Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bloggable Links

A few links I liked, I could have blogged about..

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Off Blogs

I've been off blogs for a while. Both writing and reading. The reasons are many; first I was busy with a lot of things, then I decided to travel to Delhi for a while. Now I'm back to a lot of piled up work, as is often the case with longish trips. I will start blogging again I think, but don't bet on it.

Oh and this blogged turned 3 last month. Time flies no?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Illogical Protectionism

Today's Sunday Times economist's column is well worth a read. Here's an important observation,
The President when introducing the Budget said the cesses and increases in several import duties were to encourage local production of these commodities or substitutes for them, as is the case of milk, sugar, wheat and maize imports. The economic logic is that higher prices for these goods would raise domestic prices for them or substitutes and be an incentive for domestic production. Therefore the increase in prices is needed for this incentive effect. However the Minister of Consumer Affairs and other government parliamentarians are saying these increases in duties would not raise prices.The Minister of Consumer Affairs, an Economics teacher is on the contrary taking steps to control prices of these commodities. If prices do not rise then there is no way in which the measures taken by the budget are incentives for domestic production.
The whole thing here.

Logic was never a strong point of the present administration. Import substitution, which the administration's economic strategy is based on, will give the results it has always given -- higher prices, fewer choices, less quality of life and eventually, a resounding victory for the opposition.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The world's most annoying paragraph

Could possibly be this:
At the end of the day, what would you add to this fairly unique list? With all due respect, I personally, at this moment in time, absolutely shouldn't have suggested that it's not rocket science because 24/7 people are saying this and it is literally a nightmare.
Here's the background story. Pointer and the paragraph from MR.

P. J. O.Rourke on the Free Market

P.J. Has an excellent piece on how the Republicans 'blew it'. Here's an interesting paragraph:
What will destroy our country and us is not the financial crisis but the fact that liberals think the free market is some kind of sect or cult, which conservatives have asked Americans to take on faith. That's not what the free market is. The free market is just a measurement, a device to tell us what people are willing to pay for any given thing at any given moment. The free market is a bathroom scale. You may hate what you see when you step on the scale. "Jeeze, 230 pounds!" But you can't pass a law making yourself weigh 185. Liberals think you can. And voters--all the voters, right up to the tippy-top corner office of Goldman Sachs--think so too.
I agree. The market fundamentally provides a bunch of signals. You can ignore them -- and this is true whether you're an automaker or a lawmaker -- at your peril.

The article offers a lot of insight with less-than-usual, but still good, humor. I recommend you give it a read.

Here's another sample of what you can expect:
If we do have morals, where were they while Bosnians were slaughtered? And where were we while Clinton dithered over the massacres in Kosovo and decided, at last, to send the Serbs a message: Mess with the United States and we'll wait six months, then bomb the country next to you.
The whole thing here.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Budget-Econ 101

Friday's Daily Mirror Cartoon captures the economics of government budget proposals with surprising accuracy:

Yet I'm sure come next year, there will still be many who believe they can get something from the government for "free". More on the budget, later.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Youth Vote

There are few things in the world, that you don't need a chart to tell you. Sex is pleasurable, Mervyn Silva is a crook and Barack Obama has a large youth following.

But here's a chart anyway. The chart shows how much the Republican party has lost the youth vote to Obama compared to the other elections.

According to Andrew Gelman, this idea of a great youth voter turnout is a myth. Gelman writes,
But there was no massive turnout among young voters. According to the exit polls, 18% of the voters this time were under 30, as compared to 17% of voters in 2004. (By comparison, 22% of voting-age Americans are under 30.)
So what does this mean for the Republicans? Harvard econ professor Greg Mankiw thinks that this suggests that the GOP needs to be more libertarian -- be less social conservative while maintaining it's fiscal conservatism. If that is indeed the direction GOP is going to take, I'd be much happy. It's about time.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The iPod Nano Index (or where you should buy your electronics stuff)

At the moment it's Australia, followed by Indonesia and Canada. No surprises there. Anyone who has been watching the the exchange rate will know that the Aussie dollar has plunged more than 25% against the dollar over the few months.

CommSecs' iPod Index(pdf) takes after the Economist's Big Mac Index in trying to show the cost of local goods for foreign buyers (measuring PPP). Basically it denotes the price of 8 GB Apple iPods from 62 countries in USD terms. Here's the full index:

Sri Lanka is on the expensive side when it comes to electronics. But you'd be happy to note, we have the cheapest Big Macs.

Here's the full report on the Index. I thank Paul Kedrosky for the chart and MR for the pointer.

President Obama

Congratulations. It truly was historic.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The case for Barack Obama

The economist makes it:

[Compared to McCain,] Is Mr Obama any better? Most of the hoopla about him has been about what he is, rather than what he would do. His identity is not as irrelevant as it sounds. Merely by becoming president, he would dispel many of the myths built up about America: it would be far harder for the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein; and far harder for autocrats around the world to claim that American democracy is a sham. America’s allies would rally to him: the global electoral college on our website shows a landslide in his favour. At home he would salve, if not close, the ugly racial wound left by America’s history and lessen the tendency of American blacks to blame all their problems on racism.

So Mr Obama’s star quality will be useful to him as president. But that alone is not enough to earn him the job. Charisma will not fix Medicare nor deal with Iran. Can he govern well? Two doubts present themselves: his lack of executive experience; and the suspicion that he is too far to the left.

There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama’s résumé is thin for the world’s biggest job. But the exceptionally assured way in which he has run his campaign is a considerable comfort. It is not just that he has more than held his own against Mr McCain in the debates. A man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and out-fought the two mightiest machines in American politics—the Clintons and the conservative right.

Political fire, far from rattling Mr Obama, seems to bring out the best in him: the furore about his (admittedly ghastly) preacher prompted one of the most thoughtful speeches of the campaign. On the financial crisis his performance has been as assured as Mr McCain’s has been febrile. He seems a quick learner and has built up an impressive team of advisers, drawing in seasoned hands like Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. Of course, Mr Obama will make mistakes; but this is a man who listens, learns and manages well.

