The Indian Economy Blog

November 6, 2006

Advantages Of Being A Village Idiot

Filed under: Basic Questions — Atanu Dey @ 3:05 pm

My favorite village idiot joke goes – please stop me if you have heard this one – this way. Once upon a time, in a particular village, when offered a choice between a dime and a nickel, the village idiot would invariably grin and pick up the nickel and everyone would have a hearty laugh at the stupidity of the village idiot.

One day, a kind-hearted guy says to the village idiot, “You know, although a nickel is larger than a dime, it is only worth half a dime. You should pick up the dime.” The idiot says, “I know that. But if I pick up the dime, people would stop offering me the choice between taking a nickel or a dime, wouldn’t they? Who would be that stupid?”

What brought this joke to mind, you may ask. Well, yesterday I carelessly picked up the Sunday Times (the Sunday edition of the Slimes Times of India) and read a column that made me wonder if some village is missing its idiot. Surely, I said to myself, there is no such job description as the “Resident Idiot Columnist” for newspapers, unlike the well-known traditional job of “Village Idiot.” All was not right with the world when some village is missing its required idiot on the one hand, and on the other hand, there is a regular idiot’s column in a newspaper. It is not natural, I mused as I sipped my morning cup of coffee.

Is there is a point to all this, you ask. Yes, I was coming to that. And the point isn’t that one should not read the Sunday Slimes Times, nor that newspapers should not have resident idiot columnists. The matter I wish to discuss is rather serious: what exactly are the advantages of being a village idiot? The advantage is simple: you get offered a choice and you make a nickel out of the deal. So there: if you are a village idiot, you make a nickel, and which avenue for earning is not available to a person with average intelligence. That is the advantage of being an idiot.

Ah, I see that you are not very persuaded about this devilishly clever scheme of making a living. So I guess you will not be too persuaded about the sneakily brilliant tactic of being dirt poor so that you can make dirt poor wages as a result of globalization, as our favorite columnist recommends in his brilliantly argued piece called “The Advantages of Poverty”.

It is tiresome to have to point out idiocy and I don’t want this blog to be “Responding to Idiotonomics All the Time.” The last time I pointed out at great length the idiocy of claiming that the demographic dividend justifies uncontrolled breeding (see Demographic Cognitive Dissonance). I thought it was a one-time deal and it was fun poking fun at the guy who wrote it. But I should not make it a habit of skewering the guy regularly on this blog – unless of course there are other reasons for demonstrating what exactly is wrong with his argument. Of course there has to be something wrong first.

And that is the point. One can argue against a guy who is wrong. But what if the guy is not even wrong. At one end of the scale is “right” and at the other end is “wrong.” But what if the guy is so off the scale that he is not even wrong? Even getting him on to the scale is going to be an uphill task, leave along dragging him to the “right” end of the scale.

Sometimes one just has to give up and be content to let villages with missing idiots be.


  1. Reading Swami’s economic theories is just too painful. I would rather stick a needle through the roof of my mouth.

    Comment by ND — November 7, 2006 @ 12:37 am

  2. Agree. Swami’s turning senile. Also, Times of India represents everything that’s wrong with the standard of serious economic/political discourse in India. Its all, now, about sound bytes, nifty ideas that do not need proof or are not subject to the rigors of logical, let alone theoretical, proofs.

    Comment by Aninda — November 7, 2006 @ 3:40 am

  3. Every time you click on a Times of India article and 10 pop-ups come on the screen, its kinda like going up to the village idiot and making him choose. He still walks away with the nickel ;)

    Comment by Patel — November 7, 2006 @ 8:33 am

  4. At least in this piece he had a valid point about the “middle income” countries getting shafted from both ends.

    What I want to know is who picks the titles for his articles. Is it to attract clicks to the story ?

    Comment by realitycheck — November 8, 2006 @ 12:00 am

  5. I dread going to the ToI website.

    B’cos if I do, I am afraid I will be overcome by the urge to make cheap phone calls to India, remit money, find online marital bliss, get discounted bollywood dvds, send diwali gifts, & take a survey where i portend that india will either be super-power by 2020 or… by 2030.

    Sheesh… and this used to be India’s answer to, in its heyday! What a fall.

