounts it in the Apology:


I went to one of those reputed wise, thinking that there, if anywhere, I could refute the oracle and say to it: “This man is wiser than I, but you said I was.” Then, when I examined this man—there is no need for me to tell you his name, he was one of our public men—my experience was something like this: I thought that he appeared wise to many people and especially to himself, but he was not. I then tried to show him that he thought himself wise, but that he was not. As a result he came to dislike me, and so did many of the bystanders. So I withdrew and thought to myself: “I am wiser than this man; it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know; so I am likely to be wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know.”

I am myself the oracle which declared me to be the richest of men. Hoping to refute the oracle, I went to examine the richest man I know. Yes, he owned mansions and luxurious limousines and yachts and had beautiful mistresses. But none of these enviable possessions could turn into emanations of the Nicaraguan horcrux of my neighbor's cat. Nor could mine, but at least I knew this- by 'synoida'- whereas that poor beggar didn't have any inkling of the extent of his own poverty and immiserization in that respect. Indeed, I'm not just the richest of all men, but by similar arguments, the sexiest of all women and the most feline of all cats.

If Socrates’s trademark claim is this protestation of ignorance, his trademark activity is the one also described in this passage: refuting the views of others. 

There is no such trademark. If there could be intellectual property in stupidity, philosophers would be rich. 

These are the conversations we find in Plato’s texts. How are the claim and the activity related?

By stupidity.

 Socrates denies that his motivations are altruistic: he says he is not a teacher, and insists that he is himself the primary beneficiary of the conversations he initiates. This adds to the mystery: What is Socrates getting out of showing people that they don’t know what they take themselves to know? What’s his angle?

He gets to feel he is superior- e.g. by asserting he is wiser than a guy reputed for wisdom. 

Over and over again, Socrates approaches people who are remarkable for their lack of humility—which is to say, for the fact that they feel confident in their own knowledge of what is just, or pious, or brave, or moderate.

Taking arrogant or self-satisfied people down a peg or two is not the act of a humble man more particularly if he ends up saying he has more of the quality for which the other guy is famous. 

 You might have supposed that Socrates, whose claim to fame is his awareness of his own ignorance, would treat these self-proclaimed “wise men” (Sophists) with contempt, hostility, or indifference. 

The sophist (σοφιστής, sophistes) was a master of a craft or, more generally, one reputed wise and prudent. A wise man, or sage, was called σοφός (sofós). Arguably, Socrates- though appearing polite- was treating his interlocutors with contempt- he genuinely didn't think they deserved their reputation or lived up to their own self-image. Displaying great passive aggressive hostility- he sought to twist their words and make them look foolish- while remaining indifferent to anything useful that they might impart. 

But he doesn’t. The most remarkable feature of Socrates’s approach is his punctilious politeness and sincere enthusiasm.

Plato was a gentleman- i.e. rich and leisured- and is at pains to depict Socrates as a 'diamond in the rough'. The fellow may have been poor but he could dine with his betters without disgracing himself or his host. The fact that he was of lower class robbed his words of any sting they might otherwise have had. Indeed, he was a mere step above a licensed buffoon. 

 The conversation usually begins with Socrates asking his interlocutor: Since you think you know, can you tell me, what is courage (or wisdom, or piety, or justice . . .)? 

Parmenides showed how to shut Socrates up. It was by saying 'you have sought too soon to determine a particular 'eidos'- i.e. you are a premature ejaculator. 

Over and over again, it turns out that they think they can answer, but they can’t. 

Because, the thing is premature. Suppose I see a renowned painter who has set up his easel at a scenic spot. I go along and ask him what he is going to paint. He may, for politeness sake, say enough to give me an idea of what he is aiming at and how he is likely to proceed. What he can't give me is a perfect 'ekphrasis' or description in words of what he will produce. This doesn't mean he doesn't know what he is doing or that the painting he will ultimately produce would be the mere product of blind chance. 

Socrates’s hope springs eternal: even as he walks toward the courtroom to be tried—and eventually put to death—for his philosophical activity, he is delighted to encounter the self-important priest Euthyphro, who will, surely, be able to say what piety is. (Spoiler: he’s not.)

Euthyphro is not a priest- a hereditary vocation among the ancient Greeks- though, no doubt, he participates in family rituals. His father had caused the death of a 'thetes'- a paid servant- on their estate in Naxos. He has come to get a judgment against him- presumably so that the family might be purged of blood guilt by paying some small fine while gaining a reputation for 'eusebia' such that, in the future, even larger Colonial estates might be leased out to them. Christians may find this dialogue difficult to understand. For Hindus, the thing is clear. The Indo-Greeks translated 'dharma' as 'eusebia'. Dharma is very difficult to know, but by scrupulously reporting one's own family's crimes (e.g. if the daughter-in-law accidentally killed a cat or a grandson harmed a monkey or peacock) and performing the correct 'prayaschitham' ritual one gains a reputational benefit and becomes eligible to become the 'shebait' of new temples or to administer larger Trust properties etc. etc. 

Euthyphro is helping his family. He is using the law as a way to enhance its reputation in a prudent manner. Athenian gentlemen might make fun of these Colonials who pretend great piety so as to get richer and richer, but the fact is Socrates should have gone to the Court and found out how that slimy fellow ingratiated himself with the judges while loudly demanding condign punishment (spare my aged father! Torture and kill me in his stead!) actually secured a goodly reward for himself. 

What is Socrates getting out of showing people that they don’t know what they take themselves to know?

He gets to feel better about himself and to impress which ever beardless youth he happens to have in tow.

Socrates seemed to think that the people around him could help him acquire the knowledge he so desperately wanted

he was only pretending.

—even though they were handicapped by the illusion that they already knew it.

Bill Gates thinks he is rich which is why he is pending so much money on Africa. What a fool! I am actually much richer than him and if even I don't have a pot to piss in just imagine how utterly impoverished Gates is! No wonder his wife is getting shot of that beggar!.

 Indeed, I believe that their ill-grounded confidence was precisely what drew Socrates to them. If you think you know something, you will be ready to speak on the topic in question.

Only if you have nothing better to do. Why did Gates refuse to speak to me when I tried to call him on Skype? It was because the guy was on his knees in a truck-stop giving beejays so as to to put together enough money to buy a burger. 

 You will hold forth, spout theories, make claims—and all this, under Socrates’s relentless questioning, is the way to actually acquire the knowledge you had deluded yourself into thinking you already had.

But no one actually gained any knowledge from Socrates. That's why mathematicians and generals and businessmen were not queuing up to chat with him.

Let me sketch a little dialogue you might have with Socrates.

Callard is stupider than even dudes wot died long ago. That is why her worthless shite is being promoted.


Socrates: What is courage?

Me= bravery. Not that shitting yourself if some dude gives you the stink eye isn't a demonstration of exemplary courage. Anyway, I have IBS.

Courage is to act in the opposite manner of a person overmastered by fear.

You: Courage is being willing to take big risks without knowing how it’s going to work out.

That's not courage. It is risk proclivity or gambling addiction. Some people may gain pleasure from taking risks. They may be very cowardly in every other respect. Max Beerbohm has a story called 'James Pethel'- about a Edwardian gentleman who, at first blush, seems a nice enough guy though a high stakes gambler. Then Max realizes that Pethel, having grown jaded with success at the Casino, is now gambling the lives of his loved ones so as to get the same kick. Like, 'Zuleikha Dobson', 'James Pethel' seems to foretell the slaughter in the trenches which put an end to that gilded age. 

Courage may involve risking your life in a good cause but it precludes endangering it simply for the thrill of the thing. 

Socrates: Such as risking your life?

You: Yes.

Socrates: Is courage good?

You: Yes.

Socrates: Do you want it for yourself and your children?

You: Yes.

Socrates: Do you want your children to go around risking their lives?

You: No. Maybe I should’ve said that courage is taking prudent risks, where you know what you are doing.

Socrates: Like an expert investor who knows how to risk money to make lots more?

You: No, that isn’t courageous. . . .

At this point, your pathways are blocked. You cannot say courage is ignorant risk-taking, and you cannot say courage is prudent risk-taking. You do not have a way forward. You are in what Socrates’s interlocutors called aporia, a state of confusion in which there is nowhere for you to go.

This is nonsense. You can say 'prudent risk-tasking involves courage of some sort.' You can also say that if Knightian Uncertainty obtains then all risk-taking is ignorant of some possible state of the world. A 'type theory'- i.e. dividing things up into categories- resolves all 'aporias' and 'paradoxes' and so forth.

Suppose that the conversation goes no further than this—that, as is typical for Socrates’s interlocutors, you storm off in a huff at this point. Where does that leave you, and where does that leave Socrates?

It leaves both unchanged.

Let’s start with you first. You might be in a worse mood than you were when you encountered Socrates, 

or you may be in a better mood because you told that loser to go fuck himself. 

but he hasn’t harmed you. 

He may have triggered memories of sexual or financial abuse by some other similar fast talking swindler wot got you to take down your panties or trade your cow for a bunch of 'magic' beans. 

In fact, you are better off than you were: you’ve learned that courage isn’t as easy to define as you initially thought it was. Being improved isn’t always pleasant.

Courage is easy enough to define- at least for the purpose of a lexicographer. Any protocol bound, buck stopped, juristic process has little difficulty deciding what is courage and what is shitting yourself and running away. 

Second, Socrates has learned something. Courage seems to involve something like endurance or holding fast, 

But Callard did not mention endurance or holding fast. She babbled nonsense about taking risks. 

but it cannot straightforwardly be identified with such a state—not even when we add some other ingredients, such as wisdom. 

