23 May 2011

Two days in Boston and back to Mumbai

As indicated in my previous blog we rolled into Boston, a historical city from the American was of Independence, but also from the academic perspective. I did share with my co-participants on the famous Cambridge capital controversy with people from both the Cambridge's taking part in 1960s and early 1970s. The prominent among them being Joan Robinson and Piero Sraffa from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom and Paul Samuelson and Robert Solow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, United States. The former pointed out some important problems in the aggregation of capital, reswitching and on the foundations of neoclassical economics. The latter did concede to some of these but despite that the teaching of economics worldwide (including at University of Cambridge also) got dominated by the neoclassical thinking and students in many schools at the United States not being aware of this problem. A good retrospective of this debate is Whatever Happened to the Cambridge Capital Theory Controversies.

Another development at Harvard is the seminal book by John Rawls, A Theory of Justice in 1971 (though I refer to the more recent Justice as Fairness: A Restatement of 2000 in my classes and in discussions) that had a serious assault on the utilitarian basis of neoclassical economics because of his articulation of reasonable pluralism - different things are intrinsically relevant on their own merit and not because of their relevance to utility.  Rawls also brought on other aspects such as 'original position' which means  that (free and equal) people who take decisions are under a veil so that they do not know who they are and this will help keep away vested interest.  With this and other fundamental ideal he goes on to put forth two principles of justice: First that there has to be equal liberties for all. Second, some inequalities are inevitable and they are of two types. The first inequality is that the most deserving persons should be appointed to positions of power so that societies concerns are carried forward in the best possible way and the second inequality is that while taking decisions the most vulnerable persons or subgroups interest should be maximized. The latter inequality is not a trade-off with better of individuals but rather preempts trade-offs where the interest of better-off is maximized by disregarding the interests of the worse-off.

Getting back to the trip. Our earlier schedule (the one that  I received by email before leaving India) for 20 May 2011 was an evaluation day. But, there was no such official evaluation and it was a free day. We decided to go on a tour of Boston. Just outside Marriott Cambridge, where we were staying, towards the Kendal Station side is also the bus stop for local tours.  At first the person wanted to sell us a ticket for 42 dollars. When we were a little hesitant then he said that he can reduce it to 39 dollars meant for students or give us ticket for another provided that is for 30 dollars - the difference being that the frequency of the latter bus is 20 minutes whereas that of the former is 10 minutes. Again, the latter ticket could also be used for two consecutive days and if we want a ticket for a single day then it would be 24 dollars. We decided for the single day and when we boarded the first bus we were told that we can use this ticket for the  next day also  because some logistics meant that there will be no services for this tour after 2.30 pm on our first day. Of course we did not need it on the second day.

Our first stop was Boston commons (a place traditionally used by farmers to graze their cattle) and one where there are people dressed in 18th century attire and explaining to people about the freedom trail.  It was nice to see the history being told and retold to groups of attentive children.

The second stop was harbor from where we took a boat ride and  were told about Boston's historic significance in maritime trade and some industry that developed but they no longer exist . We got off on  the other side of the harbor at Charles Town where there is a US Naval Meuseum and took the bus ride to Trinity church  near Copley square surrounded by the Westin Hotel, the Public Library and the the Old South church. There was a farmers market in the square and from a baker came to know that they also barter with fellow sellers. This is done at the end of the day when there is a mutual interest and at times they may also sell in exchange for coupons. A coupon is a guarantee given by the farmers market association in exchange for produce sold to those customers who paid by credit card at a central point. In the market one also met a Maple syrup seller from Vermont.

Back in the hotel had a long discussion with Sarthak. He is currently  at Wharton School,  University of Pennsylvania and had planned a visit to Boston to match mine. Both of us talked about  his thesis  and other work that we are doing and walked down to MIT and Harvard and took picture with John Harvard and then took a train back to Kendall and had a nice dinner at The Legal Seafood and discussed about size-class productivity in Indian agriculture late into the night.

On 21 May 2010 my flight was scheduled at 10.15 in the night, but checked out from the hotel at 12 noon. Our luggage was stored and we were given access to the business center but as one of the co-participants,  had a flight in the afternoon and as it is the same waiting in the lobby or at the airport, I  left early.  This  has added to the jet lag and though I am tired I am not able to sleep, and hence, this post. There is lot of work pending but that needs some rest before I start.

The whole experience has been wonderful. Nevertheless, the first feeling when back in  amchi Mumbai is sare jahan se acha hindustan hamara.

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