Selfish Genes and Shafting Shareholders

March 2, 2010

Has anybody made the connection between genes and the principal-agent problem? Richard Dawkins wrote a whole book about how we are but machines to reproduce genes, and in Genome, Matt Ridley quotes Bill Hamilton saying that the genome is like “a company boardroom”. But I haven’t ever seen the analogy being made explicit, so I’ll go ahead and do it right now.

The way to think of your genes is as principals, and yourself as the agent. Their objective is to make copies of themselves. To accomplish this, they create you as a vehicle to make more of themselves. So far, the analogy is genes=shareholders, you=management, and genes increasing their presence=return on investment.

What’s missing? Incentive alignment! In the corporate world, this is done through executive compensation, and will theoretically work best with stock options. How do our genes make sure that we’re keen and eager to achieve their objectives? A whole bunch of things that make the process of gene propagation enjoyable – making sex fun, making babies look cute, so on and so forth.

So when Skimpy goes on and on about finding a long-term gene-propagating partner, he’s putting the cart before the horse. It is not the end-result of our genes getting propagated, but the actions we take to do so that make us happy1. The purpose of sex is not to have babies, but to have orgasms2. So when you have the orgasms without the babies, you get to act like the CEOs who give themselves executive jets while shafting the shareholders and driving down the share price. It’s an awesome life.

You might feel a sense of responsibility, and be tempted to propagate your genes keeping in mind all that they have done for you. Resist the temptation! Whatever they have done is for their selfish ends. The fact is, your genes are bastards. They don’t care about you. Some of them are actively trying to make you suffer a painful and agonising death. Yet others are trying to make other people suffer painful and agonising deaths, and as such are responsible for the ills of society. So if the selfish little buggers are too stupid to align incentives properly and they make it possible for you to get the benefits without delivering results – for example, by having sex with contraceptives, cooing over other peoples babies, or even puppies instead of babies – then they’re only getting what they deserve. Go ahead and behave like a 1980s American conglomerate vice-president – you know you want to.

1: This is remarkably Bhagavad-Gita-ish. Honestly, you could see the Bhagavad Gita too as an exploration of the principal-agent problem, with Krishna as the principal and Arjun as the agent. After trying to align incentives for seventeen chapters, Krishna finally reveals his vishwaroopam and tells Arjun clearly who the principal is, who the agent is, what the objective is, and that Arjun had better get cracking. You know, I should get down to reading Gurcharan Das’s The Difficulty of Being Good.

2: Or as Laurensolivius would put it: “Orgasms! Orgasms! We want orgasms!”

The First Bangalore Photowalk

April 18, 2008

After the grand success of the Sennai potowalks, Skimpy is organising the first ever Bangalore photowalk. Details below:

Time and Date: 8 a.m., on Sunday 27 April
Venue: K R Road, from K R Market to Gandhi Bazaar

All are welcome, regardless of city, caste, or camera. You can show up if you have a cameraphone, a DSLR, a point-and-shoot, or even if you just want to hang around and listen to Wimp put fundaes on Bangalore history. This is a photowalk. So there are no admission fees. No entry charges. No registration formalities. However, do leave a comment at this post or Skimpy’s, so that we know if you’re coming or not. It’ll make co-ordinating the walk simpler on Sunday.

How Not to Design an Airport

February 18, 2008

Ramesh Ramanathan is fuming about Bangalore’s new airport being underdesigned and underconnected (via Ajay Shah’s excellent roundup on infrastructure). As is happening far too often these days, Skimpy beat me to blogging about the main topic. However, that just gives me more stuff to discuss. In fact, I’ll make the whole post an outsider-layperson-dummy’s guide to the Bangalore airport, infrastructure design, infrastructure financing, and maybe even special check-in counters. So. Yeah. Let’s do this shit. In Q&A.

Read the rest of this entry »

More Mommyblogger Mockery

January 12, 2008

The Mad Momma asks: Why is it alright to be openly intolerant of children?

It’s for the same reason it is alright to be openly intolerant of anything – salwar kameezes, Shashi Tharoor’s writing, chicory-blended coffee, and so on. Freedom of speech are there. Or as Skimpy famously put it, I am a free citizen of free India and I shall say what I want.

Of course the reason I express my intolerance of children more than my intolerance of anything else is that nothing is as much fun as enraging mommybloggers1. Enraged mommybloggers move about in herds, angrily clucking ‘Wait till you have kids of your own!’ or ‘You are horrible and have no empathy!’. The warm, fuzzy feeling to be obtained from people bitching about being mischaracterised as emotional and stupid – and doing so in an emotional and stupid manner is delightful.

The pinnacle of emotional outbursts, of course, was this point-by-point takedown by J. For my own amusement, and for yours, beloved readers – I will now respond to this:

kids will become irritating when they are given too much attention:–Dude if you are dating a woman or married to a woman and if she will not give you enough attention, you too will become irritable. Correct me if I am wrong.