This is nonsense. In any given social context, the predicate 'courageous' solves a coordination problem of a particular type. This may involve risk, or disutility, or the breaking of a habit or norm or something else of that sort. But, equally, we may speak of a person as showing courage simply because they remain cheerful under adverse circumstances. 

Before this conversation, Socrates didn’t know what courage was.

It is ironic that Callard does not know that Socratic irony is defined as pretending to be ignorant.

 Now his ignorance can take a more specific shape: he doesn’t know what the connection between courage and endurance is. 

The connection is merely linguistic. We may metaphorically speak of courage as endurance or vice versa. Endurance obtains even absent anything to fear. Courage obtains even if it is momentary and expires in the moment it is exercised. 

He still knows that he doesn’t know what courage is, but his knowledge of his own ignorance has been improved, made more precise.

Callard's ignorance seems to increase the more she writes. Why couldn't she look up 'courage' in the dictionary and see that it means 'bravery' and is linked to mastering fear. 

Being improved isn’t always pleasant.

It’s one thing to say, “I don’t know anything.” That thought comes cheap. One can wonder, “Who really and truly knows anything?” in a way that is dismissive, uninquisitive, detached. It can be a way of saying, “Knowledge is unattainable, so why even try?” Socratic humility is more expensive and more committal than that. He sought to map the terrain of his ignorance, to plot its mountains and its rivers, to learn to navigate it. 

I have long sought to map the terrain of my super-sexiness and... well, lets just say that I now have very hairy palms. 

Category theorists and other really smart mathsy dudes are certainly mapping terrains of relevance to philosophy and hermeneutics. But Callard is simply shitting higher than her arsehole. Socrates never gave us a 'joined-up' theory of Justice and Beauty and Truth and so forth. Plato has 'Forms' but how do Forms connect to each other?

That, I think, is why he speaks of knowledge of his own ignorance.

Which he gains by 'synoida'- direct consciousness, not a chain of reasoning or with reference to some 'navigated' terrain. Unlike Pericles or Plato, who were descended from people whose 'knowledge' gave them power to change the destiny of Athens, Socrates- even more than Aspasia (while Pericles was alive) had no power at all. No doubt, he could have believed the things he was told to believe- but that would have been 'false consciousness'. Unlike Anaxagoras, Socrates was condemned to death and, it may be, woke from a dream.

 He’s not just someone who acknowledges or admits to his ignorance, but someone who has learned to dwell within it.

As opposed to all those other guys wo are dwelling outside their ignorance and, to add insult to injury, are getting free Cable. 

Admittedly, this may seem like a paradoxical project. It’s one thing to be missing your wallet—you will know it once you’ve found it. 

How stupid is Callard? You know you are missing your wallet when you reach for it and can't find it.

But suppose you’re missing not only your wallet, but also the knowledge that you ever had a wallet, and the understanding of what a wallet is. 

Then we may say that your wallet is missing- not that you are missing your wallet. The fact is you may have had your skull bashed in and thus aint missing shite.

One of Socrates’s interlocutors, Meno, doubts whether it’s possible to come to know anything if you know so little to begin with. 

The context is whether virtue can be taught.

If someone doesn’t know where she’s going, it doesn’t seem as though she can even take a first step in the right direction.

She can. She just can't be sure it is the right direction.

 Can you map in total darkness?

Yes. Shut your eyes and map the route from your bed to the toilet. You may have to do some such thing if there is a power cut. 

Socrates’s answer was no.

He was wrong. He babbled some shit about remembering everything from previous births. 

 Or at least: you can’t do it alone. The right response to noticing one’s own ignorance is to try to escape it by acquiring someone else’s knowledge.

Callard is making this shit up. The right response to noticing one's own ignorance of what your neighbor's poop smells like is to than your lucky stars. 

 But the only way to do that is to explain to them why you aren’t yet able to accept this or that claim of theirs as knowledge—and that is what mapping one’s ignorance amounts to.

No. You may know more than the guys you are interviewing. You keep asking them questions to see if their knowledge claims are well supported. 

 Socrates stages an exhibition of this method for Meno by demonstrating how much geometrical progress he can make with a young slave boy by doing nothing but asking questions that expose the boy’s false assumptions.

We know Socrates knew shit about geometry.

 It is when he refutes others’ claims to knowledge that Socrates’s own ignorance takes shape, for him, as something he can know. What appears as a sea of darkness when approached introspectively turns out to be navigable when brought into contact with the knowledge claims of another.

I was waking one night on a beach near a pensione in 
Santa Maria de Leuca. My companion asked me if we were looking at the Ionian Sea or the Adriatic, which during daylight are distinguishable by their color. I replied that it was the Indian Ocean we were looking at. Only a fucking racist would suggest otherwise. Our subsequent conversation did not make that body of water- whatever it might be called- more navigable to either of us. 


Socrates was an unusual person. Consider his response to the oracle. Most people who are proclaimed wise by a trusted authority don’t have the impulse to disprove that authority.

They do if that Oracle had the habit of being really sarky. 

Instead, they bask in the glory of the assessment of themselves that they have spent their whole lives longing to hear.

They are more likely to do so if they can make a living thanks to that 'assessment'. 

 Most people steer conversations into areas where they have expertise; 

unless they can bill you for access to that expertise.

they struggle to admit error; 

and positively refuse to admit that they eat dog turds

they have a background confidence that they have a firm grip on the basics.

as opposed to a nagging suspicion that they absent mindedly devour dog turds.

 They are happy to think of other people—people who have different political or religious views, or got a different kind of education, or live in a different part of the world—as ignorant and clueless. 

In which case they are very very happy people coz there are lots of little babies on the other side of the world who are plenty ignorant- though, not sadly, for very long. 

They are eager to claim the status of knowledge for everything they themselves think.

This is not the case. Having knowledge- even if it is only what you believe to be knowledge- has costly consequences. True, we may say 'I know x' in casual conversation but, if pressed, readily admit that the matter in question was not something we had any good reason to acquire knowledge about. We were merely speaking figuratively or for some non-epistemic purpose.

But Socrates did not take this difference as grounds to despise or dismiss this group, aka Most People (hoi polloi). 

The class of the poor and powerless, to which he himself belonged. Themistocles and Pericles might make great play of their fondness for the great unwashed but Socrates was not fooled. He made it his business to talk with guys from good families rather than the likes of Simon the Shoemaker. 

He saw, instead, that he and Most People were a match made in heaven.

Till hemlock did them part. 

 Most People put forward claims,

Rubbish! Every single guy Socratic dialogue featured a rich, well-born, or otherwise distinguished interlocutor. True, a slave might sometimes be called in to illustrate that 'knowledge is innate' or something of that sort. Consider the Theaetetus. Two rich guys call in a servant to read out the dialogue. They don't ask him his opinion of what he is reading. 

 and Socrates refutes them. 

Hoi polloi means 'the masses'. Callard thinks it means socially prominent people.

Most People see the need to possess truths. 

About useful things- sure. 

Socrates saw the danger of acquiring falsehoods.

& continued to see that danger till his cup of hemlock arrived.

 Most People feel full of rich insights and brilliant thoughts.

The ancient Greeks weren't precious little snowflakes on a University Campus studying or teaching shit.

 Socrates saw himself as bereft of all of that. Without the help of Most People, Socrates wouldn’t have anything to think about. 

This is not the case. Maieutics is merely a method of exposition. 

Socrates’s neediness did not escape his own notice. In the Theaetetus, he describes himself as a kind of midwife—barren of knowledge himself, but engaged in “delivering” the wisdom-babies of Most People.

In other words, he was claiming to be able to lead a person to arrive at good conclusions that were their own just as a mid-wife enables a woman to deliver her own, not the mid-wife's, baby. Sadly, such maieutics is useless. Aristotle etc, gave lectures and compiled books. 

Socrates was unaware that a mid-wife need not be old. Indeed, a virgin could be trained to be a midwife. Agnodice went to Egypt for medical training. She was acquitted of perverting the women of Athens because she lifted her skirt to show she didn't have no dick. She was a medical professional useful to the Polis.

How could Socrates be, according to his own theory, be a 'midwife' unless he had healthy offspring? In this case, he must know something other than that he knows nothing- viz. what his 'thought-baby' has been getting up to after he left School. 

More and more our politics are marked by unilateral persuasion instead of collaborative inquiry.

Very true. Trump and Biden aren't collaboratively inquiring into anything. Who did? Obama and McCain? Kennedy & Nixon? Lincoln & Jefferson Davis? Washington & George III?

There may be polities where decision making is collegial and there is no adversarial element in leadership contests. But this wasn't true of ancient Athens or modern America. 

Socrates saw the pursuit of knowledge as a collaborative project involving two very different roles. 

No he did not. He never said 'Let's split up our investigation so that each of us inquires into the are where we have expertise. Then let's all report back and see if we get a picture of what's going on.'

There’s you or I or some other representative of Most People, who comes forward and makes a bold claim. 

Callard is making a bold claim. I am showing she is ignorant and stupid. Does she care? Fuck, no! She get's paid- that's what's important. 

Then there’s Socrates, or one of his contemporary descendants, who questions and interrogates and distinguishes and calls for clarification. 

So Socioproctology is the Socratic maieutics of our age.

This is something we’re often still doing—as philosophers, as scientists, as interviewers, as friends, on Twitter and Facebook and in many casual personal conversations. We’re constantly probing one another, asking, “How can you say that, given X, Y, Z?” We’re still trying to understand one another by way of objection, clarification, and the simple fact of inability to take what someone has said as knowledge. It comes so naturally to us to organize ourselves into the knower/objector pairing that we don’t even notice we are living in the world that Socrates made. 

But this adversarial method was already a feature of Athenian legal and political life before Socrates was born. There were philosophers and philosophical disputes before him and these continued after him. What people gave up on was the ridiculous notion that we know everything already from a former life. 

