Saturday, March 20, 2010

Addendum to the Consequences of Choice

Now even when I want to move away from all this consequences, it just doesn't seem to let go of me yet. 
As I was surfing the cyberspace I chanced upon that which looks to me like like evidence of this theory but only somewhat off from what I said in my second post. I talked of the state restricting the choices of the people and controlling them. But it is equally true that it is the people who are actually driving the state towards more control. Still it exactly follows what I said in the first post.

Below are the evidences in support of my theory. They are excerpts from this article: The Scary New Rich The global middle class is more unstable and less liberal than we thought. What follows are the excerpts, followed by my own comments.
...the Brazilian middle class applauding more state control of the oil industry...
...the continuing popularity of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin among the Russian middle class, now 78 percent of the total population...
...there's the middle-class support for the rise of conservative Islam in Indonesia...
Many of the aspiring elite seem willing to let the powers that be—whether authoritarian governments or elected ones—call the shots as long as they deliver the spoils of growth. And command-and-control states, like China, are now doing that better than suburban America.
A 2009 Pew study on the global middle class found that its members are generally supportive of democratic ideas like free speech and competitive elections. Yet experts at Pew and elsewhere say they are often willing to sacrifice those ideals for prosperity.
In Brazil and Russia, the middle classes are more worried about freedom from hunger than freedom of speech, and distrust virtually all democratic institutions.
And in China, rural people who still see little benefit from their nation's economic boom are more likely to support democracy than the urban middle classes, who now make up three quarters of the Communist Party cadres.
Even in countries that are democratic, the newly prosperous may look quite different from their Western peers. In Turkey and Indonesia, much of the middle class consists of devout Muslims who do choose to vote—and to wear Islamic headscarves. 
More Russians today support "a strong leader" over "democracy" than did 10 years ago—no wonder, given the plunge in living standards that followed the collapse of the Soviet empire. Russia's new middle class is among the staunchest supporters of the Vladimir Putin–Dmitry Medvedev continuum, for the simple reason that they have the most to lose. 
Ditto China, where the middle class was much more likely to favor political liberalization prior to the 1989 Tiananmen riots than it is today. Democracy might bring freedom, but it could also bring chaos. 
He concludes by saying
"They" have a very long way to go before becoming "us."
"They" meaning:
China, Brazil, Russia, Turkey, India, Indonesia, and other large developing nations
"us" meaning:
Washington or London, basically the west
and by becoming he implies:
liberal, democratic, market-friendly bastions not only of Western-style consumerism but also of political liberty.

He is stands on shaky ground when he says that. He implies that only the western model of everything is correct which need not be the case at all. But more important than that is the fact that even the west moves away from the western ideals as and when they see fit. 

Germans did rally behind Hitler.
More recently Americans did elect Obama whose call for greater state control in some areas made the republicans stoop to labeling him as a socialist.
Point to note is that I am not comparing Obama with Hitler, these are just examples of people opting for greater control albeit at different levels.
Switzerland baned building further minarets. 
France baned headscarves, while many islamic countries enforce them. One can say that the former is liberating while the later is oppressing. But doesn't liberating people against their wishes actually become oppression? Jokes aside, One asks to wear headscarves while the other asks not to. At the basic level both are restricting your choices approaching the same common point from different directions.

By looking at the reader comments I see few others sharing my opinions with their own examples.Here are some excerpts...

stitch999 says
How is this different - in ANY way - from the Western middle class? How are we confrontational politically? We let the government get away with more and more taxes and intrusions (including Britain not being allowed to photograph their own children), and how many people dare to say anything about it publicly?
IChamoI says
And even though these countries can???t be compared with the democratic life the west has enjoyed, we still can???t forget that the United States and the EU took undemocratic measures as a response to the ???war on terror??? (the patriot act, Guantanamo or the CCTV system in the UK). These measures couldn´t have taken place without the approval of the west´s middle classes.
Here ends my writeup. Now I leave it to you to voice your comments...
But to end on a lighter note my comment on PETA running for congress seems to have turned rather prophetic...only it is some other company instead of PETA. Check it out here...
Can a Company Run for Congress?

