The Peculiar Case of the Somali Shilling

Sudipta, a dear friend in the Silicon Valley, asked me to comment on a March 2013 article titled “Orphaned currency, the odd case of Somali shillings.” The piece is about how the Somali shilling continued to circulate even after the Somali central bank was literally destroyed in the civil war around 1991. The bank notes were “orphaned.”

When Somalia collapsed into civil war in January 1991, the doors of the Central Bank of Somalia were blown apart, its safes were blasted, and all cash and valuables were looted.* But something odd happened—Somali shilling banknotes continued to circulate among Somalians. To this day orphaned paper shillings are used in small transactions, despite the absence of any sort of central monetary authority.

I will leave you to read up that article before continuing here.  Continue reading

Winter Solstice Greetings

The Winter Solstice began yesterday at 5:23 PM Eastern Time. It was the shortest day of the year and the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere. Around here (Latitude: 39.68N Longitude: 75.75W) the length of the day was approximately 9 hours and 21 minutes. Happy Winter Solstice.

Here’s a track from George Winston on the Windham Hill label. Continue reading

Economic Growth, Population and Poverty Numbers

I normally don’t do numbers. But in this post, I will have to refer to numbers because wealth and poverty have to be understood quantitatively too. So let’s do the numbers.

It is an amazing fact that extreme poverty has fallen both in absolute and relative terms. The world’s population living in extreme poverty has dropped from 42% in 1981 to 11% in 2013. The world population was 4.5 billion in 1981, and 7.2 billion in 2013. Therefore in absolute numbers, extreme poverty numbers dropped from 1.9 billion to 0.8 billion. Over one billion people climbed out of extreme poverty, mostly in China. Good job, China. Continue reading

The British are Gone but the British Raj Lives on

“It was [in India] the British learned the art of imperial power. … India was decisive. It gave Britain the resources, the market, the manpower, and the prestige to build a world-wide empire. And in the years to come they worked feverishly to secure that prize.”  Continue reading

Strangling the Politicians

In my last post, On the Distress of Farmers, I wrote “that Indians will never be free until the last politician is strangled with the entrails of the last bureaucrat.” I was echoing the European Enlightenment figure Denis Diderot (1713-1784) who wrote:

La nature n’a fait ni serviteur ni maître;
Je ne veux ni donner ni recevoir de lois.
Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre,
Au défaut d’un cordon pour étrangler les rois.

Which in English is:

Nature created neither servant nor master;
I seek neither to rule nor to serve.
And its hands would weave the entrails of the priest,
For the lack of a cord with which to strangle kings.

[Source: Did Diderot say that.]

Isn’t that a most apposite quote in the context of politicians (the masters) and the people (the servants)?

On the Distress of Indian Farmers – The Introduction

Of the three major sectors of any economy, agriculture is the primary sector. It is prior in time and naturally enough forms the basis for the other two sectors — manufacturing and services. Without a solid foundation provided by an efficient agricultural sector, no society can prosper.

Everybody — factory workers, quantum physicists, doctors, programmers, musicians, writers, politicians — needs food. Farming is the oldest occupation and all civilizations begin as essentially agrarian societies. Agricultural success is the necessary precondition for the advancement of civilization. Without an agricultural revolution there can be no avenues for social, technological, and economic development.

The claim of this essay is that India has not had a comprehensive agricultural revolution. All the other problems that India faces derive from that failure. The good news is that India has the opportunity to have an agricultural revolution. It has always had that opportunity. Primarily because of plain idiocy — let’s not sugarcoat this bitter fact — India has failed in progressing much beyond subsistence agriculture. India’s abysmal poverty follows relentlessly from that fact. Continue reading