The scope of his influence is remarkable. 

Academics are named such because Plato's School was called the Academy. Aristotle became Alexander's tutor and Alexander conquered a lot of territory thus ushering in the Hellenistic Age. The Romans came under the influence of Greek philosophy and belles- lettres. The Byzantine Empire restored Greek primacy. The Arabs, in their turn, came under the influence of Greek knowledge. Thus both Christianity and Islam had savants/Saints who referenced Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Judaism had already been Hellenized. Second Maccabees was written in Koine Greek. 

But equally remarkable is the means by which it was achieved: he did so much by knowing, writing, and accomplishing—nothing at all.

Actually, we know he wrote stuff which- no doubt for very good reasons- his admirers did not care to preserve.


And yet for all this influence, many of our ways are becoming far from Socratic.

Some branches of the Academy- e.g. moral philosophy- have turned to shit. This is because they recruit stupid peeps to teach stupider peeps who then write articles for the Boston Review thus blowing the gaff on the whole scam.

 More and more our politics are marked by unilateral persuasion instead of collaborative inquiry. If, like Socrates, you view knowledge as an essentially collaborative project, you don’t go into a conversation expecting to persuade any more than you expect to be persuaded.

Callard still doesn't get that Socratic irony is merely a pretense. This is because it pays her to be stupid.

 By contrast, if you do assume you know, you embrace the role of persuader in advance, and stand ready to argue people into agreement. 

Nonsense! There are professionals who specialize in 'persuading' though they may have no relevant knowledge. 

If argument fails, you might tolerate a state of disagreement—but if the matter is serious enough, you’ll resort to enforcing your view through incentives or punishments. 

Very true! When you go into McDonald's, you first try to get the burger flipper to agree that you are deserving of a cheeseburger. Only if there is a disagreement do you pull out your wallet and purchase it. 

By contrast, the cat may well agree with you that you deserve a cheeseburger. But securing that agreement doesn't help you get a cheeseburger. Sad. 

Socrates’s method eschewed the pressure to persuade. 

He did persuade some rich kids that he was one smart old pederast. 

At the same time, he did not tolerate tolerance. 

But only in the sense that he did not not do or practice practice or breathe breath or politic politics or humiliate humility or dispute dispute.

His politics of humility involved genuinely opening up the question under dispute, in such a way that neither party would be permitted to close it, to settle on an answer, unless the other answered the same.

Yet Parmenides settled his hash but good. 

 By contrast, our politics—of persuasion, tolerance, incentives, and punishment—is deeply uninquisitive.

Callard's writing is deeply uninquisitive. She won't even fact-check her own articles by Googling stuff. Maybe it's because she won't get paid more if she takes a little trouble over the shite she dashes off.

Plato depicts Socrates’s final moments in the Phaedo. Before he fulfills his death sentence by drinking the hemlock, he offers up a series of arguments about the immortality of the soul.

It must be said, this is a very rich text from the literary point of view. Together with Socrates's notion of 'palinode', the 'labyrinth' created by these four, orthogonal, arguments is suggestive of an interlocking 'spread' of choice sequences which, it may be, is what, 'at the end of time' would yield 'univalent foundations' to...everything. 

Plato, it must be admitted, was a gentleman and had genuine literary talent of a type rare in his successors. 

 Each argument attempts to improve upon the previous one’s failure to show the people around him that his death is not something to be mourned.

Which is like an argument for why you shouldn't get me a birthday present- just come to the party, already! I've spent my life-savings on it coz I luv youse guys. You mean everything to me. Anyway, how many more such birthdays can I expect to see... So please please don't get me anything just coz you are all very rich- at least compared to me- and I love you more than life itself.

 Despite the brilliance, refinement, and detail of argumentation, he does not convince his interlocutors.

Coz he isn't saying 'fuck off. I always hated the whole bunch of you. Indeed, I had planned to poison you at my birthday party. BTW, I will come back as a ghost and haunt the fuck out of you if you don't all tear your fucking hair out in grief weeping over my grave.'

The fact is, showing pleasure at your friend's birthday party and grief at his funeral...actually feels kind of right. Weeping copiously as the guy cuts the birthday cake or getting naked and running around with a radish up your bum as his coffin is lowered into the ground just doesn't give you the same feeling of satisfaction. 

 From much experience teaching and reading the dialogue, I can say that he does not convince its readers, either. Arguably, he does not even manage to convince himself. He died as he lived, ignorant and inquiring.

No. He died as he lived- an Athenian who made the best of his opportunities and did so with charm, eloquence and his own idiosyncratic brand of attic salt. 

Aspasia's son by Pericles was granted citizenship. Sadly he was executed after a naval battle where the leaders were accused of failing to rescue survivors. The ship of state, it seems, steered on other currents than those of Love. Yet, what Sappho did in poetry and Aspasia did in Politics, Socrates- it might be said- achieved in Philosophy- viz. nothing for his own people but more than everything for generations of aspirants to high culture forced to submit to a fraudulent paideia. 


Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Omnis determinatio negatio est



So throbbing my migraine, my brain compounds Infinity's ratio to Time's yearning for rest
Ah! For grave robbing my own treasure, drear Memory, thy earning Poverty is blest!
Saqi, pour without measure putting Paul's Truth to Ruth's test.
Omnis determinatio negatio est.


Envoi- 
Prince! Betroth only blondes! Not even the most lonely of black holes can hide a real number
Suffering is mere Suffering, Souls simpering elide to come across as yet dumber



Monday, 26 July 2021

Shruti Rajagopalan's Pollyanna Political Economy

The Business standard reproduces Shruti Rajagopal's Blomberg opinion piece on why reforms have stalled in India. Every line of it is false or foolish or both false and foolish. 

Exactly 30 years ago, a looming balance of payments crisis finally convinced India’s leaders to dismantle its socialist economy, ushering in private enterprise and years of higher growth. 

Nonsense! The IMF would have provided the same sort of generous terms they offered in 1981. The can could have been kicked down the road. India had no 'leaders' at that moment in time. Rajiv was dead and Sonia wasn't yet ready to take charge. Rao took a risk knowing that if his government was brought down, his successor too would be toppled. Meanwhile, being seen as 'business friendly' would refill the party coffers- not to mention further enrich his chum the bogus Godman Chandraswamy.

The 'structural' factor which made liberalization inevitable was 'Mandal'- i.e. affirmative action for backward castes. Clearly there could never be enough government jobs to go around and so there was no alternative but to grow the private sector, to absorb educated youth, or else risk 'caste war'. 

The Commies had previously pretended to believe there was some sort of agreement by which the 'Brezhnev doctrine' applied to India- i.e. the country was actually doing curry socialism, like 'goulash socialism' in Hungary. But, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, that pretense could not be maintained.

Those pundits and policy makers hoping that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might use the country’s Covid-induced slump to launch similarly dramatic reforms, however, are likely to be disappointed.

The Farm bill was touted as a dramatic reform. But look at the reaction it has provoked! Modi has an alibi for passing the buck to the only people able to do anything about reform- viz. the Chief Ministers.

That’s not because Modi is afraid of bold initiatives or lacks the political capital to see them through; his popularity remains unmatched, as does his flair for the dramatic gesture. The real issue is that his government and the Indian bureaucracy, unlike in 1991, aren’t set up to develop a consensus behind liberalizing reforms.

There was no such consensus. Certain politicians- V.P Singh, Ajith Singh etc- commissioned particular officials to prepare reports which were beneficial to themselves politically. V.P was seen as anti-Corporate and needed a way to appeal to the lower rung of businessmen. Ajith Singh was the son of a former P.M and had studied in America and had worked for IBM. He was presenting himself as a business-friendly version of his Dad, the farmer's leader. 


It’s important to remember that the 1991 reforms didn’t come out of the blue, purely in response to the crisis. They had been fermenting for more than a decade, prompted in part by the success of India’s more open Asian neighbors. 

Opposition to the license permit Raj began in the Fifties. It was thought that Shastri would do something in this connection after the War. Sanjay Gandhi might well have taken the country in a South Korean direction if his Mum hadn't called off the Emergency. 

Shruti is pretending that Indians respected the opinions of economists and bureaucrats. This was certainly not the case. Good economists emigrated. Better economists quit economics and started a restaurant or a dry cleaning business after emigrating. 

Growth miracles in countries such as South Korea and China defied the post-World War II consensus that poorer countries needed to shield their infant industries from outside competition.

There was no such consensus. It was obvious that such protected infants never grow up. Still, Development aid consisting of 'turn-key' projects were in vogue for various non-economic reasons.

 A program of fiscal discipline, deregulation, currency and trade liberalization, and privatization — familiarly known as the Washington Consensus — became the leading prescription for developing countries.

It was made by Latin Americans for Latin Americans. But, previously, it had been made by every single economically successful country for itself.

Key Indian technocrats grew to support such reforms during their time at international institutions such the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations, and began introducing them to India in the 1980s.

But Indians knew from the Fifties itself that the license-permit Raj was political, not economic. Anyway, by the late Sixties, you had Indian or Burmese (e.g. Myint) or other brown economists teaching Trade & Development in Western Universities who were energetically pushing this type of common sense. 

 While those initial efforts didn’t produce immediate change, the ideas percolated through the bureaucracy and found their way into parliamentary and expert committee reports.

Which nobody read. Nobody becomes a babu or a neta to read fucking reports. They do so to get rich or, if they are virtuous, to fuck over the country till it cries 'Ahimsa! Ahimsa!' and crawls into a corner to die of starvation.

 By 1991, after years of consultation and debate, they were ready to be implemented under pressure of the crisis.

