Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What is the economic value of having jobs?

This article from 2009, by Alan Viard, is relevant today because of the Trump/GOP's proposal for "border adjustment taxes".

But there is something else, which I think is important.  Take this idea:
Furthermore, if a border adjustment did somehow yield a permanent reduction in the trade deficit, such a reduction would lower rather than raise American living standards; we would forever send more goods and services to foreigners while receiving fewer goods and services from them in return.
Here "living standards" is implicitly defined to be the amount of goods and services we consume.  But suppose our exporting a bit more meant some more good, stable jobs in the US.  What is the economic value of that?  how is my quality of life affected by having close to full employment in my neighborhood and having a political environment that cannot be Trumpified?

The free market is an optimization mechanism, but what it ought to optimize is not clear.  To take extreme examples, the free market will likely more efficiently allocate slave labor than any other system -  if slave trade is permitted.   Add to it the fact that the free market cannot optimize everything, there are some conditions that must be satisfied (e.g., about the availability of information to both sides of economic transactions) for the market to work, and it is clear that there needs to be a framework in which we can talk about what type of results we want from our economic system, how to quantify those results so that trade-offs can be evaluated, and then what mechanisms to use to optimize those results (achieve the best results possible, achieve results most efficiently).

It seems to me that a good many economists spend too much of their time studying the optimization mechanisms of the economy, and not enough on what we ought to optimize.  Having fewer families facing economic stress versus having more goods and services to consume is not a trade-off discussed in the article mentioned above, and not in most articles on economics that I see.  Only the things that the economists know how to quantify are supposed to prescribe the limits of what we can or ought to value.  That is, "is it good for business?" is the metric in most discussions, and rarely is asked "what is business good for?".

Bhagwati-Dehejia-Krishna on Indian demonetization

Article here.

More than a month has passed since the 8 November announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that high-denomination currency notes would be scrapped and remonetisation would occur through replacement of new notes and deposits of old notes in bank accounts. Often termed “demonetisation”, this policy has created considerable confusion among commentators, some ill-informed, some politically motivated. A number of fallacies continue to persist—concerning the value of “unreturned” versus “returned” money, the existing “stocks” versus future “flows” of black and counterfeit money, the short- versus the long-term impact on black money, and the expansionary versus contractionary effects of the policy reform—allowing opponents of the policy to claim, prematurely, and without evidence, that it is a failure. We clarify in what follows.

The changing shape of the US income distribution

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

IBM's predictions from December 2011

Am posting this on December 20, 2011, but it is scheduled to appear only 5 years from now.  (The number of assumptions involved in posting this on future date is quite large!).

IBM Reveals Five Innovations That Will Change Our Lives within Five Years - IBM Press Release (e)
IBM unveiled the sixth annual “IBM 5 in 5" – a list of innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years: The next IBM 5 in 5 is based on market and societal trends as well as emerging technologies from IBM’s research labs around the world that can make these transformations possible. Here are how five technologies will define the future:
People power will come to life -- Anything that moves or produces heat has the potential to create energy that can be captured. Walking. Jogging. Bicycling. The heat from your computer. Even the water flowing through your pipes. Advances in renewable energy technology will allow individuals to collect this kinetic energy, which now goes to waste, and use it to help power our homes, offices and cities.
You will never need a password again -- You will no longer need to create, track or remember multiple passwords for various log-ins. Imagine you will be able to walk up to an ATM machine to securely withdraw money by simply speaking your name or looking into a tiny sensor that can recognize the unique patterns in the retina of your eye. Or by doing the same, you can check your account balance on your mobile phone or tablet. Referred to as multi-factor biometrics, smarter systems will be able to use this information in real-time to make sure whenever someone is attempting to access your information, it matches your unique biometric profile and the attempt is authorized.
Mind reading is no longer science fiction -- IBM scientists are among those researching how to link your brain to your devices, such as a computer or a smartphone. If you just need to think about calling someone, it happens. Or you can control the cursor on a computer screen just by thinking about where you want to move it. Within 5 years, we will begin to see early applications of this technology in the gaming and entertainment industry. Furthermore, doctors could use the technology to test brain patterns, possibly even assist in rehabilitation from strokes and to help in understanding brain disorders, such as autism. .
The digital divide will cease to exist -- As it becomes cheaper to own a mobile phone, people without a lot of spending power will be able to do much more than they can today. Growing communities will be able to use mobile technology to provide access to essential information and better serve people with new solutions and business models such as mobile commerce and remote healthcare.
Junk mail will become priority mail -- In five years, unsolicited advertisements may feel so personalized and relevant it may seem spam is dead. At the same time, spam filters will be so precise you’ll never be bothered by unwanted sales pitches again.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Demonetization in India reportedly curbs human trafficking

See this news-report.

