Sunday, March 30, 2008

Self interest is not a catchall synonym for something that always has ‘positive’ outcomes

"Earth Hour" and the Dark Ages (by Don Boudreaux) from Cafe Hayek by Don Boudreaux

I sent the following letter to Carter Roberts, President of the WWF:
Dear Mr. Roberts:
You and members of your organization worry that industrialization and economic growth are harming the earth's environment. I worry that the intensifying hysteria about the state of the environment - and that the resulting hostility to economic growth - might harm humankind's prospects for comfortable, healthy, enjoyable, and long lives.
So I commend you on your "Earth Hour" effort. Persuading people across the globe to turn off lights for one hour will supply the perfect symbol for modern environmentalism: a collective effort to return humankind to the dark ages.
Sincerely, Donald J. Boudreaux


Correct Vision of Outsourcing (though not about Adam Smith) from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy

I agree that ‘self-interest is tied to creation, not preservation’ if this means that self interest should be tied to innovation. That it isn’t underlines my remarks in the previous post that self interest is not a catchall synonym for something that always has ‘positive’ outcomes.

Unless we realise this, unlike the Chicago epigones who have created a different Adam Smith than the man born in Kirkcaldy, we could make errors in equating a business person’s, any and every business person’s, behaviours and actions as being in the best interests of society. They may be and should be so but the evidence suggests they are not always so.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Youth should follow the path of Sri Aurobindo's political fervour, cultural depth and spiritual evolution

`Sri Aurobindo embodies national spirit' TOI 19 Aug 2001 allahabad:

Sri Aurobindo embodied the true spirit of nationalism surcharged with spirituality. yet divisive forces might prevent the fulfilment of his prophecy that "partition will (have to) go," stated prof g c pandey. pandey, chairman of allahabad museum society, made his views known as the chief guest on the occasion of seminar on `indian nationalism and sri aurobindo,' as part of the prophet's 129th birth anniversary which recurs on the independence day. the well known historian dwelt at length on sri aurobindo as nationalist and revolutionary par excellence, during the early years of the freedom struggle. indian nationalism is no ordinary geography or politics but combines sanatan dharma and spirituality.

Quoting scriptures and sri aurobindo, mr g c tripathi, an erudite sanskrit scholar, pertinently pointed out that sri aurobindo's concept of nationalism is both international and humanitarian. in his key note address, the scholar said imbibing of eternal values by the present generation is fast declining and resulting in erosion of nationalism. tripathi quoted sri aurobindo: "indian nationalism will fulfill an international spirit and outlook and international forms and institutions will grow." this he concluded, is the concept of indian nationalism. in his presidential address, prof k b pande, chairman u p public service commission, exhorted youth to follow the path of sri aurobindo's political fervour, cultural depth and spiritual evolution. he urged them to start thinking for the welfare of the society and the nation. otherwise the country might disintegrate at the hands of `pseudo-secularists' and midget -politicians. the nation is a living entity, it must be worshipped and adored. everything else is of secondary value, concluded prof pande.


Sri Aurobindo birth anniversary on Aug 15 TOI 13 Aug 2001, allahabad:

A seminar on "indian nationalism and sri aurobindo" is being organised by the centre at annie besant hall, theosophical society, lowther road, on august 15 at 5.15 pm. secretary of allahabad centre of 'sri aurobindo society, prof awdhesh agnihotri said the seminar is being organised to celebrate sri aurobindo's 129th birthday and 54th birth anniversary which falls on the independence day. noted historian prof gc pandey, who is also chairs allahabad museum will grace the ocassion. prof k b pande, chairman, uppsc, will preside over the function. the key speaker and guest of honour would be prof n k sanyal, vc, rajarshi tandon open university, erudite, sanskrit scholar dr gaya charan tripathi, principal pt. ganga nath jha sanskrit vidyapeeth would be the other illustorious speaker.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The citizen should find himself in perfect liberty to engage in the capitalistic exchanges

Columns by Sauvik Chakraverti Antidote: A politics to end politics

Politics as a means to using government action should be resorted to in only exceptional cases. There should be a list of what the government must do, and also a list of what it must not do — with no discretion whatsoever for the politician.

