Friday, April 20

Some wonderful photographs of Indian Christianity

I came across this lovely set of photographs detailing some wonderful aspects of Indian Christianity in ancient history times. India treats its history atrociously…sad.

Wednesday, April 18

Defending Wasta–a fools errand

Now before I tear into this chap’s argument, first read it.

Let's take "wasta", for example.

It has become like a curse word. It has become a system that the expatriate community talks of like they talk about crimes. Everyone seems to connect 'wasta' with bribery and corruption. Please don't ever base your perception on assumption and opinion, but on facts. Wasta is NOT a crime nor is it necessarily corruption. It is our system of filtration and reference which we have practiced for centuries. It is part of our consideration for people we respect. Wasta, in fact, is practiced everywhere on earth. In other places, it is called 'recommendation'. Why does it carry such a negative connotation?

Every Monday, countless people line up to meet the king -- the head of state -- personally, so that they can tell him their problems, greet him or simply request something. He stands tirelessly to host them, listens to them AND takes action to help them. Now if one of the persons going to the palace is referred to the king by a prominent member of the government or an eminent citizen, the king will give him special consideration and so will his staff. This is to honor the person that referred this citizen or expatriate. This is called 'respect'. Naturally, a government official or eminent personality will not recommend a person he does not know or respect. This is how it works both ways, a system based on mutual respect and consideration.

Now, at a lower level, in government offices and corporations, wasta works for a variety of things. People get jobs because they were referred to someone within the institution for consideration. The one referring and the one hiring would know how right or wrong they are. Don't tell me this does not happen in every corporation of world! I personally know the chief of jawazat in Riyadh. I also know the chief of Police. So do many of my friends. In fact, I know these gentlemen because a friend of mine referred me to them regarding some cases and over time I got to know them personally myself. If I call them up and tell them to please consider the case of a person I know, they will go out of their way to help. Just to honor me. But, it is my respect for them that controls who I refer to them. I do not want to abuse a friend for sure!

The same thing happens all over the Gulf, Pakistan and India and this is not corruption -- as is widely misunderstood. This is consideration for people we know and it does not mean in anyway violating the right of a person we don't know. You would behave differently with a person you respect and have known for a long time than a person you just met. This is simply human nature……..It is the inability of the expatriate to communicate and the many assumptions fed to the mind that cause this perception that people with wasta can do anything here. No one is above the law -- no matter their important connections or friends. I have known people who were personal friends of some of important government officials. I know of a man who broke the law and then requested help from one such friend. He was flatly refused and the judge was asked to proceed as per law. This, I have known personally. So, what wasta?

I write about faults in the systems. I write about mistakes in perceptions. And, I encourage people to point out faults and give solutions. But, when it comes to cultural habits, way of life, hierarchy, tribal systems and etiquette -- no one has the right to interfere or try unsuccessfully to change people. To educate is very different from humiliating and degrading. Wasta is part of tradition and method of filtration in our societies, which can work in positive ways.

As it is, right in front of my eyes, the Saudi, Pakistani and Indian societies have degenerated, become corrupt and the warmth and hospitality, the respect and honor, the simplicity and sincerity are slowly disappearing. Why? The negative impression we have of our own traditions and the false 'educated, democratic' life we want to adopt from the West. Both locals and expatriates should understand and know this before seeking blind 'changes'.

Do you know why states are successful? States are successful because they make strong and durable institutions. Institutions such as the judiciary, the licencing offices, the educational system and so on and so forth. The crucial thing is that the state should be blind to any kind of citizen demographic and treat all of them in the same manner. Its when this stupid moronic tradition of wasta comes into play that the state starts to discriminate against the citizens. Do you know why most of the world hates Arabs at worst and laughs at them at best? Because you guys are institutionally racist. And yes, that does exist in India and Pakistan, but that’s not the point. I am Indian and look at the institutions that we have built. The legal system ensures that all people are treated as equal.

But if you know the chief of police or what have you, then you get an advantage than the poor expatriate does not have. Which is why all the expatriates think of you Arabs as buffoons and basically idiotic. You guys think of yourself as smart and deserving respect. No you dont. You are seen as fatted pigs, to be fed off. Do the expatriates spend their money in arab countries? Do they want to hire you chaps? no. Do you seriously think that the expatriates want to become like you? Illiterate, racist and corrupt? Nope, they stick to themselves. Why? because you guys use wasta and the expatriates clearly see that the state’s institutions will listen to somebody who is connected rather than treat everybody independently. That’s not respect, that is discrimination. And pointing to India and Pakistan as a place which is corrupt and saying that’s fine in Saudi has such huge ironic connotations. You Saudi’s look down at the desi’s and now you are reduced to comparing your culture and behaviour to them?

