Results for “sri lanka”
38 found

Model this for Sri Lanka Indian Coasean spite value

  • India is buying Sri Lanka’s second-largest airport, despite it only handling a dozen passengers a day.
  • China recently took control of a nearby port that opens up significant trade routes, and India is worried about China’s growing role in the Indian Ocean.
  • Experts say the $300 million investment by India is an attempt to limit China’s ability to operate its port as a naval site.

Here is the story, via the excellent Samir Varma.  India/China remains one of the world’s big stories…

Sri Lanka notes

If you go to cross the street, cars actually will stop for you.

It’s a lovely country to visit.  It is exotic, quite safe (these days), and it’s much cleaner than I had been expecting.  Both of my guidebooks claim the food is mediocre, but you can find excellent Sri Lankan dishes by going to small restaurants and paying less than a dollar (the actual restaurant scene does seem underdeveloped, though the places in the Cinnamon Grand are quite good).  Just look for places where everyone is eating with their hands.

Order any vegetarian dish with cashews or a cashew sauce.

The place feels like an odd mix of Thailand and, of all places, Curacao.  The old capital, Kandy, is vaguely reminiscent of Nara, Japan in its overall presentation and its feel of Buddhist classicism.

Interior design seems to be their area of greatest accomplishment.  The relevant sites are numerous but spread out.

The literacy rate is about 92%.  A visit to Sri Lanka will increase your opinion of “water transport” theories of high social indicators.

Here is an update on where ethnic tensions stand.

The Chinese are trying to buy them off with infrastructure, most of all port facilities.

The coconuts are orange.

I thank Yana for useful conversations related to this post.

My favorite things Sri Lanka

This is a tough one, and I admit failure in advance, and yes I will call upon the diaspora in this case.  But even that doesn’t much help me.  Here goes:

1. Popular music: M.I.A., with Arular and then Kala being my favorite works by her.

2. Science fiction writer, lived in: Arthur C. Clarke lived there for over fifty years.

3. Author: Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka, I like but do not love his work.  Two quite recent Sri Lankan novels are Michelle de Kretser, Questions of Travel, and Ru Freeman, On Sal Mal Lane, both noteworthy.

4. Movie, set in: I can’t think of one.  Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed here.

5. Architect: Geoffrey Bawa, some images are here.

Is Lal Jayawardena the most famous Sri Lankan economist?  And I have had excellent Sri Lankan food in Germany, most of all in Berlin.  There is a takeaways Sri Lankan place in Derwood, Maryland, Spice Lanka, which I have yet to try.  When I was much younger, the Sri Lankan chess player Sunil Weeramantry was always very cordial to me.  And my grandmother had a Sri Lankan friend who, when I was a small boy, used to bring us cashews.  I liked him.  I think of the music — perhaps unfairly — as falling into the “raucous, influenced by cinema, good jolly fun but I’m not going to buy it” category, but I would gladly receive your better-informed recommendations in the comments.

Sorry people, I’ll try harder next time.  I don’t follow cricket and I know virtually nothing about cinema here, I hope to learn more.

What I’ve been reading

Roderick Floud, An Economic History of the English Garden.  Every page of this book does indeed have economics.  It just does not have interesting economics.  Which may mean that gardens are not so interesting from an economic point of view.  Which in turn would make this a good book.  But not an interesting book.

Ajantha Subramanian, The Caste of Merit: Engineering Education in India.  A critique of casteism and growing inequality, this book also doubles as a fascinating history of IIT.  Best read in Straussian fashion as a sympathetic story of origins.

Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion & The Future of Clothes.  Some parts of this book have bad economics and extreme mood affiliation, but in general it has more actual information than other books on the same topic and at times the author makes decent external cost arguments against the current system of clothes production.  So a qualified recommendation, at least I am glad I read it, even though some parts are obviously too sloppy.

