Wednesday, August 31, 2005

ctb, three wheelers and subsidies

so we are going to have ctb again. and it will fail again too. until we recognize the real problem with our public transport service and address that we will be stuck with the service we deserve.

economic theory says that if a price of a good or a service is kept artificially low a shortage and/or deterioration of quality will result. our public transport service is a perfect example of the validity of that theory.

one has to compare the price of a bus ticket, with the cost of the same journey by any other method of transport, adjusted for number of passengers per vehicle, to see how absurdly low the fares are. this means any reputable business playing by the rules will not make money operating a bus service. only unregulated individuals willing to cut corners (by hiring unqualified drivers and conductors cheaply , by breaking the road rules for a few extra passengers etc.) can make any living from it. that also explains the non emergence of larger private bus companies in spite of government encouragement.

nor will a reestablished ctb make any money any more than the current cluster bus companies, it will be just a larger mouth gobbling up ever more subsidies. i am not saying that there will not be any advantages from establishing a centralized entity, in place of, for the most part hopelessly managed cluster bus cos. if the management is good and some voluntary retirement scheme is introduced loses may be cut marginally, but i am not hopeful given the track record.

some people argue that ctb will be a good counterweight for the private bus 'mafia'. while it may help to break another bus strike or two, it will not work in the long term because interests of the private bus operators and the ctb will coincide eventually and the government will end up giving more subsides to both parties to prevent a complete breakdown. and given that ctb will cost higher subsidy wise, government will prefer private operators to continue in spite of all appearances to the contrary.

in addition ctb will have the inevitable trade union troubles.

while the ctb service may be a little better, so will subsides and thus the strain on the budget will be higher too.

only way out of this mess is,

  1. to give freedom to the bus operators to set the fares (giving them a option to chose freely without any restricting criteria between several fare bands say (instead of present three - normal, semi luxury , luxury with restricted quality criteria for each band), with the band indicated outside the bus, so passengers can recognize the fares before getting in)

  2. to let anybody enter the market as long as the vehicle is roadworthy (doing away with route permits etc.).

of course the AVERAGE cost to customer will go up initially but eventually we will have various quality bus services with corresponding fares.

you will get what you pay for.

some will say this is unfair to the poor. but if anybody wants the government to help the poor (a debatable point) its better to help them directly, as in direct cash payments to them instead of through indirect subsides that helps the rich too.

three wheelers

as if we don't have enough subsidy problems the finance minister suddenly starts to give a 300 rupee subsidy to the three wheelers each month (it's rather unclear whether there is a requirement to have a new meter installed). WTF!

if the general bureaucratic incompetence doesn't kill this in infancy, we will soon have a new class of dependent beggars clamoring for more subsidies instead of rather independent entrepreneurs we had so far. soon we will be treated to the sight of politicians promising higher and higher monthly payments in order to get votes. we will have low fares, less vehicles and poor service with passengers instead of three wheelers lined up, as the consequences become apparent.

some people never learn.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

book baton

i've been passed the book baton by electra,

number of books on shelf :
no idea, i have collected such a huge number of books (half of them only half read) they have overflowed out of the shelves in to the floor and presently covers about a quarter of the floor area of my spare room.

last book purchased :
moby dick - herman melville , haven't started on it yet, though i read about a half of it when i was a school boy.

book i am reading right now/last books read :
i have this bad habit of reading several books at the same time that i end up not finishing a large proportion of them. Currently following books are lying dog-eared or half opened all over the place.

The charterhose of parma - stendhal – the scarlet and the black, is one of my all time favorites, can't say the same for this one though its good.

brideshead revisited - evelyn waugh – very good

the confessions – rousseau – just started

the story of the stone – cao xueqin (vol 1(golden days) in the penguin translation)- brilliant 18th century chinese novel/whatever- i read the last four volumes a long time ago(vol 2(crab flower club) got me hooked), lake house bookshop had only those 4, and though i was on the lookout for vol 1, had no luck anywhere until last week when i found it in a used book stall. will definitely finish it today.

The first man – albert camus - last unfinished novel of a great (in my opinion) author – just read the introduction.

books that mean a lot to me :
little women – louisa may alcott - this may seem funny but until i read this when i was 13 i was not exactly in the habit of reading books.

the bible – esp. genesis, exodus, joshua, judges, kings, chronicles, ruth and esther from the old testament, simply love all those stories, always remember to read the unabridged versions straight from the bible and ignore the sanitized versions, you will be suprised

the brothers karamazav – dostoevsky – my favorite novel, after getting run over by 'the grand inquisitor' (probably the greatest single piece of philosophy ever written ) i was forced to rethink all my values from scratch

the myth of sisyphus - albert camus – starts with 'there is one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide' no need to say more.

history of the peloponnesian war- thucydides – that's the way 'history' should be written.

story of civilization (11 vols) - will and ariel(in later vols) durant - just imagine jostein gaarder's sophie's world , grown 50 times larger with all the boring details filled in with a lot of art history. those volumes from the american center usually weighed more than all my other school books combined and also taught me a lot more too.

