Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Global Variables and Globalisation

Isn't globalisation in economics a bad design choice in the same way as global variables are in a computer program?
In computer programming, global variables are sometimes a convenient shortcut. However, they are discouraged for larger programs as anything happening to a global variable results in a large part of the program getting affected. In such cases, the cost of detecting the extent of impact and correcting them exceeds the benefits of global access to the variable. In design terminology, this condition signifies lack of modularity, and is plain BAD! On the other hand, in economics, we have many global variables. We have middle east for oil. Japan for motor spare parts. Asia for cheap intellectual labour and so on. If anything happens to any of them (as happened to Japan recently), the impact is immense and damages incalculable.
Going by the tradition of modularity as observed in engineering discipline, we would probably have done well to engineer our society in smaller modules, and limiting interaction between disparate modules to the bare minimum.

The principles of modularity has another important lesson. While we use encapsulations (i.e. hiding details within modules from other parts of the program) a lot in computer programming, the read-only access is a lot more liberal than read-write access. The socio-economic equivalent to this situation could be that we decide that there remains much less restriction in the flow of information than restrictions on flow of goods. Going by this principle, things like right to information, lokpal bills etc. would be encouraged. On the other hand, patents and copyrights, export and import would be discouraged.

Of course, this thought, though interesting for sure, has difficulties:
Legacy. The human civilisation is the oldest, biggest and most complex legacy system that we have to deal with. It's been under construction since much before concepts of good design were known even in the field of engineering. So, strictly speaking, we are maintaining it rather than designing. It's ridden with lack of modularity, redundancy, inefficiency and dead-code. Attempts to correct it have more often than not resulted in genocide and war. However, like it happens in software system, a lot more stuff gets added to the economy at an ever accelerating rate as time passes. Ideally, we should apply principles of good design in what we add. Quite ironically, it doesn't happens. Our economics is more and more globalised than before. It's funny that something similar happens in the software world. A software system is usually at its best when it begins its life. It's design superiority deteriorates progressively through its maintenance phase, eventually leading to its obsolescence.
The Human Element. The elements of the socio-economic system are -- ah! the ancient problem -- humans. They can't simply be asked to pretend not to know how to reach out and seek connections.
Definition of Modules. How do you define boundaries for socio-economic modules? Geographical proximity? What should be the ideal size? National populations? What's the measure of size? Population? Area? GDP?
Apart from these fundamental difficulties, the fact remains that running, maintaining or designing the socio-economy is an act more akin to industrial software engineering, where it turns out to be critical that we respond quickly to emergent situations and market pressures, than to cleanroom software design where we have the luxury and time to follow good principles. But we mustn't forget that while we design our socio-economy, there's no external customer, no competition, no time-to-market pressures. Yet, all the haste gets created within the system all the same!
What's the hurry? What's this speed achieving? And more than that, this speed is of what?Where do we want to get? Where are we really leading our society to?

These are more philosophical questions, though.

Monday, June 06, 2011

About Being Rich

Isn't our obsession to become rich essentially biological? Probably, death by starvation has been prehistorically a dominant reason for deaths of members of our species. And therefore, it has probably entrenched such a deep rooted fear, essentially genetic, in us for starvation that we wish to push it as far away from ourselves as possible. Probably, so far away that it can't affect any of our progeny, leave alone us.

But if you were to think logically, isn't it such a waste of effort to try to be endlessly richer and richer? We live in a chaotic world where there exist such possibilities as could wipe us out of existence in no time: diseases, accidents, wars, natural calamities. Yet, we struggle and struggle to diminish the unlikely possibility of starvation to more and more minuscule proportions than ever!  We never stop for a moment to think how bloated our perception of this exceedingly minute probability of starvation, and of our ability to prevent it from touching our n-th generation by mere accumulation of material resources, is.

