Friday, 29 June 2018

An Insignificant Man - Arvind Kejriwal

Would basic incomes or basic jobs be better when robots take over?

Tim Harford in The Financial Times

We all seem to be worried about the robots taking over these days — and they don’t need to take all the jobs to be horrendously disruptive. A situation where 30 to 40 per cent of the working age population was economically useless would be tough enough. They might be taxi drivers replaced by a self-driving car, hedge fund managers replaced by an algorithm, or financial journalists replaced by a chatbot on Instagram. 

By “economically useless” I mean people unable to secure work at anything approaching a living wage. For all their value as citizens, friends, parents, and their intrinsic worth as human beings, they would simply have no role in the economic system. 

I’m not sure how likely this is — I would bet against it happening soon — but it is never too early to prepare for what might be a utopia, or a catastrophe. And an intriguing debate has broken out over how to look after disadvantaged workers both now and in this robot future. 

Should everyone be given free money? Or should everyone receive the guarantee of a decently-paid job? Various non-profits, polemicists and even Silicon Valley types have thrown their weight behind the “free money” idea in the form of a universal basic income, while US senators including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand have been pushing for trials of a jobs guarantee. 

Basic income or basic jobs? There are countless details for the policy wonks to argue over, but what interests me at the moment is the psychology. In a world of mass technological unemployment, would either of these two remedies make us happy

Author Rutger Bregman describes a basic income in glowing terms, as “venture capital for everyone”. He sees the cash as liberation from abusive working conditions, and a potential launch pad to creative and fulfilling projects. 

Yet the economist Edward Glaeser views a basic income as a “horror” for the recipients. “You’re telling them their lives are not going to be ones of contribution,” he remarked in a recent interview with the EconTalk podcast. “Their lives aren’t going to be producing a product that anyone values.” 

Surely both of them have a point. A similar disagreement exists regarding the psychological effect of a basic jobs guarantee, with advocates emphasising the dignity of work, while sceptics fear a Sisyphean exercise in punching the clock to do a fake job. 

So what does the evidence suggest? Neither a jobs guarantee nor a basic income has been tried at scale in a modern economy, so we are forced to make educated guesses. 

We know that joblessness makes us miserable. In the words of Warwick university economist Andrew Oswald: “There is overwhelming statistical evidence that involuntary unemployment produces extreme unhappiness.” 

What’s more, adds Prof Oswald, most of this unhappiness seems to be because of a loss of prestige, identity or self-worth. Money is only a small part of it. This suggests that the advocates of a jobs guarantee may be on to something. 

In this context, it’s worth noting two recent studies of lottery winners in the Netherlands and Sweden, both of which find that big winners tend to scale back their hours rather than quitting their jobs. We seem to find something in our jobs worth holding on to. 

Yet many of the trappings of work frustrate us. Researchers led by Daniel Kahneman and Alan Krueger asked people to reflect on the emotions they felt as they recalled episodes in the previous day. The most negative episodes were the evening commute, the morning commute, and work itself. Things were better if people got to chat to colleagues while working, but (unsurprisingly) they were worse for low status jobs, or jobs for which people felt overqualified. None of which suggests that people will enjoy working on a guaranteed-job scheme. 

Psychologists have found that we like and benefit from feeling in control. That is a mark in favour of a universal basic income: being unconditional, it is likely to enhance our feelings of control. The money would be ours, by right, to do with as we wish. A job guarantee might work the other way: it makes money conditional on punching the clock. 

On the other hand (again!), we like to keep busy. Harvard researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert have found that “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind”. And social contact is generally good for our wellbeing. Maybe guaranteed jobs would help keep us active and socially connected.

The truth is, we don’t really know. I would hesitate to pronounce with confidence about which policy might ultimately be better for our wellbeing. It is good to see that the more thoughtful advocates of either policy — or both policies simultaneously — are asking for large-scale trials to learn more. 

Meanwhile, I am confident that we would all benefit from an economy that creates real jobs which are sociable, engaging, and decently paid. Grand reforms of the welfare system notwithstanding, none of us should be giving up on making work work better.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Protect the NHS – but don’t protect it to death

Harry Quilter-Pinner in The Guardian

The NHS, as portrayed at the opening of the 2012 London Olympics. Photograph: Julian Simmonds/REX/Shutterstock

Dancing doctors, uniform-clad nurses and children jumping on hospital beds. There are very few countries that would include a celebration of their healthcare system in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. But this was the sight that greeted the millions who tuned in at the start of London 2012. After all, as former chancellor Nigel Lawson said: “The NHS is the closest thing the English people have to a religion.”

Now the country will once again celebrate the NHS, as it turns 70. And so we should. Across the globe, 400 million people still don’t have access to essential healthcare services. Thanks to the NHS, no one in the UK faces this injustice. It is there for us all – regardless of race, sexuality, gender or financial means – at our times of greatest need.

But we must also take this opportunity to stop and reflect. How good is the NHS? What do we want for its future? And what do we need to do to make it better?

A new report attempts to answer some of these tricky questions. It shows that, despite the rhetoric, in many ways the NHS is deeply average. In the authors’ words “the NHS performs neither as well as its supporters sometimes claim nor as badly as its critics often allege”. Shockingly, it finds that if you suffer from cancer, a heart attack or a stroke in the UK, you are more likely to die early than in other developed countries. 

This reality jars with a national perception of the NHS as world leading. Some will jump on this as an opportunity to call for radical change: perhaps a shift to a social – or even a private – insurance model. This would be a mistake. Fundamentally, the NHS is sound: its “free at the point of need” principle ensures that getting ill doesn’t mean getting poor. Moreover, there is strong evidence that it is more efficient than its marketised equivalents in the US and Switzerland.

Money is part of the answer as to why the NHS underperforms, compared with other systems. We spend less on healthcare than most other countries of a similar size and income level: just 9.7% of GDP compared with around 11% in both Germany and France. It should not come as a surprise that with average levels of funding come average levels of care. Theresa May’s recent “birthday present” – a long-term funding settlement for the NHS worth an additional £20bn a year by 2023 – will start to address this, though many predict that it will not be enough in the context of a growing and ageing population.

But money alone is not the solution: the NHS also suffers from a lack of reform. In places where the NHS has embraced best practice it is undoubtedly world leading. Stroke care is a good example. In 2010, London went from 34 hospitals treating stroke sufferers to just eight new centres of excellence. This has resulted in 400 lives saved per year across the capital. There have been attempts to replicate this nationwide. But in too many areas these changes, which involve consolidating services into fewer, more specialist centres, have been opposed by both the public and politicians. 

There are similar debates about moves to embrace new technologies in the NHS. The evidence is clear that artificial intelligence and robotics could fundamentally transform health and care. The government recently announced funding to help save 30,000 lives a year through technology-enabled diagnosis of cancers. But all too often, people see data-sharing as a breach of privacy and the rise of robotics in the NHS as an attempt to cut costs.

