The greatest technological advancement of the modern world, after sliced bread and the personal computer, has to be the cell phone. It is the one device that makes possible the notion of the global village, it inter-connects billions through wireless, satellite, fiber-optic, and microwave networks spanning the globe. Perhaps the only thing that the poor fisherman in the Kerala coast and the rich stock analyst in the New York Stock Exchange have in common is the cell phone. Continue reading
Among cynics, HL Mencken (1880-1956) holds pride of place in my opinion. In his judgment, democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage. In India—are you really surprised—the monkeys running the government never cease to astonish. I thought that when it came to the insane depravity of the Indian politician, I had seen it all. But I was sadly mistaken.
[Continued from Part 2.]
The recent performance of India’s private sector has underlined an important economics lesson, that competitive markets work where too often the command and control system founders. Within your arm’s reach is a device which is a miracle of modern technology—the cell phone. It took the government telecom monopoly 45 years—from 1951 to 1996—to install around 14 million land lines. Between 1996 and 2000, with the liberalization of the telecom sector, India’s installed capacity doubled to around 30 million lines. In the next five years, India’s telephone companies added another 90 million lines (of which 70 million were cell phone lines.)
Reading Lee Kuan Yew’s lecture is edifying at various levels. As an observer, he is incomparable. But he did not merely observe; he hinted at solutions and did so without being rude. You know the Hindi saying, samajhdar ko eshara kafi hota hai (to the intelligent, a mere gesture suffices). Unfortunately, his talk to the Congress and other assorted disciples of Nehru must have been as useful as a bicycle to a fish. Nothing that LKY prescribed for India is surprising or counter-intuitive. Yet it is good to hear it from one who has not only talked the talk but actually walked the walk. Continue reading
Lee Kuan Yew was invited to deliver the 37th Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture on 21st Nov 2005 in New Delhi. He called it “India in an Asian Renaissance.” I am an unabashed admirer of Lee Kuan Yew and I should also add that I am a very severe critic of Jawaharlal Nehru. So I decided to read Yew’s lecture and also read between the lines and make a few comments
Poverty and hunger are the world’s greatest challenges
- 1.2 billion people–one out of five–live on less than $1 a day.
- More than 800 million people are hungry, including 31 million in the United States.
- Every day, 24,000 people die from hunger and other preventable causes. One billion people do not have adequate shelter, and 2.4 billion people do not have access to proper sanitation. More than 1 billion people in developing countries lack access to safe water.
- Yet enough food is produced in the world to feed everyone.
- Overpopulation is not the main cause of hunger. In Japan, a densely populated country with 125 million people, hunger is rare compared to other countries. Many larger countries with fewer people, like Peru and Sudan, have much higher rates of hunger.
- The problem is inequality in access to education, resources, and power.
I have a slightly different take on the question of poverty and hunger. I think that ultimately, without the active participation of the world’s poor, poverty cannot be sustained. I believe that we have been looking for the solution to poverty everywhere else except at the source of poverty. The source of poverty is the poor. The poor sustain poverty.
I am not absolving anyone of blame by locating the source of sustained poverty among the poor. On the contrary, the non-poor also actively participate in helping the poor sustain poverty. But in the ultimate analysis, the poor have the power to kill poverty. How to awaken them to that realization is the challenge that those who wish to see poverty eradicated face.
When confronted by a human being who impresses us as truly great, should we not be moved rather than chilled by the knowledge that he might have attained his greatness only through his frailties?
— Lou Andreas-Salome – Biographer of Freud
The notion that one’s weaknesses could be the fountainhead of one’s accomplishments is certainly intriguing and counter-intuitive. At least on one occasion I have seen that up close and personal. A certain friend of mine was driven to become an over-achiever because at a deeper level he suffered from an inferiority complex.
My previous post (Decriminalize and de-governmentize India) generated interesting comments. Half of them agreed with me, and the other half stopped short of telling me that I had finally lost it. One commenter, Shiboo, wrote his opinion which I feel deserves to be read. Here it is for the record. Continue reading
“It is the opium of the people.”
Marx was referring to religion and why it was necessary. Opium is a powerful narcotic and painkiller. According to him – and I agree with his analysis – religion to the vast majority of the people is a comforting illusion made a necessity by their real miseries. He wrote:
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
The more miserable the material conditions of the people, the more intensely religion gets a stranglehold on them. And in a vicious cycle of dependency, religion pulls them down further into the abyss. Monotheistic religions have done so in the past and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future—intensify the misery that gave birth to them.
Spirituality, on the other hand, arises within people only when they are freed from a miserable existence and have the luxury to search for truth and meaning in attempt to fully comprehend their own selves.
I clearly recall the shock that I experienced when I first learnt of the Opium Wars. Over the years, as I have learnt more about the ways of the world, the Opium Wars have become a powerful symbol—a metaphor—which I employ to explain to myself some of the features of the world. Continue reading
If what we believe to be true is in fact false, we could end up making a bad situation worse. Since our deeply held convictions are rarely deliberately scrutinized, we run the risk of behaving like monkeys. A useful generalization that I have arrived at is that the structure of the world imposes truths that are counter-intuitive. Our untutored intuition is at times at odds with what the truth is. There are examples galore but here I will restrict myself to the “drug problem” which I had briefly alluded to in my post yesterday on Drugs, Death and Bad Servers.