Ask me Anything — the Hayek Edition

Gandhi First IgnoreHere’s the last bit from Hayek’s Dec 11 1974 Nobel Prize lecture:

If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success”, to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

One of the recurring themes of Hayek’s was the idea that social engineering is quite distinct from engineering of the natural world. With the appropriate technology and scientific knowledge it is possible to engineer machines and use them to control the world of objects, perhaps for the better, but human beings are not objects without volition. Humans have a will of their own and they pursue ends that are dictated by their desires and preferences which are neither fixed nor can be known by others. Social engineering always fails and makes a bad situation worse. Continue reading

Epic vs Apple

costcoIn a comment Sanjay Srivastava asked, “What do you think about the Epic vs Apple legal case? Would you allow Apple to continue their way of managing the App eco-system?”

I confess that I was unaware of the legal battle until Sanjay asked about it. I have subsequently read a bit about the case. The core conflict appears to be that Epic is challenging Apple for the latter’s decision to remove Epic from its app store for violating the Apple app store’s terms of service. Continue reading

Ask me anything — the quotes edition

I love quotes. I have a very large collection of quotes, some of which I have even published in The Big Page of Quotations on this blog. It’s a work in progress and I update that page intermittently. Here I present to you a few quotes that I had tweeted.

I think the popular belief is that governments are like doctors with respect to economies; doctors heal the sick but are not responsible for the disease, and governments can fix the economy but are not responsible for the economic problems. But governments are not like doctors at all; they cause the economic diseases nations suffer, and their interventions actually make things worse.

It’s like the practise of blood-letting by doctors before the advent of modern medical practices — all it did was only to make the patient sicker. Buddha’s injunction was “First do no harm.” That applies to us all, and especially so when it comes to those in government. The recent indiscriminate Covid-19 lockdowns by governments is the 21st century equivalent of blood-letting. Continue reading

This I Have Learned

Asato ma sadgamaya

Over a life mostly devoted to learning stuff and not much else except goofing off, I have learned quite a few interesting things. Interesting not in some absolute, objective or universal sense but only particular to me given my preferences, my talents and the opportunities I had.

From quite an early age, I recognized that the yoga consistent with my nature was gyan yoga, the way of knowledge and understanding. That was my dharma. Karma yoga is not my path since I don’t get things done. Left to do as I please, I’d do nothing. Neither is bhakti yoga since I am into any spiritual discipline. Continue reading

Open Thread — Ask me Anything

* Molly’s kitchen garden flowers

Been a few days since the last entry on the blog. To jump start this stalled system here’s an open thread. What’s on your mind?

The purple flowers on the left are from a friend’s kitchen garden in Westmont, IL. Click on the image to embiggen in a new tab. Below, just for fun, I’d like to present two quite unrelated videos. I imply nothing by the conjunction. I hope you get a laugh out of them. Continue reading

Ask me anything — ISO 8601 edition

Some standards in the US are really absurdly eccentric and irrational. It’s the only advanced industrialized country that uses the British system of weights and measures. It uses foot, pound, gallon, degrees Fahrenheit instead of meter, kilo, liter, degrees Celsius. (Please stop with the centigrade thing already.)

The other two countries — Liberia and Myanmar –which have the same insanity are not exactly technologically advanced. Even the UK follows the metric system (with a few exceptions such as it is illegal for metric road signs and illegal to sell draught beer in metric.) Continue reading

Ask Me Anything — Is Economics Hard?

There’s a funny story in Robert Heilbroner’s 1953 book The Worldly Philosophers (which has been republished dozens of times):

One evening Keynes was having dinner with Max Planck, the physicist who was responsible for the development of quantum mechanics. Planck turned to Keynes and told him that he had once considered going into economics himself. But he decided against it – it was too hard. Keynes repeated this story with relish to a friend back at Cambridge. “Why, that’s odd,” said the friend. “Bertrand Russell was telling me just the other day that he’d also thought about going into economics. But he decided it was too easy.” Continue reading

Ask me Anything: The Knowledge Edition

Knowledge is power. It’s trite because it is almost trivially true. After all, knowledge is the foundation for technology, and technology gives your power. The  world depends on knowledge, and on so much of it that no single person can know it all; therefore the division of knowledge (which is implied by the division of labor that is at the heart of economic prosperity) becomes critically important.

Continue reading