    Comment by Aninda — November 8, 2006 @ 2:15 am

  6. This isn’t right. This isn’t even wrong – Wolfgang Pauli.

    By the same reasoning what will happen to I in the BRIC, when we become middle-income? Get laid off like 40 something middle level manager?:)

    Comment by Sridhar — November 8, 2006 @ 9:59 am

  7. If India is planning to be become middle income by wage arbitrage alone, it would find the going tough. The expectation is that somewhere along the line, the focus would shift to increasing productivity and use that to sustain the competetive advanatge of providng better value at a lower cost.

    Comment by RJ — November 8, 2006 @ 10:53 am

  8. “And the point isn’t that one should not read the Sunday Slimes Times, nor that newspapers should not have resident idiot columnists.”

    As others have said there is a good case to do both. How TOI is a top selling paper in India is beyound me. Less said about Swami the better (IEB has a link to his columns!)

    Comment by Chandra — November 8, 2006 @ 12:27 pm

  9. While I don’t read the Times of India….I do find myself agreeing with the article, though for different reasons. The aim of economic policy is to provide a stable and reasonable standard of living for all of a country’s citizens. I don’t think India should aim to be a “developed nation” like the west. One’s eyes are blinded by the spectacular buildings and roads, but the fact is that much of the modern lifestyle is unsustainable (, and India definately cannot afford to go that way. The indian ethos has always been about simplicity and being non-materialistic. We need to build a sustainable country where people can be happy. Not one that pampers our ego, or our greed. There is nothing wrong with commoditification.

    Comment by Bhaskar — November 8, 2006 @ 7:09 pm

  10. Atanu,

    Thanks for bringing this out.

    I was shocked when i read the first sentence. And i seriously cant understand the intention of writing that. It is sheer absurdness.

    No wonder, why so many people get beguiled by such writers.

    Comment by Alex — November 11, 2006 @ 2:01 pm

  11. Sweet LORD, thay pay him to write this!! I wanna be a journalist too.
    Well, actually I didnt quite get what he was propounding, my funda is, if you didnt understand it in your first read through, its probably BS.
    Got me through med school, should work with newspapers eh?

    read Hindu and frontline.



    Comment by schizo phrenic — November 13, 2006 @ 7:44 pm

  12. Atanu, I’m pointing you to this article if you haven’t read by Larry Summers on global middle class,
    contradictory though.

    Comment by Harsha — November 14, 2006 @ 2:29 pm

  13. The title is inflammatory but I don’t really see the reason for the fuss about the basic argument. Atanu, your post also does not say what you find idiotic about the article’s premise (as opposed to its title). Maybe you can expand on it somewhat? I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong about the argument that middle-income countries with no particular competitive advantages will find it tough going in a global economy.

    Comment by Haku — November 15, 2006 @ 12:56 am

  14. [...] November 15, 2006 « Advantages of Being a Village Idiot [...]

    Pingback by The Indian Economy Blog » Sense and Swami — November 15, 2006 @ 12:35 pm

  15. “The indian ethos has always been about simplicity and being non-materialistic. We need to build a sustainable country where people can be happy.”

    I don’t know about the first statement. I find nothing wrong with the second. Of course, building a country where people can be “happy” – and what exactly is the index of happiness – is the province of social planners and not economists, and even they wouldn’t know how to go about it. But even on an economic blog, there is nothing simpleminded in suggesting that economic well-being is not the same as economic growth. With globalization in particular, one has to admit that corporations may think and act globally. People cannot. So globalization is a zero sum game, causing improved living standards in certain parts of the world at the expense of people in other parts of the world. Whether globalization will truly create economic efficiency that in turn will raise living standards globally is still to be seen.

    Atanu, another “idiot” joke and my all time favorite. A successful businessman was lecturing his less successful friend about the value of enterprise. He said, “If you work hard, you will accumulate wealth. If you have enough wealth, you can then stop working and put all your cares behind you. You will then live happily ever after.” To which the simpleton replied, “I am already living happily ever after.”

    Comment by Sarat — November 15, 2006 @ 6:37 pm

  16. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Swami is an economist who chooses to write in a paper which on its front page has a video with a link titled, “Rani apologizes to media” (with her looking very seductively).

    There is no point to even following what he writes on that garbage.

    Comment by Girish Mallapragada — November 16, 2006 @ 4:08 am

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