Razeen Sally, Return to Sri Lanka: Travels in a Paradoxical Island.  People do not think enough about Sri Lanka, including in the social sciences!  It is a richer and nicer country than what most people are expecting, and it is good for studying both conflict and ethnic tensions.  This memoir — information rich rather than just blather — is one good place to get you started.

David Goldblatt, The Age of Football: The Global Game in the Twenty-First Century.  Football meaning soccer of course, this book covers how soccer interacts with politics in many particular countries, including Africa, and just how much the game has grown in global markets.  Mostly informative, good if you wish to read a book about this topic (I don’t).

Conversations with Zizek.  Maybe the best introduction to why Žižek is a richer thinker than his critics allege?  The book serves up insights on a consistent basis, and there is a minimum of jargon.  Marcus Pound had a good blurb: “Audacious and vertiginous, this book is everything one expects from him, a heady mix of psychoanalysis, politics, theology, philosophy, and cultural studies that will leave the reader both exhausted and exhilarated.”

Do Extreme Rituals Have Functional Benefits?

To show their devotion to Murugan, the Hindu God of War, devotees in South India and Sri Lanka (all males) are pierced with large hooks and then hung on a festival float, as if they were toys on a nightmarish baby mobile. It’s an amazing and horrifying display not unlike Christian devotees in the Philippines who are nailed to crosses.

But what are the effects of these practices on those who undergo them? Surprisingly, positive. In, Effects of Extreme Ritual Practices on Psychophysiological Well-Being, a group of anthropologists, biologists and religious studies scholars compared measures of physiological, psychological and social well being in a small group of devotees compared to a matched sample. The group performing the ritual had no long lasting health harms but did appear to benefit psychologically through feelings of euphoria and greater self-regard and socially through higher status.

Despite their potential risks, extreme rituals in many contexts are paradoxically associated with health and healing (Jilek 1982; Ward 1984). Our findings suggest that within those contexts, such rituals may indeed convey certain psychological benefits to their performers. Our physiological measurements show that the kavadi is very stressful and high in energetic demands (fig. 2C, 2D). But the ostensibly dangerous ordeal had no detectable persistent harmful effects on participants, who in fact showed signs of improvement in their perceived health and quality of life. We suggest that the effects of ritual participation on psychological well-being occur through two distinct but mutually compatible pathways: a bottom-up process triggered by neurological responses to the ordeal and a top-down process that relies on communicative elements of ritual performance (Hobson et al. 2017).

Specifically, the bottom-up pathway involves physical aspects of ritual performance related to emotional regulation. Ritual is a common behavioral response to stress (Lang et al. 2015; Sosis 2007), and anthropological evidence shows that in many cultures dysphoric rituals involving intense and prolonged exertion and/or altered states of consciousness are considered as efficient ways of dealing with various illnesses (Jilek 1982). In our study, those who suffered from chronic illnesses engaged in more painful forms of participation by enduring more piercings. Notably, higher levels of pain during the ritual were associated with improvements in self-assessed health post-ritual. Although the pain was relatively short-lived, there is evidence that the social and individual effects of participation can be long-lasting (Tewari et al. 2012; Whitehouse and Lanman 2014).

The sensory, physiological, and emotional hyperarousal involved in strenuous ordeals can produce feelings of euphoria and alleviation from pain and anxiety (Fischer et al. 2014; Xygalatas 2008), and there is evidence of a neurochemical basis for these effects via endocrine alterations in neurotransmitters such as endorphins (Boecker et al. 2008; Lang et al. 2017) or endocannabinoids (Fuss et al. 2015). These endocrine effects are amplified when performed collectively, as shown by studies of communal chanting, dancing, and other common aspects of ritual (Tarr et al. 2015). While it is uncertain how long-lasting these effects are, such euphoric experiences may become self-referential for future well-being assessment.

