Human Population

In a comment to a previous post, Happy 4th of July, Akshar wrote, “in 1789 George Washington became the first democratic president of such a large nation directly at odds with the largest empire on earth.” What caught my attention were the words “large nation” and “democratic.”

Today when we talk of large nations, we figure hundreds of millions of people. But things were different in the past. By today’s standards, the newly minted United States of America was tiny, Around 1776, the total population of the 13 former colonies was around 2.5 million people. That’s less than the present population of Pune (a moderately big city by Indian standards), which is over 3 million people.

And how big was Great Britain at that time? Estimates of the population range from 7 to 10 million. That means the combined population of England, Scotland and Wales was less than half the present population of Delhi or Mumbai. Those countries had tiny populations.                            ∇

What about democracy?  Continue reading

Happy Fourth of July

July 4th is generally observed as the “independence” day of the United States of America — and deservedly so. However, people usually wish each other “Happy 4th of July” and not “Happy Independence Day” (as they usually do in India instead of saying “Happy 15th of August.”)

For Americans, July 4th is special. On that day in 1776, exactly 242 years ago today (if I have my sums correct), the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Here’s a bit from the always dependable wikipedia:

During the American Revolution, the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain in 1776 actually occurred on July 2, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia declaring the United States independent from Great Britain’s rule. After voting for independence, Congress turned its attention to the Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision, which had been prepared by a Committee of Five, with Thomas Jefferson as its principal author. Congress debated and revised the wording of the Declaration, finally approving it two days later on July 4.[1]

So that funny fake quote above has the wrong date. Jefferson should have exclaimed that on the 1st of July, not the 3rd.  Continue reading

Power Tends to Corrupt

A lot of things can be said about power but perhaps nothing has the accuracy and longevity of the observation of the English historian, Lord Acton (John Dalberg-Acton) (1834-1902) on the matter. In a 1887 letter he wrote:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it.

The first bit quoted above is often misquoted as “power corrupts” — leaving out the operative word tends.. It’s only a tendency, not a certainty. A little bit of power may or may not corrupt, depending on the character of the person. But no matter who, absolute power corrupts extremely and without fail.

Great men are almost always bad men. Try as one might, it is hard to deny that proposition even upon casual observation, let alone after a careful study of history. I cannot resist quoting a few lines preceding “power tends to corrupt.”.
Continue reading

Why Do We Hate Capitalism?

The title of this post is a question on Quora. Confession: I have a truckload of stuff to get done. Whenever I have stuff to do, I do all sorts of useless stuff. Clean the desk drawers. Or something silly like that to avoid the more difficult important tasks. I put off doing important stuff by answering silly questions on Quora. Here’s my answer to the above question.  Continue reading

Chomsky, the Father of Modern Linguistics

Noam Chomsky is a very intelligent person. I do have more than a hint of his brilliance in linguistics because I studied formal grammar and languages during my computer science days. It would be foolish to deny his stellar contributions to his field of expertise. It will be equally foolish to take him seriously in matters that are outside his field.

Insight, knowledge and understanding in some domain does not overflow into other domains, sometimes not even into neighboring domains. Shakespeare was a great poet and an acute observer and commentator on the human condition. But I would not trust him to teach me quantum mechanics. Continue reading

Buffet and Munger on Cryptocurrencies

I wouldn’t bother commenting on  crypto currencies because I don’t understand the topic. But this is just too good to pass up. Buffet and Munger are not fans of the stuff. CNBC reported back on Jan 10, 2018 that Warren Buffett thinks cryptocurrencies will end badly. 

Buffet considers it a method of transmitting money and has no intrinsic value. He has said that bitcoin is “probably rat poison squared” and noxious.

This is from the Berkshire Hathaway AGM last weekend in Omaha, Nebraska:  Continue reading

The Peter Principle in Action

Almost half a century ago, in 1969, Laurence Peter published what’s known as the Peter Principle. The principle, originally formulated to explain the dynamics of hierarchical organizations such as firms, is applicable broadly across many domains, including governance.

The principle notes that people tend to get promoted till they reach a level which they are not qualified for and at which they are incompetent. “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence, … and in time every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”  Continue reading