Sanjeev Sabhlok's blog

Thoughts on economics and liberty

Topsy turvy higher education system in India

One of the reasons why it is so hard to find Indians who understand policy is that the disciplines of law and politics are looked down upon in India. In India the best children go into engineering and medicine after school, leaving the third best students to study law and politics.

In Australia, on the other hand, the most difficult course to get into (I'm using the University of Melbourne as a proxy – see data below) is law. Thereafter comes veterinary science (for some unknown reason!) and medicine. Both these are easier to get into than law! Engineering comes well below medicine.

The way of thinking of doctors and engineers, however, is completely contrary to the way societies work (indeed, the way they themselves, as humans, work). It is impossible to understand society without understanding human incentives – and that is the one thing that engineers and doctors are never taught. This topsy-turvy prioritisation of higher education in India, in my view, is one important reason for the failure of otherwise brilliant Indians to understand good regulation and policy making (Nandan Nilekani seems to be an exception). The so-called brightest brains in India are simply not able to understand economic or political theory!


(data from where not specifically cited; figures are percentiles)

Law: 99.45 in 2006

Veterinary Science: 99.10 (see this)

Biomedicine (general medicine): 97.9

Media and Communication: 95.7

Commerce: 94.8

Engineering: 91.75 in 2001 (84.7 in 2010)

Arts (general): 89

Science: 89.05 (see here) in 2010

Environments: 85.15

Education: 82.9 in 2001

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The Difficult of Being Good, by Gurcharan Das

On my recent trip to India I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase about 15 books, including The Difficult of Being Good by Gurcharan Das. I don't think I'm going to have the time to write reviews on all these books, but perhaps I could write briefly on a few (I've already written on some of these books in the Freedom Team of India's March magazine (click here).

A recurring stomach sickness, brought along from from the India trip, gave me the time off to finish Gurcharan's book yesterday. So here are some preliminary thoughts. I propose to read this book in more detail in future, so I might update this post at that stage.


Overall recommendation: Excellent book. Well worth a read. Beautifully written. I find Naipaul's writings difficult and boring to read. I haven't finished even one of his books yet. But all four books of Gurcharan that I've read so far are a breeze (the others are: A Fine Family, India Unbound' and The Elephant Paradigm). Start to finish in one go. Fantastic writer. In my view a far more deserving candidate for a Nobel prize in literature than many boring writers who've been awarded such a prize. At the least I hope Gurcharan Das is awarded an honorary doctorate by Harvard or some other top university for the outstanding research skills he brings to bear on this book.

Strong points: Coverage of a wide range of issues in the philosophical context of the Mahabharata. It is good to be able to learn so much from such a short book (only 300 pages excluding the prelude and closing notes).

Weak points: In a book that is so wide-ranging and ambitious in scope, there would naturally be areas where others would have different views. These are not weak points, essentially, and don't detract from the book, but worth noting that some interpretations and generalisations can be disputed. I touch upon two of these here:

a) I notice excessive referencing of John Rawls. Now, Rawls was a philosopher who gave significant importance to envy in the creation of a political society. I therefore argue in my draft manuscript, 'The Discovery of Freedom' (DOF), that "A Theory of Justice is, at its heart, a rationalisation for economic distribution. Rawls can perhaps be thought of as a latter day Marx" with his inordinate emphasis on economic redistribution and dilution, almost destruction, of property rights.

Rawls makes 'self-respect', not freedom, the primary human value. Rawls has suggested that a society must ensure that ‘our person and deeds [are] appreciated and confirmed by others who are likewise esteemed and their association enjoyed.’ In DOF I argue that "The society’s recognition of our worth is a piffling matter. The free man with his fierce pride in himself and sense of dignity cares not for what others may think about him. The free man, unlike collectivist intellectuals it would seem, is not a whimpering puppy seeking a rub of his back from every passerby."

It would be hard for Gurcharan Das to make claims that he is a "libertarian" (he does so in this book) if he doesn't get away from his continuing fascination with Rawls. In DOF I have also shown the many failures of Rawls's 'difference principle'. I don't see why Rawls should figure in this book at the expense of far superior philosophers like Immanuel Kant and F.A.Hayek, among others. I'd therefore suggest that Gurcharan examine Rawls far more critically. To begin with, Gurcharan may consider reading Chapter 3 of my manuscript, DOF.