At the same time, a top-down pathway involves social-symbolic aspects of ritual. Cultural expectations and beliefs in the healing power of the ritual may act as a placebo (McClenon 1997), buffering stress-induced pressures on the immune system (Rabin 1999). In addition, social factors can interact with and amplify the low-level effects of physiological arousal (Konvalinka et al. 2011). Performed collectively, these rituals can provide additional comfort through forging communal bonds, providing a sense of community and belonging, and building social networks of support (Dunbar and Shultz 2010; Xygalatas et al. 2013). The Thaipusam is the most important collective event in the life of this community, and higher investments in this ritual are ostensibly perceived by other members as signs of allegiance to the group, consequently enhancing participants’ reputation (Watson-Jones and Legare 2016) and elevating their social status (Bulbulia 2004; Power 2017a). Multiple lines of research suggest that individuals are strongly motivated to engage in status-seeking efforts (Cheng, Tracy, and Henrich 2010; Willard and Legare 2017) and that there is a strong positive relationship between social rank and subjective well-being (Anderson et al. 2012; Barkow et al. 1975). Indeed, we found that individuals of lower socioeconomic status were more motivated to invest in the painful activities that can function as costly signals of commitment. Recent evidence from a field study in India shows that those who partake in these rituals indeed reap the cooperative benefits that result from increased status (Power 2017b).

In addition, the cost of participation can have important self-signaling functions. On the one hand, it can boost performers’ perceived fitness and self-esteem, which positively affects mental health (Barkow et al. 1975). On the other hand, through a process of effort justification, such costs can strengthen one’s attachment to the group and sense of belonging (Festinger 1962; Sosis 2003). This role of costly rituals in generating positive subjective states (Bastian et al. 2014b; Fischer et al. 2014; Wood 2016) and facilitating social bonding (Bastian, Jetten, and Ferris 2014a; Whitehouse and Lanman 2014) may offer insights into the functions of painful religious practices.

The mind has an amazing ability to turn what would be torture under some scenarios into something else.

Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.

Average annual change in total factor productivity between 1990 and 2014

Here are the estimates from Penn World Tables, only selected countries are presented:

Sri Lanka 2.48

China 2.40

Poland 1.70

Uruguay 1.61

Romania 1.61

United States 0.89

Brazil -0.12

South Africa -0.53

Mexico -0.82

Ukraine -1.20

A few points.  First, I still believe Sri Lanka is an undervalued development story, in spite of recent developments.  Second, the economy of Poland is not discussed enough.  Third, other sources confirm similar numbers for Mexico, arguably because misallocations of capital and labor have increased due to the growing size of the informal sector.  Fourth, there are far too many other nations in the negative column.

Those numbers are reproduced in “Productivity in Emerging-Market Economies: Slowdown or Stagnation?”, by José de Gregorio, in the new and interesting volume Facing Up To Low Productivity Growth, edited by Adam S. Posen and Jeromin Zettelmeyer.

The culture that is (some of) Indian science

The organisers of a major Indian science conference distanced themselves Sunday from speakers who used the prestigious event to dismiss Einstein’s discoveries and claim ancient Hindus invented stem cell research.

The Indian Scientific Congress Association expressed “serious concern” as the unorthodox remarks aired by prominent academics at its annual conference attracted condemnation and ridicule.

The distinguished gathering of Indian researchers and scientists hosts Nobel laureates, but in recent years has seen Hindu mythology and faith-based theories edging onto the agenda.

At this year’s congress, the head of a southern Indian university cited an ancient Hindu text as proof that was discovered on the subcontinent thousands of years ago.

“We had 100 Kauravas from one mother because of stem cell and test tube technology,” said G. Nageshwar Rao, Vice Chancellor at Andhra University, referring to a story from the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

Rao, who was addressing school children and scientists at the event, also said a demon king from another centuries-old Hindu epic had two dozen aircraft and a network of landing strips in modern-day Sri Lanka.

“Hindu Lord Vishnu used guided missiles known as ‘Vishnu Chakra’ and chased moving targets,” added the professor of inorganic chemistry.

Event organisers tried to hose down the remarks, saying it was “unfortunate” the prestigious event had been derailed by controversy.

