Inconvenience Regretted

This website is under heavy attack from spambots. I’ve turned off comments and pings on all posts for the time being to see if this has any impact. Until me or MadMan are able to figure out what’s going wrong, comments will remain off. Sorry about that.

Coase and Kansa

On the flight back to Bangalore from Delhi, I was on seat 16D. There was a kid on 16C. There was another kid on 14C. And yet another somewhere around row 20. And they all howled through the flight.

Howling kids are always annoying but the problem is even worse on a flight. You can’t walk away to a quieter place. The kid can’t be taken away to a quieter place. You’re basically trapped listening to the howling kid.

In many ways, the situation is the reverse of Alex Tabarrok’s flu vaccination:

People who have the flu spread the virus so getting a flu shot not only reduces the probability that I will get the flu it reduces the probability that you will get the flu. In the language of economics the flu shot creates an external benefit, a benefit to other people not captured by the person who paid the costs of getting the shot. The external benefits of a flu shot can be quite large. Under some conditions each person who is vaccinated reduces the expected number of other people who get the flu by 1.5.

Since a large fraction of the benefits of the flu shot, perhaps even a majority of the benefits, go to other people and not to the person paying the costs, the number of people who get a flu shot in the United States is well below the efficient level.

In the case of Alex Tabarrok’s flu vaccination, there was an external benefit. However, in the case of howling kids, there is an external cost. The kid is suffering, but the kid’s howling makes all the other people in the aircraft suffer more.

What are the implications? Well, Alex Tabarrok is asking people who are benefiting from the positive externality to send him money to compensate him for creating the externality:

I just had my flu shot. Please send your checks to my George Mason address.

I only got the shot because, as you well know, I’m altruistic. I care about you. But do send your checks, that will help.

Applying the situation in reverse, the parents of the howling kid should give all the other passengers money to compensate for the suffering they have inflicted on them through their inconsiderateness. This has staggering implications. If each of the passengers is to be compensated 500 rupees for the suffering they have endured, that raises the cost of carrying a kid on board by 9 kilorupees. The best way to implement this would be to make the price of the ticket for a kid 9 kilorupees – in sharp contrast to Simplify Deccan’s abominable policy of letting infants travel in laps for only a 250 rupee surcharge- and give all other passengers a five hundred rupee discount or rebate.

Alex Tabarrok also says:

Of course, we know from the Coase Theorem that there is an alternative approach. We could charge people who do not get their flu shots. (Thus, if you haven’t had a shot you must still must send me a check.) Or to reduce transaction costs we could fine people who get the flu.

The equivalent of the fine in this case would be making the cost of the ticket for the kid 9000 rupees, but not distributing the extra money to the passengers. That would still have the beneficial effect of making it too expensive to carry your kid on board a flight.

Of course there is a way to cut out transaction costs entirely. You can bring in the Kansa Society, which will slaughter the kid. No howling, and no worrying about surcharge transfers. Oh sacred simplicity!

Powerless

My idiot flatmate hasn’t paid the electricity bill and the power’s been cut off.

The good news is that this happened during winter in Bangalore, and so this doesn’t lead to much physical discomfort. The bad news is that thanks to another decision by the idiot flatmate (viz., buying a manual defrost refrigerator instead of a frost free one), the kitchen will be flooded by the time I return today. I suspect all the salad inside the fridge will also spoil.

Also, this will lead to an absence of blogposts which required either the use of a scanner, or embedding YouTube videos (which I can’t do at work), or quoting stuff I saw on facebook (again, blocked at work).

Traditional and Conservative

One of the disadvantages of making a quiz is that the people who’ll attend my quiz tend to also read my blog. So, you can’t link to really awesome stuff you find because it’ll tip them off to your questions, or at least the source of your questions.

One such awesome thing which I can reveal now that the quiz is done is a blog called Round Dice. There’re very few posts, and the author stopped blogging altogether this February, but all the posts there are most awesome.

