Saturday, December 31, 2005

Final thoughts before a Naveen year!

It has been quite some time since I have started blogging and I feel obligated to make clear my background and experiences. And the last day of this year (in India) is a good occasion to indulge in this wish. My primary reason is to acquaint the readers with my biases, and hence a more critical analysis of my blog thoughts. The secondary ostensible reason is that I haven't said much about myself apart from the few hints in my previous blog notes.

I have been born in Hyderabad; raised in Kolkata and completed my engineering in Bangalore. After the odd job like a creative copywriter for an advertising agency, I worked as a Research Associate for a public policy think tank in Delhi. And am now pursuing my doctorate in Public Policy Analysis at RAND Corporation in California. Someday, hopefully, I will bring a richer focus on the thought and practice of public policy in India.

Much of our thoughts are based on what we experience, observe and read. Mine has been no different. In reflection, curiosity seems to be my indulgence.

The Indian Army in its final selection process asked me this question, "Imagine you are sitting at a railway station. A man comes from nowhere and suddenly starts hitting you. What is your first reaction?"

I answered, "I will ask why he hit me!" Needless to say I was rejected, they were looking for something else.

I love children because they have the gift of curiosity. As we become mature, we acquire a veneer of nonchalance and become inured to the fantastic things happening around us and possibilities. I believe that most knowledge starts with a simple question. And that answers to these questions beget disciplines.

Why are the poor so poor? Perhaps the questions should be framed differently. What makes the poor rich? It is only incidental that the answer to this question can be found (with due modesty) in the realms of economics, law, management, political science, philosophy, and sociology. The tool is mathematics. And hence it may be apparent that my thoughts will be based upon my experiences from these disciplines. However, there is so much to be learnt in this world! Hehehehe! Earlier I would balk at the sheer number of books that I would leave unread in my lifetime. Of late I am veering to the premise that guided thought is perhaps more important than reading a large number of books. Of course, our experiences form the goblet for the ferment of our thoughts.

And my most intense learning experience is unreservedly my stint in the public policy think tank. I have never had a favourite teacher till I found one in my boss here. Dr. Parth J Shah. Some of you may know him. Others will know him. With him I have shared that inimitable urge for that understanding of "how the world works", and its relevance to understanding why people are poor. Readers trying to know my biases will find loads of it here. My dabbling in Austrian economics, libertarianism, objectivism, anarcho-capitalism have undoubtedly influenced my thoughts, though I don't agree with quite a few of their premises. At heart, I am more of a researcher and less of an advocate. Nevertheless what has influenced me more than anything else has been my research into the functioning of governments in India, their departments and legislations, and their relevance to markets.

Markets! I don't know whether this is true or not but every family has a particular kid who is made to go the market every time the need for a grocery arises. And so has been the case with me. I still think that some of the best lessons in understanding the world come from visiting any busy market in India. A half-hour chat with a paanwaala about his business and its details will throw a lot more light on the relation between markets and poverty. And much of this relation is encapsulated in the research of my co-edited book Law, Liberty and Livelihood: Making a Living on the Street. A few reviews are over here. There is no doubt about my fascination with markets and bazaars. But it is only for their role with regard to the production and distribution of goods and services.

There are many other areas of human activity that do not have a central role of markets, for example, the making, maintenance and marring of marriages! I do have an abiding interest in questions concerning them as well.

So why do I blog? Consider it as me thinking aloud. Which readers may find my blog interesting? Well, people interested in policy issues with an analytical bent of mind. What is the best way for readers to interact with me? Three ways. One, if you find research dealing in what may be an interesting policy question, mail it to me. Two, any interesting academic idea dealing with realistic issues are also welcome. Three, do point out any egregious errors!

And with only a few hours for ushering the New Year in India, here is wishing all of you a fruitful intellectual journey through 2006.

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