RadioEconomics Interview of Jeffrey Sachs

Dr James Reese informs me that he has republished his interview of Jeffrey Sachs.

“Recorded November 2005: Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, listed as one of “World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals,” “the world’s best known economist,” and “among the 100 most influential people in the world,” was interviewed by Dr. James Reese.” (43 mins.)

Right-click and save-as on this link to download the mp3.

The Tangled Web — Part 6

The Lumpy Universe

One of the puzzles that cosmologists grapple with is the question of why the universe is lumpy. The universe has structure today – from super clusters of galaxies, to galaxies, stars and all sorts of other objects down to planets and asteroids. But the universe was much simpler earlier in its history. How did all these clumps of matter evolve from an undifferentiated soup of elementary particles and forces that existed in the early universe following the Big Bang?

A lot of very clever people have been doing a lot of hard sums for many years and have been partially successful in explaining why the universe is the way it is. There are inflationary models and there are string theories which attempt explanations. We just don’t know for sure. But the fact remains that the universe is lumpy. And we should be really grateful that it is so because its lumpiness is what makes the universe interesting. Not just interesting, it also makes us possible so that we can marvel at the nature of the universe. We should pause to consider that if the universe were uniform, it would have been sterile and we would not be here. The non-uniformity of the universe which arose for who knows what reasons is what makes for an interesting universe.
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Drugs and their Protection

A cyber-friend wrote to me asking what was “the rationale behind giving monopoly rights to big-global-drug-companies in India (by the way of patent protection).” He said that this was “leading to prohibitively expensive life saving cancer drugs (Rituximab at 1.3 lakhs/dose is actually daylight robbery and murder) … India is an insignificantly small (revenue % wise) part of global drug market … the unrealistic pricing shows that drug firms are not even bothered about us. India would be much better off if it produces (at fair prices) some of the life saving drugs and tries to save/elongate lives of some of its 5 lakh people who die of cancer every year.”
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Exporting Religion

Such a Pity

It is easy to slip into self-pity when battling what appears to be a nasty ‘flu. One’s view of the world is jaundiced and it all appears rather pointless. Events appear a grimmer shade of black when viewed from the context of physical illness. Yet, to put it in perspective, one should not complain about a temporary illness when others go through real ordeals. It is exactly one year ago that nearly 200 people lost their lives and several hundreds horribly injured just going about their daily business in Mumbai.
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Desiderata, the plural for “desideratum” which means “something to be desired or wanted.” Years ago I came across a piece by Max Ehrman titled “Desiderata.” There is a perfection about that piece. Brief and yet packs in a tremendous amount of practical wisdom. Its simple words have the depth to provide perspective to life’s joys, sorrows, trials and tribulations. I have yet to come across any situation that could not have been referred to the piece without insight.

My favorite lines from it: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

That expresses the same thought as, “The world, Govinda, is perfect at every moment.”


Thomas Schelling

I wrote about Thomas Schelling’s book in my last post. Here’s an account of a reporter’s lunch with him that is worth a quick read: The Game of Life.

Let me highlight a sentence fragment from that piece: ” . . . his work treats human frailties as something to be analysed and worked with, rather than denounced or denied.” That lies at the crux of a multitude of failures. People don’t fully appreciate the fact that what we have is frail human nature and if we refuse to confront reality, we are likely to make public policies that are wrong-headed and disastrous because they are built upon fairy-tale visions of human nature. Mohandas K Gandhi is the most illustrious example of a person who was seriously deluded about the nature of human beings and that, in my considered opinion, has contributed to a significant degree to the poverty that has dogged India for so long.

The Tangled Web — Part 5

Rules can be considered the secret sauce in the recipe for a successful society. The biological equivalent to a rule set is the DNA which encodes genes. Like good genes confer reproductive success and ensure the perpetuation of the species, good rules allow societies to succeed in the great game of economic survival. Two societies with equivalent endowments of natural and human resources can end up with different levels of prosperity if their rule sets are not equally good.

The question naturally arises: why do different societies end up with different rule sets? Who’s in charge of making the rules? And there is a follow-up question. Rules have public good characteristics. That is, they are not physical objects that are rival in consumption. If you use a rule, I too can the same rule without depriving you of the use of the rule. So if you have a good rule set, I can costlessly imitate the set and achieve equally good results. Rules are like secret sauces except for that they are not secret. So the question is why don’t people copy good rules. To explore these two questions, let me begin with addressing a personal matter.
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