Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Illiterate institutions

Societies develop institutions which enable the majority to live their life well. Good institutions take advantage of the average man's stregths and alleviate his weaknesses. Different ethnic groups have big differences in average ability. Different groups need different institutions to enable daily life.

In Andhra Pradesh, a state in South India, the literacy rate is 60%. This is a weakness to be alleviated by traditions. The country is also quite overpopulated: it has 15 times more people for every km² than in Finland. Also even in the countryside people like to live near each others: while Finns like to scatter their houses and surround them by plains, the farmers in Andhra Pradesh live in central villages which are surrounded by uninhabited plains. This further concentrates population. This is a strength which can be exploited.

If a Finn wants to go to a new place, he uses a map. Maps are widely available and people are trained to use them during physical education classes when people go to forest to orienteer.

If an Indian in Andhra Pradesh doesn't know the way, he asks a bypasser. Even professional taxi drivers who earn their living by driving do so. Thanks to warm climate and dense population, there are always locals in the street, walking or idling. Therefore asking the way is possible thanks to the strength of dense population. Also since maps are hard to find (for example in Hyderabad, we had to find a big bookstores before we found one; by contrast in Budapest airport a free tourist leaflet contained a map) and many people couldn't read them anyway, a different way-finding institution is necessary because of the weakness of illiteracy.

In literate Finland, there is a stigma attached to talking to strangers. People don't do it naturally. If a stranger in the street comes to talk to you, he probably tries to sell you stuff, beg money or convert you to his religion. The stigma is useful, because it discourages interaction where you can only lose and where there isn't even any reciprocal advantage. The reciprocal help scenario, for example begging money to a bus ticket back home, is too rare to make it to the top three of stranger interactions.

In Andhra Pradesh, people are in general frighteningly extroverted, because they simply have to do more stuff by talking as writing isn't an option. There is less stigma attached to random talking.

This is one reason why Finland should be careful not to let in large numbers of third-world immigrants. They may seem like us hen you talk with an individual person for a few minutes, but they are not like us. Our institutions won't be able to handle large colonies of people with very different average abilities. The institutions (for example fire-fighting) will break, and will be replaced by something we don't like.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reciprocality and development aid

The biblical golden rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", is the simplest way to justify development aid with reciprocality. Now I'll develop two improved reciprocality arguments, which are rigorous enough to say what policies are not justified by reciprocality. The golden rule has large cultural impact but it is too vague for supporting or opposing policy decisions.

John Rawls and the veil of ignorance

A way to justify development aid is to say that the gap between the rich and the poor countries is unjust. In Theory of Justice, John Rawls estimates the justness of social organizations with the veil of ignorance. We imagine ourselves as souls in heaven who have not yet born. We don't know in which country we will be born. What kind of development aid policy would we formulate? I'll use Finland and Nepal as examples.

It does justify aid which increases economic growth. Finland and Nepal have 30-fold difference in GDP per capita. If Finland gave 1% of GDP for development aid, it would add 10% to Nepalese GDP. If this is invested for growth with reasonable ROI (for example, better education enables the Nepalese to work in higher-value jobs) we can get 20% difference in 20 years. Surely the souls in the sky who don't know where they will be born would prefer to be 20% richer Nepalese or 1% poorer Finns.

It does not justify aid which does not have effect. Why would the souls in the sky choose to shed 1% of their income as Finns, if the Nepalese can't build lastingly better society with it, instead using the money for corruption?

Now we notice that we need an assumption about people before we can deduce if the veil of ignorance justifies development aid or not.

If we assume that people are fundamentally the same everywhere, then the differences in the standards of living are historical coincidences. With proper education and economic opportunities, the Nepalese will become just like Finns in a few generations.

My opinion is that the people in different nations are fundamentally different. If you meet a Nepali, he is probably polite and his behaviour is within the range of variation which you have seen among Finns. However, if you take 10000 Nepalis and Finns and look what kind of society they will build in 20 years of freedom and democracy, the results differ like night and day.

In a way, Finland is 'fully developed'. This means that there are no low-hanging fruits which external benevolent institutions could pick to cause permanent growth in Finland. Finns further their own interests and the interests of their loyalty groups effectively, since Finns have enough education, access to information, freedom and ability to raise capital for genuinely profitable pursuits.

The 'people are different' assumption can be taken forward to oppose development aid even under veil of ignorance by saying that the Nepalis are fully developed in the same sense. The differences in standards of living originate from the fact that society consists of people, and with people like the Nepali you can't build a society like Finland.

Nepalis in fact do get 10% of their GDP as remittances from Nepalis working in foreign countries and also as development aid. Still, they continue play in the bottom league of the poorest countries. This is strong data to support that they just can't build better society even if given more money.

Alien civilization

A problem with the veil of ignorance is that we can't imagine what it's like to be an illiterate goat herder. Therefore we need to imagine ourselves as the inferior race. Let's imagine an alien civilization with average IQ is about 150 and less measurable character traits like emotional maturity, future time orientation and language skills just as developed. Their behaviour is comprehensible for our xenoanthropologists, and their xenoanthropologists have learned to read and write factual sentences (which are not dependent on human intuitions) in English. For the sake of universe's biodiversity, they let us live, and some of them consider it a fun pasttime to uplift us. What would he want from them?

We would not want them to build us schools or hospitals. That's something that we do quite well ourselves. Better buildings wouldn't even improve the quality of services.

We would not want to copy institutions from them. Institutions which work for them would rest on assumptions which are not valid for us.

We would want their science and technology, preferably packaged into easy-to-use tools. The closest comparison is exchange students who come to Western countries to study, Western companies which sell tools and infrastructure to countries with otherwise low level of technology.

We would want them to decode our genome with their super tech. The closest comparison is malaria research, etc.

We would want to maintain monopoly of violence on Earth, even if we knew that they could blast us to extinction with antimateria bombs anytime. They may be too indifferent to care if, say, Iran used it's nuclear arsenal, or too enthusiastic to meddle, or probably both.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The answer

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Death proof

Saw Inglourious Basterds in the weekend. Can't recommend it to anyone, though. Like Kill Bill, it was a purebred genre movie which didn't reference anything real, just other movies in the same genre. While Kill Bill was fun, Inglourious Basterds was just filled with cruel violence that was unnecessary for the plot.

There was one good scene in Inglourious Basterds though - the opening scene. It includes a long conversation during which nothing happens except two people talk politely with each others, but which is full of suspense anyway.

One criteria for good art is that it tells facts about reality. In this sense, realistic, long conversations can be art. Many important things depend on vapid chit-chat in small groups. The devil is in the details and in subtle signaling. The blogs of pick-up artists tell stories how vapid chit-chat determines the success of seduction, and also deal with relationship game. Families are one fundamental building blocks of society, and their formation and stability depends much on vapid chit-chat. It also determines very much how various professional and hobby groups get stuff done or don't.

The only TV program which takes vapid chit-chat seriously is Big Brother, and it is hugely popular around the world.

Death Proof is another Tarantino a movie, where the first hour consists entirely from vapid chit-chat. It even lacks proper suspense, as things start to happen only afterwards. It is both boring (nothing happens!) and ingenious (at last they film the stuff that social reality is made of!) at the same time.