Yearly Archives: 2008

Institutional economics has been mainly concerned with institutions for economic growth. Will the same insights apply for economic development? Suppose an island is discovered amidst the pacific and a group of people decided to establish a country there. These people are from a variety of backgrounds, speak different languages and are of differing abilities. They decide that they want to achieve maximum possible development over the long run and consult an institutional economist for advice. They state clearly that growth is not the same as development and that they want to maximise development rather than economic growth. What advice will […]

What institutional economics has to say beyond growth

In order to theorise the roles of institutions in development, it is important to define development first. In this post, I argue that Amartya Sen’s “development as freedom” is the most suitable framework for theorising institutions & development. Amartya Sen has made a powerful argument for looking at development as a process of enhancing substantive freedoms (e.g. freedom from hunger, illiteracy, morbidity, etc.). This is best encapsulated in his book Development as freedom. Sen argues that freedoms have an intrinsic and instrumental importance and that human agency is the key to the pursuit of development. All three ideas have a […]

Suitability of Amartya’s framework for institutions & development

Prof. Marjorie DeVault hosts a website on institutional ethnography (see URL below). To quote her, “Institutional ethnography (IE) is a method of inquiry that allows people to explore the social relations that structure their everyday lives. It was first developed as a “sociology for women,” by Dorothy E. Smith, and is now being used by researchers in the social sciences, education, human services, and policy research”. The website offers information on teaching resources and a brief look at people who use institutional ethnography in their work. URL:

Institutional ethnography resources

When it comes to provision of basic amenities India performs badly by any account. Roads, electricity, water, schools, primary health, nutrition programmes, other amenities most basic to people today are poorly provided in most parts of India. Facilities that exist too are badly maintained and are often dysfunctional. While this is true by and large some states have performed exceptionally well. The famed example is Kerala whose education and health programmes have been remarkable. Another equally remarkable performer has been Tamil Nadu. The state has huge budgetary commitments for the social sector and most of these schemes also tend to […]

My dissertation question

An overview of institutional changes in Tamil Nadu over two centuries that explains the state’s relatively good governance Myron Weiner argued that India’s failure in providing universal education was due to the hierarchical mindset of the elite politicians and bureaucrats who did not consider it essential for children from the lower castes to be educated. Similarly in the Western world, there is evidence that evidence that relatively equal societies created provisions for universal primary education earlier. In other words, there is a strong relationship between social relations in a society and the role the government plays therein. I argue that […]

Overview of institutional change in Tamil Nadu & Governance

Institutional economists have held that we do not know how institutions change. I speculate why collective action as an agent of institutional change has been ignored I used to be surprised that institutional economists argue that they do not know how institutional change happens. Collective action is such a prominent driving force, how could the economists have missed this? I speculate that this must be due to the structure-agent dichotomy in social sciences. Social theorists across disciplines have struggled between choosing structures or agency as their basis of analysis. Those who choose structures (production relations, prices, etc.) effectively assume that […]

Institutional economics, collective action & change

During fieldwork in India, I was amazed by the differences between common people that I interacted with, and the well trained students in the Western world. There were significant differences in the questions each asked and the observations they made. I was often left wondering if more training in the disciplinary world leads to less sophisticated understanding of this complex social world. Read on...

Disciplinary training: More trained, less able

Let me start with a clarification that between the candidates I prefer Obama, and I hope that Obama-Biden will win this election.  I am not a fan of Sarah Palin either.  With this clarification, let me explain my criticism of SP detractors.  A lot has been made in the last few days about Sarah Palin’s poor knowledge of world affairs, of economics and it has even been floated that she does not read much, and so is unsuitable to be a candidate.  I actually don’t think that being widely read or being an “expert” is necessary for a good politician.  […]

A word against Palin detractors

My relationship with sex could be summarized in the following terms: ignorance, followed by awareness, followed by an absolute unwillingness to engage, academic engagements, followed by willingness (accompanied by lack of opportunities) and finally now, the curious sexual turn.  After having had a fairly pristine life – sexually speaking – sex has now become an integral part of my life: they are always making love in the room upstairs.  The charm of living in old wooden houses in America is that it gives you a sense of community.  If (concrete) walls have ears in India, the wooden walls here have […]

My sex life

Cyrano de Bergerac Year: 1990 Writer: Jean-Claude Carrière, Jean-Paul Rappeneau Director: Jean-Paul Rappeneau Length: 137 mins Category: Drama Rating: 4 out of 5 Beautiful French movie about a man in love who is unable to express it through his life since he thinks he’s ugly. Cyrano, a poet, soldier and a man highly accomplished in many things has an unusually long nose. He is in love with his cousin. Just when he musters courage to tell her, she seeks his help to get in touch with a handsome man in his company. Christian, though handsome, does not have a way […]