It is hard too nowadays to depict him as soft when it comes to dealing with America’s enemies. Part of Mr Obama’s original appeal to the Democratic left was his keenness to get American troops out of Iraq; but since the primaries he has moved to the centre, pragmatically saying the troops will leave only when the conditions are right. His determination to focus American power on Afghanistan, Pakistan and proliferation was prescient. He is keener to talk to Iran than Mr McCain is— but that makes sense, providing certain conditions are met.

Our main doubts about Mr Obama have to do with the damage a muddle-headed Democratic Congress might try to do to the economy. Despite the protectionist rhetoric that still sometimes seeps into his speeches, Mr Obama would not sponsor a China-bashing bill. But what happens if one appears out of Congress? Worryingly, he has a poor record of defying his party’s baronies, especially the unions. His advisers insist that Mr Obama is too clever to usher in a new age of over-regulation, that he will stop such nonsense getting out of Congress, that he is a political chameleon who would move to the centre in Washington. But the risk remains that on economic matters the centre that Mr Obama moves to would be that of his party, not that of the country as a whole.

There's much more on the economist piece, endorsing Barack Obama. More than anything else, it's a heavy indictment of how John McCain has run his campaign. It's a cautious, calculated endorsement; no orgasmic (and naive) blabber about how inspiring he is. I can't endorse Obama, but I can endorse the article.

For a slightly different take on Obama and McCain, see Swaminathan Aiyar for the Times of India.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Politically Incorrect guide to politics

This is a fantastic episode from John Stossel's 20/20. Part 1 is below:

Here's part 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Part 2 discusses the financial crisis. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cris Lingle on Globalization & Culture

About an year ago, I helped arrange a lecture by Christopher Lingle on Globalization and Culture. It's now up on youtube.

Among other things, Cris predicts an impending crash in China. He correctly called the last Asian crisis before it happened, so I'm thinking there's something to itI think most of his work is based on Austrian Trade Cycle theory. I could be wrong. Here's part 2 of the talk. The wobbly camera work is mostly my bad. If you want more, here's a writeup I did based on the talk.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The funniest president

This is probably the best speech McCain has given. We now know the funnier candidate in this election:

Here's Obama's response
. I am also reminded of Reagan's humor.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the Plumber and America's License-Raj

Apparently, John McCain's favorite Joe the Plumber, doesn't have a plumbing license. My first reaction is : There's something called a plumbing license?? 

I invite senators, Obama and McCain to visit Sri Lanka where I will introduce them to Sunil the plumber (locally known as Sunil the Paiyppa-baas) operating legally without any need for licensing. The Soviet America really needs to modernize itself into a free-market system and get off from this license-raj stuff. 

If you are American, I'd recommend you consider voting for Bob the Builder. He runs with a Son of a Butcher.

In Mutiny

There's a new blog in town, and I'll be blogging frequently in it, mostly about Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict. For now, I have blogged here and here

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My favorite seperatists

Via Sanjana, I learn that all this time, my favorite seperatists organization has been the MILFs. I shit you not.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Good news on Reform

This is excellent news. From LBO,
Sri Lana's government plans to deregulate railway freight rates and invite private sector participation to increase movement of goods by rail, according to a new transport policy unveiled recently.

"Railway freight tariffs will be de-regulated and the Sri Lanka Railways will be permitted to determine tariffs competitively to attract freight transport from road to rail," the draft policy statement said.
The move is part of a series of measures to revive the heavily loss-making state railway service and shift movement of people and goods from road to rail.

The government expects to increase the share of passengers using rail to 10 percent by 2016 from six percent now, and freight to five percent from one percent now.

"Sri Lanka Railways will collaborate with the private sector towards achieving this objective," the policy put out by the transport ministry said.
Much more at the LBO article. This is genuinely a pleasent surprise. Now if only we can have the same policy for passenger rail and buses, we would have more or less fixed transport. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Now I'm more of a patriot

My weekly dose of patioritism has now been increased by 50 rupees. According to LBO,
Sri Lanka's government hopes to raise an additional two billion rupees a year in tax revenue through a recent increase in excise tax, a senior treasury official said.

The tax on a litre of hard liquor has been increased by 50 rupees and on a litre of beer by 10 rupees. The revenue from the tax hike in the remaining months of this year is expected to be around 300 million rupees, he said.

The tax hike would raise the retail price of a bottle of hard liquor by about 35 rupees.[..]

The government is strapped for cash owing to rising expenditure, especially on the war against the Tamil Tigers, and on a bloated bureaucracy. [link]
..tsk tsk tsk.. the things I do for my country..

Monday, October 13, 2008

Indian secularism

Vikram Nandwani is probably the best cartoonist I know. Here's his latest:

The background according to Vikram,
The NSA (National Security Advisor) said there was a need to effectively deal with organisations like SIMI and Bajrang Dal "because then there are many copycat organisations ... Several micro units of the same kind may come up." He claimed "SIMI and Bajrang Dal are not two sides of the same coin, but both of them are dangerous."
For those who are clueless about Indian politics, SIMI is an Islamic militant organization believed to be behind numerous terrorist activities. Bajrang Dal is a militant Hindu organization believed to behind the recent attacks against Christians in Orissa and Karnataka.

Despite it's many imperfections, my thoughts on the Indian constitution hasn't changed much, although I wouldn't sing it's praises quite so loudly as I did two years ago.

More to the point, my favorite Vikram-cartoon is probably the one he did when the LTTE 'Air-force' came to being.

Global air traffic

This is just very cool. It' a simulation of air traffic worldwide, over a 24-hour period. 

Just looking at that, can't help but feel that Sri Lanka would have been such a logical place for another heavy traffic point. But no..

Krugman wins the Nobel

Paul Krugman has won the Nobel prize for economics. He wins it for trade theory and location theory. I recall Jagdish Bhagwati, himself in the running for the prize for several years mention somewhere that Krugman, who also happens to be his former student will one day get the prize for this very contribution. 

