The Decline and Fall of Bengal

A long time ago, maybe a thousand years ago but certainly a little over a hundred years ago, Bengal was remarkably prosperous. Something happened that led to its transformation from past prosperity to present destitution. What was it? A natural disaster, meaning something that was not humanly caused but something had natural causes? Or was it something that humans brought about by choice?

Let’s be very clear about one feature of this universe we inhabit. That is, nothing stays the same. Ceaseless change is unavoidable. The great, the seemingly invincible invariably decline and are replaced. The Buddhist call it anicca — impermanence. If you expect a changeless world, you are guaranteed to be disappointed.

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Role of the Government in a Free Society

Merely because governments routinely undertake to do a large number of things, most people tend to assume that it is not only legitimate for governments to do so but also believe that only governments can, should and must do them. This is a mistaken attitude that has enormous social costs that in the worst case impoverishes nations, and in the best case prevents nations from being as rich as they are capable of.

Free Society

Why do we need a government in any case? The answer could lead us to an understanding of the proper role a government in a free society. But what do we mean by a free society? A society is a collective comprised of individuals, and a free society is one in which every individual is free to do what he or she pleases provided that he or she does not impinge on the corresponding freedom of other individuals.

This freedom of the individual comes with a constraint, namely, that the individual does not initiate force against others, and respects the private property of others. The primary injunction can be stated as, “Do not harm others, and don’t take their property.”  Continue reading

Inequality, the Universe, and Technology

One of the more distinctive features of the universe is that it is unequal. It is unequal in the sense that it is not one mass of undifferentiated goo. It has differentiated features, starting with the distinction between inanimate and animate matter. A lump of coal is quite distinct from a squirrel even though at the most basic level, both are collections of atoms, each atom a composite of protons, neutrons and electrons–which reduces to two types of quarks and electrons.

In this essary I consider the matter of inequality and what it implies about the human condition and what therefore are its normative implications.[1]

Technology

What’s technology? I define technology broadly as “know how” — the knowledge of how to do something. The products of the technology have “know how” embodied in them. Every human artifact and process of production is, in that sense, a technology product. How to convert ore into metal, how to communicate using writing, how to transmit information using wires, or wirelessly, how to build a transistor, how to put 21 billion transistors on a tiny silicon chip, how to build a commercial jetliner starting from materials that are provided by nature, … ad infinitum. Continue reading

Government and Education

In a comment Ram wrote, “What are your thoughts on governments (or quasi government bodies) deciding what subjects should be taught in schools. For physical and social sciences, yes, I could think of market deciding it. But specifically what about languages? Can a government decide? But again, if we leave it to the market, some languages may not survive. I find it abhorrent that in some Indian states one could complete schooling all the way until Grade 12 without learning the local language.”

TL;DR version: Government should never get into any aspect of education — funding and running schools, dictating content, etc. That’s the job of parents, and if necessary, the job of society. Regarding languages, people decide what survives and what doesn’t. It’s a pity when a language dies but the use of force to keep a dying language alive cannot be morally justified.

Self-ownership

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The Road to Tyranny

Slowly raising the temperature allows a frog submerged in water to get accustomed to its ever-worsening condition until it gets cooked to death. So goes folk wisdom regarding how to cook a frog. Though a pointless exercise, it does serve as a good metaphor for how countries gradually advance on the road to tyranny — in very small, nearly imperceptible steps.

But it is possible to notice small objects and minute changes if one gets sensitized to them. It is hard to notice a commercial jetliner at cruising altitude from the ground without its telltale vapor trail. However, if someone pointed you to it, it’s easy enough to track the nearly invisible object in the sky if you pay attention.

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Government of India Carries the White Man’s Burden

Doing Good is Always a Good Excuse

If you want to be loved and admired by the people, do good to others. Unfortunately that only works sometimes. But if you wish do well for yourself, even if it means that it causes harm to others, make the people believe that what you are doing is for the good of others. That’s always guaranteed to work. It has worked like a charm in the past, works now, and will work in the future. Public perception trumps reality. Billions spent on false advertising attest to the fact that it works.

The past masters in this game of duping the public into believing blatant falsehoods are governments of all stripes, be they communists, socialists, fascists — and especially democracies.

One of the more important lessons to be learned from the British Colonial regime is the absolute necessity for governments to hoodwink the public. The British rulers cloaked their imperial drive with the noble enterprise of helping the natives as part of the “White man’s burden” to better the “half-devil and half-child” (phrases that the bigoted racist Rudyard Kipling so memorably penned in 1899.) Continue reading