- “India holds the dubious distinction of having the worst non-performing loan ratio among the world’s major economies, having surpassed Italy. The Reserve Bank of India said in December that the ratio for banks fell for the first time since 2015, though it’s still “high for comfort.” A $190 billion pile of soured and stressed debt has cast the future of some lenders in doubt and curbed investments.”
There actually isn’t that much more to read at the link, but the chart is instructive. Also bear in mind that it is quite unlikely that the data is accurate – this is not a criticism of the IMF, but rather of the banking system itself in both Italy and India.
- ““Let there be no misconceptions about who protects [JeM]. Pakistan is small potatoes . . . True global power shielding Jaish is China. As death toll rises today, let nobody forget how China has consistently blocked action against Jaish,” tweeted Shiv Aroor, a television reporter specialising in military and strategic affairs.”
China’s blocking of India’s move to have Masood Azhar declared a terrorist has been an issue that hasn’t recieved as much attention, both within and outside India, as it should have. But the reason reading this article makes sense is because it’s a good way to think about how China’s bargaining position as regards this issue is slightly weaker now, given it’s trade wars with the USA.
- “All it takes is a half-hour at this intersection in Lagos, the sprawling metropolis in Nigeria, to begin fearing this city. White oil tankers crawl along both on and beneath an overpass on the multilane Apapa Road, making their way out of the Niger River delta. Zipping around them are black-and-yellow rickshaws and minibuses, with sweaty passengers clinging to the doors. Every few meters, a truck hits the brakes with an ear-splitting shriek, the clouds of exhaust mixing with the diesel fumes of the generators. The foul air hangs like a thick blanket over the corrugated metal slums to the right and left of the street. Just 30 minutes at this intersection is enough to make you want to flee this city — a megalopolis that is growing faster than almost any other place on earth.”
Who can predict the future? Short answer: don’t bother trying. One thing that makes economics so endlessly interesting is reading conflicting views – if you recall the article on The Empty Planet the other day, this one is in direct contradiction – at least in terms of the theme, if not the data itself. Der Spiegel reviews three different countries and the challenges they are facing, and will face, on account of population growth.
- “Nobody is expecting the prince to do anything about Pakistan and India being on the brink of a war yet again. Like all little princes he does not have to pick sides or make a choice. When he visits India this week, he is expected to sign more investment deals. The Pakistani government calls his visit historic, and Indian officials call it historic. But only people with no sense of history call every passing chariot a historic event. The prince is playing with Pakistan and India because he is being temporarily snubbed by the boys and girls of the West, the ones he really wanted to play with.”
Mohammed Hanif is dismissive of the storm in the teacup that is Prince Mohammed’s visit to India and Pakistan. Sometimes, having that perspective helps contextualize the visit, and it’s inevitability. Think from a game theoretic perspective: what choices did Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India (and China have)?
- “If these behaviors add up to consciousness, it means one of two things: Either consciousness evolved twice, at least, across the long course of evolutionary history, or it evolved sometime before birds and mammals went on their separate evolutionary journeys. Both scenarios would give us reason to believe that nature can knit molecules into waking minds more easily than previously guessed. This would mean that all across the planet, animals large and small are constantly generating vivid experiences that bear some relationship to our own.”
The Atlantic explores a veterinary hospital in Delhi, Jainism, birds (crows in particular), fish, consciousness and a temple in Gujarat – all in one glorious article. Worth it in particular for the theme of consciousness – but much else besides as well!
Month: February 2019
Links for 27th February, 2019
- “The time for masking such equity-type investments as loans has passed. Real estate in India is facing a glut, with $110 billion worth of unsold homes across the top eight markets, including Mumbai. That’s almost four years of sales, according to property analytics firm Liases Foras. Back in 2009, when apartment inventory was equal to about one year of sales, only 25 percent of construction funding came from shadow financiers. Banks controlled 75 percent.The tables have now turned: Housing-finance firms and other nonbank lenders, more adventurous than conventional banks, account for 55 percent of advances to builders. Lenders pocketing 2 percent to 3 percent of the loan value as upfront fees in exchange for not collecting on the principal for years has allowed a buildup of poor-quality debt. Moratoriums have delayed builder bankruptcies, and prevented timely detection of the problem.”
