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Ashish's Niti

Niti in Sanskrit means policy/strategy/vision. This blog hosts my political views, along with news and commentary. This blog has moved here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

This blog has moved

This blog has now moved here. I will still use this as site as my backup or to post more quick posts. Please update your bookmarks. Also, those subscribing to atom feed for this blog should switch to using the feed for the new blog.

Friday, April 08, 2005

India as a superpower

During Condoleezza Rice's visit to India, US and India unveilled a strategic partnership at a whole new level.

The United States unveiled plans Friday to help India become a "major world power in the 21st century" even as it announced moves to beef up the military of Pakistan.

Under the plans, Washington offered to step up a strategic dialogue with India to boost missile defense and other security initiatives as well as high-tech cooperation and expanded economic and energy cooperation.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has presented to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the Bush administration's outline for a "decisively broader strategic relationship" between the world's oldest and largest democracies, a senior US official said.

"Its goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We understand fully the implications, including military implications, of that statement."

Inspite of the US decision to sale F-16s to Pakistan, Sam bharose is not alone in feeling that India and US will make great strategic partners.

As I went through the related articles, posts (here, here, and here) and their comments I saw a very keen desire from everybody (both Americans and Indians) that US and India should come together and that US and India are natural partners.

This is a significant development as it shows that irrespective of which party is in power in India, India is ready to come out of its Non-Aligned past. Also, this is the first time US is looking towards India as a strategic partner and not just an annonying emergent power that needs to be contained!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Kashmir's accession to India

Varnam, points to the Aravind Lavakare's article at Rediff on Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India:

Even after its accession to the Indian Dominion, J&K's internal administration was governed, not by a diktat of New Delhi, but by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution Act, 1939. It was under this Act that Maharaja Hari Singh appointed his former adversary, Sheikh Abdullah, as the emergency administrator for the state. The appointment was a victory for the people who simply loved Abdullah. He began giving them a large share in the administration of the state's affairs.

On May 1, 1951, Yuvraj Karan Singh issued a proclamation declaring the convening of a State Constituent Assembly, consisting of representatives of the people on the basis of adult franchise, for framing a Constitution for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. For the purpose of elections to the proposed Constituent Assembly, the state was to be divided into territorial constituencies each with a population of 40,000 or thereabouts.

Elections to the Constituent Assembly were completed by August that year with the idolised Abdullah's National Conference Party simply sweeping the polls. Addressing its first meeting held on October 31 that year, Sheikh Abdullah declared that the assembly's objectives and functions included, inter alia, a reasoned conclusion regarding accession and the future of the state. He enumerated three alternatives: accession to India, accession to Pakistan and complete independence.

The 'Drafting Committee' of the above assembly presented its report on February 12, 1954. Its report, adopted on February 15, 1954, embodied the ratification of the state's accession to India, with 64 of the assembly's strength of 75 voting unanimously while 11 members were absent.

The State Constituent Assembly enacted, on November 17, 1956, a Constitution that is, today, the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir. It has 158 Sections. Section 3 therein says, 'The State of Jammu and Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India.' Section 147 in it prohibits any bill to amend Section 3 from being introduced or moved in either House of the State Legislature.

Anarchy and the Internet

I found Bruce Benson's working paper, "The Spontaneous Evolution of Cyber Law: Norms, Property Rights, Contracting, Dispute Resolution and Enforcement Without the State" via Mises Blog. Well, the title of the paper says it all!

A bird in mouth is worth two in the refrigerator

There is a good debate going on whether we need time-preference to explain positive interest rates. I think diminishing marginal utility is not sufficient to explain positive interest rates. If present and future are equally well-endowed (thus additional unit of consumption have the same marginal utility today and tomorrow) then time-preference comes into picture. The reason is very simple. You could be dead tomorrow or the goods might get spoiled or looted. A bird in mouth is worth two in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Now you can program directly in English

Researchers from MIT has developed a tool that turns English to code . The tool is called Metafor and it converts an English language description of a program into a skeleton code in programming language, such as Python. It exploits the inherent structure of English -- parts of speed, syntax, and subject-verb-object roles -- into classes, their properties, methods and if-then rules.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Pope John Paul II on freedom

I am not a Christian but the concept of free will in Christianity has always fascinated me. Pope John Paul II will definitely be remembered for his role in opposing Commuism and his support for freedom.

