Money

Oscar Wilde in his play Lady Windermere’s Fan has Lord Darlington describe a cynic as “a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”

Economists have frequently been accused of that character flaw, and that all that they care about is money. “For the love of money,” says the Christian bible, “is the root of all evil.” Unfortunately, many non-Christians also subscribe to that tripe.

Here’s a joke. An American and a Russian were boasting about their respective countries. The Russian says, “You Americans only care about money. We Soviets care about people.” The American says, “That’s true. That is why we lock up our money and you lock up your people.”

I am happy to note that ancient Indian tradition did not suffer from that delusion. See, for example, how the Panchatantra approached the matter of money in this post here. But people rarely understand what money actually represents, what it signifies and why. Ayn Rand provides a spirited defense of the importance of money in her book Atlas Shrugged. She had a character, Francisco, say:

“Let me give you a tip on a clue to men’s characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.

“Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter. So long as men live together on earth and need means to deal with one another – their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle of a gun.”

The extended excerpt follows. Continue reading “Money”

Economic Freedom

Freedom is a potent word that evokes strong emotions and motivates major upheavals in human society. The degree of freedom around the world that humans enjoy has been steadily on the rise, although with the occasional temporary declines.

It’s worth noting that not all societies have the same attachment to freedom. Some societies systematically value freedom a lot more than others. That presents us with an empirical fact: the positive correlation between freedom and human flourishing. If one assumes that all humans value flourishing, then the question arises why some societies appear to not value freedom, even though they suffer as a consequence of a lack of freedom. Continue reading “Economic Freedom”

Chola Temples

Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram (Click to embiggen)

As far back as I can recall, I’ve had a deep interest in philosophy and cosmology. Those disciples raise and seek answers to some of our most insistent questions: what is the nature of the universe and what does it all mean?

The night sky holds particular fascination for us: what are those points of lights, and why do some of them move across the sky and the others stay absolutely motionless? Who or what created them? “Who knows, who can here declare whence it all came, and how creation happened?” as the Rig Veda asks in the Creation Hymn.[1]

Some people believe that religion is what humans developed in an attempt to make sense of the world. It could be true because I get the religious impulse when contemplating the universe as I perceive it.

Since I’m brought up in the religious traditions of India, I have a singular fascination for ancient Indian temples. I’ve been to dozens of them. Thanks to the generosity and kindness of my friend K, I got to visit three amazing temples in Tamil Nadu on a 4-day road trip last month that I had never been to before. They were amazing, astonishing, magnificent, beautiful and awe-inspiring. Continue reading “Chola Temples”

Adam Smith

Adam Smith was a giant figure of the Scottish Enlightenment and his two major works — The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and In Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) — have advanced our understanding of what motivates us and how human society works.

Isaac Newton postulated the existence of a force called gravity to explain part of the emergent order we observe in the world of matter. Charles Darwin explained the observed evolution and diversity of life by postulating a mechanism that leads to speciation, namely, natural selection. Alike to them, Smith explained how our human-created social world works. Continue reading “Adam Smith”

Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson in 2005

A man of extraordinary genius, the late great Freeman Dyson is one of my favorite people. I have listened to recording of his talks, presentations and interviews for hours on end. Fortunately, thanks to the internet, practically everyone has the opportunity to learn from his wisdom and enjoy his delightful sense of humor. I realize of course that he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, especially those who are wedded to conventional idiotic ideas (global warming, for example) and long divorced from free inquiry.

Here’s one that I watched this morning. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to watch this conversation with Dyson at the University of Oregon (which I assume was recorded in 2016) and share with us in the comments section what you found to be the most interesting, or insightful, or surprising, or amusing. To avoid spoilers, I will reserve my answer(s) until Monday. Continue reading “Freeman Dyson”

Self-Made Men

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in February 1817 or 1818 in Cordova, Maryland, United States.

“Douglass lived twenty years as a slave and nearly nine years as a fugitive slave subject to recapture. From the 1840s to his death in 1895 he attained international fame as an abolitionist, editor, orator of almost unparalleled stature, and the author of three autobiographies that are classics of the genre. As a public man he began his abolitionist career two decades before America would divide and fight a civil war over slavery that he openly welcomed. Douglass was born in a backwater of the slave society of the South just as steamboats appeared in bays and on American rivers, and before the telegraph, the railroad, and the rotary press changed human mobility and consciousness. He died after the emergence of electric lights, the telephone, and the invention of the phonograph. The renowned orator and traveler loved and used most of these elements of modernity and technology.” Continue reading “Self-Made Men”

Economists

 Question: Why do more economists lean towards the right wing?

Answer: Economists lean right because they understand economics.

Assuming that “right wing” means an ideological position that favors free enterprise, private property and individual rights, then it is easy to see why economists are generally right-wingers. Continue reading “Economists”

Stephen Kotkin on Ukraine

On the matter of the war in Ukraine, one of my favorite historians, Stephen Kotkin, is my go-to person. Here’s Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution in conversation with Kotkin.

This is from March 4th, when the Russian invasion was just eight days old. Kotkins places it in its historical context. Although 80 minutes long, it is worth every minute and more. Continue reading “Stephen Kotkin on Ukraine”

Duckling Rescue

People are sometimes surprisingly good. This is heartwarming. Rescue of ducklings from a storm water drain.

I am off to the old country on Friday night (Eastern time), arriving at Bangalore on Sunday morning.

(I have the picture above as my desktop background. Click on image to embiggen.)

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