This is foolish. You can scrap a whole bunch of regulations with a stroke of the pen. There is no need for any 'consultation or debate'. The only question is 'will this worsen or improve the balance of trade'? Obviously, it would worsen it initially. This pleased the politicians whose job it is to fuck over India coz that's what Gandhi and Nehru and Tagore had wanted. 

 They found the perfect shepherd in then-Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, an Oxford-trained economist with a doctoral dissertation in trade policy.

Manmohan, like Montek & Minhas was a Punjabi- that too a Sikh! Those stupid bastards don't understand that Economists must fuck over India till it cries 'Ahimsa! Ahimsa!' and crawls into a corner to starve to death. 

In 1939, Mahatma Gandhi wrote- 'Consider for one moment what can happen if the English were to withdraw all of a sudden and there was no foreign usurper to rule.

It may be said that the Punjabis, be they Muslims, Sikhs or others, will overrun India.'
Gandhi was referring to military domination. He firmly believed that the Hindus were worthless cowards. However, Punjabis aren't just brave, they are also hard working and want people to eat well and live nicely. Bastards! They are too stupid to understand that only a Gandhian hole in one's begging bowl can save the soul of Holy Mother India. 

Why did Hindus let ignorant Sikhs- like Manmohan and Montek- destroy India's starving soul? The answer is the Khalistan insurgency. Delhi had prevented industrial development in Punjab with the result that unemployed youth took up arms and started killing very soulful Hindu politicians. It seemed safer to let the Punjabis open the gates to prosperity (though the sly Southerners had already manipulated the system to get ahead) for the rest of the country. 

Two things have changed in recent years. First, among elite development economists,

there is not one single one who is not reviled. At best these guys can only measure poverty the way they, no doubt, keep measuring their micro-dicks in the hope it will get bigger. 

 the academic emphasis has shifted from chasing prosperity through free trade and economic growth to redesigning poverty alleviation and redistribution programs.

So there is no 'development econ' (which just amounts to 'do what smart countries are doing. If Bangladesh has overtaken you, do what they do') There are just a bunch of competing virtue signaling cretins who want to cream off a livelihood from the charitable dollar. 

 Much research focuses on what government interventions are most effective, using methods such as the randomized controlled trials that won Michael Kremer, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo a Nobel Prize in 2019. While few economists disagree about the need for India to liberalize its land and labor rules, implement tax reforms, and privatize banks and other state-owned enterprises, those ideas no longer have the same cachet.

Coz you will be fucking crucified on Twitter if you come out against the Farmer's agitation etc. 

Second, the bureaucratic system is no longer functioning as it once did, vetting proposals and building cross-party consensus.

and then tying up the country in red-tape till it went and sat in a corner to starve to death while muttering 'Ahimsa! Ahimsa!'. 

 In Modi’s first term, only a quarter of the bills introduced in Parliament were referred to expert committees — far below the 71% and 60% rates of the previous two governments.

So what? The bills were properly drafted- which is all that matters. 'Expert committees' just means 'bunch of senile shitheads'. 

 In his current term, that figure has declined to roughly 10%. 

I didn't know that. Good for Modi!

Nor has the process of pre-legislative consultation introduced by the Modi government worked as advertised: In his first term, only 44 out of 186 bills were treated to such back-and-forth.

I think PLCP was introduced by Manmohan not Modi. About 90 percent of bills since then have not followed the policy. So what? Policy paralysis has decreased.

In recent years, India has also taken to helicoptering in influential academics such as former central bank chief Raghuram Rajan rather than building a cadre of homegrown economists within the bureaucracy.

Manmohan did that. Modi saw it was silly.

 Their ideas have had limited buy-in from the permanent bureaucracy, always resistant to outside opinions. Modi’s government, too, is now seen as increasingly skeptical of foreign or elite influence, in part because of criticism from former advisers who have returned to the West.

Indians became skeptical of those shitheads once they started op-eding and we could discover that they had shit for brains.

What India had 30 years ago and lacks now is an infrastructure where good ideas can be refined and rise to the top levels of government.

No. What India has now is anti-corruption sentiment and Social Media. A policy change which let a lot of politicians get rich thirty years ago can't be implemented in the same way now. Why? Because Labor or Land or Farm reform affects a large class of indigenous intermediaries. Look at how successful the 'arthiyas' of Punjab have been in orchestrating the Farm protests. Now think about all the Trade Unionists and Labor lawyers and so forth who will supply a permanent 'rent a mob' for 'andolanjivis' to command.  

Still, at the State level, a Chief Minister can beat and jail and kill enough of the troublemakers to push needful reform through. Elite economists aren't going to suddenly appear waving lathis to beat back protestors. That is why they are useless. 

 In his July 1991 budget speech announcing liberalization, Singh paraphrased Victor Hugo: “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.” 

But, as Prime Minister, he couldn't reform Labor and Land and so forth. Still, he was a good guy and will be remembered as such. Sonia's big mistake was to empower a bunch of Left-Liberal 'public intellectuals' who fucked over Manmohan in 2012 when he tried to turn a Moody credit downgrading into a 1991 type make-or-break moment. Maybe the Lefties thought they were providing an alibi for Rahul to push Manmohan aside and win the 2014 election on a 'Mr. Caring, son of Mr. Clean' platform. But Rahul was gun shy. Modi ran unopposed. 

But ideas can only come of age in an environment conducive to nurturing them.

Like where? South Korea in the late Fifties and early Sixties? Is this woman utterly mad?

 Until India regains that, the prospects for sensible economic reforms appear bleak.

So, first somebody must go shoot Rahul and Sonia and Priyanka. Then there will be sympathy vote for Congress. Then Robert Vadra will become PM the way Zardari became PM of Pakistan. Then some 'ideas' which have been 'incubating' will turn into reforms. Everything the garden will be lovely. This is the gist of Shruti's own patented brand of 'Political Economy'. Her parents must be so proud. 

Shruti Rajagopal incubating stupidity

Why did India liberalize trade policy in 1991? The big reason (mastyanyaya) which swallows up all small reasons is that V.P Singh had implemented the Mandal Commission recommendations and granted affirmative action to 'Backward Castes'.  This put Congress and the BJP (which had 'Forward caste' leadership) on the backfoot. The BJP could play the Hindutva card. Congress, under an Italian Christian, had to promise expanding opportunities in the private sector to absorb angry 'Forward Caste' youth.

Obviously, if you are going to lift tariffs, the time and the place to do it is during multilateral negotiations so as to get the biggest possible reciprocal benefit. Where the thing is done unilaterally, chances are the thing is a political gamble by an ambitious politician in a weak position. 

One could add some ideographic details here and there. The fact is Narasimha Rao was heading a minority Government. He might as well face a vote of no confidence on a substantive matter rather than wait to be toppled for some bungling of his own. The one thing one can't say is that economists had anything to do with Rao's subversion of Nehruvian ideology. If they had, they'd have said- 'pick your moment. Do reform as part of trade negotiations'. 

 Still, one could say that some people trained in economics did play a role in 1991. Subramaniyam Swamy was given a Cabinet level post- but he was already a notorious intriguer so nobody could be sure what exactly this meant. Manmohan Singh- being a Sikh at a time of Khalistani insurgency- was useful to Rao who brought him in to do a job few suspected he had any relish for. The assumption was that he was a Lefty of some unassuming sort. Rao presented this lamb as a lion to distract attention from his own perfidy to the Gandhi-Nehru ideology. This did not save him from Sonia's ire later on.

The truth about 1991 is well known to all save academic economists. One such, Shruti Rajagopalan, writes in 'the 1991 project'

Since 2011, there has been a decline in secular growth rates. 

What changed in 2011? Anna Hazare, a 'Gandhian' village leader, started a hunger strike on April 4 2011. His aim was to check corruption by creating a Lok Pal or ombudsman with wide ranging powers. The media jumped on this bandwagon with great eagerness. Why? They were aware that Sonia had saddled Manmohan with tainted officials and Ministerial colleagues. The blood was already in the water and so the sharks were circling. Policy paralysis set in. Meanwhile, as Kaushik Basu reports, the 'activists' on Sonia's 'National Advisory Council' got the upper hand. This meant the Government started granting 'rights' to all sorts of things without having the means to provide the resources to make those rights meaningful. 

A further problem had to do with the way that many business houses had borrowed money from Nationalized Banks and the L.I.C etc. Much of the 'boom' was artificial. A shakeout was bound to happen. The same was true of the real estate bubble. Furthermore, Foreign Direct Investment faltered because it turned out that the Indian partner, more often than not, was a lying, cheating, incompetent scumbag. Then, to add salt to the wound, Manmohan Singh passed a retrospective tax act in 2012. The foreign investor felt this was daylight robbery. It remains to be seen whether Vodafone and Cairn energy will be able to seize Government assets abroad to force it to pay back the money it extorted.

Private firms have lost confidence in the market and ordinary Indians have lost faith in a system that is rampant with high-level corruption.

That reached a peak during the Anna Hazare movement. Modi broke the back of the anti-corruption campaign through demonetization. It also helped that Anna Hazare's fellow campaigners fell out with each other. Arvind Kejriwal emerged as the winner and became Chief Minister of Delhi. The remainder now cut a sorry figure.

 Thanks to the twin disasters of demonetization and GST (Goods and Services Tax reform), growth rates have dropped to below 5 percent. Indians once again face an economic crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic and lockdowns.

The difference this time round is that it has become obvious to the voter that it is the State Government, not the Central Government, which must take the lead. The Bihari or UP voter can see that some states have a per capita income five times that of their own state. Because of COVID, many migrant laborers have had to return home. All eyes are on Yogi Adityanath. If he can generate jobs in India's largest state (while locking up or killing criminal/politicians) then India will have turned a corner.

The implementation of GST may not have been great but it was vital that India get rid of inter-state trade barriers.