A 10-12 year old girl costs Rs5 lakh, while girls between the groups of 13 and 15 cost Rs4 lakh. These transactions are all done in cash, in black money. The brothel owners are now caught in a bind because they can’t convert this cash at the banks. Because the new currency is not readily available, clients have stopped going to brothels and the brothel owners have no money to pay the traffickers,” Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi said.

Senior Delhi Police officers said, on condition of anonymity, random checks on trains bound for Delhi from Bengal, Assam and Bihar, failed to unearth trafficked girls.
“Black money is the backbone of the trafficking industry in India. At the moment that structure has been fractured by demonetisation. It is a matter of time before the new currency is back in the system and the trade picks up. We have approached the PM and informed him of this situation as well,” Satyarthi added.
 If human trafficking has been dealt a blow, and it can be continued to be hit, that will be a net positive of demonetization.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

What is Dharma?

This Sanskrit & English article in indiafacts.org tries to explain what Dharma is.

At the outset I should say the term "Hindu dharma" is a forced term, because of the common usage to contrast Dharma and religion.

Hindu Dharma – 1: Dharma and Religion

The word dharma has many meanings. In India from ancient times the word Dharma has been used in various senses. At the very onset we must understand that what is known as “Religion” in the west or “Mazhab”/ “Deen” in Islamic culture, is not the same as Dharma.

The dharma of water is to flow. However it is meaningless to say that the “religion” or “deen” of water is to flow. Not only is “dharma” translated as religion, sometimes it is also translated as “duty”. Like “religion”, “duty” cannot explain dharma. To say that the duty of water is to flow is meaningless. In English language, the word duty is applicable to people with thinking abilities and to beings with intellect.

Noted Indologist Shri Rajiv Malhotra often says that to understand our dharma we must use Indic categories and not take recourse to western categories. Instead of asking what dharma is, we should therefore ask what the signs and aims of dharma are.


The word dharma is derived from the root धृ meaning to uphold. That which upholds is known as Dharma. In Mahabharata, on being asked the purport of Dharma by Yudhishthira, Bhishma replies: It is most difficult to define Dharma. Dharma has been explained to be that which helps in the upliftment of living beings. Therefore, that which ensures the welfare of living beings is surely Dharma. The learned rishis have declared that which sustains is Dharma.
Dharma helps in the welfare of man and in achieving societal-harmony. Bhishma explains this to Yudhishthira in Karna-Parva of Mahabharata: Dharma sustains the society. Dharma maintains the social order. Dharma ensures wellbeing and progress of humanity. Dharma is surely that which fulfills these objectives.
In Shrimad Bhagavad it is said: The rules are dharma are made thus to enable smooth functioning of this world. But following it will give you lot of happiness not only in this world, but also the afterlife.
In Mahabharata Shanti-Parva it is said: Truthfulness, to be free from anger, sharing wealth with others, forgiveness, procreation of children from one’s wife alone, purity, absence of enmity, straightforwardness and maintaining persons dependent on oneself are the nine rules of the Dharma of persons belonging to all the Varna’s.
In Manusmriti, the great rishi Manu explains the ten signs of Dharma as patience, forgiveness, piety or self-control, honesty, sanctity, sense-control, reason, knowledge or learning, truthfulness and absence of anger.
According to Yajnavalkya, the nine signs of Dharma are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, and purity, control of senses, giving, self-control, forgiveness and compassion.
From these definitions it is clear that dharma provides us solutions to problems in our everyday practical life. Dharma is based on reasoning, logic and rules. From dharma, one can discern what is to be done and what is not. Ideas like non-anger, speaking the truth, forgiving-nature, simple living etc. must be imbibed by everybody. This helps us understand what the right path is and what is not. Dharma thus gives us guidance on what is acceptable behavior and what is not.  Dharma is not based on any illogical premise.
Hinduism has all these signs and aims. Jainism and Buddhism have many of the above mentioned signs and aims. Thus Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism may be considered dharma.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Ivy League finds Trump-like behavior unacceptable

As reported in the Washington Post:
In November, Harvard University said it was canceling its men’s soccer season because of what officials said were sexually explicit “scouting reports” written by players, which graded recruits of the women’s soccer team based on their appearance.

Columbia University, in the same month, suspended its wrestling team after sexually explicit and racist texts were found to have been written by its members.

Then, on Dec. 12, Amherst College announced it was suspending its men’s cross-country team following a report that athletes made misogynistic and racist comments in team-wide email chains over the years.

