Breaking up Monopolies

In a comment to a recent post on monopolies, Viveka wrote, “I will cheer the day a Google or Amazon is broken up into a bunch companies. That day is not far off.”

As the old witticism goes, be careful what you wish for because you may get it. Don’t assume that the breaking up of very large corporations because they have market dominance is necessarily a  good thing. Large corporations are large for reasons that we may not appreciate — especially if we think like engineers. Engineering is a fine and necessary profession, and engineers have enriched the world in countless ways. But it has its limitations. Continue reading

Huxley, Freedom and Hinduism

“It is far better for a man to go wrong in freedom than to go right in chains.” That’s Thomas Henry Huxley (1825 – 1895), also known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his spirited advocacy of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

It’s fascinating to read about his life. With only two years of schooling, he left school at the age of 10 because his family was facing financial hardships. He is the greatest autodidact of the 19th century CE. His extraordinary achievements led him to be elected Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburg, Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, and received many prestigious awards.

Fun fact: Huxley coined the English term “agnostic” in 1869. “It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.” The concept of agnosticism goes back to antiquity, however. The wiki says,

Sanjaya Belatthaputta, a 5th-century BCE Indian philosopher who expressed agnosticism about any afterlife; and Protagoras, a 5th-century BCE Greek philosopher who expressed agnosticism about the existence of “the gods.”

I think the greatest strength of Hinduism — and what sets it apart from the monotheistic religions — is that it admits skepticism and agnosticism. The “Creation Hymn” of the Rig Veda addresses the question of who or what created the universe: Continue reading

Putting Money Where One’s Mouth is

In a comment addressed to Prabhudesai, Engr. Ravi wrote, “Food has already become the first limit that we have hit, so be careful about what you bet your money on.”

Advising care in placing bets is excellent advice which ought to be followed. Talk is cheap. Placing bets is not. So I suggest a bet.

I am willing to bet money that food will continue to become less scarce. I bet that in 10 years, a basket of food items which costs $1,000 today, will cost less than (inflation adjusted) $1,000. If it costs more, I will pay the difference to the person(s) on the other side of the bet; if it costs less, I am owed the difference from the person(s) on the other side. For example, if the basket costs $900, then I’m owed $100; if the basket costs $1200, then I pay $200.
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“Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius

We live in the best time in all history. Note that it is not the best possible time in all of history — only that it’s the best time ever but better times are yet to be. You could have lived, say, 200 years ago; then you would not have had access to all the wonderful ideas and things that humans have discovered, invented, learned about after that time.

Now is better than any previous moment in history because humanity’s understanding of the world increases monotonically. Humanity has been accumulating wisdom for thousands of years, and what’s even more marvelous is that we have instant access to all that wisdom, ancient and modern, provided we wish to learn. Buddhas have walked this earth before us, and no doubt there will be future buddhas even more enlightened than those that went before. Continue reading

The Beginning of Indefinite Economic Growth – Part 2

Why do some people claim that the end to economic growth is over or very near? One popular explanation goes this way. Economic growth requires the use of natural resources. On a limited planet, resources are limited. Therefore, when we have used up all our natural resources, economic growth will come to an end. QED.

That explanation belongs in primary school children’s books with illustrations that include smiley faces, but is not suitable for children past their 10th year.

Though quite popular among many biologists (Paul Ehrlich), politicians (Al Gore), gurus (Sadhguru Jaggi), engineers (pick your favorite), and other assorted crazies, that explanation is wrong. The idiotic notions underlying the false explanation were laid to rest by Julian Simon and others many decades ago. But few people have the patience, the capacity or the desire to read Simon. Continue reading

The Beginning of Indefinite Economic Growth

Repent! The end (of economic growth) is near.

Just kidding. That’s just Homer Simpson-esque paranoia. His elevator doesn’t stop at all the floors. He’s a can short of a six-pack. A few sandwiches short of a picnic. He’s working with an unformatted disc.

Unfortunately, Homer is only one of the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people who have been declaring that end-of-the-world emergency since time immemorial. No doubt the 5000th Anniversary Edition of “The End is Near” will also be a hot bestseller.

Predicted apocalypses have consistently failed to happen — evidently so since we are in the here and now busily calling bullshit on the doomsayers. But why do they produce the bovine feces so consistently, and why do some of the general public consume it so eagerly? Answer to both questions: basic stupidity, ignorance, and an extreme inability to reason. Continue reading

How Sewers Work

Life expectancy at birth used to be a dismal 30 years or so not too long ago. Just about 10 generations before ours, child mortality was terrible. Tim Worstall notes in — 

The usual estimation is that half of all children died before adulthood in archaic societies, one quarter before their first birthday and another quarter before the age of 15, which is the end of puberty and our reasonable definition of becoming an adult. That seems to hold over all societies examined, including the Roman Empire, 18th century Britain, and all other groups of humans over time. (It is also, roughly speaking, true of the other Great Apes.)

This sorry state of affairs was brought to an end in three stages. The first stage was the discovery of infectious disease. John Snow, for example, showed that cholera cycled through the sewage and water systems. His discovery led to the single greatest aid to human health ever: the development of proper water systems, which provide fresh water and carry away sewage. Essentially, drains were the first step in reducing child mortality. Continue reading

Rising Equality

I can justifiably claim that equality is rising in the world. Meaning, the world used to be less equal than it is today, and that in the future it will become more equal than today. The reason that claim appears to contradict reality is that I have not specified the dimension for the comparison implicit in any measure of equality. When it comes to comparisons of material wellbeing, there are three distinct dimensions — consumption, income, and wealth.

My claim is that consumption equality is increasing, not wealth or income.

Here’s a trivial case that illustrates what I mean. Warren Buffet’s income and wealth is six orders of magnitude greater than mine. Meaning his wealth is measured in units of “000,000,000” and mine is measured in units of “000.” Billions as opposed to thousands. Similarly his income per year is measured in billions and mine in thousands. Certainly, compared to Buffet in terms of wealth and income, I am dirt poor. But I am not dirt poor compared to Buffet in consumption. Continue reading

Buddha Jayanti

buddha01Siddhartha Gautam, aka Sakyamuni (the sage of the Sakyas), became a buddha around 2,500 years ago. Today, known as Buddha Purnima, the day of the full moon in May, is celebrated as his birthday. Here’s the Chinese singer Imee Ooi singing the Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, aka The Heart Sutra. Listen.

The maha-mantra of the Heart Sutra, “om gate, gate, para-gate, parasum-gate, bodhi svaha om”, appears around the 3:50 time stamp. Continue reading

What the Heck is Democracy

liberty bellI am persuaded that the word ‘democracy’ is one of the most abused words in India (another being ‘secular’.) The common people certainly don’t know what it really means or entails, but even the “intellectuals” (second-hand dealers of ideas, as Hayek defined them) and assorted pundits have only a feeble grasp of the concept at best.

Politicians cannot reasonably be expected to understand anything that requires intelligence and knowledge but people who claim to be educated cannot be excused for their ignorance of such a basic concept as democracy. Journalists, especially, ought to know what it means before they pontificate.

As a public service, let me provide a clue for the hundreds of millions of Indians and their sainted journalists what democracy means, and most importantly what it does not mean. Continue reading