Friday, February 25, 2011

Ireland & fall of Celtic Tiger – looking beyond housing and economic collapse

Economist magazine, on a very regular basis has been updating us on what plagues Ireland, most of which revolves around the Housing collapse and the economic downfall which came down crashing as speedily as it had gone up since early nineties. However, is the Irish collapse just that or is more endemic, widespread and depressive? It certainly requires a closer look.

During my recent stay in UK (Sept –Dec 2010), I got a chance to visit Belfast in N. Ireland and it was during this visit to this troubled historical town that I took an instant liking to what is being Irish all about. It was during this visit that I realized that there are two important aspects of Ireland. Firstly, it’s all about the troubles that have plagued N Ireland especially Belfast and the historical-religious perspective therein. The most intriguing & baffling network of physical peace walls cutting across North and NW Belfast is the tall manifestation of the kind of subdued tension that still simmers somewhere. The images still haunt me often. I shall make an attempt and write about it sometime later. Secondly, at a time when Catholicism and Nationalism weren’t working, the Celtic Tiger was embraced not just as an economic identity but a substitute identity with such fervor that it almost was filling a void till its sudden demise and shock happened. A very dear 'Irish' friend who watched with induling interest my growing curiosity & obsession with the ‘Emerald Isle’ presented me a book “Enough is Enough –how to build a new republic’ (Fintan O’Toole,2010) to enable me meander my journey in this exploration. O’Toole had written another book in 2009 titled “Ship of Fools: how stupidity and corruption sank the Celtic Tiger”. The idea that Ireland had found salvation in its embrace of ‘free market globalization’ ceased to be an ideology. The polemical analysis of depressing scenario had made people angry and his latest book is an attempt to come up with possible solutions. There is an uneasy feeling for going back to the past but without the comforts of the past –institutional Catholicism or the Nationalism. The sense of returning to the well-worn path of failure embodied in deep-seated national reflex – emigration is back with greater intensity. While the underlying “Irish sense of doom”, the bitter spectre of self-contempt that ‘we would always screw it up” is all back among the common man (I am not value judging- its more of a self actualization), the profound self delusion among the Irish political, administrative and media elite continues to be that what happened was an unfortunate albeit grim, setback on the road to nirvana and all that was needed in response was, to quote Taoiseach Brian Cowen, ‘temporary adjustments’.
The collapse of the Irish economy is not primarily in banking or property development (housing) or the lack of regulation but in the political culture that created a lethal cocktail of all of these elements. No solution in isolation will work unless a radical transformation of the existing political culture takes place. Political culture in Ireland is almost equal to “Fianna Fail”. Since the formation of the first Fianna Fáil government on 9 March 1932, the party has been in power for 61 of the last 79 years. It has been in government almost continuously since 1987, with the exception of a 30-month period between 1994–1997.

Five myths
The myth of Republic – the notion of republican democracy has deep roots in Ireland. The democratic Pregramme affirms that “all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare’. It sets down the governing principles as ‘Liberty, Equality and Justice for all’. It declares the right of every citizen to an ‘adequate share of the produce of the Nation’s labour’. In real Ireland however, private property almost always trumped the common good. A successful democratic state can be built only on the basis of a thriving culture of citizenship. What exists in Ireland a host of unorganized peasant proprietors in parishes, each pushing its own trivial agenda and its like energy of self-interest in its lower form.
Even as a description, the Republic barely exists. One set of limits was imposed by the overwhelmingly Catholic nature of the State. It was the major temporal power with direct control over large elements of public realm including health and education system. Another limiting factor in the process of creating a republic is corruption. “It’s not what you know but who you know” was the all pervasive motto in Irish life. In one of the survey, the proposition that “there is a Golden Circle of people in Ireland who are using power to make money for themselves” was agreed by 89% of the people.

The myth of representation – there are two strong notions in Irish culture – one is localism. In rural Ireland there still is the sense that the state is “them up in Dublin”. The other concept is that of a “pull”. Pursuit of personal issues as a politician seems to be the order of the day.
The myth of Parliamentary Democracy- there’s a feeling that there’s not only a ‘glass ceiling’ but also a ‘class ceiling’ suggesting that Parliament continues to be the ‘preserve of the elite few’. Starker still is the shocking low level of women representation. The pattern of female exclusion from the higher reaches of Irish politics has been long established. The system gives a Parliament that does not hold government to account, does not create laws, does not have the power to conduct serious investigations, and is not representative of people in terms of class, age or gender. The system needs complete overhauling.