Here are just a few quotes from the Pontiff:

Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil. Man is thus reduced to a series of social relationships, and the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision disappears, the very subject whose decisions build the social order. From this mistaken conception of the person there arise both a distortion of law, which defines the sphere of the exercise of freedom, and an opposition to private property. A person who is deprived of something he can call "his own", and of the possibility of earning a living through his own initiative, comes to depend on the social machine and on those who control it. This makes it much more difficult for him to recognize his dignity as a person, and hinders progress towards the building up of an authentic human community.

In contrast, from the Christian vision of the human person there necessarily follows a correct picture of society. According to … the whole social doctrine of the Church, the social nature of man is not completely fulfilled in the State, but is realized in various intermediary groups, beginning with the family and including economic, social, political and cultural groups which stem from human nature itself and have their own autonomy, always with a view to the common good.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Anarcho-Capitalism is not sustainable

Robert Murphy at Mises Economics Blog, attempts to clear the confusion surrounding anarchism.

One of the greatest proponent of anarchism, Roy Childs Jr., changed his mind about anarchism.

I believe that anarchism is unstable in practice.

Why haven't even one private defense agency has arisen to protect those believing in an anarcho-capitalist system? You can't "blame" the existing governments for not allowing private defense agencies as they are known to use force unjustly to maintain their monopoly. The real test of the system is not when there is no opposition to it or in absense of injustice. People have gained independence and freedom from tyrannical governments all the time. But invariably the result was not a anarcho-capitalist system but another government. For example, when India gained independence from British Raj, why it got split into multiple monopolistic governments instead of multiple private defense agencies?

Private defense agencies are perfectly capable of giving protection to its members. But invariably, there will be free-riders. Those non-members who receive benefit because of the law and order maintained by private defense agencies will not be under any obligation to pay the agency. Otherwise, the agency will be nothing but a monopolistic government. I think this situation prevents private defense agencies from arising. Or even if they arise, they degenerate into monopolistic governments.

Apart from non-members who intentionally refuse to pay for the benefits, free-riders can also arise if one private defense agency is so powerful as to automatically defend from external agression the members of the other private agencies in the same geographic area. In that case, its members will have to pay more fee to cover the expenses of developing and maintaining the extra power. Other private agencies can avoid doing the necessary investment for defense of their members and thus can afford to charge less. In that case, if the private agency refuses to force non-members (including members of other agencies) to pay for the defense then it will see a steady decline in its paying membership and ultimately bankrupt itself. If it forces non-members to pay for the defense from external agression then it becomes the government.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

In Search of the Sixth Sense

Via EconLog, this interview of Dr. Ray Kurzweil is really fascinating! The super-inventor discusses nanotechnology, nanofood, non-biological intelligence, and other advanced technologies and how they will impact ageing, birth, and death. It is a must read!

Auctioning loans

Via Mises Economics Blog: A Bank That Isn't, Zopa is an online lending exchange for dealing with micro-credit. It deals with risk of default by spreading risk among a group of fifty borrowers and fifty lenders. Right now, this is only available for residents of UK.

The Washington Mutual, a major bank, had started using eBay auction to set interest rates for its CDs (certificate of deposit or fixed deposit).

Maybe it is a good idea for eBay to do what Zopa is doing in UK.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Is Trade Deficit harmful?

Karlsson answers the question on Trade Deficit in a very clear and illuminating way.

Also, see John Tammy's other articles, More Current-Account Confusion and Trade Charade. He also addresses Buffetts worries about trade deficits. According to me, Buffett was more worried about impact of trade deficit on US dollar than on the US economy.

I had a good discussion with Mr. Tammy on this. He convinced me that the value of US dollar is largely determined by the Federal Reserve as they have monopoly on its issuance. The Fed can always absorb dollars by selling the bonds from its portfolio to neutralize selling of dollars by Asian central banks. Also, he thinks that increasing or decreasing money supply by the Fed will not always result in inflation or deflation:

As for Fed money creation, remember that the demand for money shifts back and forth all the time. Simple money creation is decidely not inflationary if the economy is growing such that it needs lots of
That's what happened in the late '90s: the capital gains cut in '97 put the economy into high gear and while monetary aggregates suggested the Fed was loose, gold, treasuries and the dollar's value vs. foreign currencies suggested the Fed was way too tight.
Conversely, the Fed extinguishing dollars is not per se deflationary if the economy is growing so slowly that extinguishment by the Fed should be even greater.
That's why we can inflate in a slowing economy (see Irrational Exuberance Is Not Inflationary), and we can deflate even if money creation seems high. I'm for a gold exchange or gold standard for that reason - let the gold price be the indicator for how much or how little money the Fed should be creating.