You give equal consideration to everybody, and then why would wasta play a part? Why cannot you extend the courtsey of your work to everybody? Now that’s wasta. Why do you need wasta, eh?

Having worked in and visited several Arab countries, I can safely say that you need to think things through, but justifying wasta as respect is not one of the ways. Stand up to say that we shouldnt need wasta, people should their jobs without needing connections to do it.

Tuesday, April 17

Ant and the Grasshopper–the UK & Norway

Both the UK and Norway found oil in the North Sea. The UK decided to spend the proceeds and tax the extractors and spend that as well on mainly current spending. Norway decided to put that into a fund and only use the profits. So now the Norwegian fund has grown to Eur 430 billion. While the UK has a trillion pound debt. Just saying.

Read this interview from the Norwegian Ambassador to the EU. I quote

A stereotype about Norway is that it is sitting on a lot of money proceeding from its oil and gas sales. What do you do in your country with this money?

You are thinking of what we in popular refer to as the oil fund, formally named the Pension Fund Global. The notion is very simple and we are not the only ones who have done it. The fund now has the size of around €430 billion and still growing.

We are not in position to inject all this money into our economy, it would completely destroy it.  Instead we only spend about 4% of the surplus, which is estimated to be the long-term profit of the fund. The rest is set aside in order to pay - not only my pension when I retire - but for the generations to come. It’s a transfer of natural wealth in the ground into money that will balance our wealth over many generations to come. It’s a challenging exercise, but it has a broad political consensus and I think that’s the strength of the entire construction.

Is it possible to use these huge amounts to help boost the EU funds designed to prevent new crises from happening the EFSF [the European Financial Stability Facility] or its successor ESM [the European Stability Mechanism], or the IMF?

The key point with the Pension Fund is that it’s strictly a financial vehicle, not a strategic vehicle for Norwegian interest in different parts of the world. If we were to make investments of more strategic reasons, we would easily end up in situations of second guesses; why didn’t we do this or that ...

The fund and its management is probably the most open fund in the world, and this is to demonstrate that the fund is managed strictly for financial purposes linked to the basic role of the fund, namely to take care of the values of many generations. The issue whether the fund should be used to invest to solve [the] immediate crisis in Europe or elsewhere is simply a non issue. In cases where we would like to contribute and where we have contributed, it would be a political decision and by using public money available.

Let me make a reference to the most recent example: as you may recall on 9 December the European Council agreed to strengthen IMF resources by €200 billion and they encouraged non-EU countries to do a similar contribution. Ten days later Norway announced that we were providing a €7-billion additional loan to the IMF as a direct response to the encouragement by European leaders and the European Council. This money was taken from regular sources, in this case guarantees from our national bank. 

So the key point is that the Pension Fund Global is a 100% financial instrument for the purposes I alluded to. Our contributions to the IMF and the close to €2 billion that we contribute to reduce economic and social disparities in the new members of the European Union through the Norway Grants are political decisions taken and financed by regular sources.

Now who looks after our children and invests their money and who fitters all their money? The UK will say that it invested in its people now, but looking at the productivity, the performance of UK students in PISA tests, etc. etc. doesnt show much return there, does it?

The story of the Ant and Grasshopper comes to mind.

Monday, April 16

My product review for a fire alarm

I bought a fire alarm and here is my review for it.

I purchased two of these lovely creatures when my prior units died a horrible death. They started making the electronic equivalent of a death rattle with a particularly irritating beep, every 20 seconds. That timing is diabolical. You wake up with a start following that high pitched beep, look wildly around and then figure out that its the poxy fire alarm beeping at you for its battery failing. So you shrug, think that you will replace the battery next weekend and try to drop back to sleep. Just as you are settling back, BEEP. !"£(!"(£"!. You get up, shivering, pick up a boot and hammer the obnoxious pestiferous unit and knock it out of the wall, leaving behind a gaping hole in the roof and a plaintively whining unit. Which you pick up and chuck outside the house. Which leaves two holes in your life, one in the roof and second the need for a fire alarm.
This unit has now been installed. What I really liked was the young lady whose voice has been captured in this unit. After installation, I poked the self test button gingerly to see if it works. It does indeed. She announces in a mellifluous and smooth voice that I am now the proud possessor of a flame. She also proudly but discreetly announces that she has identified Carbon Monoxide. And then ends the test with a bit of a cough and a discreet beep.
Installation was a breeze, used the aforementioned holes, installed the base unit, screwed in the screws while forgetting to close the mouth and thereby getting a mouthful of dry wall dust. Spat out said dust, glowered at eldest teenager son who was giggling away while holding the ladder, and then fixed the main unit after installing the enclosed 3 Duracell batteries (i have rabbits in my fire alarm, can it get better?) and removing the hygroscopic little pillow (can the rabbits use the pillows?). And then cooked some salmon to test it out. Yep, THAR SHE BLOWS.
excellent, the wife has not heard this, I am just hoping it goes off at night and then gets her going. So guys, go for it, great item, have a woman saying in a lovely voice that you have gas or heat/fire in your life is great.
Hope that helps.