2) There are a other issues I could take with this book as well. Chief of these other issues is the idea of referencing Rahul Gandhi's views! It was a shock (bolt from the blue) to find Rahul's views cited in a book where morality is being discussed. Would Gurcharan please spend some time explaining to us the moral basis of Rahul's actions? I have referred to the severe immorality found in India in my article in the FTI magazine (once again, linked here), and have questioned the value of even remotely considering the views of the corrupt leaders of India. These people have destroyed India's potential. What moral lessons can we hope to get from people like Rahul who are part of India'smost corrupt organisation, the Congress party? Please let us not start citing India's most corrupt people in a book of moral philosophy! There's got to be a minimum moral standard in life. Spare us the "writings" of the enemies of India! We need to have the self-respect to dissociate ourselves clearly and unequivocally from criminals.


The book is an extensive and well-thought out review of the Mahabharata, a story that I learnt on the lap of my grandfather in Jagadhri when I was around 4-6 years old (see my grandfather's photo here) .

But that was a long time ago. I never found time later to follow up on that tale. Despite a copy of Rajaji's Mahabharata sitting on my bookshelf for many years now, I've avoided reading the story or thinking much about it. I generally don't read fiction, and I have treated Mahabharata as fiction, to be read only when one has a lot of time on one's hand. Some snippets I have definitely read in various contexts, such as my philosophical readings and writings. And of course, I've skimmed through the Gita on a few occasions.

Gurcharan Das has (quite strongly!) kindled my interest in the Mahabharata. In all my readings on philosophy I never thought of analysing Mahabharata as a book of moral and political philosophy. Indeed, Gurcharan's work has perhaps given the Mahabharata a new lease of life across the world. It will surely be more widely read in the context of its moral philosophy, thus enhancing its international stature. Indeed, I suspect Gurcharan's book would become a key reader for that purpose. A must read. Gurcharan's is clearly a great contribution to the human search for meaning in life.

I'm primarily interested in free will and freedom, of course, and it was gratifying to note that Krishna, after his discourse to Arjun, finally left the decision to Arjun, thus:

The knowledge I have taught …

consider it completely

then act as you choose. (p. 99 of the book)

This is perhaps the MOST significant contribution of the Mahabharata to moral philosophy. Gurcharan picks up on this, but perhaps fails to fully appreciate its import. This needs further exploration. For many years now I have been trying to find something, ANYTHING, in ancient Hindu scriptures that would show me that there was at least some encouragement given to freedom of choice and independent thought.

The fact that the Indian agnostics, 2500 years ago, were well ahead of most modern thinkers, has become clear to me from a (sketchy) reading of Indian literature. The fact that pre-Buddhist thinkers influenced Greek thought and led to the sophistry which finally led to Socrates has also become clear to me now (see this blog post of mine).

But that there was at least some freedom of thought in Hindu scriptures was

simply not obvious to me from all my readings so far! This is a positive lead in that direction. Did the Hindu god (Krishna) actually want people to choose their moral position and to think independently? (For I've read elsewhere that all aspects of the Hindu’s life are prescribed in the sastras, leaving little scope for the creation of new knowledge).

And yet this lead is perhaps not conclusive. As I note in DOF, the Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CLXII) decries reason: ‘That knowledge, O king, which is derived from reason (or inferences), can scarcely be said to be knowledge. Such knowledge should be rejected. It should be noted that it is not defined or comprehended by the word. It should, therefore, be rejected!'

I've also shown in my draft manuscript that satyameva jayate ('the truth triumphs') was actually not intended in the Upanishads the way it is commonly interpreted in India.

So what is it in Hindu scriptures that encourages anyone to critical thinking? Nothing! Or very little! But I stand to be corrected should new information (not known to me yet) be found.

Gurcharan advocates that the Mahabharata be taught as a literary text in schools (in his last chapter, p.301). That raises the question: is the Mahabharata purely a religious book? My father's view (see his book on Vedic metaphysics here) is that the message of the Gita is a summary of the Vedas, and that the Mahabharata was written with a view to communicating the key messages of the Vedas to the laity. A religious book, surely. Just like teaching the Bible as a book of literature in schools. Questionable.