Here is the full account, via Anecdotal.  My point here is not to make fun of India, which I am a big admirer of.  Rather, successful science requires many, many cultural dimensions, not just a few, and those dimensions must be applied consistently.  India has an active and mostly successful space program, is a world leader in cheap and effective heart surgery, and in general the country is teeming with innovation, including in the culinary realm I might add.

So many of you take the cultural prerequisites of science for granted, and yes Max Weber still is underrated.

The forthcoming Chinese charter city?

From Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

The government intends to ring-fence Port City from Sri Lanka’s legal system to facilitate currency movement and create favorable tax and investment incentives. Harsha de Silva, a state minister who once campaigned against the project but is now one of its most vocal supporters, is involved in drafting the separate legal structure. “This must be a top-10 city for doing business in the world,” he says. “Otherwise, what’s the point?” Sri Lanka is currently ranked 111 out of 190 nations on the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business index.

And here is the take on one of the nearby port projects:

Today, Hambantota handles about one ship a day, not enough to make it commercially viable, and wild elephants regularly breach the perimeter fencing. At a nearby airport, which CCCC also helped build during Rajapaksa’s administration, the only commercial flight was canceled in June because of frequent peacock strikes and low demand.

Is it fair to call all this a “hegemon charter city“?

Ji Haan, Minister

One of the unfortunate legacies of British colonial rule in India is a permanent civil service that tends to subvert any change that it deems against its interests, even when such change is promoted by elected officials. This is one reason why change in India is often two steps forward, 1.9 steps back. A case in point is India’s newly passed Goods and Service Tax (GST).

The GST was supposed to solve a long-standing problem of Indian intra-national trade. Unlike say the US common market, Indian states erect tariff and non-tariff barriers against the products of other states. As a result, production is allocated inefficiently–Indian firms with high costs hide behind barriers and produce too much while Indian firms with low costs can’t expand sales to other states and so produce too little.

(Canada, by the way, also has this problem. It’s often cheaper for a Canadian firm to ship to the US than to another province in Canada. You can find similar problems in Southern Africa where it is cheaper for South Africa to import produce from South America than from Zambia, as this excellent video discusses.)

trucksIn addition to the inefficient allocation of production, barriers to internal trade have also raised India’s transportation and logistics costs.

At the Walayar checkpoint in southern India, lines of idle trucks stretch as far as the eye can see in both directions along the tree-lined interstate highway, waiting for clearance from tax inspectors that can take days to complete.

Delays are so bad that textile entrepreneur D. Bala Sundaram has stopped sending his trucks to the international container terminal at nearby Cochin, instead diverting them hundreds of kilometres to a smaller regional port and onwards via Sri Lanka…


Two-thirds of India’s freight travels by road. But only 40% of the travel time is consumed by driving, according to the World Bank. The rest is spent on waiting at state border checkpoints, paying state government levies and dealing with regulatory bureaucracies that vary from state to state.

The sad irony is that India spends billions improving its roads only to force its trucks to stop at state border checkpoints, sometimes for days, undermining the gains from the investment in roads.

The GST was going to simplify all this with a single umbrella tax creating one-tax, one-nation. Alas, the dream is being subverted. The law created a GST council of federal and state ministers and through this council the GST is rapidly becoming more complex and convoluted. First, one-tax was changed into four and with numerous exemptions the final number may end up being more like seven or eight.

Second, as I witnessed traveling between Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan recently, the trucks are still lining up and may continue to do so:

The revolution the proposed goods and services tax (GST) promised might not be all that rosy because it would be hobbled by the need for an e-permit to be flashed at inter-state borders as the states insisted the old analogue practises continue.

The states seem to have gotten their way and will continue with the old ‘permit raj’ system, undermining one the biggest gains of GST.

The E-permit, by the way, sounds modern but don’t be fooled. Like India’s e-visa there is really nothing e about it–it’s just modern labeling for an old system.

Eventually the GST will be beneficial to India but it’s two steps forward, 1.9 steps back.

