Policy design and environmental variables

I’ve spent the last two days and a bit in Amsterdam, and as I move around the city I’m fascinated by how well so many things in the city are designed and implemented, and wondered what prevents us from implementing such design back home in India. I’m not talking only about design in terms of building architecture – which no doubt is beautiful in Amsterdam – but also in terms of infrastructure such as roads, public transport, pavements, railways, etc.

But then every time I think of translating some design, I start wondering whether it is conducive to the environment in India – in terms of our culture and climate and weather and population density.

The question then arises as to how much influence local environmental factors need to have on design, and the intuitive ¬†answer is “probably a lot”. The next question that arises is as to how urban planning began as a profession, in terms of the basic design principles that came to define this profession. This is a relevant concept from the point of view that if environmental factors are a strong determinant of how a city is supposed to be architected and designed, can one really have a general set of principles on how a city needs to be developed, and if so, how this set of principles was originally arrived upon.

I’m thinking of a time a few hundred years ago when the first set of general principles of how to design a city came about. Did they really have enough data points in terms of what kind of cities worked and what didn’t when they came up with these principles? And once such principles had been arrived and agreed upon, how did they translate, especially when they had to be transplanted across continents and regions (as it had to happen with the coming of colonialism)?

Now that I have raised all these questions, I leave it to you, the readers, to try and answer them and fight it out in the comments section.

Analyzing Bangalore’s Growth

Banglore’s population has grown 20-fold and area 10-fold since 1941, going by this chart (via Gautam John on Facebook, photo taken at MG Road Metro station).

Bangalore Population and Area
Bangalore Population and Area

What would be interesting to see is when the spurt in Bangalore population actually happened. Checking that is quite simple. Using the population figures from the census, we can derive the CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of the population in each decade. This is presented in the chart below:

bangalorepop

Conventional wisdom is that Bangalore was a sleepy little city until the “IT revolution” happened around the turn of the millennium after which the city exploded. The chart above calls that wisdom into question. While the annual growth rate of Bangalore’s population has been higher in the noughties compared to the earlier two decades, this is by no means the period of Bangalore’s fastest growth.

Bangalore grew fastest in the 1940s, perhaps because it was made capital of Mysore State after independence, thus leading to the arrival of a large number of government servants in the city. Interestingly, the next period of high growth in the city was in the 1970s, which was even before the seeds of the IT revolution had been sold (the setting up of the Texas Instruments office in Bangalore in the early 80s is regarded as the beginning of Bangalore as an IT hub).

What might have led to the perception of Bangalore’s growth being fastest in the noughties is that the strain on a city’s infrastructure is a superlinear function of the city’s population. And with a lot of the city’s infrastructure having been stagnant over the years, the strain started getting really noticed in this decade.

Moron the corruption issue

Following my previous post and comments and countercomments and discussions on twitter and facebook and google groups and various other forums, I’ve been thinking about this whole corruption thing. Random thoughts. The kind that comes to you when you’re traveling across the city by auto on a hot summer day, watching the world go by.

Ok so this is for the people who claim that the supporters of Anna Hazare are a large enough group that they probably represent “most of the people”. If this were the case, we have a simple solution to corruption – all these worthies can band together in the form of an “anti corruption party” (when was the last time we had a political party being formed on a solid ideology?) and contest the next elections. And if they can work hard, and ensure that they keep up the kind of efforts they’ve started, they’ll soon be ruling us. And hopefully they’ll continue with their zeal and be actually able to eradicate corruption. (on my end, I promise that if a credible party gets formed with an anti-corruption stand, I’ll get over my NED, get myself registered as a voter and vote for them).

But there are reasons to doubt something like this will happen. A look at the list of nominal supporters Anna Hazare got suggests that a lot of people were there just to be seen and get footage, rather than really wanting to weed out corruption. Again, given the political spectrum across which Hazare’s supporters last week came from, it might not be that easy an idea to form this “anti-corruption party” that I suggested.

Thinking about it further, there is a scary thought – that a large part of our population is actually pro-corruption. And looking at the political parties across the spectrum, it doesn’t sound implausible. So if a large number of people are actually pro-corruption, what are we to do?

Let me put it another way. How many people do you think are really anti-corruption? On all fronts? How many people do you think exist in India who haven’t paid or received a single bribe, however small that might be? Basically I want to estimate the number of people who are against corruption of all kinds, and my sense is that this number is likely to be small indeed.

I think one needs to think about this further before actually figuring out how to weed out corruption. From what I’ve read so far the Lok Pal bill simply adds one extra protective layer, and am not sure of its effectiveness. More about this in another post.