In any event, the lessons from Mahabharata that Gurcharan draws out are in the realm of advanced university courses in philosophy. The subtlety of morality is not something that school children can determine merely by reading the story of Mahabharata. For them I'd prefer teaching simple rules like the Golden Rule (which the Mahabharata also advocates: "One should never do to another what one regards as injurious to oneself") and the categorical imperative.


By all means let's all read and mull over the Mahabharata.

But can Indians please TAKE INDIA FROM BEING ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST IMMORAL and CORRUPT COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD into something that even closely resembles an ethical society? I am severely disappointed at India's governance system which is rooted in total corruption.

In this situation, the need of the hour is ACTION. At p. 58 of his book, Gurcharan Das writes, "When there is no other recourse, citizens must be prepared to follow the Pandavas and wage a Kurukshetra-like war on the corrupt."

I'd like to see some serious action from Gurcharan Das on the lines that Gandhi took up. No point preaching. There needs to be direct action or public support for action that will lead India to an ethical outcome (e.g. the work of organisations like the Freedom Team of India).

The time for sweet talk about India's contributions to subtle moral philosophy is over. Ethics needs to move from the ivory tower to the street. The time for action has come.


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Women in Islam

I'm starting this post re: the treatment of women in Islam. The material here will advocate for the liberal solution (not Uniform Civil Code) that I have proposed in my book, Breaking Free of Nehru.

Note that this post will evolve over time, basically being a collection point for my notes. So if you have stumbled on this post by accident, come again after a few months.


Sharia law would harm Aussie Muslim women, Ida Lichter, The Australian March 23, 2010

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Constantly changing sea levels – and Dwarka

I'm bewildered by the claims made in the climate change debate that currently rising (or otherwise changing) sea levels are some kind of an exception to historical trends and that we should be particularly bothered about them. The following facts seem to be crucial in understanding these claims:

a) The temperature of water changes quite dramatically everyday, but that doesn't mean that sea levels change with water temperature every day. Tides affect them far more than air (and hence water) temperature does.

b) Sea levels constantly change over the long run. They have been changing throughout history. Thus, sea levels have risen by 140 metres over the past 14,000 years.

"Over the duration of the current interglacial, the average sea level rise over the last 14,000 years has been 1.0 meter per century" (Plimer 316). However, "The sea level rise of 1.0 meter per century over the last 14,000 years must be placed in context. Most of this sea level rise was from 14,000 to 8000 years ago. By 8000 years ago, sea level was 3 meters lower than at present and sea level attained its current position 7700 years ago. This means that sea level rose by 2 meters a century during that period" (Plimer 316). Note that Plimer adds that "Over the last 6000 years, sea level rises and falls of 2 to 4 meters over periods of several decades are common" (Plimer 317).

Source: Plimer, p.317 [Click for bigger and clearer image]

Note: A PRECISE understanding of sea level changes over the past 6000 years will help us line up the vast amount of emerging literature on submerged cities with other archeological (above surface) evidence, and mythology. Watch this space over the next century. A phenomenal amount of data is needed to resolve the puzzles about sea level change.


"Dwarka submerged due to rise in sea level 3500 years BP. " (See Times of India, 3 March 2005). This article also states: "Studies show that sea level was 100 meters below the present sea level 15,000 years BP, rose steadily and was 60-70 metres below present sea level 10,000 years BP. In the next 1500 years it reached to 40 metres below present sea level, came at par with the present sea level around 7000 years BP, then rose by five metres in the next 1000 years. Thereafter, there was a gradual fall and sea level came down to 20-30 metres below present sea level about 3500 years BP when Dwarka is presumed to have been constructed."

Interesting fact: "The account of Dvaraka's sinking into the ocean is found in book 16 of the Mahabharata (Mausala-parvan)." (Wikipedia).

