Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Good intentions, Bad outcomes

Most people judge policy with intentions rather than outcomes.

So Samurdhi (the Sri Lankan hand-out scheme) is good because it's designed to give money to the poor, never mind the fact that the beneficiaries are partisans of the ruling party and it doesn't have the faintest of hope of eradicating poverty, fertilizer subsidies are considered good because it's stated aim to help the farmer, never mind the fact that most never actually receive the subsidies and distorts the market signals which clearly urge them to go into a more profitable venture. The list goes on.

Steven Levitt and Dubner, the Authors of the infamous Freakonomics, examines the law of Unintended consequences in the New York Times Magazine. a preview note from the Freakonomics blog is here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Markets in Everything

Tyler' Cowen's "Markets in everything" posts are now compiled into its own website. An awesome read.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Democracy, so long as you're socialist.

All politicians in India have to be socialists. I don't mean it in a cynical kind of way, they actually have to. The Indian constitution gives you all the democracy you want, as long as you pledge allegiance to socialism.

It's a fascinating little story, something I've been following ever since I've known about it about an year ago, now the matter has been finally brought to the Indian Supreme court's attention. Barun Mitra relates the story. Ajay Shah has more.

I wonder what the situation is in Sri Lanka, it could be the case that's actually similar. The preamble to the Sri Lankan constitution too mentions a Socialism as something which constitutes the country, although I don't know whether the Sri Lankan political parties need to take an oath in it's name.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

on Musharraf

I sort of like the guy. I've read his biography, and I think I can see where he's coming from. I mean so what' if he's a dictator, that's better than a dictator pretending to be a democrat (thats democrat as in democracy not democract as in party).

Supporters of President Musharraf say that he has brought the country rapid economic growth (this much is true), relative political stability (prior to recent incidents) and in some even argue a some form of democracy. As a Pakistani friend of mine once told me "we want development, not democracy".

My friend is not alone, In fact I think most people wouldn't outrightly reject the idea of a dictatorship. If somebody has a political agenda which he/she thinks would benefit everyone, and that someone can find a dictator to follow that course, then theoretically this should be a good thing. Of course some of us are more idealistic and thinks it would not be proper force someone what we think is "right". But for most people this would be a desirable outcome, and President Musharraf (and i know this personally) has his share of genuine supporters. However, What makes dictatorships a bad system is the fact that it's success depends good persons and this is where Musharraf has faltered in recent times, he's not been able to be good enough even for his adherent supporters.

This was triggered off by a rather funny post from on Musharraf at the Acron.

How much would the Nano cost us?

That's the car, not the iPod. For the uninitiated, the Indian motor company Tata recently unveiled the "Nano" the world's cheapest car priced at a low-low figure of Rs.100,000 (INR). (That works out to about $2,500 and Rs.275,000 LKR).

This is great news of course both for Tata and the hundreds of thousands of Indians who would now be able to afford an automobile. I don't find the car overly 'saxy' as some Indians do, but it looks all right and I'm sure there are many people who'd like to have one.

The enthusiasm for the Nano is not shared by the elitist greens however, for the adherents of the Church-of-Gore it's some sort of a carbon-crime machine. never mind the fact that that the Nano surpasses not only Indian regulatory standards but also the strict European emission standards.

Personally I don't know if I'd want the Nano for myself, but it could be an awesome little Taxi Car. small size, fuel efficiency with the possibility 4 or 5 passengers should be perfect for running a little taxi business. I can totally see that happening.

The question is how much would it cost to import one? It's a question I asked from a few vehicle importers, they don't really know yet. The Sri Lankan import duties on vehicles are insane ranging up to 300% of the initial value. The importers think it might go into about at least Rs.500,000 with the relative low taxes for allowed for Indian vehicles.

There goes cheap-taxis I can't believe the tolerance level of Sri Lankans when it comes to import duties, what's the logic anyway? the government is protecting the Micro guy? I'd think cheaper vehicles for the countries citizens might have been more important than the Micro-Car's bank balance, apparently not.

It's some how justifiable that Sri Lankans pay multiple times as taxes for the same vehicle as the Americans do. Insane is an understatement.

Cultural Globalization

Tyler Cowen has an interesting piece on the topic over at Mint. The article pretty much echoes what Cris Lingle had to say at a forum I was involved in late last year. The backlash against cultural globalization is inevitable and understandable. A group of people in every society have certain attachments to what they perceive as “their culture” and whenever those traits are seen to be disappearing rapidly; there will be a backlash from some quarters. Cris called this a “Clash of Generations”, he saw it as a battle between young people who want to change things around while the generations before wanting to keep things the way they are. That’s probably true, although I could show few young people who’d viscously defend what they call the “Sri Lankan Culture”.