And now Princeton University has its own suspension story. On Dec. 15, Princeton said it was suspending its men’s swimming and diving team because of material found to have been created by members that, a school statement said, “was vulgar and offensive, as well as misogynistic and racist in nature.”
 It is a clear signal to the students at these universities not to use Trump as a role model.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana

Aleph Null told me about some ill-informed people, and so I should mention here what is essentially  the program to open bank accounts for every household in India.

One of the reasons for this program is to end market subsidies for essential items that instead feed the black market, and instead to deposit money directly into the bank accounts of the people who need those subsidies.

Of course, the ability to create bank accounts depends on a previous project, the one to give national identity cards to everyone.

About how to open a bank account: read here.

About the political impact of demonetization in India:

BJP has emerged with flying colours from the first electoral test since Prime Minister Modi’s demonetization drive was launched on November 8 this year. In civic elections in Maharashtra, which BJP and Shiv Sena, (partners in the state’s ruling alliance) fought separately, BJP won 51 mayorships, Shiv Sena came second with 25, followed by Congress with 23 and Sharad Pawar’s NCP got only 18. In Gujarat, BJP swept the civic elections yet again winning 107 out of 123 councils. The results have obviously dampened the spirits of opposition parties in the two western States as they had hoped the travails of “note bandi” or cash crunch in the wake of the ban on Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 500 currency notes would antagonize voters against Mr Modi’s party.

Significantly, the BJP also scored big in by-elections in West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. In the latter, it retained its seats albeit with a reduced majority in the Shahdol Lok Sabha constituency. In West Bengal, where the party’s influence is rather limited, it registered a huge jump in the Cooch Behar parliamentary seat, securing 28 percent of the total votes, up from 12 percent that it got in 2014. Quite clearly, queues outside bank branches and ATM counters, difficulties being faced by ordinary people — from farmers’ inability to buy seeds in the sowing season to arranging weddings in the family — have not metamorphosed into electoral anger. From all accounts, Narendra Modi’s popularity not only remains undiminished but may have even gone up by a few percentage points.
About the short-term economic impact -  Indian banks had accumulated a portfolio of bad loans under the previous government, and their need to keep a suitable capital ratio greatly constrained the availability of credit, and India's 7.x% growth rate was achieved against that headwind. Demonetization has given the banks huge new deposits and their capital ratios have greatly improved.

In the longer term, I think the stronger of the incentives for "black" money will have to be reformed away, and the rest of the tax evasion will have to be limited by stronger enforcement.

PS: I knew long ago that not reading Tyler Cowen was a good idea, a big savings of time.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Federalist 68 v. Anti-Federalist 72

The relevance of this debate - Publius won the argument way back when, resulting in PEOTUS Trump today, the very thing Publius was trying to avoid.  Had Republicus prevailed, Clinton would be PEOTUS.  Of course, that assumes all intervening history until November 8, 2016 remained the same, which is obviously simultaneously both unknowable and implausible.  For instance, we wouldn't have had that disastrous start to the 21st century, POTUS G.W. Bush, which laid the groundwork for much of the subsequent American derangement.

Ultimately all schemes devised by men will fail.  Publius's side had a pretty good run.

(PEOTUS = President-Elect Of The United States).

Federalist 68:
Emphasis added:

Friday, March 14, 1788.

To the People of the State of New York:

THE mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit that the election of the President is pretty well guarded.1 I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for.
It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any preestablished body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the President in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors. Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias. Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it. The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time as well as means. Nor would it be found easy suddenly to embark them, dispersed as they would be over thirteen States, in any combinations founded upon motives, which though they could not properly be denominated corrupt, might yet be of a nature to mislead them from their duty.

Another and no less important desideratum was, that the Executive should be independent for his continuance in office on all but the people themselves. He might otherwise be tempted to sacrifice his duty to his complaisance for those whose favor was necessary to the duration of his official consequence. This advantage will also be secured, by making his re-election to depend on a special body of representatives, deputed by the society for the single purpose of making the important choice.

All these advantages will happily combine in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each State shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such State in the national government, who shall assemble within the State, and vote for some fit person as President. Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of the national government, and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the President. But as a majority of the votes might not always happen to centre in one man, and as it might be unsafe to permit less than a majority to be conclusive, it is provided that, in such a contingency, the House of Representatives shall select out of the candidates who shall have the five highest number of votes, the man who in their opinion may be best qualified for the office.

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: "For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,'' yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.

The Vice-President is to be chosen in the same manner with the President; with this difference, that the Senate is to do, in respect to the former, what is to be done by the House of Representatives, in respect to the latter.

