Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Himanshu Rai

The story of his two wives and Australian descendants
"The story begins, as many good stories do, in an attic. That’s where 30-something Australian Peter Dietze discovered a black-and-white photograph of a handsome young Indian man. He asked his mother about the picture and was told it was of Himanshu Rai, pioneering founder of Bombay Talkies, legend of the early years of Hindi cinema. And also, Peter’s grandfather."

Robin Hanson on Peter Turchin

Cycles of war&empire
It seems to me that there may be slight misrepresentation. Anyway, I would replace inequality by 'extreme inequality' using some thing like Palma index. 
One of the comments is more to my liking, by 'akarlin' 
"(1) Rising inequality as something associated with fragility was a feature of Malthusian-era economies, but not because of inequality *per se*, but because said inequality was usually the result of Malthusian stresses (and the banal consequences of Ricardo's Law of Rent). Once populations bumped up against the land's carrying capacity, surpluses were very low to non-existent, so shocks such as droughts, a succession crisis, a nomadic incursion, etc. that could have been (and were) weathered easily in the earlier days of the cycle could now instead translate into cascading collapses.
(2) The post-industrial system is a very different ball game and little of the patterns of Malthusian cliodynamics apply to it (for now, anyway... heh)." 
The second part is not clear to me. The crucial problem seems to be that surpluses become low and share of the surpluses to the extent when a large proportion are at the subsistence level .

Monday, February 20, 2017

A site for free books

Accidentally, I came across "The loves of Krishna in Indian paintings and poetry" by W.G. Archer in a list of free books http://www.fullbooks.com/The-Loves-of-Krishna-in-Indian-Painting-and2.html  ( the link to the free books is at the top of the page. Lot of them are old and some obscure and it seems a bit difficult to search the list for any specific book). At one point, it says:
"During the next two hundred years, from the tenth to the twelfth century,
the Krishna story completely alters. It is not that the facts as given in
the _Bhagavata Purana_ are disputed. It is rather that the emphasis and
view-point are changed. Krishna the prince and his consort Rukmini are
relegated to the background and Krishna the cowherd lover brought sharply to the fore. Krishna is no longer regarded as having been born solely to
kill a tyrant and rid the world of demons. His chief function now is to
vindicate passion as the symbol of final union with God. "

Cosma Shalizi on Ernest Gellner's view of nationalism

"Even if Gellner was talking utter rubbish, Nations and Nationalism would be worth reading simply for his style, a trademark Bertrand-Russell-meets-Grucho-Marx combination of powerful logic working from very general premises and laugh-out-loud (literally) wit. Unfortunately for those of us notenamoured of nationalism, he wasn't talking rubbish at all." from 
Nations and Nationalism
More Er est Gellner, 1925--1995

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Democracy and debt


From http://democracyjournal.org/author/jgalbraith/
"A beauty of MacDonald’s idea is that it can be tested against

situations he doesn’t discuss. Thus the democratic decolonization of

India fits: It occurred after India had become a large war-time

creditor of Britain. And the struggle for democracy in Latin America is

complicated by foreign debt, easily analyzed as an external electorate

of enormous power–one in obvious economic conflict with the voters who,

at best, only hold the internal debt. The communists of China and Cuba

maintain their insular systems because they are financially autarkic.

Meanwhile, in democratic Venezuela, the rise and survival of Hugo

Chávez owes everything to the singular financial autonomy conveyed by

oil.
Finally, MacDonald’s financial perspective helps explain the

relationship between democracy and economic development. The most

democratic states are not only powerful; they are rich. They are richer

than the monarchies they succeeded and also than the communist states

with whom for much of the twentieth century they competed. Why? Surely

the simplest answer lies in their ability and willingness to mobilize

public debt for development as well as for war. Democracies yield

higher incomes not because of vulgar redistribution, which cannot

distinguish them from communism, but because they alone can master the

great Keynesian financial tools required for the achievement of full

employment and national construction on the grand scale.
Given the simplicity and power of this argument, one reads the

epilogue of this great book with surprise and sorrow. In MacDonald’s

view, it’s all over. In the nuclear age, deficits and bond drives on

the world-war scale are history, and the American citizenry has lost

its pride of place as creditor of the American state. Today, financial

intermediaries hold about 37 percent of U.S. public debt; Japan and

China, along with other countries, now hold about 30 percent. The

proportion of U.S. debt owned directly by Americans has fallen to below

10 percent; in 1945 (when the debt was more than twice as large in

relation to GDP as now) citizen-creditors just about held it all. He

concludes that the link is broken and “for all practical purposes, the

venerable marriage between public credit and democratic government, so

vital a factor in the history of the world, has been dissolved.”
But there is another possible way to interpret this fact. If