As economic outcomes look bleak, everyone is looking to Prime Minister Modi to announce the next big set of reforms to liberalize factor markets and privatize state-owned enterprises.

Modi did push through a Land ordinance and now has brought in a Farm Bill. Shruti remains silent on the opposition to this Bill. Nobody in their right mind wants him to do any more 'reform'. Otherwise you are going to have nothing but super-spreader mass agitations besieging the Capital. Shruti can't say 'the farmers are wrong' because she will be attacked ferociously on Twitter, if not physically harmed, if she speaks out on that type of craziness. We sympathize. But we think she is a fool to say 'everyone is looking to Modi' to trigger yet more crazy agitations.

 In Modi, India has a leader with the popularity and political clout to get the job done. But crisis and clout are not enough. Good policy formulation also requires ideas and institutions.

No. India's experience, post 1991, is that States which embrace reform and which create a secure environment for enterprise, surge ahead. Those where criminals run amok stagnate. Ideas don't matter. Institutions are too weak to make any difference. Only the State Government, not the Central Government, can alter the destiny of its people by beating and killing troublemakers and gangsters.

Modi does not lack the boldness or a willingness to act and use his political capital, as was evident during demonetization, or his toilets-for-all campaign. What is lacking is a basic understanding of economics.

It is certainly true that Indian economists have no 'basic understanding of economics'. But that is irrelevant because economics is horse-shit. Everybody knows that for enterprise to thrive both the gangsters and corrupt officials have to be severely dealt with. However, for India, there is a larger problem which Shruti does not address- because it would get her into trouble. India's 'activist/public intellectual' class finds it profitable to block development. Edwin Lim, of the World Bank, helped China rise in the Eighties. When he came to India, he thought his job had suddenly become much easier because his Indian counterparts shared his language and ideas. Then the NGOs, backed by the Ford Foundation and Soros and so forth, prevented Lim from achieving anything. The Judiciary- whom Shruti does castigate- fostered a cult of 'public interest litigation' which compounded the problem. 

The problem was, and remained, that it was more profitable and reputationally beneficial to fuck up India than to enable it to prosper. Indira Gandhi, on returning to power in 1980, had taken a big stick to the Gandhian nutters who had helped her enemies. She got Buta Singh to accuse them of being CIA agents and cut off their funding. Manmohan Singh tried to do the same thing to various foreign funded NGOs. But, as Basu records, he and his fellow economists were sidelined by Sonia's 'activist' Advisory Panel. This was great news for Narendra Modi. Why? Even the English speaking elite had come to loathe the very sight of Amartya Sen and his various holier-than-thou clones. Modi had the right ideas and could communicate them in a language that actually means something to us- viz. Hindi. In English, we merely virtue signal. In Hindi, we talk turkey. 

 The consequence of using political clout in the face of crisis without a long process of sound ideas informing policy results in disasters like demonetization or protectionism by increasing import tariffs, or the clarion call to “Make in India.”

This is sheer nonsense. India is running a big deficit with China. It also has the chance to take supply chains from them. It makes sense for India to erect barriers against China- whose trade policy is unfair and which is being aggressive towards India- so as to signal that India will have a big domestic market so that gaining economies by 'making in India' is a riskless bet (provided State Governments fuck up criminals/corrupt officials and beat and lock up agitators and activists- 'andolanjivis' as Modi calls them.) Interestingly, Paul Krugman recently told Ashoka students that  India must get ready to accept that rights and freedoms of labor must  be sacrificed up to the point where “labor is not getting killed”. This means beating Nodeep Kaur type activists with vim and vigor the way the Haryanvis have been doing for the last 30 years. 


Ideas are the critical foundation, but ideas can only come of age in a society that has a commitment to liberal exchange of ideas, that allows free expression, and doesn’t insist on toeing the party line.

What 'liberal exchange of ideas' was occurring in Taiwan or South Korea or Malaysia or any other country which adopted sensible policies? Why is Bangladesh overtaking India? Is it because Bangladesh is more liberal and exchanging ideas incessantly? Don't be silly.

But India under Modi is not set up for a similar churning of ideas or the infrastructure to convert sound ideas into policy. 

Modi does not matter. Chief Ministers, like Yogi, do matter. But there is no need for 'ideas' when it is obvious what needs to be done. Shruti is pretending that demonetization was based on some economic idea. It wasn't. It was purely political. Modi had guarded his flank against Anna Hazare type nutters. No doubt, as the General Election approaches, 'growth' will magically appear. 

The 1991 reforms were passed quickly but were in the making for many months by technocrats who worked with different governments. In India today, instead of building a cadre of economists within India’s bureaucracy, the emphasis is on helicoptering in academics from elite institutions abroad like Raghuram Rajan or Kaushik Basu to serve as central banker or chief economic advisor. 

Shruti is being silly. It was Manmohan who did that. Modi knows these fellows are useless. 

Narasmiha Rao deserves the credit for bringing in Manmohan, as Finance Minister, and giving Subramaniyam Swamy (who claimed to have been a pal of Rajiv's) a Cabinet level post. This enabled him to do something radical which, if successful, would get him a place in the history books. Rao, though appearing a rustic lackey of the dynasty had seen how 'Andhrapreneurs' could rise up and lift up the people with them. Thus his mindset was similar to that of the Punjabi economist born, as he was, into an agriculturist family. 

Their liberal ideas have limited buy-in with the permanent bureaucracy who lack the training or commitment to values of free exchange economic growth. 

I've been hearing this nonsense for four decades. Crap American Universities have been promising to 're-educate' the incorrigible Indian babu for many many years. But what happens when they get their hands on an Indian bureaucrat? They produce a Sanjeev Sabhlok type imbecile whom even the Australians can't stomach.

And because of the frictions caused by the mismatch and in part because of criticism from former advisers who have returned to the West, Modi’s government is increasingly skeptical of foreign or elite influence.

So are we all. These guys are useless. Still, Manmohan thought they could affect perceptions in Western financial markets. So putting in Rajan would reduce inflationary expectations and putting in Basu would influence 'ease of doing business' indices. But nobody was fooled so the thing was forgotten. Even Panagariya was sent packing. 

Market-friendly reforms are unlikely because

Farmers turn up on their trucks and lay siege to the Capital. They even storm the Red Fort! 

However, the enabling legislation is there. It is up to the States to implement it. 

 India under Modi is missing true commitment to liberalization and lacks the culture of understanding and nurturing economic ideas within the government and bureaucracy.

Why not simply say 'India is a shit-hole. Its people are very shitty. Thank God, I got out!'

 Shruti is talking nonsense because she is part of a scam whereby the most useless IAS officers are packed off to get a PhD at George Mason- after which, with any luck, they will fuck off to Australia or Namibia or wherever. 

I will now show that Shruti is wrong in thinking that 'ideas' matter when it comes to economic policy. This is for two reasons
1) beliefs about the world are not ideas. Wrong beliefs lead to bad policies, no matter what 'idea' supervenes
2) Economists have shit for brains and this soon becomes obvious to everybody


Madmen and Academic Scribblers

John Maynard Keynes said, “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

Keynes was the slave of the belief that diminishing returns arise in agriculture while Income elasticity of demand for food is high (coz the workers are all malnourished, right?) Thus he predicted in 'Economic consequences of the Peace' that America would become a net food importer. Britain would use its colonies to grow food (under Atlee, there was a 'ground nuts scheme' in East Africa- the idea was that the British could no longer afford butler and must get used to spreading a paste made from monkey nuts on their bread) but the Germans would starve- unless they conquered Poland and the Ukraine. Keynes thus justified the German General Staff's maximal strategy! 

 But both socialism and liberalization in India were a result of dominant economic ideas of their time.

No. They were the result of the incentives facing policy-makers. Why did Pakistan have a Planning Commission just like India? Was it coz barristocrats and Generals had studied under Laski? No. It was because the guy running things wanted to monopolize corruption. He didn't want the bead counters at the Ministry of Finance to get their greedy little mitts on his cut. 

If Harold Laski was the academic scribbler influencing Nehru, the sole dissenter of planning in India in the 1960s, economist B. R. Shenoy,

Nonsense! There were plenty of others. Shenoy had been invited to appraise the Second plan and wrote a dissenting note. He was seen a follower of Malviya- i.e. a Hindu reactionary.

 The fact is, the moment a right wing industrialist, like TTK- or, indeed, Deshmukh- was put in a position of power they succumbed to its lure and what Ambassador Kaul called 'free money' from Uncle Sam. It was the US which financed Nehruvian Socialism. Why? The alternative was Communism. 

 was a student of F. A. Hayek, who had famously demonstrated the impossibility of socialist planning. Shenoy was the economic advisor to India’s free-market party, the Swatantra party, that opposed the License-Permit Raj.

But it was shit. Rajaji had shat the bed in Madras by proposing that education be casteist. Glamorous Maharanis couldn't make a socially regressive party electable.

 With a different political arithmetic, he could have been the architect of an economically free India.

Only if
1) Delhi could still increase its power over the 'Presidency' cities which, being ports, would have boomed. In the Fifties a different problem reared its ugly head- that of the Punjabi refugee. As Milton Friedman had notice, those fucking bastards, that too in places like Jullundhur, were creating prosperity! It was the duty of Congress to fuck up the Punjabi- by refusing them permission to set up industries- so as to convert them to Gandhian Ahimsa. In 1939, Mahatma Gandhi had warned that when the Brits left, the Punjabis, regardless of religion, would team up with the meat eating Muslims to seize power from the cowardly Hindus. True the Muslims had been beaten or killed or chased away, wherever they showed signs of getting uppity, but the problem of Punjab- or any other region which started to grow on the basis of hard work, thrift and enterprise- remained. The Center must use its power to prevent 'economic divergence' or risk not just the territorial integrity of the country but also the spiritual integrity of naked, hungry, defenseless India quietly starving to death while muttering 'Ahimsa! Ahimsa!'

