09 April 2017

The Economics Of Government

The economics of government:

* Govt has no money of its own. Its money is nothing but the people's (tax-payers) money. When govt spends on something, the money doesn't come from politicians - it comes from the people.

* The govt/people's money is finite, not infinite. When it is spent on something, there will be less of it to spend on other things.

* Leftists have succeeded in making
'efficiency' a bad word - by painting it as 'elitist' and 'anti-poor'. The truth is the opposite: there is nothing more pro-poor than efficiency and nothing more anti-poor than inefficiency. Why? Because the poor depend the most on the govt. So they are the ones who lose the most when the govt is inefficient. We must restore efficiency to its rightful place.

* "Giving a man a fish feeds him for a day, but teaching him how to fish feeds him for a lifetime". Poverty can't be removed by simply throwing money at the poor. That will only keep them poor. We must give them the ability to work and earn - ie, we must give them education, healthcare and infrastructure. That is, govt's money must go into investment and not expenditure.

* Debt is bad. When you borrow, you have to pay back the amount you borrowed and also the interest on that amount. So your spending must not be more than your income. This is a basic principle of economic management - every family knows it. But strangely, we don't apply it to our govt.

* A system's efficiency is directly proportional to its simplicity. And nowhere is this more true than for the tax system. Tax exemptions make the tax system complex and therefore inefficient. So all tax exemptions must be removed. As a compensation, tax rates can be reduced.

* Govt's job is to make rules and enforce them. It is not to make products - which can be done much more efficiently by private sector. So all govt-owned industries must be privatised.

* The price of any product/service is decided by the demand for and the supply of that product/service. If prices are decided in this way (the 'free-market system'), then a society's resources will be allocated in the most efficient way. Any deviation from this leads to inefficiency. The two biggest deviations are:
a) Govt directly fixing the price of any product/service
b) Govt paying a part of a product/service's price (this payment is called 'subsidy')
Subsidies reduce the price of a product/service for its buyers. This distortion in the price leads to inefficient allocation of resources in the society. So subsidies are bad.

24 February 2017

'Ghazi Attack' - Review

On 3 December 1971, Pakistan attacked India and started the 3rd India-Pakistan War (which it proceeded to lose in 2 weeks). The next day, its most powerful submarine - PNS Ghazi - sank near Visakhapatnam. Pakistan said it was due to an 'accident'. India said the destroyer INS Rajput had done it. But INS Rajput was in the harbour on that day. Naval warfare experts said a submarine had sunk Ghazi. The Indian Navy refused to comment.

Ghazi Attack - by first-time director Sankalp Reddy - tells the story of what may have happened. We will never know the name of that submarine - or her men. In this movie, the submarine INS S-21 plays a deadly cat-and-mouse game with Ghazi in the waters of the Bay of Bengal, before finally sinking it.

Making a realistic movie on submarine warfare is technically demanding. And making it entertaining is artistically demanding. Sankalp Reddy and team succeed brilliantly on both the fronts. Through a series of twists and turns, Ghazi Attack gradually builds up the tension before reaching its climax.

War itself is a game of death. And when you are inside a metal tube 500 meters underwater, it is even more so. At that depth, the water pressure is so enormous it can crush a submarine like an eggshell. So even if the enemy doesn't kill you, the water surely will. Ghazi Attack superbly portrays the fear and danger of underwater warfare.

Kay Kay Menon and Atul Kulkarni - two of Bollywood's finest actors - play the submarine's captain and second-in-command, respectively. Rana Daggubatti plays the executive officer like an action star. The great Om Puri - in his last movie - plays Admiral S M Nanda. Ghazi Attack is an excellent tribute to our brave men in white.

PS: It was a special treat to watch the Indian Navy's Rudra-Tandava on this sacred day of Maha Shivaratri . . . :-)

19 February 2017

Martin Scorsese's 'Silence' - Review

Japan is a unique country. An island off the coast of East Asia, it is literally on the edge of the world. Westerners reached it only in the 1500s. And almost immediately, Christian missionaries started going there - to convert them to Christianity. But around 1600, the Japanese cracked down. They banned Christianity and outlawed missionaries. Today only 1% of Japanese are Christians.

In 1966, Japanese-Christian writer Shusaku Endo wrote a novel called Chinmoku ('Silence') about this chapter in Japan's history. In 1971, it was made into a Japanese movie. And now Martin Scorsese has made its Hollywood version.