This backlash, as Tyler argues is healthy as it keeps things in check, as long as one keeps a sense of perspective. It’s perspective that’s unfortunately missing from those who oppose this inevitability.

Cultural globalization is made to be seen as something which comes only from “them to us” and in most cases simply put down to “Americanization”. This clearly is not the case. First of all when “it” does indeed comes from “them to us”, it doesn’t arrive pre-packaged, in fact its always localized, after all (contrary to what left-wing conspiracy theorists may tell you) the “west” is not out to colonize everywhere else, they (and by they, I mean those companies) are just here to make some revenue for themselves. The only way they can do that is to give us something we’d want to have. Tyler notices this when he says,
..some of the chains such as McDonald’s bend towards local taste with curry and tikka and lamb burger. Going out to eat is often more for the air conditioning than for the food.
I can think of many more examples, but most striking perhaps is what I encountered in Bangalore where I found a KFC restaurant with a vegetarian section. That’s right. Kentucky Fried Chicken has a pure vegetarian section. In Sri Lanka too the KFC’s, McDonald’s sells their version of Kottu. Not to mention the many Chinese restaurants serving what’s probably closer to local food than Chinese.

Tyler also speaks about the flip side,
In my home town of Fairfax, Virginia, it is now easier to get a good dosa than a good hamburger, but it still feels like America, albeit a different America than that of 1953.
Tyler of course doesn’t worry much about this, but there are people in the U.S. who especially in light of the emerging population patterns, issues of identity will become an emerging topic in U.S. politics. I’d say everyone should appreciate humanity and just take a chill pill, cultural globalization is inevitable, but it certainly won’t be Americanization nor one-way traffic. Sri Lankans are more likely to wear Kurthas and sing Baila than to flip burgers while listening to dirty rap.

Read Tyler Cowen’s article and Chris Lingle’s talk.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Get it right on free trade

Cafe Hayek points me to a nice op-ed on Free Trade on the NYTimes, Here's some relevant excerpts,

I doubt there’s a human being on earth who hasn’t benefited from the opportunity to trade freely with his neighbors. Imagine what your life would be like if you had to grow your own food, make your own clothes and rely on your grandmother’s home remedies for health care. Access to a trained physician might reduce the demand for grandma’s home remedies, but — especially at her age — she’s still got plenty of reason to be thankful for having a doctor.

Some people suggest, however, that it makes sense to isolate the moral effects of a single new trading opportunity or free trade agreement. Surely we have fellow citizens who are hurt by those agreements, at least in the limited sense that they’d be better off in a world where trade flourishes, except in this one instance. What do we owe those fellow citizens?

One way to think about that is to ask what your moral instincts tell you in analogous situations. Suppose, after years of buying shampoo at your local pharmacy, you discover you can order the same shampoo for less money on the Web. Do you have an obligation to compensate your pharmacist? If you move to a cheaper apartment, should you compensate your landlord? When you eat at McDonald’s, should you compensate the owners of the diner next door? Public policy should not be designed to advance moral instincts that we all reject every day of our lives. [..]

For many decades, schoolyard bullying has been a profitable occupation. All across America, bullies have built up skills so they can take advantage of that opportunity. If we toughen the rules to make bullying unprofitable, must we compensate the bullies?

Bullying and protectionism have a lot in common. They both use force (either directly or through the power of the law) to enrich someone else at your involuntary expense. If you’re forced to pay $20 an hour to an American for goods you could have bought from a Mexican for $5 an hour, you’re being extorted. When a free trade agreement allows you to buy from the Mexican after all, rejoice in your liberation. [link] (emphasis mine)
The full article is worth a read and true for any economy in the world.

Opposition to free trade is not a current topic in the political discourse in Sri Lanka, partly because the politicians have much better things to talk about. In fact Sri Lankan politics has recently degenerated into just partisan finger-pointing instead of actual discussion on politics.

Even when some of these issues became relevant around the 2004 election, the anti-trade arguments rested obscure anti-westism bordering on economic nationalism, which needless to say, is a whole lot of nonsense.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Comercial Sex Monkeys

According to one study, monkeys pay for sex. that's right, there are monkey-whores. .um I mean commercial sex workers. This is what TIME says,
It turns out that one of humanity's oldest professions may be even older than we thought: In a recent study of macaque monkeys in Indonesia, researchers found that male primates "paid" for sexual access to females — and that the going rate for such access dwindled as the number of available females went up.
Hell. they even understand economics. more..
The macaques' [monkeys] exchange of services simply illustrates a nifty system of cooperation that allows for successful mating. The basic premise, says Gumert, is called biological market theory, which follows the elementary principles of supply versus demand. When applied to the voluntary sex life of long-tailed macaques, it means that the price that one group is willing to pay for a commodity that the other group has depends on the scarcity or abundance of that commodity on the market. Scientists think female macaques may use grooming, too, to try to maintain social relationships within the group to benefit their offspring, or as a way to distract or appease males from getting aggressive after a sexual encounter. In fact, when female macaques groomed males, their services decreased sexual activity in males. [Read in Full]
See, this is why we should legalize Prostitution. i meant it's totally evolution, we cant regulate evolution and besides there are no reports of monkey-pimps or violence. Just free-exchange, and everyone's happy.

