Saturday, November 29, 2014

Flavours of Emmanuel Todd : Progress and Modernity

Recently I read three books by Emmanuel Todd: A) The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems, Translated by David Garrioch, 1985 B) The Causes of Progress: Culture, Authority and Change, Translated by Richard Boulind, 1987 and C) The Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Socities Around the World, with Youssef Courbage,Translated by George Holoch Jr, 2011. I will focus on [B].
It seems to me that Todd is an important thinker who grappled with intangible ideas like progress, came up with some verifiable methodology to study it where data is available with  policy options where broad patterns are discernible. The discussion can get muddy when there is diffusion, migration, shocks or when the data is unreliable but the methodology seems interesting and important and can be reined and developed by others. However there seems to be little follow up in the English speaking world except in a few blogs. Anyway, this is my take on what I read so far.
First the concept of progress/modernity is nebulous and Todd never explicitly says what it is. However Todd identifies several components, some which are related, of it towards which most of the world has been lurching. I will quote from different parts of his first two books [A], [B].

First hint from [A], page 33, "...urbanization, industrialization and the spread of literacy, in short by modernization..."

Second hint from [B], pages 2-3, "This is a cultural development, beyond the realm of the material. Cultural development first shows up as a rise in the rate of literacy....In the second stage, a fall in the rates of mortality and fertility follows the rise of literacy. Man thus takes control of his immediate biological environment. Only in the third stage does development appear as an increase in the production of industrial goods or, more generally, material wealth"

I think that Todd is trying to formulate measurable components of progress/development; for him literacy seems primary. Then he goes on to study the take-off stage, roughly 50 percent for some processes, male literacy, female literacy, percentages in different age groups. Female literacy or more accurately the learning period for females he puts at the marriage age (roughly the child bearing age before the current freedoms). There are striking maps on pages 32-33 of [B]; the areas where the per capita income in 1979 was more than 10,000 dollars in 1979 and the areas where the age of marriage of females in 1850 was more than 27. The two are the same. Another striking fact about literacy. From page 153 of [B]: "But the coefficient of correlation that associates literacy rates with life expectancy is one of the strongest that one can calculate, across the countries of the Third World. Such a correlation in no way indicates that the exogenous effect of the Western medicine is non-important, but it does show up the very important endogenous component of the progress that has been realized in medicine and health." He later discusses a similar correlation between literacy and birth rates.
It seemed to me from reading [B] that two important factors for 'progress' are literacy and status of women. In Chapter 6 of [B], he discusses the implications of male literacy reaching 50 per cent and more specifically, literacy of me between the ages of 20-25 reaching 70 percent. On page 139 "A world map of these qualifying dates- at which 70 per cent of young reached literacy- can be drawn. Coincidence with modern revolutionary phenomena is striking, if not always verified."

For empirical verification as well as to see the potential of different areas which have not progressed, Todd partly uses family systems discussed in [A]. In Europe there are mainly four classified by the two dimensions of liberty and equality: German (authoritative family), Russian (exogamous community family), English (absolute nuclear family) and Paris basin (egalitarian nuclear family) being the practitioners of different systems. If you add endogamy, exogamy in marriage there are seven (instead of 8) outside Africa (due to widespread polygyny). Two of these are 'endogamous community family' of the Arab World and ' assymetrical community family' of South India. This has been a popular topic in blogs recently and there are links in earlier posts of this blog and here. These have been discussed in the recent years in many blogs and I will just leave it referring to two articles
America, England and Europe-Why Do We Differ by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus and

Emmanuel Todd’s L’invention de l’Europe: A critical summary by Craig Willy.