The appointment of an extraordinary person, as Vice-President, has been objected to as superfluous, if not mischievous. It has been alleged, that it would have been preferable to have authorized the Senate to elect out of their own body an officer answering that description. But two considerations seem to justify the ideas of the convention in this respect. One is, that to secure at all times the possibility of a definite resolution of the body, it is necessary that the President should have only a casting vote. And to take the senator of any State from his seat as senator, to place him in that of President of the Senate, would be to exchange, in regard to the State from which he came, a constant for a contingent vote. The other consideration is, that as the Vice-President may occasionally become a substitute for the President, in the supreme executive magistracy, all the reasons which recommend the mode of election prescribed for the one, apply with great if not with equal force to the manner of appointing the other. It is remarkable that in this, as in most other instances, the objection which is made would lie against the constitution of this State. We have a Lieutenant-Governor, chosen by the people at large, who presides in the Senate, and is the constitutional substitute for the Governor, in casualties similar to those which would authorize the Vice-President to exercise the authorities and discharge the duties of the President.



Anti-Federalist 72

No. 72
On the Electoral College; On ReEligibility of the President

By an anonymous writer "REPUBLICUS," appearing in The Kentucky Gazette on March 1, 1788.

. . I go now to Art. 2, Sec. 1, which vest the supreme continental executive power in a president-in order to the choice of whom, the legislative body of each state is empowered to point out to their constituents some mode of choice, or (to save trouble) may choose themselves, a certain number of electors, who shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot, for two persons, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves. Or in other words, they shall vote for two, one or both of whom they know nothing of.

An extraordinary refinement this, on the plain simple business of election; and of which the grand convention have certainly the honor of being the first inventors; and that for an officer too, of so much importance as a president - invested with legislative and executive powers; who is to be commander in chief of the army, navy, militia, etc.; grant reprieves and pardons; have a temporary negative on all bills and resolves; convene and adjourn both houses of congress; be supreme conservator of laws; commission all officers; make treaties; and who is to continue four years, and is only removable on conviction of treason or bribery, and triable only by the senate, who are to be his own council, whose interest in every instance runs parallel with his own, and who are neither the officers of the people, nor accountable to them.

Is it then become necessary, that a free people should first resign their right of suffrage into other hands besides their own, and then, secondly, that they to whom they resign it should be compelled to choose men, whose persons, characters, manners, or principles they know nothing of? And, after all (excepting some such change as is not likely to happen twice in the same century) to intrust Congress with the final decision at last? Is it necessary, is it rational, that the sacred rights of mankind should thus dwindle down to Electors of electors, and those again electors of other electors? This seems to be degrading them even below the prophetical curse denounced by the good old patriarch, on the offspring of his degenerate son: "servant of servants". . .

Again I would ask (considering how prone mankind are to engross power, and then to abuse it) is it not probable, at least possible, that the president who is to be vested with all this demiomnipotence - who is not chosen by the community; and who consequently, as to them, is irresponsible and independent-that he, I say, by a few artful and dependent emissaries in Congress, may not only perpetuate his own personal administration, but also make it hereditary? By the same means, he may render his suspensive power over the laws as operative and permanent as that of G. the 3d over the acts of the British parliament; and under the modest title of president, may exercise the combined authority of legislation and execution, in a latitude yet unthought of. Upon his being invested with those powers a second or third time, he may acquire such enormous influence-as, added to his uncontrollable power over the army, navy, and militia; together with his private interest in the officers of all these different departments, who are all to be appointed by himself, and so his creatures, in the true political sense of the word; and more especially when added to all this, he has the power of forming treaties and alliances, and calling them to his assistance-that he may, I say, under all these advantages and almost irresistible temptations, on some pretended pique, haughtily and contemptuously, turn our poor lower house (the only shadow of liberty we shall have left) out of doors, and give us law at the bayonet's point. Or, may not the senate, who are nearly in the same situation, with respect to the people, from similar motives and by similar means, erect themselves easily into an oligarchy, towards which they have already attempted so large a stride? To one of which channels, or rather to a confluence of both, we seem to be fast gliding away; and the moment we arrive at it-farewell liberty. . . .

To conclude, I can think of but one source of right to government, or any branch of it-and that is THE PEOPLE. They, and only they, have a right to determine whether they will make laws, or execute them, or do both in a collective body, or by a delegated authority. Delegation is a positive actual investiture. Therefore if any people are subjected to an authority which they have not thus actually chosen-even though they may have tamely submitted to it-yet it is not their legitimate government. They are wholly passive, and as far as they are so, are in a state of slavery. Thank heaven we are not yet arrived at that state. And while we continue to have sense enough to discover and detect, and virtue en(>ugh to detest and oppose every attempt, either of force or fraud, either from without or within, to bring us into it, we never will.

