Sanjeev Sabhlok's blog

Thoughts on economics and liberty

How many days after that meeting with a corrupt Chief Minister did you quit IAS?

This is a slightly edited version of my discussion within FTI in the last week or so regarding the standards of integrity we need in India.


You are entitled to be sceptical and to wonder why I am so 'arrogant' in calling others spineless crooks when I myself supported the system till 2000? I'll address this briefly.

I had heard a lot about corruption. Everyone in India has. But I had seen that many officers could remain upright (my father being one of them) and so people like 'us' could save India if only we controlled these deviant politicians. That is why I joined the IAS anyway. (One day if I get time I'll type out my hand written notes from my IAS interview of 1982 – I found it the other day. Very interesting!).

I discovered corruption in government VERY EARLY. The relevant CM was NOT the only one. Virtually everyone in the bureaucracy and politics was steeped in corruption. The instances are so many that I need not recount (I've recounted a few in BFN if you are interested). But I didn't understand either the administrative system nor economics, nor politics. So till I became 30 I did my job in the best way I could. But even before reaching 30 I was getting more and more convinced that change could not come about at the bureaucratic level.

Since 30, by 1989, (if not before) I have been totally clear about the fact that there is no alternative to reform of Government except through political means. Indeed, so much did I talk about this that one day after a major fight in the secretariat with an officer, a good friend (he left the IAS as well and now works in the US) came rushing to me advising me not to jump into politics without preparation – well, I wasn't going to anyway at that stage!

To get a sense of my thoughts at age 32/33 please read: and (one of these contains my article published the major Assamese newspaper The Sentinel in 1992).

The 1991 experience with the concerned CM was merely one of many. It simply reconfirmed things. I then started investigating causes. Studied in Australia and US for 6 out of the 10 years of my 30s. Tried to explore what causes this problem.

Here's my autobiographical essay submitted as part of an application for the USC College of Arts and Sciences Pre-doctoral Merit University Fellowship on 22 January 1996 – which I did get and so decided to complete my PhD: It will give you a sense of my attitude towards learning from the 'masters' (gurus).

Everything came together at age 39 in Feb. 1998, and I thought we must have a liberal party in India. Since then numerous efforts and experiences later, FTI. I believe this can work, though I realise it still may not:

a) People differ on what integrity means (I'm stuck in a rut on this. I see things in black and white).

b) People think liberalism is libertarianism and demand freedom without responsibility.

c) Very few people have organisational ability and skills. Most simply are good at talking (not something to be despised, but the fact remains that a liberal party needs organisational experts and we don't have many).


By 60, in 2019, I will either be back in India full time, or have finally quit India (or even life: there are no guarantees anyone will live to 60!).

So from 22 (joining IAS) to 60, I'd have done whatever I thought was good for India – given my limited understanding. If my little contributions make any difference, fine. If not, I'm quite comfortable doing other things. No fuss at all. I don't need to be Prime Minister of India to be happy. Digging up my garden up and taking pictures of flowers gives me the most exquisite happiness. I live for myself and my principles, not for India. If India (whatever that means: for India is nothing but a bunch of individuals) doesn't budge, so be it. I won't, in any event.

I did quit the IAS (and India) when I thought I could and needed to, and had tried all options to launch a political movement. You may well critique my actions and want me to have done other things. Too bad. I just do what I think I need to. If people in India don't care, sorry – but why should I bother? Have I taken any contract for fixing India? Are you or anyone in India paying me anything? (I won't go into details about how I get not a paisa of retirement entitlements for working 18 years in the IAS…) It is a joint responsibility I talk about. As citizens.

You can question me all you like and you'll get what you see. A liberal at heart and in action.

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Do artists have license to abuse freedom of expression?

(extract from the draft manuscript, Discovery of Freedom, for comment)

Art is not the end of social organisation: preserving our life and freedoms, is. The freedom of the artist must therefore equally be bounded by accountability as anyone else’s freedom. Being creative does not give us the license to abuse our freedoms. Unfortunately, many artists deliberately taunt or insult various religions, thus misusing their freedom of expression. While an otherwise respectful critique based on objective data is fine, the problem in this area relates to vilification and abuse of religions. Islam, Christianity and Hinduism have been among the religions most frequently subject to such abuse.

