Tom Sargent on a Few Lessons of Economics

Here’s a graduation speech that won’t tax your time and, without taxing your brain, will remind you of what is worth remembering. In 2007, Thomas J. Sargent, one of the two winners of the 2011 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, delivered a graduation speech to UC Berkeley (my alma mater) undergrads. Here’s the entire speech — just 355 words. Continue reading “Tom Sargent on a Few Lessons of Economics”

Climate Change

Click image to embiggen.

I don’t believe that climate change does not matter at all. It does matter but it is not a yes-no question. It is a matter of trade-offs. The question is: how much does it matter relative to other things that deserve our attention?

Disease, hunger, armed conflict, the Religion of Peace — these global problems demand a systemic response today more than anything that is likely to be a problem in 100 years. How much will it cost to address those pressing problems of today, and how do those costs stack up against the cost of climate change mitigation efforts? Continue reading “Climate Change”

Hauled from the Archive: Cargo for Pakistan

Look here, now, I don’t have all day to sit around writing stuff on this blog, ok. 😉 So here’s what I’m going to do. Haul stuff out of the archive. Good stuff, mind you. Check out Cargo for Pakistan. It’s from December 2007.

Excerpt: Continue reading “Hauled from the Archive: Cargo for Pakistan”

Lysander Spooner

(Click on image for the wiki article on Lysander Spooner.)

The US presidential elections are on the horizon. Which brings to mind what Lysander Spooner said. “The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves.”

Lysander Spooner (1808 -1887) was an American political philosopher and abolitionist. This note is an invitation to read a post I’d written about him in August 2018.

 

Ganesh Chaturthi Greetings

So Sri Ganesh is back in town.

वक्रतुण्ड महाकाय सूर्यकोटि समप्रभ ।
निर्विघ्नं कुरु मे देव सर्वकार्येषु सर्वदा ॥

Vakratunda Mahakaya Suryakoti Samaprabha |
Nirvighnam Kuru Me Deva Sarva-Karyesu Sarvada ||

Translated, the prayer to Ganesh says:

[One with the] curved trunk, immense body, and the splendor of a million suns; O Deva, remove all obstacles from my path, and always bless all my undertakings.

Here’s a Ganesh Sthuthi sung by Uma Mohan:

Let’s hope he does his job of removing obstacles. Happy Ganesh Chaturthi everyone.

 

CO2

The human body (the same goes approximately for most other animals) is composed of 65% oxygen, 18.5% carbon, and 9.5% hydrogen by mass. Although hydrogen is less than 10% of the mass, 62% of the number of atoms in the human body is hydrogen because it is the lightest element in the periodic table of elements.

Most of the hydrogen and oxygen goes into the water that is the primary building blocks of all cells. How much of the human body is water depends on the age and gender of the person. Infants are 75% water, children 65%, adult males  60%, and adult females 55%. Infants are cute, and they are mostly water. Coincidence? I think not. We were all infants once and we like water. Continue reading “CO2”

Astrology

Some of my friends take astrology seriously. I could never quite understand their fascination. I admit that I don’t know the foundational principles of astrology. Can they explain them to me? No, they can’t. They just believe that astrologers know the principles. That brings me to the epistemological question: how do the astrologers know what they claim to know? To me it appears that there cannot be any conceivable way to arrive at that knowledge.

But just because something is inconceivable to me it does not follow that it isn’t valid, true or real. To a primitive the science on which our modern technology is based would be inconceivable. However, modern technology and the science on which it is based are explainable. The average human is quite capable of comprehending the principles that is currently known to man. Admittedly the discoverers of those principles were not average at all — they were extraordinarily cognitively endowed. But once discovered, the principles are easy enough to understand that one may even wonder what all the fuss is about. Continue reading “Astrology”

Pandemic and Power Grab

On a mailing list I was on someone asked if “this crisis going to increase Government role in society? That would be a terrible outcome!” That was back in April. My reply was the following. I am posting it here, for the record. It’s been four months since I wrote that, and unfortunately the government response has been as I had feared. [Begin quote]:

In a world of certainty, this much is as certain as it gets: the government will use this pandemic to grab even more power, push even more centralization of authority and greater political control over the productive capacity of the economy. This will further impoverish the people, and push the nation further along the road to serfdom. The babus and politicians are thrilled at the opportunity to increase their permit-quota-control-permission rule. They are salivating at the treasure they will extract without any concern for the blood they will inevitably extract out of an already impoverished people. Continue reading “Pandemic and Power Grab”

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

Kurzgesagt - In a NutshellThe internet is incredible in every sense of that word, defined variously as “so implausible as to elicit disbelief; not credible; astonishing, extraordinary; surpassing the possibility of belief as to what is possible; unimaginable; inconceivable; too extraordinary and improbable to admit of belief; marvelous; fabulous; amazing;  awe-inspiring; profoundly affecting” etc.

But of course the internet is not literally incredible today — because it actually exists and therefore is not a matter of belief. However just a few decades ago it would have been incredible in the literal sense of the word. If someone had claimed as recently as the mid-1980s that in a few decades the average human would be carrying in his hands a device (costing a couple of hundred $$) which would be more powerful than the existing supercomputers (which cost hundreds of millions of $$), and that he would have access to a vast store of audio, video, text and graphics information, and have the ability to communicate with billions of others in an instant for practically zero (marginal) cost, that someone would have been considered slightly nutty, if not outright delusional. The revolution in computing and communications technologies have transformed the world beyond anyone’s imagination. Continue reading “Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell”

Delusions

Humans are endowed with a cognitive faculty unique among all animals — we have the ability to not only lie to others but we can also lie to ourselves. Self-delusion surely imposes a heavy cognitive burden but there must be some reason that the capacity evolved. It must have some survival value. Perhaps it is better to believe in an illusion rather than admit a truth that is too unpleasant.

That could be the reason that criminal politicians are often held up by their followers as epitomes of virtue and goodness. Mark Twain claimed that once a man is reputed to be an early riser, he can safely sleep till noon. It appears to be general knowledge (or even common knowledge) that politicians are crooks but people are able to believe that their favorite politicians are saints. I love a neat little story I read in a delightful little book, Adam Smith Goes to Moscow, by Walter Adams and James Brock. Continue reading “Delusions”