2) US foreign policy hadn't been so shitty towards brown peeps- e.g. in Vietnam. It was inevitable that India would need the Soviet nuclear umbrella. Anyway, the US had a nasty habit of toppling its own puppet to put in some nonentity for no good reason whatsoever. The Soviets didn't want India- it was too poor- and encouraged its wing of the Indian communist party to support the administration.

3) Farmers, if allowed to prosper, could be guaranteed to vote for the ruling party. They didn't which is why, once the Green situation got under way, 'dominant castes' formed regional parties which broke the National party's hold on the States.

Decades before becoming the finance minister who liberalized India, Manmohan Singh completed his doctoral thesis in 1962, titled “India’s export performance, 1951–1960, export prospects and policy implications,” under the supervision of I. M. D. Little at Oxford University. Little was a critic of the then-dominant protectionist approach to developmental economics, and an advocate for trade liberalization by developing countries.

Ian came late to that particular party. Irma Adelman, and- before her, in the case of Taiwan, a couple of Chinese American economists at Cornell- had already got the South Koreans to embrace sensible trade and currency policies.

Indians knew all about what was happening in South Korea. But, it was argued that if those guys got fat their fighting power would decline. They were becoming more, not less, dependent on US troops. But the Americans have a nasty habit of running away. So, it was safer for India to remain naked and poor. If it got rich, it would get conquered. 

True, some Defense guys pointed out that the South Koreans had put up a good show in Vietnam. Still, after India won the Bangladesh war, there was a different problem. If Indians thought the country could fight and win, why could it not feed itself and prosper? It is better to be a Gandhian mendicant constantly getting beaten while quietly starving and muttering 'Ahimsa! Ahimsa!'

Both the planning and the liberalized economy in India were a product of global ideas spread from elite academics

which were funded by smart businessmen. Who started the Cowles Commission? Some rich guy named Cowles. 

India too had smart businessmen who had already shown they could set up 'elite' academic institutes. But Delhi needed to cut them off at the knee so as to prevent their burgeoning into a threat to their own political hegemony which was based on having spent long years in jail  muttering 'Ahimsa! Ahimsa!' as millions starved. Delhi did succeed in centralizing power though one consequence was that Indian academia immediately turned to shit. Look at Kosambi. The guy was once a very promising mathematician. The Tatas hired him and he could have done something useful in computing. Instead he started writing pseudo-lefty shite and publishing proofs of the Reimann conjecture in shitty little journals of Agricultural Statistics. Apparently, some elderly prof. in some shitty college has just done this again. 

 to intellectuals, bureaucrats, and politicians. The history of the Indian economy, as well as the history of ideas, become deeply relevant to understanding the fall and rise of Indians’ fortunes.

Yes, yes. Why did Turks conquer India? It was because of 'history of ideas' innit? How come Brits conquered India. Same 'history of ideas' I suppose. Nothing to do with the fact that Brits paid their soldiers properly or that fighting for the Turks could make your family rich. On the other hand, fighting well for an Indian Raja might cause him to see you as a potential rival. Better run away while you still can.

The Indian economy had experienced extremely poor growth and a very high level of human deprivation under the British colonial government.

But so did India adjacent places not under that government.

 Especially between 1914 and 1947, when the British government treated India as an extractive economy towards the war effort,

After 1919 there was no net drain. Moreover, use of Indian troops outside India had to be paid for by the Brits. That's how come Britain was India's main debtor at the end of the Second War.

 national income grew at a little over 1 percent per annum and per capita incomes were stagnant.

Why? Royal Navy based 'pax Brittanica' was very cheap. There was no incentive to make the country more productive so as to pay for its own defense. One reason South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia etc. went for export led growth was because they faced a serious military threat (not so serious in Malaysia's case coz Sukarno was crap) 

 British mercantilism and extractive policies, exacerbated in the war years through price and quantity controls, led to famines that killed millions of Indians.

No, the corruption and incompetence of elected Bengali leaders led to two big famines. The second one occurred after the Brits were long gone.

Shruti spent the first part of this essay whining about the crazy price and quantity controls in the India into which she was born. She does not understand that these were brought in by Indians for Indians. The Brits were more laissez faire, but once they ceded power to the Provinces, they had to play along.

Socialist planning was globally in vogue by the thirties, and Indian nationalist leaders were influenced by the British Fabians. 

The Fabians had shat the bed, as far as India was concerned, when Olivier became Sec. of State for India. 

Jawaharlal Nehru visited the USSR in 1927 for the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, and was fascinated by the working of its socialist experiment. “The contrast between extreme luxury and poverty are not visible,” Nehru wrote, “nor does one notice the hierarchy of class.” He concluded that the “Soviet Union treated its workers and peasants better, its women and children better, even its prisoners better.”

Then came the holodomor and the purges etc. Incidentally, Sarojini Naidu's brother- Chatto- perished in the latter. Nehru had an affair with Naidu's daughter- Padmaja. He knew what had actually happened under Stalin.

The ideology of planning gradually found its way into the heart of the burgeoning independence movement and the Indian National Congress. 

The 1935 Act gave Provinces autonomy. Obviously, politicians had to come up with budgets and a plan as to how to allocate revenue. This had nothing to do with the 'ideology of planning'. It was simply management accountancy as applied to a Government body. Still, it must be said, some Indian industrialists and economists had been thinking in 'Listian' terms about how to build up a modern heavy industry sector from the 1890s onward. This inevitably meant a conflict between the industrialists on the one hand and the vast mass of primary producers (because protectionism worsens the terms of trade for the latter) Congress had facillitated the corrupt Modi-Lees deal in the Thirties which screwed over the cotton farmer but benefited the manufacturer. Thus what happened in the Fifties was a continuation of feather-bedding- this time only for a chosen few industrialists.  

It is noteworthy that non-Congress 'worker and peasant' movements in the late Thirties and subsequently focused on 'bread and butter' issues like land reform and labor laws. Congress sought to take the wind out of their sails with things like the bogus 'Bhoodan' scheme whereby landlords were allegedly giving up land voluntarily and communal ownership of land in villages was being established. Labor was bought off in various corrupt ways which V.V Giri initially opposed- which is why he was considered Leftist. Indira used him as a stalking horse against the Congress Syndicate and then lurched towards a purely imaginary Left. Still, many influential people believed that the Communists were using that dumb doll. Indira may have been very stupid, academically speaking, while the Leftists may have had impressive academic credentials, but she had them by the balls except in cases where they had no balls but thought it wise to pretend otherwise. 

A Congress Socialist Party, spearheaded by Nehru and consisting of ardent socialists and planning enthusiasts, was formed within the broader fold of the Congress in 1934, 

This is false. The CSP was formed by JP Narayan and Acharya Narendra Dev. Minoo Masani was active in it. Nehru was not a member though avowedly a Socialist.

and it organized the National Planning Commission

it was a Committee. The scientist Meghnad Saha suggested it to Bose- then President of Congress- who got Nehru to chair it.

 in 1938 to chart out in greater detail the role that state planning could play in aiding the growth of the nation. 

The idea was that the State would arrange the funding for heavy industry and provide the land and infrastructure.

The National Planning Commission met at intervals throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, coming up with proposals that greatly influenced the goals and the institutional structure of the planning mechanism in independent India.

Nothing wrong with that. Planning must exist where there is a fiscal budget. It is sufficient to show how various projects can pay for themselves and then see how the thing could be financed cheaply. This would involve mobilizing savings through the Post Office, cooperative Banks, Insurance schemes etc, etc.

Indian Planning didn't have to be a fucking disaster. It became so for three reasons (assuming the cretin Mahalanobis was just fudging the numbers to justify what the politicians wanted)

1) American 'free money'- which turned out to be inflationary and which had crowding out effects. Obviously farmers suffered because of PL480 grain imports
2) The extraordinary decision to throttle the textile sector. This was obviously political. I suppose Big Business houses preferred a quiet life and monopoly profit under 'import substitution'.
3) 'Export pessimism'. Indeed, Independent India's big idea was India was a shithole and its people utterly shitty. It couldn't defend itself or feed itself or compete on global markets. It could only sit quietly in a corner muttering 'Ahimsa! Ahimsa' while waiting for Uncle Sam to refill its begging bowl.

I'm sorry that last is unfair. The truth is our politicians were willing to beg from anywhere. There was a R.K Laxman cartoon of a Minister poring over a map of the globe. He is trying to find a country which hasn't yet given India a little money. This shows the Internationalism and Global Vision of the Gandhian politician.

In addition to the National Planning Committee’s report, many plans were created for the specific needs of India’s development problems. The first emerged in 1934, under the aegis of the revered engineer M Visvesvaraya. The essence of his plan was to industrialize India, and double national income every ten years. 

This was feasible because the main bottleneck- lack of engineers- had been overcome. However, the War- and post War capital controls- meant this vision was impractical. Governments alone could channel development funds. This meant Development Econ- which is an utterly useless piece of shit- suddenly appeared. 

In the 1940s came the Bombay Plan - from a group chaired by Sir Ardeshir Dalal and comprising industrialists - attempting to outline the nature of the various sectors of the mixed economy.

Interestingly, it paid more attention to education and health and so on. Actual industrialists understand that workers need to be well fed and healthy and literate. Scientists or Statisticians like Mahalanobis, (aspirationally speaking) Pant, etc didn't get this. Also they didn't know that prices change. Gadgil pointed this out. Poor old Mahalanobis thought he was solving a problem in dynamic programming. How was he supposed to know that stuff costs money to buy and that prices change according to supply and demand and that 'incentives' matter? Still, his 'simulations' provided a pretext for whatever the Government found it convenient to do. 