I must say, I'm not particularly enjoying this Sitglitz-Krugman pattern in the prizes, but when Krugman stops his anti-Bushism, he's a very good economist and he's no protectionist. Krugman also has the rare privilage of having a permenent link from my blog, on a list which is otherwise dominated by libertarians or classical liberals. As you can see, I read the right people. 

So far, the best synopsis is from Tyler Cowen. More to come I'm sure.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Military Bloggers

Via the 50 most busiest blogposts, I stumbled upon The Army of Dude, a U.S. Mil-blogger who was based in Iraq, who also happens to be a good writer

For us mere mortals who don't really know what it's like to run around legitimately shooting people, while some other bastard is trying to blow you to bits, Mil-blogs provide great insight into what really happens in the front lines, which is probably too boring for the movies and too real, too long for the mainstream media. 

The curiosity got the best of me, and I tried to find a Sri Lankan Mil-blogger. lists one,  The Long Ranger, the blogger I'm pretty sure is not in the front lines (do they have Wi-Fi in Wanni?)  but he seems to be heavily clued nevertheless. I will be a faithful reader.

I also stumbled upon defencewire, supposedly run by a bunch of independent military analysts, which is also kind of good. This is probably as closest Sri Lanka will get to Mil-blogging, unless someone could convince David Blacker to take up a job in Wanni. 

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mod Goviyas

Picture of the day, comes from The Colombo Post:

Sri Lankan Government ministers, trying their hand at farming. Subsequently, one of them got bombed, but survived. Lots of antics, for the rural vote. 

Silly statements

Two silly statements I read today,
Let's forget that 2. for the moment. Why does His Excellency think that the govt. should not sell any state owned land?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa adding that the future generations should be able to enjoy the benefits of these assets as we enjoy them today as a result of a great sacrific of the patriotic leaders of this nation. [link]
I see. Mr.President would not sell, for example, Water's Edge, because he'd like to preserve it for the future generations. Because Water's Edge you see, is "a result of the great sacrifice of the patriotic leaders".

Actually, I don't see. In fact, that strikes me as a whole lot of nonsense. The state owns 85% of the lands in this country. That's a lot of dead capital. A good proportion of this can be used for productive development. Instead it's locked away,  apparently preserved for future generations.  
Ironically, most people will find those two statements appealing. I think it's derived from a fundamental misconception about the nature government, this romantic, yet nonsensical idea that "government is us". So state enterprises, state-land is seen as somehow being collectively owned by "us". Hence the phrases like "selling" to describe the process of privatization. 

A lot of bad public policy can be averted if many of 'us' come to realize one simple thing : Government is not 'us', it's just government

Friday, October 10, 2008

Where your taxes go (where they actually think it will go edition)

This is how the government intends on spending your taxes. At least partly how it will be spent. We can't afford the whole thing so the rest will be financed by debt and aid (yes, yes, eventually paid by you). 

The largest expenditure is for defence, the largest ever allocation of Rs. 177 billion, about 18% of the total expenditure. The budget 2009  from daily mirror.

More on where your taxes are here and here.  For a related post see, the biggest big government

(HT: on Where Your Taxes Go concept, Amit Varma)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The atlas of the real world

is very interesting. It resizes the world map according to different criteria. Sri Lanka is really big in a few things:

First, number of book published (per million).

This was a genuine surprise. And the annual rate of forest depletion :

And not so surprisingly, we do "well" in the number of deaths due to war:

Much more info and maps at Creative Review. Sri Lanka is also quite large in the rate of abject poverty (measured at $2 per day, but as I recall it's quite low at 1$ per day). Here's another interesting set of maps.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Stupid Atheist

Dinidu de Alwis thinks those who practice religion are stupid.  He mentions my name repetitively in his post, so I’m compelled to write something. My biggest beef with this ‘argument’ is not so much its conclusion – the assertion that religious people are stupid, which after all is a matter of personal opinion, but by simplistic way in which Dinidu de Alwis arrives at this conclusion.  In other words, my biggest beef is not with the assertion of the stupidity, but the stupidity in which he makes this assertion.

Dinidu is a devout and a self-proclaimed atheist. Now I have no problems with atheism, I think it’s a sound, rational and reasonable position on the existence god and deity. My contention is that it is not necessarily the only sound, rational and reasonable position on the belief of the existence of god and deity.

I appreciate the atheist logic. Like I said, I think it's sound. But what I don’t quite understand is this militant, evangelical form of atheism. After all if you don’t believe in something why be militant about it? 

I don’t believe in the fairy god mother or unicorns, but I don’t go around writing blog posts, books or making movies about how silly it is. If you dont belive, just go on not beliving. Evangelical atheists thrust no bible in your face; they’d just like to forcefully thrust it away. 

I think the answer is, this kind of atheists believes that, like Dinidu de Alwis so clearly proclaimed, “Theists are stupid”. So this kind of atheist feels it’s their duty to guide the other irrational, stupid believers in the atheistic rational path. And hence, they must launch the crusade on theism to spread the joy of the atheist discovery. 

Now there are many ways of making this, “all-people-who-believe-in-religion-are-stupid” argument. None of which are particularly smart, but Dinidu chooses an especially dumb and comical route. To sum, he basically quotes Bill Maher. (Ideally I should stop right here and rest my case. But what’s the fun in that?). Maher’s argument against religion is based on biblical literalism, and laughing at how dumb it sounds. 

Something that Mr.Maher and Dinidu doesn’t seem to understand is, fundamental premises of religion, are not about whether or not Mary was a virgin, whether eating pork is sin, or whether Sidhartha walked on the day he was born; it’s about the claims that religions make about the nature of our being. 

And in this, a lot is unknown and perhaps more unknowable. How did life arise on the earth? Why did it arise at all? How do we have free-will or consciousness? Why are there any physical laws at all? Why do planets go in some pre-determined, mathematical orbit? How or who created the Universe? How did this process start?