Posts from this blog which eventually became questions include one on kolams, one on the tribhanga pose, and one on Bhaskaracharya’s Lilavati. The tribhanga post is especially awesome, because it manages to link Chalukya sculpture to structural engineering, the Vitruvian man, and Anna Nicole Smith. Read.

There was also one post which didn’t really have any question-worthy funda, but which I particularly liked. It’s on the difference between being traditional and being conservative:

As I see it, a traditionalist is someone who uses the past in his/her daily life. For a traditionalist, the past is neither dead nor inaccessible. If a particular tradition no longer works —  slavery or foot-binding or burning widows —  it is modified to make a new tradition. The modification is usually a series of minor changes: a sari may be exchanged for a salwar, a particular dish may no longer be cooked, a man may go to Lamaze class, a Bollywood movie may include a gay character, etc. 

In contrast, a conservative’s relationship is not with the past, but with the future. The conservative does not love the past as much as he fears the future. The Shiv Sainiks flip out on Valentine’s day not because Urvashi never sent a “I heart you” to Pururava (she did), but because their version of the future only permits docile women. The actual past is quite irrelevant for a conservative.

Beautifully put.

Noblesse Oblige and Merit Based Gifts

This year, Diwali was not as renumerative as it used to be. This is because I am now a grossly overpaid MBA (who is also no longer forking half his salary over to a Parsi thatha in Malabar Hill as paying guest charges) and noblesse oblige demands that:

  1. I no longer accept gifts from grandmothers with no independent income.
  2. I no longer rely on my parents to finance Bhai Dooj chanda for my sisters.

Conscience and noblesse oblige may not be neglected. Social traditions which promote the voluntary transfer of wealth from the earning and productive to the weak and unemployed encourage the spread of Edwardian values. Failure to carry on such traditions will lead to a society in which free exchange and taking responsibility for one’s property are abandoned, precipitating the collapse of enlightened civilisation. Thus, all cash which came in on Diwali went out equally rapidly to sisters two days later at Bhai Dooj.

However, I face a dilemma. I would rather cut down upon cash gifts to the sister who brought shame upon the clan by marrying into a family of uncultured barbarians who steal electricity and whose approach to religion is to feed goats. The cash saved could then be given to the sister who brought honour upon the clan by eloping. And yet, I shy away from making gifts on the basis of virtue, when tradition demands that sisters be given gifts of equal value. More so because deviating from established processes on the basis of arbitrary valuations of virtue violates Saivite tenets of adherence to eternal law.

However, in this as in most other things, Tyler Cowen provides a solution: merit based gifting. Instead of giving people gifts on occasions like birthdays or Christmas (or indeed, Bhai Dooj), give them gifts at random times based on how much you value them.

This is excellent. Tradition only specifies giving gifts of equal value at Bhai Dooj. But I can give merit based gifts throughout the rest of the year, at random occassions. Edwardian objectives of rewarding virtue can be achieved after all!

I think the best way to do this going ahead is to avoid Bhai Dooj gifts completely. However, since all the sisters have kids, give the kids gifts in proportion to their virtue. This is a good thing, because:

  1. Noblesse oblige is even more vital when it comes to being a rich uncle who can give gifts to children with no source of income whatsoever.
  2. Nephews and nieces whom I approve of (because they bugger off to a secluded room and engross themselves in Roald Dahl) can be rewarded with more Roald Dahl (or Phillip Pullman for that matter). Gifts to nieces who watch Shah Rukh Khan movies and nephews who bite can be cut back accordingly.
  3. Gifting to nephews and nieces is an investment, while gifting to sisters is merely an expense. Investment is more Edwardian than expense.

The virtue of nephews and nieces must therefore be tracked going forward.

The Jagadguru as Agony Aunt

In his infinite compassion, the Jagadguru will now enlighten us not only on Politics, but on all our sundry queries of day to day life. To gain His darshan, you need only to email dearjagadguru AT aadisht DOT net. The Jagadguru will answer your queries in SCF(w)O’s new agony aunt column: Krish on Love, Sex, and Home Appliances.