The myth of Charity – deeply engrained in Irish culture is the idea that everything that was decent came, not from the State but from the Church. It was not an entitlement but a blessing. And Ireland has to disentangle itself from this myth if the State has to be made accountable to people. It is baffling how Ireland has allowed to manage the social service in a secretive, hierarchical organization which has been accountable to no one. The church still controls 2899 of the 3282 primary schools. And the control is not by default but by design and the power is increasingly anomalous. It is also surprising that Irish law specifically prohibits the right of both school and college education to discriminate on religious grounds. The moral monopoly of Irish church and its temporal power has made the system lazy and weak.

The myth of Wealth – what happened in Ireland in the first boom of 1991 to 2001 was a process of catching up. Ireland has been what Economist called in 1998 ‘the poorest of the rich”. There couldn’t have been a more ludicrous claim that that of Bank of Ireland Private Banking in 2007 that Ireland is the second richest nation in the developed world after Japan!. This canopy of myth is held by three misconceptions – the statistical quirks of GDP, the identification of wealth with income and the ignoring of both the burden of debt and the cost of living. GDP is not the same thing as GNP in Ireland. Ireland somehow seems to miss out not only on physical infrastructure but also in social and intellectual infrastructure. An EC report in 2008 showed Ireland with the lowest public spending on children and early childhood education. Primary and secondary education supposedly free is in fact very expensive (compulsory voluntary contribution for lighting, heating & maintenance). The biggest extra cost of Ireland’s neo-liberal economic model was in Housing. Ireland in fact became a perfect example of “privatized keynesianism’

As thus is clear, the problem is not just the financial and housing collapse. Its endemic and revival depends on the systemic changes in the psyche that Irish is all about. The Government has the responsibility of providing for every citizen – security, health, education, equality and citizenship and in the process instills and restores pride, confidence, optimism and creativity among its citizens.

With the election results out today and while Fiana has failed and with Fine Gael & Labour in power, I sincerely expect and hope that the new Government starts from scratch and go for real systemic improvements in the governance.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Everything is Numerical trivia -Buddha, Vedic Maths & Pythagoras

I had a friend visiting me recently and every time as he sat in the car next to me as I was driving, he would keep pointing out a pattern of the number plates of the cars in front where the last two digits of the car registration number are the same as first two digits – 4949, 3434, 9191, 2323 and so on. It was amazing that he would invariably note such pattern even as we were talking or listening to music. Even though my friend is back in Pune, I keep looking for such pattern though not as vigorously (well, am in the driver’s seat!).
And I realize we are not the only ones inflicted with such weird addiction. I have been going through a very intresting book "Alex's Adventures in Numberland" by Alex Bellos and am enjoying it thoroughly for the magnificiant trivia and addiction simple life facts can be when sen differently in numbers.

source : Page 142 of Alex' book

Alex mentions about Maki Kaji who runs a Japanese magazine that specializes in number puzzles. And he is obsessed with photographing “arithmetically gratifying” car license plates and always carries a small camera and snaps every number plate for which the first pair multiplied by each other equals the second pair. For instance, 1101 can be thought of as 1*1=1 or 1202 as 1*2=2. Likewise 3412 can be 3*4=12. There are a total of 81 such possible combinations and he has so far collected more than 50. By the way, ever since I read this, I too have been looking for such a pattern and smile whenever such a pattern is visible. It could be a very useful tool for helicopter parents keen to ensure their kids pick up multiplication tables upto 9 quickly!
The idea that numbers can entertain is as old as maths itself. Mother Goose nursery rhyme of the early nineteenth century goes something like this:
As I was going to St Ives,
I met a man with 7 wives,
Every wife had 7 sacks,
Every sack had 7 cats,
Every cat had 7 kits,
Kits, cats, sacks, wives,
How many were going to St Ives?
(Answer is 7+7²+7³+7⁴ =2800)
Even by multiplying with 2, the numbers can swell quickly. Alex says that you keep a grain of wheat on the corner square of a chessboard, place 2 grains on the next and start filling up the rest of the board by doubling the grains of wheat per square. There are 64 boards and the final square would require 2ⁿ where n=63! The number will perhaps be more than the total annual grain production!!
Another example of recreational maths is Magic square (also called as lo shu in Chinese). The numbers 1-9 are arranged in such a manner that the sum of all rows, columns and diagonals add up to the same total =15. Chinese believe that it symbolizes the inner harmonies of the universe and used it for divination and worship. (table from page 216 of Alex's book)