Where can you find a Christian Leader being casteist?

Actually, I shouldn't be surprised. For all of Jesus’s preaching about everybody being equal and stuff (with some limitations, mind you), Church leaders have been busy down the centuries deciding who is a Christian or who is not. Sectarian hatred is amazing within Christianity.

But one would have agreed that once you are inside the particular sect of Christianity that you belong to, you wont do any more divisions, would you? Nope. Check out what Dr. John Dayal, who is a member of various august bodies in India has said. I quote:

Dr. John Dayal

Member, National Integration Council

Government of India

Member, National Monitoring Committee for Minority Education,

Government of India

Secretary General, All India Christian Council

Imm. Past National President, All India Catholic Union

505 Link Apartments, 18 IP Extn. Delhi 1100092 INDIA

Mobile +91 9811021072 Land +91 11 22722262


15th April 2012

Dr Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister of India

South Block, Central Secretariat

New Delhi 110001

Re: Serious flaws in enumeration of Caste census will impact on Dalit, OBC and MBC Christians

Dear Prime Minister

Easter Greetings

I am writing to you as a Member of the National Integration and on behalf of the All India Christian Council to draw you urgent attention to serious deficiencies in the enumeration process in the national Census on Caste which is now underway. Unless corrected, the enumeration will lead to falsification of the data and will seriously impact on the interests of the Christian community in general and on the rights of those of the community people who trace their origins to India’s Dalit and OBC groups.

This is from my own personal experience and the experiences of other Christians in various parts of the country.

Two enumerators, a lady and a gentleman, came to my house and interviewed me as the head of the household. They asked me my name and personal details. Thereafter they asked me my religion. I told them. They then sought to leave. I asked them if they would not ask me my caste. They had no answer. I told them they had to ask, even if I thereafter said I had no caste, or declared any other caste. They again had no answer. I must also mention that they did not ask us about the religion of every individual member of the family, possibly presuming that everyone shared the same faith. This may or may not be always true. In many urban families, there may be spouses, sons or daughters in law who are Tribals, OBCs or of Dalit origin. The Enumerating Staff have patently not been properly instructed and trained.

This failure to ask about the caste of those declaring Christianity as their religion is a major procedural lapse that introduces an avoidable error in the data and will skew the statistical computations. The Registrar General of India will not be able to determine the caste diversity in the Christian community with any exactitude.

Article 341 (iii) of the Constitution or its predecessor the Presidential Order of 1950, which the community has challenged through Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India, cannot be used as an excuse, as the RGI’s office seem to be doing, as this is a mere enumeration exercise and does not pre-suppose any consequential benefits at this stage. Even otherwise, OBC and MBC Christians, including the Latin Rite of Kerala have acceptance in official records of several States.

The Dalit Christians have, of course, for more than half a century repeatedly urged the government to grant them Schedule Caste status, a demand supported by various national Commissions, a large number of State governments and national and regional political parties. The CPI-M, for instance, renewed this demand at their recent meeting. We have consistently urged the Government of India to give a positive response to the Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court on this issue.

The Government of India should immediately direct the Census Commissioner and Registrar General of India to ensure that in the on-going exercise, Christians should be enumerated for their caste origins. For many, this is an assertion of their Identity. Individuals can, should they so want, will continue to have the right to say they do not want their caste to be recorded. The enumeration staff should be appropriately instructed and trained in this matter.

Thank you

God bless India, and God bless you

Yours sincerely

John Dayal

Now I will leave you with some questions

1. Why is a Christian Leader trying to propagate caste? Doesn't make sense does it? Surely he should be campaigning for social equality rather than entrench it?

2. For a person from minorities, why are they trying to split a minority even further? Doesn't make sense.

3. Why would they want to have Dalit non Christians and Non Dalit Christians as separate groups? If he was indeed interested in Dalits, then he would make common cause with other Dalits such as Andhra Dalits, Hindu Dalits, Buddhist Dalits, Muslim Dalits, etc. Why split?

4. So is he speaking on behalf of Dalits or Christians?

5. So there is no reason due to the reservations? (no? really?)

this chap is very strange, frankly. Very dodgy. His press releases come across as somebody who is very dodgy, but I couldn't find out anything about about his doctorate. He is a journalist by profession. Couldn't find out on his linked in profile or elsewhere.