MacDonald’s thesis is right, the disappearance of the citizen-creditor

forces a question. Can democracy survive when its financial roots have

been cut? The scale of public debt is not the issue, but its ownership

is. Can a country–whether the United States or any other–be truly

democratic if it is in hock to banks and foreigners? And this is only

the obverse of questions raised by our pathetic voter turnout, by the

vote suppression that regularly poisons our elections, by the judicial

coup d’état of December 2000, and by our regression toward a tax system

from which the state’s main creditors are exempt, leaving the burden to

fall heavily on all who do not or cannot vote–exactly those who

comprise our passive and disregarded lower classes.To put it bluntly, are we still a democracy? And, if not, what would it take to bring democracy back?"

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar

Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar

"
The shrine attracts Hindu devotees,[15] while one of the shrine's two sajjada nasheens, or hereditary guardian-families, is a Hindu family.[16] Hindus still perform the mehndi ritual at the opening of the shrine's annual urs, or fair.[17] Until the 19th century, Hindus as well as Muslims believed that the flow of the nearby Indus River waxed and waned according to the whim of the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.[18] The name of the Sindhi Hindu variant of the God of water, Jhulelal, is displayed prominently in the shrine."

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A recent post of Rahul Banerjee

About two friends helping in a school in Kakrana More on philonthrophy in Kakrana
There are a few earlier posts about him and also the book he wrote about his experiences.
55 mins
I have been following Rahul Banerjee's work for about ten years now and recently visited Kakrana and toured Alirajpur district with him for five days. He worked in the area for about thirty years I think, took part in various agitations for the welfare of advasis, jailed a few times and lots of the time it must have been frustrating. Over time he helped built various organisations in the area, built trust with the local people, helped them organise themselves as well as providing legal advice, various government schemes useful to them, helping with sewage, solar power and other hands-on projects. His work over so many years has now made it possible for others to easily enter some phases of these organisations and do what seems meaningful to them whatever their past careers have been. I met both the gentleman. One of them a gentle retired scientist trying to do some meaningful work after retirement. Other I could not stand. But both seemed to have settled Dow to some good work. People like Rahul offer some hope in these dismal times.

Game on

East vs West again by Andrew Cockburn Via Naked Capitalism. An excerpt:
"In any event, the vision of Augustine and his peers that an enlarged NATO could be a fruitful market has become a reality. By 2014, the twelve new members had purchased close to $17 billion worth of American weapons, while this past October Romania celebrated the arrival of Eastern Europe’s first $134 million Lockheed Martin Aegis Ashore missile-defense system."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Banality of evil.

" In our age of complex bureaucracies, so much cruelty is simply the result of normal, everyday, “real” people doing what they think is most pragmatic. As the philosopher Bernard Williams said, “the modern world…has made evil, like other things, a collective enterprise.” Eichmann was not the personification of hatred. His motives were banal. Evil is often the result of small, procedural things. It is people doing their jobs and remaining loyal to their parties, regardless of evidence, arguments, or troubling historical parallels." From https://qz.com/906101/modern-philosophy-shows-that-most-atrocities-are-committed-by-normal-people-not-evil-ones/? , an idea discussed in https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eichmann_in_Jerusalem
This seems more plausible than the invisible hand attributed to Adam Smith. Perhaps self interest acts more as a centrifugal force increasing inequality.

You are not in control

You are not in control by Dmitry Orlov 

"It is often argued that a car is a necessity, although the facts tell a different story. Worldwide, there are 1.2 billion vehicles on the road. The population of the planet is over 7 billion. Therefore, there are at least 5.8 billion people alive in the world who don’t own a car. How can something be considered a necessity if 82% of us don’t seem to need it? In fact, owning a car becomes necessary only in a certain specific set of circumstances. Here are some of the key ingredients: a landscape that is impassable except by motor vehicle, single-use zoning that segregates land by residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial uses, a lifestyle that requires a daily commute, and a deficit of public transportation. In turn, widespread private car ownership is what enables these key ingredients: without it, situations.......
It turns out that the fact that so many people are forced to own a car has nothing to do with transportation and everything to do with petroleum chemistry. About half of what can be usefully extracted from a barrel of crude oil is in the form of gasoline. It is possible to boost the fraction of other, more useful products, such as kerosene, diesel fuel, jet fuel and heating oil, but not by much and at a cost of reduced net energy. But gasoline is not very useful at all. It is volatile (quite a lot of it evaporates, especially in the summer); it is chemically unstable and doesn’t keep for long; it is toxic and carcinogenic. It has a rather low flash point, limiting the compression ratio that can be achieved by gasoline-fueled engines, making them thermodynamically less efficient. It is useless for large engines, and is basically a small-engine fuel. Gasoline-powered engines don’t last very long because gasoline-air mixture is detonated (using an electric spark) rather than burned, and the shock waves from the detonations cause components to wear out quickly. They have few industrial uses; all of the serious transportation infrastructure, including locomotives, ships, jet aircraft, tractor-trailers, construction equipment and electrical generators run on petroleum distillates such as kerosene, jet fuel, diesel oil and bunker fuel."