Coming back to Todd, in his own words,
"The anthropological model allows development to be accounted for without any need to suggest the existence or the will of historical agents that are at once so de-personalized and so anthropomorphic.The concept of State-so generally considered to be an essential actor in the development process, in both cultural and economic fields-is shown up as being particularly useless.
But the individual about whom we are talking about here is not economic man or rational man. He is only a dependent unit within a system of inter-personal relationships, of local or regional scope, whose central core is family structure.
Each family system sets up a cultural potential that is a function of two variables: the strength of parental authority and the status of women. Examination of available data shows that authoritarian and relatively feminist systems do appear on literacy maps as poles of self-generated take-off. This is true whether we are looking at Scandinavian, German, Japanese, or Korean systems-which are bilateral vertical ones- or the Keralese, Sinhalese or Menangkabau systems, which are matrilineal vertical. On the other hand, strong anti-feminism leads to a considerable slow-down in the development process, such as is demonstrated by the Arab countries and by North India. "

That is from pages 176-177 of [B] written in 1987. His views might have been refined/changed since then. It seems to be that his theories can be verified ( I remember reading somewhere a list of those but cannot find them now), refined and may be useful for policy initiatives in some contexts.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Links, 27th November 2014

Whipping Boy by Allen Kurzweil (via Rahul Siddharthan)
The skeptics guide to institutions part-3. Most of these were linked before: Check the links here and they seemed plausible at that time. Chris Blattman's response.
About think tanks.
How professionals think?
More on TTIP
The Making of Ferguson (via Naked Capitalism)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sitara Devi RIP

Richard Singer's tribute to her a few days ago for her birthday

This and that

Finally, after ten years of retirement, I seem to be getting some glimpses of the sort of things that I want to understand. It is probably due to the efforts that I have spent reading Piketty. Right or wrong, his lucid style seems to help thinking about economic and development problems. Two books that I am reading in this connection which I recommend are by Emmanuel Todd "The explanation of ideology" and "The causes of progress". He may be wrong but the books are stimulating and I am reading them slowly and not trying to finish quickly. I would be interested in feedback from people like Sreenivas Paruchuri.
During the morning walk, I met for the first time an aboriginal girl in our neighbourhood. She looked like a school girl, had a backpack and a sunny smile. Many of them could pass for South Indians. Sometimes Indian kids are called abos here, a term considered derogatory. Around 23 years ago, I met a fair girl in a Northcote bus stop who smiled and talked to me. I asked her "Here people at bus stops don't talk to Indians. How come you are talking to me". "I am an abo", she said. I hope that the new girl won't have problems at school. The school is full of Chinese now. I recently met a Chinese girl of around 5 months age at the shopping centre who left her mother and sat in my lap. But she refused to go to Jhansi. Her mother explained "She likes men".

Monday, November 24, 2014

Amitav Ghosh on the Death Railway

From his blog. The son of a worker on the Death Railway:
 "You must understand – the Burma railway was of course a horror beyond imagining for the English and the other white men who worked on it. But at that time, under colonial rule, conditions on rubber plantations were also terrible. For men like my father the difference between what they had to endure there and here was not so very great."

Recent stuff on Piketty

Deirdre McCloskey has a 55 page polemic against Piketty (via MR where there are a lot of comments). At one point, she agrees that r>g in the lon run, but says that the rise and fall of inequality probably is independent of that.

Emmanuel Todd in a 1987 book 'The causes of progress' says " It seems that accumulation of capital has no decisive effect in the long run' (page 31). He was comparing the 1860 scores of industrial development with 1979 scores of national wealth in Europe. I wonder whether part of what is called wealth is fictitious and has a tendency to vanish.

Daniel Stelter in Piketty, Right or wrong? The global wealth game says that Credit Suisse agrees with Piketty. But "Piketty, Summers and Credit Suisse only look at the symptoms – not at the true causes behind this development. The key element they neglect is the continued and excessive growth in debt. Without constantly increasing overall debt levels, the growth in wealth would be impossible."

"But can it go on?

It will not be possible to have debt grow faster than income forever. As long as the value of assets bought on credit grows faster than the interest expense, the game can go on.
But even in an environment of zero interest rates, this has come to an end, at the latest when no one has any debt capacity or willingness left. Once we have reached this point, asset prices will collapse. What remains is an unbearable debt load.
As debt is used to stabilize economic demand, it is only a question of time until we reach a limit. The debt capacity is limited and many countries have reached this limit.
All efforts to increase the debt capacity — whether by lowering standards and interest levels and/or to induce those with some countries like Germany which have some capacity remaining to take on more debt — can only buy time.
As attractive a world of ever increasing wealth would be, it is only a dream. It is much more probable that wealth and debt will shrink together. This will happen either because of a collapse of the house of debt that has been built up – or through drastic taxes as proposed by Piketty. As for politicians, it doesn’t matter whether or not Piketty`s theory is wrong, if it is useful."
Another possibility (my usual guess) is that ninety percent of the world could become essentially slaves.
P.S. a summary of Piketty, via a comment in MR

