Economist son of a metallurgist father

May 6, 2015

When called upon to comment on the world we live in, I had no alternative but to fall back on the Marxist tradition which had shaped my thinking ever since my metallurgist father impressed upon me, when I was still a child, the effect of technological innovation on the historical process. How, for instance, the passage from the bronze age to the iron age sped up history; how the discovery of steel greatly accelerated historical time; and how silicon-based IT technologies are fast-tracking socioeconomic and historical discontinuities.

From here; link via Swarup.


April 20, 2015

Prof. G N K Iyengar (GNKI) as he was known; I have three distinct memories of him. First: in one of my interviews he asked for a phase diagram and when I made a mistake, he was very gruff in his follow-up question and helped me correct my mistake. Second: when I was standing on the Tata Auditorium side to cross the road, I was a bit closer to the road than the footpath for GNKI. He grabbed my upper arm, pulled me away from the road, and released it only after crossing the road. Third: he was a regular contributor to Samskrita Sangha and always had time to ask about our activities when we met him for prescription fees. I think his wife is a Veena player and GNKI used to be very active in organising the cultural programmes for the Sangha — but that was well before our times. On his retirement meet, I remember this statement from Prof. Ranganathan: “When I joined IISc, I understood that Iyengars from Mysore are very different from the Iyengars from Cuddalore”!

I have received an email from Prof. Murty of IITM  that Prof. GNKI passed away. Even with my very limited interaction with him, I could see that he was a soft man with a very hard looking exterior. May his soul rest in peace.

Specialisation and innovation

February 19, 2015

A nice post (via Abi):

…specialization is highly efficient to optimize existing research programs, but it is counterproductive to the development of new ones. In the production line of a car, specialization allows to optimize every single move and every single screw. And yet, you’ll never arrive at a new model listening to people who do nothing all day than looking at their own screws. For new breakthroughs you need people who know a little about all the screws and their places and how they belong together. In that production line, the scientists active in public peer review are the ones who look around and say they don’t like their neighbor’s bolts. That doesn’t make for a new car, all right, but at least they do look around and they show that they care. The scientific community stands much to benefit from this care. We need them.

Clearly, we haven’t yet worked out a good procedure for how to deal with public peer review and with these nasty bloggers who won’t shut up. But there’s no going back. Public peer review is here to stay, so better get used to it.

R K Laxman: RIP

January 26, 2015

Hindu reports on his passing away. His illustrations (especially for some of RKN’s books — emerald route, grandmother’s tale) will be remembered for long! I also remember his drawing of some truck drivers drinking chai from saucer on a road side shop sitting on tyres.

Shiv Visvanathan on Rajni Kothari

January 21, 2015

In the Hindu:

Rajni had a playful response to criticism. I remember when a Serbic Marxist wrote a critique of his work claiming that Kothari had forgotten to mention the word class. With easy equanimity Rajni replied that he had not mentioned cucumbers either. This ease was important because the period of the 1960s and the 1970s was dominated by a pompous left which treated Marxism with a form of idolatry. Rajni felt that Marxist critiques dealt more with the formal economy and had little place for marginal groups and the informal economy. Little protests did not acquire the officialdom of trade union struggles. The movements alone in the era, Chipko, Narmada, Balliapal and fishermen struggle in Kerala had to struggle with the official radicalism which refused to go beyond conventional categories. CSDS became an archive and a sounding board for many of these struggles which linked ecology, livelihood and empowerment to the still life of electoral democracy. Rajni had an easy way of pushing younger colleagues to stretch beyond themselves. I remember when the Bhopal gas disaster occurred. He looked at me and said, “Let’s see if your work on science helps. Pack up. You are leaving for Bhopal tomorrow.” When I began my work on science and violence, he sent me to Hiroshima requesting the Mayor to take me around the city. He believed that projects should begin as pilgrimages; he was always nudging us to see linkages and connectivities. He never lectured, and wanted us to discover and internalise and share our insights. For him mistakes were something precious one owned up to. He was a great teacher but always taught by anecdote and example.

I must confess that in the final decade, many of us moved away from the Centre and Rajni. Quarrels are important because they mark the contours of a relationship. One felt that the Centre was now imitating itself rather than inventing ideas. In spite of having moved on and all the distance I realised how much the Centre had taught me.

