Friday, March 9

'Free trade' and 'freedom of movement'

Bill Gates calls for infinite visas to fill the 'critical shortage' of high tech workers in US. Greg Mankiw's blog post has on this has attracted the expected spectrum of opinions on this issue.

Unfortunately the spectrum does not go wide enough to cover complete 'freedom of movement' for all people across national boundaries. While restrictions on movement of capital, goods, knowledge are rapidly reducing, existing barriers on free flow of labor does retard our march towards the overall goal of "global economic integration and interdependence" for everyone's benefit.

Clearly labor markets are getting integrated using Interent ( where services can be provided from a remote location ) and the trend towards temporary and short term labor mobility replacing permanent migration.

All this means countries that choose to isolate themselves from these integrated labor markets should be ready to pay a price for that choice

Thursday, March 8

Tough Interview

More often than not interviewers on Indian Television are servile, squeamish, hagiographical when it comes to politicians, powerful bureaucrats, and big-successful businessmen.

Here is an exception...Udayan Mukherjee on CNBC interviewing Kamal Nath, questioning him on the government's moves to control cement prices. I wish we had more of this.

Good show... Udayan.

But the question still remains: Why is Government targeting cement companies...

is it because mid last year cement companies reneged on their promise to reduce prices

or is it a surgical move to burst the real estate bubble

or a fear of cartelization since 40% of capacity is owned by the top 4 players

or if this was indeed a move to counter inflation it has clearly backfired as cement companies hiked prices in defiance

I hope this is as Surjit Bhalla says a sign of the rise of markets and decline of dangerous "populist" politicians used to passing on orders of the high command.

Clearly politicians and media owe us better answers and insights

Why God exists??

A fascinating article in New York Times titled "Darwin's God" By ROBIN MARANTZ HENIG, March 4, 2007 :

In the world of evolutionary biology, the question is not whether God exists but why we believe in him. Is belief a helpful adaptation or an evolutionary accident?

there seems an inherent human drive to believe in something transcendent, unfathomable and otherworldly, something beyond the reach or understanding of science.

Scientists studying the evolution of religion agree on one point that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.

Evolutionary Byproduct

Hardships of early human life favored the evolution of certain cognitive tools, among them the ability to infer the presence of organisms that might do harm, to come up with causal narratives for natural events and to recognize that other people have minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires and intentions. Psychologists call these tools, respectively, agent detection, causal reasoning and theory of mind.

Agent detection evolved because assuming the presence of an agent — which is jargon for any creature with volitional, independent behavior — is more adaptive than assuming its absence.

It means our brains are primed for it, ready to presume the presence of agents even when such presence confounds logic.

The human brain has evolved the capacity to impose a narrative, complete with chronology and cause-and-effect logic, on whatever it encounters, no matter how apparently random.

Gods, by virtue of their strange physical properties and their mysterious superpowers, make fine candidates for causes of many of these unusual events.”

Belief in the separation of the body (the visible) and the mind (the invisible). If you can posit minds in other people that you cannot verify empirically, suggests Paul Bloom, a psychologist and the author of “Descartes’ Baby,” published in 2004, it is a short step to positing minds that do not have to be anchored to a body. And from there, he said, it is another short step to positing an immaterial soul and a transcendent God.

Evolutionary Adaptation

Intriguing as the "byproduct" logic might be, there is another way to think about the evolution of religion: that religion evolved because it offered survival advantages to our distant ancestors. This is where the action is in the science of God debate, with a coterie of adaptationists arguing on behalf of the primary benefits, in terms of survival advantages, of religious belief.

Religion made people feel better, less tormented by thoughts about death, more focused on the future, more willing to take care of themselves. As William James put it, religion filled people with “a new zest which adds itself like a gift to life . . . an assurance of safety and a temper of peace and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.”

The advantage might have worked at the group level too, with religious groups outlasting others because they were more cohesive, more likely to contain individuals willing to make sacrifices for the group and more adept at sharing resources and preparing for warfare.