Cyrano de Bergerac: Moving

Tagore wrote a beautiful poem called “Playthings” that I was reminded of when I saw this child play Child, how happy you are sitting in the dust, playing with a broken twig all the morning. I smile at your play with that little bit of a broken twig. I am busy with my accounts, adding up figures by the hour. Perhaps you glance at me and think, “What a stupid game to spoil your morning with!” Child, I have forgotten the art of being absorbed in sticks and mud-pies. I seek out costly playthings, and gather lumps of gold and […]

Playthings by Tagore

Horray, Google News is now available in Tamil I have been a great fan of Google News for a few years now. So much so that I read most news starting here rather than through news papers or their websites. . A big lacuna with it was that Tamil news was not covered in this channel. With Google Seithigal, Tamil newspapers will be indexed and covered. Basic details about this service are available in its help section.  Here are a few additional tips. [ad#Medium rectangle] Searching Google Seithigal I do not understand why Google Seithigal does not have a facility […]

Google Seithigal: Google news in Tamil

I was impressed with Obama’s talk on race during the primaries – particularly his ability to deal with difficult issues. What he did with race, he does not with international relations Obama’s ability to draw attention across the globe is incredible. There are even posters of him with a local political leader in many parts of Madras – something I have never seen of a foreign leader before. His appeal was clear in other parts of the world as well seen from the clamour in Israel and the crowds in Berlin. While he has the charisma to influence, I feel […]

Obama’s worrisome idioms: In reaction to his Berlin speech

No Man’s Land Year: 2001 Writer: Danis Tanovic Director: Danis Tanovic Category: Drama Rating: 4 out of 5 Three wounded soldiers Ciki, Cera (Bosnians) and Nino (Serbian) get caught in a trench in the no man’s land. Cera is lying on a mine that would burst if he moves. There is tension as well as friendship between the three. Nino went to school with Ciki’s ex-girlfriend. They both are trapped in a deadly situation that they want to escape from. But they blame their predicament on each other, keeping them suspicious and leading to periodic breakout of fights between them. […]

No Man’s land by Tanovic: Gripping

This post is in reaction to a friend’s post about Mani Ratnam’s brilliance when it comes to handling children.  Citing Kannathil Muthamittal and Anjali he says, The master director’s known for his ability to extract the best from the kids – Anjali had proved that way back in eighties. But, then “Kannathil Muthamittal” truly showed how Mani Ratnam can ellicit complex adult emotions from a child. I think his choice of movies could not have been worse.  For MR kids are only noisy, perpetually-running, yelling, brats. I sometimes feel that he merely takes a an adult character, adds a lot […]

Children in Mani Ratnam movies

American Visa IMDB Year: 2005 Director: Juan Carlos Valdivia Category: Foreign Rating: 3 out of 5 What better movie could I review waiting outside the US Consulate for an American visa? This satirical comedy is about Mario’s dreams to join his son for a comfortable life in the United States. After elaborate preparations, his visa to the US is denied. He then tries to commit a robbery to gather the money to get a visa from the black market. In the meanwhile, he meets a philosophically inclined prostitute who loves Bolivia and finds heaven where she is. Most of the […]

Review of Bolivian “American Visa” as I wait for mine!

By cheaply twisting facts, media makes headlines to bash the Left Parties After spectacularly winning 13 out of 17 Zilla Parishads, CPM and it’s partners woke up to see the following headline in the Indian Express, “Not just Singur and Nandigram, CPM gets battered across rural West Bengal”. Some sections of the media have kept up the tempo to manufacture a feel that the Left Front is loosing its grip in West Bengal. Referring to the same election two months later, Economic Times mentions, “Civic poll results are not at all encouraging for the Marxists in the wake of their […]

Communist bashing in Indian media

It’s difficult to imagine that the suave Bombay girl and I will have a common attitude to clothing (see note on cloth shopping). In my recent trip to Bombay, I discovered just that. Priyanka and I both prefer loose cloths. We just seem to do it from different perspectives. I do it conscious of my expanding waistline and she does it so that she can brag to her friends about having lost weight!

In our own styles: Priyanka & I

Joie de vie could just be another name for Jubeet. Even in the exam season of D.School, you could count on her to see a perpetually cheerful person…and it was infectious. “Oh Vivek, I should tell you about this”, she’d often start, her face brightening as she broke into mild laughter – and thus she started delightful stories of sweet little things in her life. When I met her and Rukma some years ago, they were besides themselves with joy, and I knew that they had a story to say. “Ohhh Vivek, I MUST tell you this” started Jubeet as […]

The umbrella

T R Vishwanathan was one of the founding members of the communist movement in South Arcot District I met TRV for an interview two weeks ago. Though he was unwell and very old, he insisted on speaking to me. “I may have a heart attack and pass away anyday”, he said, “if I talk to you, you may take my message to more people”. We went on to have a delightful 4-hour discussion on his legacy. I am sad to say that he has passed away last night and will be cremated today. This post offers a short snap shots […]

Obituary to a great soul: T R Vishwanathan (TRV)