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Nobel Prize 2017: Richard H. Thaler Wins Nobel for Economic Science

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Richard H. Thaler, winner of the Nobel Prize
A photo of Richard H. Thaler, winner of the Nobel Prize in economic sciences 2017, officially called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. voa

Sweden, October 9: American Richard H. Thaler was awarded the Nobel Prize 2017 for Economics — officially the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

The award committee said Thaler was chosen “for his contributions to behavioral economics.”

“By exploring the consequences of limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control,” Thaler “has shown how these human traits systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes,” the Swedish Academy said.

Thaler developed the theory of “mental accounting,” explaining how people simplify financial decision-making by creating separate accounts in their minds, focusing on the narrow impact of each individual decision rather than its overall effect.

Thaler was born 1945 in East Orange, New Jersey and received his Ph.D. in 1974 from the University of Rochester, New York. He is a Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Illinois.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the Nobel Prize 2017 award Monday. It carries a $1.1 million prize. (voa)

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Odisha government signs a Statement of Intent (SoI) with University of Chicago

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University of Chicago, Wikimedia

Bhubaneswar, April 3, 2017: The Odisha government on Monday signed a Statement of Intent (SoI) with University of Chicago and University of Chicago Trust in India.

The SoI was signed with a view to facilitate new research, knowledge and capacity building in several areas.

“One of the objectives of entering this collaboration will also be to seek expertise in setting up a virtual academy for digitisation, preservation and improved access of archival material of Odia language and culture,” said Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who was present at the signing of SoI.

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The cooperation between the state government and University of Chicago would also deal with research, monitoring and impact evaluation and pilot project implementation in the sectors of energy, environment, health, water and sanitation.

Patnaik said these initiatives would go a long way in preserving invaluable lingual and cultural heritage and resources of Odisha and also in providing better solutions to basic needs of the people. (IANS)

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Interview with Dr Ausaf Sayeed: Outlook of an Indian diplomat

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On January 21st, Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Gate’, Patrick Reilly spoke with Dr Ausaf Sayeed, Consul General of India in Chicago. Dr Sayeed visited the University of Chicago’s International House for a film screening sponsored by the Indian Consulate, the University of Chicago’s Diplomatic Encounters Series, and International House’s Global Voices Lecture Series. This interview was made possible through the Gate’s partnership with the Global Voices Interview Series.

Dr Sayeed assumed his current post in Chicago in August 2013. Previously, he had served for several decades as an Indian diplomat throughout the Middle East and Europe. Here’s what he had to say:

Gate: You began your career studying geology in India. From that background, why did you decide to go into the foreign service?

Dr Sayeed: As students, you explore various career options. In India, the bureaucratic services are what are known as the civil services, which are actually the legacy of the British time. They are supposed to be one of the best services in terms of what they could offer to you, as career options, so that was one of my reasons to explore that. But for this, I would have perhaps been in an oil company … I chose foreign service because I had a fascination and a dream to travel and see different parts of the world and learn about different cultures, so when I got through the exams, which are a fairly rigorous process, and opted for foreign service, I was very happy because I thought that I could go around, see people, meet people, learn about different cultures and languages and things like that.

Gate: Prior to coming to Chicago, you worked in various posts in the Middle East, as well as in Denmark. How would you compare your work here to those other countries?

Sayeed: In some ways the diplomatic work has similar guidelines. One of the guidelines would be that you work hard to bring the two countries together—or the two regions together—wherever you’re posted, in terms of [improving] the political understanding between the two sides, in terms of promoting greater trade investment and greater people-to-people interaction, educational collaboration, and cultural collaboration. In the Middle East, we had another dimension of the work added. It was the large Indian workforce working for various Middle Eastern companies. So we also had to make sure that they were well-treated and taken care of.

Now, working in the US is slightly different. I look after the nine states of the US Midwest. The geographical area might be more than the size of several countries. So that itself is quite challenging, in terms of travel, and different regions have their different strengths. But here the canvas is much wider, and opportunities are more. Even if you take educational collaborations [for example], you have some of the world’s best universities located here in the Midwest and in the US in general. So that dimension is different. There’s a greater learning curve here, but there are greater possibilities, so I think this is one of the most amazing and challenging postings.