In his final years, Rajni Kothari was a lonely man — ill and broken by the death of his wife Hansa and son Smithu. In the meanwhile, political science had lost its flavour of dissent. It had become a game of think tanks and Rajni must have watched it with wry sadness, a prophet abandoned by his own community. But the future will no doubt celebrate the man.

Economics and astrology

January 20, 2015

David J Griffiths in his Millikan lecture 1997: Is there a text in this class? makes the following statement:

People who believe in UFOs and astrology are, on the whole, merely pathetic, but those who think you can run a modern society without taxes are downright dangerous.

The piece of Ashok Desai in Telegraph reminded me of this statement of Griffiths; Desai has some recommendations to the prime minister:

Growth of manufacturing output has been close to zero in recent months; industrial investment is also negligible. Till six months ago, this could be blamed on the UPA government. Industrialists did so, and funded the Bharatiya Janata Party generously. But the economic environment has hardly improved; if it continues to be bad for another six months, the industry-BJP honeymoon will also turn sour. The Prime Minister’s solution – asking foreign businesses to come to India – will not solve the problem.

If he wants a serious answer, Raghuram Rajan gave one in his Bharat Ram memorial lecture. It is well thought-out. Rajan is in the wrong job. He should be finance minister; Jaitley might do a better job in external affairs. And for commerce and industry, the Prime Minister simply does not have a minister in his party; it calls for abolition or a radical reconstruction – what we used to call reforms two decades ago.

Economists do have ideologies, but are generally not party creatures. No respectable economist has Hindu nationalist inclinations: the ideology is mistaken according to economics. So it was no wonder that Jaitley made the first budget in India’s history without a chief economic advisor. Now he has one – a very good one – who organized a conference of economists in the first week of December. It was a good idea, but for the fact that the distinguished economists who had been flown in from abroad had little idea of the problems facing India.

But the planning commission has been emptied, and remains a shell. The Prime Minister has got one big office building close to his office, with no people in it. In my column of September 3, I suggested that he should create a think tank that would connect India’s 139 best economists with policymakers through an equal number of research assistants. It did not strike me then, but it would not work, because Modi’s ministers are largely incapable of using economists or research assistants. Meanwhile, we have the most desperate economic situation in 60 years, and the present government has to live through it. It is important in these difficult times that it should have the best judgment and counsel available to it. The Prime Minister should revive his predecessor’s Economic Advisory Council, appoint any economists he likes to it, and consult it frequently; he cannot do without economics.

A good piece!

Teaching as inspiring

January 20, 2015

The post number 1379 of tomorrow’s professor is a must read:

As we go more and more toward class technology and a “facilitating” rather than an exemplary role for college teachers, the opportunity for students to be personally inspired by ennobling figures like Gullberg, Stebbins, and Eakin gets less and less. Not every teacher will or can be like those extraordinary people, but students in their first years of college need to be exposed to at least a few. Students may be able to understand the idea of DNA synthesis better with sophisticated graphics and a virtual teacher than with a mediocre live lecturer but no kid is going to say, “When I grow up, I want to be just like Dr. Macintosh here.” Things like TED and MOOCS are great for expanding the exposure of great teachers, but nobody watching those broadcasts has the feeling that the lecturer is talking to THEM. So, in the new world of large class college teaching where there is scant opportunity for students to be personally exposed to experienced, motivating teachers, how are we going to INSPIRE students, especially the non-traditional ones?

A great piece!

Worthiness apart from performance

January 17, 2015

A link I got thanks to Hariharan.

On the death of an author

January 17, 2015

Suchitra Vijayan in The Hindu:

Right-wing Hinduism, mostly alien to Tamil Nadu, has become increasingly normalised. Liberal freedoms are under threat, in the guise of language marchers, the morality police, religious rioters and the many-headed mobs. Ironically, the state that is meant to protect has remained a mute spectator allowing Perumal Murugan’s constitutionally protected right to become subverted. At the same time, with exemplary zeal, the government has passed laws like the Tamil Nadu Entry into Public Places (Removal of Restriction of Dress) Act, 2014, that unconstitutionally legislate on issues relating to private bodies purely with an intention to expand its voter’s base. The State government no longer governs in furtherance of the Constitution, but in the perusal of votes at the cost of subverting fundamental rights.

Take a look!

Continuing journey of a musician

January 15, 2015

A must-read from Sanjay!


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