Friday, November 21, 2014

Still reading Todd

Still in the early parts of "The causes of progress" by Emmanuel Todd since I could not figure out what he meant by progress. He says that it is cultural/intellectual and economic progress is one aspect of it but only a secondary one. Female literacy seems to be a strong aspect of it. But learning aspect extends to the age of child bearing, and he uses female marriage age as one aspect of literacy in the old days. There are two maps of Europe  on pages 32-33; the first about countries with national product per capita exceeding $10,000 in 1979 and age at marriage of women over 27 around 1840. They are identical. Very intriguing and interesting book so far. It depends on good data and identifying the important factors for progress, whatever it may mean. Somewhere, he says that Kerala should have progressed much faster but is surrounded by backward areas. So, as usual other factors like geography diffusion come in. A review complains that Todd's data about China are disputed. So, some of his analysis would be suspect. Here is one review

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mark Thoma on Piketty

From When Piketty argued for income redistribution, he changed economics "What Piketty has done in his book is revive the study of the distribution of wealth without violating the positive and normative distinction that economists hold so dear. It’s fine to leave questions about the distribution (or redistribution) of wealth to the political arena, but how can politicians make good decisions if economists cannot tell them about the laws of motion that determine the evolution of wealth and income distributions? Whether or not Piketty is correct about the fundamental determinants of these distributions remains to be seen, but he deserves much credit for reviving these questions and bringing them to the forefront of economic research. 
Another thing Piketty deserves credit for is the revival of the historical, narrative methodology as a means of evaluating theoretical models. I was taught that economists should follow a “scientific” methodology. One first writes down a mathematical model, derives hypotheses from it, and then takes those hypotheses to the data to be evaluated through formal statistical tests.
Piketty shows us an alternative where historical narratives rather than formal statistical tests can be used to draw important conclusions about the ability of particular models to explain the world. Economists, to a large degree, have lost the historical methods and perspective – knowledge of history would have served us well during the financial crisis – and Piketty deserves a lot of credit for reviving this important way of understanding the world."
Discussion at Economist's View and also another discussion on Branko Milanovic response.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Steven Landsburg on Alexander Grothendieck.

gives some glimpses of Grothendieck's mathematics. An earlier post by the same author.
See also the Wikipedia article on Grothendieck- Reiman-Roch Theorem for a glimpse of Grothendieck's approach "The significance of Grothendieck's approach rests on several points. First, Grothendieck changed the statement itself: the theorem was, at the time, understood to be a theorem about a variety, whereas Grothendieck saw it as a theorem about a morphism between varieties. By finding the right generalization, the proof became simpler while the conclusion became more general. In short, Grothendieck applied a strong categorical approach to a hard piece of analysis. Moreover, Grothendieck introduced K-groups, as discussed above, which paved the way for algebraic K-theory."

A Mukesh song from Bandini (1963)


Cosma Shalizi on Piketty

I missed his brief review from July 2014, where he reviews a few other books and links to some reviews he liked.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Depression special

in Nature. I hope that it is not a commercialisation of depression. Check also Crazy Like Us.

Misha Gromov

Though Alexander Grothendieck is considered one of the greatest mathematicians ever and I was aware of his name and influence from 1966 or so, I was completely untouched by his work. One great mathematician of recent years is Misha Gromov. I tried to learn a little bit of his work after the age of fifty and even wrote an expository article with Martin Bridosn (M. R. Bridson and G. A. Swarup, On Hausdorff-Gromov convergence and a theorem of F. Paulin, Enseign. Math. 40 (1994), 267-289 file:///C:/Users/swarup/Downloads/ensmat-001_1994_40_3-4_a_004_d%20(1).pdf , I am not sure whether it works) on one of his ideas. Here is a small article about him. An interview with Gromov.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Back to Emmanuel Todd

 Now to the next book "The Causes of Progress". I seem to have found some thing for my old age. Some hints, empirical stuff, lot of speculation and hand waving, some things that can be tested but always other causes and alibis for exceptions. These are books from eighties, seem to be ignored in the Anglo-Saxon world and so probably not much research to check them against ( I found one. Testing Todd: Global Data on Family Characteristics). But engaging and stimulating.