The People’s Plan, crafted by Marxist M. N. Roy, embodied the ideas of Lange-Lerner and the Soviet planning exercise. 
Nonsense! It envisaged the Government paying a fixed 3 per cent profit to private agents and thus skated over 'public ownership of the means of production'. It then spoke dreamily of agriculture expanding four fold and industry expanding six fold because there will be no greed and everybody will be sweet and nice. A Lange-Lerner model has state control of all non-labor inputs. Roy knew very well that Commies would be beaten to death if they tried to grab land from muscular peasant castes or take over factories from clever Marwaris who could summon plenty of muscular peasants or, worse yet, Gurkhas with khukris. 

And the Gandhian Plan of S. N. Agarwal, which emphasized a self-sufficient closed economy, preserved the village as the unit of economic activity. By the end of the Second World War, socialism was the new orthodoxy in Indian politics.

Because there was no possibility of a return to the golden age of free Capital movement. The notion was that India could get bigger transfers by pleading poverty and pretending to being doing something about it- rather than just letting everyone have babies like crazy. 

In post-colonial India with Nehru as prime minister, an anonymous wit quipped that “in every meeting of the Indian Cabinet there is a chair reserved for the ghost of Professor Harold Laski.” First Trilok Singh, also a Laski student, and then P. C. Mahalanobis were tasked with executing that vision by developing the First and Second Five-Year Plan.

She means Tarlok Singh who was Nehru's private secretary. A previous Finance Minister, John Mathhai, had resigned because of Mahalanobis's elevation. It was natural that Nehru would try to cut the legs off the financiers of his Party so as to secure his own hegemony. But they found a way around him quickly enough. Still, if subsequent Finance Ministers had said 'there's no money', then Nehru's Planning Commission could have worked little mischief. It was American 'free money' which caused it to be such a disaster.

Even abroad, post-WWII academic economists believed that while developed countries can prosper from free trade, developing countries need high levels of protectionism to ensure survival of local industries.

This is true for infant industries. But the Japs had showed that you could start a thing off in the Public sector and then privatize it so as to get a stream of tax revenue from it. Thus were the zaibatsu born. Later their M.I.T.I directed scarce funds towards high value adding sectors- e.g. electronics, silicon chips etc. India went the other way because of 'export pessimism'- i.e. Indians can't compete at anything. Suppose they start winning at stuff. Then they will kick out the losers running the country and put in people who would deliver good governance at a moderate price. 

It should be mentioned that poor old Mahalanobis was unaware that bureaucrats make losses when they run Industries. His equations led him to suppose that the Government, unlike a greedy capitalist bastard, would save all the profits it would quite magically make. Thus nationalizing a thing would turn it into a cash cow mooing happily while other such cows proliferated. Industry was very happy to borrow from nationalized banks and then do nothing while getting their money out of the country by some corrupt scheme or the other. 

 India was additionally burdened by Nehruvian socialism that created an intricate system of quantity controls. But during Nehru’s tenure, essentially the first three Five-Year Plans, India’s economy grew at 4.0–4.5 percent and GDP per capita grew at 2 percent. 

The 'steel frame' was not yet corrupt and Judges could still speak English properly. Also, the US didn't permit Indian immigration till 1965. Anyway, once Post War exchange controls weakened or were done away with, both capital and talent fled India and other such Socialist shitholes. 

Economists in India and the world over thought that India’s performance, especially when compared to the colonial period, was commendable for a poor country with a burgeoning population and limited resources.

But American journalists were already showing the evils of 'licence-permit' Raj. Milton Friedman has paid a brief visit and made his views known. Actually, Hindi films were already depicting the horrors of red-tape. There was a Kishore Kumar film- apna haath jagganath (your own hand is God (i.e. you can make your own destiny)) which came out in 1960 which had the hit song 'permit ke liye mar mit' (you have to die to get 'permit').

With the passing of Nehru, the command-and-control economy was further strengthened by Indira Gandhi, as her government nationalized various sectors of the economy, doubled down on its restrictive licensing and permit regime, and tried to squash political dissent, culminating in the Indian Emergency. The architect of nationalizing all means of production was her principal secretary, P. N. Haksar, also a student of Harold Laski. Economically, the Haksar-Gandhi team doomed India to sluggish growth, averaging 2.5 percent.

Thankfully, smart peeps could now run away to America. Also corruption permitted the rise of Ambanis and Andrapreneurs etc. 

But ideas also evolve and change with time. Globally, academic economists began to take notice of developing countries like South Korea that were growing rich by embracing free trade. Starting in the seventies, economists like Jagdish Bhagwati and Anne Krueger wrote extensively advocating free trade in India and Asia.

I think Bhagwati and others, e.g. Minhas, had been saying sensible things in the Sixties. Manmohan, for all anybody knows, too may have mumbled some such things. 

 The South Korean growth miracle defied all protectionist models for poorer countries, and economists at the World Bank and the IMF were paying close attention.

Irma Adelman advised them. She could have also stopped the Vietnam war by getting Uncle Sam to finance land redistribution which would have destroyed the peasant's incentive to shelter the Viet Cong. McNamara, repenting his Vietnamese sins, did help China rise up later on. However, it is not the case that either the World Bank or the IMF had every supported protectionism or Socialist economic policies.  

Bhagwati and Krueger were joined by Padma Desai and T. N. Srinivasan, who called for dismantling the industrial licensing system within India to encourage competition in the domestic markets. These views slowly started percolating through the bureaucracy and expert committee reports in the late 1970s and 1980s enabled some ad-hoc reforms from time to time.

No. These guys didn't matter in the slightest. Indian businessmen had a far more detailed knowledge of what was happening and what could happen. The rise of Sanjay Gandhi was the first sign of hope. Haksar was booted out. Janata should have been more pro-business but it was too utterly crap to do anything. When Indira returned, she did so as a Hindu goddess with a deep interest in religion and spirituality and zero interest in Laskian shite. Rajiv- incarnating the Hindu God Ram- was even more impatient of that type of stupidity. Stealth reform gathered momentum under him. Had he built the Ram Mandir and espoused Hindutva, he could have been India's savior from a mischievous type of Socialism.  Now, in Modi, the country has finally got what it wanted. Except in Kerala (whose CM says he wants to be the Deng Xiaoping of India) the Left has been utterly destroyed. 

Interestingly, according to Natkat Singh, it was Haksar (whom Sonia trusted because he had been against Sanjay) who suggested she put in Narasimha Rao as P.M! That Lefty loon finally did something useful before dying. Or perhaps not. The alternative was Sharad Pawar. 

By the 1980s fiscal discipline, deregulation, currency and trade liberalization, privatization, and other reforms became the leading prescription for developing countries per the “Washington Consensus.”

Which was actually developed in Latin America for Latin Americans by Latin Americans. Washington is always shit- coz it represents Big Government. That is the only consensus. 

 Several top Indian technocrats, like A. N. Verma, Montek, Singh Ahluwalia, Jairam Ramesh, and Rakesh Mohan, were part of this emerging consensus during their time at international institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations.

What brought about this change? It was the fact that when Indian bureaucrats went abroad they found themselves the guests of a very wealthy diaspora of entrepreneurs. Suddenly, their little privileges- having an ugly Ambassador car and a phone connection- seemed pretty small potatoes. True, their kids might get scholarships to Ivy League. But their cousins, the entrepreneurs, could gift Libraries and endow Chairs so their Lamborghini driving kids could get their Harvard MBAs without having any brains whatsoever. But brains don't matter. These kids knew how to 'buy low and sell high'. That's it. That's the whole story. There is no other idea in Economics. 

While they all worked with Rao and Singh as part of the team that formulated and passed the economic reforms of 1991, it is lesser known that many of them had been working on these ideas since the late eighties and had presented different elements of the reforms blueprint to previous governments.

Bureaucrats prepare blueprints and present them, if they have nothing better to do- i.e. get rich off bribes. Nobody reads that shit. 

For instance, Montek Singh Ahluwalia authored one such reforms blueprint hoping that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi would launch India’s liberalization. 

Hilarious! Rajiv and his chums were too busy getting rich. Indeed, Rajiv was so busy in this respect, he failed to notice that not just V.P Singh, but also his cousin, Arun Nehru, were sharpening a knife to stick in his back. Incidentally Arun's daughter married an ex-pat billionaire's son. She then tried to extort money from the rich dude by invoking the anti-dowry Act! This was hilarious. Or so I initially thought coz I assumed that the shipping tycoon in question was much richer than the humble Indian politician. This was because I was deracinated. The authentic desi knew that the Indian politician has eaten more gold than any ex-pat's ships can hold. 

He turned it into an actionable policy memo – dubbed the M Document [b]– upon Prime Minister V. P. Singh’s request. It was referenced by Chandra Shekhar’s finance minister Yashwant Sinha during his short term in office, prior to the elections that saw the rise of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.

There is a story that V.P Singh, as part of his war on the Corporates, brought in Mohan and Verma to propose far reaching reforms which would have diluted the money power of the Dynasty (which, for Rajiv, even in opposition, was based on his Dosco chums in the Corporate sector). Sadly V.P alienated the RSS without gaining Commie support and thus his reign was brief. Still, it could be claimed that Ajith Singh (Charan Singh's son) had started talking to business people and so there was some optimism that Ajith (then considered a possible future PM) could implement a new policy. 