Next Step, monkey sex-ed. Use protection you monkeys!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Climate Change Sense

Maybe everyone will come to their senses this year, if even the NY Times can report on stuff like this. Below is a quote from the article, the full article is well worth the read.
Today’s interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels.

A year ago, British meteorologists made headlines predicting that the buildup of greenhouse gases would help make 2007 the hottest year on record. At year’s end, even though the British scientists reported the global temperature average was not a new record — it was actually lower than any year since 2001 — the BBC confidently proclaimed, “2007 Data Confirms Warming Trend.”

When the Arctic sea ice last year hit the lowest level ever recorded by satellites, it was big news and heralded as a sign that the whole planet was warming. When the Antarctic sea ice last year reached the highest level ever recorded by satellites, it was pretty much ignored. A large part of Antarctica has been cooling recently, but most coverage of that continent has focused on one small part that has warmed.

When Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005, it was supposed to be a harbinger of the stormier world predicted by some climate modelers. When the next two hurricane seasons were fairly calm — by some measures, last season in the Northern Hemisphere was the calmest in three decades — the availability entrepreneurs changed the subject. Droughts in California and Australia became the new harbingers of climate change (never mind that a warmer planet is projected to have more, not less, precipitation over all). [link]

Saturday, January 05, 2008

On Iowa Results

The big news from Iowa is Obama. He has made it, making the democrat race wide Open. If he beats Hillary in New Hampshire, Bill's "First Man" dreams would be gone. Obama talks of Change, I don't buy that. Let's face it, lot of people like Obama (especially non-Americans) because he's black and looks different. But his chances have improved now, and the U.S. might well have it's first "African-American" president.

It seems to be a two horse-race as far as the Dems are concerned. I'd count Edwards out, unless he can pull something off in the next two causes. Highly unlikely.

On the Republican side, the race is wide open. Huckabee came in a comfortable first with Romney in 2nd. Romney probably lost most in Iowa, he badly needed the win, having spent over $10 M in Iowa. Huckabee's win has most to do with the Christian evangelicals in Iowa, the win doesn't make him the top contender.

My man Ron Paul (the Libertarian anti-war republican) didn't do well as I had hoped, I expected 4th, he came in 5th. His die-hard supporters are a bit bummed, but on the bright side. He reached double digits with 10% of the vote, just 3% behind 3rd and 4th place Thompson and McCain. Paul also kicked Rudy Gulliani's ass, with the former mayor and the national front runner for the GOP, just getting 13% 4%. Gulliani must be regretting the little scuffle the two had at an earlier debate. Paul also won the only county which didn't go to either Huckabee or Romney, Jefferson County. Many people consider this as impressive showing.

Paul also got most of the Independent vote on the republican side with 29% to McCain's 22%. Independents would be a key constituency in New Hampshire, the location of the next primary. It's probably the most Libertarian state in U.S., the home to the free state project and Paul need to get into the top-3 here to remain marginally relevant.

It's also the state where McCain is leading, and a win here could propel him to the GOP nomination. He's probably the biggest winner from Iowa on the Republican side. McCain needed to Huckabee to beat Romney to deny him the momentum going into NH, just what he needed. A McCain-Huckabee ticket is certainly on the cards.

Tompson is going to be out soon, he's not a serious contender, but Gulliani would need to get into the top 3 as well, if Paul beats Gulliani in NH, it could be curtains for the former Mayor.

Whatever the case if not for Paul, there's no one I can whole heartedly endorse. I can live through a McCain presidency, he's a decent fiscal conservative but also a nut who wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years, I won't find anything much agreeable with Obama, but hell - he's a damn good speaker.

As for Paul, I think Obama's victory was probably his biggest lost out of Iowa, lot of young people supporting Obama would have been potential Paulites. Now independents probably see a viable candidate as opposed to a less-viable one in Paul.

