Breaking up Monopolies

In a comment to a recent post on monopolies, Viveka wrote, “I will cheer the day a Google or Amazon is broken up into a bunch companies. That day is not far off.”

As the old witticism goes, be careful what you wish for because you may get it. Don’t assume that the breaking up of very large corporations because they have market dominance is necessarily a  good thing. Large corporations are large for reasons that we may not appreciate — especially if we think like engineers. Engineering is a fine and necessary profession, and engineers have enriched the world in countless ways. But it has its limitations. Continue reading

Huxley, Freedom and Hinduism

“It is far better for a man to go wrong in freedom than to go right in chains.” That’s Thomas Henry Huxley (1825 – 1895), also known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his spirited advocacy of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

It’s fascinating to read about his life. With only two years of schooling, he left school at the age of 10 because his family was facing financial hardships. He is the greatest autodidact of the 19th century CE. His extraordinary achievements led him to be elected Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburg, Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, and received many prestigious awards.

Fun fact: Huxley coined the English term “agnostic” in 1869. “It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.” The concept of agnosticism goes back to antiquity, however. The wiki says,

Sanjaya Belatthaputta, a 5th-century BCE Indian philosopher who expressed agnosticism about any afterlife; and Protagoras, a 5th-century BCE Greek philosopher who expressed agnosticism about the existence of “the gods.”

I think the greatest strength of Hinduism — and what sets it apart from the monotheistic religions — is that it admits skepticism and agnosticism. The “Creation Hymn” of the Rig Veda addresses the question of who or what created the universe: Continue reading

On Monopoly

“I am confused about the correctness of government interference to break monopolies. Sometimes I think this is good. I do believe that a free market without competition is terrible. But if the government starts deciding what a “monopoly” is and what is not, we have just let in a thin wedge that can corrupt free markets beyond any limit. But then, if the government does not break monopolies, who will? Can the free-markets self-correct? Has it ever happened in practice?”[1]

Those are not easy questions to answer in a blog post since the issues involved are many and far from trivial. Volumes have been written on the definition and analysis of the economic concept of monopoly, and experts frequently disagree on what, if any, harm monopolies do, and what should the policy response be.

My thinking has evolved since I first began learning economics. Trained in the neoclassical tradition, I used to think that monopolies were harmful for the economy, and therefore government intervention was required to break them up for economic efficiency and consumer protection. However, the more I studied Austrian economics, the more I realized that monopolies weren’t the great threat to economic health as they were made out to be. Continue reading

Putting Money Where One’s Mouth is

In a comment addressed to Prabhudesai, Engr. Ravi wrote, “Food has already become the first limit that we have hit, so be careful about what you bet your money on.”

Advising care in placing bets is excellent advice which ought to be followed. Talk is cheap. Placing bets is not. So I suggest a bet.

I am willing to bet money that food will continue to become less scarce. I bet that in 10 years, a basket of food items which costs $1,000 today, will cost less than (inflation adjusted) $1,000. If it costs more, I will pay the difference to the person(s) on the other side of the bet; if it costs less, I am owed the difference from the person(s) on the other side. For example, if the basket costs $900, then I’m owed $100; if the basket costs $1200, then I pay $200.
Continue reading

“Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius

We live in the best time in all history. Note that it is not the best possible time in all of history — only that it’s the best time ever but better times are yet to be. You could have lived, say, 200 years ago; then you would not have had access to all the wonderful ideas and things that humans have discovered, invented, learned about after that time.

Now is better than any previous moment in history because humanity’s understanding of the world increases monotonically. Humanity has been accumulating wisdom for thousands of years, and what’s even more marvelous is that we have instant access to all that wisdom, ancient and modern, provided we wish to learn. Buddhas have walked this earth before us, and no doubt there will be future buddhas even more enlightened than those that went before. Continue reading

Sundance & Matsuri by Kitaro

I first heard Kitaro in the mid-80s. We used to go to Tower Records in Mt. View to buy CDs. Tower Records is now only an online store. But Kitaro’s music lives on. I even got to see Kitaro in concert at the Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley. 

Wiki describes it as “a multi-venue performance facility on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, completed in 1968. The facility consists of two primary performance spaces: the 1,984-seat Zellerbach Auditorium, and the 500-seat Zellerbach Playhouse. … suitable for dance, theater, and opera, and has a built-in concert shell that provides an excellent acoustical enclosure for symphonic and other classical music performances.” Continue reading

The Beginning of Indefinite Economic Growth – Part 2

Why do some people claim that the end to economic growth is over or very near? One popular explanation goes this way. Economic growth requires the use of natural resources. On a limited planet, resources are limited. Therefore, when we have used up all our natural resources, economic growth will come to an end. QED.

That explanation belongs in primary school children’s books with illustrations that include smiley faces, but is not suitable for children past their 10th year.

Though quite popular among many biologists (Paul Ehrlich), politicians (Al Gore), gurus (Sadhguru Jaggi), engineers (pick your favorite), and other assorted crazies, that explanation is wrong. The idiotic notions underlying the false explanation were laid to rest by Julian Simon and others many decades ago. But few people have the patience, the capacity or the desire to read Simon. Continue reading

The Beginning of Indefinite Economic Growth

Repent! The end (of economic growth) is near.

Just kidding. That’s just Homer Simpson-esque paranoia. His elevator doesn’t stop at all the floors. He’s a can short of a six-pack. A few sandwiches short of a picnic. He’s working with an unformatted disc.

Unfortunately, Homer is only one of the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people who have been declaring that end-of-the-world emergency since time immemorial. No doubt the 5000th Anniversary Edition of “The End is Near” will also be a hot bestseller.

Predicted apocalypses have consistently failed to happen — evidently so since we are in the here and now busily calling bullshit on the doomsayers. But why do they produce the bovine feces so consistently, and why do some of the general public consume it so eagerly? Answer to both questions: basic stupidity, ignorance, and an extreme inability to reason. Continue reading

How Sewers Work

Life expectancy at birth used to be a dismal 30 years or so not too long ago. Just about 10 generations before ours, child mortality was terrible. Tim Worstall notes in HumanProgress.org — 

The usual estimation is that half of all children died before adulthood in archaic societies, one quarter before their first birthday and another quarter before the age of 15, which is the end of puberty and our reasonable definition of becoming an adult. That seems to hold over all societies examined, including the Roman Empire, 18th century Britain, and all other groups of humans over time. (It is also, roughly speaking, true of the other Great Apes.)

This sorry state of affairs was brought to an end in three stages. The first stage was the discovery of infectious disease. John Snow, for example, showed that cholera cycled through the sewage and water systems. His discovery led to the single greatest aid to human health ever: the development of proper water systems, which provide fresh water and carry away sewage. Essentially, drains were the first step in reducing child mortality. Continue reading

Cucurrucucú Paloma

Years ago in Berkeley, I watched this Pedro Almodóvar movie, Talk to Her. My advisor and I would go to the movies every so often. In one scene, Caetano Veloso sings this song, Cucurrucucú Paloma. I don’t understand Spanish but I do know that paloma means dove. The song is heartachingly beautiful. The voice conveys so much loss and longing.