The Panchatantra — Textbook of Niti

The following is an extended edited excerpt from Arthur Ryder’s introduction to his translation of the Panchatantra. What’s the book about? Ryder begins his introduction with:

“The Panchatantra contains the most widely known stories in the world. If it were further declared that the Panchatantra is the best collection of stories in the world, the assertion could hardly be disproved, and would probably command the assent of those possessing the knowledge for a judgment.”

The editing consists of removing quotations from the main text. Even if you don’t get around to reading the translation, you must read the introduction in full. And if you don’t want to do that either, you must read this shorter version.  Continue reading

Did Britain Impoverish India?

Asking “Did Britain impoverish India?” is like asking “Is water wet?” Of course, Britain impoverished India during their rule as the colonial masters of India. To extract wealth from a colony and exploit its people is the primary motivation for colonization.

Expecting the colonial masters to be a benign, self-sacrificing force is delusional. Colonization is not a win-win exchange relationship. It’s a milder, gentler form of slavery; not quite as cancerously malignant but severely chronically debilitating.

British rule had two phases: first the Company Rule which began around 1757 when the British East India Company gained control over parts of the Indian subcontinent; the second when the Crown Rule began in 1858, and nominally ended in 1947. I say “nominally” because while the British Raj more or less came to a formal close in August 1947, India continued (and continues) to be governed by laws that were made by the British during the Crown Rule.

So you could say that the Britain raj lasted nearly two centuries, and that’s enough time to loot a country. But here’s the point of this piece — contemporary India’s poverty has little to do with the crimes the British committed. They committed crimes not just in India but around the world that it dominated. Pressed for time as we are, we can’t read the piles of history books written about that but we can get a sense of how terrible those crimes were by reading the twitter account titled “Crimes of Britain.”  Continue reading

Saving and Investment

To understand the relationship between producing, consuming, saving and investment, it is useful to start with a simple story.

Imagine a Robinson Crusoe economy — just one person in it. RC’s consumption is limited to what he can produce by fishing, hunting and gathering. He allocates his time either laboring or enjoying leisure. If he consumes less than what he produced during a particular period, he can save that for later consumption.

For example, if he has saved some fish, he can forego fishing and instead use that time to fashion a spear for hunting. That means, his savings allowed him time to invest in creating that spear. He “converted” his saved fish into a spear. The spear is what is called “capital” — something that is not directly consumed but is used for producing goods for consumption (or even more capital.) His spear will increase his productivity in hunting, thus enlarging his consumption possibility. Continue reading

Sardar Patel, Power, Persuasion and Statue

The Sardar Patel statue, also called “The Statue of Unity” which is to be unveiled tomorrow Oct 31st, is the biggest statue in the world at 182 meters tall. Built at the cost of Rs 3000 crores, it must be impressive to behold because of its sheer size. It is supposed to represent unity of the nation and to be a tribute to a great man who united India.

Maybe that’s so. But to me, it represents the power that those in government use to force people to do their bidding. Certainly, it’s not the worst form of naked tyranny like marching people off to the gulags to be worked until they die but it is something that reasonable leaders of a free people should never do. It is a shameful display of a gigantic ego and the misuse of power. Continue reading

Corruption Perceptions Index, and Jesus and Mo

The 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of Transparency International ranked Pakistan at 117 out of 180 countries. India was ranked 81, worse than China at 77. The top spots are (in order)  New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore. US comes in at 16, Japan at 20, Bhutan at 26.

The correlation between poverty and corruption is evident, and it is easy to argue the direction of causation to be from corruption to poverty, and then back to corruption.

For the entire list, click thisContinue reading

Free Speech and Hate Speech

You know why free speech? Because we humans are not infinitely wise. That’s all. If we, or some of us, were infinitely wise, we would be able to tell which speech was OK and which not-OK. Then the wise could sort out which speech to allow. But none of us is infinitely wise.

The way out is to let all speech to allowed, and let us listen to all viewpoints and decide whether to accept whatever proposition makes sense to us, and let the nonsense just be. Let whoever wants to say anything have a go at it and allow us, the listeners, the freedom to choose what to believe and what not to believe.

OK, so we allow all speech. But what good does it do us? It helps us advance our civilization. I am making an utilitarian argument here. It is good for civilization to allow all speech, and to let them compete in the marketplace of ideas, and those that withstand scrutiny survive and advance our understanding. Continue reading