*

Dear Jagadguru,

I am a management consultant. I have a flat in Mumbai which I share with some colleagues, but I work from Monday to Friday at my client’s office in Nagpur. While I’m out of Mumbai, some other colleagues drop in to my flat and use my room for all practical purposes. This leads to unpleasant stains on my bedsheets. How can I resolve this problem?

Yours in devotion,

UWP

Dear UWP,

Well this just shows the dangers of unregulated free markets. Libertarian fools led by their leader Milton Friedman claim that lack of rent control will lead to an improvement in housing construction so that others don’t need to use your room. These free market fundamentalists can bullshit with a straight face. Actually because of lack of regulation in housing anybody can come and use your room. This is why I always say that only a democratically elected government with strong regulations against free markets can keep your sheets cleaned. There needs to be some strong regulations against use of your room by other people. Free markets by themselves cannot keep hormonal couples away from your room. We need some stronger regulations to keep them out.

Jagadguru

*

Dear Jagadguru,

I am recently married. Although I want to have sex with my wife, I am unable to get an erection. Is this due to stress or is there any medical problem?

Your eternal devotee,

LB

Dear LB,

this is another act of impotents. Shameful.

Jagadguru

*

Dear Jagadguru,

which is the best model of microwave oven to buy?

Worshipfully yours,

RV

Dear RV,

your ignorance is not my problem. It has been discussed enough times here and on the internet and I don’t need to explain it to you. It is clear enough which microwave is the best and if you can’t see it then you are a damn fool. There is a saying in Tamil that just because a cat closes its eyes it doesn’t make the world dark. You should gain an understanding of this matter and then only write. Don’t try to argue your side because itz wrong.

*

Dear Jagadguru,

I have been dating a boy for about a month. It isn’t very serious but he insists on always paying the bill whenever we go for lunch or dinner. This makes me uncomfortable but he insists that because he earns more than me he should pay the bill. Please give your blessings and direction on this issue.

Krisham Vande Jagadguru,

CS

Dear CS,

this is shameful. It shows how the priveleged sections of society try to keep down the unpriveleged sections. Well I won’t say anything more except that it just shows how the free market fundamentalism and the right wing Hindu fundamentalism go hand in hand. It only shows how both are opposed to an equal footing of the bill. You should send his degrees to me for burning.

*

(Please send in your queries to dearjagadguru AT aadisht DOT net. They will be addressed in the next column.)

My KQA Debut

I’ll be conducting my first ever quiz for the Karnataka Quiz Association this Sunday. It’s a ranking open, with a History, Geography, and World Culture theme.

(The World Culture has been thrown in for the sole purpose of letting me sneak in general questions in case I run out of history and geography fundaes).

Before leaving for work this morning, I had 31 questions made, which leaves me with 59 to make by Sunday afternoon. Difficult but doable.

In case you’re in Bangalore, and interested, drop by. The prelims start at 3 p.m., and the finals at 4 p.m. The venue, as is usual, is Daly Hall on Nrupathunga Road.

Chequebook Archival

Realised this just yesterday. I’ve been saving my old chequebooks just for the record of cheques. This has been adding to the clutter in my cupboard for no good reason. I can happily copy all the chequebook entries to Excel. This will let me write even more detailed narrations, slice and dice my chequebook data, and of course throw the paper chequebooks away and cut down clutter.

About 60 entries over the past year and a half to transfer to Excel. This will be done with great urgency once I’m done with Sunday’s quiz.

Not Quite Parallel

Over SMS, BJ asks:

Aaloo paratha is to a punjoo like curd rice to a tambrahm agree?

Not really. As TCA Srinivasa-Raghavan pointed out, for TamBrahms curd rice is both necessary and sufficient1. However for Punjews aaloo parathas are only sufficient2, since they can be replaced by mooli parathas, gobi parathas, or makki di roti.

Put another way, you cannot be TamBrahm if you do not eat curd rice. You can be a Punjew even if you don’t eat aaloo parathas, as long as you eat makki di roti instead.

1: He was drawing an analogy to how Indian economists treat statistical jugglery.
2: Provided they are two number aaloo parathas.