Alexander Grothendieck RIP

An obituary in The Telegraph.
An earlier appreciation by Pierre Cartier
A longer article by Cartier 
P.S. (some reminiscences)Mathematically, I had very little interaction with Grothendieck or his work. I saw him a few times during conference in Bombay around 1968, I think. There were a few Fields Medal winners (past and future) around waiting on his every word. And I.B.S. Passi, then a lecturer in Kurukhetra was also at the conference. Passi was young and unknown at that time and came all the way to discuss with Grothendieck, though his research interests were very different. We were sniggering at the prospect. But Passi did meet Grothendieck in the park next to TIFR and talked at length to Grothendieck. What I vaguely remember is that Grothendieck after patiently listening to Passi expressed his lack of expertise in the topic and suggested other names like J.P. Serre with whom Passi could correspond. Another vague memory is that Grothendieck attended a formal dinner in Taj in bare feet. Another memory is of his student Pierre Deligne in 1974. I lived an an IHES apartment above his in Bur-sur-Yvette. Deligne used to leave his apartment unlocked. One reason given by others: there was young woman around with a child supposed to by Grothendieck. She seemed unstable and lost. Deligne apparently left the apartment unlocked so that she could use it when she wanted to feed her child. I do not know what happened to the lady or child. Apparently Grothendieck had five children by three different women.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

A seductive book

I completed a first reading of "The explanation of ideology: Family structures and social systems" by Emmanuel Todd. Lot of it went over my head and I am not sure about lot of the details and Freudian overtones. But it always seemed to me that childhood is important in forming one's outlook of the world and some of it stays with one throughout out one's life. But the processes are not clear. Todd starts with family systems and builds up a theory of its influence on one's ideology and the propensity of different regions for different ideologies depending on the prevalent family systems. As expected, the processes of change are complex depending on different family systems in the same area, growth of literacy, particularly female literacy, and various other factors like economic, war, migratory factors. I got only glimpses of some of the ideas but it already seems to have an effect on the way I look at various parts of the world, particularly the Moslem world. It is book that I will keep going back to for a few years.
Earlier links to Emmanuel Todd here, here and here.
P.S. A flavour of Todd here

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


two books for a while. The first is James Macdonalds's "A nation deep in debt". The second is Emmanuel Todd's "The Explanation of Ideology". Both are interesting but much of it, particularly in the first book, is going over my head. It may take a few weeks to complete reading them and much longer to assimilate some of the two books. IO remember reading off and on William Thurston's "The Geometry and Topology of three-manifolds" from 1978 to 1988 or so and assimilating about five percent of it and started using it about 1990. Long road ahead.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Two interviews with Emmanuel Todd

Rising Literacy and Shrinking Birthrate: A look at the Root Causes of the Arab Revolution, May 20, 2011 from Spiegel International
An interview about Ukraine October 14, 2014. Todd:"It seems to me that Germany is increasingly moving to power politics, to veiled expansion. Germany’s reality since the reunification has been the undermining of unstable government structures in Europe. Remember the now nonexistent Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and today it seems to be Ukraine’s turn.
For the majority of Europeans, Ukraine is not of much interest. But not to the Germans. Since its reunification, Germany has established control over practically the entire space formerly dominated by the USSR, and is using it for its economic and industrial benefit. Herein, by the way, lies one secret of Germany’s economic success. Faced with serious demographic problems and low birth rates, it needs a cheap and qualified workforce. So, in this logic, it is a very beneficial operation for Berlin to secure, for example, two-thirds of Ukrainian labor."