These are questions we have no right or wrong answers for. Science certainly doesn’t have concrete answers, it gives some possible scenarios, but none that can be claimed absolutely right. And given this, among the sphere of possibility lies the probability that the universe was created by “God”.  This probability may be small as you like and among the many possibilities out there, but unless you can rule out this possibility, believing this might be the case is not crazy. It’s certainly not stupid. 

For example, when you step into a building you don’t expect it to blow up. You believe it won’t. But it could. Now not entering buildings because it might blow up, depending on the situation, is irrational and probably stupid. But suggesting or believing it “could” is not, nor is your belief it won’t. 

What we are stuck with then, is a probability question. The only 'rational' way to settle this is to consider the costs and benefits of this action. If you are getting into a building with a politico and you have absolutely no reason or benefit from being there, you are probably making an error (Dinidu might even call this stupid). But if you stand to gain a lot from this presence and your relative costs of being there are smaller, then this is probably the right move, even with the risk that on the odd day, things could blow up.

That's kind of how religion works. People consider it a positive net benefit. The possibility of heaven, community and support is worth some of the costs.  That's sort of what Blaise Pascal argued.

Sure, sometimes religion is a tool of indoctrination, but as Communists and the LTTE have demonstrated, theistic belief is not a necessity for that kind of thing. 

So I agree there are and can be stupid forms of religion, but Atheists, like Dinidu de Alwis are not exempt from such classification. I wouldn't accuse Dinidu of necessarily being stupid, just very very ignorant.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Help Map Sri Lanka

Today, I find this extremely useful Google Map Maker. The application basically allows you to map things you know (businesses, cafes, towns and yes, islands) on Google Maps. So go ahead help, map your town, your neighborhood and help put Sri Lanka on the Google Map. Here is a short tutorial to get you started.

Mises vs. Marx (Hax0r edition)

I saw this in the Mises Institute Blog today:

Background : In the 1920s, way before the collapse of Socialism and central planning, Ludwig von Mises (and later his student F.A. Hayek) argued that socialism was unworkable, because the socialist system couldn't 'calculate' . There was no way the planners could know what to produce, when to produce in what quantities without having a proper signaling system.

In the free-market, the rise and fall of prices convey this information which is otherwise difficult or very expensive to obtain. The rise and fall of prices act as signals for entrepreneurs (producers) to make decisions about production, investment -- basically everything. This debate between the Socialists and Mises is famously known as the calculation debate, no prizes for guessing who ultimately turned out to be the winner.

We need the Rs.200 note

The Rs.200 note. Whatever happened to it? (Pic by PVGM)

Seen any 50 cents recently? (coins, not the rapper) I haven't either. They probably don't mint it anymore. If they did, that would be a subsidy for the guys who mint coins because the metal required to mint the coin would cost more than 50 cents. Like it's cousins 25 cents, 10 cents and 1 cent, 50 cents is dead.

That's what inflation will do eventually to all coins and notes under the fiat currency system we have. That's no big deal so long as inflation is moderate, but when you have inflation at about 30%, like we have, one small but irritating cost of inflation will be carrying costs.

Now that Rs.100 is worth piss, we have to carry more money to make up for it. So we have end up carrying more higher denominated notes (500s, 1000s) and less lower denominated ones (100s, 50s). This means when I try to pay my Tuk-Tuk fellow, or my AC-Bus guy, often times I end up having just 500 or 1000 notes and not enough 100s, and those chaps never have enough change. This becomes just plain inconvenient and on occasion a source of great annoyance. We need a note in between 100 and 500.

I think the government should re-introduce that Rs.200 note that we had in circulation for some time in a much more durable form than the plasticky-version we had earlier. That should help with the situation.

More on inflation at Deaned.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Who Would the World elect?

When ran the polls, Ron Paul came on top. Now, it's the economist's turn. So far McCain has a clear lead in Macedonia.

Sri Lanka has 30 electoral-college votes and Obama's thrashing McCain 69%-31% right now. Bob Barr is not included.

Obama is also taking the entire U.S. 79% to 21% so far, in voting. So can we finally conclude that all media (except Fox) has both a liberal bias and elitist? thank you.

Friday, October 03, 2008

WTF statement of the day

Comes from the JHU. According to a Daily News report,
The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has called for the appointment of an independent commission to probe the activities of INGOs involved in relief work in uncleared areas in the North.

Such a commission should comprise a team of patriotic retired servicemen who are pro-government, the JHU has said. [link]
I see.  I want an independent-commision to look into the retards in parliament. But that would probably consist of pro-government servicemen as well.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Obama Camp

Move over Jesus, the world has a new messiah:

Cute or Creepy? Till about 1.30 it is kinda cute, but then it gets creepy. Very very creepy. I can imagine a conversation between a typical American Mom and her child, in the summer of 2009 after Obama becomes president,
"Mom! I wanna go to Obama Camp"
"Obama Camp? you mean like Jesus camp honey?"
"Mom, who's Jesus?"
Heh.The good people at Reason has made the Pyongyang version. I'm waiting for the Nazi one.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Foreign policy 'Hit'

Here's something for you Sarah Palin/Asif Zadari haters. The two met recently in New York and here's what happened:
On entering a room filled with several Pakistani officials this afternoon, Palin was immediately greeted by Sherry Rehman, the country's Information Minister.

"And how does one keep looking that good when one is that busy?," Rehman asked, drawing friendly laughter from the room when she complimented Palin.

"Oh, thank you," Palin said.

Pakistan's recently-elected president, Asif Ali Zardari, entered the room seconds later. Palin rose to shake his hand, saying she was “honored” to meet him.

Zardari then called her "gorgeous" and said: "Now I know why the whole of America is crazy about you."

"You are so nice," Palin said, smiling. "Thank you."

A handler from Zardari's entourage then told the two politicians to keep shaking hands for the cameras.