Artists must avoid offensive art and writing by exercising self-restraint. Self-restraint is the fundamental obligation of a free citizen. The artist is obliged to be aware of the impact of his or her work on other’s sentiments. Showing respect and goodwill towards fellow citizens is a basic principle of harmonious living.

But what if this obligation is not met? If an artist fails to display self-restraint then those affected adversely by his actions are entitled to seek compensation through the courts. As a general rule, where physical injury is not involved, accountability must be resolved through civil remedy. If A demonstrably offends B’s emotions (even though he may not personally know B), then A is potentially accountable for that offence and may be called upon to compensate B, either through an apology or by paying financial compensation. A cannot have unbounded liberty. B will need to prove, however, that he has lost certain hours of sleep, and will be able to be compensated only for the precise value of suffering caused by such lost sleep, if any. These civil suits could take the form of class-action suits if many people are affected.

In addition to exploring the civil remedy, everyone in a free society must develop forbearance, even forgiveness. We need a sufficiently ‘thick skin’ and avoid exaggerated emotional responses, that merely harm us by creating needless stress. As the saying goes, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. So long as people don’t physically assault us, we should learn to tolerate them. If we don’t like a particular artist’s work, we need not go out looking for it. Ignore those whom one disagrees with. In any event, we are never entitled to physically attack an artist or writer on the ground that our emotions were adversely affected, for such assault would be a purely criminal act.

Unfortunately, violent threats against artists and writers are rife in India today, along with suppression of art and writing by the government. Thus, Salman Rushdie’s book, Satanic Verses, was banned because in India of Muslim protests. A few Hindus prevented the movie, Water, from being made in India. The movie Da Vinci Code was prohibited from being screened in a few states in India because of some Christians vehemently opposed it. Freedom of expression is rapidly becoming a distant memory in India. Indeed, India is not alone in this. Governments across the world are starting to ban books, movies, and internet blogs on the ground that their failure to do so would endanger public order. That is a terrible excuse to make. The government must ensure law and order, and those affected must go to the civil court for redress. Giving in to violent protest is the end of freedom as we know it.

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Flag burning – the test of a free society

(This is a small extract from 'Discovery of Freedom'. I will publish a few of these extracts periodically to test my ideas. Look forward to your response.)

Must a free society tolerate the burning or desecration of its national flag as a political act of civil disobedience? We begin by asking: if this act was banned, would it maximise equal freedom subject to accountability? Clearly, no one comes to the stage of burning their national flag unless they feel that a great many freedoms have been already trampled upon. And so the general environment of the society would need to be considered. If someone burns the flag without any reason, though, then that person’s intellectual ability is surely too feeble, and could ask: what harm could such a mentally feeble person do by burning the flag? After all, to that person it is merely a piece of coloured cloth he is burning without any reason. If that person doesn’t understand the value the flag represents, then so be it. Such an action is not a crime. In other words, if someone is seriously burning the flag, then the society needs to examine itself. If someone is stupidly burning it, it doesn’t matter.

India has not taken any chances, though, and has enacted The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 providing for imprisonment of up to three years, or fine, or both, for anyone who, in public view, mutilates, defaces, defiles, disfigures, destroys, tramples on or otherwise brings the National Flag into contempt. In addition, The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act forbids the use of the flag in any trade mark or design.

Unlike India, though, which has a fragile sense of identity, and virtually no sense of freedom, the US has ruled that while desecrating its flag is deplorable, people are free to burn the flag as part of their freedom of expression. Its citizens are free to even make underwear bearing the flag’s image. Since many people’s patience with flag burning for political purposes was running thin in the USA, a flag burning amendment to the United States Constitution was proposed in 2006. But the US Senate rejected it, albeit narrowly. Senator Daniel K. Inouye – who lost an arm in World War II, and whose patriotism was unquestioned – said that flag burning ‘is obscene, painful and unpatriotic’, … ‘[b]ut I believe Americans gave their lives in the many wars to make certain that all Americans have a right to express themselves – even those who harbor hateful thoughts.’ Such a resounding commitment to freedom defines the US of America, the world’s only major bastion of freedom today. Three cheers to this brave land which seriously respects freedom by allowing its people to burn its own flag! Liberty expects no less.