We in India need to embark upon ‘a politics to end politics’. We need political rule over our cities, and this should be our first goal. But this free, civic politics should be circumscribed to the basics (garbage, roads, police) and in each cosmopolis the citizen should find himself in perfect liberty to engage continuously and relentlessly in the processes of capitalistic exchanges. After all, the ancients said that the Four Ends of Man are dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Let us not add ‘politics’ to the list.

The writer is the author of Antidote: Essays Against the Socialist Indian State and its sequel, Antidote2: For Liberal Governance
Others. Holmes rolls in Goa . Do we need socialism? . My 115th dream . ‘Competition is liberty’ . When freedom comes first . A global agenda? . A huge slum? . Role of the Indian Left . The real outlaws . A natural social order . The purpose of politics . Building a merchant ship . Raising the civic sword . A natural order exists . Riches for the poor . The real apes . Bureaucrats and chairocrats . End to central planning . The scourge of math . A teenage wasteland . Real histories, please . Knowledge: why less is more . A case for liberalism . The big catch out there! . The navel and the WTO antidote

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It is the international form of the fundamental elements of Indian culture

All the energies of the leaders were taken up by the freedom movement. Only a few among them attempted to see beyond the horizon of political freedom some ideal of human perfection; for, after all, freedom is not the ultimate goal but a condition for the expression of the cultural Spirit of India. In Swami Shraddhananda, Pandit Madan-mohan Malavia, Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi—to name some leaders—we see the double aspect of the inspiration.

Among all the visions of perfection of the human Spirit on earth, I found the synthetic and integral vision of Sri Aurobindo the most rational and the most satisfying. It meets the need of the individual and collective life of man today. It is the international form of the fundamental elements of Indian culture. It is, as Dr. S. K. Maitra says, the message which holds out hope in a world of despair.

This aspect of Sri Aurobindo's vision attracted me as much as the natural affinity which I had felt on seeing him. I found on making a serious study of the Arya that it led me to very rational conclusions with regard to the solutions of the deepest problems of life.

All Rights Reserved First Edition — December 1959 Second Edition — July 1970 PRICE : Rs. 15.00

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Politics is perhaps the noblest of all endeavors because it is about reconciling the limited resources with unlimited wants

Dr. JP Calls Upon the Brightest to Enter Politics
from Jayaprakash Narayan's Blog by JP
Lok Satta Party President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan (Dr. JP) has underlined the need for ensuring that the best of people enter politics since never before in India’s history the opportunities for resolving people’s problems are as many as they are today...

Dr. JP said large sections of people feel that everybody in government -- politicians, bureaucrats, judges -- is a scoundrel -- and generalize that all rotten people in the country go into politics and all good people stay back. “Shunning politics and public office with such notions is, however, unwarranted and irrational. There are some very fine people in government just as there are very fine people in other walks of life. It is, therefore, absurd to conclude that scoundrels enter government and saints stay away”.

“Politics is perhaps the noblest of all endeavors because it is about reconciling the limited resources with unlimited wants, and reconciling seemingly irreconcilable conflicts among various groups in society, particularly in a very diverse and complex society. Without governments many things that are vital cannot be done.

“But unfortunately, politics has become the playfield of people who do not deserve to be there. Some are there because of their pedigree while many are there because of their money power or caste or muscle power. Strange circumstances catapult some others into high office.

“Such leaders rule the roost not because Indian people are stupid or irrational but because the problem is systemic. In the past 25 or 30 years, we have created disincentives for the right kind of people, and huge incentives for the wrong kind people, to enter politics”.

Dr. JP pointed out that there are answers to most problems. “Leadership is about identifying those answers, leveraging our strengths, and dramatically transforming the situation in the shortest possible time”.

Dr. JP added that great changes in history all over the world had been wrought only when middle classes, the elite and the media joined hands, built appropriate platforms and launched concerted movements. “Do not expect the masses to be at the forefront of historical changes.”. Dr. JP specifically dwelt on certain sectors, which call for transformational leadership.


