Wage inflation among agricultural workers in India

From Facebook

Subroto Roy finds from Gopa’s data that wage inflation among unskilled agricultural workers in rural India has been at about 6.35% per annum over the last 7 years or so.

Annals of Diplomacy & International Relations

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy  finds it odd in diplomatic law and protocol that two American Presidents in succession have said respectively to the same Indian Prime Minister “You’re a good man” and a person of “honesty and integrity”.

Subroto Roy thinks Asia (from Israel-Palestine to Japan & Indonesia) needs its own Metternich and Congress of Vienna, but won’t get it and hence may remain many many decades behind Europe in political development. (And why Asia won’t get what Europe did may be because Europe did what it did.)

Subroto Roy agrees with Professor Juan Cole’s summary position: “India and Russia want an Obama ‘surge’ in Afghanistan because they are afraid that if Muslim extremists take over the country, that development could threaten their own security. China is more or less bankrolling the Afghanistan War…In contrast, Pakistan does not seem… eager for the further foreign troops, in part because it wants to project power and influence into Afghanistan itself”.  But he would add Russia, China, India and Iran too are free-riders from the military standpoint (though India has built power-stations, roads etc for civilian economic development), while Pakistan remains schizophrenic as to whether it wishes to define itself by the lights of Iqbal and Jinnah or by the lunacy of Rahmat Ali.


Decision-making in terrorist-hostage situations: Observations from the Mumbai case

From Facebook various dates between Nov 26 2008 and Nov 26 2009:


Subroto Roy

thinks any developing terrorist situation suffers from Clausewitz’s “fog of war”, viz., “The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently — like the effect of a fog or moonshine — gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance.”


thinks in terrorist-hostage situations, the commander of the first-responding units should be the prima facie decision-maker whose directions need to be followed even by (more high-powered) reinforcements because of the Hayekian reason that person may be presumed to have the best/deepest/longest knowledge of the particular circumstances.


is led to think DCP Patil, the first responder at the Taj, had correctly identified where the terrorists were and begged for reinforcements which came far too late because the Army captain given orders to surround the hotel refused to move inside without further orders, and the Navy commandos did not turn up. Mumbai police were as brave as they could be — the military (including the NSG) have a lot to answer for.


is coming to the view that the Army general who sent the contingent to the Taj without orders to assist the police fully was a key person yet to be held accountable.


says: Of course one has to go location by location. But the Taj was in a sense the most signficant and the one where victory was closest and possible the earliest. DCP Patil was the first responder who was in position and had pinpointed the room the terrorists were in for long. This was *before* the handlers ordered the fire. Patil repeatedly pleaded for an armed force to attack, which he would have joined. The Army turned up and then the Captain in charge said he could not join this attack without further Army orders. Had that attack occurred, say by 40 men against 2 or 4, the Taj would have been secured, perhaps prisoners captured.  Secondly, the capture of Kasab was entirely done by the police, no military involved. The commando operations at Nariman House looked rather ham-handed, even inept. The single most critical failure appears to have been that Army Captain saying he did not have orders to join an attack inside the Taj. (And it was less the Captain’s failure than the General’s who had sent him.) The remainder was part of the “fog of war”.


says: My assessment is that the police did what they could and knew how to given a surprise attack of unknown dimensions and given poor resources. I do not blame a policeman armed with a lathi or a .303 if he takes cover or flees from an assault-rifle. They told the Chief Secretary to ask for Army help who did so. The Army, Navy and NSG were where tangible failures of leadership may have occurred, though of course there were individual NSG men and officers who were exceptional. The initial attack that DCP Patil had recommended would not only have worked (because there was no fire/smoke at the time) but would have swung the battle decisively. As it turned out, it took 60+hours to kill 9 men, plus a lot of casualties and damage.

Did civil-military conflict contribute to the 26/11 destruction?

From Facebook:


Subroto Roy repeats what he said in Jan 2009 that Mumbai policemen showed exemplary bravery and no cowardice; the problem was civil-military conflict, e.g. the refusal of the Army contingent sent to the Taj hotel to go inside without Army orders though the police demanded it and DCP Patil had long identified where the terrorists were and had been pleading for reinforcements.

On the zenith and nadir of US-India relations

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy thinks the zenith of US-India relations (besides FDR pressing Churchill on Indian independence) was the landing of US military transports in Ladakh during the Communist Chinese aggression of 1962 thanks to JK Galbraith & JFK.  (The nadir was the Nixon-Kissinger support for Pakistani tyranny against Bangladesh in 1971.)