What I’ve been reading

1. Ronald Bailey, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century.  Good arguments all around, and he covers climate change too.  My worry is a political economy one: if we can’t handle small amounts of immigration or trade competition from China without flipping out, how will we fare with forthcoming environmental problems?

2. John Gimlette, Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka.  An informative and entertaining look at an under-covered country.  (If you’d like a critical review instead, try this one, but I followed up on some of the criticisms and was not persuaded by the attempted takedown.)  This NYT article suggests (correctly) that now is the time to visit Sri Lanka.

3. Sally Denton, The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World.  A good history of one epicenter of crony capitalism.  I had not known what an important role Bechtel played in the early construction of nuclear power plants.  Here is a good T.J. Stiles NYT review of the book.

4. Joanna Masel, Bypass Wall St.: A Biologist’s Guide to the Rat Race.  Darwin plus Fred Hirsch on positional goods as applied to finance and portfolios.  Unorthodox, interesting.

5. Stephen Stigler, The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom.  What are the seven foundational pillars of statistics?  Beautifully written.


Peter McPhee, Liberty or Death: The French Revolution.  More of a browse so far, but I have positive impressions of this new Yale University Press book.

Jeff Gramm’s Dear Chairman: Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism is a very useful and well-researched book, focusing on shareholder rights and control issues in the earlier history of corporate America.

Cecil E. Bohanon and Michelle Albert Vachris, Pride and Profit: The Intersection of Jane Austen and Adam Smith, my blurb refers to it as a “tour de force [which] ties the worlds of economics and literature together, leaving the reader delighted and informed along the way.”

A free trade agreement for South Asia?

Are free trade agreements contagious?  The negotiations for TPP seem to be coming to a close, but there is the potential for a much more beneficial arrangement, namely for the subcontinent and thereabouts, can we toss in Ethiopia too?

India has said that all South Asian economies need to speedily work towards a free trade area within the region with a defined time-line, preferably 2020, as the first step towards achieving the joint vision of a South Asian Economic Union.

“I am confident that consensus can be achieved for a defined time-line for 100 per cent tariff liberalisation with special and differential treatment for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and vulnerable economies,” Commerce & Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at the South Asia Economic Conclave organised by the Commerce Ministry and industry body CII on Tuesday.

While India has already allowed duty-free access to goods from LDC countries of South Asia as part of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), it is ready to go to 100 per cent for non-LDCs, too, as per the Safta roadmap agreed by India with Pakistan in November 2012, Sitharaman said.

At least four of the eight SAARC countries — which include India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — are looking at a free trade area by 2020. India is willing to take asymmetric responsibility towards achieving the goal, she added.

The full story is here.

“One Belt, One Road”, or the New Silk Road for China?

That is the new China initiative to rebuild the Old Silk Road along modern principles.  The plan is a bit of a grab bag, but seems to include the following:

a. A deepwater naval base in Pakistan, plus a $42 billion aid/investment package for Pakistan.  Here is some background on what already has been done.

b. A Chinese route to the sea through Myanmar and Bangladesh.

c. Northern shipping routes to Europe, through the Arctic, as the ice melts.

d. A rail line from Zhengzhou through Russia to Hamburg (already running, a 17-day trip).

e. Power stations and manufacturing plants for the Central Asian republics, in return for gas supply.  This infrastructure transfer is also supposed to limit excess capacity in China by sending infrastructure abroad.

f. A railway and highway to connect China to the Arabian Sea.

Arnold Kling, telephone!  Are these sustainable patterns of trade and specialization?  Or are they slated to be proverbial white elephants?  Does anyone know?  Bueller?

A few points are striking here.

1. Much of this seems to be defensive geopolitics.  Most of China’s oil supply, and much of China’s trade, runs through the Straits of Malacca.  This plan, assuming it can be well-executed, affords China a good deal of protection.  Yet that insurance does not add growth on top of the status quo, which currently is an open, well-functioning (mostly), trade channel at the Straits.  At best it would hold a future catastrophe at bay for China.