In some ways, this reluctance to embrace change is unsurprising. We all have a strong emotional and cultural attachment to the NHS. We are understandably protective of it. And many see the NHS as the last vestige of an endangered postwar consensus. They are fearful that it will go the same way as the rest of the welfare state, becoming watered down, outsourced and underfunded.

But in looking to protect the NHS there is a real risk that we end up “killing it with kindness”. All change is not bad change. As Lord Darzi’s recent review of the NHS has made clear, “high-quality care is a constantly moving target: to stand still is to fall back”. This would not only be a travesty for those who suffer as a result; it would also fuel the arguments its critics. When the great reformer, William Beveridge, proposed the creation of the NHS during the second world war, he was focused not on protecting existing achievements but on embracing the future. On its 70th birthday, it is vital that we do the same again.

How to get away with financial fraud

Dan Davies in The Guardian

Guys, you’ve got to hear this,” I said. I was sitting in front of my computer one day in July 2012, with one eye on a screen of share prices and the other on a live stream of the House of Commons Treasury select committee hearings. As the Barclays share price took a graceful swan dive, I pulled my headphones out of the socket and turned up the volume so everyone could hear. My colleagues left their terminals and came around to watch BBC Parliament with me.

It didn’t take long to realise what was happening. “Bob’s getting murdered,” someone said.

Bob Diamond, the swashbuckling chief executive of Barclays, had been called before the committee to explain exactly what his bank had been playing at in regards to the Libor rate-fixing scandal. The day before his appearance, he had made things very much worse by seeming to accuse the deputy governor of the Bank of England of ordering him to fiddle an important benchmark, then walking back the accusation as soon as it was challenged. He was trying to turn on his legendary charm in front of a committee of angry MPs, and it wasn’t working. On our trading floor, in Mayfair, calls were coming in from all over the City. Investors needed to know what was happening and whether the damage was reparable.

A couple of weeks later, the damage was done. The money was gone, Diamond was out of a job and the market, as it always does, had moved on. We were left asking ourselves: How did we get it so wrong?

At the time I was working for a French stockbroking firm, on the team responsible for the banking sector. I was the team’s regulation specialist. I had been aware of “the Libor affair”, and had written about it on several occasions during the previous months. My colleagues and I had assumed that it would be the typical kind of regulatory risk for the banks – a slap on the wrist, a few hundred million dollars of fines, no more than that.

The first puzzle was that, to start with, it looked like we were right. By the time it caught the attention of the mainstream media, the Libor scandal had reached what would usually be the end of the story – the announcement, on 27 June 2012, of a regulatory sanction. Barclays had admitted a set of facts, made undertakings not to do anything similar again, and agreed to pay finesof £59.5m to the UK’s Financial Services Authority, $200m to the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission and a further $160m to the US Department of Justice. That’s how these things are usually dealt with. If anything, it was considered quite a tough penalty.

But the Libor case marked the beginning of a new process for the regulators. As well as publishing their judgment, they gave a long summary of the evidence and reasoning that led to their decision. In the case of the Libor fines, the majority of that evidence took the form of transcripts of emails and Bloomberg chat. Bloomberg’s trading terminals – the $50,000-a-year news and financial-data servers that every trader uses – have an instant-messaging function in addition to supplying prices and transmitting news. Financial market professionals are vastly more addicted to this chat than teen girls are to Instagram, and many of them failed to realise that if you discussed illegal activity on this medium, you were making things easy for the authorities.

The transcripts left no room for doubt.

Trader C: “The big day [has] arrived … My NYK are screaming at me about an unchanged 3m libor. As always, any help wd be greatly appreciated. What do you think you’ll go for 3m?”

Submitter: “I am going 90 altho 91 is what I should be posting.”

Trader C: “[…] when I retire and write a book about this business your name will be written in golden letters […]”.

Submitter: “I would prefer this [to] not be in any book!”

Perhaps it’s unfair to judge the Libor conspirators on their chat records; few of the journalists who covered the story would like to see their own Twitter direct-message history paraded in front of an angry public. Trading, for all its bluster, is basically a service industry, and there is no service industry anywhere in the world whose employees don’t blow off steam by acting out or insulting the customers behind their backs. But traders tend to have more than the usual level of self-confidence, bordering on arrogance. And in a general climate in which the public was both unhappy with the banking industry and unimpressed with casual banter about ostentatious displays of wealth, the Libor transcripts appeared crass beyond belief. Every single popular stereotype about traders was confirmed. An abstruse and technical set of regulatory breaches suddenly became a morality play, a story of swaggering villains who fixed the market as if it was a horse race. The politicians could hardly have failed to get involved.

It is not a pleasant thing to see your industry subjected to criticism that is at once overheated, ill-informed and entirely justified. In 2012, the financial sector finally got the kind of enemies it deserved. The popular version of events might have been oversimplified and wrong in lots of technical detail, but in the broad sweep, it was right. The nuanced and technical version of events which the specialists obsessed over might have been right on the detail, but it missed one utterly crucial point: a massive crime of dishonesty had taken place. There was a word for what had happened, and that word was fraud. For a period of months, it seemed to me as if the more you knew about the Libor scandal, the less you understood it.

That’s how we got it so wrong. We were looking for incidental breaches of technical regulations, not systematic crime. And the thing is, that’s normal. The nature of fraud is that it works outside your field of vision, subverting the normal checks and balances so that the world changes while the picture stays the same. People in financial markets have been missing the wood for the trees for as long as there have been markets.

Some places in the world are what they call “low-trust societies”. The political institutions are fragile and corrupt, business practices are dodgy, debts are rarely repaid and people rightly fear being ripped off on any transaction. In the “high-trust societies”, conversely, businesses are honest, laws are fair and consistently enforced, and the majority of people can go about their day in the knowledge that the overall level of integrity in economic life is very high. With that in mind, and given what we know about the following two countries, why is it that the Canadian financial sector is so fraud-ridden that Joe Queenan, writing in Forbes magazine in 1989, nicknamed Vancouver the “Scam Capital of the World”, while shipowners in Greece will regularly do multimillion-dollar deals on a handshake?

We might call this the “Canadian paradox”. There are different kinds of dishonesty in the world. The most profitable kind is commercial fraud, and commercial fraud is parasitical on the overall health of the business sector on which it preys. It is much more difficult to be a fraudster in a society in which people only do business with relatives, or where commerce is based on family networks going back centuries. It is much easier to carry out a securities fraud in a market where dishonesty is the rare exception rather than the everyday rule.

Traders at Bloomberg terminals on the floor of the New York stock exchange, 2013. Photograph: Brendan McDermid / Reuters/REUTERS

The existence of the Canadian paradox suggests that there is a specifically economic dimension to a certain kind of crime of dishonesty. Trust – particularly between complete strangers, with no interactions beside relatively anonymous market transactions – is the basis of the modern industrial economy. And the story of the development of the modern economy is in large part the story of the invention and improvement of technologies and institutions for managing that trust.