Do diplomatic parties help the common man?

From Facebook

Subroto Roy is afraid he does not think the interests of the common man and woman of India come to be served in the slightest by a fancy dinner-party whether given by the Queen of  England at Buckingham Palace for the President of India or by the President of the United States at the White House for the Prime Minister of India….(…though some businessmen and bureaucrats become happy…)

Is the Obama Doctrine as simple as this?

From Facebook:

I wonder if the Obama Doctrine for US Foreign Policy is going to be as simple as this:

the United States has no permanent intrinsic (ideological) enemies or competitors — not in the Muslim world, not Communist Party China, not Russia, not in Latin America;

the United States has no specific best buddies among the nations of the world — not Britain, not Israel (well, Canada, yes, the exception to the rule);

the United States will be a cooperative partner in peace and progress with any country that seeks this;

the United States will define enemies by their adversarial behaviour, so, e.g. Somali pirates risk getting shot, and violent jihadists like Hasan, KSM get what’s due.

Postscript: I am not saying this is something I would have or have not approved if I had been an American voter, merely that this appears to be the doctrine that seems to be revealed from President Obama’s actions thus far.

Finance Minister Mukherjee deserves a cheer for connecting with economics (though half a cheer gets subtracted)

From Facebook today

Independent India’s Finance Ministers have never in 62 years referred to economic theory or the history of economic thought until Mr Mukherjee delivered the 4th Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture in Colombo yesterday, making the following academic claim:
“As students of economics would understand, economic theory is an evolutionary process and undergoes change with every major crisis. The classical theory gave way to Keynesian economics after the Great Depression of 1930s. Thereafter, there were post-Keynesian and monetarist approaches to economic problems during 1960s to 90s. The present crisis, which has also been called Great Recession, would be another watershed in the evolution of economics and is expected to bring about radical retooling of the theory. The crisis has, in the first place, conclusively established that the pursuit of individual goals do not necessarily lead to public good. Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ cannot guarantee allocation of resources efficiently.”

I might rather count this as intellectual progress to the extent that it at least allows the Government of India’s economists the possibility of moving away from politically-induced dissimulation and instead begin to connect with where I was 25 years ago in my May 1984 monograph published by London’s Institute of Economic Affairs (leave aside my 1976-82 doctoral thesis under Professor Frank Hahn at Cambridge “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”). As for the Finance Minister saying “The Indian economy has shown remarkable resilience to the crisis because the financial system had no exposure to the toxic assets”, I am afraid he has left unsaid that this is because (a) the rupee is not a hard currency; and (b) India’s banks hold plenty of domestic assets that are “toxic”.

Subroto Roy

Is Dr Manmohan Singh the “aam admi” that the Congress Party means?

Dr Manmohan Singh has in a televised meeting with children said about himself:

“I am an aam admi“.

I am afraid this caused me to say at Facebook today:

Subroto Roy  finds disconcerting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s claim of being himself  “a common man”.

In “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform”, I wrote about my encounter with Rajiv:

“I said the public sector’s wastefulness had drained scarce resources that should have gone instead to provide public goods. Since the public sector was owned by the public, it could be privatised by giving away its shares to the public, preferably to panchayats of the poorest villages. The shares would become tradable, drawing out black money, and inducing a historic redistribution of wealth while at the same time achieving greater efficiency by transferring the public sector to private hands. Rajiv seemed to like that idea too, and said he tried to follow a maxim of Indira Gandhi’s that every policy should be seen in terms of how it affected the common man. I wryly said the common man often spent away his money on alcohol, to which he said at once it might be better to think of the common woman instead. (This remark of Rajiv’s may have influenced the “aam admi” slogan of the 2004 election, as all Congress Lok Sabha MPs of the previous Parliament came to receive a previous version of the present narrative.)”

I am afraid I do not think Dr Singh was whom Rajiv or Indira had in mind in speaking of the common man.

Subroto Roy


An observation about official economic thought in India

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy  wonders if India’s most eminent academic economist and India’s most eminent government economist have either of them ever said anything that any member of any audience could ever have found at all disagreeable….

(let aside falsifiable in the sense of Karl Popper)

(… except that I have of course disagreed with both…)

Has business-cycle theory become easy for the dimwitted?

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy  is amazed that business-cycle theory and history — always a most difficult, subtle and confusing part of economics — has now become child’s play for everyone except himself, and even the most dimwitted commentator claims to know that China and India were down last month but now seem up and similar profound truths….