The Economic Vision for Precocious, Cleavaged India

More on the great divergence

Why the Middle East fell behind By Jared Rubin "This post is not going to cover all of the reasons why the Middle East fell behind. There are a lot of reasons for the reversal of fortunes between (northwestern) Europe and the Middle East, most of which complement each other. I will discuss what I believe to be the two most important reasons: what I will call Timur Kuran’s “demand side” argument and my “supply side” argument (it is my post after all … of course I think the argument in my book is right!). I will also dismiss one argument which simply cannot account for the main historical facts: what I will call the “weak colonization” argument (as opposed to the “strong colonization” argument; I will define both terms below). I will refrain from discussing many alternative hypotheses which I do think shed some light on the divergence between northwestern Europe and the Middle East. For example, the relative political fractionalizationand frequent interstate warfare that embroiled Europe for most of the medieval and early modern periods may have set it up to have greater fiscal capacity than the Middle East (or China). This makes sense to me, and it seems to be part of the explanation. Likewise, differences in family structures (nuclear vs. clan) may have encouraged different types of institutional formation in Europe and the Middle East (or China), with the more individualistic Europeans forming institutions more conducive to inter-group commerce than the more “collective” Middle Easterners. This too makes sense to me, and it was likely an important aspect of the divergence. The point here is that such a large scale event like the divergence between two sets of economies over centuries is almost certainly multi-causal. It is true that these causes all interacted with each other – sometimes as substitutes and other times as complements – and pinning down the direction of these interactions is an important part of the story. But that is indeed another story."
Another via Brad DeLong :
http://www.bradford-delong.com/2017/02/reading-lisa-blades-and-eric-chaney-2013-the-feudal-revolution-and-europes-rise-political-divergence-of-the-christian.html
"We argue that forms of executive constraint that emerged under feudal institutions in Western Europe were associated with increased political stability and find empirical support for this argument. While feudal institutions served as the basis for military recruitment by European monarchs, Muslim sultans relied on mamlukism—or the use of military slaves imported from non-Muslim lands. Dependence on mamluk armies limited the bargaining strength of local notables vis-a`-vis the sultan, hindering the development of a productively adversarial relationship between ruler and local elites. 
We argue that Muslim societies’ reliance on mamluks, rather than local elites, as the basis for military leadership, may explain why the Glorious Revolution occurred in England, not Egypt."
"'Roads to Xanadu' explores why the full potential of scientific discovery and invention, now regarded as a source of weath and power, is not often realized in its country of origin. The reason, paradoxically, lies not in failure but in success- in the tendency of cultures and civilizations to ossify around those economic institutions and ideologies that, at some stage, provided maximum stability and wealth. These institutional structures are often retained by bureaucracies and the power elites who are their beneficiaries long after they have become redundant. Economic growth and cultural development do not stem merely from technological innovation but from social and political change. However, the motivation for such a change rarely comes from within. Often, it has been the competetive threat from outside that has forced societies to come up with new and innovative social, economic and political structures."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A short appreciation of Grothendieck

From Quora : "Alexander Grothendieck was (is) a genius of the first order, and a truly amazing spirit. Freeman Dyson once categorized mathematicians as being of roughly two types: birds and frogs. The latter group studies the fine details of the terrain; the former group soars high above and surveys the landscape. Grothendieck was the highest-soaring bird — to Grothendieck, a problem was not truly solved until it was viewed from the "right" general perspective, from which it could be solved effortlessly, from which it became in a sense obvious, from which it fit naturally into a larger conceptual framework. " and more.

El Cóndor Pasa

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Simple narratives

A price is a signal wrapped up in incentive  says AlexTabarrok linking rise in oil prices to the emergengence of Karuturi Global at one time the biggest exporter of roses. But Karuturi who also figures in Panama Papers seems to have indulged in various dubious practices and has been liquidated

More details about the liquidation http://www.ipsos.co.ke/NEWBASE_EXPORTS/Banking/160502_Business%20Daily_12,13_b3768.pdf
A write up 'The role of narratives in economics