P.S.A criticism of Todd and

Saturday, November 08, 2014


"When massaging the erogenous zones of key demographics is not enough to guarantee a victory, American politicians are increasingly turning to the complimentary tactic of suppressing voting by demographics that tend to support their opponents." from US midterm result reveal dark art of voter manipulation
"The idea of a multilateral solution plays straight into the hands of the perpetrators, the multinationals, their lawyers and the big four. You can almost hear PwC, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG chuckling about the G20 from their city eyries. While solemnly pontificating to governments on tax policy, in the very next breath they go about showcasing the latest in tax avoidance fashions to the world's premier tax cheats." from Cayman Islands court leaves tax agreement in tatters

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Intimations of mortality

 I went to the main university library today to pick up some Emmanuel Todd books with Lawrence Reeves, a student here in the nineties and teacher now. The spaces between the shelves are narrow and it is difficult to reach those at the ground level.After a while Lawrence says "You go and sit down; I will bring the books". When we finally go to check out the books, it turns out that Lawrence can borrow them for three months whereas as I can borrow only a for a month.
Then went to visit a specialist whom I know for some time. At one stage, I told him that my health seems to have deteriorated during the last year. He says "I can see it" and also suggests that I also visit another doctor for a related problem.
In any case, I have Todd's "The explanation of ideology: family structures and social systems" to read or now. I have never been satisfied with materialistic systems of social philosophy; may be Todd has some hints.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Khursheed Bano

would have been 100 years old this year. A nice write up about her in Songs of Yore The Doyenne of Vintage Era: Khursheed
One of her best songs
A somewhat untypical song, a duet with Rafi, from Aago Badho 1947 starts at 41:22

Monday, November 03, 2014

Compliance sector

"In the last few days, a new industry has been identified which employs over a million people in Australia, making it one of the largest sectors, although no official data is published on it. This sector has been labelled in the press this week – the ‘red tape’ industry or the ‘compliance sector’. It is growing faster than any other industry in Australia and probably elsewhere, although there is no data available that can tell us that. It is largely unproductive because it undermines the productivity of other workers. " from Self-imposed corporate regulations control workers but choke productivity by Bill Mitchell.
From Sydney Morning Herald "However, a frightening report released this week by Deloitte Access Economics fingers the real red tape culprits – the private sector business community whose compliance costs leave the government looking like rank amateurs when it comes to creating and paying for what, in many cases, are unnecessary and unproductive self-imposed rules.....To most readers who work for large organisations there will be a clear moment of recognition with the assertions that the workday is littered with meetings that seem unnecessary or written approvals that need to be in triplicate.
The Deloitte report shows that the time required for employees to comply with self-imposed rules has become a crippling burden. Middle managers and senior executives chalk up 8.9 hours a week complying with the rules that firms set for themselves, with other staff spending 6.4 hours." 

Read more:

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Local regulations

Himalayan Viagra fuels caterpillar fungus gold rush "Despite dire predictions, research by Childs and Choedup suggests that local communities are rising to the challenge. Their study documents how the residents of Tsum and Nubri have built on existing religious and cultural traditions to devise incredibly cooperative and creative systems to self-manage and regulate the community’s annual fungus harvest.
The communities’ harvest protocols, they argue, represent an indigenous form of regulatory management, one that may prove sustainable and equitable over the long-term. "

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Modi's recent pronouncements on ancient Indian science