India must aim to become a free country and learn to tolerate political protest including peaceful flag burning. Burning symbols, no matter how offensive and distasteful, does not amount to violent expression (it is not exactly non-violent, but it is not violent either, not affecting the human body). If freedom and equal opportunity were available to all, then flag burning would become thing of the past, anyway. It is only if India has something to hide that it will prohibit protest. In any event, it is preferable to let protests be public than to force them underground, for at stage terrorism can become a distinct possibility. More generally, it is inappropriate for a free society to invest any symbol with a hallowed status, for then there would be no end to such encroachments on our freedoms.


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Is Ian Plimer on the right track?

My  review ofIan Plimer's book, 'Heaven + Earth: Global Warming: the Missing Science'.

The areas of knowledge covered by climate science are enormous, with an almost endless number of questions to be asked. Addressing these questions then requires an excellent understanding of many disciplines of science as well as of statistics, since extremely complex multivariate analyses and models are necessary to identify various marginal effects. Therefore it is very hard for a lay person with limited time to form an informed opinion on this subject. Most of us tend to, therefore, become 'believers' in this area, not thinkers. We either accept man-made climate change or we don't. Neutral, inquiring positions are becoming harder to find.

But truth has never given up its secrets to groups. No major advance in history ever emerged from group think. Individual analysis and independent opinion is mandatory for science to advance. Most advances in science take years if not centuries to be fully understood and internalised. For instance, the theory of evolution was proposed by a single individual, not by a committee, and has taken 150 years to be confirmed as a plausible representation of reality. Doing so has been relatively easy since of the millions of observations made, not one contradicted the theory. But one cannot say the same of climate science which is not only tens of times more difficult than evolution but has been marked by contradictory observations and data (or claims of such contradictions). The fact that no major Australian publisher was willing to publish Plimer’s book indicates the increasing dominance of group think in this area, and is surely a matter of concern.

Excellent compendium of issues
The book brings together a vast number of seemingly unrelated streams of science and shows that there are literally hundreds of diverse factors at work on the earth's climate, not simply greenhouse gases. It thus provides a wide range of information and educates the layman in the many complexities of climate science. Irrespective of how valid Plimer's conclusions are, his wide coverage of issues is good enough reason to have this book as part of one's personal library.

Polemical style
The book is somewhat repetitive and could have done with a couple of more revisions. However, having myself published a book (, with another on the way, I am sympathetic towards people who write books over and above their day time job. But the polemical style followed by Plimer almost becomes aggressive in places. Plimer could have achieved a more persuasive result through understatement (advice easier given than followed: I must make a note to follow this in my own writings as well!). But if you can ignore his rhetorical approach, you'll find considerable value in this book.

Does his story come together?
My preliminary research through the internet has convinced me that CO2 is a potential threat to mankind, but probably not as much as is hyped to be. However, I'm not an expert in this area and have no time to explore this issue further. Plimer's book assists by rapidly increasing one's knowledge of the vast number of issues involved in this area. Consider this: “The measurement of CO2 in the atmosphere is fraught with difficulty… [F]or much of the 19th century … the atmosphere CO2 was higher than at present and varied considerably” (p.416). That’s surely a shock ‘discovery’. The greater shock is the fact that current CO2 levels are close to the lowest ever in the Earth’s history. How true is this? Well, read for yourself.

While CO2 and its effects are an areas on which the jury is still out, I do know a fair bit about mathematical modeling. I therefore have strong reservations against mathematical models of 'everything', which is what climate models essentially are. Only God can know the precise model that runs the world. Therefore even imagining that we will be able to predict climate 200 years hence through computer modeling is a delusion. There are almost no linearities found in this world, and with hundreds of variables involved with complex non-linearities, uncertainties, feedback loops, interactions, automatic stabilisers and adjustments, the very idea that we can predict climate 200 years out is fantasy. Plimer raises similar concerns in his book, which lends it considerable credibility, at least from my perspective. Today, climate science can barely predict the weather three days out, so perhaps we shouldn’t get bowled over by computer models.

