2 January 2011

Information

Here's the economist in me speaking up. Perfect information is important. It is desirable. It aids efficiency. Imperfect information leads to the market for lemons, and second best outcomes all around.

But I think this problem isn't something exclusive to economists. Its something that creates issues for everyone. It creates problems for art and culture. For health and education.

Example. Indian classical music. Both Hindustani and Carnatic. Because of its very nature, you need a bit of specialist knowledge to appreciate it. Beyond a point, if you don't understand the work the artist is doing, all you get is one instrument going on for an hour and a half. And that gets boring and pointless. You don't need specialist knowledge to appreciate a good bollywood song - there is a nice tune, some nice lyrics, and the instrumentation sounds nice. Everyone can appreciate it.

So, there will always be only a niche audience for classical music. That's fine. There will be a group of people that spend the time and effort needed to gain that specialist knowledge, and they will form the audience for that music.

The other group of people will not, and they will not listen to that music. In this group there are three kinds of people. The first kind just inherently doesn't like that kind of music. Even if they knew everything about that music, their preferences would lead to them choosing not to listen to that music. The second kind doesn't have the wherewithal to gain that knowledge - they do not have the time, nor the money. They are too worried about putting food on the table, clothes on their bodies and roofs above their heads. I don't have any problems with these two kinds. I wouldn't try and make them listen to classical music.

There is a third kind, though, that I do have a problem with. This is the kind that would listen to classical music if they knew how everything worked, but don't because they have preconceived notions about the music. Some won't because 'it's not cool' to be into classical music in school and college. The fact is, if there wasn't an institutionalised culture of ridicule associated with classical music, and if it was easier to obtain knowledge that facilitates understanding of what the artist is doing on stage, this kind would all listen to classical music.

Another example. Fitness. The first thing that struck me when I got back home for the holidays is how there are so few fit people here. The average man on the street has a belly. They will eat stuff fried in ghee with gay abandon. They look at me and say I have a great body. Really, in the UK, lots of people have bodies like mine. I have my body despite my genetics, and that's down only to the fact that I know what various kinds of foods do to you (I mean seriously, what the hell is 'good ghee' as opposed to 'bad ghee'?), and I know the shit you can get into if you're unhealthy in the long term. I don't want to be immobilised when I'm 75. I don't want knee surgery because my weight slowly ground them into nothingness.

Here again, there are two groups. And the second group has three kinds of people. And its only the third kind in the second group that I have a problem with. Here's food for thought. Why is it that there are so many more fit people in the UK? Or in the States? or in South Africa? Anyone who's been there knows its true. Why do they live much longer than we do? Could it be perhaps even be that our eating and exercising habits have adverse effects on our productivity? Could it be reducing our ability to enjoy life at the end of the day?

Kiski galati hai? There's clearly an issue. My opinion is that the problem is two sided. The consumers of the product can't be bothered acquiring information. And the producers of the product are guilty of not making that information easily available. How many times have I sat through a classical concert with absolutely no explanations for the lay person that might allow them to understand the work. And then they crib that no one listens to them play. How many times have I seen newbies in the gym being told 'eat this, do this exercise this many times' without any explanation as to why they should eat a certain way, and what the physiological effects of the exercise would be. People end up following up silly plans without understanding them, and never gain the ability to tailor things to their own needs.

What to do then? YOU, get off your ass and acquire information. YOU, make information available to others. Oh, and if you're in the government, then read up on banking and utilities regulation, heck, even food standards in developed countries - one of the key roles of government is to overcome problems caused by incomplete information. Do your job.

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