Mr. Tammy also made an simple but interesting point:
Consider Gillette. It’s top-of-the-line M3Power
Razor sells for $13.99 in the U.S. In England, the same product sells for $17.78. The 27 percent markup is without a doubt a positive for Gillette and its shareholders, but for those who calculate trade imbalances, the $3.79 gained overseas would add to the U.S. trade deficit.
remember that exports are counted in terms of their value when they
leave our shores. The $13.99 is the value exported, the $17.79 is what returns to us; thus whether we buy Rolls Royces from England or whether we convert Pounds to dollars and buy Nissan cars, positive trades will always increase the value of imports we bring in in
exchange for our exports.

This makes sense. We always export what is less valuable to us and in return import what is more valuable to us. Thus even in case of "balanced" trade each trading partner will have a trade deficit.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Simon is the real star of "American Idol"

I can echo the sentiments of the Opinion Journal article, Why Simon Is Still Our Dawg. In fact, were it not for the sharp and witty judgemental putdowns of Mr. Simon, I wouldn't have watched 'American Idol' this far! Because he is a honest and a plain speaker, on those rare occasions when he praises the performer, it really means something!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

National Independence vs Individual freedom

Nicholas Kristof has a great article, A Morsel of Goat Meat, in New York Times!

When a white racist government was oppressing Zimbabwe, the international community united to demand change. These days, a black racist government is harming the people of Zimbabwe more than ever, and the international community is letting Mr. Mugabe get away with it. Our hypocrisy is costing hundreds of Zimbabwean lives every day.

And read this:

The hungry children and the families dying of AIDS here are gut-wrenching, but somehow what I find even more depressing is this: Many, many ordinary black Zimbabweans wish that they could get back the white racist government that oppressed them in the 1970's.

"If we had the chance to go back to white rule, we'd do it," said Solomon Dube, a peasant whose child was crying with hunger when I arrived in his village. "Life was easier then, and at least you could get food and a job."

This probably was repeated in many countries as they got independence from the Colonial rule! The problem here seems to be that soverignity of the nation is not based on soverignity of the individual! International Community feels that its job is done if a country gains independence from the occupying power. However, unless and until there is freedom at the individual level our job is not done.

To give an more current example, Kashmiri separatists group are demanding "independence" from India. But I am pretty sure, Kashmiri people have more freedom today at the individual level that they will ever have under "independent" rule!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Gmail keeps getting better

I started giving Gmail a try few months back after using Yahoo! mail. So far, Gmail looks impressive, especially its search and label features and of course, its 2GB size. It is fast too! However, what clinched the deal in favor of Gmail was its anti-phishing feature.

I had received an email from "Paypal Member Services" asking me to verify my Paypal account to my Yahoo! as well as Gmail account. Yahoo! mail did not give me any warning about the authenticity of the sender and I was about to click on the account verification link in the email as it looked very authentic. Good that I got an attack of paranoia and decided to directly go the Paypal website and check my account. When I received an similar email to my Gmail account much later, it flagged the message with a warning!

By the way, I have 50 Gmail invitations left. Just drop a request in the comments section if you need one!

US Health Care: Quality comes at a price

Arnold Kling argues, in an superb article The Myth of Massive Health Care Waste, that Americans are getting better health care compared to other developed countries. The article is full of gems like this:
Instead, I am prepared to make the following bet: ten years from now, it will be objectively clear that the United States provided significantly better health care to its citizens between 1990 and 2005 than did other developed countries. From the vantage point of 2015, the policy blunder of the past fifteen years will not be that the United States spent too much on health care, but that other countries spent too little. The socialized systems, forced to ration health care because tax revenues are not sufficient to pay for state-of-the-art care, are constraining their citizens from being diagnosed and treated as well as Americans.
He explains the reasons why health care is expensive in US:
Physicians are paid more than twice as much in the United States as in other developed countries. Because physician services are about one fourth of all health care spending, we could eliminate one eighth of our health care spending by reducing doctor salaries to the levels of other countries.

The other big factor is utilization of high-tech procedures, such as MRI's, CT scans, and open-heart surgery. If Americans would cut back on the utilization of these procedures, that would reduce health care spending by hundreds of billions of dollars.