Being an upright young man with Saivite neo-Edwardian values, I am able to separate my behaviour from my mental state. Kids are not. I blame their mothers, given that they seem to be unable to differentiate between being irritable and being irritating. This pernicious encouragement of expressing your feelings regardless of the consequences is undermining our society.

This is also probably the reason why kids in Delhi and Chennai are the worst behaved–whoa whoa wait a minute. Iam smelling discrimination here or you are a less travelled person who is like a frog in the well….kids are kids irrespective of caste, creed, religion and nationality. Every child of a specific age behaves quiet similar and this is one of the reason why all the mommy bloggers relate to each other irrespective of their financial and geographical status.

If every child behaved ‘quiet’, I wouldn’t be bitching about them online. And yes, it is discrimination. Man is endowed with the ability to discriminate between right and wrong. Without the ability to discriminate, there would be no way to promote virtue and punish vice.

Jobless doting female relatives, who do nothing but stay at home–what kind of a loser talks like this about the women folk who spend their entire life serving their family. WTF do you mean by “jobless”. Does jobless means earning money only. I really question your upbringing today which taught you to respect people on the basis of their revenue generating capabilities.

No ‘jobless’ means sitting on your arse while the domestic servants do all the work, the husband earns all the money, and the grandmothers do most of the child-rearing. What part of ‘do nothing but stay at home’ do you not understand? I use words with precision.

In the case of Chennai, because they actually are unemployed–Can you please support your statement by some figures (if at all you are intelligent enough to understand what I am saying). By the way in my work career I have come across some really intelligent tamilians and real dumb punju’s. (how does this sound since you are a punju)

Given that I have been abusing Punjews online since… oh, 2003, and with an especially popular campaign in 2005, and that I am widely acknowledged to be Tam – it sounds like validation.

and in the case of Delhi, because employment for Delhi women usually means fraud stay-at-home stuff like garment designing–FRAUD?????????? Are you a fuckin police or intelligent department official who can pronounce a profession as “FRAUD”. As a matter of fact can you design a garment? DO you know what kind of creativity goes into it. Have respect for every person who is trying to make a honest living yet tending to their responsibilities.

Yes, deciding to put sequins on a salwar kameez is very creative. And a business set up purely to satisfy ego, and which gives lower returns than a fixed deposit is an honest living. As for whether I can design a garment, I’m thinking of having a Kansa Society T-shirt up for sale on Myntra soon. Also, why do I have to be a fuckin pole or intelligent department official to pronounce a profession fraud? Nobody in my IIMB Batch was, and everyone used to pronounce either consulting, or marketing, or I-banking, or HR fraud. To say nothing of all the courses we used to pronounce fraud. Your grasp of lingo is really quite terrible.

With non-stop attention lavished upon it, the kid becomes a monster–How dare you call a kid “monster”. They are the only purest form of mankind left now. Rest all are busy talking bullshit (like you). Did you ever have a kid come to you and look at you with those innocent eyes and appreciate all tat you did for him / her? I have experienced that innocence and how can you call such children monsters, just because they are extra energetic and crying is one of the ways to express their needs (god created that way)

Well, there goes the argument for intelligent design…

Also, J, you are wrong. Kids are not the only purest form of mankind. Masabi, Skimpy, and Jugga are. There is no malice in Jugga’s heart. He loves all of humanity, without fear or reservation. So much so, that he hugs hijras on MG Road and gives them money. Read Skimpy’s petromax post to realise that he is fearless, and unconstrained by the mores of society. As for Masabi, you only have to gaze into his eyes to discover how innocent and pure he is.

But I never saw kids throwing tantrums in mumbai–Dude refrain from making such statements. How many kids did you sample and from which cities. Can you once again provide some statistics.

No. Can you provide some statistics on kids being the purest form of humanity?

have seen this with my own nephews and nieces also. The one who curls up with a Roald Dahl and generally doesn’t talk is the one whose parents are a doctor and a physiotherapist, and who therefore hardly see him. On the other hand, the Nephew Who Bites has lived his entire life with a stay-at-home mother, a stay-at-home grandmother, a drop-in-practically-ceaselessly grandmother, and a father who is an ameer-baap-ki-bigdi-aulaad, and so doesn’t need to work— I am an Associate Director in a big firm in Manhattan and my husband is a software professional. We both spend few hours in the morning and few in the evening with my 22mths old son. Contrary to your statement he bites us, he throws tantrums, he screams his lungs off on roads / malls, spits food. Well his grandparents do not stay with us. (now its your turn to start battering working mothers)

No, I shall stick with my theory of attention as it stands. Since his tantrums are not being caused by nurture, they are evidently being caused by genetics. So it’s still your fault.