2. The gravity equation in international trade economics suggests that countries trade much more when they are “near each other.”   But what does proximity in this context mean exactly (pdf, an interesting trade paper by the way, on the “death of distance” theme and where it fails)?  The most successful gravity models cite “distance between national capitals” rather than “distance between closest borders.”  For evaluating this plan, that difference matters a great deal!  I say distance between capitals is likely the more relevant variable, all the more for an economy dominated by state-owned enterprises.

3. The idea of easing excess capacity by sending infrastructure to other countries seems unlikely to succeed.  Other than gas, how much do these countries currently have to offer China?  And how much infrastructure can be transferred how quickly?

4. China’s economic growth has been dominated by the coasts, and the Great Canal, for approximately one thousand years; today Xi’an is a backwater for instance, although in the Tang dynasty it was possibly the most advanced city in the world.  Can this now-deeply entrenched pattern — water transport beats land transport — be reversed by a lot of government spending?

5. To date China’s main external ally is North Korea, even though China is the world’s second largest economy.  How well will relations with all these other nations evolve, and what does that mean for the value of those investments?  Sri Lanka already has decided to redo its deals with China, and it doesn’t seem China can bully them out of that, though read this update.

During my China visit, I heard repeatedly that this New Silk Road plan will limit the pending decline of China’s growth rate.  Each time I expressed skepticism about that prospect, my words were met with great dismay and, I felt, disbelief.  Yet I do not see how these pieces are supposed to fit together as a growth-boosting enterprise.  They do seem well-designed to extend China’s political influence in the western direction, and to transfer more contracts to state-owned firms.  But to raise living standards for most of the Chinese people?  I don’t see it, or even see it coming close.

Is Scarborough, Ontario the dining capital of the world?

Wednesday night I was taken on a restaurant tour of Scarborough — four different places — plus rolls from a Sri Lankan locale, consumed in the office of the Dean of UT Scarborough and with the assistance of Peter Loewen.

After that eating, and lots of driving around and looking, I concluded Scarborough is the best ethnic food suburb I have seen in my life, ever, and by an order of magnitude.  I hope you all have the chance to visit Scarborough, Ontario.

If you are wondering where I went, that is beside the point.

Assorted links

The Amazon order test as an algorithm for evaluating books

If you read a book, how many other related or similar books does it make you order?  (Of wish to order, if you are budget constrained.)  If the number is at least three or four, the book you read is almost certainly very interesting and worthwhile, if not always accurate.

Andrew Roberts’s biography of Napoleon made me want to read an additional biography of Napoleon, because it made his life to me more interesting.  It made Napoleon’s period more interesting too.  I might read a book on cavalry tactics as well, a topic I have never read on before.

Some books pretend to be the final word on a topic, but it is unlikely they succeed.  If you don’t end your read with some additional book orders, maybe you need to ask yourself what exactly went wrong.

At times it is not a book order which is the appropriate follow-up.  Say you read a book on Sri Lanka and you respond by going to Sri Lanka, well that counts too.  Or a biography of Beethoven may lead you to more of his music, rather than to another book on his life.

If I apply the Amazon order test, the best book for me this last year was Michael Hoffman’s Where Have You Been?: Selected Essays.

Hofmann’s book wins additional points for chain effects, namely the books I ordered, as a result of reading Hofmann, in turn made me want to order further books.  But chain effects are tricky.  Following my read of Andrew Roberts, and then a follow-up Napoleon biography, will I read yet another life of Napoleon?  That may depend on how good the follow-up is, and Roberts should not be held liable for that.  Or should he?  What should you think of a book which leads you to so-so follow-ups rather than to excellent follow-ups?  A blog post which does the same?

What percentage of the value of a book is derived from the quality of the follow-ups it induces?  Under plausible rates of discounting, for serial readers this could easily by eighty or ninety percent or more.  (Could it be that actual book reviews are not consequentialist? Horrors.)  How about a book review outlet which refuses to consider the books under consideration, but rather considers and evaluates what they will induce you to read next?

I would subscribe.