Economists’ Quotes

About quotations, the German-born American actress Marlene Dietrich said, “I love them, because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognizedly wiser than oneself.”

I agree with her. I love quotations and collect them assiduously. They are valuable because they encapsulate ideas and thoughts that I have had but expressed better than I ever can.

Since being an economist is my vocation as well as my avocation, I like to keep bits of writings of real economists. Here are a few that I hope you would like. If you find any of them puzzling, or if they lead you to questions, I’d be happy to expand on them. Feel free to ask me anything. Continue reading “Economists’ Quotes”

Stephen Fry

I confess that I have strong likes and dislikes in almost everything — concrete or abstract. That goes for people as well. Of course, I have my economist heroes — Hayek, Buchanan, Friedman, et al — and anti-heroes (who shall remain unnamed.) Among politicians, my greatest hero was Lee Kuan Yew and the greatest villain Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

I began to think about this today because a friend told me that Nassim  Nicolas Taleb considers Edward Snowden to be a fraud. I liked NNT’s book Antifragile. He’s obviously very intelligent and highly opinionated (which is a good thing, in my opinion), has enough “f u money”, and is widely celebrated as an intellectual. But he’s often needlessly mean and vicious to people. Continue reading “Stephen Fry”

No Excuse

Tweet from Oct 12, 2021

In a tweet on Oct 12th, Prime Minister Modi boasted, “I feel proud that even at the peak of COVID-19, 80 crore Indians got access to free food grains.”

It takes an extraordinary amount of self-deluded arrogance for a prime minister to claim credit for something that any person of average morality and sensibility would be ashamed to admit. It is shameful that India is so desperately poor that 800 million (out of a total population of around 1,400 million) would starve under adverse conditions without government food assistance.

“If you feel driven to feed the poor, get your checkbook out and keep your tyrannical mouth shut about it.” – Lewis Goldberg

If it was Modi’s personal fortune that was the source of the largesse, he could have been justifiably proud for having helped the poor in distress. But it was not his money; he merely extracted the wealth from about 600 million at the point of a gun and transferred it to the 800 million. In doing so, he forcefully demonstrated that Indians can be conceptually partitioned between two mutually exclusive and exhaustive groups: those 800 million who are reduced to beggary, and the 600 million who are reduced to slavery. Continue reading “No Excuse”

Decline

Thanks to the wonders of socialism and communism, China was either at par with or poorer than India for most of the 20th century CE. However, in 1978 China’s luck changed when Deng Xiaoping took over. Deng was a pragmatist, had the capacity to learn and do what needed to be done — make China great again.

In May 2014, when Modi came to power, I was absolutely delighted. India’s moment has come. Modi will do what Deng Xiaoping did for China.

But in about two months by July 2014, I realized that Modi was not Deng. In the years that followed, Modi showed his true colors: a power-crazed autocrat who was a cross between Nehru and Mao. He combined Nehru’s narcissistic self-obsession and general lack of vision, with Mao’s ruthless authoritarianism and disdain for people.

Modi was the amalgam of the worst that India and China had produced — Nehru and Mao.

It did not matter how duped and betrayed I felt after being an ardent supporter of his; what mattered was that India had missed a golden opportunity to lift hundreds of millions of people who are trapped in extreme poverty.

Back in May of this year, I wrote a bunch of tweets which was provoked by comparing the number of airline passenger-trips in India, China and US. (Click on image above to read the tweets.) I am reproducing them here, for the record. Continue reading “Decline”

Right to Bear Arms

I took a Vistara flight from Mumbai to Bangalore a week ago Sunday. In preparation for the flight, I checked out their website and came across their ‘kirpan’ policy which states:

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Carriage of “Kirpan” by Sikh Passengers

A ‘Kirpan’ with a total maximum length of 9 inches (22.86 cm), but a blade not exceeding 06 inches (15.24 cm), is permitted for carriage by a Sikh Passenger on their person, within India.
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Kirpans[1] serve a function that is motivated by religion. The airline rule permits those who profess the Sikh faith to carry a weapon on board a commercial flight that is not allowed to non-Sikhs. This is discrimination based on religion.
Continue reading “Right to Bear Arms”

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 “Ask me Anything — the Hayek Edition”

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 “A Bit about Trade”

Gandhi — The Megalomaniac

 

Mohandas K. Gandhi is not generally included in the category of world-class tyrants but properly understood, among tyrants he is in a class of his own. Tyrants are always megalomaniacs but in Gandhi’s case the megalomania was fortified with infantile solipsism.

Only he mattered, and what mattered to him was that everyone did exactly as he dictated. And the instrument he used to compel obedience? The threat of violence. And why should people do what he dictated? Because he wanted people to be good. And what does “good” mean? Good was whatever Gandhi wanted. Continue reading “Gandhi — The Megalomaniac”

Gandhi – The Economics Retard

Modi

On social media Prime Minister Modi made these remarks on the anniversary of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s birth. Roughly translated from Hindi, he wrote in part:

“Oct 2nd is a sacred day. On this day we have to remember two of Mother India’s sons: Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Revered Bapu’s thoughts and ideals are important today, even more than before. If we had understood and adopted the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi’s economic thoughts, if we had taken that path, then we would not have needed the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan today. Gandhiji’s economic ideas were informed by a detailed knowledge and understanding of India. Bapu’s life reminds us to make sure that every action of ours benefits the poorest of the poor.”

Politician

We have to admit that Gandhi’s understanding of Indians was second to none. It could not have been otherwise because successful politicians have to know their constituents. Gandhi was arguably the most successful Indian politician, which he could not have been if he had not accurately read the Indian mind. He wasn’t very intelligent, knowledgeable, widely read or broadly educated. But intelligence, knowledge and education are not requirements for being a successful politician; in fact they may be serious handicaps. What is required to succeed in politics is shrewdness, cunning, self-assurance, guile, the ability to project virtue, talk the big talk, pander, scheme, conceal hypocrisy, charm the public, conceal the truth, fake it, divert attention and other such talents. Continue reading “Gandhi – The Economics Retard”

Gandhi – The Sexual Pervert

Hagiography

When I consider Gandhi the man as I know of him from readily available published sources, I am led to the conviction that he must have been a tortured soul. As a kind-hearted human, I am moved more to pity mixed with revulsion at who he was than I am to condemnation and hatred of the man. But at the same time, I cannot excuse neither his actions nor ignore their terrible consequences. Whether he intended the horrors he perpetrated on a vast scale or not, what he did eventually resulted in immense horrors. I am convinced that he is the most evil man in human history, bar none.

I have no training in abnormal psychology. The only training I claim is in economics, a much popularly misunderstood discipline (a state of affairs the blame for which rests on economists alone.) The disclaimer is that it is quite possible that I don’t know what I am talking about here. But I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide that. This is a blog post, not a paper submitted to a peer reviewed scientific journal. As we say in the US, you gets what you pays for. Continue reading “Gandhi – The Sexual Pervert”

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