Gate: You served as India’s ambassador to Yemen from 2010-2013. As the Arab Spring unfolded in that country, what were your priorities? Can you tell us a little more about what that was like?

Sayeed: When we were posted in Yemen, everything actually started in front of our eyes. [We watched] how the movement unfolded and how it developed into what it ultimately became. And what we realized was that it all started with the aspirations of the people who felt that they were not involved in decision-making, who were not involved in economic development. It was spearheaded by students, youngsters who had aspirations to do something better in life, and they felt that that regime, at that particular time, was not doing enough to tackle these issues—issues of poverty and integrating people.

So our priority at that time was, first of all, to ensure the safety and security of the internationals who were working there. And also to ensure that the country didn’t go down the line of complete chaos and civil war, because as far as India is concerned, any kind of a war in the Middle East region could have a cascading effect on our own economy. We are dependent on oil, so we didn’t want the oil supplies to be affected. Plus there’s the Gulf of Aden—around one hundred fifty billion dollars’ worth of trade was moving through that region. So if that region is in turmoil, not only oil, but regional trade is affected, [and] movement is affected. So I think many things were at stake.

With Yemen, we had a pretty long relationship with India. Aden was governed from Bombay during the British times, we had people to people flow. With Yemen being so close to India, if the region goes into turmoil, it’s bound to have some effect on our economy.

Gate: You’ve come here for a screening of the documentary India Awakes, which tells an uplifting story about how economic liberalization is empowering Indians to improve their lives. But it seems that the poorest Indians are still suffering from a lack of government services. Just a few days ago, the New York Times ran a story about a serious housing shortage in Delhi. Do you see a way that India can expand social welfare programs while removing burdensome regulations?

Sayeed: Yes. First of all, I want you to understand the perspective of India. It’s a complex country—a huge, complex country—where you have a population of 1.2 billion people, and people of all different religious stocks, and people from different socioeconomic backgrounds out there. But the fact is that, as a country, India has survived as one monolithic mass since it gained independence from the British.

But when you expect changes in countries so oversized in magnitude and complexity, you should also factor in time. Because it’s easier to counter a problem in a smaller geographical area with a more homogeneous composition than a heterogeneous society. But, having said that, even since independence, we have brought down the percentage of people below the poverty line from almost around 50% to now 20-22%. So … people are becoming more empowered, more economically empowered, and more empowered in terms of their rights.

In terms of outreach of the governmental programs, while the sincerity is there, the sheer spread is so much that it will take time for … the ideal scenario, where the percentage of poverty is really under control. But having said that, we should also be mindful that poverty is not endemic only to a particular region or a particular country. It’s a global problem. And even developed countries are facing this as one of their important and major challenges.

Gate: Last month, the Gate interviewed Ambassador Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States. On the topic of India, he said: “Pakistan could actually benefit from India’s economic growth by trading more with India, but that is not how most Pakistanis see India. They see their enemy as growing and becoming more powerful.” How do you think India’s diplomats can change that view among Pakistanis?

Sayeed: What you’re quoting is completely correct. I agree with you, because if you see this South Asia region as such, there is greater scope for economic integration and economic collaboration. Many regions which have collaborated economically have progressed. You can see the integration in Europe, for example. Of course, it’s had its own Eurozone problems, but at the same time, there was progress.

But unfortunately, in South Asia, there has been these issues mainly because of certain, I would say, apprehensions on the part of some countries, mainly Pakistan, that you mentioned. But then, from the Indian perspective, our government has always wanted peaceful relationships with all the neighbors. Prime Minister Modi has taken several initiatives to reach out to each of these countries—particularly Pakistan, which was unprecedented. Last month, he actually flew to Pakistan and met the Prime Minister of Pakistan in a private function.

And from the economic point of view, India has always taught that if there were a greater trade, it would benefit Pakistan more than it would benefit India. We weren’t the most-favored nation for Pakistan‘s [trade] around thirty years ago. Pakistan has only recently decided to leave that status to India. Their apprehension has been that Indian goods would flood the market, and local industry would break down. But in the end, what was also happening was that they were importing things from far-off regions at much higher cost to the public than getting the goods from right across the border in India, which is very easy. Likewise, Pakistani goods can also go to India. So I think it makes greater sense for economic integration in South Asia than remaining in economic isolation.