Emotional and Ethical Dwarfs (by Don Boudreaux)
from Cafe Hayek by Don Boudreaux
Speaking of all-too-many successful politicians, David Brooks -- in his New York Times column today -- notes that "their sensitivity synapses are still performing at preschool levels" and that they "have an almost limitless capacity for self-pity."

In other words, politicians are children disguised as adults - persons who ought to be playing with wooden blocks while seated at their little desks in Romper Room rather than playing with our liberties and resources while seated at their mahogany desks within marble-domed monuments to their stupid power.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The secular/communal divide is a fissure that runs within most citizens

Home > Edits & Columns > COLUMN Why the idea of Modi wins
Pratap Bhanu Mehta Indian Express: Monday, December 24, 2007
The worrying trend for our democracy is that Modi is yet another symptom of our yearning for a politics that is anti-political.

Modi has created a new paradigm in Indian politics, whose ramifications will be felt for years to come. Modi’s win calls for a serious reflection on the so-called secular/communal divide.

  • Why does secular politics carry less credibility than it ought to?
  • Why does secularism remain a mere slogan, a straw that bends in every wind?

Part of the reason is that the secular/communal divide is not, as the Congress would like to believe, a divide between two species of Indian citizens: one secular and one communal. It is a fissure that runs within most citizens, rather than between them.

  • On the one hand, there is an easy acceptance of diversity, a discomfort with a politics that is too polarising, and an acknowledgment of modern constitutional values.
  • On the other, there is group competition, a sense of incomplete nationhood for which someone must be held responsible, and fear.

What gains the upper hand in our psychic economies, is a product of a complex politics. Managing this contradictory psychic complex requires, as Gandhi understood better than anyone else, a subtle therapeutic politics.

But such subtlety is beyond the Congress. It too has acquired a deep investment in a politics of competitiveness amongst groups. It has exacerbated a paradigm of citizenship where caste and religion, rather than becoming irrelevant to people’s rights and opportunities, become more central to their self-understanding. And it projects opportunism rather than trust.

Secular politics India has become an astonishing combination of imbecility, indecision and indolence. With Modi now becoming a preeminent figure in national politics, the risks of running with the Congress’s construal of what constitutes secular politics are even higher... In politics, if the contest is between sincerity and an utter lack of trustworthiness, the former will always have an advantage even if tied to an unsavoury cause.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Anilbaran Roy and A.B. Patel: plea for human unity

The Labor Government in Britain was made an instrument. Lord Attlee, who voluntarily gave freedom to India, had high hopes that a free India would play a great part in world affairs. After Independence he thrice came to India and appealed to the people and the Government to bring a resolution in the UN General Assembly for turning itself into a World State with the constituent nations as equal members and an international Army for preserving World Peace. He confidently declared that if India brought such resolution, it would be passed unanimously. But Pandit Nehru did not agree… Unless we clearly see the destiny and mission of the nation as visioned by Sri Aurobindo and consciously move in the direction of its fulfilment the crises will be there…

It is, therefore, hoped that the wisdom will dawn on the Indian mind and the people of India without further delay and inviting another and more engulfing crisis will see the Divine Will in the present one and move in accordance with it to re-unite India so that united India, inspired by the ideals of Sri Aurobindo, may truly serve herself and the world -- Anilbaran Roy [The Future Vision of Sri Aurobindo by Om Poorna Swatantra. Sringara Prakashana, Chikkanayabanahally, Karnataka. Pages 154. 1972] ANILBARAN ROY. Extension Lecturer, Sri Aurobindo International University Centre, Pondicherry. Formerly Professor of Philosophy, West Bengal. Sometime member of the Bengal Legislative Council. Author of: The Gītā; The Message of the Gītā as Interpreted by Sri Aurobindo (editor); Mother India; The World Crisis; Songs from the Soul; India's Mission in the World; Sri Aurobindo and the New Age; and several books in Bengali. 5:52 PM


To understand and grasp the most important aspect of Sri Aurobindo’s message we have to remind ourselves that we are living on an evolutionary planet… Earth has continuously manifested new forms, new principles of existence, and new forms of consciousness, and will continue to do so. Modern science and technology have set in motion a revolution bringing rapid and radical changes in outer conditions. The potentialities of the future cannot be judged by what has happened in the past. The potentialities of the future also cannot be judged by what exists today in earthly life…