"If he's insisting, I might hug," Zardari said. Palin smiled politely.
I'm not going to even comment. I just think someone should make Zadari the admin of Sara Palin:VPILF group on facebook. He earned it. And what did Palin think of all this?
"It's going great," Palin said. "These meetings are very informative and helpful, and a lot of good people sharing appreciation for America." [link]
God Bless America. The whole thing is on youtube. I told you these Paks are horny.

Sri Lanka's brain drain -- Redux

Last month I tried to estimate how much of Sri Lankan youth go overseas for studies. I found this Island article which puts a number on that estimation:
Around 7,000 students go abroad for higher education annually but the Higher Education Ministry does not keep records or register students going abroad for higher studies privately, Ministry Secretary Mrs. P. B. G. Abeyratne said.

However, the Controller of Immigration and Emigration P. B. Abeykoon said there may be more than 7,000 who go abroad annually for studies but around 20,000 passports are issued purportedly for those leaving the country for higher education.

Higher Education Ministry sources attributed this large exodus of students to the inability of universities to admit all those who qualify at the AL examination. Parents who could afford to send their children abroad do so, source added. "This is a feature of the global scenario of this era."

Though university education is free, it can accommodate only a limited number of students. Currently, there are only 16 state universities and only about 16,000 students are admitted. [link]
7,000 seems like a conservative estimate, especially if the number of student visas issued are around 20,000. But even 7,000 per year is a big number, given that the state Universities can accommodate only around 16,000. There is absolutely no case for free higher education, more on that soon.

Why I love P.J O'Rourke

Because he says things like this :
From Parliament of Whores (1991) 
  • Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
  • The whole idea of our government is this: If enough people get together and act in concert, they can take something and not pay for it.
  • Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us. 
Eat the Rich (1999):
  • Your money does not cause my poverty. Refusal to believe this is at the bottom of most bad economic thinking.
Give War a Chance (1992) :
  • You can't get good Chinese takeout in China and Cuban cigars are rationed in Cuba. That's all you need to know about communism.
FromThe Liberty Manifesto (1993):
  • There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.
  • If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free.
From All the Trouble in the World (1994):
  • A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of their liberty — their power and privilege — to State, Masses, Mankind, Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and the planet will then be run by ... politicians
  • Of course, the humans in Haiti have hope. They hope to leave.
  • War is a great asshole magnet.
Why I Am a Conservative (1996):
  • There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as caring and sensitive because he wants to expand the government's charitable programs is merely saying that he is willing to do good with other people's money. Well, who isn't? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he will do good with his own money— if a gun is held to his head. 
P.J. is an awesome satarist, journalist and a political commentator. I'd highly reccomend his two books, Parliament of Whores and Eat the Rich.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Myths and Realities of the U.S financial crisis

There is a financial crisis in the U.S. and we are hearing the same old silly arguments. Apparently, in the last few weeks capitalism has collapsed, Bush has become a socialist and it's all the fault of the World Bank and the IMF. If you belive any of that, you should really update your feed reader.

But if your concerns are more serious, the ever impressive Ajay Shah does some myth busting:
Myth: Governments are bailing out rich people. 
Reality: Acute pain is being inflicted on shareholders and top managers of financial firms.

Myth: unregulated hedge funds are dangerous.
Reality: The unregulated hedge funds were fine. The problems were created in the heart of regulated finance, in banks giving out home loans.

Myth: The crisis has demonstrated the failure of financial capitalism.
Reality: Financial capitalism has delivered $50,000 per capita of GDP in the US.

Myth: This is the failure of laissez faire ideology in the US
Reality: The US ‘Federal Register’ publishes over 50,000 pages of new regulations every year. Regulatory expenses rose 44% from 1990 to 2008 in the US. US financial regulation is far from laissez faire! What failed was dysfunctional governance structures.

Myth: The crisis has demonstrated that credit derivatives are dangerous
Reality: The crisis has demonstrated that OTC derivatives are dangerous.

Myth: Innocent bystanders have got hurt because of the shennanigans of millionaire rocket scientists. 
Reality: US GDP is doing surprisingly well.
The above is based on slides (PDF here) from a talk Ajay delivered on the financial crisis. Obviously, it would have been better to hear the man speak along with the slides. 

The presentation goes into broader range of issues and well worth a look for anyone trying to understand what went on in the financial markets. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mirror on Me on Obama

This probably some kind of cheating. It's useful when you have friends in the media. In any case, here is Dinidu writing on something I (supposedly) said about the U.S. elections:
Deane would vote for: Barr–Root (Libertarian)

He says he would vote for the Libertarian candidates because "I agree with Obama on some things and with McCain on others. But I don't agree enough with either one of them to actually vote for them. At least I agree with Barr on most things." But interestingly, Deane goes onto say "Now pretending we are Americans is cute, but the fact is, we are not. Sure Obama knows how to work the teleprompter and give a great speech, and Sarah Palin is one hot governor but surely, those are not good enough reasons to root for anyone."

He explained his stance by saying, "Unfortunately 'talk' is all what most twenty-something Sri Lankan Obama supporters have considered. They might give all sorts of sophisticated policy-wise reasons for it now, but the fact is most decided to support Obama just by listening to him and not by examining his policies. Obama for example proposes to 'save American jobs', now I can understand why some Americans might support that, but why on earth would Sri Lankans want to save American jobs? I'm sure the American union bosses would find it rather cute. Protectionism of one country directly opposes opportunity of others. That's the great Obama plan."

"Like Rudy Gulliani said, "change" is not a destination and "hope" not a strategy, and I think Americans are waking up to empty cheesy rhetoric, and that's why Obama is going down in the polls and loosing the election. There is one good reason though Obama should win – he's black. If he loses, all the media here and in other countries will put it down to racism and would argue the fact that not even in America can a person from a minority win an election. That's not good for minority groups anywhere."