"A few years back discovered the remains of a vast 9,500 year old city. This submerged ruin has intact architecture and human remains. More significantly, this find predates all finds in the area by over 5,000 years, forcing historians to reevaluate their understanding of the history of civilazation in the region. The find has been termed Dwarka, or the ‘Golden City,’ after an ancient city-in-the sea said to belong to the Hindu god Krishna." (

MORE on Dwarka

"found in waters 120 feet deep in the Gulf of Cabay, located off the western coast of India. It is estimated that the vast city, discovered by chance during an investigation on pollution, could date back some 9,000 years. Using a sonar tracker, investigators managed to identify defined geometric structures at a depth of about 120 feet. From the site, they recovered construction material, pottery, sections of walls, basins, sculptures, bones, and human teeth. The carbon tests indicate that these pieces were 9,500 years old." (

"It's believed that the area was submerged when ice caps melted at the end of the last ice age, 9-10,000 years ago." (


Dwarka was not the only city submerged. "According to marine archeologist Dr. Nick Flemming, at least 500 submerged sites containing the remains of some form of man-made structure or artifacts have been found around the globe. Some calculations figure that nearly a fifth of these sites are more than 3,000 years old." (

A nice summary article:

1) India: A major extension of Mahabalipuram, likely to be 6000 years old, has been found (

Also Poompuhar (TN) (

2) Japan: Undersea relics have been found near Okinawa ( Yonaguni-Jima: "Discovered by a dive tour guide some twenty years ago, controversies have arisen around a mysterious pyramids found off the coast of Japan. These structures seem to have been carved right out of bedrock in a teraforming process using tools previously thought unavailable to ancient cultures of the region". (

"the precise angles of the rocks and their arrangement in relation to one another suggest that this site might hold remnants of a submerged city… The entire submerged city of Yonaguni is estimated by some to be at least 10,000 years old." (

3) Greece: Pavlopetri A Youtube video of a 5,000 year old early-bronze age urban settlement. "we are looking at a port city which may be 5000-6000 years old, with trade goods and wrecks nearby showing some of the very earliest days of seafaring trade in the Mediterranean" ( See also

"The ruins of Pavlopetri, which lie in three to four metres of water just off the coast of Laconia in the Peloponnese, date from at least 2 800 BC." (

"Off Greece are a multitude of submerged ruins, off Astakos, Platygiali, Abdera, Samos, and Elafonisos, to name a few" (

4) Egypt: "Two 2,500-year-old cities, poss

ibly Menouthis and Herakleion, which served as trading hubs in the Late Dynastic Period" ( ). See also

5) Cuba: Havana: "A team of scientists continues to explore megalithic ruins found in the Yucatan Channel near Cuba. They have found evidence of an extensive urban environment stretching for miles along the ocean shore. Some believe that the civilization that inhabited these predates all known ancient American cultures. So far, only computer models of this mysterious underwater city exist." (

6) USA: Florida: "In 1967 … the Aluminaut—an exploration submarine capable of submerging deeper than any craft of its day—casually discovered a “road” off the coastal zone of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Found at a depth of nearly 3,000 feet, this road traced a straight line for more than 15 miles. Even more surprising, this road had been paved with sophisticated cement composed of aluminum, silicon, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Despite its age, the road was found to be free of debris due to an underwater current that kept it clear.

This forgotten road still proved a worthy thoroughfare as the special wheels of the Aluminaut allowed the sub to actually travel along the enigmatic highway. Later, scientists exploring the area found a series of monolithic constructions at one end of the road. What technology could construct a long paved road that would remain in good condition for 10,000 years?" (

7) Germany: "ancient Basiliea, now submerged in the North Sea, fifty miles out, five miles east of the island of Helgoland, off the northern coast of Germany" (

8. UK: Damsay. "the structures may be several thousands of years old, and that they may represent a line of defense that the people of the time constructed in the face of the same threat we have today – rising sea levels" (

9) Persian Gulf: Dalamatia. "This discovery is most likely the location of 1st Susa, the lower and first city of Susa in ancient times before it was inundated by floods in around 8000 years ago, Susa was part of the latter Andite/Sumerian settlements along the mouth of the rivers in earlier times when the water levels was 15 meters lower. " (


Ian Plimer's book:

Additional graphs


Also from the above wiki entry:

This one sourced:

Addendum (ice sheets are affected by factors other than temperature) – shows IPCC perpetrating a fraudulent claim regarding the melting of ice sheets and increasing sea levels.

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