Archive for February, 2007

Ice storm warning

Well ok, I said I was looking forward to a blizzard. Now we’ll see how I like it.


People have emailed that they will be working from home today. How exciting!


Social Democracy in Unexpected Places

Columbia University is one of the places in the world with the highest concentration of Nobel Laureates. It is second in Wikipedia’s list of Nobel laureates by affiliation, and just recently in 2006 Columbia faculty won two Nobel prizes (for Economics and Literature).

I would be crazy not to make use of this as much as I can. And so of course I went to a public discussion on “An emergent India: Prospects and Problems” between Prabhat Patnaik, apparently a renowned Indian econonist, and Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize 2001), whom even I had heard of. It was interesting! They were both entertaining and interesting speakers (unlike the moderator, who only mumbled and had to be constantly reminded to speak into the microphone). Of course everybody was duly impressed by India’s GDP growth rate (although Patnaik didn’t completely trust the figures) and had a lot of economic insights to share, but what I did not expect was this outburst of unmitigated social democratic opinions from both speakers. They criticised the growing disparity between the living standards of the reasonably well-educated urban population (about 250 million people) who benefit from the rapid growth of the IT industry and the unskilled rural population (about 800 million), where literacy among adult women hovers around 50%, 35% of the population live off $1 or less per day, and 47% of children below the age of five are malnourished. They applauded China for preventing an imbalance of the same magnitude by maintaining high prices for domestic agricultural products, which they do by manipulating currency exchange rates in order to avoid introducing import tariffs and pissing off the WTO (clever people, the Chinese). And they openly advocated raising taxes on the use of environmental resources and imported luxury goods in order to finance improved education at all levels. (And Stiglitz looked positively sly when he said that the WTO doesn’t want you to tax luxury imports, but “we’ve found ways around this in other cases too”. :)

Having lived in Western industralised countries all my life, my primary exposure to the economy of India so far has been whenever they closed down factories over here and moved the jobs to Asia. I’ve always felt that this is a strategy that might eventually backfire; there is a lot to be said for the excellent infrastructure and social stability that European countries offer. But I had no idea what “social stability” really means before they mentioned today that there has been a wave of suicides among Indian peasants, who live less than an hour away from the major IT centres, and peasant riots in rural China are frequent. And it’s an interesting perspective that if the movement of jobs from Europe and the US to India is because European and Indian workers compete with each other for lower labour costs, then one would expect that the wages in India would go up, but they don’t. Instead, they analysed the current trend towards lower wages and the “renegotiation of the social contract” as an effect of capital being able to move, while labour cannot (and hence the negotiation position of the capital anywhere improves). So: Labourers of all countries, unite! Who would have thought I’d have to go to New York to hear this?

Speech acts in Mac ads

Whoo boy, am I ever behind in blogging. In the past few weeks, I have been doing a number of really fun things (looking at Mozart manuscripts at the Morgan Library, visiting a wolf reservation in New Jersey, seeing the Museum of Natural History, doing a day trip to Philadelphia), and I promise I’ll find the time soon to post about them.

For now, however, I’d just like to point out the new “Get a Mac” ad. It’s really nifty: They use speech acts to make fun of Vista’s security features. Who ever said that pragmatics would never pay the bills?


February 2007
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