The story is set in the 1600s. A Portuguese missionary called Ferreira (Liam Neeson) goes to Japan and disappears after some time. Then his two disciples - Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) go to Japan to search for him. They reach Japan and find some villagers who are secretly practising Christianity. They stay with the villagers for some time, but are eventually caught. Garrpe is executed and Rodrigues is taken to Nagasaki. There he meets senior Japanese officials - and also Ferreira. He is shocked to find out that Ferreira has renounced Christianity, embraced Buddhism and now works for the Japanese government - writing anti-Christianity books. Finally Rodrigues also becomes like Ferreira.

The first 2 hours is a typical story about Christianity told by a Christian. It glorifies the truth and greatness of the Christian religion. But in the last 30 minutes, the story does a complete U-turn. Here Christianity is brought face-to-face with Buddhism - when Rodrigues debates with the Japanese officials and also with his ex-guru Ferreira. And here, Christianity comes off as irrational and intolerant - as against Buddhism's rationality and tolerance. Of course, this is a debate not just between Buddhism and Christianity - but also more broadly between Aryan religions and Semitic religions.

What was Shusaku Endo thinking when he wrote that last part? Was he just trying to be an honest writer/artist and give space to an alternate viewpoint? Or was it his Japanese side triumphing over his Christian side? And what does Martin Scorsese think about that last part? Does he realise the power of those arguments against Christianity?

Silence is an honest and intelligent movie about Christianity - and religion in general. Not surprisingly, it has flopped in America. And the Oscars have given it only one nomination (for camerawork). Artists say the purpose of art is not to give answers but to ask questions. If that is true, then Shusaku Endo's Chinmoku and Martin Scorsese's Silence are very good works of art.

14 February 2017

A Fool And An Angel

A FOOL AND AN ANGEL

When he first saw her
She looked an angel
In both mind and heart
So he asked her
Will you be my angel?
She said yes I will
So he took out his heart
And he gave it to her
She took it in her hand.

And what did she do with his heart?
She grew claws on her hands
And sank her claws into his heart
She grew fangs in her mouth
And plunged her fangs into his heart
She grew horns on her head
And pierced her horns into his heart
She devoured the flesh from his heart
She drank the blood from his heart
Every day, every hour, every minute
Piece by piece, drop by drop
Then she held his heart over a blazing fire
And slowly reduced his heart to ashes
Finally she threw his heart away
Laughing at him all the while
Her eyes, horns, fangs, claws
All dripping with his heart's blood.

And after all this was done
What was he thinking?
He had only one thought
God, make her happy
If there is any pain in her life
Please give it to me
If there is any joy in my life
Please give it to her
I have never asked You anything
But now I ask You this
So You have to give it
Make her happy always
Keep her smiling always
This is all I ask of You
So please give it
And I know You will.

15 January 2017

May They Fill Me

MAY THEY FILL ME

This Sacred Land has
For five thousand years
Given birth to warriors
Who lived and fought
For this land
For this people
For this culture.

Every grain of soil
Every blade of grass
Every drop of water
Has been sanctified
By the blood of martyrs.

From Chandra Gupta Maurya
To Subhash Chandra Bose
From Kittur Rani Channamma
To Jhansi Rani Lakshmibai
From Sangolli Rayanna
To Guru Govind Singh
And countless nameless heroes.

Blessed am I
To be born in
This Holy Land.

Every thought they had
Every word they said
Every deed they did
May all these fill me.

Every struggle they waged
Every sacrifice they made
Every battle they fought
May all these fill me.

Every victory they won
Every defeat they suffered
Every wound they received
Every pain they felt
May all these fill me.

Every sword they wielded
Every arrow they fired
Every spear they threw
Every shield they held
May all these fill me.

Their love, their passion
Their strength, their courage
Their happiness, their sorrow
Their laughter, their tears
May all these fill me.

May they fill my body
May they fill my mind
May they fill my heart
May they fill my soul.

May I be the seed
May they be the soil
May they be the rain
May they be the breeze
May they be the sunlight.

With such blessings
Can I become a flower
That is worthy of You
My Beloved Motherland?

30 November 2016

Demonetisation - by Prashant Kaddi

By Prashant Kaddi:

First things first. It is not really demonetisation as the smaller-denomination currency notes are not touched. It is an extreme case of 'discontinuation' of a series of notes of particular denomination - ie, all series of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes.

There are 2 broad objectives that are stated:
a. Removing hoarded black money (money for which tax is not paid or acquired illegally through corrupt means)
b. Removing counterfeit currency (largely used by terrorists and others in anti-national activities)

As a wise professor once summarised:
Money is a matter of functions four,
A medium, a measure, a standard, a store.

The idea is to retain the 3 functions: a medium of exchange, a measure of value, a standard of payment - but to remove it as a store of value.