And as industrial society develops, it becomes easier to be a victim. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith described how prosperity derived from the division of labour – the 18 distinct operations that went into the manufacture of a pin, for example. While this was going on, the modern world also saw a growing division of trust. The more a society benefits from the division of labour in checking up on things, the further you can go into a con game before you realise that you’re in one. In the case of several dealers in the Libor market, by the time anyone realised something was crooked, they were several billions of dollars in over their heads.

In hindsight, the Libor system was always a shoddy piece of work. Some not-very-well-paid clerks from the British Bankers’ Association would call up a few dozen banks and ask: “If you were to borrow, say, a million dollars in [a given currency] for a 30-day deposit, what would you expect to pay?” A deposit, in this context, is a short-term loan from one bank to another. Due to customers’ inconvenient habit of borrowing from one bank and putting the money in an account at another, banks are constantly left with either surplus customer deposits, or a shortage of funds. The “London inter-bank offered-rate” (Libor) market is where they sort this out by borrowing from and lending to each other, at the “offered rate” of interest.

Once they had their answers, the clerks would throw away the highest and lowest outliers and calculate the average of the rest, which would be recorded as “30-day Libor” for that currency. The process would be repeated for three-month loans, six-month loans and any other periods of interest, and the rates would be published. You would then have a little table recording the state of the market on that day – you could decide which currency you wanted to borrow in, and how long you wanted the use of the money, and the Libor panel would give you a good sense of what high-quality banks were paying to do the same.

Compared with the amount of time and effort that goes into the systems for nearly everything else that banks do, not very much trouble was taken over this process. Other markets rose and fell, stock exchanges mutated and were taken over by super-fast robots, but the Libor rate for the day was still determined by a process that could be termed “a quick ring-around”. Nobody noticed until it was too late that hundreds of trillions of dollars of the world economy rested on a number compiled by the few dozen people in the world with the greatest incentive to fiddle it.

It started to fall apart with the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007, and all the more so after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, when banks were so scared that they effectively stopped lending to each other. Although the market was completely frozen, the daily Libor ring-around still took place, and banks still gave, almost entirely speculatively, answers to the question “If you were to borrow a reasonable sum, what would you expect to pay?”

But the daily quotes were published, and that meant everyone could see what everyone else was saying about their funding costs. And one of the telltale signs that a bank in trouble is when its funding costs start to rise. If your Libor submission is taken as an indicator of whether you’re in trouble or not, you really don’t want to be the highest number on the daily list. Naturally, then, quite a few banks started using the Libor submission process as a form of false advertising, putting in a lowballed quote in order to make it look like they were still obtaining money easily when, in fact, they could hardly borrow at all. And so it came to pass that several banks created internal message trails saying, in effect, “Dear Lowly Employee, for the benefit of the bank and its shareholders, please start submitting a lower Libor quote, signed Senior Executive”. This turned out to be a silly thing to do.

All this was known at the time. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about it. I used to prepare PowerPoint slides with charts on them that had gaps for the year 2008 because the data was “somewhat hypothetical”. Even earlier, in late 2007, the Bank of England held a “liaison group” meeting so that representatives from the banks could discuss the issue of Libor reporting. What nobody seemed to realise is that an ongoing fraud was being committed. There was a conspiracy to tell a lie (to the Libor phone panel, about a bank’s true cost of funding) in order to induce someone to enter into a bargain at a disadvantage to themselves. The general public caught on to all this a lot quicker than the experts did, which put the last nail in the coffin of the already weakened trust in the financial system. You could make a case that a lot of the populist politics of the subsequent decade can be traced back to the Libor affair.

Libor teaches us a valuable lesson about commercial fraud – that unlike other crimes, it has a problem of denial as well as one of detection. There are very few other criminal acts where the victim not only consents to the criminal act, but voluntarily transfers the money or valuable goods to the criminal. And the hierarchies, status distinctions and networks that make up a modern economy also create powerful psychological barriers against seeing fraud when it is happening. White-collar crime is partly defined by the kind of person who commits it: a person of high status in the community, the kind of person who is always given the benefit of the doubt.

In popular culture, the fraudster is the “confidence man”, somewhere between a stage magician and the trickster gods of mythology. In films such as The Sting and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, they are master psychologists, exploiting the greed and myopia of their victims, and creating a world of illusion. People like this do exist (albeit rarely). But they are not typical of white-collar criminals.

The interesting questions are never about individual psychology. There are plenty of larger-than-life characters. But there are also plenty of people like Enron’s Jeff Skilling and Baring’s Nick Leeson: aggressively dull clerks and managers whose only interest derives from the disasters they caused. And even for the real craftsmen, the actual work is, of necessity, incredibly prosaic.

The way most white-collar crime works is by manipulating institutional psychology. That means creating something that looks as much as possible like a normal set of transactions. The drama comes later, when it all unwinds.

Fraudsters don’t play on moral weaknesses, greed or fear; they play on weaknesses in the system of checks and balances – the audit processes that are meant to supplement an overall environment of trust. One point that comes up again and again when looking at famous and large-scale frauds is that, in many cases, everything could have been brought to a halt at a very early stage if anyone had taken care to confirm all the facts. But nobody does confirm all the facts. There are just too bloody many of them. Even after the financial rubble has settled and the arrests been made, this is a huge problem.

Jeffrey Skilling and Sherron Watkins of Enron at a Senate commerce committee hearing in 2002. Photograph: Ron Edmonds/AP

It is a commonplace of law enforcement that commercial frauds are difficult to prosecute. In many countries, proposals have been made, and sometimes passed into law, to remove juries from complex fraud trials, or to move the task of dealing with them out of the criminal justice system and into regulatory or other non-judicial processes. Such moves are understandable. There is a need to be seen to get prosecutions and to maintain confidence in the whole system. However, taking the opinions of the general public out of the question seems to me to be a counsel of despair.

When analysed properly, there isn’t much that is truly difficult about the proverbial “complex fraud trial”. The underlying crime is often surprisingly crude: someone did something dishonest and enriched themselves at the expense of others. What makes white-collar trials so arduous for jurors is really their length, and the amount of detail that needs to be brought for a successful conviction. Such trials are not long and detailed because there is anything difficult to understand. They are long and difficult because so many liars are involved, and when a case has a lot of liars, it takes time and evidence to establish that they are lying.

This state of affairs is actually quite uncommon in the criminal justice system. Most trials only have a couple of liars in the witness box, and the question is a simple one of whether the accused did it or not. In a fraud trial, rather than denying responsibility for the actions involved, the defendant is often insisting that no crime was committed at all, that there is an innocent interpretation for everything.

In January this year, the construction giant Carillion collapsed. Although they had issued a profits warning last summer, they continued to land government contracts. It was assumed that, since they had been audited by KPMG, one of the big-four accounting firms, any serious problems would have been spotted.
At the time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted over the collapse of Carillion. Maybe nobody will and maybe nobody should. It’s possible, after all, for a big firm to go bust, even really suddenly, without it being a result of anything culpable. But the accounting looks weird – at the very least, they seem to have recognised revenue a long time before it actually arrived. It’s not surprising that the accounting standards bodies are asking some questions. So are the Treasury select committee: one MP told a partner at KPMG that “I would not hire you to do an audit of the contents of my fridge.”