The pattern, called as yubu, shows the movement of Taoist priests through a temple and also underlines some of the rules of feng shui.
In ancient India, comprehending very large numbers and coining words for them was a scientific and religious preoccupation. According to Lalitavistara Sutra when Buddha is challenged to express numbers greater than a hundred crore (koti), he replies:
One hundred koti is called an ayuta, a hundred ayuta make a niyuta, a hundred niyuta make a kakara, a hundred kankara make a vivara, a hundred vivara make a kshobhya, a hundred kshobhya make a vivaha (never knew Marriage is such a huge number!!), a hundred vivaha make a utsanga, a hundred utsanga make a bahula, a hundred bahula make a nagabala, a hundred nagabala make a titilambha, a hundred titilambha make a vyavasthanaprajnapati, a hundred vyavasthanaprajnapati make a hetuhila, a hundred hetuhila make a karahu, a hundred karahu make a hetvindriya, a hundred hetvindriya make a samaptalambha, a hundred samaptalambha make a gananagati, a hundred gananagati make a niravadya, a hundred nirvadya make a mudrabala, a hundred mudrabala make a visamjnagati, a hundred visamjnagati make a sarvajna, a hundred sarvajna make a vibhutangama and a hundred vibhutangama make a tallakshana.
In other words, Buddha could describe numbers upto 10ⁿ where n=53. But Buddha didn’t stop there.He went upto the dhvajagravati system and further upto the dhavjagranishamani system and the last number in the final system was 10ⁿ (n=421).
Vedic mathematics is based on 16 aphorisms or sutras:
1. By one more than the one before
2. All from 9 and the last from 10 (whenever one subtract a number from a power of ten for e.g. 1000-456 =544)
3. Vertically and Cross-wise
4. Transpose and apply
5. If the Samuccaya is the Same it is zero
6. If One is in ratio the Other is zero
7. By addition and by subtraction
8. By the Completion or Non-completion
9. Differential Calculus
10. By the Deficiency
11. Specific and General
12. The Remainders by the Last digits
13. The Ultimate and Twice the Penultimate
14. By One less than the One before
15. The Product of the Sum
16. All the Multipliers
There’s another method to calculate outcomes of multiplications. As an illustration, 892* 997 can be calculated as
Ist step – subtract both the number from 1000, 2nd step – Subtract diagonally, 3rd step – multiply the differential of these numbers among themselves and writing these two together is the answer
892 -108
997 -03
889 324
Answer thus is 889,324. However, I suppose the calculation gets difficult when the differentials are in double or triple digits.

Shankaracharya of Puri calls mathematics as the fountainhead of Indian philosophies. It was Pythagoras who coined the word “philosopher” and defines it as the finest type of man who gives himself up to discover the purpose and meaning of life itself. He seeks to uncover the secrets of nature.

Okay, back to some kid stuff again. “Excessive numbers” are the ones when sum of number’s divisors is greater than the number itself. For eg 12- divisors are 1,2,3,4 & 6 whose total is 16. “Defective numbers” are the ones when sum of number’s divisors is less than the number for e.g 10. “Perfect numbers” are the ones when the sum of divisors equals the number itself. For e.g. 6 with divisors 1,2 & 3. St Augustine observed thus that the number 6 is Perfect. The next Perfect number is 28, followed by 496, 8128, 33550336 and the next one is 8589869056.

Another interesting trivia is a concept of “friendly numbers” – pair of numbers such that each number is the sum of other’s divisors. For eg 220 and 284 are friendly numbers. Such numbers are said to be symbolic of friendship or a mathematical aphrodisiac. The other such pair is 17296 and 18416. The third pair is 9363584 and 9437056. Euler identified 62 such amicable pairs! A corollary to friendly numbers is “Social Numbers” – three or more number which form a loop in a manner that the divisor of first adds to the second number and so on. Another trivia is that 26 is the only number that lies between a square (25) and a cube (27).
Pythagoras realized that numbers are hidden in everything and proclaimed that “Everything is Number”. The pi was discovered based on the ratio of actual length of the river from source to mouth and their direct length as the crow flies. (which is also the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter.