From The Hindu op-ed:
"Speaking at the inauguration of the Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre last Saturday, he said: “Mahabharat ka kehna hai ki Karn maa ki godh se paida nahi hua tha. Iska matlab yeh hai ki us samaye genetic science mojud tha … Hum Ganeshji ki puja kiya karte hain, koi to plastic surgeon hoga us zamane main, jisne manushye ke sharir par haathi ka sar rakh kar ke plastic surgery ka prarambh kiya hoga.” [It is said in the Mahabharata that Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means in the times in which the epic was written genetic science was very much present. We all worship Lord Ganesha; for sure there must have been some plastic surgeon at that time, to fit an elephant’s head on the body of a human being.] "
There was the famous Sushruta in the indeterminate past who is supposed to have done plastic surery but not feats of the above order. The Hindu goes on to wonder "Nor, to my astonishment, has any Indian scientist refuted the Prime Minister’s claims. Their silence is perplexing"
A.K.Ramanujam had a shot at the answer long ago. From the article "The twin-lobed brahmin";
"The problem was posed for me personally at the age of 20 in the image of my father I My father's clothes represented his inner life very well. He was a south Indian brahmin gentleman. He wore neat white turbans, a Sri Vaishnava caste mark (in his earlier pictures, a diamond earring), yet wore Tootal ties, Kromentz buttons and collar studs, and donned English serge jackets over his muslin dhotis which he wore draped in traditional brahmin style I "He was a mathematician, an astronomer. But he was also a Sanskrit scholar, an expert astrologer I had just been converted by Russell to the 'scientific attitude'. I (and my generation) was troubled by his holding together in one brain both astronomy and astrology; I looked for consistency in him, a constituency he didn't seem to care about, or even think about. When I asked him what the discovery of Pluto and Neptune did to his archaic nine-planet astrology, he said, 'You make the necessary corrections, that's all'. Or, in answer to how he could read the Gita religiously, having bathed and painted on his forehead the red and white feet of Vishnu, and later talk appreciatively about Bertrand Russell and even Ingersoll, he said, 'The Gita is part of one's hygiene. Besides, don't you know, the brain has two lobes?'"
And more in the article.
P.S. According to The Hindu article 
"Under Article 51 A (h) of the Constitution it’s the fundamental duty of every citizen to develop a scientific temper."
P.P.S. There is an exchange on Facebook with my friend Rao Nagisetty, where I posted the above links.
Rao: I am afraid these articles are confusing. It is common in India to have such idiots. Don't need to be educated to talk like that.
Me: I think that Ramanujan's point is that they compartmentalize different parts of life. The problem is when the separation is not clear cut, particularly if it is a leader like Modi. You seem to be getting into the habit of calling people idiots who do not share your ideas and opinions . I do not agree with you on many things. But I do not mind being called an idiot by you. But others may.
Rao: Very diplomatic. Thanks. Yes I should not use that word because it is offensive. Compartmentalization seems to occur naturally. Otherwise either I become a zombie or go mad. The mind with which I grasp this world is always jumping around sometimes with a purpose and most of the time it is a crazy dance. So I have to put away the goblins in separate prisons to function in this world. Science tells me that many species have become extinct over time and predict that human species will too. If that is the case what is the point of all this discussion? Sorry to bother you with my idiotic questions.
Me: I think that the world is too complex and we (at least I) cannot really understand it and trying make sense of it is a sort of disease for which various religions have developed as a response. Possibly we are also limited by our own childhood. We can take some clues from diverse writers and also empirical studies of how people actually coped in different situations. This seems to be missing from religion or big theories of every thing. But there are some empirical studies by Michael Mann, Elinor Ostrom, Emmanuel Todd and others. I find those who start with a theoretical frame work, even people like K.Balagopal whom I admire, problematic. But the big questions about the future, to me or to the world, do not seem to bother me very much. It is more of what is happening to people now and how it can be alleviated that occupy me (these also give some indications for the future). For example, I am waiting to see how Russia will cope with the sanctions. That may show show us some ways of coping with globalization which Keynes already warned in 1933. Similarly Ocalan's ideas interest me and how they are able to manage a bit in spite of tremendous odds....
Rao: That is quite a good analysis of your own philosophy. Thanks for sharing. That tells me where you are coming from. I am simple and the world is simple. That is that.

Some S.D. Burman songs

From The Outlook and Songs of Yore. Several more S.D. Burman posts in Songs of Yore. The story of one of my favourite Hindi film songs here.

Interesting book by Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd

Just finished first reading Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd book on "A convergence of civilizations: The transformation of Muslim societies around the world".
 From one of the reviews "—make an important point. Birth rates in many Muslim-majority societies are indeed higher than in many Western countries, but they are not static and the authors suggest a significant convergence is in the making. ..... the other significant theme of the book is the role played by religion in bringing about either high or low birth rates. Here too their conclusion is clear: “emphasis on Islam as a causative factor is primarily a symptom of intellectual myopia.Literacy, patrilinealism, reactions of minority groups, and oil wealth all reduce the idea of Muslim demographic specificity to the level of a residual variable”"
Other reviews here and here.