The question is whether our medical care would deteriorate if we were to pay our doctors much less while at the same time reducing our utilization of expensive capital resources. It seems reasonable to conjecture that the quality of diagnosis and treatment ultimately would suffer.
On measures of health care quality:
Longevity calculations are not a sensitive measure of improvement in medical care. In my essay on lifespan, I showed how the longevity number is calculated as a peculiar weighted average of the survival rates for different population cohorts. I produced a simplified example in which the longevity number came out to be 68.9 years. In that example, suppose that 10 percent of the people who otherwise would die at age 60 instead receive treatment that allows them to live at least to age 80, when they die at the rate of other 80 year-olds. In that case, the overall longevity number would increase by less than 1.5 years, to 70.3 years. In international comparisons, such an increase easily could be swamped by other demographic and genetic factors.

Moreover, even if we controlled for other factors, the increase in longevity due to medical treatment will take many years to work its way into the actual longevity calculations. For example, my wife was treated for breast cancer a few years ago. If she had not been treated, she might still be alive today, but she would almost certainly have died by age 55. As of today, therefore, her successful treatment counts for no increase in longevity as it is conventionally calculated. In twenty or thirty years, however, the difference will be quite noticeable (certainly to me).

In another ten or fifteen years, it may be possible to document a significant increase in life extension for people over the age of 55 in the United States compared to what is now occurring in other countries. However, as the example of my wife illustrates, superior medical care will not necessarily show up in the backward-looking statistics that are calculated currently.

Monday, March 21, 2005

TypePad trial

I am test driving the TypePad. I have already started liking it and I am very tempted to switch to TypePad at the end of the 30-day trial period. But the Basic account costs $4.95 per month, so I will have to think about it. Any suggestions, thoughts, and comments are welcome to how, why, or why not switch to TypePad are welcome!

Here's my first post at TypePad, "US Trade Deficit and inevitable decline of the US dollar".

Update: Don Boudreaux continues on the US trade deficit thread.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Modi is denied US visa

Predictably, there is a hue and cry over denial of visa by US to Narendra Modi. Modi and BJP are saying that denial of visa is an insult to the Constitution. As usual US was charged with hypocrisy:
In 1984, after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi, thousands of Sikhs were killed in Delhi and elsewhere. But the same USA accorded her son Rajiv Gandhi a red carpet welcome six months after he took over as prime minister.

Pakistan has been sending terrorists from across the border and is responsible for forcing Kashmir Pandits to flee their homes, but the same United States accords a warm welcome to Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf.

But Narendra Modi is denied a visa on grounds of religious intolerance.

What exactly is the point here? So, is Modi accepting that charge of religious intolerance is true but since similar others (such as Musharraf) have been granted US visa, he should be given one too? Is hypocrisy a more serious crime than discrimination against minorities?

I find it really funny that the people making the charge of hypocrisy against US are making case for granting US visa to Modi. Why don't they instead ask US to refuse visa to other culprits, such as Musharraf? The fact that police did not act against a few culprits is no reason to argue that others should be let go as well.

Modi argues that he won a free and fair election but so did Hitler once! So, what's the point? Maybe we should just drop the concept of criminal trial and just conduct secret ballot to decide if someone is guilty or not!

Update: Someone pointed out that many have called on US to refuse visa to others, such as Musharraf, on the grounds of religious intolerance!

I take it that those people will be calling on Indian Govt. too to deny visa to Musharraf! Or better yet they must have already called on Indian Govt. not to recognize Musharraf as legitimate ruler of Pakistan! Then how come Manmohan Singh met with Musharraf in New York? Or why did Atal Bihari Vajpayee invited Musharraf to Agra after the coup in Pakistan?

Before calling on US to do things shouldn't we atleast make sure that our own Govt. is following that logic? Lots of people in the World (or atleast India) are under the impression that US Govt. is answerable to them! May be it is time to focus on our own Govt. (which we elected).

Update 2: Our own Prime Minister is pretty upset over the denial of the visa to Modi:
“We respect the sovereign right to grant or refuse visa to any person. We do not believe that it is appropriate to use allegations or anything less than due legal process to make a subjective judgement to question a Constitutional authority in India,” Singh told the Rajya Sabha.

Really? I wonder what NHRC might feel about this!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Big Media crushes a blogger

Via Selective Amnesia, India's largest media group, Times of India Group, serves a legal notice on the Mediaah blog for allegedly defaming the Times of India publications. The notice asks the author to delete the "offending" 19 posts and refrain from writing anything similar and "defamatory". The owner, Pradyuman Maheshwari, has decided to cease the publication because he doesn't have the time, energies and monies to fight the biggies.

Various Times of India publications, such as FilmFare and even Times of India newspaper, also publishes gossips about the Bollywood. So, I don't understand why they are so pissed off about a small blog that gossips about the media.

This is really outrageous and I hope that all bloggers unite against this attack by the Big Media on Blogosphere!