Ok ok that going down on the polls and loosing the election part was stretching it. But I stand by everything else. I could have written anti-McCain something as well. But what's the point in making fun of an old white guy, of whom everyone hates anyway? Obama-bashing is much more fun. And did you know he just flip-flopped on net neutrality? gasp!

On Barr, he's toast. He just lost Ron Paul's endorsement by playing bad boy. He (and frankly Paul) screwed up what could have been Libertarian Party's best year yet. 

More on Obama, McCain and the U.S. elections.

I, Society and Public Policy

Centre for Civil Society is organizing it's annual seminars on public policy, now called "I, Society and Public Policy" renamed from "Liberty & Society Seminars" starting in October in Delhi, Cochin, Bangalore and Pune. If you are between 18 - 25 with an interest in Public Policy, do apply before the time runs out

I was in the Cochin seminar in January andI highly reccomend it. See my somewhat related posts on the Cochin  seminar here and here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Early warning on the financial crisis

In as early as 2003, someone had the wisdom to see what was coming. Who said the following?

One of the major government privileges granted to GSEs is a line of credit with the United States Treasury. According to some estimates, the line of credit may be worth over $2 billion. This explicit promise by the Treasury to bail out GSEs in times of economic difficulty helps the GSEs attract investors who are willing to settle for lower yields than they would demand in the absence of the subsidy. Thus, the line of credit distorts the allocation of capital. More importantly, the line of credit is a promise on behalf of the government to engage in a huge unconstitutional and immoral income transfer from working Americans to holders of GSE debt.

The connection between the GSEs and the government helps isolate the GSE management from market discipline. This isolation from market discipline is the root cause of the recent reports of mismanagement occurring at Fannie and Freddie. After all, if Fannie and Freddie were not underwritten by the federal government, investors would demand Fannie and Freddie provide assurance that they follow accepted management and accounting practices.

Ironically, by transferring the risk of a widespread mortgage default, the government increases the likelihood of a painful crash in the housing market. This is because the special privileges granted to Fannie and Freddie have distorted the housing market by allowing them to attract capital they could not attract under pure market conditions. As a result, capital is diverted from its most productive use into housing. This reduces the efficacy of the entire market and thus reduces the standard of living of all Americans.

Despite the long-term damage to the economy inflicted by the government's interference in the housing market, the government's policy of diverting capital to other uses creates a short-term boom in housing. Like all artificially-created bubbles, the boom in housing prices cannot last forever. When housing prices fall, homeowners will experience difficulty as their equity is wiped out.

Furthermore, the holders of the mortgage debt will also have a loss. These losses will be greater than they would have otherwise been had government policy not actively encouraged overinvestment in housing.

Perhaps the Federal Reserve can stave off the day of reckoning by purchasing GSE debt and pumping liquidity into the housing market, but this cannot hold off the inevitable drop in the housing market forever. In fact, postponing the necessary but painful market corrections will only deepen the inevitable fall. The more people invested in the market, the greater the effects across the economy when the bubble bursts.

Congress should act to remove taxpayer support from the housing GSEs before the bubble bursts and taxpayers are once again forced to bail out investors who were misled by foolish government interference in the market. I therefore hope this committee will soon stand up for American taxpayers and investors by acting on my Free Housing Market Enhancement Act.

The answer is Ron Paul in a speech he gave in September 2003. The pointer from the Mises Blog. Now most financial experts wouldn't have agreed with Paul then, and probably won't agree with him now. But the bottom line is the Austrian analysis is the only one which predicted what was coming.

In late 2005, Tyler Cowen, himself no Austrian, put a post on "If I was an Austrian post" on his influential Marginal Revolution blog. In it he made several predictions as to what would happen if he were to follow the Austrian business cycle theory. As Tyler later admitted, most of it has come true. He said however, loose monetary policy, like the Austrians thought was only one of several and less important triggers to the problem. Here Paul seems to suggest that apart from loose monetary policy, government guaranteed line of credit to Fannie and Freddie was at fault for creating the 'mal-investment' and the high risk-taking.

Whether you comepletly agree with the analysis or not, you have to hand it to Ron Paul, he called this one. That's why he's all over the media now.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sri Lanka : The 3rd most horniest country in the World?

The most horniest is Pakistan, followed by Bangladesh. That's according to Google Insights. See the graph here:

(Click to enlarge or see Google Insight link)

I used insights to show the results for the terms 'porn' or 'sex'. Also notice that the top 4 countries with the highest search volume for these terms are all South Asian -- Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. A SAARC orgy anyone?

In any case, I can think of two possible explanations for the results.

First, in lower-income countries, the utility of non-porn related internet activities (searches in this case) are low. There's no real thriving e-commerce industry, so searching for soap, books or mini-skirts wouldn't yield much. Nor do people search for things like local news on general search engines like Google, because of all the noise created by 'western content'. After all according to Alexa 9 of the the 100 most visited websites in Sri Lanka are porn-related.

But there are few kinks with this hypothesis. If this were true then most lower-income countries would have higher proportion of horny-searches. This isn't exactly the case. Nigeria for example has a much lower per-capita income level than Pakistan and it produces less horny searches than the U.S.

The second explanation, (which I think is more to the point) is this: All people are horny. But countries of who's cultures promote a hush-hush attitude towards sex, find other means to satisfy their horniness, such as watching Internet porn. Notice that middle-eastern countries such as Egypt, Yemen immediately follows their South Asian counterparts in the horny search index.

Conclusion: we are just bloody sexually-oppressed and bored on the Internet. But you didn't need me to tell you that. Bugger, what a waste time..

Notes : 1) Google Insights normalizes all data. Biases resulting from higher-search volumes of certain countries are removed. 2) Horny-country inspiration from IndiaUncut.

WTF Headline of the day

Comes from the Sunday Observer: 
NCPA saves 13-year-old girl from further rape
One must be grateful for the NCPA. Unfortunately, we already know at least one of the questions the Police are going to ask this girl,"why didnt you use your mobile phone?"