Let us therefore continue united in the cause of rational liberty. Let unity and liberty be our mark as well as our motto. For only such an union can secure our freedom; and division will inevitably destroy it. Thus a mountain of sand may peace meal [sic] be removed by the feeble hands of a child; but if consolidated into a rock, it mocks the united efforts of mankind, and can only fall in a general wreck of nature.



The Dreams that Trump Sold



Friday, December 09, 2016

Is the worry about democracy justified? part 2

 (Dec 10: corrected some typos and errors of omission).

See part 1 here.
This here is a case study application of the ideas in Daniel J. Levitin's  A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age.

To recap, the World Values Survey had this question:
I'm going to describe various types of political systems and ask what you think about each as a way of governing this country. For each one, would you say it is a very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad way of governing this country?
  1. Having a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections.
  2. Having experts, not government, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country.
  3. Having the army rule
  4. Having a democratic political system

The original Financial Times graphic shown below misrepresents the information in the survey in two ways:

1. Incompleteness: From FT, you might get the impression that support for a strong undemocratic leader necessarily goes with decreasing support for democracy.  But FT shows only the response to the first part of the four-part question, in which the respondent is not asked to choose or rank the four different systems of government, but rather to rate each one independently.

I show the responses to two parts of the question, and we shall see that it is very common for both the support for a strong undemocratic leader to rise even along with support for a democratic political system.

2. Visual distortion: The lower and upper limits on the y axis help make the trends look strong. 

The original Financial Times graphic:

What the actual data for India looks like - one form of completeness: for India there are four surveys available, from specific years, 1995, 2001, 2006 and 2012 (not 2014), and we show the results for democracy and strong leaders here.  I've labelled the chart "Strong leader *vs* Democracy" but the data in the chart indicates trends for a strong leader *and* democracy.

What the data for the two questions for the countries in the FT chart look like (another form of completeness); but as you look at the charts, note that:
  • All the countries in the chart show an increase in those who think it is good to have a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections. 
  • All the countries in the chart except the US and China show an increase in those who think a democratic political system is good.
  • In every country the support for a democratic political system is higher than the support for a strong undemocratic leader, though Russia is close. 
  • In every country but Russia, the support for a democratic political system is at least 20% higher than support for a strong undemocratic leader.  
  • The most dramatic rise in support for a democratic political system in this set of countries is in Russia (25%).  Note that in countries that started with a high support for democracy, such an increase is not possible, it would exceed the bound of 100%.
  • Russia and China show the largest rise in support for a strong leader (25+%)
  • Only in Russia, India and Turkey the support for a strong undemocratic leader is at a majority or close to it (though for India, see part 1 for how the strong-leader question has been rendered in Hindi that might explain some of it).

The data tables:

Strong leader
Year Russia India Turkey Spain US China Germany
Y-1990s 42.6 44.2 35.8 25.3 23.7 13.2 13.4
Y-2014 67 56.4 49.8 39.5 34.1 30.7 20.7 

Year Russia India Turkey Spain US China Germany
Y-1990s 44.9 71 81 89.1 85.1 73.3 93.6
Y-2014 67.3 79.7 83.2 91.2 79.7 70.5 94.1

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Is the worry about democracy justified?

People are going around with their heads on fire, that the popular support for democracy is diminishing around the world, or that people are more in favor of strong, non-democratic leaders than ever before.

Where the data is available, it is worth looking at the survey in full.  The latest "sky-is-falling" is in the Financial Times, based on the World Value Survey. 

The World Value Survey  has data published in six waves.  The question of interest to us is:
I'm going to describe various types of political systems and ask what you think about each as a way of governing this country. For each one, would you say it is a very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad way of governing this country?
Having a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections.
Having experts, not government, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country.
Having the army rule
Having a democratic political system
I've put together the data for the two countries I care about for only two parts of the multi-part question.  The first two waves don't have both countries represented, and don't seem to have the equivalent question, so the cells are blank. The numbers are percentages. The DNK+NA column is the sum of "Do Not Know",  "No Answer" and the sometimes tiny non-zero percentage of "Did not ask".    I was careful in transcribing the numbers, but if you spot any errors in transcription, do let me know.