Update: Sign the online petition. Also, Mark Glaser has an article in Online Journalism Review.

Another Update: Here is the other side of the story.

Monday, March 14, 2005

You know its a dictatorship when ..

Coyote Blog has tips on How to Spot a Dictatorship:
1. Michael Moore portrays the country as a kite-flying paradise
2. Jimmy Carter sanctioned their last election
3. The UN certifies that there is no genocide
4. They sign friendship pacts with other dictatorships (also here and here and here too)
5. They are a member of the UN Human Rights commission (not 100% foolproof but getting closer every year)
6. They were once a French colony, and/or France is opposing sanctions against it (also here too)
7. Their people are impoverished and they lag the world in economic growth

Sunday, March 13, 2005

We don't owe nothing!

Via, Mises Blog, Nestle chief rejects the need to `give back' to communities. Finally, somebody with the guts to speak the truth! And why is that only successful people (or companies) are called upon to 'give back'! What about unsuccessful ones? Oh, that's right, they don't need to 'give back' but instead are entitlted to a portion of what successful 'give back' to the community!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

How To Ask Questions The Smart Way

Always wanted to ask a technical question but didn't know how to phrase? I found this guide, How To Ask Questions The Smart Way, as I was researching a technical issue on the Web.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Mr Bush goes to Europe

Lawrence Kudlow, a host of CNBC's "Kudlow & Company", on Bush's Europe tour.

A Flat-Tax Revolution

OpinionJournal, a Wall Street Journal's editorial page, features an article on how many former communists countries are adopting and implementing the idea of flat tax. Surprisingly even China is toying with the idea:
Mr. Rabushka's book "The Flat Tax" has just been published in Chinese, with a preface by Lou Jiwei, the vice minister of finance. If China were to climb on board the flat-tax train, more than a quarter of the world's population would be filling out their taxes on the back of a postcard.

Here is the best part:
Despite all of its advantages, the flat tax faces enormous ideological opposition. Envy and the lust for the political control that complicated tax regimes can provide are powerful motivations to keep progressive tax systems in place. Karl Marx in "The Communist Manifesto" was among the first to call for "a heavy progressive or graduated income tax" at a time when a flat rate was the norm in advanced countries. He listed it as second in the list of priorities for a new society based on the class struggle.

It is therefore ironic that every country that has adopted the flat tax is a former communist nation--except Hong Kong, the modern originator of the concept, which has seen its new communist rulers retain the flat tax as a centerpiece of its economic policies.

If only India jumps on the bandwagon, half of the world's population will be freed from the burden of heavy and complicated taxation.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Socialism by choice?

I was going through some of the exchanges I had on IndiaPolicy discussion group. I found very interesting exchange about India being a socialist country by choice.

In response to the demand that "socialist" word be removed from preamble to our constitution, Ram Karan claimed,
The people of India choose to adopt socialist pattern of economic development.

Can people really choose socialism? I don't think people can! Here is my response:

Mr. Ram Karan do you think people, whose properties were appropriated
by Indira Gandhi's Govt. in the name of Nationalism, choose to have
socialism? If they indeed "choose" to have socialism why was force
necessary to take their property.

Oh, I see. You mean to say MOST of the people chose to adopt
socialistic pattern of economic "development". Indeed, according to
same logic a village can "choose" to make a widow sati. You see, in
socialism people have freedom to choose for others. What a craze!

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Dollars and Oil

Daniel Drezner asks, "How stable is Bretton Woods 2"?
Economists are labelling the current monetary arrangements as Bretton Woods 2. Under this system, the U.S. is running massive current account deficits to be the source of export-led growth for other countries. To fund this deficit, central banks, particularly those on the Pacific Rim, are buying up dollars and dollar-denominated assets.
Why do most of the countries accumlate dollars? If all they wanted to subsidize export-led growth they could have purchased any other currency, say Euro. I think a major reason is because their biggest import is oil from the Middle Eastern countries. To buy oid they need dollars. Why?

Because M.E. countries demand dollars for oil! Oil selling countries need a currency which has low inflation and also make it easy for them to invest in a relatively low-tax property-safe environment. US provides a reasonably low-tax, property-rights based economic and political environment to the Oil selling countries. Plus, US also protects them from invasion by maintaining bases in the M.E. region.

If oil selling countries in M.E. region decide to switch to Euros, they may not be sure if US will protect them with the same enthusiasm. Also, in order to invest in US economy they will have to again convert Euros to US dollars.

Therefore, dollar may reign as an international currency of choice until countries in M.E. region decide to do something different.
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