Open Thread: Ask me anything

h l mencken_1Long time since we had an open thread. This is an “Ask me anything” post. What’s on your mind?

Apropos nothing, let’s read Mencken. Mencken was insightful. For instance, he noted the “basic delusion that men may be governed and yet be free.”

He held politicians in very low regard.

When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

That most people are not free is an easily observable fact. As an economist may put it, the demand for freedom is rather weak and therefore the supply is nearly non-existent.

The fact is that the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty — and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.

Would you agree?

15 thoughts on “Open Thread: Ask me anything

  1. Yes, Completely agree. On “Ask me Anything”, I would request you to write on genetically modified crops and why you don’t like the statement ‘Hinduism is not a religion but dharma’.

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    1. I have an opinion on GM crops. Perhaps I should write a brief piece on that. But I don’t recall ever saying that I don’t like “Hinduism is not a religion but dharma” statement.

      Please clarify. Thanks.

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      1. “Hinduism is not a religion but dharma”

        Even if you haven’t ever said it, or taken a position on this topic at all, interested to hear your thoughts on it.

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      2. That statement can be parsed in two separate bits: “Hinduism is not a religion” and “Hinduism is a dharma” (or “Hinduism is dharma.”)

        For the first bit, I am firmly convinced that Hinduism is a religion in the ordinary meaning of the word religion. Religion implies a collection of beliefs, stories, symbols, rituals, behaviors, prohibitions, mandates, and so on.

        Hinduism has all the usual trappings of other cultural institutions that are recognized as religions. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Hinduism is a religion.

        Now because Hinduism belongs to the category “religion” does not mean that it is congruent with other members of that category. There are indeed major differences between Hindu and non-Hindu religions. Apes and dolphins are both animals (and mammals, more specifically) as categorized in zoological taxonomies. But clearly they are different in many obvious ways.

        But, one may exclaim, “Hinduism is a way of life.” Sure it is. And so are Christianity, Judaism and Islam. They are all ways of life. That Hinduism is a way of life, therefore, does no distinguish it from other religions.

        Now on to the second bit: “Hinduism is dharma.” It may or may not be “dharma.” It depends on what one means by dharma. I am quite happy to state up front that “dharma” has connotations that are different and distinct from that of “religion.”

        So I claim that Hinduism is a religion but it is not just that — it is a dharma. I now must define what dharma is and how it is a concept that is a super-set that contains the notion of religion.

        Dharma is that which provides the foundation. It is not just an explanation of how the world came to be but also what sustains the world. Dharma is subjective and not objective. It differs from person to person, depending on the subject. My dharma is distinct from any other sentient being’s dharma. There is a uniqueness related to dharma. Religion is what is common to all who profess it; dharma is individualistic and obtains meaning only in the context of a sentient being.

        Dharma is related to the individual. The question is not whether dharma is right or wrong; the question is whether or not a specific dharma is appropriate for a specific person.

        A shirt is the right size for you does not mean that that size is right for all.

        Hinduism is a religion of a collective. But dharma is a guide for the individual to the path to being and becoming that no religion (even Hinduism) can provide.

        I consider dharma to be functionally equivalent to what is called “methodological individualism” of economics. This comment is far too short to go into that.

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      3. Not exactly a question but please do respond whenever you can.According to SN Balgangadhara Heathen in His Blindness he argues against what is the definition of religion and do we actually fit into the definition.DrJakob De Roover also argues in favour of whether Hinduism can be called a Religion in the Abrahamic Definition or even specifically to compared with Christianity.Even in our Indian Constitution the closest word that Religion comes to is Panth.Hence Panth Nirapksha is Secularism.So Hinduism can be called a Religion at the same time it can not be just called a Religion.So Dharma includes religion in it but Religion does not include Dharma hmmm interesting.

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  2. it is more apparent now than ever that the high office goes to the least common denominator among people and one who is capable of putting up sufficient facades as the situation demands. It is worrisome that society changes, for good or bad, by the actions of a handful of people is more true now even after the democratization of many domains and the pervasive dissemination of knowledge/awareness.

    Re: AMA, may be i have missed it but i have never read a post talking about the criminal overrun of capitalism, in the broadest sense of the word. More specifically –

    1) events like trade collusion, a big no-no in Adam Smith’s world, in the form of TTP/TISA
    2) unconscionable bail out of banks using tax payers money, socialism for the elite and capitalism for the rest
    3) sacrifice of sovereign rights at the altar of trade deals, what does it mean to have a democracy/republic anymore?
    4) the farcical extension of capitalistic/market forces for issues like climate change. Does anyone really believe that creating a multi billion dollar carbon-cap market that trades penalties, when the availability of money is so cheap with ZERP/NERP, is going to improve the situation in any tangible way? (other than ofcourse al gore making tons of money in the process)

    And the big whopper that has been plaguing me for a while – even though what we see today in US or else where is a bastardized version of capitalism there is no way one can deny the fact that given sufficient time and media/political influence, hence the “if you cant reason, lobby” quip, has its roots in capitalistic theories. If the eventuality/culmination of “true capitalism” is this are we choosing this because there isn’t a better alternative or is there a way to prevent going down this path all together? (ofcourse not in in the world of la la land where all parties/actors are honest well meaning individuals with rational thought process)

    I may be wrong but i remember reading on your blog that in a society of lawful existence those that operate cleverly in gray areas and borderline illegality are the ones heavily rewarded. Are we heading to a system where the competition is not in how better/useful their products are but instead how well they can establish “access capitalism” TM 🙂 and get away with it?

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    1. I admit that I am unable to follow much of your comment/questions. So let me start by asking for some clarification.

      Could you briefly define what you mean by “capitalism” or point me to a source which defines it properly according to you?