Having a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections

India USA
Wave Very good Fairly good Bad Very bad DNK+NA Very good Fairly good Bad Very bad DNK+NA


1995-1998 17.2 27.0 13.8 6.9 35.1 3.1 20.6 23.9 47.3 5.2
1999-2004 25.5 17.3 19.3 10.3 27.5 8.4 20.7 37.4 31.9 1.7
2005-2009 18.3 27.3 17.5 8.3 28.6 6.6 25.0 30.7 33.9 3.9
2010-2014 35.3 21.1 13.1 17.4 13.0 6.1 28.0 26.2 37.2 2.5


Having a democratic political system

India USA
Wave Very good Fairly good Bad Very bad DNK+NA Very good Fairly good Bad Very bad DNK+NA


1995-1998 38.1 32.9 4.9 1.4 22.7 50.9 34.2 6.4 2.6 6.0
1999-2004 37.8 30.2 3.5 1.5 26.9 50.5 35.3 6.4 4.1 3.7
2005-2009 39.7 30.3 4.5 1.8 23.7 43.2 38.7 10.2 3.5 4.4
2010-2014 53.6 26.1 6.0 2.8 11.5 37.8 41.9 12.2 4.9 3.2

Adding the "Very good" and "Fairly good" columns, the trends for India, past to present, of liking a strong non-democratic leader is 44.2, 42.8, 45.6, 56.4; and of liking a democracy is 71.0, 68.0, 70.0, 79.7.   It would seem that in India both ideas, that of strong undemocratic leader and of a democratic system are more popular than in the past.

For the USA, the strong non-democratic leader trend is 23.7, 29.1, 31.6, 34.1.  The democracy trend is 85.1, 85.8, 81.9, 79.7.

I don't know that one can read a lot into the numbers.  Perhaps we have to wait for the results of the seventh wave.  I note that:
  • In the US the trends for democracy and strongmen are in opposite directions; in India they are in the same direction.  
  • In the India, the pro-strong-man opinion has crossed 50%.
  • Both countries nevertheless are overwhelming in favor of having a democratic political system. 
If you think about it, the interpretation of the questions asked is not as plain as you might think.  In a parliamentary system, a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections might simply mean, to some responders, a leader with a strong single-party parliamentary majority, who does not have to cobble together coalitions, and whose government is not constantly extorted by  constituents of the coalition who threaten to pull out and bring down the government.

In the USA, the President is elected to a four year term and does not have to bother with Parliament, and some respondents might simply be saying they prefer the Presidential system to the Parliamentary scheme.

PS: the WVS survey form in Hindi

The highlighted sentence corresponds to "Having a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections."

The Hindi word used for "bother" is "chintaa" (चिंता) But "chintaa" is "worry" or "anxiety" (concern, fear, disquiet), not "bother".  "Chintaa" is the feeling you might have, e.g., when your two school-age children are travelling long distance by themselves for the first time; or when you are short of money to pay your monthly bills.  The "does not have to bother with elections" is not "does not have to be anxious about elections" but rather more like "can dispense with elections".

PPS: part 2.

The best thing I read this morning

Ashay Naik's "Language and Discourse: Why the issue is not merely about Sanskrit or English"


Consider, for example, a simple, popular story from the Pañcatantra of a heron who deceived the fishes in a lake and killed them. In the original text, the story typically begins as follows:
अस्ति नानाजलचरसनाथसरोवरः। तत्र एकः बकः कृताश्रयो निवसति।
asti nānājalacarasanāthasarovaraḥ. tatra ekaḥ bakaḥ kṛtāśrayo nivasati.

There was a lake filled with different kind of acquatic creatures. A heron dwelled there, having taken refuge [at the lake].

This is not merely the setting for a story. There is latent in this simple introduction a whole discourse about human life. The word sanātha ‘filled’ used for the lake suggests that it was like a nātha ‘master’ and the fishes were living within it like a servant takes refuge with the master. The heron, also, we are told, was kṛtāśrayaḥ ‘one who has taken refuge’ with the lake.

In other words, the story is projecting an ecosystem with the lake at its center. It is inhabited by the fishes who are the prey and the heron who is their predator. The fact that they are part of the ecosystem and as such servants of a common master, legitimizes the normal predation of the heron. This is what makes his subsequent deceit so poignant. As members of an ecosystem, he was permitted to catch the fishes, if he could, as the fishes were permitted to escape from him, if they could. But what he was not permitted to do, what manifested his evil was the fact that when he grew old and was unable to catch the fish, he resorted to deceit in order to kill them. You can see just how expressive this simple introduction turns out to be. It also teaches us that our existence on earth is of a similar nature. The earth is our nātha and we are kṛtāśrayaḥ here. Such a profound philosophy is encapsulated in these simple words.