In general, cases of major fraud should have been prevented by auditors, whose specific job it is to review every set of accounts as a neutral outside party, and certify that they are a true and fair view of the business
. But they don’t always do this. Why not? The answer is simple: some auditors are willing to bend the rules, and some are too easily fooled. And whatever reforms are made to the accounting standards and to the rules governing the profession, the same problems have cropped up again and again.

First, there is the problem that the vast majority of auditors are both honest and competent. This is a good thing, of course, but the bad thing about it is that it means that most people have never met a crooked or incompetent auditor, and therefore have no real understanding that such people exist.

To find a really bad guy at a big-four accountancy firm, you have to be quite unlucky (or quite lucky if that was what you were looking for). But as a crooked manager of a company, churning around your auditors until you find a bad ’un is exactly what you do – and when you find one, you hang on to them. This means that the bad auditors are gravitationally drawn into auditing the bad companies, while the majority of the profession has an unrepresentative view of how likely that could be.

Second, there is the problem that even if an auditor is both honest and competent, he has to have a spine, or he might as well not be. Fraudsters can be both persistent and overbearing, and not all the people who went into accountancy firms out of university did so because they were commanding, alpha-type personalities.

Added to this, fraudsters are really keen on going over auditors’ heads and complaining to their bosses at the accounting firm, claiming that the auditor is being unhelpful and bureaucratic, not allowing the CEO to use his legitimate judgment in presenting the results of his own business.

Partly because auditors are often awful stick-in-the-muds and arse-coverers, and partly because auditing is a surprisingly competitive and unprofitable business that is typically used as a loss-leader to sell more remunerative consulting and IT work, you can’t assume that the auditor’s boss will support their employee, even though the employee is the one placing their signature (and the reputation of the whole practice) on the set of accounts. As with several other patterns of behaviour that tend to generate frauds, the dynamic by which a difficult audit partner gets overruled or removed happens so often, and reproduces itself so exactly, that it must reflect a fairly deep and ubiquitous incentive problem that will be very difficult to remove.

By way of a second line of defence, investors and brokerage firms often employ their own “analysts” to critically read sets of published accounts. The analyst is meant to be an industry expert, with enough financial training to read company accounts and to carry out valuations of companies and other assets. Although their primary job is to identify profitable opportunities in securities trading – shares or bonds that are either very undervalued or very overvalued – it would surely seem to be the case that part of this job would involve the identification of companies that are very overvalued because they are frauds.

Well, sometimes it works. A set of fraudulent accounts will often generate “tells”. In particular, fraudsters in a hurry, or with limited ability to browbeat the auditors, will not be able to fake the balance sheet to match the way they have faked the profits. Inflated sales might show up as having been carried out without need for inventories, and without any trace of the cash they should have generated. Analysts are also often good at spotting practices such as “channel stuffing”, when a company (usually one with a highly motivated and target-oriented sales force) sells a lot of product to wholesalers and intermediaries towards the end of the quarter, booking sales and moving inventory off its books. This makes growth look good in the short term, at the expense of future sales.

Often, an honest auditor who has buckled under pressure will include a cryptic-looking passage of legalese, buried in the notes to the accounts, explaining what accounting treatment has been used, and hoping that someone will read it and understand that the significance of this note is that all of the headline numbers are fake. Nearly all of the fraudulent accounting policies adopted by Enron could have been deduced from its public filings if you knew where to look.

More common is the situation that prevailed in the period immediately preceding the global financial crisis.Analysts occasionally noticed that some things didn’t add up, and said so, and one or two of them wrote reports that, if taken seriously, could have been seen as prescient warnings. The problem is that spotting frauds is difficult and, for the majority of investors, not worth expending the effort on. That means it is not worth it for most analysts, either. Frauds are rare. Frauds that can be spotted by careful analysis are even rarer. And frauds that are also large enough to offer serious rewards for betting against them come along roughly once every business cycle, in waves.

Analysts are also subject to very similar pressures to those that cause auditors to compromise their principles. Anyone accusing a company publicly of being a fraud is taking a big risk, and can expect significant retaliation. It is well to remember that frauds generally look like very successful companies, and there are sound accounting reasons for this. It is not just that once you have decided to fiddle the accounts you might as well make them look great rather than mediocre.

If you are extracting cash fraudulently, you usually need to be growing the fake earnings at a higher rate. So people who are correctly identifying frauds can often look like they are jealously attacking success. Frauds also tend to carry out lots of financial transactions and pay large commissions to investment banks, all the while making investors believe they are rich. The psychological barriers against questioning a successful CEO are not quite as powerful as those against questioning the honesty of a doctor or lawyer, but they are substantial.

And finally, most analysts’ opinions are not read. A fraudster does not have to fool everyone; he just needs to fool enough people to get his money.

If you are looking to the financial system to protect investors, you are going to end up being disappointed. But this is inevitable. Investors don’t want to be protected from fraud; they want to invest. Since the invention of stock markets, there has been surprisingly little correlation between the amount of fraud in a market and the return to investors. It’s been credibly estimated that in the Victorian era, one in six companies floated on the London Stock Exchange was a fraud. But people got rich. It’s the Canadian paradox. Although in the short term, you save your money by checking everything out, in the long term, success goes to those who trust.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Do Writers Care About the Curse of Knowledge?

Thomas Manuel in The Wire.In

In A Scandal in Bohemia, Sherlock Holmes, in typical Sherlock Holmes fashion, deduces something outrageous about Watson based on a few stray scratches on his shoes. Watson, in typical Watson fashion, is dumbfounded and asks Holmes to explain his logic. But after listening to Holmes’ explanation, Watson finds himself disappointed and can’t help but laugh. “When I hear you give your reasons,” says Watson, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you explain your process.”

With those words, Arthur Conan Doyle might as well have been trying to define the cognitive phenomenon that has come to be called ‘the curse of knowledge’. Vera Tobin, a professor of cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, explains it thus: “the more information we have about something and the more experience we have with it, the harder it is to step outside that experience to appreciate the full implications of not having that privileged information.” Discovered in 1989, the curse of knowledge is now a part of growing family of psychological biases possessed by the human mind. The list includes crowd favourites like hindsight bias and survivor fallacy.

In her book, Elements of Surprise: Our Mental Limits and the Satisfactions of Plot, Tobin aims to illuminate how the purportedly detrimental effects of the curse of knowledge are essential for good storytelling. Just as magicians rely on the predictability of human attention, writers rely on the predictability of human memory or emotion. Writers use these unconscious habits of our minds to make us feel what they want – hope or suspense or edge-of-the-seat panic! These unconscious mental habits or heuristics are reliable enough that techniques to exploit them have existed since antiquity. For example, Bharata’s Natyasastra, which is about 2,000 years old, confidently provides aspiring artists with the ancient equivalent of tips and tricks to get their audience to the appropriate state of aesthetic rapture.

