photos of me, courtesy of lip

it was from the second coming, by yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


great to be back in singapore. good food and companionship. watched a pretty good film 爱情十八克 which michelle recommended, showing at sinema old school, on top of mt sophia. was surprised that it didn't have a commercial release as it seemed quite marketable. And I am always so surprised (I shouldn't be) at how much it costs even to make a simple film. The rest of my time was spent junking around watching various old films (sepet and troy) and reading.

finally finished my admin this week. well at least the marking and the term reports. i still have to update the website and put up answers but i think i'll peg that for later. i think everyone's enjoying christmas anyway.

so i can start on my own work now. i will spend these 2 days getting used to CES (constant elasticity of substitution) functions, which Dixit and Stiglitz used to model imperfect competition and seems to be the workhorse for any forms of economies of scale. Then I can finish up intermediate goods theory, and also the problem set on labour market flexibility and the associated gains from trade. I'll read the Schott paper on factor price equalization to see if there's anything there.


i happen to have a few moments to write today. gosh where do i start, it's been such a hectic week.

i think i'll start from yesterday. the impact of the moment has gone, but basically sky tv showed a person killing himself by sipping a cocktail of drugs, at a charity dignitas. this is basically a swiss charity designed to allow people to kill themselves before it becomes physically impossible to do so themselves. the cocktail is one of barbiturates, which basically send you to sleep and then stop your bodily functions. he chose to die to beethoven's ninth symphony. this person had motor neurone disease.

anyway, whatever you feel about whether such a moment should be private or public, he basically wanted to put this video out to remove such a stigma about death. i think it's pretty telling that this is really the first time i've seen a deathbed, with the person due to die in a few moments. i've been pretty insulated from that so far, as far as i know, people all die peacefully in their sleep. true, i don't know him, but i guess i have the capacity to imagine in a very abstract way. everything seemed so real, from him choking on the bitterness of the cocktail ("do i really have to finish it?") to the final i love you's. to me it still seems so tragic that someone can choose to die a moment earlier than they have to. but yet seeing this there is some socratic nobility in it. that he was able to make a rational decision that marked him out as man. "either i do this, and die now, or i don't have the strength to go through it, and then i suffer and put my family through suffering, and then die." that must mark someone out as human.

"i suppose i must feel like a pilgrim heading to america back in those days. i don't know what's on the other side, and i know i'm probably not coming back"

on the other hand, they also showed someone else registering for dignitas' service. this person was far more cavalier : "no more golf, no more wine" might as well go now.

and so the debate continues.


sometimes people randomly come up to ask me if i'm alright, such is my sulky image. i always tell them, i'm alright. i'm the happiest i've been in years. with that comes an implicit promise that i tell them whenever i'm unhappy.

i might be crossing that line now, so in many ways i might be in need of the break.

this is very strange, because every day i am doing what i like. there is a little stress, but not too much. i love standing up and being on my feet, and i like worrying over data.

but i think i'm putting a lot of pressure on myself. i am afraid of competence and i am afraid of mediocrity. but that might just be my fate. i'm afraid of my future. maybe i'm just doing what i should have been doing as a teenager, when i perhaps kicked my feet back too much. i worry about all this in the shower and i wonder whether the guy above accomplished what he wanted to. sorry, it's not my fault i'm born to worry about such things. i have to get up every day and think them, and then put them aside because they are not productive. but that doesn't mean i don't worry about them, and right now, if you ask me, those forces are stronger.



dignitas + assisted suicide

football players

on saving the world, and peter singer



revisiting the repugnant conclusion


i was thinking about the economic decision to have a baby, and it seems that derek parfit wants to come up with a theory which avoids a situation which ends up like figure 1, where we transition to a population with larger total utility but each with a very low positive quality of life. As utilitarians, then, it seems that the moral conclusion would be to sacrifice some of our present utility in order to have more babies who will all have shittier lives because the world is overcrowded. 

i just thought intuitively that the figure doesn't make sense, and i thought of a reason why. i realised it looks a lot like classical economic analysis. the repugnant conclusion is simply the same fallacy in economics that goes: if every good achieves some positive revenue by selling it, then the firm should maximise revenue by selling the good until the price is at 0, when we know that that is not true unless the marginal costs are 0. 

you see, you have to model the problem like this. intuitively, an extra baby imposes a negative externality (via the resource budget constraint) on EVERY single other person in the economy. Plot average utility (price) on the y-axis, and total population N on the x-axis, and draw a downward sloping average utility/population growth curve. then the total utility curve is equivalent to the total revenue/expenditure curve , and it is maximised when the average utility elasticity of population is 1. 

Also remember that population growth is an endogenous (private) choice. However, the philosopher wants to look at it from the social planner's point of view. So, if we were on the left of the e=1, then an increase in population would decrease average utility, but maximise total utility. So, the repugnant conclusion still holds for some extent. However, we avoid the conclusion mainly because after e=1, then it no longer makes sense to continue increasing population. If you were to increase it beyond that point, then the externality beyond that point matters (because the resource constraint bites harder, and because the externality hits more and more people as population increase) So, we will never end up at a point B where each person has miserable little utility but the total population is happier. I.E. you cannot compare 100 person each with 10 utility (total 1000) with 1001 people each with 1 utility (total 1001) because it is not possible to get to the second point moving along this utility schedule.  I.E, the repugnant conclusion's worst conclusions are impossible. 