Today many people are making a strong effort to save Sanskrit, to spread Sanskrit, to get as many Indians speaking Sanskrit as possible. But the kind of Sanskrit we find in the Pañcatantra is not the language that is being propagated. If a contemporary Indian who has learnt Sanskrit was asked to write the aforementioned story, he would probably say:

एकस्मिन् सरोवरे अनेकानि मत्स्यानि सन्ति। तत्र एको बकोऽपि निवसति।
ekasmin sarovare anekāni matsyāni santi. tatra eko bako’pi nivasati.
In a lake, there lived many fishes. A heron also lived there.
You see the difference? We may preserve Sanskrit but we have lost its discourse. The discourse in the foregoing words speaks of the fishes and the heron as autonomous beings. The lake is a separate entity, merely a place where they have taken up residence. The sense that they form together an ecosystem is gone. The language is Sanskrit but the discourse is English. The language is ancient but the discourse is liberal-humanist. Therefore, we must persistently pay attention to the fact that it is not just the the language we are trying to save but also the discourse. It is preferable to express the Sanskrit discourse in an English language than to spread the Sanskrit language but use it to express an English discourse.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

US Civilian Control of the Military

Retired Army Col. W.P. Lang and his circle who run the turcopolier blog are quite in favor of Trump.  Nevertheless they have concerns, I quote just one:
Mattis lost his job as CENTCOM commander for crowding the Iranians by sending US warships inshore where they were evidently expected to provoke a fight. This was contrary to Obama's policy and Mattis was warned about this behavior before he was replaced. Mattis should be cautioned against exceeding his authorities before being made SECDEF.
General James Mattis was fired by Obama in 2013, the conventional reports don't mention what these military insiders apparently know about that firing.  These reports do agree that the firing was rather unceremonious.

General Mattis is of course Trump's nominee to be Secretary of Defense.

Then there is a matter of a law dating from 1947:
U.S. Code › Title 10 › Subtitle A › Part I › Chapter 2 › § 113
(a) There is a Secretary of Defense, who is the head of the Department of Defense, appointed from civilian life by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. A person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.

OK, so Congress can give General Mattis a waiver, since he has only three years since active duty, not seven.  The purpose of the law, however,  is to firmly keep the military under civilian control, and if the turcopolier blog writers are correct, General Mattis actually took actions contrary to the President policy.  That is, as a general, he did not show proper respect for civilian authority, and was fired for it (taking turcopolier as true).

Should the law be waived for such a person?

Josh Marshall, at talkingpointsmemo.com,  is not comforting:
This Is Not Normal

We now have three of the four top national and domestic security agencies of the government under the management of recently retired generals. (One might reasonably change the number to five if considered the DOJ which houses the FBI.) We could have a fourth if President-elect Trump chooses David Petraeus as Secretary of State. They are Mattis at the Pentagon; Kelly at DHS; Flynn as the President's National Security Advisor. There is nothing inherently wrong with having retired generals serve in high level administration positions. We've had a number of accomplished retired general presidents—Washington, Jackson, Grant, Eisenhower. Barely more than a decade ago, Colin Powell served as Secretary of State. Brent Scowcroft served as National Security Advisor. Petraeus served as CIA Director under President Obama. But the issue is one of concentration and recency.

All of these men have only recently retired from service. There's a reason why with the Defense Department a retired general is not permitted to serve as Secretary for seven years post-retirement. Mattis is getting a waiver. Concentration is the key issue. I cannot think of any time in history when an administration has been so dominated by retired generals.

This is the time when many precedents are likely to be broken.  Which ones ought to remain unbroken is critically important.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Szilard: The Mark Gable Foundation

A comment from CIP on Peter Woit's blog discussing the "Breakthrough" prizes (which are million dollar awards to big-name scientists, sometimes for ideas that did not work out, scientifically speaking, though they led to huge payouts) led me to this, by John G. Cramer:
Last October I added a Google Analytics link to my online archive of these AV columns. Among other things, this allows me to conduct a "popularity contest" of my old columns. Rather to my surprise, the clear winner as the most popular of my 177 Alternate View columns so far is AV-04, "The Retarding of Science", published in the mid-December 1984 issue of Analog. That column was my only tongue-in-cheek foray into humor in writing these columns, but the surprising interest this 30 year old column seems to have gathered encourages me to do it again.

The December-1984 column was inspired by a Leo Szilard short story, "The Mark Gable Foundation", which described the creation of an endowed non-profit foundation for the specific purpose of slowing the pace of scientific progress. In the story, a physicist emerged from cold-sleep 200 years in the future to find that most of his scientific training was obsolete and that science was progressing "altogether too fast as it is". He enlisted the help of the world's wealthiest man to create a non-profit organization, The Mark Gable Foundation, dedicated to retarding scientific progress.