The simple truth is that such a large-scale move in a country so large and diverse (especially with such large cash-transaction volume) has never been attempted in history. And nobody - no matter how many degrees or four-syllable English words they have acquired - has a handle to be able to predict the outcomes. Also, nobody can predict the behavior of a billion people when such a move is announced and the bottlenecks that develop. One just has to be flexible to manage the availability of cash.

Likely outcomes, simpler one first:

Counterfeit Notes - This problem will get solved for the time being, till the printing presses start to copy the Rs 2000 note as well. On the plus side, there are security features which may be visible to the naked eye as well as under ultraviolet, the problem being you and I have no way to recognise them. Follow-up action generally believed is that the Rs 2000 note will also be similarly discontinued at some point in the near future.

Black Money - While it is true that most black money is in bullion or real estate, there is still substantial amount which would be in cash - ie, political funding as well as the built-up stock which will shortly be used to buy real estate or gold.

Out of the approximately Rs 14 lakh crore in high-value currency, Rs 5.5 lakh crore has already come into the banking system. If we assume that is a large part of the stock and say there is still some Rs 3-4 lakh crore to come, there is still a possibility of a windfall of Rs 4-5 lakh crore for the government - in addition to the tax on the currently deposited monies. The money which does not come back is a reduction in RBI liability. Hopefully this money can be utilised to fund schemes, reduce poverty, give tax benefit to the current carriers of the cross (salaried class, businesses, etc).

Will it stop the generation of black money? No, it won't. But in conjunction with the Black Money Bill, GST and a slew of tax reforms that are ongoing and expected in the future, it would suffice to say that making black money would possibly become slightly more difficult. And with systems of transparency, high-level corruption can be reduced. However, to root out low-level corruption, a social change is required. It cannot be done through enacting rules or introducing technology alone. And needless to say, political and bureaucratic possibilities of making money need to be dealt a blow.

There are suggestions to end taxes which will remove any possibilities of tax avoidance and several radical economic proposals, along with electoral reform. But my guess is that we will go step by step. Nobody can take on all vested interests at once and survive politically. One at a time and that will be killed completely.

Also, the political opposition is not based on facts. Maybe everyone in the opposition is pissed that they are staring at a loss of their main source of power which is wealth, and/or the larger-than-life figure the Prime Minister has taken on with several historic 'strikes'. Either way, there is no credence to the claims that the poor are severely inconvenienced. Everyone is somewhat inconvenienced, but not too much, and almost the entire country is willing to do their part to see the illegally wealthy sweat a bit. Also, the charge that the implementation is botched is probably not true, given that Rs 1.5 lakh crore is already either withdrawn or exchanged by banks within about 10-12 days - which is approximately 1/3 of the notes in circulation. Approximately 1 in 4 of all notes were in circulation as per RBI; the rest were presumably stored (assuming an equal % of all denominations). This scale of distribution is unprecedented and the scale of adjustments done based on ground feedback is definitely a positive.

Make no mistake. This move is not merely about the numbers. It is a strike at the heart of the darkness that is black money. That the state is not impotent against the illegally rich and mighty, who have eaten away at the very fabric of this economy for so long. And putting the fear that though corruption giveth, the long arm of the law can taketh away.

09 October 2016

'Queen Of Katwe' - Review

Review of 'Queen Of Katwe':

2005, Kampala (Uganda): An engineer called Robert Katende joins an NGO and starts teaching chess to children in a slum in Katwe (the poorest area of the city). One of his students is a 10-year-old girl called Phiona Mutesi - the daughter of a widow with 4 children, who sells vegetables for a living. Under Katende's guidance, Phiona achieves the unlikely feat of becoming Uganda's national chess champion and an international chess player.

In 2012, Sports Illustrated reporter Tim Crothers wrote a book about Phiona Mutesi called Queen Of Katwe. And now, Meera Nayyar (Mira Nair) has made it into a movie - featuring Madina Nalwanga in the lead role.

The most striking thing about Queen Of Katwe is its depiction of the Kampala slum. The word 'poverty' is too feeble to be used here. This is a world where life is not a wide zone of comfort but just a thin line of existence - and any chance event (like a road accident or heavy rain) can push you right off that line. Where a simple thing like taking a bath is a major project. Where shops don't have open fronts but iron grills instead. But somehow, in the midst of all this deprivation and despair, the poor people of the slum manage to celebrate life - through music, dance and colour.

Queen Of Katwe is a simple and heart-warming story about real people, their real pain and suffering, their real hopes and dreams, their real victories and defeats. It is definitely a welcome change from Hollywood's mind-numbing superhero factory.