Friday, February 11, 2011

6.4% (at US $ 53.8 Billion) of India's GDP is the cost of Inadequate Sanitation

I wish to discuss the most appalling state of sanitation and hygiene standards we encounter in India in our daily life. And I am not including the lack of civic sense (spitting & a democratic right of road side urination of an Indian male here). I also wish to discuss findings of what I consider a very important and path breaking study by The Economics of Sanitation Initiative's, a multi-country initiative of Water and Sanitation Program(WSP) unit of the World Bank, India Impact study which I think for the first time has clearly quantified the magnitude of inadequate sanitation and thus the need to go in for proper and adequate sanitation.
Inadequate sanitation kills people, causes diseases, environmental pollution, and diminishes welfare—this is well-known. But the economic impacts of poor sanitation have not been counted properly.
Inadequate sanitation caused a total of US$53.8 billion equivalent to 6.4 percent of India’s GDP in 2006, according to The Economic Impacts of Inadequate Sanitation in India, a new report from the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), a global partnership administered by the World Bank. Losses incurred on account of inadequate sanitation were as high as the state incomes of Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu and were more than Gujarat’s state income in 2006-07.
Let's understand these terms before going any further:
Sanitation is broadly defined to include management of human excreta, solid waste, and drainage. The United Nations-World Health Organization Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation defines ‘improved’ sanitation as: the means that hygienically separate human excreta from human contact and hence reduces health risks to humans. Inadequate sanitation is thus the lack of improved facilities (toilets, conveyance, and treatment systems), and hygienic practices (for example, hand washing, proper water handling, personal hygiene, and so on) that exposes people to human excreta and thus to disease-causing fecal-oral pathogens through different transmission pathways. The study focused on the safe management of human excreta and associated hygiene behavior.
The methodology adopted by the study included disaggregating the economic impacts of inadequate sanitation into:
a Health-related impacts: Premature deaths, costs of treating diseases; productive time lost due to people falling ill, and time lost by caregivers who look after them.
b Domestic water-related impacts: Household treatment of water; use of bottled water; a portion of costs of obtaining piped water; and time costs of fetching cleaner water from a distance.
c Access time impacts: Cost of additional time spent for accessing shared toilets or open defecation sites; absence of children (mainly girls) from school and women from their workplaces.
d Tourism impacts: Potential loss of tourism revenues and economic impacts of gastrointestinal illnesses among foreign tourists.
The report indicates that premature mortality and other health-related impacts of inadequate sanitation, were the most costly at US$38.5 billion (71.6 percent of total impacts), followed by productive time lost to access sanitation facilities or sites for defecation at US$10.7 billion (20 percent), and drinking water-related impacts at US$4.2 billion ( 7.8 percent).

Children and poor households are the worst affected. More than three-fourths of the premature mortality-related economic losses are due to deaths and diseases in children younger than five. Diarrhea among these children accounts for over 47 percent (US$18 billion, Rs.824 billion) of the total health-related economic impacts. The study also finds that at 75 percent (US$ 37.5) more than the national average and 60 percent (US$ 22.9) more than the urban average, the poorest 20 percent of households living in urban areas bear the highest per capita economic impacts of inadequate sanitation. Rural households in the poorest quintile bear per capita losses 8 percent more than the average loss for households in rural areas.
The per capita loss on account of inadequate sanitation, for various Asian countries, as per the report is
And this calls for immediate intervention in India for bringing about a systemic changes aimed at achieving proper sanitation with universal coverage.
The report recommends a new monitoring framework – one that measures not just toilet coverage and use, or coverage of sewerage and number of wastewater treatments, or number of sanitized communities and cities, but also improvements in the overall health, water-related, environmental, and other welfare indicators that result from inadequate sanitation.The report estimates that comprehensive interventions (use of toilets, hygiene promotion, improved access to safe water, and proper waste management) can save India US$32.6 billion (Rs.1.48 trillion) or US$29 (Rs.1321) per capita which was the equivalent of 3.9 percent of GDP in 2006). This signifies a potential gain of Rs. 1,321 (US$29) per capita.
Which brings us to the point - what is it which leads us to have such poor standards of sanitation and personal hygiene and why these continue to be a non-issue and never a priority for us whether in private lives or as a policy instruement?
One prominent reason in my mind is continuing "Population Explosion". I am always haunted by the notings of Paul Ehrlich (which I first read in 2006 fall in Princeton), in his book "The Population Bomb": “I came to understand [the population explosion] emotionally one stinking
hot night in Delhi.… The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals.People, people, people, people” (Ehrlich 1968: 15).
While, in the first instance, some of us may not like the brutal truth as told in such a gory manner by Ehrlich, the factual correctness remains.
While the Malthusian postulates are always debatable and some of us may argue in favour of the Boserupian perspective where Boserup (1965) argued that population pressure both induces and facilitates the adoption of more intensive forms of agriculture and thus population is an asset. The empirical study by Lee and Miller (1990) found positive or no Pareto-relevant economic external effects from Childbearing. Their conclusion is in favor of a laissez-faire population
policy that does not “go beyond assisting well-informed parents to attainthe family size goals they seek”. ( Lee, R. D. and T. Miller. 1990. “Population growth, externalities to childbearing, and fertility policy in developing countries,” Proceedings of the World Bank Annual Conference onDevelopment Economics 1990, pp. 275–304). However, the catch here is "well-informed parents" and to me, it is highly debatable whether the continuing population growth in India (especially in relatively poorer States and those falling at the bottom of HDI & Welfare index) is due to a conscious decision of the "well-informed parents" and it is here I feel that the concept of young population as an asset (Rybczynski and Stolper–Samuelson theorems on economic impact of the population) is doubtful and may not work that way. Inadequate sanitation is one of the manifestations. The list goes on......