Plimer has thus offered a very strong and well-researched book that will take quite some serious refutation. If nothing else, this book demonstrates that climate science is far from settled.

Having said that, while Plimer makes a strong case against man-made global warming, I'm not ready to 'believe' one way or the other since I believe that the truth often takes its own sweet time to emerge – over the course of centuries. There is therefore perhaps no need to rush to judgement. Of course, if CO2 is (ever) unequivocally proven to be a major pollutant (which is perhaps not the case today), then various economic models could be used to enforce accountability and internalise the externalities involved.

In the end, strongly recommended weekend reading.


Here's an article published in The Australian today by Ian Plimer which summarises his arguments very well.I'm copying the entire article here for my reference in case the URL of the above link changes in the future.

Vitriolic climate in academic hothouse
Ian Plimer | May 29, 2009
Article from: The Australian

IT is well known that many university staff list to port and try to engineer a brave new world. The cash cow climate institutes now seem to be drowning in their own self-importance.

In a wonderful gesture of public spiritedness, seven academics who include three lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a former director of the World Climate Research Program wrote to Australian power generating companies on April 29 instructing them to cease and desist creating electricity from coal.

In their final paragraph, they state with breathtaking arrogance: "The unfortunate reality is that genuine action on climate change will require the existing coal-fired power stations to cease operating in the near future.

"We feel it is vital that you understand this and we are happy to work with you and with governments to begin planning for this transition immediately.

"The warming of the atmosphere, driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases, is already causing unacceptable damage and suffering around the world."

No evidence is provided for this statement and no signatory to this letter has published anything to support this claim.

These university staff are unctuously understanding about the plight of those who face employment extinction in the smokestack towns of Australia.

They write: "We understand that this will require significant social and economic transition that will need to be managed carefully
to care for coal sector workers and coal-dependent communities.". This love for fellow workers brings tears to the eyes.

The electricity generating companies should reply by cutting off the power to academics' homes and host institutions, forcing our ideologues to lead by example.

Some 80 per cent of Australia's electricity derives from coal, large volumes of cheap electricity underpin employment and our self-appointed concerned citizens offer no suggestion for alternative unsubsidised base-load power sources to employ Australians.

The Emissions Trading Scheme legislation poises Australia to make the biggest economic decision in its history, yet there has been no scientific due diligence.

There has never been a climate change debate in Australia. Only dogma. To demonise element number six in the periodic table is amusing. Why not promethium? Carbon dioxide is an odourless, colourless, harmless natural gas. It is plant food. Without carbon, there would be no life on Earth.

The original source of atmospheric CO2 is volcanoes. The Earth's early atmosphere had a thousand times the CO2 of today's atmosphere. This CO2 was recycled through rocks, life and the oceans.

Through time, this CO2 has been sequestered into plants, coal, petroleum, minerals and carbonate rocks, resulting in a decrease in atmosphericCO2.

The atmosphere now contains 800billion tonnes of carbon as CO2. Soils and plants contain 2000 billion tonnes, oceans 39,000 billion tonnes and limestone 65,000,000 billion tonnes. The atmosphere contains only 0.001 per cent of the total carbon in the top few kilometres of the Earth.

Deeper in Earth, there are huge volumes of CO2 yet to be leaked into the atmosphere. So depleted is the atmosphere in CO2, that horticulturalists pump warm CO2 into glasshouses to accelerate plant growth.

The first 50 parts per million of CO2 operates as a powerful greenhouse gas. After that, CO2 has done its job, which is why there has been no runaway greenhouse in the past when CO2 was far higher.

During previous times of high CO2, there were climate cycles driven by galactic forces, the sun, Earth's orbit, tides and random events such as volcanoes. These forces still operate. Why should such forces disappear just because we humans live on Earth?