      The reason I ask is that it avoids semantic confusion that arise with ill-defined terms.

      I should here disclaim any understanding of macroeconomics. I am only good for “rock-bottom” explanations. That is, I start with first principles and reason from there. This means I do not talk about big, complex macro phenomena without first going through the atomic bits that constitute them.

      So for example, it will take me a long time to even understand what is meant by your statement:

      Does anyone really believe that creating a multi billion dollar carbon-cap market that trades penalties, when the availability of money is so cheap with ZERP/NERP, is going to improve the situation in any tangible way?

      Only after I have understood what it means, can I even begin to figure out what the answer may be.

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      1. >define what you mean by “capitalism” or point me to a source

        i admit im not prefessionally trained as you are, just a person with sufficient time and a good internet connection. Nevertheless my sources, as indicative of the time we are in, are a mixture of podcasts, tv shows and books. To give you an idea – Schiff Radio, Keiser Report, The Global Minotaur (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVxaTC7Qp44), Wealth of Nations and so on. Capitalism to me is an ecosystem where price signals are based on market forces and the main goal all regulating/governing bodies must aspire to is promoting more competition (this means always playing it safe wrt big M&A of large companies) and ruthlessly punishing offenders and letting them fail if they took irrational risks.
        I am not an economist so i cannot dabble in theoretical models of micro-economics.

        >ZERP/NERP
        my bad, typo ZIRP (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_interest-rate_policy)/NIRP(http://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/negative-interest-rate-policy-nirp.asp)

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      2. I have no idea how or why “theoretical models of micro-economics” enters into the discussion.

        Certainly you are not a trained economist. But that should not prevent you from defining words that you use. As I wrote before, unless I understand what you mean by “capitalism”, I have no way of making sense of the phrase “criminal overrun of capitalism.”

        Let me repeat myself. I reason from first principles. I cannot apprehend the whole world in one sweeping gaze because I cannot comprehend any complex system without comprehending the little bits that constitute it.

        This is partly my nature and partly the nurturing that I got when studying economics. In economics, we start with very simple bits and understand them. Then we try to fit those simple bits together and proceed slowly taking care that the new synthesized bits are comprehensible. With sufficient caution and deliberate enrichment of the bits, we may arrive at an understanding of the large complex system.

        I start from first principles and atomic bits. Let me illustrate this with an analogy. You can start with atoms and a few principles of physics, and then build upon it till you can look at the solar system and understand how the system works in the largest scales. But if you start at the large scale, you are pretty much lost in the complexity.

        A proper training in economics helps in that regard. I don’t understand macroeconomics. To me, it is just a lot of “just so” stories. To me, economics is the study of humans doing what is unique to humans — the propensity to “truck, barter and trade”, in the words of Adam Smith.

        Exchange is the atomic unit in economics. Exchange involves property. If property is not well-defined, then exchange cannot take place. That makes property rights a fundamental idea. But property rights exists only if it can be enforced. So we need to come up with a mechanism that protects property rights. That brings us to the idea of a “government” – an institution that we collectively create to protect rights. Capitalism is a collection ideas — private property and a set of rules that regulate exchange of property.

        Having defined capitalism, now we can argue whether capitalism is good or not. Now we can make statements which include the word capitalism, and then judge the validity of those statements.

        Many people hold strong views about capitalism. I am not sure that they have bothered to define it before they start ranting against capitalism.

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      3. Thanks for taking the time to elaborate.
        >But that should not prevent you from defining words that you use

        reminds me of your post on Hayek and social justice. I concede the point that i might not have comprehensively defined my view of what capitalism is but i thought i provided sufficient context/meaning to the term to clarify the points i was making, clearly insufficient. If i could rephrase my questions for you AMA all over again i would probably say something like “your views on the economic basis and validity and practical viability of the carbon-caps market” and rephrase other questions similarly.

        >I have no way of making sense of the phrase “criminal overrun of capitalism.”

        for this limited point all i was trying to imply was that some people have taken the fundamentals of a capitalist system, as i understand it, (like trade, price based on market signals and acceptance of unavoidable costs-of-doing business) and used it as a cover to propose a solution that exacerbates the problem instead of solving it. This in my opinion was shameful and criminal.

        If you are still interested i will be happy to provide a rephrased set of questions for your AMA.

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      4. Though my questions are to do with macro-economics I am just going to leave them here for closure –
        1) The impact of multi-continental trade agreements TTP/TISA, where for instance a private entity can sue a sovereign gov. over lost future profits, on a fledgling democracies
        2) With the recent bailout of private banks, who undeniably made a foolish and risky bet and the fed instead of letting them fail propped them up, do you agree with the quip that we now have “capitalism for the rest and socialism for the elite” (given how startups and even cities are allowed to go bankrupt)
        3) Your views on the economic basis and validity of the carbon-caps market and whether such an economic model can take significant strides in achieving the purported goal of reining in carbon emissions

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  3. Hi – new question topic – can you do a new post on solar energy. Could you please survey the entire industry as it exists today, globally; technology changes; new political scene domestically; as well as global investment scenario – and do a write-up. Saw this recently, and piqued my interest to see what the updates might be, + your perspective on them – http://blogs.swarajyamag.com/2015/07/16/ideas-to-help-india-realize-its-solar-power-potential/. thanks.

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    1. The system weeds out spam comments automatically. So I don’t even see spam comments. It uses some algorithm to detect spam — for instance too many links or too many comments at the same time — and deletes them.

      I don’t moderate comments usually but if a comment does not add anything to the matter at hand, I delete it. Comments that are pointless waste everyone’s time.

      Finally, this is my blog. I am the benevolent despot around here. My word is law. I am the king of this hill. The master of this house. I do as I please. And if I don’t like someone’s attitude, I don’t entertain them here.

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