Nuggets and Aphorisms
Food for thought. These first appeared in Amit Varma's blog, India Uncut
Friday, March 31, 2006
On the inside, not the outside
Once upon a time, on a nudist beach, I saw a man sitting, naked, delightedly engrossed in an issue of Playboy.Amos Oz, in his excellent collection of essays, "The Story Begins: Essays on Literature".
Just like that man, on the inside, not on the outside, is where the good reader ought to be while reading.
Of course, there is a danger in being too much on the inside, and too little on the outside. I think it's one that most writers probably face. What are its consequences? Let's not go there. Get the Playboy.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Democracy and cricket
In our country, democracy is a bit like cricket: it's a spectator sport.Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha, on a show on NDTV 24x7 last evening.
While I believe that democracy is the only system of government we should have -- in fact, the only moral system -- I'm uncomfortable when I hear it offered as a justification for all kinds of things. Everything that a government does is not ok just because a majority of people voted for it, and what is popular is not necessarily right. Consider Gujarat; consider Germany 1933; consider Hamas.
That is why, important as democracy is, it is as important to have protections for minority rights and individual freedoms build into the constitution, so that no matter what the majority want, no matter what the government of the day is like, the relatively powerless have some basic protection. Naturally, this has to go land in hand with a strong and efficient legal system.
And do we have this in India? Heh.
Friday, March 24, 2006
The world happens in real time
We tend to think people are driven by purposeful choices. We think big things drive big behaviors: if people don’t go to school, we think they don’t like school. Instead, most behaviors are driven by the moment. They aren’t purposeful, thought-out choices. That’s an illusion we have about others. Policymakers think that if they get the abstractions right, that will drive behavior in the desired direction. But the world happens in real time. We can talk abstractions of risk and return, but when the person is physically checking off the box on that investment form, all the things going on at that moment will disproportionately influence the decision they make. That’s the temptation element—in real time, the moment can be very tempting. The main thing is to define what is in your mind at the moment of choice. Suppose a company wants to sell more soap. Traditional economists would advise things like making a soap that people like more, or charging less for a bar of soap. A behavioral economist might suggest convincing supermarkets to display your soap at eye level—people will see your brand first and grab it.Sendhil Mullainathan, an economist, quoted in "The Marketplace of Perceptions," a superb essay on behavioral economics by Craig Lambert.
(Link via email from Rohit Gupta.)