To ensure that the demand curve I have propose is downward sloping, you go back to classic indifference curve analysis. This time, your indifference is between allocating your resource constraint between population (i.e. feeding/creating new members), and increasing your current population's consumption. The utility function for you would be biased towards yourself because people are selfish/impatient, but have reasons for having babies. If you did want the moral conclusion, you could choose the weight so it would be perfectly altruistic, giving them both equal weight. These are your two choice bundles, x1 and x2. an increase in average utility of the current population necessitates a fall in population, while an increase in population would necessitate a fall in average consumption. 

Ok, then how do you explain population growth. On this curve it would be like a shift in technology/tastes affecting the demand curve. It is a shift of the utility curve at every point. Intuitively this happens because you relax the resource constraint. So, a certain average utility is now compatible with a greater number of people because the economy grows. 

To model how exactly this changes, then you shift to the endogenous growth model with population choice. And come on, isn't it intuitively realistic. We are all impatient. And I look at the population growth data, it does seem that the growth so far has come because the resource constraint has been relaxed. I do think that the world might be able to support more people and a higher utility (we are on the left of e=1). But again, this is because now we are able to endogenously control our population choice through contraception, family planning etc. Therefore, because of our impatience in consumption, we do not achieve the social planner's optimal. That is why governments in developed countries are in fact so worried, and paying you to go for the repugnant conclusion. But at the same time they don't want you to reproduce too much. There is an optimal population growth rate implied by the model. 

It isn't a paradox to me anymore until someone points out what is wrong with my analysis. I always thought that the problem was that this was a utilitarian question at its heart, and so it lends itself to some form of analysis, which nobody has seemed to bothered to do. So you can confuse people by proposing unrealistic hypothetical scenarios in language, when the math doesn't allow for it. Then you have these identity arguments etc which just don't make so much sense.

Of course, other branches of moral philosophy, I still have immense respect for. Math touchest not thee. 


only connect!

the quote below has gathered new meaning as i struggled to connect to the internet today


confession: i used to mumble to myself in school. i used to think everyone did that, but now that i look back it does seem strange.

but, what a line:

only connect! that was the whole of the sermon. only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. live in fragments no longer.

i don't care what it means! i don't care! it is just one of those lines that makes you feel like going out and shouting it into people's faces, whether they need it or not. it just...deserves to be shouted. it is shout-worthy.

i didn't attribute it because it's probably quite a familiar line.


"yes we can part I" - these crazy americans

the story that caught my eye the most in this week's issue of the economist was the story of gilbert kaplan, who started the magazine 'institutional investor' after he left grad school at nyu/duke. he gathered these stock market type people to basically write about the market. he was the editor in chief for a while and then sold it for $72 million.

but this was the stunning demonstration of chutzpah. he heard a performance of mahler's second symphony, the one called "resurrection". in line with the principles of specialization of labour, he became so obsessed with it that he attended every performance of it, "met his wife at one", studied the score intensely, bought it (it helped that he was rich) and now conducts this symphony. so this rank amateur was able to become the foremost authority on this particular piece of work.

That an unskilled dreamer could teach professionals how to bring off a masterpiece is a fantasy that many share but few presume to achieve. Mr Kaplan, after his first performance, said: “I had a feeling that people in the audience were urging me to fulfil my dream. They were up with me on the podium that night, playing baseball for the Yankees, writing the book they never wrote or getting the girl they never got.”


of course oliver stone's w. has w. dreaming of playing baseball for the yankees.

anyway, i wonder what it takes to do something like that. conducting, especially, involves imposing your will/ideas on professionals. so gaining their respect must not be easy, esp if you have little professional experience yourself. but i wonder if really the secret is that he is a good leader/communicator so that he gets his passion/ideas across effectively. but really. maybe all that is required is the guts to stand up and take responsibility for something that you like... it sounds easy, but i would find it very difficult and stressful, for example. i might be too accommodating of opposing viewpoints, especially those of trusted musicians, so i don't think i could force through a vision with special clarity. i wish i had that ability. in a way, i think he has to be rather blind to all the initial skepticism.

the other theory is that he is a rubbish conductor of mahler, but he has a lot of journalist friends who are willing to big him up, because everyone loves an underdog, especially the media. and the other conductors are too nice to say anything.

still, whatever, he gets to command an orchestra. and if it were rubbish, i'm sure he'd know by the people not turning up.

i've been listening to mahler. him, mendelssohn and schumann (it is also the time for the annual lse concert, they are repeating mendelssohn's violin concerto and also playing egmont's overture by beethoven). he comes from the only period in classical music that i can appreciate, mainly because it is either intensely sad or insanely happy. as you can see, i don't have much musical knowledge/vocabulary. but what the heck.