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Consequences of Choice (Part 2): Why China is overtaking the US and leaving behind India

Here I am at it again, thanks to the kind words of appreciation from a few people.
In the last post I talked of how the availability of choices affects the decisions of people taking the example of technology business, more specifically the case for why people might not prefer Android over the iPhone. A friend pointed out that the iPhone is much more costly than the Android and thus it need not be the case at all that the Android will lose to the iPhone. I have to agree to it in the sense that I chose to analyze just one of the possibly infinite variables that affect an outcome. It was a conscious decision on my part to look at just that one variable called choice. This is a common practice in science and a lot of other fields too that while studying a complex system, all the variables affecting it are fixed but for one.
In the same breath I would like to distinguish this from the concept of game theory which is also played out based on choice. A line from the Wikipedia entry on Game theory says, "Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behavior in strategic situations, in which an individual's success in making choices depends on the choices of others." On the other hand what we have is a case where the availability, and the number of choices itself influencing the behavior of persons. But it is interesting to note that the non-availability of choice actually collapses most game and there can no more be a theory. Nevertheless the choice of eliminating choices itself is a small topic in Game theory as illustrated in this book: Game Theory at Work: How to Use Game Theory to Outthink and Outmaneuver Your Competition (pages 10&11). It is a really good book and I just remember I din't get to finish it either. Something for the to-do list. Now enough of digression, getting back to our theory...
The last post mainly dealt with how people react when faced with choices. But in this I explore the more serious implication, the one of how you control the people by controlling their choices.
Just to give myself some place to start I am quoting here what the constitutions of China and India define them as. You can skip ahead if you like but it is interesting to read what the wise old men had in mind for us!

Article 1. The People's Republic of China is a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants. The socialist system is the basic system of the People's Republic of China. Sabotage of the socialist system by any organization or individual is prohibited.

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a _1[SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the _2[unity and integrity of the Nation];
(1&2 After the changes made in the 42nd Amendment w.e.f. 3-1-1977)

Basically China is an apparent dictatorship and India is a so called secular democracy. So it all boils down to what is commonly known as freedom or the choice to act according to volition. People of china have less of it (or more of what they cannot do), an example of which is right there in the Article 1, and people of India have more of it (or less of what they cannot do). People in china cannot legally engage in any form of protest or even express any opinion again the government even if the government is plainly wrong. If they choose to protest, they either get massacred like at Tiananmen Square or, based on different interpretations, like in Tibet. Or if you crossed the line as an individual, you will just take a walk with the police never to return and never to be heard of again. So by all the restrictions the Chinese government has effectively made sure that the small subset of actions, which the people can legally engage in, only contributes to nation building by their own definition of the term.
While on the other hand, in the countries like India there is just too much of choices in the name of democracy. There is hardly any convergence of interest when you take nation as a whole. People think they can do anything just because they have the choice to do so. Some go about burning buses and blowing up rail tracks while others blatantly abuse their position of power. It is interesting to note that what would be an act of terrorism if committed by a banned organization suddenly becomes a legitimate struggle when done in the name of political organizations. This is due to the fact that there is no single persistent authority that limits the choices of people. People can openly act against the national interest in India and nothing would be done about it at all.
This is evident from the fact that despite India having a lead over China in various fields in the 60s, China has now overtaken India in nearly every possible way and the gap only continues to widen. So if we can just turn a blind eye to all the human rights issues and other paraphernalia of control measures in china, we have to agree that Chinese way of governance based on limited choices has indeed pushed china far ahead than what would have been possible otherwise. One other country that is towing a similar line is Iran. It is a democracy If I am to believe what I read, the technological progress Iran is making is rather phenomenal and is the even steeper than that of India and China.

But the excess of choice can result in anything from the grimness in India as above to the hilarity in US as below.
There was recently a Great Animal Rights Debate in my university which discussed the killing and eating of animals. One side was represented by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). What surprised me was the group that represented the opposition. It was not the people representing poultry and cattle farmers, or the meat processing industry. It was not even the plain non-vegetarians. What formed the opposition in the debate was the campus Republicans. Yes, you read that right. The republicans do have every right to profess their ideology/diet and there is actually nothing wrong as such in that. But the absurdity of it hits you with full force once you consider the following complementary hypothetical case. Just imagine a presidential debate where John McCain represents the republicans and Barak Obama talks under the banner of PETA. One can then argue that just like the republicans' right to profess their diet, the members of PETA have the right to express opinions on matters of national significance.
The way I see it, either these people have become confused about their own identities when confounded with choices even across totally different ideological domains or do things the way they do it just because they have the choice to do so. Both possibilities are equally bad.
Many of you will find this hard to digest. You may tell that that the Chinese people don't have any choice at all when many of possible actions are branded as illegal. You may claim that this argument is not valid when fear becomes a variable in the equation governing response to a choice. But to act despite fear and threat is still a choice people can make and we have examples of that as has happened in China and Iran itself. Fear can cloud the mind of people only until when freedom becomes the idea whose time has come!
After having expounded this theory I would still bat for it to fail precisely due the same reasons. If I were to live in such a restrictive environment I might not even have the choice to write this article on the consequences of choice! Hence I am glad that choice is just one of the several variables influencing the decisions of people and that it is possible to eliminate them or create them at will.