Once in a Blue Moon

Lots of stuff happening on (and around) the same day.

Sharad Purnima

Today it’s Sharad Purnima, a Hindu tradition. It is a harvest festival that is celebrated on the full moon day of the lunar month of Ashvin. It’s also called Kojagiri Purnima. It’s the birthday of Devi Lakshmi, and she is worshipped on this day. Also worshipped are Indra, and Shiva and Parvati. Lots of worshipping going on among Hindus.

Jack-o’-lantern (Click to embiggen)

Today it’s Halloween, a Christian tradition. The all-knowing Wiki says, “Halloween is the evening before the Christian holy days of All Hallows’ Day on 1 November and All Souls’ Day on 2 November, thus giving the holiday on 31 October the full name of All Hallows’ Eve (meaning the evening before All Hallows’ Day). … These three days are collectively called Allhallowtide and are a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed souls who have yet to reach Heaven.”

Today we will also have a blue moon. And talking of time, today is the last day of Daylight Saving Time. Tomorrow morning at 2 AM, the clock will be set back to 1 AM. That will bring us back to Standard Time. I think this shifting of clocks business is insanely stupid. It makes no sense to keep shifting between DST and ST. Just stop this crap, people. Continue reading

Raga Durga

Today it’s Maha Ashtami in India, two days before Vijay Dashami, the final day of Durga Puja. I like to listen to some Indian classical vocals based on Raga Durga. Here are two. The first is by Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, and the second by everyone’s favorite Veenatai (Veena Sahasrabuddhe).

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Indian classical vocals are out of this world. Listen.

A Bit about Trade

Economists are uniquely qualified in their understanding of one particular aspect of human activity, and that activity is unique to humans. No other animal trades, or exchanges, among its kind. Adam Smith wrote that “the propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals.” And no other discipline focuses on trade as much as economics does. Indeed, the most parsimonious description of economics is that it is the systematic study of trade, and trade-offs.

The story of human civilization can be told as a tale of ever-expanding scale and scope of exchanges. Foraging tribes of the distant past produced very little of what they consumed. They lived in groups of 100 to 150 people, and subsisted on whatever they could hunt and gather. What little exchange they did was limited to one’s kin and neighbors, and did not extend to strangers. Continue reading

This Policy, Alone – Part 7

In school I learned the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic reasonably well. That may be partly due to competent teachers, a stable family and school environment, and my being somewhat diligent. However, I am convinced that I would have learned a whole lot more if I had had access to the enormous number of excellent teachers and the virtually infinite amount of content on every conceivable subject we have available today: not in person but over the internet.

Though I am not very good at it, I like mathematics a lot. Over the years, I was required to learn some bits. In my undergraduate engineering classes, I learned the calculus and some linear algebra but nothing to write home about. Then while studying computer science, I learned an entirely different area of mathematics: discrete maths, particularly combinatorics. Then for my post-graduate work in economics, I got to learn a lot more of the calculus, and some statistics (because of econometrics, a subject that I hate with uncharacteristic passion) and probability theory. Continue reading

The Covid Dystopia

If you need any more evidence that people in government are generally incompetent and cause immense harm due to their ignorance and stupidity, not to mention for the moment their obvious cupidity and greed, there’s no greater example of that incompetence than their handling of the Chinese virus, aka Covid-19, pandemic.

You are probably as sick of the relentless coverage of the pandemic as I am but please humor me for a bit. I beseech you to take a good listen to what Tom Woods had to say recently on the topic. I reiterate that I am aware that you have probably overdosed on the topic but for heaven’s sake, do this if you have any confidence in my judgement. Continue reading

The Proper Role of Government

The cliché “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” can’t be more true about political satire than about the Yes, Minister (1980-84) and Yes, Prime Minister (1986-88) BBC TV series. When I first watched them on PBS, I didn’t have a clue about economics, and more particuarly about public choice theory — which Buchanan described as “politics without romance.” Now that I know the basic principles of economics and political economy, my appreciation of the series has deepened.

The characters are priceless, the writing flawless, the casting brilliant. The principals are Jim Hacker, the minister and later the prime minister, played by Paul Eddington; Hacker’s permanent secretary, Sir Humphrey, played by Sir Nigel Hawthorne; and Sir Humphrey’s principal private secretary, Bernard, played by Derek Fowlds. Here’s a scene that tells you more about what governments actually do, quite contrary to popular romantic notions about governments.

Sir Humphrey is the consummate cynic. He doesn’t question the ends — he just gets on with getting things done.

“Bernard, I have served eleven governments in the past thirty years. If I had believed in all their policies, I would have been passionately committed to keeping out of the Common Market, and passionately committed to going into it. I would have been utterly convinced of the rightness of nationalising steel. And of denationalising it and renationalising it. On capital punishment, I’d have been a fervent retentionist and an ardent abolitionist. I would’ve been a Keynesian and a Friedmanite, a grammar school preserver and destroyer, a nationalisation freak and a privatisation maniac; but above all, I would have been a stark, staring, raving schizophrenic.”

Sometimes I think that if every politician and bureaucrat were to watch the whole series, perhaps governance would not be so pathetic. They should make it required viewing in the Indian Administrative Services, at the very least. The babus may learn something. But then maybe they won’t learn anything. Still, we non-babus get a better understanding of how babu-dom works. Thank goodness.

PS: I forgot to point out to a brilliant pun in the conversation. 

Humphrey: The sale of arms abroad is one of those areas of government that we do not examine too closely.
Hacker: Well I have to, now that I know.
Humphrey: You could say you don’t know.
Hacker: You’re suggesting I should lie?
Humphrey: Oh, not you, minister.
Hacker: Who should lie?
Humphrey: Sleeping dogs. 

This Policy Alone – Part 6

Let’s start with a conjecture. The more rigid and government dominated a country’s education system is, the poorer the country; and conversely, the more flexible and accommodating the education system is, the more prosperous the country. India belongs to the first kind, and is remarkably poor; the US belongs to the second kind, and is remarkably prosperous.

It’s just a conjecture, not an established fact. But something to think about.

Unchanging

If Adam Smith (1723 – 1790), the father of the modern discipline called economics, were to find himself in the 21st century CE, he’d probably not recognize anything from his time — except the educational system. Everything has been unrecognizably transformed except schooling. Like in his time, it’s essentially the same system in which students are age-segregated and instructed in an uniform way, with teachers transferring information to a group of generally unmotivated young people. Continue reading

A Call to Prayer

Among the infinite variety of things that people do, one of the most puzzling to me is the act of prayer. It’s some sort of a special communication. The message is addressed to some supernatural entity. If spoken, the message is transmitted magically to the realm where the entity resides — usually heaven. You don’t need the postal service, or the telephone, or any material medium. But prayer can be unspoken too: one just has to think in some particular way and once again magically it gets to that special being.

This special being is, among the monotheists, the One True GodTM. Hindus, who don’t go for the monotheist nonsense and believe in a vast multitude of gods (all of whom are radically different from the One True GodTM), usually direct their special communications to specific gods depending on the situation. For example, my favorite god Ganesh — the one with the crooked trunk, immense body, and the brilliance of a billion suns, the remover of obstacles — is the one to address if you want to succeed in your ventures. Continue reading