Medical Insurance Subsidy

Exactly a year back my mother was in hospital. She was there for three weeks before she died. The bill for the three weeks came to close to four hundred thousand rupees. She was covered under my corporate medical insurance so I passed on the cost to the insurer, who paid most of it. I didn’t really complain, the insurer was obliged to pay, and the hospital was more than happy to receive the fee.

The hospital follows an interesting business model. On one hand it dons the garb of a corporate hospital while on the other it is a charitable hospital. A large section of the patients are treated at extremely low cost, or even for free. The rest of the patients have insurance coverage. Those that have coverage are fleeced, and this money effectively cross-subsidizes the treatment of the poor. All works out well for the hospital. Except..

Do you realize that when you (or, in most cases, your employer) pay your premium for medical insurance you’re not insuring just yourself? That because of hospitals like I just mentioned, your insurance is also effectively paying for the treatment of a larger population? That the cost of treating some random patient in the hospital you were admitted to is paid for by you, as part of your medical insurance premium?

Changing tracks, I think the best thing about India’s healthcare industry is the diversity. You have government hospitals. There are university hospitals. There are large corporate hospitals you wouldn’t think of stepping into unless you had insurance. There are charitable hospitals which treat you for next to no cost. There are the neighbourhood nursing homes which essentially cater to the uninsured middle class. Reasonable facilities but not too expensive. And so forth.

There is no formal system of medical insurance in the country. There is no single large government system. If the current state of healthcare in the country is one of not having evolved much, I really wouldn’t mind it remaining this way. I hope we never get into the kind of equilibria that the US and the UK have gotten themselves into, which appear efficient but which ultimately prove expensive for people.

It is the diversity in the system that keeps the healthcare industry here competitive, and keeps costs low. And of course, you pay for other people too when you pay your medical insurance premium.

The Theory of Consistent Fuckability and Ladders for Men

Ok so the popular Ladder Theory states that men have only one ladder. It states that all men want to sleep with all women, and they simply rank every woman on the scale of how badly they want to sleep with her or whatever. Women, on the other hand, have two ladders – the “good” ladder, and the “friends” ladder, which allows them to get close to men without harbouring any romantic/sexual thoughts. Since men are incapable of exhibiting such behaviour, you get the concept of Gay Best Friend.

However, this absence of dual ladders for men exists only if you look at the short term. If you are a man and you are looking for a long-term relationship with genetic propagation as a part of your plans, I argue that the female twin ladders can be suitably modified in order to separate out “friends” from potential “bladees”. In order to aid this, I present the Theory of Consistent Fuckability.

From the ladder theory, we know that every man wants to sleep with every woman. For a fruitful, long-term, gene-propagating relationship, however, this is just a necessary but not sufficient condition. As I had argued in another post, given that divorce is usually messy, the biggest cost in getting married to someone is the opportunity cost of getting into long-term relationships with the rest of the population. And if you are involved in gene-propagation, it is ideal if neither of the propagators cheats on the partner – from the point of view of the child’s upbringging and all such jazz.

So if you are a man and you want to marry someone, you must be reasonably sure that you want to sleep with her on a consistent basis. You should be willing to do her every day. If not, there is a good chance that you might want to cheat on her at a later date, which is not ideal from your genes’ point of view.

A small digresssion here. You might ask what might happen to “ugly” women (basically women considered unattractive by a large section of men). However, the argument is that the market helps you find your niche. For example, if you want to cheat on a woman, there must be other women who are superior (on your scale) to this woman who want you to do them. Assuming that I am extremely unattractive and the fact that not too many “attractive” women will want to do me, I should be able to set my “consistent fuckability standard” appropriately.

Returning to the point, when you are evaluating a woman for MARRIAGE (note it doens’t apply to shorter term non-gene-propagating relationships), you will need to decide if you will want to have sex with her on a consistent basis. And based on the answer to this question, you can define the universe of all women into two – those that you want to do consistently and those that don’t. And they form your two ladders.

Now, reasonably independent (maybe there’s a positive low correlation on one of the ladders) of this consistent fuckability factor, you can evaluate the women on other factors such as emotional compatibility, strengths, weaknesses, culture fit and all that jazz. And rank them on those. And then use this distinction on the consistency factor and you will have your two ladders. So you have the “friends” ladder – which is differnet from the friends’ ladders of women in the sense that you want to sleep with them but not on a consistent basis. And there is the “good” ladder of those who you want to do consistently.

To summarize, consistent fuckability is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a fruitful, multiplicative, gene-propagating long-term relationship; and because of this, under certain circumstances, men also develop a pair of ladders.

Currently listening to: When I’m Sixty Four, The Beatles