MK Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan “Frontier Gandhi”

Following my 2006  article “The Greatest Pashtun: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan”, I have today posted at Facebook this photograph from a book in my Library :


And then there was Alexander Dubček in the Prague Spring of 1968

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy recalls that long before Gorbachev and Walesa, there was in the Prague Spring a man named Dubček…. this is a photograph published in his “Hope Dies Last”

Life’s paradoxes: On watching the fall of the Berlin Wall in Honolulu, November 1989

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy  recalls how, twenty years ago in Honolulu, he called his three-year old to the television to watch the fall of the Berlin Wall with him as a historic event — even while he had to battle as an individual against the most vicious tyranny unleashed against him by the Government of one of the fifty States (a battle that has continued).

Resolving the Riddle: A Second Simple Note in Ontology & Epistemology (Or, There is No Necessary Theist vs Atheist Conflict)

From Facebook:

A few days ago, I said:

“For myself, I have come to a belief that the Universe was never created and will never be destroyed (though of course changes all the time). But true-false, right-wrong, good-evil, good-bad etc exist, and exist objectively in the sense that they would apply to mankind’s deeds even after the extinction of homo sapiens…”

Hune’s question: “Did God say “thou shall not kill” because it is evil, or it is evil because God said “thou shall not kill”? Are ethical values in your view independent entities existing in nature much in the sense of physical objects?”

My answer: “Not really, nothing so complicated. I am much more simple-minded I am afraid. I only mean this: imagine a world in which homo sapiens is extinct (not hard to do really given the extinction of other species). Would it still be true in that world that 2+1=3 in normal arithmetic or that Adolf Hitler caused evil things? My answer is yes.”

Viz., “A simple note in ontology and epistemology”.

What I mean by saying the Universe was never created and will never be destroyed is merely that matter (the elements of the Periodic Table, Hydrogen etc) has always existed and will never not exist.

It is not impossible to imagine an integral defined between negative infinity and infinity of

x (matter)


dx (change in matter)

and if someone wished to define that integral

-∞ x dx

as Brahma, YHWH, God, Allah,

the Riddle may have come to be resolved.

[I do not use f(x) because I do not really wish to be mathematical but if you do please set f(x) = x].

We may then sail safely between the dogmatic and sceptical positions of Kaufmann and Freud that I contrasted in  “An example each of dogmatism and scepticism in theology“:

Kaufmann is right to say there is existence but is wishful in assuming benevolence; Freud is right to deny the benevolence but cuts too thickly and denies existence.

I call my position “Non-Theistic” to contrast it with both the Theist and the Atheist — repeating once more that true-false, right-wrong, good-evil, good-bad etc exist, and exist objectively in the sense that they do not require the presence of homo sapiens.

Subroto Roy
November 7 2009, my father’s 94th Birthday.


New compradors in old bottles? Old compradors in new bottles?

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy is amused to read in today’s business press in India that the most prominent declared lobbyist in the country wishes to be credited with having promoted economic liberalisation. The mendacity & self-delusion that capital cities are capable of seem boundless.

How to fight government corruption whether on Earth or Mars

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy believes — partly from personal experience — that there is only one really sustainable way to fight government corruption whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the UK, the USA, Russia, China or Mars: tough and clean government accounting and audit processes allied with an uncorrupted press/media. And without clean government accounting, incidentally, all public finance and hence almost all monetary policy becomes meaningless.

Gopi Arora (1933-2009)

From Facebook June 10 2011:

Subroto Roy remembers Gopi with respect and affection.

We met first at his IMF office in Nov 1992 when I had been briefly at the World Bank; hearing of my 1990-91 encounter with Rajiv Gandhi which sparked the 1991 economic reform, he immediately insisted I come to the Fund and it was due to him I became a consultant there in early 1993 (working on exports and exchange-rates of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh seen together for the first time as requested for by the Saudi Exec Dir M Al-Jasser).

I had phoned him from Bombay when I arrived from the USA in June 1996 and he  immediately sent out three names and contacts of senior business figures he wanted me to meet.  But I became a Professor instead.  When we met again at his Grindlays office in Delhi later that year, he was just as keen to push me forward saying “You should be in the PMO”.  But there was uncertainty in Delhi at the time with the new Deve Gowda Government.

