Archive for April 12th, 2017

What is good rhetoric?

April 12, 2017

The subject of economics hardly pays any attention to rhetoric. But it is so important.

This piece by Tushar Irani, Prof  of  Philosophy at Wesleyan University is a good read on the topic:

Philosophers have had a longstanding problem with rhetoric. The standard view of the quarrel is well-known: philosophy is a truth-directed activity concerned with reasoned argument, while rhetoric is uninterested in truth and concerned merely with persuasion. This view is often traced to Plato, but it is too crude. As Plato himself recognised, philosophers need to present their ideas in persuasive form if they are to gain acceptance, and there are uses of rhetoric that can further our commitment to truth rather than frustrate it. The power of an effective speaker to captivate an audience is apt to arouse our suspicion in democratic politics, yet we should also acknowledge that the practice of rhetoric can serve a civic purpose. The real question here is what distinguishes good rhetoric from bad rhetoric.

He quotes from Lincon’s Gettysburg Address saying it as an example of a good rhetoric:

The great power of the Gettysburg Address, full as it is with feeling and urgency, comes from its invitation to the listener to consider the basis on which the US was founded. The persuasiveness of the speech consists not just in its ability to stir the passions of an audience and instil conviction, but also in its ability to get ordinary Americans to think more conscientiously than they had previously about the coherence of their own ideals and the application of those ideals in practice. The audience is moved, but also (in Plato’s sense) self-moved, to the extent that they are led to think for themselves.

If this is right, we can see why the assumption that rhetoric serves as a pale substitute for reason and argument is too simplistic. Good rhetoric also does the work of reason, though in a different form than philosophical argument. Plato came to be pessimistic about the rhetoric of his contemporaries in democratic Athens, which might be why he set up his Academy as a place where the practice of independent thinking could flourish. Yet there have been moments in history since then that should leave us more hopeful about the prospects for good rhetoric – or at least less doubtful. The important question for us today is: ‘Can we conceive of a piece of political rhetoric that is both highly persuasive and at the same time spurs independent thought?’ That is not a rhetorical question. If we can’t, we might be in trouble.

Lots to think about..

Brilliant quote from Eduardo Galeano on role of bankers in India’s demonetisation and cash war

April 12, 2017

Via the latest edition of GreatGameIndia magazine:

The big bankers of the world, who practice the terrorism of money, are more powerful than kings and field marshals, even more than the Pope of Rome himself. They never dirty their hands. They kill no-one: they limit themselves to applauding the show. Their officials, international technocrats, rule our countries: they are neither presidents nor ministers, they have not been elected, but they decide the level of salaries and public expenditure, investments and divestments, prices, taxes, interest rates, subsidies, when the sun rises and how frequently it rains. However, they don’t concern themselves with the prisons or torture chambers or concentration camps or extermination centers, although these house the inevitable consequences of their acts. The technocrats claim the privilege of irresponsibility: ‘We’re neutral’ they say. – Galeano (1991)

Just brilliant. Sums up the nonchalance attitude of Indian banking heads on demonetisation and war on cash. It was written way back in 1991 but applies across periods and countries.

One should also read God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner to get a sense of how and why bankers are so powerful..

The drought in Kerala is so acute that farmers are sinking borewells on the river bed

April 12, 2017

A state whose history is so crucially connected to availability of water is facing a severe drought.

Scroll reports how farmers are sinking borewells on river bed:


Why Germany has rental housing and US own housing? Institutional perspective..

April 12, 2017

A very interesting paper by Sebastian Kohl (HT: Economic Sociology blog).

There is always interest in this question: Why Germany has rental housing and US own housing? Kohl says this is due to differences in evolution of housing finance institutions in the 2 countries in 19th century:


How failure of stock brokers/banks in 1860s led to formation of Bombay Stock Exchange..(and history repeated with NSE 120 years later)

April 12, 2017

This blog had earlier posted on why and when Bombay overtook Calcutta as the leading financial centre of India. Most likely Bombay displaced Calcutta around late 1940s post Partition. However, Bombay was always chipping Calcutta’s share even at the beginning of 20th century. SO it was expected that Bombay will eventually takeover Calcutta in financial activity.

One reason why eventually Bombay was to takeover was Bombay had stock markets much before Calcutta. BSE started in 1875 and Calcutta Stock Exchange started 33 years later in 1908.

The question is how and why did BSE start? BSE website has some history but not much detailed.

I had earlier blogged about a coffeebook on SEBI history.  In the book, there is a very brief account of BSE history. It is just outright fascinating how multiple factors are behind formation of financial institutions and same is the case with BSE as well. And behind most institutions is the common thread of some or the other financial crisis.