HT Picks: The week’s interesting reads
What smartphones are doing to India, new approaches to economics and the law, and a novel that spans Ghana and London, there’s much to read this week
INDIA CONNECTED BY RAVI AGRAWAL
230pp, Rs 550; Oxford University Press
India is connecting at a dizzying pace. In 2000, roughly 20 million Indians had access to the internet. In 2017, 465 million were online, with three new people logging on for the first time every second. By 2020, the country’s online community is projected to exceed 700 million; more than a billion Indians are expected to be online by 2025.
While they offer immediate access to so much for so many, smartphones are creating no utopia in a culture still struggling with poverty, illiteracy, corruption, gender inequality, and income disparity. Intenet access has provided greater opportunities to women and altered how India’s outcastes interact with the world; it has also made pornography readily available and provided an echo chamber for rumor and prejudice. Under a government determined to control content, it has created tensions. And in a climate of hypernationalism, it has fomented violence and even terrorism.
The influence of smartphones on the world’s largest democracy is pervasive and irreversible, disruptive and creative, unsettling and compelling. Agrawal’s fascinating book gives us the people and places reflecting what the internet hath wrought. India Connected reveals both its staggering dimensions and implications, illuminating how it is affecting the progress of progress itself.
THE REPUBLIC OF BELIEFS BY KAUSHIK BASU
238pp, Rs 699; Princeton
In The Republic of Beliefs, Kaushik Basu, one of the world’s leading economists, argues that the traditional economic analysis of the law has significant flaws and has failed to answer certain critical questions satisfactorily. Why are good laws drafted but never implemented? When laws are unenforced, is it a failure of the law or the enforcers? And, most important, considering that laws are simply words on paper, why are they effective? Basu offers a provocative alternative to how the relationship between economics and real-world law enforcement should be understood.
Basu summarizes standard, neoclassical law and economics before looking at the weaknesses underlying the discipline. Bringing modern game theory to bear, he develops a “focal point approach, modeling not just the self-interested actions of the citizens who must follow laws but also the functionaries of the state – the politicians, judges and bureaucrats – enforcing them. He demonstrates the connections between social norms and the law and shows how well-conceived ideas can change and benefit human behavior. For example, bribe givers and takers will collude when they are treated equally under the law. And in food support programs, vouchers should be given directly to the poor to prevent shop owners from selling subsidized rations on the open market. Basu provides a new paradigm for the ways that law and economics interact – a framework applicable to both less-developed countries and the developed world.
Highlighting the limits and capacities of law and economics, The Republic of Beliefs proposes a fresh way of thinking that will enable more effective laws and a fairer society.
HOLD BY MICHAEL DONKOR
308pp, Rs 499; HarperCollins
Belinda knows how to follow the rules. She has learnt the right way to polish water glasses, to wash and fold a hundred handkerchiefs, and to keep a tight lid on memories of the village she left behind when she came to Kumasi to be a housegirl.
Mary is still learning the rules. Eleven years old and irrepressible, the young housegirl-in-training is the little sister Belinda never had.
Amma has had enough to the rules. A straight-A pupil at her exclusive London school she has always been the pride of her Ghanaian parents. Until now. Watching their once-confident teenager grow sullen and wayward, they decide that sensible Belinda might be just the shining example Amma needs.
So Belinda is summoned from Ghana to London, to befriend a troubled girl who shows no desire for her friendship. She encounters a city as bewildering as it is exciting, and tries to impose order on her unsettling new world.
As the Brixton summer turns to autumn, Belinda and Amma are surprised to discover the beginnings of an unexpected kinship. But when the cracks in their defences open up, the secrets they have both been holding tight to threaten to seep out.
First Published: Aug 17, 2018 23:29:31