Of course, reading the Natyasastra for these tips and tricks might not be the most efficient use of your time; it’s primarily a book on aesthetic theory. Similarly, aspiring writers might not be the target audience of Tobin’s book. Writers don’t really need to know why their techniques work. They just need to know how to deploy them. Tobin’s book takes these various literary techniques and exhaustively cross-references them with psychological studies that explore their causes and effects.

Elements of Surprise
Vera Tobin
Harvard University Press, 2018

For example, in one section, Tobin connects the cognitive phenomenon of anchoring with the literary technique of “finessing misinformation”. Anchoring is the bias where the mind latches onto an initial piece of information and uses that to “anchor” subsequent discussion. For example, in one study by Dan Ariely, students were divided into two groups and offered money to listen to harsh grating music. One group was offered 10 cents and the other group was offered 90 cents. After playing the harsh music once, they were asked how much they would need to be paid to listen to the music again. The group given 10 cents originally asked for 33 and the group given 90 cents asked for 73. The initial number “anchored” their estimation for what was a fair price. (Think about this the next time you’re at a salary negotiation. The first number put on the table has an outsized effect on what passes for “reasonable”.)

Anchoring is typically studied with quantitative information for obvious reasons but there have been numerous studies showing it is applicable even in qualitative situations. Tobin argues that authors exploit the anchoring effect to slip plot-related misinformation past their audiences. She writes, “Once a possible interpretation of events is introduced at all, it has a degree of persuasive force that derives from a manifestation of the curse of knowledge.” So authors will finesse misinformation to their readers through, for example, the opinions of characters. Or even more subtly, by disguising whether certain statements belong to the narrator or to a character. The more effectively this is done, the more satisfying finally revealing the truth can be.

In another fruitful section, Tobin discusses the value of “presupposition”. In linguistics, presuppositions are apparent truths that are tacitly assumed by some statement or question. By having characters presuppose information, Tobin writes that authors let statements “enter the narrative without explicit comment.”

For example, in the evergreen classic Kung Fu Panda (2008), Po’s father, the goose, is a popular chef. Po dreams of being a warrior, sure, but he’s also genuinely excited about learning the secret ingredient in his father’s Secret Ingredient Soup. This is the presupposition – it presupposes that there’s an ingredient to learn. Of course, in the end, Po’s father reveals that – spoiler alert – there is no special ingredient. But Po’s obvious belief helps slip this information past the audience “without explicit comment” and then the revelation is free to become the cornerstone of Po’s climactic transformation.

But while the marriage of cognitive science and literature is interesting, there is always the lingering question of reproducibility and effect sizes around the studies that Tobin cites throughout the book. For example, in one chapter where she elaborates on the “curse of knowledge”, she cites a 2007 paper by Susan Birch and Paul Bloom on false-belief tasks. In her discussion, she doesn’t mention a 2013 study by Rachel Ryskin and Sarah Brown-Schmidt that reviewed the Birch and Bloom experiments and estimated that “the true effect size to be less than half of that reported in the original findings.”

To be fair, this probably doesn’t really matter a great deal in terms of the general thrust of Tobin’s argument. But it does point at an issue with the process of going from psychology experiments to statements around the truth of how minds actually work, which looms over the entire book.

Decoding India II

Sanjay Rajoura

Monday, 25 June 2018

'This scheme is a lifesaver': India's drive to provide cheap drugs

Amrit Dhillon in The Guardian

Pharmacy stalls do a brisk trade opposite Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The Jan Aushadi scheme has provided a lifeline for many poor people. Photograph: Michael Safi

A taciturn, heavy-set man, Khawar Khan is not given to smiling. Only when he recalls the relief flooding the faces of customers after he has sold medicines at a twentieth of the cost in other chemists does he smile broadly.

“An autorickshaw wallah broke down here. Medicines for his wife used to cost him a catastrophic 10,000 (£111) rupees a month, his entire monthly salary. I gave him a month’s supply for 2,200 rupees. His relief was something to see,” says Khan.

Had the autorickshaw wallah not learned of Khan’s special pharmacy, stocked only with low-cost, generic medicines supplied by the government, he would have become one of the 55 million Indians pushed into poverty each year because of the cost of treating an illness.

The figure was provided by experts at the Public Health Foundation of India and published in the British Medical Journal. Of the 55 million, 38 million fell below the poverty line due to spending on medicines alone.

Khan’s little store is in the crowded and scruffy neighbourhood of Jamia Nagar in New Delhi. The floor is clean. Medicines are neatly stocked on the white shelves. The store is part of the Jan Aushadhi government project to provide generic medicines (identical to branded drugs but, since they don’t include research and development costs, substantially cheaper) to poor people in India so that the potentially ruinous medical costs of an illness can be managed.

Narendra Modi has injected fresh life into the Jan Aushadi scheme since his election as Indian prime minster in 2014. Photograph: Harish Tyagi/EPA

Started in 2008 by a previous government, the scheme foundered, mainly because pharmacies stocked so few drugs that hardly anyone bothered going to them. When the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, it gave the project a push, setting a target of 3,000 stores. From 97 pharmacies in 2014, there are now more than 3,000 countrywide.

This is a tiny figure for a country the size of India – some people have to travel long distances to find one – but it’s something. The only problem is providing the pharmacies with enough drugs.

“Most Jan Aushadhi stores have barely 100-150 formulations instead of the promised 600-plus medicines and their numbers are too small compared to the 550,000 pharmacies in India,” says the Public Health Foundation report.

Speak to the owners and they say even basic items, such as calcium supplements or oral rehydration salts, are often in short supply.

“I used to get only 30% of my orders from the government distributor. I hated sending patients away empty-handed, sometimes elderly people who had travelled 20 kilometres. Because I never had sufficient sales volume to make a profit, I was making a loss for a year. So I closed down last month,” says Shivdan Singh, whose shop was in Chhatarpur.

Khan is likewise failing to make a profit, but says he will give it another year before deciding what to do.

Advesh Kumar, deputy marketing manager of the Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India, the government agency that supplies the drugs, admits the stores lacked the full range of drugs. He says the bureau was not geared up to meet the demand generated by the sharp rise in the number of pharmacies.

“There is an undoubted shortage. Demand is higher than we anticipated. It’s also hard to predict which drugs will be needed. But we have got new software that will enable us to handle the issue better and we will plug the gap within two months,’ says Kumar.

As he sits in Khan’s store, Shazad Choudhury looks tense. Judging by the long list of prescriptions he has handed over to Khan, his entire extended family is ill with hypertension, diabetes, heart problems, kidney infections, uterus infections, and depression. Choudhury himself is recovering from a slipped disc.

“Look at all these medicines!” says Choudhury. “I’d be on the streets if I had to get these from a normal pharmacy. This scheme is a lifesaver. But it is tedious for me to keep waiting. There are two drugs I have been waiting for for a fortnight. The government must ensure the shops are fully stocked,” he says.

