Douwe Osinga's Blog: March 2008

Monday, March 10, 2008

Capturing the presidency for the next 12 years

Meanwhile at the other side of the planet the Americans are going through the long process of deciding who will be the most powerful person the next 4 years. I follow this with great interest. Not only is it obviously more important than anything I get to vote for, but it is also with all the warts a relatively open way to pick a leader. In most democracies the two leading parties each nominate one guy and you get to vote between them. In the US arguably this time around there were 5 persons with somewhat of a chance to win.

Of course there are still three left and I am not too unhappy with those three. Clinton, Obama and McCain all look better than any candidate I’ve seen since, well, Clinton. I still have strong preferences, but it is not the usual best of evil kinda situation. For the Democrats it seems this is really the problem. They seem to have great trouble picking the best out of two decent candidates and even run the risk of losing the election this way. As long as they are taking aim at each other, McCain can quietly raise money. So what to do.

Here’s my plan. Bill Clinton already suggested that they should combine and obviously he’s thinking his wife president and Obama vice-president. I’m sure Obama would accept such a deal if the roles were swapped. The solution to that seems simple; they make a pact now that whoever has the most votes at the end of the primary, gets the top spot on the ticket. I have one more suggestion though: add to the deal that in four years time, they’ll rerun with the ticket reversed. So if Obama runs for president now, in four years it will be Clinton with him as vice. And then four years later again, you can switch again.

This way you can’t lose. Both sides have a strong motivation to support the ticket even if their person ends up on the second spot, since is not waiting 8 years and then maybe, but a guarantee for a position 4 years later that is almost impossible to get otherwise. Plus the sniping will stop, which will help both sides. Add up the combined war chests and what’s the Republican Party got to do? If the Democratic Party had played it like this, Al Gore would now be president.

So why 12 and not 16 years? Simple. If you have been president for 8, you can’t be vice president anymore.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Priceless India

India is by all means a lot cheaper than Switzerland. Sure, things in Switzerland are more reliable, cleaner and generally of higher quality, but it doesn’t close the gap. I think the World Bank puts it a factor 4.5 or so and seems about right. It’s 39 rupees to a franc these days, but if you pretend it is 10 to a franc, prices seem somewhat comparable.

India is not always that cheap though. If you are tall and white, prices sometimes change. Major sites are still quite often dually priced. Locals pay 10 rupees, foreigners pay 2 dollars or 100 rupees (which isn’t the same, but those prices believe in the eternal 1 dollar is 50 rupees). And if you think that that isn’t fair since the income gap between the average Indian and the average American isn’t a factor ten, you are right of course. It is way more.

Rickshaw drivers of course have their own multiplier, or really it seems to be a constant. Usually when I ask they say it is 150 rupees, independent on how far it is. Whether this is because they think this is a nice price for a white guy, or whether they usually don’t really understand where I want to go and 150 should get me anywhere isn’t totally clear to me.

Touts, according to Lonely Planet are another factor that drive up prices. They pick you up at the bus stop or train station and guide you to a hotel, seemingly for free and are paid a commission by the hotel for the favor. Sometimes taxi drivers double as touts too and not just for hotels. Tourist shops do this sort of thing too. Often taxi drivers are quite open about it and agree to knock off a little from the price if you visit a shop for 10 minutes. ‘No pressure to buy, just look’

I thought about whether Lonely Planet is right about that this adds to price. I think it depends on the deal the taxi driver has, that is, if the taxi driver gets a fixed amount per visitor he brings, then the price should remain the same. For the shop the money paid to the taxi is ‘sunk-cost.’ Whether I walk in alone or with the taxi doesn’t matter once I am there; the shop wants to maximize their profit in either case so will do the same thing.

If the taxi gets a percentage of the total price, things are different. Now taxi drivers margin is paid out of whatever I pay, so most likely the price will have to go up (if however the shop keeper makes a deal where the taxi driver only gets a percentage of anything I pay over say 100 rupees, the price might actually go down). The lesson is clear: ask the driver what the structure of the deal is before getting in.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Something does beat Cow

Saying the Indian traffic is like advanced rock-paper-scissors like I did in my last post, sounds interesting, but isn’t quite accurate. In rock-paper-scissor like games there is always a circle. You can’t have a cow sitting on top of the pyramid that beats everything. Just bad game design. As a kid a played a lot of stratego, a game totally based on this principle. You have soldiers with different ranks that you can put anywhere on the game board but your opponent can’t see what is what. Then you move them around and the higher rank always beat the lower rank, with the exception that the very highest is beaten by the lowest rank (spy).

This week I saw an incident that made me realize that Indian traffic is exactly like that. There was a cow running away from a … dog. Nobody had told the dog that the cow was holy and both cow and he vaguely realized that the dog descended from a wolf and the cow from, well, another cow.

So the circle is complete after all. Bus beats Car beats Rickshaw beats Bicycle beats Pedestrian. Cow beats all of those and even a Pedestrian will kick a dog. But dog beats cow.