[HT on link: Achcharaya]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The upside of the Colombo Visa

Marking the International day of Peace, the Sri Lankan Police decided to launch registration of residents from the north currently staying as 'guests' in Colombo. The new Colombo Visa is complete with details such as purpose of visit, expiry date, etc. Those already having 'visas' will be able to confirm the validity of their documents. But that's not all, according to a report from the Sunday Observer,
Refreshments will be provided for the northern civilians who register themselves today with the police in the Western Province
Realiable sources say however, that the 'refreshments' consisted of bunty toffees. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Palin Theocracy in a bikini

It strikes me as rather odd when the most right-wing of the Sri Lankan media is retardedly leftwing when it comes to reporting about U.S. politics. But this choice picture for an anti-Palin piece on the Sunday Times takes the cake. Here's a screenshot : (Also see it in the ST site)

I mean, Christ..

Oh wait, I shouldn't say that. That would make me an extremist fundamentalist christian who wants to shoot women in cases of rape, incest and have a fondness for pigs with lipstick. No, I dont think I have that quite right.. but you get the picture. Oh and by the way, the bikini pic is fake

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Racists playing the 'Obama' card

Obama is down in the polls, including on InTrade, which means lots of people are quite literally betting he will loose. So the Sri Lankan communalists are now pointing to racism to explain this turn of events. Case in point  --  this Island piece by some fellow called Mano Ratwatte.  The writer makes number of claims, 
  1. Obama is loosing because there is a racist conspiracy against him. Majority of the people in the southern states will not vote for a black candidate because of racial prejudice and tradition. 

  2. He says, "No one other than a Christian will ever have any chance of seriously running for public office even for a small city council (perhaps, with the exception of San Francisco)".

  3. Iraq war was about oil.

  4. Sarah Palin is a rightwing christian extremist. These people brainwash innocent people, doesn't care about Iraqi IDPs and calls Obama a baby killer.

  5. On the other hand, Sri Lanka is wonderful. There are lots of instances where Sinhala Buddhists majorities voted for Muslims, Christians and Tamils. 

  6. Ranjan Ramanayake and Janaka Perera are devout catholics. They got highest preferential votes in the buddhist dominated Sabaragamuwa and North central provinces. Sinhala-buddhists are not so bad like the newspapers say. 
In sum, Obama is loosing because of racism, We are so much better. Yay!

If Obama continues his downward trend and eventually looses, expect to hear more of this, and not just from Sri Lanka. If there was ever one good reason for Obama to win the election, it's because he's black. Just that. For the sake of proving that it can be done. and deny all those other communalists the pleasure of making  "look it can't even be done in the U.S., so why here" type arguments.

Let's take some of these "arguments" by the writer. First of all, isn't it criminal that in the days of Google and Wikipedia, these 'journalists' don't bother to using them? 

If  Ratwatte did manage to use a search engine, he would find that there have been plenty of Jews who have been American politicians including at least a couple of Muslims, BuddhistsSikhs, Hindus, and at least one Atheist.  Some of these people have been Governors, congressmen, mayors, senators and Republicans from 'red states'.  So.. Can't run for city council? Ratwatte is lying or most probably have no idea. Let's also bear in mind we are taking about a country where non-christian religious beliefs comprise of just 5.2% of the population, including Jews. 

But let's go back to his first point, Now I don't claim to know why exactly Obama is loosing ground. If I did, I'd be a Washington strategist, not a Sri Lankan blogger. Perhaps Obama is following a flawed strategy, perhaps Americans are waking up to the naive "Hope" and "Change" stuff, can't be sure. But claiming that it's racism is just nonsense.

As for the 'Southern states', they are called red states for a reason, they go Republican whether the opposing candidate is black, white or luminous green. The battle is not fought in Texas or Alabama like Ratwatte suggests, it's fought in swing states like New Hampshire and Virginia. One needs to understand how the U.S. presidential electoral college system works, it's not like the guy with the most votes win as in Sri Lanka.

Finally, anybody who thinks Sarah Palin is a christian extremist needs get his/her head examined. If evangelicals are in control of the Republican party like some liberals like to think, Mike Huckabe would be on the top of the ticket, not John McCain. 

Now I don't know about Sinhala-Buddhist majorities voting in Muslims, Christians and Tamils, but if that is indeed the case, as a litmus test, let's put a Tamil to run in Hambantota, A Sinhalese in Jaffna and get one of the major parties to nominate a Muslim in one of the presidential elections, let's see how that go. I won't be that optimistic.  I wouldn't read too much into the Ranjan, Janaka Perera situation other than achievements of an actor and a Military man. 

To summarize, yes, I do think there are racial prejudices which play a part in the election, and yes, there are intolerant Christian fundamentalists U.S. politics, but they are not in control of this election and unlikely to make a deterministic impact in the future. Nor can Sri Lanka hope to compete for a prize in multicultural politics with the United States.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Austrian Economics in Sri Lanka?

Emailing me about to my last post, a reader asks me whether I know any Austrian economists in Sri Lanka.

Personally, I don't. I'm pretty sure it's not taught in any university. I'd say the popular Sri Lankan business portal LBO has Austrian leanings, especially the fussbudget column focusing on monetary policy. 

About an year ago, I helped arrange a couple lectures by Cris Lingle, an economist of the austrian tradition also a fellow at CCS.  He spoke about Globalization for a Youth group I'm involved with and also about imbalances at global markets at the Chamber of Commerce.  That pretty much sums up what I know about Austrian economics in Sri Lanka. 

Personally, I'm a student of the austrian tradition as much as I am a student of the neoclassical tradition and not really prepared (or know enough) to pass judgements on either. 

Austrians are also committed classical liberals or Libertarians. Sadly, I don't know many Sri Lankan libertarians either. If you have any info about Austrian economics in Sri Lanka or Sri Lankan libertarians, leave a comment or better yet, drop me an email. I'd be interested in knowing.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Seminar on Austrian economics

Foundation for Economic Education has put up podcasts of its seminar on Austrian Economics. Sri Lankans might find the two podcasts on monetary equilibrium and costs of inflation interesting. You'd need some background in economics and at least some familiarity with the Austrian school to fully appreciate it. The cost of inflation lecture might still be useful for anyone given the current circumstances.