Outside the pharmacy, Kishore Dutt, a construction worker, is leaving, with medicines for his grandmother. He says some of his relatives told him to let his 82-year-old grandmother die because the medicines were too expensive. Poor families often have to make inhuman choices of this kind. Treat an elderly person, who may not even get better, and let the children go hungry? Or let that person die so that the children can eat and live?

Dutt heard about the Jan Aushadhi scheme and located Khan’s pharmacy. “I’m rushing back to my nani (grandmother). I hope these [drugs] will cure her,” he says.

Dutt was lucky that his grandmother’s doctor prescribed the generic name of the drugs. Many doctors in India, despite the Medical Council of India’s order to prescribe generic medicines, fail to do so. The perception that generic means no good and branded means good persists, even among doctors.

“The doctor down the road told a patient that generic drugs were ineffective. They need to be educated because they are doing a great disservice to the poor,” says Khan.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Why Germany Cannot and Should Not Pay to Save the Eurozone

Yanis Varoufakis at the Leibnitz Institute

What is patriotic? Who gets to decide that?

Pervez Hoodbhoy in The Dawn

LAST week an unsigned email from Netra­ landed in my inbox. It accused me of stirring “hate against the state and the institutions in the garb of being sane and intellectual” while claiming “we know what cooks in your mind when u address the masses and who u work for”. And so, to deal with me, it says “we can enlist them”. What “them” means is unstated.

Hidden somewhere in cyber space some prankster bearing some personal grudge — possibly a student who couldn’t pass my physics course — might well have authored this email. If so the only action called for has already been taken — hitting the delete button followed by a trash flush. I lost no sleep over this.

But instead, what if today there is actually some organised and systematic effort afoot to frighten and silence those Pakistani voices judged unpatriotic? Could this be why — now for many months — meaningful political analysis and discussion have disappeared from local print and electronic media? Bloggers have disappeared, only to reappear with horrendous tales to tell, and many journalists have been stilled forever.

The evidence is all over: cable operators have been forced to block certain TV news channels, and street hawkers have been warned against selling certain newspapers that don’t toe the line. The line — that mysterious line — can only be inferred because specifying it might reveal too much of who actually draws the line. With some exceptions, owners, editors, anchors, journalists, and opinion writers have fallen quickly into place.

But even if some voices are successfully gagged, I contend such tactics by anonymous actors cannot ever create a more stable or stronger Pakistan. In fact the efforts of and his ilk are arguably counter-patriotic. Here’s why.

First, freedom of expression acts as a safety valve against authoritarian rule, tyranny and secret government. Secret government is bad because it is uninhibited by the checks and balances needed for good governance. Accountability is not just about iqamas and politicians. It’s equally needed for generals, judges, lawyers, professors, policemen and milkmen. If certain voices are amplified while others are suppressed, genuine accountability becomes difficult.

Second, true patriotism comes from caring. In fact, real caring is often the reason why some dare raise voices to criticise what they perceive wrong around them. While Mr was probably told in his school that criticising state institutions is unpatriotic, this view is without logic.

Should citizens of Pakistan be stopped from sharing and airing their thoughts on PIA’s performance, the national cricket team, or the country’s professors, politicians, or generals? None of these are holy, faultless, and above reproach. No patriotic Pakistani can have beef with the state or any of its institutions provided these function within their respective mandates.

This begs the key question: who is a patriotic Pakistani and acts to benefit it? Equivalently, what is Pakistan’s national interest and who may rightfully define it? Surely this is not for some hidden force to specify. The only proper way is to determine its parameters through open and honest public debate.

Here’s my take, hopefully shared by many millions. A true patriot wants to make Pakistan poverty-free; to help it achieve high standards of justice and financial integrity; to convince its different peoples and provinces about mutual sharing and caring; to help make real universities instead of the ones we have; to explore space and become a world leader in science; to develop literature and the arts; and much more.

The other conception of Pakistani patriotism and national interest — the mainstream one — is different. Taught in schools and propagated via the media, it focuses upon our relations with India. This involves freeing Kashmir from India; deterring India with nuclear weapons; creating strategic depth against India through controlling Afghanistan; neutralising Indian power by nurturing the Pakistan-China relationship; punishing Iran for its friendship with India; etc. This India-centric view has been strengthened by Indian obduracy on Kashmir, its unconscionable repression of Kashmiri protesters, and the emergence of a hard-line anti-Muslim Hindu right.

But now matters other than India are casting dark shadows. Short of nuclear war or a miracle, nothing can now prevent Pakistan from reaching 400 million people in 35-40 years. Water is running short, and environmental destruction is everywhere. Then there are fanatical mullahs that the state appeases, fights, and then appeases again.

Add these all up and you can understand why Mr’s mind is being unconsciously governed by the fears of Robert Hobbes (1588-1679). Hobbes famously articulated the dread of a state sliding deep into dystopia. During the English Civil War, he became obsessed with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid the evil of discord and civil war.

In one of the best known passages of English literature, Hobbes writes: “In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” His only solution is an absolute authority in the form of an absolute monarch. Else, says Hobbes, there would be a “war of all against all”.

Hobbes was wrong and his negative vision proved false. England grew to be Europe’s most powerful country and a fountain of civilisation. Democracy was central to this; without developing a system resting on freedom of speech and thought England could never have become the cradle of the Scientific Revolution and then the Industrial Revolution. Rejection of military rule, hereditary privilege, and absolute monarchy eventually won universal acceptance.

I wonder if Mr and others with a negative vision will get to read this article. Will they realise that trying to shut people up is actually unpatriotic? For all who care for the well-being of Pakistan and its people, it is a patriotic duty to speak against abuses of power. Equating patriotism with passivity and unquestioning obedience is nonsense. Pakistan Zindabad!

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

A BJP MP's Analysis of his government

Shivam Shankar Singh in Asia Times

Political discourse is at it’s lowest point in the country, at least in my lifetime. The partisanship bias is unbelievable and people continue to support their side no matter what the evidence, there is no remorse even when they’re proved to have been spreading fake news. This is something that everyone – the parties and the voters or supporters are to be blamed for.

BJP has done a great job at spreading some specific messages with incredibly effective propaganda, and these messages are the primary reason that I can’t support the party anymore. But before we get into any of that, I’d like everyone to understand that no party is totally bad, and no party is totally good. All governments have done some good and messed up on some fronts. This government is no different.

The Good:

1. Road construction is faster than it was earlier. There has been a change in methodology of counting road length, but even factoring that in it seems to be faster.

2. Electricity connection increased – all villages electrified and people getting electricity for more hours. (Congress did electrify over 500,000 villages and Modi finished the job by connecting the last 18,000 or so, you can weigh the achievement as you like. Similarly, the number of hours people get electricity has increased ever since independence, but it might be a larger increase during BJP).

3. Upper-level corruption is reduced (Also read Electoral Bonds below) – no huge cases at the ministerial level as of now (but the same was true of UPA, the alliance formed after the 2004 poll). Lower level seems to be about the same with increased amounts, no one seems to be able to control the thanedar, patwari (village policeman, headman) et al.