Gate: What has been the most memorable moment in your career with the foreign service?

Sayeed: There was a time when I was posted in Saudi Arabia, where every year the king grants amnesty to people who may not have regulated status. That means if they’ve come to the country to work one job, and they’ve shifted to some other job without the documentation being done, [at the time of the amnesty] they allow the people to go. So we had at one point forty thousand people accumulated on the streets of Jeddah, forty thousand Indian workers. And the idea of the whole thing was to feed them and then send them back to India within the span of one month. This all was done by mobilizing the support of the people, and they all came through, and it was a challenging task. Things like that become extremely challenging, but at the same time, it gives you a greater satisfaction that, as a Foreign Service officer, you are able to really bring about some change in the life of the people. (This article was first published at uchicagogate.com)

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Indian American couple donates $3.5 mn to Chicago University for the revival of Sanskrit language

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Chicago: A whopping sum of $3.5 mn received by the University of Chicago from an Indian-American couple helped establish a professorship for Sanskrit studies. The professorship will assist in advancing the study of the Indian subcontinent.

The act adds to immense contribution by Indian diaspora towards reviving and retaining our culture.

The Anupama and Guru Ramakrishnan Professorship in Sanskrit studies supports a faculty member whose work focuses on the ancient classical language, according to a university announcement.

Gary Tubb, professor in South Asian Languages and Civilisations and faculty director of the University of Chicago Centre in Delhi, will be the first scholar to hold the new position, it said.

“The University of Chicago is world renowned for its excellence in the scholarship of South Asia,” said Martha T Roth, the dean of the Division of the Humanities.

“Guru and Anupama Ramakrishnan’s generosity allows us to sustain that tradition and makes possible the continued rigorous study of the cultural heritage of South Asia through its literary, religious and philosophical texts.”

Sanskrit, the oldest literary language of South Asia, is the longest continuously taught South Asian language at Chicago University, having been offered since the first classes were held at the university in 1892.

Tubb first encountered Sanskrit as an undergraduate at Harvard University. He said he was attracted to the language because it provided “access to a long and rich history of human thought”.

“Sanskrit really stands out among the world’s languages – alongside other classical languages – as being a single language that provides access to an extraordinarily broad range of texts and histories.”

A leading Sanskrit scholar, Tubb examines the tradition’s poetics, grammatical forms and commentarial traditions, and draws insights from the culture’s philosophy, religion and literature. Tubb is the author of “Scholastic Sanskrit: A Handbook for Students”.

Tubb praised the Ramakrishnan family for its support of the Sanskrit scholarship. “It’s fortunate this professorship carries the name of people who have serious interest in and respect for the way Sanskrit is studied,” he said.

The Ramakrishnans’ gift is part of The University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact, which will raise $4.5 billion and engage 125,000 alumni by 2019. To date, the campaign has raised $2.82 billion and engaged more than 59,000 alumni.

Guru Ramakrishnan, MBA ’88, is a founding partner at Meru Capital Group; Anupama Ramakrishnan is on the advisory board of the Agastya Foundation, a Bengaluru-based NGO that funds and operates educational programmes in rural India.

The couple also supports a scholarship programme for Indian students at Chicago Booth, the Guru and Anupama Ramakrishnan Endowed Scholarship Fund.

“We are delighted to fund this chair in Sanskrit – one of the oldest languages that has given the world the Vedas, Upanishads and other exceptional works of spirituality, poetry, music and dance,” the Ramakrishnans said.

“The University of Chicago’s long-term commitment to scholarship in Sanskrit made it our institution of choice to partner with on this important initiative,” they said.

The University of Chicago is home to a rich array of resources for the study of the Indian subcontinent, including its Centre in Delhi. Currently, more than 60 faculty members are engaged in the study of South Asian history, culture and language.

The University offers instruction in nine modern and two classical Indian languages, including advanced instruction in less commonly taught languages such as Marathi and Telugu. (IANS)