Austrian theory is certainly not mainstream econ, but it has informed the mainstream throughout the last century. Austrian monetary theory in particular, is probably more valid here, in developing countries where central banks truly do suck, like the Austrians like to think.

Non-economists, especially those not trained in the neoclassical mainstream would probably find Austrian econ easier to appreciate and understand. There's no hunt for the elusive equilibrium, there's no emphasis demand curves (austrians think it's more like a demand fog than a curve), no assumptions about perfect competition. It's logical and commonsensical, until your probably get a sense where the austrians are taking it. I wouldn't do away the Friedmanites just yet, but If you want to give it a go, have excellent resources on the subject. 

For daily doses of Austrian econ, both the Mises blog and even more so the Austrianeconomists blogs are highly recommended.  


Friday, September 12, 2008

Holy.. Cat?

See this is why I hate cats. From the Daily Mirror
A cat in Ratnapura is wanted for swallowing jewellery worth thousands of rupees after it entered several houses uninvited and swallowed valuable rings and pendants lying around, police sources in Colombo quoted residents as saying.

Residents reported their missing items to the police early last week but were unable to identify the suspect.

However when contacted the Ratnapura police said they have some complaints of jewellery being missing but could not confirm an involvement of a cat.

The brown street cat, who had been roaming in the neighbourhood for over a month, was spotted swallowing the jewellery by a gardener who immediately narrated the incident to the house owners. The cat which carried out its crime in another house the following day was immediately caught red handed, swallowing a gold earring by three people who had been following the animal, but escaped unharmed when the men tried to grab it.

The hungry cat has not been spotted in the neighborhood since then. [link]

Maybe the JHU should just bring an Animal Disciplinary Act. Otherwise these cats nowadays..

Budget-air, No-plane

Finally, it dawned on me why they call Mihin Lanka a "budget airline". From LBO:
Sept 11, 2008 (LBO) - Sri Lanka's troubled state-run budget carrier Mihin Air is to ask for another three billion rupees in peoples' money in the next budget to revive operations, an official said.
It's financed by government budgets you see. Budget-airline, get it now?. Anyway Moving on.. 
The airline is now without aircraft after having lost its start-up capital and also money borrowed from state-run Bank of Ceylon, and was said to be in the red by more than two billion rupees. [..]
With no source of revenue, the firm is paying salaries with difficulty and out 200 workers about 40 have already left the airline the official said.
Ok so let me this straight, Mihin. You are an airline with 200 employees and you don't have any planes? 

All I can do is clap for such brilliant entrepreneurial ingenuity. No further questions.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

For a Colombo Reform Process

Finally, there's some good news on the reform front :
Sri Lanka has been rated the top South Asian reformer in an annual business regulation study by the World Bank group, with a new company law and credit information improvements boosting its scores. [link]
That's according to the World Bank's Doing Business Report 2009, an annual study which analyzes and ranks countries on easy it is to do business in countries are. The bad news of course, is there's still a long way to go. Although Sri Lanka is the top regional reformer for the last year, it still languishes in 102nd position globally and behind regional countries like Pakistan (rank 77) and Maldives (rank 69), south-asia's richest and most business friendly economy. India is further behind in 122nd position, but I think the study ignores the impact of SEZs and other regional disparities in terms of policy.

Sri Lanka does especially badly with regards to paying taxes with a total of 62 payments and a total tax rate of 63.7%, which frankly is insane. This ridiculously high number of interactions with the bureaucracy is one of the reasons for bribes and corruption in the public sector. Maldives, as LBO notes, only has to make 1 payment as opposed to our 62.

We also door horribly poorly when it comes to property registration, dealing with construction permits and enforcing contracts. Labour laws are inflexible as well, something that will really hurt Sri Lanka in a low-tariff, post-GSP world.

That said, it's great that we have done some reform in the past year. The type of reforms undertaken are just mainly improving legal framework rather than getting into more politically-explosive issues, which is, at least for the moment, a decent strategy. Another thing we can probably improve is trade facilitation, which will have enormous benefits without being a political hot-button issue.

I have been thinking for some time about, what I decided to call the Colombo Reform Process. The idea is kind of modeled similar to the Copenhagen Consensus. The idea is to bring together, perhaps bi-annually, bunch of experts (mostly economists) and get them to come up with the top 10 (or 20) reforms which Sri Lanka could peform and rank it according to effectiveness and political feasibility and produce a report. I think that could really speed things up.

But this is not something that I'm in a position to do at the moment, so here's a shoutout to all the policy people at IPS, Chamber of Commerce, and the likes -- try and do this!. It might just work.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Convention speeches

I just managed to catch John McCain's full speech on Youtube. I think he did a reasonable job, and his VP Pick and the convention bump means he's now leading in the polls for the first time. The thing is with Sarah Palin in it, the Republican ticket looks likable, and have this thing going on which Obama had when he first came in. We will have to wait and see how things play out.

My favorite convention speech though is by Ronald Reagan, not his own nomination speech, which is also good, but the speech Reagan gave in support of Barry Goldwater in 1964. I think it eloquently articulates the values and principles which would fundamentally change the way government worked in the U.S. ever since the Reagan presidency.

A small excerpt of the speech is below. But do see the full version (Video| text)

Here's a few quotes from the speech I really liked:
"You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down--up to a man's age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order--or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course."

"No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this Earth."

" the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that just isn't so"

"You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery."

"You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on Earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

We will keep in mind and remember that Barry Goldwater has faith in us. He has faith that you and I have the ability and the dignity and the right to make our own decisions and determine our own destiny"
Barry Goldwater's son, Barry Goldwater Jnr, himself a former congressman was not at the GOP convention last week. Instead, he was at Ron Paul's convention. Interesting times.