4. The Swachh Bharat Mission (clean-up campaign) is a success – more toilets built than before and Swachhta is something embedded in people’s minds now.

5. Ujjwala Yojana (LPG connection scheme) is a great initiative. How many people buy the second cylinder remains to be seen. The first one and a stove was free, but now people need to pay for it. The cost of cylinders has almost doubled since the government took over and now one costs more than 800 rupees.

6. Connectivity for the Northeast has undoubtedly increased. More trains, roads, flights and most importantly – the region is now discussed in the mainstream news channels.

7. Law and order is reportedly better than it was under regional parties.

Feel free to add achievements you can think of in the comments below, also achievements necessarily have caveats, failures are absolute!

The Bad:

It takes decades and centuries to build systems and nations, the biggest failure I see in BJP is that it has destroyed some great things on very flimsy grounds.

1. Electoral Bonds – these basically legalize corruption and allow corporates and foreign powers to just buy our political parties. The bonds are anonymous, so if a corporate says ‘I’ll give you an electoral bond of 1,000 crore [10 billion rupees] if you pass this specific policy’, there will be no prosecution. There just is no way to establish quid pro quo with an anonymous instrument. This also explains how corruption is reduced at the ministerial level – it isn’t per file or order, it is now like the US, at the policy level.

2. Planning Commission Reports – this used to be a major source for data. They audited government schemes and stated how things are going. With that gone, there just is no choice but to believe whatever data the government gives you (Comptroller and Auditor General audits come out after a long time!). NITI Aayog (the National Institute for Transforming India) doesn’t have this mandate and is basically a think tank and PR agency. Plan or non-plan distinction could be removed without removing this!

3. Misuse of CBI and ED (the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate) – it is being used for political purposes as far as I can see, but even if it isn’t the fear that these institutions will be unleashed on them if they speak up against anything Modi or Shah-related is real. This is enough to kill dissent, an integral component of democracy.

4. Failure to investigate Kalikho Pul’s suicide note, Judge Loya’s death, the Sohrabuddin murder, the defense of an MLA accused of rape who’s relative is accused of killing the girl’s father and a First Information Report (to police) wasn’t registered for over a year!

5. Demonetization – it failed, but worse is BJP’s inability to accept that it failed. All propaganda of it cutting terror funding, reducing cash, eliminating corruption is just absurd. It also killed off businesses.

6. GST Implementation – Implemented in a hurry and harmed business. Complicated structure, multiple rates on different items, complex filing… Hopefully, it’ll stabilize in time, but it did cause harm. Failure to acknowledge that from BJP is extremely arrogant.

7. The messed-up foreign policy with pure grandstanding – China has a port in Sri Lanka, huge interests in Bangladesh and Pakistan – we’re surrounded, the failure in the Maldives (Indian workers not getting visas anymore because of India’s foreign policy debacle) while Modi-ji goes out to foreign countries and keeps saying Indians had no respect in the world before 2014 and now they’re supremely respected. (This is nonsense. Indian respect in foreign countries was a direct result of our growing economy and IT sector; it hasn’t improved an ounce because of Modi. Might even have declined due to beef-based lynchings, threats to journalists, etc.)

8. Failure of schemes and failure to acknowledge and correct the course – Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (rural development), Make In India, Skill Development, Fasal Bima (crop insurance: look at reimbursements – the government is lining the pockets of insurance companies). Failure to acknowledge unemployment and farmers crisis, calling every real issue an opposition stunt.

9. The high prices of petrol and diesel – Modi-ji and all BJP ministers and supporters criticized Congress for it heavily and now all of them justify the high prices even though crude is cheaper than it was then! Just unacceptable.

10. Failure to engage with the most important basic issues – education and healthcare. There is just nothing on education, which is the nation’s biggest failure. The quality of government schools has deteriorated over the decades (ASER reports) and no action. They did nothing on healthcare for four years, then Ayushman Bharat (National Health Protection scheme) was announced. That scheme scares me more than nothing being done. Insurance schemes have a terrible track record and this is going the US route, which is a terrible destination for healthcare (watch ‘Sicko’ by Michael Moore)!

You can add some and subtract some based on personal understanding of the issue, but this is my assessment. The Electoral Bonds thing is huge and hopefully the Supreme Court will strike it down! Every government has some failures and some bad decisions though, the bigger issue I have is more on morals than anything else.

The Ugly:

The real negative of this government is how it has affected the national discourse with a well-considered strategy. This isn’t a failure, it’s the plan.

1. It has discredited the media, so now every criticism is brushed off as a journalist who didn’t get paid by BJP or is on the payrolls of Congress. I know several journalists for whom the allegation can’t be true, but more importantly, no one ever addresses the accusation or complaint – they just attack the person raising the issue and ignore the issue itself.

2. It has peddled a narrative that nothing happened in India in 70 years. This is patently false and the mentality is harmful to the nation. This government spent over Rs. 4,000 crore (40 billion rupees) of our taxpayers’ money on advertisements and now that will become the trend. Do small works and huge branding. He isn’t the first one to build roads – some of the best roads I’ve traveled on were pet projects of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. India became an IT powerhouse from the 90s. It is easy to measure past performance and berate past leaders based on the circumstances of today, just one example of that:

“Why did Congress not build toilets in 70 years? They couldn’t even do something so basic. This argument sounds logical and I believed it too, until I started reading India’s history. When we gained independence in 1947 we were an extremely poor country, we didn’t have the resources for even basic infrastructure and no capital. To counteract this PM Nehru went down the socialist path and created the concept of Public Sector Undertakings. We had no capacity to build steel, so with the help of Russians the Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC), Ranchi was set up that made machines to make steel in India – without this we would have no steel, and consequently no infrastructure. That was the agenda – basic industries and infra. We had frequent droughts (aakaal), every 2-3 years and a large number of people starved to death. The priority was to feed the people, toilets were a luxury no one cared for. The Green Revolution happened and the food shortages disappeared by the 1990s – now we have a surplus problem. The toilet situation is exactly like people asking 25 years from now why Modi couldn’t make all houses in India air-conditioned. That seems like a luxury today, toilets were also a luxury at some point of time. Maybe things could have happened sooner, maybe 10-15 years ago, but nothing happened in 70 years is a horrible lie to peddle.”

3. The spread and reliance on Fake News. There is some anti-BJP fake news too, but the pro-BJP and anti-opposition fake news outstrips that by miles in number and in reach. Some of it is supporters, but a lot of it comes from the party. It is often hateful and polarizing, which makes it even worse. The online news portals backed by this government are damaging society more than we know.

4. Hindu khatre mein hai – they’ve ingrained it into the minds of people that Hindus and Hinduism are in danger, and that Modi is the only option to save ourselves.r In reality Hindus have been living the same lives much before this government and nothing has changed except people’s mindset. Were we Hindus in danger in 2007? At least I didn’t hear about it everyday and I see no improvement in the condition of Hindus, just more fear mongering and hatred.