The Mark Gable Foundation achieved this objective by creating, for each major field of scientific investigation, a panel of distinguished scientists which would meet monthly to award prizes and grants for the best recent scientific work. (The Foundation, as Szilard pointed out, bears some resemblance to the U.S. National Science Foundation.) This plan, it was explained, would keep the best of the older scientists away from their laboratories and busy with unproductive travel, meetings, and report writing and would cause the younger scientists in need of funds to go for the "sure thing" that would be certain to lead to publishable results, thereby filling the scientific journals with trivial results and channeling research in the direction of the safe, the fashionable, and the obvious, and away from the more risky innovations and breakthroughs at the frontiers of knowledge.
The AV-04 article written in 1984, announced a new organization:
The time has come for a new initiative. I would like to announce the creation of a new scientific organization, the American Association for the Retardation of Science and Engineering (acronym: AARSE), dedicated to the retardation of scientific progress wherever it may occur, in whatever field, in whatever place. AARSE is created for the specific purpose of encouraging the retardation of scientific progress and of giving appropriate recognition to those who have done the most in the recent times to further this goal. 
 One of the first awardees:
Finally, we wish to honor those who have been able to substantially retard scientific progress by fuzzing out the distinction between science and non-science. There have been several notable efforts in this area. For example, there has been a particularly effective campaign to associate the word "research" with the act of looking up some bit of information in a book where it happens to be written down. Thus: "I will have to get back to you after I research that in the World Almanac." Equally important is the effort to apply, without regard to training or education, the term "engineer" to anyone who gets his hands dirty in his work. Thus the janitor becomes a "Building Maintenance Engineer" and the garbage man a "Solid Waste Engineer". But perhaps the most significant effort in this area goes to those who have been attacking the meaning of the word "science" itself by labeling certain fundamentalist Christian beliefs with the appellation "Creation Science". This brilliant application of the technique at a stroke confounds the distinction between science and religious dogma and brings scientific research into direct conflict with religion in a way which has been sadly absent since the times of Galileo and Darwin. For this outstanding achievement in the retardation of science we are pleased to present Gold-Plated AARSE Awards to the Institute for Creation Research of El Cajon, California, to the State Legislatures of Arkansas and Louisiana, and to clergymen, laymen, and laywomen everywhere who have contributed to this massive and effective effort. 

Media mess - 2

A story on recode.net:

“Please! Failing? CNN is completing its Hall of Fame year,” John Martin, the CEO of Turner, which owns CNN, said at An Evening with Code Media event in New York Wednesday.
Trump has also been good for business. CNN will book $1 billion in profit this year, and profits could go even higher next year since the network will get higher carriage fees from distributors. It will also see lower expenses from not having to cover a presidential election.
And despite advertising likely being down, a Trump administration could spur audiences to keep tuned to CNN.
“Tough to predict what the ratings will be,” Martin said, “although with the Trump administration, there will be a general fascination that wouldn’t be the same as under a Clinton administration. ... Trump will be a little bit better from a business standpoint.
 This via Alex Ross at The New Yorker who wrote:
Traditional media outlets exhibited the same value-free mentality, pumping out Trump stories and airing his rallies because they got hits and high ratings. At some point over the summer, it struck me that the greater part of the media wanted Trump to be elected, consciously or unconsciously. He would be more “interesting” than Hillary Clinton; he would “pop.” That suspicion was confirmed the other day when a CNN executive, boasting of his network’s billion-dollar profit in 2016, spoke of “a general fascination that wouldn’t be the same as under a Clinton Administration.” Of the clouds and shadows that hung over Clinton in the press, the darkest, perhaps, was the prospect of boredom.
Martin's interview can be viewed here.

First "Media mess" post here.


Sunday, December 04, 2016

Miami's Aquatic Future

Bloomberg News has an item (video)  "Miami's Luxury Real Estate Battles the Rising Tide".

Investors continue to pour money into Miami Beach and Miami luxury real estate.  The recognition of the occurrence of increased flooding is with raised roads, with new construction in Miami moving a little back from the ocean, with elevated construction, no underground garages, etc.

But the story suggests that people have faith that somebody will step up "to do something".  I guess they expect some King Canute who can turn back the tides.

In the meantime, the climate change deniers are pushing the theory that the land in Miami is subsiding rather than the sea level is rising.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Republican Opposition Research on Bernie Sanders

Kurt Eichenwald writes at Newsweek about the opposition research the Republicans had in case Sanders became the Democratic nominee for POTUS:

I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal.

Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.)
 Some substantiation of this would be useful.