The fundamental questions remain unanswered. A change of 1 per cent in cloudiness can account for all changes measured during the past 150 years, yet cloud measurements are highly inaccurate. Why is the role of clouds ignored? Why is the main greenhouse gas (water vapour) ignored? The limitation of temperature in hot climates is evaporation yet this ignored in catastrophist models.

Why are balloon and satellite measurements showing cooling ignored yet unreliable thermometer measurements used? Is the increase in atmospheric CO2 really due to human activities?

Ice cores show CO2 increases some 800 years after temperature increase so why can't an increase in CO2 today be due to the medieval warming (900-1300)?

If increased concentrations of CO2 increase temperature, why have there been coolings during the past 150 years?

Some 85 per cent of volcanoes are unseen and unmeasured yet these heat the oceans and add monstrous amounts of CO2 to the oceans. Why have these been ignored? Why have there been five significant ice ages when CO2 was higher than now? Why were warmings in Minoan, Roman and medieval times natural, yet a smaller warming at the end of the 20th century was due to human activities? If climate changed at the end of the Little Ice Age (c.1850), is it unusual for warming to follow?

Computer models using the past 150 years of measurements have been used to predict climate for the next few centuries. Why have these models not been run backwards to validate known climate changes?

I would bet the farm that by running these models backwards, El Nino events and volcanoes such as Krakatoa (1883, 535), Rabaul (536) and Tambora (1815) could not be validated.

In my book, I correctly predicted the response. The science would not be discussed, there would be academic nit-picking and there would be vitriolic ad hominem attacks by pompous academics out of contact with the community.

Comments by critics suggest that few have actually read the book and every time there was a savage public personal attack, book sales rose. A political blog site could not believe that such a book was selling so well and suggested that my publisher, Connor Court, was a front for the mining or pastoral industry.

This book has struck a nerve. Although accidentally timely, there are a large number of punters who object to being treated dismissively as stupid, who do not like being told what to think, who value independence, who resile from personal attacks and have life experiences very different from the urban environmental atheists attempting to impose a new fundamentalist religion.

Green politics have taken the place of failed socialism and Western Christianity and impose fear, guilt, penance and indulgences on to a society with little scientific literacy. We are now reaping the rewards of politicising science and dumbing down the education system. If book sales, public meetings, book launches, email and phone messages are any indication, there is a large body of disenfranchised folk out there who feel helpless. I have shown that the emperor has no clothes. This is why the attacks are so vitriolic.

Ian Plimer is emeritus professor of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne. His book Heaven and Earth is published by Connor Court.

ADDITIONAL NOTES. I'm going to add a few links that are useful in this area:

A paper that summarises key data:

Fielding-Wong debate

Review of Plimer's work in The Spectator8 July 2009.

A summary of 9 peer reviewed papers disproving anthropogenic global warming (AGW)

Australian Govt. issues paper (by Allen Consulting Group)

Scientists opposing AGW arguments.

A speech by Aynsley Kellow

Need to read: Climate of Extremes: Global
Warming Science They Don't Want You to Know by Patrick Michaels

Interview with Pat Michaels

Addendum, 25 October 2009. The book is a best seller!

Addendum Seeing through hoax of the century, by Janet Albrechtsen. The Australian.

Addendum 7 November 2009: Science is in on climate change sea-level rise: 1.7mm, The Australian. [evidence that sea levels have been rising VERY SLOWLY near South Australia]

Addendum 7 November 2009. Freaking Out over Global Warming. Mises Daily.

Addendum 9 December 2009: Climate claims fail science test by Michael Asten. The Australian.

Addendum 8 January 2009. Mr Rudd, your misguided warming policies are killing millions. Full open letter at here (PDF).

Here's something hilarious: Kenneth Davidson in his 8 February 2010 article in The Age (here) said, "Britain's Met Office says the world is on a path towards a potential increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees as early as 2060. If this occurs, only about half a billion people out of about 9 billion will survive, according to Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate change and adviser to the British government". I explored this further and came across this article. I'm amused beyond belief at such atrocious 'science'.

Addendum 12 Feb 2010: Came across this useful summary.

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