Sri Aurobindo foresaw that a time will come when man realizes human unity and creates new conditions for the transformation of human consciousness and the advent of a spiritual society. -- A.B. Patel [The Future Vision of Sri Aurobindo by Om Poorna Swatantra. Sringara Prakashana, Chikkanayabanahally, Karnataka. Pages 154. 1972]

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Not out of a mere surface sentiment of love and sympathy

To live an inner life does not mean imprisonment within the four walls of one’s personal self; on the contrary, it is the first step towards a true universality. It brings to us the truth of ourselves as well as the truth of other selves, for this inner living can penetrate the life of all much more thoroughly than any surface consciousness can do. It is for this reason that in the gnostic or divine being, in the gnostic or divine life, there is a complete and intimate knowledge of the self of others, a complete and intimate knowledge of their mind, life, physical being. This enables the gnostic being to act not out of a mere surface sentiment of love and sympathy, but out of this full and intimate knowledge of other selves…

Well, the solution is that given in the last chapter of The Life Divine. Live your true inner life, for that is the first step towards the divine life. That will be the best way to create a life of unity, mutuality and harmony. -- An introduction to the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo by S.K. Maitra Publisher: The Culture Publishers (1941) 73 pages, Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publications Department (1993)

We are terribly confused by money...Our folk heroes are still the billionaires who travel economy class

Home Views Editorials Big Idea The fortune tellers
Third Eye Barkha Dutt
Email Author HT March 07, 2008

We are enamoured of belonging to the country with the largest number of billionaires in Asia. But our eyes glaze over if you lecture us on how three hundred million of us still live on less than a dollar a day. Despite politically correct gripes, I don’t think this seeming callousness is necessarily the result of neo-liberal capitalism. Nor do I believe that the tyranny of the free market has created an invisible dictatorship of wealth. On the contrary, in ways that we don’t fully understand yet, new wealth is playing challenger to old class monopolies, liberating some of us, and pushing others into paranoid insecurity. And perhaps we don’t respond as passionately as we should to alarming statistics of poverty because many of us have spent decades shrugging off the global stereotype of India as a land of cows, beggars and naked fakirs. Hence, the childish and competitive vindication at stacking up billionaires and millionaires — this is our chance to buy Bond Street on the Monopoly board game of globalisation.

The fact is that we are terribly confused by money. Our cultural response to wealth remains schiz-ophrenic and marked by all sorts of contradictions. This is probably because this is an India still evolving and adjusting to the social aftermath of economic reforms.

Many of us grew up on the other side of 1991, in pre-liberalisation India, and today we are caught smack in the middle of a society in flux. For those of us who still remember, this was an India where the only car most of us owned was an Ambassador or Fiat. McDonalds and Pizza Hut hadn’t yet come to a multiplex near you. With their imported Pajeros and BMWs, countries like Pakistan seemed more western, and thus, in those days, more modern. A trip outside India was by definition a gigantic shopping expedition and we thought malls with escalators existed only in the movies. Mobile phones hadn’t yet infiltrated our every waking moment and chocolates lugged back from Heathrow seemed like grand gifts to dole out to relatives who may never be lucky enough to get onto a plane.
It may sound unreal today, but back then, ‘elite’ was an intellectual construct rather than a monetary one. And influence and opinion was controlled by a charmed circle of bureaucrats, artistes, professionals, and of course, by politicians.

In our sepia-tinted memories we were somehow culturally superior to today’s brash, ambitious, big-bucks and blackberry generation of India. But, perhaps this is the sort of sentimental claptrap only lazy nostalgia can permit. Could it be that we were not ostentatious because both how we made our money and how we could spend it (right down to how many dollars we would sneak out in foreign exchange) was controlled by the government? We like to say that we only spent our money on books and music, but aren’t we imbuing ourselves with a supercilious superiority? What we don’t say is who you knew back then possibly mattered much more than what you read. Power and influence were contained and controlled within a tiny circle that doled it out occasionally in morsels of patronage. And the stranglehold of government control meant that if you didn’t want to bribe your way through the maze of restrictions, wealth could only be inherited, never created.