And where I’m concerned, Ma and Papa used to just leave me alone and whack me every once in a while, and I am now a model of manners, rectitude, decency and sobriety. So much so, that people refuse to believe that I’m Punjabi.—-hahahahaha. This was my fav part out of the whole blog. Dude get a life, you were deprived of love and attention your whole life that’s the reason u r spitting venom at mothers who are showering attention on their kids.

They’re so busy showering attention that they can’t recognise literary references. Oh well.

Think about it. You devote an entire blog to the kid, and nothing but the kid–How about devoting entire life for my kid. The happiness he gave me, nothing else can ever match it. I will not mind giving up everything for him.

Well, you’ve given up spellcheck. ‘Appauled’?

1: This is not strictly accurate. As Ravikiran discovered, making sexist comments at feminists is huge fun too. But enraging feminists will lead to undesirable friction with the girlfriend, and who needs that? So mommybloggers it is.

DU Economics

January 9, 2008

Skimpy has been writing about how people with an Economics background from Delhi University have abysmal conceptual clarity about the subject.

Ok I guess I’m likely to get flak for that comment about the “BA types”. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with a few Economics toppers (undergrad)  from Delhi University. And I’ve found them extremely weak on fundamentals. They know what the graphs look like. They know the definitions well. They know the formulae. But are frequently found wanting when it comes to absolute fundamentals.

Considering that there are hajaar people in my sample (technically, in IITese, anything greater than 2 is hajaar), and given that DU is considered to be the best univ in India for a UG in Economics, I think my generalization is justified.

Coming back, Aadisht says that this lack of fundamentals in these people might be attributed to inappropriate teaching. I won’t rule out that reason. I have the sneaking feeling that lecturers and professors in DU are also mostly from the same background – with an undergrad in Economics. And would have themselves learnt stuff the same way.

When I said inappropriate teaching, I was talking about the terrible textbooks and curriculum more than the teachers themselves. I haven’t seen it for myself, but I got the impression that the fundamentals of microeconomics and macroeconomics form only four papers out of about twenty or thirty in the Economics Honours course at Delhi University. Equal weightage is given to highly arbit courses like Economic History of India and whatnot.

After that GTalk chat, I realised that there are two other important factors at work: the DU admissions system and the DU examination system.

DU admission happens on the basis of your Class 12 board exam marks. Class 12 boards consist of one massive exam at the end of the academic year, with at least a month of study leave leading up to it. DU exams are the pretty much the same. Although some internal evaluation and mid-year exams have been introduced in recent years (I think), the major component of evaluation is still the end-of-year exam with lots of study leading up to it.

To use another framework invented by the Wimp, people who grasp concepts immediately are studs. People who can’t grasp concepts, but make up for it by devoting all their time to mugging and understanding the implications of the concept and how to use it without actually understanding the underlying logic are fighters.

The problem with a massive exam where you get a whole year to prepare for it is that unless you design it very well to test only for conceptual clarity, it ends up obliterating the differences between studs and fighters. The studs will always appreciate surprise quizzes where they can use their understanding of first principles to come up with answers while the more structured, studying-oriented fighters will be caught unawares. Similarly, studs will prefer open-book exams where you have to figure out which first principle to use, and then build theories from the ground up, while the fighters will prefer closed-book exams where they can peacefully obtain marks by regurgitating a given formula or derivation1.

So the DU admission procedure neutralises any advantage studs have over fighters, which leads to the intake consisting largely of fighters. And then three years of an examination process which once again neutralises the advantage any stud in DU might have, means that the toppers will usually end up being mugging-oriented fighters rather than concept-oriented studs.

By contrast, engineering colleges have semester-based continuous evaluation, where the advantage given to a fighter is heavily mitigated. For starters, you have only a four or five month semester to mug, instead of a whole year. Secondly, your concepts keep getting tested throughout the semester. This means that the lead time you have to absorb a concept goes down, and puts additional pressure on fighters.

In the IIMs, the situation is made even more brutal. You have trimesters instead of semesters, and the lead time for fighters to absorb concepts falls to almost Nil. Studs have a clear advantage in this environment (except in courses with lazy profs who set only a midterm and endterm).

Two related points:

  1. A couple of years ago, Annie Zaidi complained that she loved English literature, but used to keep getting outscored by people who didn’t understand it but just mugged it like robots; that this proved that merit in education was nonexistent, and so there was no merit-based argument against reservations.
    Actually, rather than proving that merit in education is nonexistent, it only proves that Annie’s university rewarded meritorious fighters rather than meritorious studs. The policy response therefore is to change the evaluation system, not to proceed with reservations.
  2. The question of what you should be evaluating in an educational system – actual conceptual clarity or the ability to be functional despite a lack of concepts of course remains open. Ideally, an evaluation system would reward both the ability to grasp concepts and derive from first principles, and the ability work with something even if you don’t understand it. But that only reinforces the case for continuous, multi-component evaluation systems.

1: Skimpy’s anguished outburst in the Financial Derivatives class on this very topic will remain forever etched in my memory. In the memory of everyone who attended that class for that matter.