Ask Me Anything — the Sparrow Edition

A sparrow drinking water
Summer drink

I like this picture I found on tumblr. There’s something satisfying about it. I think it has to do with what’s happening: the sparrow must feel contentment. (Hover over image.)

Anyhow, it’s time for this month’s AMA. What’s on your mind?

Author: Atanu Dey


10 thoughts on “Ask Me Anything — the Sparrow Edition”

    1. Mr Rane,

      I don’t know the details regarding Zakir Naik but I guess he is some sort of Islamic retard (aren’t they all?) who is in the limelight.

      But regardless, my position is that freedom of speech is non-negotiable. It is an absolute. I have written about it at length on this blog. Recently I wrote a comment which may be of interest. Please read it..


  1. You have changed your position on Narendra Modi, but has he changed since taking over as the Prime Minister or did you expect him to change after taking over as the Prime Minister? I don’t see much change in the policies during his first tenure as a PM versus his past tenures as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. In Gujarat, he had focused on eradicating corruption, creating infrastructure (roads, ports, power generation, gas pipelines) and improving delivery of social schemes (Rs 2 kilo rice, financial assistance for girl child education). Even then he used to talk about “Minimum government, maximum governance”, but I think minimum/maximum is relative to what we used to see under Congress government’s (mis)rule. Is it possible that the Indian society is not ready for the absolute freedom you espouse?


    1. Hi nrchandan,

      I should state precisely for the record my position on Modi. In the years prior to his becoming the PM, I believed that he was the best qualified (among the other potential candidates) to be the PM. He still is the best because there is no one else who comes remotely close to him.

      The problem is that the best should not be automatically taken to mean good. Consider this: the best option I have for dinner tonight is three-day old noodles. Clearly that is not good but the other options are worse.

      As the CM of Gujarat he was an administrator of a state, in a sense. He had limited options in terms of what changes he could make. He made the government machinery run more efficiently. As the PM, he has much greater freedom to make changes.

      India is not a true federation of states. It is actually a centralized form of government. The central government has tremendous control over what happens at the state level, and the PM is the most powerful figure in the central government. The PM’s power to make policies is virtually unmatched.

      I had expected that Modi would make the necessary policy changes. That expectation turned out to be wrong. I have since then understood why as the PM he is not making policy changes. Perhaps I should write that as a blog post.

      On a matter of principle I am against discrimination. I am born a male, through no fault of mine. If anyone discriminates against me because I am male, I think it is morally wrong. Schemes that discriminate based on sex or the color of one’s skin — are wrong and immoral. People who do discriminate are evil, immoral and perhaps merely stupid.

      Mispricing goods and services is stupid and ultimately immoral. The economic inefficiency makes them stupid; the fact that it causes avoidable harm makes them immoral.


  2. Dear Atanu, your blog and views may have more impact than you can imagine. Prior to election time, I remember Narendrabhai talking coherently about a few issues that were broached very persuasively by you in much the same manner, earlier. Your essay about the rail network, the building of new cities (urging for RISC rather than PURA) stood out. You posted a photo of you meeting him and presenting him your book. Later when I read about what he was saying, I thought, wow, he has actually read the book, and taken something from it.

    Where I am going with this note is: I think it would be extremely useful if you enumerate a list of 10 or at most 15 things, in priority order that you strongly feel are needed in India. Things that India’s Prime Minister could achieve without too many dependencies on factors that may not be in his control. It’s fair game to ask for something if he has the numbers in parliament to pull it off (and assuming the usual disruption from the quislings). A change to the Indian constitution on the other hand, would be something that might be impractical on the list, as it depends on way too many externalities. For readers of your blog and tweets, there is no need for any justification nor even explanation: just a punch list would be great, and the more specific items can be, the better.

    I write this because India has no remote equivalent to the Brookings Institute, Heritage Foundation, Center for American Progress, American Enterprise Institute when it comes to influence. As a stated goal, they bring bright, opinionated people with strong policy opinions together to write white papers and make their case. Politicians take ideas from there and run with it. The US President invariably taps policy mavens from these places, for good and bad! The Indian Right has done precious little to create respectable pro-Indian think tanks. A slow day on your blog is more intriguing and motivating than anything to come out of the Indian think tanks, hence this suggestion. Thank you.


    1. Ram R:

      Thanks for the suggestion. I will write a post on it. Of course, it will not matter at all. But the Bhagwat Gita says

      mā phaleṣu kadācana |
      mā karmaphalaheturbhūḥ
      mā te saṅgo’stvakarmaṇi

      “You should never engage in action for the sake of reward,nor should you long for inaction.”

      So in that spirit I will write but I don’t expect that it would make any difference.


  3. Hi Atanu,

    Israel is a strongly Socialist country( with state controlled economy and conscription etc..), how do you explain the success of this country? They seem to have done well in both social and economic factors, they are also at the cutting edge of science and technology.

    I remember Milton Friedman telling that he disapproved of Israel’s state controlled policies, but the country continues to do well. In this context, would you agree that the chances of success/failure of a state controlled vs a free-market economy depends largely on the geography and demography of the country under consideration?


    1. Anirudh,

      Good question.

      Let me tell you about what I call the “George Burns Syndrome.” George Burns was an American actor who lived up to a ripe old age of 100 (1896 – 1996). He smoked cigars like a chimney and drank like a fish (although I doubt that fish drink all that much.) It would be incorrect to conclude that the secret to a long life is to smoke & drink like he did. The fact is that Burns worked out regularly — daily swimming, walks, sit ups and push ups. No doubt genes also had something to do with it.

      The regularities that we observe in nature always admit exceptions. The exceptions prove (where the word ‘prove’ is meant in the sense ‘test’) the rule. The rule does not get invalidated but tested by exceptions.

      Socialism tends to fail to produce prosperity. That’s a regularity. Why socialism fails to produce prosperity can be analytically understood and empirically verified. The fact that Israel prospers despite being somewhat socialist (if that is indeed the case; I don’t know that for a fact) does not invalidate the analytical or the empirical fact that socialism is a bad way of organizing an economy.

      Smoking and excessive drinking is bad for your health even if Uncle George lived a very long life. Perhaps if Uncle George had not smoked, he could have lived to 120, who knows. Israel is successful no doubt but could it have been even more so if it were not partially socialist?


      1. Thanks for the reply Atanu. I don’t find this a convincing answer, in fact it is far from convincing. But nonetheless, thank you for replying.


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