The best policy for any aspiring dictator is birth control. If you aspire to be the father of a nation, you might want to limit the number of mouths to feed. If you don’t, there’s a high probability of revolt. If you look at the map above, youth (under 25) make up around 50% of many countries. Those countries are also prone to revolt. If you think about it, young people are strong, they can stay up all night and they have little to lose. If they don’t have numbers it’s possible to suppress them, but if they have more than 50%, resisting change will be tough. It’s a common idiom that change only comes when old people die. You could add that change also comes if there are enough young people to retire them.
Archive for the 'Behavioral Economics' Category
Rain makes the plants grow, animals eat the plants, humans chase animals, humans populate the world, forget the whole cycle. Until it floods. Rains have flooded Sri Lanka now, twice. In Colombo we notice this as a vague chilly patch with dampness of feet. In the north-central and eastern provinces, however, this is known as calamity. Roads submerged, and scourged. Houses flooded, fridges ruined, classes closed, paddy lost, money gone. I get SMS’s of statistics which somehow have little or no impact. After the first flood, the media is like, this again? It seems like another personal disaster, just affecting more people. That is, however, still a disaster.
David Brooks has written an intense and slightly strange article in The New Yorker. It begins ‘brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy’ and then proceeds, somewhat lyrically, through the life and love of a middle class American and their discovery of deeper forces and meaning. He continues, ‘Many members of this class, like many Americans generally, have a vague sense that their lives have been distorted by a giant cultural bias. They live in a society that prizes the development of career skills but is inarticulate when it comes to the things that matter most. The young achievers are tutored in every soccer technique and calculus problem, but when it comes to their most important decisions—whom to marry and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise—they are on their own.’
War is, on the face of it, wrong. Well, not exactly. Losing is wrong. No one wants to be on the losing end of war. Not that everyone wants to be fighting wars either, but enough do, and it’s a heady enough thing that people can be convinced. Not starting war requires enough empathy for the loser to put yourself in their shoes, which not everybody can do. Society certainly doesn’t trend in that direction. I was reading some account of an ancient tribe which waged war almost as sport, took great pride in their abilities, and seemed to acquire no land in the process. It was just that people went out and fought, and if they were captured, were returned to their homes and then later executed in a most gruesome and public manner. Then I think they were eaten, though I can’t recall. It seems to be within us.
Much obvious work on helping the poor may actually be beside the point. As good as supplying clean water and building schools is, giving people honest work tends to be the true way out of poverty. Give a man a fish, fishing rod etc. Thus, while the West makes a show of providing development assistance, the real steps it could take to help are actually much more simple. Cut agricultural subsidies for wealthy farmers and allow easier immigration from the developing world. Both of these options, however, are politically toxic whereas everyone generally likes giving out medicine and assorted largess. It may, however, be besides the point.
I recently paid my income taxes. For me, this involves two trips to Maharagama, one trip to the bank (or into the nether reaches of my closet where my checkbook dwells) and a sizable amount of money. This year it was mostly foreign exchange so my tax bill was paltry, but last year it was painfully huge. Evading taxes in Sri Lanka is not necessarily easy, but it’s not hard. Only about 600,000 entities (including corporates) pay tax, and a lot lot more are evading. So why do I pay taxes. Honestly, so I can bitch about the government.
I recently saw a proposal from Global Giving that calls for almost a million dollars to tell NGOs how development projects are going. OK, but why not put the money straight into development, or into the government? Also, recently, I ended up at a house that belonged to the head of a major development organization. It was palatial and spotless, you could play cricket in the hall, hit a six into the pool. The place had a full staff but no one lived their. The head of the org stayed at his girlfriend’s house. 50 people could live in that space. At some point you have to wonder how efficient this development model is.
Sri Lankan University students regularly protest and the police regularly beat them up. This is so regular than most people here have forgotten the underlying issues and think that students do nothing but protest. I don’t agree with most of the solutions the students call for (restricting privatization, guaranteeing government jobs), but I do agree with the grievance. The education system is a social contract we have with our youth. Work hard, go to uni, you’ll get a job. This is not necessarily a guarantee, but it should at least be a probability. In Sri Lanka university graduates actually have a higher unemployment rate than people that don’t get a higher education. So something is deeply, deeply wrong. The social contract has been broken, and I understand why they’re occupying the Ministry of Higher Education. For more on what this contract is and why it matters, have a look at this awesomely illustrated talk by Sir Ken Robinson.
In the American right it’s common to say A) they hate us for our freedom or B) they love us for our freedom. It is as if it’s the character of America is what people admire. I think this is the fundamental attribution error (valuing personality over circumstance), applied to nations. People didn’t admire America for its commitment to democracy, they just admired America for the money. Now countries like China have adopted the financial structures of America without the political, and they seem to be doing OK. That’s all anybody ever wanted. Democracy has never really been the main appeal of the west. It’s been the money. Or to quote Puff Daddy, “It’s all about the Benjamins”. He didn’t mean Ben Franklin, he meant hundred dollar bills.
I was reading American Psycho in which the homicidal maniac is lovingly detailing the features of his Walkman. That book in its loving and pathological detail documents a certain dated 1980s style decadence luxurious in the abstract but moreso in relativity. That is luxury is relative to the plebes you can lord it over. Take any medieval king of England and I, with access to flush toilets, anti-biotics and airplanes, have it incomparably better then them. Yet am I happy as a king? Not so much. Why not?