The auxiliary aspects that associate the sense of power, sexual attractiveness, and status to being rich are also seemingly fallouts of the same prehistoric notion where hoarding more and more resources was the only way to ward off starvation. We are not only biologically driven to try and be richer and richer, but are also prisoners of our instinct to idolise those who have more money. This re-inforces our primitive obsession for more and more money, and gives it this power which more or less defines how our society is today.

The instinct which drives us to the obsession to hoarde money is probably rooted in ancient forms of adaptation, but is probably completely inapplicable in the present conditions. Surprisingly, the above very biologically driven thing is perpetrated by those who, on the face, are the most clever and designing ones!

Such puppets we are to our biology! Really fascinating!

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Hunger-Strike Approach

Baba Ramdeo's decision to go for hunger-strike against corruption and the Government's unprompt response to the resolutions made following the Anna Hazare strike is ... well ... striking!

I definitely appreciate the Yoga guru's concern to contribute in yet another way to the society's ills apart from bodily or mental ones. Probably, lots of people have pointed fingers at him on the point that his trying to change his role like this is uncalled for. While I would say that the point shouldn't be ignored, I feel it's someone's fundamental right to decide to do whatever he wishes within the limits of Law.

However, there's a deeper, more long term, concern. What is corruption for these people? Black money in Swiss Banks? Politicians misusing their powers? Bureaucrats taking bribes? What will happen if these instances of corruption are removed overnight? Nothing! Thousands others will come to take their places.

Corruption, like education, poverty, unemployment, is a deep rooted social disease which can't be solved with a revolution. It will require a deep, sustained process of cleansing that has to happen over a protracted period of time. Oversimplifying it and presenting it to the community as if it's something outside them is misleading. I don't even know if it will result in more harm than good.

One point in favour of this is, of course, if the initiators realise that these revolutionary events may mark a start of a national movement. May be, it will awaken the people to stand up when they see corruption being practiced in their field of vision. Hope it happens.

Meanwhile, I would plainly say that I find it unbecoming of Baba Ramdeo talking of gallows for corrupt politicians.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Keeping Sanity Intact

I don't necessarily do a good job in the above. However, surprisingly perhaps, I have never felt that my professional commitments have played a major part in ever tiring me out. But when I club that with many interests and hobbies, family commitments, social interactions etc., sometimes it gets overwhelming and I just lose it.

But when I am managing well, I think the following are the mechanisms:
Concentrating on one. Even if there are many things to do, it helps to forget about all others for a while but the one immediately at hand.
Learning to let go. It's important to realise that since there are too many good things to do in life, we are anyway going to end up not doing most of them. So, it's best to pick a handful and stick to them.
No hurrying. I feel seriously fatigued if I have to do anything in a hurry. Doing things in a soft pace allows me to get into the flow and enjoy the job.
Time-management. All standard time-management techniques: planning, scheduling, tracking, discipline. Also, where possible, I don't try remembering anything. My life runs on zillions of reminders on phone, Lotus Notes, gmail, wife ;)
Breaks: Getting up once in a few minutes, and taking a day off every now and then. I don't think I tire out more these days. But I have recently learnt to acknowledge fatigue. Also, I have stopped denying my body and mind a well-deserved rest. Well, most often.
Fitness. I am not a fitness guy. But as years go by, I seem to be tending a bit towards it. I would like to think that I have several years of active life ahead of me. A sick body is a big impediment. A fit one is an instrument to carve out higher objectives. So, a bit of exercising: walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, yoga...whichever I feel inspired to do. I have moderate dietary habits. So, that's taken care of, more or less.
Masochism. Over the years, I have developed a taste for the torturous feeling that one gets on seeing hordes of incomplete assignments. A half-read book, a half-written story, an incompletely developed software, pending research, incomplete drawings...earlier used to drive me mad. These days, I feel at home with this predicament. I don't feel uncomfortable even with the idea that when I die, I would be having plenty of unfinished stuff to do with me. The ability to add a tiny bit every once in a while -- taking a tiny steps towards the destination of a long journey -- often gives me a heady feeling.