The American computer and cognitive scientist John McCarthy (1927-2011), the man who coined the term “artificial intelligence,” had this in his email signature line: “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.”

Refusing to do arithmetic is one thing; it quite another if a person is incapable of doing arithmetic. The inability to do arithmetic puts the person in the incorrigibly and naturally stupid category.

But that’s not the worst of it. What if the person is in a position of some authority? Imagine if, say, he’s a powerful bureaucrat with control over vast amounts of public funds — how much damage would he inflict on the public? He could impoverish the state.

Well, you don’t have to imagine that. Here’s a real life example of precisely such an incorrigibly and naturally stupid person. See this “Request for Proposal” which reads, in part:

One Trillion Dollar Economy for Uttar Pradesh

Online eBids are invited for providing consultancy services to Department of Planning, Govt of UP for the “SELECTION OF CONSULTANT FOR PROVIDING SERVICES TO BOOST UP THE SIZE OF THE GSDP OF UTTER PRADESH TO ONE TRILLION DOLLARS IN FIVE YEARS (2020-2025).”

In some distant future, even Suriname (GDP $9 billion, per capita GDP $15k) will become a $1 trillion economy. So will UP eventually. But in five years? One has to be a moron to believe that it’s even remotely possible.

The notice is signed by one Sri Ankit Kumar Agrawal, IAS, Special Secretary, and his email id is psecplan@nic.in. You may wonder how on earth does one get to be in the IAS — the premier bureaucratic agency of the Government of India — even though one is a total innumerate. The answer is that numeracy and general competency is probably accepted but is not an absolute requirement for the job.

The problem is that everyone involved in the UP Govt Planning Dept must also be innumerate. They cannot do the simple arithmetic that for the UP state GDP to grow from $250 billion to $1 trillion in 5 years, the annual rate of growth has to be 32 percent. It is so insane that even a semi-educated person can tell you that that’s impossible. No state ever in the history of humanity has grown at even 20 percent a year for just one year. It would be a miracle if UP can grow at just 10 percent a year even for one year.

UP is a very poor state within a country that is in the bottom third of poor nations. There’s a good reason why it is poor – because of its Planning Department and the idiot bureaucrats they have. It’s planning that keeps UP — and India — poor. They are so retarded that they are incapable of doing even simple arithmetic.

Alright, there’s one thing that I should consider. Nowhere in the public notice does it refer to US dollars. Perhaps they mean Hong Kong $. If that’s the case, UP is on track to become a HK$1 trillion economy. It would require a state GDP growth rate of around * negative* X percent a year — which the Planning Department is definitely going to achieve.

(I will email a link to this post to Mr Agrawal psecplan@nic.in. I am sure that he’d love to hear from you too. Please email him. Hat tip Karthik for the image. Calculating the value of X mentioned above is left as an exercise for interested readers who are sure to be numerate and capable of simple arithmetic. Post your answer in the comments below and win a fabulous prize for the first correct answer. Use published exchange rate numbers.)

Assumptions:

UP GSDP at the beginning = 250Billion US$

Exchange rate: 1HK$ = 0.13US$

UP target GSDP at the end of 5 years = 1000Billion HK$ = 130Billion US$

The negative X comes out as 12.259%

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Your calculation appears to be right. I checked for accuracy. You win the fabulous prize 🎁

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I’m starting to use Sage as a lightweight (compared to Mathematica) and opensource/free desktop symbolic calculator. Sometimes it can be frustrating to use.

Here was my session:

sage: solve(.25*(1+x/100)^5 == 1, x)

[x == 25

4^(1/5)(sqrt(5) + Isqrt(2sqrt(5) + 10) – 1) – 100, x == -254^(1/5)(sqrt(5) – Isqrt(-2sqrt(5) + 10) + 1) – 100, x == -1/4(25sqrt(5) – 25Isqrt(-2sqrt(5) + 10) + 1004^(1/5) + 25)(sqrt(5) + Isqrt(-2sqrt(5) + 10) + 1), x == -1/4(25sqrt(5) + 25Isqrt(2sqrt(5) + 10) – 1004^(1/5) – 25)(sqrt(5) – Isqrt(2sqrt(5) + 10) – 1), x == 100*4^(1/5) – 100]sage: assume(x, ‘real’)

sage: solve(.25*(1+x/100)^5 == 1, x)

[x == 100*4^(1/5) – 100]

sage:

[0].rhs().n() # get numerical result of the rhs of the previous output () expression31.9507910772894

sage: solve(.25*(1+x/100)^5 == .13, x)[0].rhs().n()

-12.2593861013674

Apparently Wolfram discovered Macsyma, the underlying symbolic engine of Sage while in high school (Eton, England) running on an MIT ARPA server and it helped him get his physics PhD from Caltech at 20 years of age (still the youngest Caltech PhD). Early adopters of technology can sometimes gain huge advantages! He decided to create Mathematica as he eventually grew frustrated with Macsyma’s short comings, and Feynman recommended him for the fellowship/grant that initially funded Mathematica’s development.

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Thanks for your comment and the additional information about Wolfram.

Your solution is correct but not elegant. Elegance in solving a problem is important too, not just the solution.

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Engr. Ravi, I came first. I laid claim to the fabulous :prize:

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@Atanu Dey:

If I were trying to

sellSage, then I’d have suppressed all the actual ugliness of any CAS (Computer Algebra System), and given the elegant one-liner:sage: solve(.25*(1+x/100)^5 == .13, x)

-12.2593861013674

(enabling a pre-processing option to always give real valued numerical results)

This is generally a problem with people who advocate opensource software. They do a poor job selling it, because the incentives are long term (network effects of wider usage) rather than short term personal monetary benefits.

@baransam1

Congrats on being the first.

@both

Returning to the topic at hand, I think it is not innumeracy that explains the /proposal/, but probably a background in MONEY-LENDING.

In any Indian city (or village), monthly street interest rates are typically “3 rupees” or 36% p.a. More “hard working” money lenders engage in what is called “daily-finance”, where they do the rounds and collect money every day, with typical interest rates of about 55% p.a. !!!

Of course, neither of these compare with the pay-day-loans of the U.S., shown in the 1st episode of the Netflix documentary: Dirty Money. Don’t remember the exact %age p.a., but definitely much greater than 55%.

So a “mere” 32% p.a. GSDP growth does not seem ludicrous to such people. They think that all it takes is more money lenders working “harder”. That was the grand scheme of microfinance too. How that scheme blew up is well documented in the paper ‘The Microfinance Illusion’:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2385174

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