Sunday, April 15

Charity tax row: Donors warn of 'brake' on donations

As you know, I have been associated with charities here in the UK for some time now. With my economist hat on, with the donor hat on, with the charity management hat on, with my libertarian hat on and with my citizen taxpayer hat on, I am therefore conflicted by this proposal. Basically, the proposal here says that

From 2013, previously uncapped tax reliefs - including on charitable donations - would be capped at £50,000, or 25% of a person's income if that is higher. The government says it wants to end the practice of wealthy people minimizing their tax bill - sometimes to zero - by charity giving.

First the basic reason why tax relief is granted. All for a good reason, that the government wants to encourage philanthropy. So far so good. But given the potential of the tax abuse and the need for the bloody government to squeeze more taxes out of us, it is reducing relief. In any case, I dont like taxes anyhooo. So that is a different argument.

So here is my economist position. Suck it up. You are paying your charity donations out of your own free will. You should pay for taxes on ALL your income, irrespective of where you spend it. This idea of tax credits/relief being dependent upon where I spend my money is stupid. How about this argument which is absurdo reductio? The government wants to improve the shipbuilding capability in the UK so it decides to give tax relief on the amounts you spend to purchase your own mega boats and super tankers. How do you think that will go down? You laugh? The government already does it for companies who invest in plant and equipment and research and development and and and. This is a stupid way to drive industrial policy. Simplify life, and remove all these bloody exceptions and stuff.

My libertarian position is similar. I shouldnt be taxed at all, but if I am, then I should be taxed on my philanthropic giving just like I am taxed on all my consumption.

My charity management hat on, £50k? lol, I should be that lucky to get that much. The charities that I am involved in are tiny, less than £150k in revenue, i can only wish I had donors who donate more than £50. This wont impact me at all, if you are donating £200-3000 which is our usual individual contributions, the tax hit wont make a difference.

With my donor hat on, I dont think I will donate more than 50k any time soon, but my estate could, and I dont see a problem in paying taxes on my income. Why would I want to have tax credits? Only if I think that I am replacing government activity with my charity donations no? But I dont, i see this as a different activity so tax away.

With my citizen taxpayer hat on, can the frikking government please stop taxing me?

USA–highest tax rate and lower collection

USA has now got the highest tax rate in the world (39.2%). But with the gigantic mess that is the tax code, it only manages to get the businesses to pay at 29.2%. What a mess these politicians of both sides have done to such a brilliant economy. Go read the article.

Its pretty stupid. Because of this extraordinarily stupid state of affairs, a significant number of American companies are keeping their profits outside the country. go figure. Muppets. See here for an example:

Apple has $12 billion waiting offshore, Google has $17 billion and Microsoft, $29 billion.

Also see this post from HBR for a slightly contrarian view. First, this post says that Apple actually has more like 64 billion offshore. I quote

Google is famously good at this, using what Kleinbard and other tax lawyers call a "Double Irish Dutch Sandwich" to keep the tax rate on its foreign income in the low single digits. As Jesse Drucker of Bloomberg News detailed the practice in 2010, Google licenses foreign rights to its intellectual property to a Bermuda-based entity called Google Ireland Holdings, which in turn lets its Ireland-based subsidiary Google Ireland Ltd. use that intellectual property in exchange for billions of dollars in royalties a year. On the way, those royalties (generated mostly by selling advertising in Europe) pass through Google Netherlands Holdings to take advantage of quirks in Irish tax laws and European Union tax treaties that render them virtually tax free. Kleinbard calls this "stateless income," and argues that it's a huge issue that most discussions of corporate tax reform brush under the rug.

Kleinbard, who before going into academia in 2009 was a partner at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in New York and then chief of staff of Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation, got in touch with me after I quoted him in my post last week on the tax implications of Apple's vast overseas tax hoard. Apple argues that because the IRS would tax its overseas income at high rates if it brought that income back to the U.S., it has to keep the money (about $64 billion at the moment) overseas instead of handing it to shareholders. Kleinbard says there's definitely truth to this assertion, but that the most-discussed solution — switching the U.S. to a "territorial" corporate tax system that doesn't even try to tax overseas income — would make the problem of stateless income even worse.

I quote from this post.

a) If you tax something, you get less of it, b) taxes and regulations are always distortionary because people can change their behavior to avoid them, i.e. raising tax rates raises tax avoidance, c) incentives matter (as do disincentives), and d) the Laffer Curve accurately predicts the inverse relationship between tax rates and tax revenues at high marginal tax rates. 

Will anything happen? can I touch my toes? can I bend a watermelon into two?