Rakesh Mohan, a Princeton-trained economist who had worked in the Philippines division of the World Bank, saw the Asian growth miracles firsthand. Joining the Ministry of Industry as an economic adviser in 1988 (3 years prior to the reforms) Mohan – along with then Secretary of Industry A. N. Verma, who had witnessed the East Asian transformation during his time at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia – created the first comprehensive compilation of all the industrial licensing policies, control mechanisms, and lists of industries subject to different provisions.

This is a telling detail. I happen to know that a leading business family has had the best records of every single such provision going back to the Sixties. In other words, private agents knew more than the bureaucrats. I wouldn't be surprised, if Mohan & Verma got a little discreet help from some such player.  The typical Bureaucrat thought he held all the power because he could summon a magnate to Delhi and keep him waiting like a supplicant. But the magnate had already figured out a way, using existing regulations, to neutralize that bureaucrat. The Indian sense of humor, requires keeping mum and nodding your head while an impotent cretin drones on.

These ideas eventually found an audience outside academic and bureaucratic circles, among some politicians.

Shruti thinks Indian politicians are like dim little co-eds. They can be influenced by books and lectures. 

 The fall of the Soviet Union helped convince Indian politicians that more socialism could not be the way out of India’s 1991 crisis.

No. One argument for keeping the permit Raj was that it kept the Soviets happy. With the collapse of Communism in Europe, another question arose. How much Capitalism would India have to embrace to avert Western meddling? The fact is, the Americans could always seize upon some excuse to impose sanctions. Worse still, India might lose the protection of Russia's Security Council veto. 

 By the late 1980s, even China, more centrally planned and more populous than India, was growing rapidly thanks to Deng Xiaoping’s successful market-oriented reforms.

Edwin Lim, of the World Bank, had helped China. He expected to do even better in India. Sadly the 'activists' and 'public intellectuals' and foreign funded NGOs prevented him from achieving anything. They could draw on the work of plenty of celebrated Economists and intellectuals. 

Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, in his previous position as Rajiv Gandhi’s external affairs minister, had witnessed the Chinese miracle led by Deng Xiaoping, whom he personally admired.

Subramaniyam Swamy went one better by teaching Deng to pronounce Chinese correctly. This is because Swamy's mummy had taught him to say Aiyayyo. This is the key to Manadarin phonetics. Mind it kindly.

 Rao dedicated himself to political consensus building. 

He hadn't the clout. He brought in Pranab to do the heavy lifting.

He had to overcome opposition from within his party, still wedded to Nehru’s and Indira Gandhi’s socialist vision, while also persuading opposition parties to support the minority government. Tactfully, he pitched liberalization to his party men as a continuation of Nehruvian philosophy, and to the opposition as the only solution to the economic crisis. In his address to the nation, he declared the intent for a new kind of self-reliance: “My motto is trade, not aid.”

Rao benefited from anti-RSS sentiment among the 'secular' parties. Furthermore, Congress didn't have a 'vote-catcher' because the heir- Rahul- was too young. Fortunately, the CPM politburo decided, for some arcane ideological reason, that it could not lead a coalition Government. This meant, after everything else had been tried- India had plenty of 'Young Turks' who turned out to be senile eunuchs- the BJP came to power. But Vajpayee and Advani were already too old. 

Each retelling of the 1991 story propagates the myth that Indian policymakers tend to only pursue major policy reforms in the face of economic crises.

It was not a myth. The fact is, Rao had been put in by the Queen Regent (who could not hold office because she was Italian). He could respond to exigent circumstances but not change a long-standing plank of the Dynasty's platform. 

The fact is, Rao remains an enigma. Why did he do land reform when he was C.M of A.P? Nobody asked him to do it. Why did he do liberalization on being made P.M? Who knows? The man could speak 17 languages and still nobody could understand what motivated him to subvert his own class interest and the interests of the Dynasty he appeared to faithfully serve.

When it came to trade reform, there was only one question which Manmohan Singh had to answer. Would scrapping regulations worsen or improve the balance of trade? The answer was it would improve it in the longer term (because of devaluation's J curve effect) but the thing should be done as part of multi-lateral negotiations. Pick your moment. Don't rush things . 

On the other hand it is true that the opposition to reform based on 'swadesi' and anti-market ideologies was opportunistic and tactical. Why?

 Two things had changed.

1) Government policy towards Punjab- viz. keep it agricultural and deny it manufacturing industry- had proved disastrous. There was a full fledged Khalistani insurgency which was very good at assassinating senior politicians. Had Punjabi youth been able to come forward in manufacturing industry, the way their father's had done in agriculture, then there would have been no recruits for the terrorists. 

2) Delhi had suddenly become a proper metropolis. Members of Parliament could feel it. The Maruti car and color TV had changed expectations. The West had 'yuppies'. Delhi had 'puppies'- young upwardly mobile Punjabis- and their mores were catching on. It made sense to let Manmohan and Montek do what Minhas had not been able to do- viz. pursue sensible economic policies which would not cause Punjabis to take up guns and shoot Gandhis or Gandhian nutters. 

This, at any rate was how South Indian officials in Delhi explained 1991. The fact is, the Southies could use its bureaucratic clout, in a quiet way, to do sensible things for their own states or for new sectors- e.g. computing and electronics. The incorrigible stupidity of the cow-belt- not to mention the babbling Bengali buddhiji- however, would only respond to the threat of the Punjabis losing patience and driving the blathershites out of office, or just shooting them. Forget Khalistan, why shouldn't the Sikhs 'purify' Hindustan itself of stupid virtue signaling cretins so everybody could start living better? 

 And if only India could get a leader like Narasimha Rao, one willing to use his political capital, India’s fortunes would once again change.

Rao had no political capital. He was only put in after Shankar Dayal Sharma turned down the job. Moreover Rao was very old and had no big constituency in his native state. Pranab Mukherjee would have been a better choice but the Dynasty had never forgiven him for staking a claim to the top job after Indira was assassinated. 

 It must be said, in Soniaji's defense, that she thought Rao had promised her to 'perform', not 'reform'. She thought the old fellow wanted to perform a bharatnatyam dance. But that bastard had different ideas! She never forgave him for this. That's why, she wouldn't let Rao's body be given honors by her party. The corpse was returned to Hyderabad for cremation. 

As Prime Minister, Manmohans Singh, did have political capital which he used to secure the 123 deal and thus show that the Left was a paper tiger. But when he tried to do the same thing with respect to the fiscal deficit, after a credit downgrade, in 2012, he had to back down. Why? Rahul baba had decided not to take over. Let Advani or Mulayam or whoever clean up Congress's mess. After all, what had kept the Dynasty in power was the incompetence of its rivals. But Modi, not Advani, took the top job. He wasn't incompetent. Sad.

What is forgotten is that it was not just the arrival of Rao but the decades-long run-up and debate of economic ideas, that allowed these policies to ferment within the bureaucracy, and reach fruition at the opportune moment in 1991.

This is nonsense. Bureaucrats don't matter. Parliament does. But legislators prefer virtue signaling to making good policy choices because India is so poor that the effect of any change scarcely impacts the misery of the median voter. 

 The importance of incubating ideas is often forgotten in the retelling of India’s change in fortunes.

First this lady says 'ideas matter', but, in the case of India, it is obvious that ideas don't matter. So now she says 'incubating ideas' matter! In that case, how does she explain that reforms which could not be achieved by Central Government fiat (International Trade is a Central Subject) were not achieved at all? I suppose she will say 'we must incubate those ideas some more'! 

Why not simply say 'magic works. A rabbit will pop out of that hat just now. Well, a rabbit will definitely pop out of that hat once magic has incubated for a sufficiently long period. Too bad the Universe will have ended by then. Still, that doesn't alter the fact that magic is important because I have proved that rabbits will pop out of hats.' Incidentally, I teach Economics at some expensive Amrikan University. I'm not stupid at all. 

The 1991 Project is an effort to kickstart a discourse on economic growth-centered reforms in India by focusing on economic ideas. 

Which, however, must be incubated till rabbits pop out of hats.

In the coming months, our team will publish essays, data visualizations, oral histories, podcasts, and policy papers demystifying the Indian economy.

They will all be stupid shit.

The project hopes to raise and answer many questions.

of an utterly foolish type.

 Why does economic growth matter?

Coz peeps like eating nice things and wearing smart clothes and buying cool stuff.
 
How did socialist planning impoverish India?

It lowered factor productivity by preventing mobility based on opportunity cost ratios.

 If socialism was so bad, why did India adopt it as an economic model?

So as to centralize power, thus reversing the effect of the 1935 Act and preventing further partitions or Civil Strife. Also, Communism appeared a viable alternative. This would have involved 'class war'- i.e. guys with names like Nehru or Gandhi or Iyer getting their heads chopped off. 

How did India switch from a command-and-control to a market economy? 

It did not have a 'command-and-control' economy. It had an 'administered' price and quota regime floating on top of a vast black economy.

What is the political economy of institutional persistence and change? 

It is nonsense about how ideas must be incubated till rabbits jump out of hats.

How can India achieve high rates of economic growth once again?

By scrapping Land and Labor regulations and dismantling the Inspectorate Raj and curbing Judicial activism and kicking out foreign funded NGOs and shooting or imprisoning andolanjivis along with criminal/politicians. But this must be done at the State level.

We, the contributors to the 1991 project, will discuss the Indian economy and life under socialism and after liberalization.

But your discussion will be shite coz of all the shit you guys have been incubating in your brains.

 We will cover the salient economic ideas over the past century and their impact on Indian policy. We will tell the stories of the madmen, and academic scribblers, and intellectuals, and technocrats who reformed India. We will discuss the way forward for India to strengthen institutions that can support a market economy. And most importantly, we will discuss policies that can enable economic growth.

But Indians already know the whole story much better than these cretins. Still, they have crap books to shill. Apparently there is a niche market for that shite. Let these guys make a little money from it. What great harm are they doing?