u Notes from the Underground: December 2005

Tim Harford speaks on aid, free trade and environment

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The much-talked about author of the much-talked about book, now speaks on price-gouging, free trade and why "if you would like to be rich and have nothing change, then you will be disappointed".

That free trade can actually be helpful to the environment is something that never struck me, and it pulls the rug from beneath the feet of the many moralising environmentalists.

The countries that have the highest trade barriers, Japan and Korea use so much fertilizer.


And then countries like Brazil that don’t have a lot of agricultural protectionism don’t use much fertilizer either. And when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The protectionism is necessary because the land is not good. And the fertilizer is necessary because the land is not good. So free trade in agricultural products is -- well it’s good for a lot of reasons. But one of the reasons is it is good for the environment.

Read the interview. He gives a lot of pithy explanations for why we must embrace free trade and change, how all aid need not necessarily be bad and how businesses are fleecing us all the time through price targeting. His tone is even, un-hysterical, un-moralising and his arguments make sense. Unlike much of the arguments made on either sides of the debate on globalization.

Linus flares up on GNOME UI

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Linus talks about what is wrong with GNOME's GUI. Some worthy points in that thread.

Opening salvo:

I personally just encourage people to switch to KDE.

This "users are idiots, and are confused by functionality" mentality of
Gnome is a disease. If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will
use it. I don't use Gnome, because in striving to be simple, it has long
since reached the point where it simply doesn't do what I need it to do.

Please, just tell people to use KDE.

Another juicy one:

The fact is, developers don't know what their users are going to need.
That's a very fundamental issue in any software engineering. The other,
almost as fundamental issue, is that asking users is usually not very
productive either, because (a) different users will give you different
answers and (b) users often don't even know.

So when you ask "which flexibilities do you consider important", you're
pretty much BY DEFINITION asking for something senseless. It's akin to
asking how many angels dance on the head of a pin.

But the fact that users and developers don't know does NOT mean that
customization is bad. Quite the reverse. It means that defaults make
sense, but since you don't know what they'll be doing, you should always
strive to have ways to let _them_ make the choice when they have some
reason the default doesn't agree with them.

Those users may not know before-hand (which is why asking them is
pointless), but people actually _like_ twiddling around, changing fonts
and personalizing their machine. It may not be "productive", but it sure
as hell is user-friendly.

I havent followed the whole thread. If you see anything more worth reading, sure point me to it.

(Hat tip to Praveena)

FOSS in India

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Rajat points me to an analysis of why contribution from Indians to the FOSS community does not meet expectations. Some interesting theories there, especially in the comments.

If you shoot yourself in the foot, why shouldn't I?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Reading this piece about the massive "trade-distorting" agricultural subsidies given out by the US and the EU to their farmers, or indeed any article in the Hindu about this subject, you would think that the developed West is hurting us a great deal through such policies. I too was a sucker for this argument, until around an hour ago, when a few comments to a post on the Indian Economy blog woke me upto reality.

This Tech Central Station article does a good job of explaining the shoddy logic and the empty rhetoric of all the protectionists, the essence of which is that:

Evil rich countries (Europe, the U.S. and Japan) refuse to cut their agricultural subsidies and tariffs, which, in the words of Oxfam, "amount to robbery against the world's poor." Noble poor countries, meanwhile, righteously refuse to dismantle their own trade barriers unless the rich countries move first.

Hence, we are told, we are to go on shooting ourselves in the foot by continuing to have tariffs and artificially increase prices just because the rich countries are doing that. But, what if, we regain our senses for a bit, and decide to unilaterally remove trade barriers?

The World Bank has found that the total gain to the global economy from trade liberalization in agriculture -- the sticking point in Hong Kong, where I'll be next week -- is $248 billion. Of this total, the gain to rich countries is $106 billion; to poor countries, $142 billion.

But out of the $142 billion gain to poor countries, the gain that comes from removing trade barriers in rich countries is only $31 billion. The gain to poor countries that comes from removing their own barriers is $111 billion -- nearly four times as great.

(Italics in original).

There is more stuff in the article that would surprise you if you did not already understand free markets. And there is no dearth of such people in this world. Given political "pro-poor" rhetoric on the one hand, and the insidious socialist propaganda of the mainstream media on the other, it is not to be wondered at.

Individualism from the 18th century

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Found this on the Liberty and Power blog
Be no man’s lackey. Do not let others tread with impunity on your rights. ... Do not be a parasite or a flatterer or (what really differs from these only in degree) a beggar. ... Bowing or scraping before a man seems in any case to be unworthy of a man. ... Kneeling down or prostrating oneself on the ground, even to show your veneration for heavenly objects, is contrary to the dignity of humanity .... One who makes himself a worm cannot complain afterward if people step on him. ...

Self-esteem is a duty of man to himself.
You can be forgiven if you thought that was an Ayn Rand quote. It actually happens to be an extract from Immanuel Kant's The Metaphysics of Morals.