We last met about October 2003 when he treated me to lunch at the IIC Delhi and we then flew together to Calcutta; he told me then the Finance Ministry had become a complete and total *mess* —  it was remembering that today that I decided to write this. I had said to him I could not point to any serious macro economists in Delhi who really comprehended the gravity of the problem; he laid great store by one (unobvious) name but came to be disappointed there too.

On September 5 2009, he wrote on my blog “This short piece by Dr Roy on Jinnah is a gem. It puts paid to the theories peddled by all those who have not been introduced to geo-politics”. I was very sorry to hear just two months later that he had died. He embodied a clear-headed and intelligent Nehruvian nationalism which has become vanishingly rare in New Delhi today.  “He was my friend, faithful and just to me”.

An example each of dogmatism and scepticism in theology

An example each of dogmatism and scepticism in theology

“The only God worth keeping is a God that cannot be kept. The only God worth talking about is a God that cannot be talked about. God is no object of discourse, knowledge, or even experience. He cannot be spoken of, but he can be spoken to; he cannot be seen, but he can be listened to. The only possible relationship with God is to address him and to be addressed by him, here and now… HE IS PRESENT… He is here.”

— Walter Kaufmann, “I and You”,  prologue to Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”.

“It seems not to be true that there is a power in the universe, which watches over the well-being of every individual with parental care and brings all his concerns to a happy ending. On the contrary the destinies of men are incompatible with a universal principle of benevolence or with — what is to some degree contradictory — a universal principle of justice. Earthquakes, floods and fires do not differentiate between the good and devout man, and the sinner and unbeliever. And, even if we leave inanimate nature out of account and consider the destinies of individual men in so far as they depend on their relations with others of their own kind, it is by no means the rule that virtue is rewarded and wickedness punished, but it happens often enough that the violent, the crafty and the unprincipled seize the desirable goods of the earth, while the pious go empty away. Dark, unfeeling and unloving powers determine human destiny; the system of rewards and punishments, which, according to religion, governs the world, seems to have no existence. This is another occasion for abandoning a portion of the animism which has found refuge in religion.”

— Sigmund Freud, “A Philosophy of Life”, in “New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis”, 1933.

first published as a Facebook note…

Revisiting “On Hindus and Muslims”

Notes on gold and central banks (3 Nov 2009)

I think the simplest argument against gold (or any precious metal) as a unique monetary standard has been that there is not enough of it to suffice for the vast volume of world trade and payments…. (and that has been the case for at least a half century)….

Someone says in response to my suggestion there has not been enough gold, “just put the price of gold high enough”. 

My response: “Who will? Central Banks as per the old gold exchange standard? There are well-known problems with all fixed exchange rate systems.”

The working of the gold, or at least the gold exchange, standard does not depend on actual holdings of course but one reason given for its abandonment had been that the vast expansion of the volume of trade and payments gave gold-producing countries a windfall bonanza and a potentially destabilising/disruptive advantage. Use of a fiduciary standard in world trade was as expected a development as its use in domestic trade and for the same kind of reasons. Of course gold retained some kind of “anchoring” role before Aug 15 1971 during the Bretton Woods era.

Yes, I agree “The development of new payment instruments that economized on gold kept pace with increased trade” — there is an economics of institutional change to be written there. Re., the “windfall bonanza” argument, I think it is merely that gold-producing countries have a kind of seignorage advantage under a pure gold standard — as the US may have had under Bretton Woods.

I am reminded of my brief time on Wall Street in the 1990s when I learnt it is not actually gold producers who earn the seignorage advantage but a cartel of a half dozen or so central banks (led by the Fed & Bank of England) who work together and between them possess vast inventories that can effectively control the supply-side completely.

(first published at Facebook)

A simple note in ontology and epistemology

From Facebook:

“For myself, I have come to a belief that the Universe was never created and will never be destroyed (though of course changes all the time). But true-false, right-wrong, good-evil, good-bad etc exist, and exist objectively in the sense that they would apply to mankind’s deeds even after the extinction of homo sapiens…”

Hune’s question: “Did God say “thou shall not kill” because it is evil, or it is evil because God said “thou shall not kill”? Are ethical values in your view independent entities existing in nature much in the sense of physical objects?”

My answer: “Not really, nothing so complicated. I am much more simple-minded I am afraid. I only mean this: imagine a world in which homo sapiens is extinct (not hard to do really given the extinction of other species). Would it still be true in that world that 2+1=3 in normal arithmetic or that Adolf Hitler caused evil things? My answer is yes.”