But what can I say, watching the Ron Paul Revolution has been wonderful so far. I first sent an email to his exploratory committee earlier this year urging him to Run, apparently so did many others and he did turn up, I thought he'd disappear but no, the Ron Paul's ideas caught on with people, especially the young and the web-savvy, it has fun watching the Ron Paul Rise on Youtube and on the web. From less than 1% to 10% it has been amazing, the grassroots organization, the money-bombs, the Ron Paul blimps, its been a phenomenal effort that someone will eventually write a book about it. I Hope the revolution keeps going 'cos it isn't about Paul in the end, it's about Liberty!. But no Paul's not out yet!.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Mervyn's Commission and toilet visits

The SLFP central committee has appointed a three-member committee to look into the recent incidents involving Dr.Mervyn, this is in addition to the one-man committee appointed by the Media Minister, Anura.P.Yapa. Yapa's pissed that Mervyn didn't get his permission to attack the Rupvahini fellow. One of the best quotes on these commissions comes from Pieter Keuneman, the Stalinist LSSPer who supposedly said,
Commissions are like a morning visit to the toilet: first there is a sitting, then there is a little deliberation, then there is a little noise and finally you drop the matter! [link]

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Sri Lankan New Year wish

A friend sends me this lovely new year wish,
May joy increase like the price of gas, may peace grow like the price of milk powder. May you live a year filled with prosperity like the rajapaksha brothers did last year.. May you have righteousness like mervyn silva..and live a life filled with fun and extravagance like the politicians in power & may your worries grow as small as the value of the rupee. I wish u a HAPPY Sri Lankan NEW YEAR.
Ditto that. Happy new year everyone!

Paul Beats Rudy Gulliani

That's what the headlines would be Tomorrow.

Well, its the big day today for the Paulites - Iowa primaries. The Des Moines Register poll has Ron Paul at 9% tied with Fred Thompson, trailing McCain at 13% and leading Gulliani who's stuck at 5%. The CNN poll has Paul tied with Rudy at 8%. I expect Paul to get 4th, that would be one hell of an achievement, even MSM (mainstream-media) is predicting good things from Paul with New Hampshire on the way Paul can look to get in the top 3 there.

There are reasons to believe he'll do well than the polls suggests, Paul unquestionably attracts first-time voters and Independents. Most of the polls are conducted by phoning previous Republican voters, which wouldn't include either of these camps.

Ron Paul's revolution raised close to $20 Million last quarter, most of it online and all of it from small donors. Including of course the two money bombs which brought in $4 Million and $6M respectively. The Campaign is completely grassroots and supporter-led.

If you haven't heard of Paul, Google him or search on you tube. His supporters call the whole thing a revolution. Here's a good video on his rise, Here's a nice one (a few months old). He's all over YouTube and Facebook. Here's the official site.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rounding Up ’07

I really think the nation has prospered during the last year.

Think about it, we now have a credible American Idol-clone, we have our very own bimbo Paris Hilton wanna-be who’s not only blond (literally) and in bad movies, but plans on releasing a music album (Yes, Anar!! This one’s for you!!). And who said news was boring? Evening news has never been better, it’s like a reality show –people beating up ministers, baby-thieves complete with prize money, parliamentary drama. Yes, things are certainly headed in the right direction, now all we need is a bit of public nudity – and we‘ll get there.

It has also been a year of Records, We are now the proud citizens of the country with the world's largest cabinet, Lasith Malinga took 4 wickets in 4 balls, Murali became the highest test wicket taker in the world and our terrorists became the first in the world to acquire aircrafts. We should be proud of the boys – the cricketers I mean.

2007 was also the year of crossovers – the staunchest critics of the government in ‘06 are now its biggest allies, its biggest allies in '06 are now its staunchest critics. In other related news, His Excellency donated a ministry to the Buddhist party. Champika Ranwaka is now the official “pintata amathya”.

In the military front, we liberated the east and Thoppigala, and easterners are now basking in freedom and liberty with a touch of friendly terror courtesy the Karuna and Pillian faction, before the former made a diplomatic entry to Her Majesty’s Kingdom. In the Peace front.. well there’s no peace front.

As far as the economics goes, the government has responded to high inflation the best way it knows how - by Changing the indexes. This follows a previous failed attempt by the Minister of consumer affairs and trade, to introduce a parliamentary Act which has teeth and the ability to "bark".

Anyway, the past year taught us many lessons, both locally and internationally. Thanks to DM Jayaratne we now know that these “abduction” stories are actually false UNP propaganda. People are just freeing themselves “from their wives to enjoy with their pretty ones in unknown locations”.

Internationally, we now know that everything is caused by Global Warming, including Nobel Peace Prizes. In other ‘07 news, Al-Gore is not the Man of the year, the Chinese banned reincarnation, and Russia declared Sex Leaves for workers while a sex worker in Chile auctioned off 27 hours of sex, all for charity.

Oh well, there goes ’07. Looks like we started '08 with a bang, and having having a blast already.