5. Speak against the government and you’re anti-national and more recently, anti-Hindu. Legitimate criticism of the government is shut up with this labeling. Prove your nationalism, sing Vande Mataram everywhere (even though BJP leaders don’t know the words themselves, they’ll force you to sing it!). I’m a proud nationalist and my nationalism won’t allow me to let anyone force me to showcase it! I will sing the national anthem and national song with pride when the occasion calls for it, or when I feel like it, but I won’t let anyone force me to sing it based on their whims!

6. Running news channels that are owned by BJP leaders who’s sole job is to debate Hindu-Muslim, National-Anti-national, India-Pakistan and derail the public discourse from issues and logic into polarizing emotions. You all know exactly which ones, and you all even know the debaters who’re being rewarded for spewing the vilest propaganda.

7. The polarization – all the message of development is gone. BJP’s strategy for the next election is polarization and inciting pseudo-nationalism. Modi-ji has basically said it himself in speeches – Jinnah; Nehru; Congress leaders didn’t meet Bhagat Singh in jail (fake news from the PM himself!); INC leaders met leaders in Pakistan to defeat Modi in Gujarat; Yogi-ji’s speech on how Maharana Pratap was greater than Akbar; Jawaharlal Univerity students are anti-national they’ll #TukdeTukdeChurChur India – this is all propaganda constructed for a very specific purpose: polarize and win elections. It isn’t the stuff I want to be hearing from my leaders and I refuse to follow anyone who is willing to let the nation burn in riots for political gain.

These are just some of the instances of how BJP is pushing the national discourse in a dark corner. This isn’t something I signed up for and it totally isn’t something I can support. That is why I am resigning from BJP.

PS: I supported BJP since 2013 because Narendra Modi-ji seemed like a ray of hope for India and I believed in his message of development – that message and the hope are now both gone. The negatives of this Narendra Modi and Amit Shah government now outweigh the positives for me, but that is a decision that every voter needs to make individually. Just know that history and reality are complicated. Buying into simplistic propaganda and espousing cult-like unquestioning faith are the worst thing you can do – it is against the interests of democracy and of this nation.

You all have your own decisions to make as the elections approach. Best of luck with that. My only hope is that we can all live and work harmoniously together, and contribute towards making a better, stronger, poverty-free and developed India, no matter what party or ideology we support. Always remember that there are good people on both sides, the voter needs to support them and they need to support each other even when they are in different parties.

Logical Fallacies - How to win every argument

From Purdue Online Writing Lab

Image result for logical fallacies

Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others.

Slippery Slope: This is a conclusion based on the premise that if A happens, then eventually through a series of small steps, through B, C,..., X, Y, Z will happen, too, basically equating A and Z. So, if we don't want Z to occur, A must not be allowed to occur either. Example:
If we ban Hummers because they are bad for the environment eventually the government will ban all cars, so we should not ban Hummers.
In this example, the author is equating banning Hummers with banning all cars, which is not the same thing.

Hasty Generalization: This is a conclusion based on insufficient or biased evidence. In other words, you are rushing to a conclusion before you have all the relevant facts. Example:
Even though it's only the first day, I can tell this is going to be a boring course.
In this example, the author is basing his evaluation of the entire course on only the first day, which is notoriously boring and full of housekeeping tasks for most courses. To make a fair and reasonable evaluation the author must attend not one but several classes, and possibly even examine the textbook, talk to the professor, or talk to others who have previously finished the course in order to have sufficient evidence to base a conclusion on.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc: This is a conclusion that assumes that if 'A' occurred after 'B' then 'B' must have caused 'A.' Example:
I drank bottled water and now I am sick, so the water must have made me sick.
In this example, the author assumes that if one event chronologically follows another the first event must have caused the second. But the illness could have been caused by the burrito the night before, a flu bug that had been working on the body for days, or a chemical spill across campus. There is no reason, without more evidence, to assume the water caused the person to be sick.

Genetic Fallacy: This conclusion is based on an argument that the origins of a person, idea, institute, or theory determine its character, nature, or worth. Example:
The Volkswagen Beetle is an evil car because it was originally designed by Hitler's army.
In this example the author is equating the character of a car with the character of the people who built the car. However, the two are not inherently related.

Begging the Claim: The conclusion that the writer should prove is validated within the claim. Example:
Filthy and polluting coal should be banned.
Arguing that coal pollutes the earth and thus should be banned would be logical. But the very conclusion that should be proved, that coal causes enough pollution to warrant banning its use, is already assumed in the claim by referring to it as "filthy and polluting."

Circular Argument: This restates the argument rather than actually proving it. Example:
George Bush is a good communicator because he speaks effectively.
In this example, the conclusion that Bush is a "good communicator" and the evidence used to prove it "he speaks effectively" are basically the same idea. Specific evidence such as using everyday language, breaking down complex problems, or illustrating his points with humorous stories would be needed to prove either half of the sentence.

Either/or: This is a conclusion that oversimplifies the argument by reducing it to only two sides or choices. Example:
We can either stop using cars or destroy the earth.
In this example, the two choices are presented as the only options, yet the author ignores a range of choices in between such as developing cleaner technology, car-sharing systems for necessities and emergencies, or better community planning to discourage daily driving.

Ad hominem: This is an attack on the character of a person rather than his or her opinions or arguments. Example:
Green Peace's strategies aren't effective because they are all dirty, lazy hippies.
In this example, the author doesn't even name particular strategies Green Peace has suggested, much less evaluate those strategies on their merits. Instead, the author attacks the characters of the individuals in the group.

Ad populum/Bandwagon Appeal: This is an appeal that presents what most people, or a group of people think, in order to persuade one to think the same way. Getting on the bandwagon is one such instance of an ad populum appeal.  
If you were a true American you would support the rights of people to choose whatever vehicle they want.
In this example, the author equates being a "true American," a concept that people want to be associated with, particularly in a time of war, with allowing people to buy any vehicle they want even though there is no inherent connection between the two.

Red Herring: This is a diversionary tactic that avoids the key issues, often by avoiding opposing arguments rather than addressing them. Example:
The level of mercury in seafood may be unsafe, but what will fishers do to support their families?
In this example, the author switches the discussion away from the safety of the food and talks instead about an economic issue, the livelihood of those catching fish. While one issue may effect the other it does not mean we should ignore possible safety issues because of possible economic consequences to a few individuals.

Straw Man: This move oversimplifies an opponent's viewpoint and then attacks that hollow argument.
People who don't support the proposed state minimum wage increase hate the poor.
In this example, the author attributes the worst possible motive to an opponent's position. In reality, however, the opposition probably has more complex and sympathetic arguments to support their point. By not addressing those arguments, the author is not treating the opposition with respect or refuting their position.

Moral Equivalence: This fallacy compares minor misdeeds with major atrocities, suggesting that both are equally immoral.
That parking attendant who gave me a ticket is as bad as Hitler.
In this example, the author is comparing the relatively harmless actions of a person doing their job with the horrific actions of Hitler. This comparison is unfair and inaccurate.