Friday, August 26, 2005

government picks another losing fight.

by insisting that the negotiations with the ltte be held in sri lanka, government is again trying its best to score a own goal.

lets just examine the logic(or rather the lack of it) behind this demand.

are they saying that the norwegians cannot be trusted? that ltte is going to be favored, and our negotiators will be manipulated in to giving more than they would have, just because they are in a foreign country?

if the government really thinks norwegians cannot be trusted, it should dismiss them as facilitators after coming to a arrangement with the co-chairs for a replacement before any negotiations, instead of insulting them indirectly (btw if i was a norwegian involved in this peace process, by now i would have nothing but personal loathing and contempt for this government).

isn't the government gratuitously implying that ltte has already won the sympathy of the international community when probably the opposite is true?

and are we to believe government doesn't have tough negotiators who cannot be manipulated?

if the government believes ltte gets help in some covert ways (e.g. by being coached in negotiating tactics , by getting access to our team's internal discussions etc. if such things really do happen) aren't there time tested methods to counteract them, with or without help from others?

arguments about monetary cost are not worth any consideration .

only charitable interpretation(on behalf of the government's intelligence) is that this is a pointless delaying tactic.

in fact i believe this insistence on sri lanka as the the location has nothing to do with any of the above, but is just the latest example of government's habit of shooting from the hip in search of (temporary) popularity.

result will be a ignominious climb down (in the face of ltte's inevitable opposition on security grounds) and a general feeling of distrust for the outcome of negotiations when they do take place somewhere else.

btw if the negotiations take place in 'uncleared' areas as some unconfirmed reports say government might agree to , i fail see how that can be better than a foreign country?

why does the government continue to pick stupid fights it will certainly lose? aren't there anyone inside who can prepare a comprehensive strategy and a game plan for the negotiations including for the attendant spin, using the sort of management techniques that are being used in corporate world for instance? where is mr. danapala and the peace secretariat ?

will there be an end to all this bungling after the presidential election?

it's 2005 !

it seems our dishonorable cj finally came to the conclusion that he was trying to disenfranchise sri lankans when he swore in cbk secretly. did any body say impeachment ( for the third time )?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

peace talks but who will benefit?

so the government and the ltte has decided to hold direct talks ''within the next couple of weeks.'' but what about? 'reviewing' the cfa? revising the cfa ? putting a stop to all those killings? well the details are scratchy to say the least.

what prompted both parties to the table in the first place? were the ltte sat on by the international community? was cbk scared stiff of a imminent complete break down of the cfa ? one will probably not know until those norwegians write their memoirs.

it maybe a more fruitful to ask who benefits politically in the south from this?

talks certainly puts mahinda rajapakse in a bind, especially if jvp starts to oppose them and the talks cannot be spun as an attempt at being tough on the ltte. given the likelihood of negotiations dragging on without a breakthrough till the presidential election they can definitely put an end to his ambitions. in all likelihood he will try to act tough in order to put a distance between him and the negotiations and thus keep jvp from denouncing him along with the talks. but will cbk let him? and could he as pm really do that ?

does cbk benefit ? it depends on what she wants? if she wants to keep control of her party by getting rid of mahinda and becoming leader of opposition she can achieve those objectives easily, even without calling a general election. but a election will help. proportional electoral system with its bonus seats (unless the alliance can be revived) will result in a unp government. but will her party let her?

only winners i can see are ranil and the unp, if they continue to support peace unconditionally. in fact they have been able get rid of the impression that they are out and out appeasers (which resulted from their supposedly weak response to the kadiragamar killing) thanks to these talks.

what do you think?

first post explanation

hello! this is my first blog.

while browsing through the sri lankan blogs i found that a large proportion of them are maintained by people with left wing sympathies. this was very surprising to me in that i expected younger people(most of bloggers in sri lanka are below 25) brought up on the internet would not have anything to do with all but dead socialist theories. well i was wrong, most blogers were no different from the traditional media elite and the so called intelligentsia whose heart and for the most part the mind had always remained marxist.

but i know that the silent majority of ordinary people have no sympathy with those ideas, which have more or less helped to stagnate sri lanka's economy for the past 50 years, after all even the jvp now relies on its chauvinist platform to get votes, rather than on its supposed marxism.

i have always believed one should challenge these shibboleths whenever they are advanced in order to break enervating intellectual monopoly that seems to prevail in sri lanka. this is my attempt to do that online.

if anybody is wondering what the hell is a libertarian :

1) from,

  1. one who advocates maximizing individual rights and minimizing the role of the state.
  2. one who believes in free will.

2) from wikipedia .

here is libertarian faq.