There is some irony to the fact that the man who defined economic change in India — Manmohan Singh — had to appeal to last year against “vulgar spending”. The PM’s own spartan lifestyle has happily co-existed with an economic philosophy driven by wealth-creation. But not everybody knows how to manage or understand that paradox and today’s India is struggling to find the middle ground between aspiration and austerity.
There are still lingering (and not necessarily dark) shadows of the Old India. We have grudging admiration for the ruthless and covert battles that corporate giants fight in the IPO war zone, but our deepest respect is still reserved for business houses that don’t pay bribes. We marvel at the glitz and glamour of the Big Fat Indian wedding, but our folk heroes are still the billionaires who choose to travel economy class. We salivate at the thought of driving and owning a Jaguar but are irrationally swept away by the notion of a ‘people’s car’. We are awestruck and even envious of personal wealth, but our heroes belong to corporations where the company peon had a chance to treble his wealth as well. We celebrate wealth, but still value accomplishment over money.

So, as we go gaga over the latest Forbes list, let’s celebrate by all means. But let’s celebrate because all four men on the global list of the super-rich are men who for the most part, built or expanded their own empires, crawling and climbing their way up. None of them were born to money (not even the Ambanis in the strictest sense). And if they can get here, so can the rest of us. It’s this can-do spirit that the New India is so excited about. Barkha dutt is Managing Editor, NDTV 24x7

Friday, March 7, 2008

The propensity to truck, barter, and exchange goes back into pre-history

Markets Are At the Core of All Human Relationships
from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy

The fact is that markets long preceded capitalism, a point completely missed by Karl Polanyi (‘The Great Transformation', 1944), who considered markets to be part of the title of his book and occurring only in mid-19th century, is well established by Adam Smith (among many others, contemporaries and those who preceded him) and by modern research (see Morris Silver, Economic Structures of Antiquity, Greenwood Press, 1995, ‘Markets in antiquity: the challenge of the evidence’ pp 95-177).

That several respectable modern authors have followed Karl Polanyi’s theory is regrettable.

Adam Smith recognised markets as being an ancient institution, indeed, he was for some reason more accurate than he realised (or than Polanyi gave him credit) when he introduced in Wealth Of Nations that most prescient of ideas, that describes his iconic statement of ‘the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange’:

‘Whether this propensity be one of those original principles in human nature, of which no further account can be given; or whether, as seems more probable, it be the necessary consequence of the faculties of reason and speech, it belongs not to our present subject to enquire’ (WN I.ii.2. p 25).

Exchange, individual, bilateral, and social goes back into pre-history and covers markets in language development, ideas, and knowledge, law and justice, customs, modes of living and subsistence, moral sentiments, international relations and, in fact, all aspects of human relations.


'Holey Moley' and Myth of the Invisible Hand
from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy... I do have fairly strong views on the use of the metaphor of the ‘invisible hand’, as readers of Lost Legacy will recognize...

I hope that we may reach a situation where the misuse, misattribution and misleading promotion of the metaphor is sidelined in economics at an early date. Failing that goal, I hope that its automatic tagging as an idea of Adam Smith’s is at least neutralized in the near future, which presently gives a respectable cover for modern economists to accord it an authority that it does not deserve, without realizing how ridiculous they make themselves amidst their insistence of their claims to the status of a science.

Nobody has yet accounted for the invisible hand in their use of it in markets, nor how it is alleged to operate as a disembodied body part, nor even what it adds to the theory of markets. Adam Smith knew better than to make such a claim for the metaphor, which he used to

  • a) describe as ‘pusillanimous superstition’ by pagan savages (History of Astronomy);
  • b) to give literary flair to the behaviour of rich landlords feeding the ‘thousands they employed’ and their families (they could do no other and survive themselves) (Moral Sentiments), and
  • c) to refer to the risk-avoidance by domestic merchants (Wealth Of Nations).

In none of the only three cases in which he used the metaphor of the invisible hand did he include its use in his theory of markets.