This is a problem just waiting to become a full blown crisis in India – not the real estate sector per se, but the financing of the real estate sector in India. Read this article to find out how and why it has become as big a problem as it has.
- “Like all great work, it was the foundation for other huge contributions – work by other great economists such as Oliver Hart, Bengt Holmstrom, Paul Milgrom and many others can easily be traced to this paper. The paper’s starting point – that coordination within firms is not accomplished ‘by fiat’ (Demsetz famously remarks “This is delusion”), and that one should instead examine how incentive structures within firms create efficiencies relative to other forms of organisation – became the starting point for nearly the entire field of the economics of organisation ever since.”
I have linked to this piece earlier, I think in January. But since I am currently teaching a course in Industrial Organization at Gokhale Institute, I found myself reading this piece all over again. Demsetz really was a giant in this field – and his analysis of why firms exist, and how they coordinate and incentivize activity within the firm is truly illuminating.
- “So, the UN forecasting model inputs three things: fertility rates, migration rates, and death rates. It doesn’t take into account the expansion of education for females or the speed of urbanization (which are in some ways linked). The UN says they’re already baked into the numbers. But when I went and interviewed [the demographer] Wolfgang Lutz in Vienna, which was one of the first things we did, he walked me through his projections, and I walked out of the room gobsmacked. All he was doing was adding one new variable to the forecast: the level of improvement in female education. And he comes up with a much lower number for global population in 2100, somewhere between 8 billion and 9 billion.”
Population “crises” are over-rated in any case (people are a resource!) – but even the forecasts for how many people there will be on the planet in the next thirty to eighty years are likely to be wrong. The world is changing right in front of our eyes. The problem of the (near) future isn’t one of too many people – it’s one of too few.
- “Instead, the signatories objected to the election of a student union president of Tibetan descent, who “was found to hold the political belief that Tibet should be free”.”
Based on what you have read above, which country are we talking about? Not only might the answer surprise you, but it will also help you think about geopolitics, international finance and the benefits of diversification.
- “Most developed countries of today addressed many of their basic plumbing challenges largely through public production. China is clearly an example of the latter. It appears to have perfected the use of industrial policy to co-ordinate private enterprise even into some of the most difficult areas for private engagement. This is the case of industrial policy to both address a critical plumbing issue as well as catalysing a market. And this is what makes its achievement exceptional.”
Law, innovation, state led industrial policy and judicial pendency, all in one lovely article by Gulzar Natarajan. Gokhale Institute recently released a report on judicial pendency in India – China has an interesting way of tackling this problem.
Links for 26th February, 2019
- “He wished to insure “all persons against absolute want,” but this minimum subsistence income had to be made “less desirable than the condition of those who find support for themselves.””
Before you click on the link, would you care to take a guess about who is batting for UBI? As the article points out, the idea itself isn’t new. Nobody has come up with a clearheaded way of implementing it, though. Also, have you heard of the flypaper effect?
- “Any restructuring of Venezuela’s debt will therefore need to be intolerant of holdout creditors of any type because even a marginal holdout community could pose a lethal threat to the prospects for the recovery of the economy.”
Paging Ronald Coase. Read this article to find out how to think about debt, and debt resolution in international finance – and about how different points of views are inevitably going to emerge. How to reconcile these views? Paging Ronald Coase!
- “There is no $3 billion that NYC gets to keep if Amazon does not show up. That “money” was a pledged reduction in Amazon’s future tax burden at the state and local level.”
In which Tyler Cowen explains to us why Amazon not setting up in New York is bad news – not good. You don’t usually think of the word lugubrious when you think of Professor Cowen, which is worrying.
- “The meekness of the pangolin allowed it to survive for tens of millions of years. They are ancient. But humans, the only creatures that can threaten them, have not been kind to them in return. Of the eight species of pangolin, four are listed as vulnerable, two as endangered, and two as critically endangered. They are the most trafficked animals in the world”
I know very little – next to nothing, in fact, about the pangolin. But reading this article helped me both learn about the pangolin, and about how without some degree of protection, pangolins might well not survive. Also contains interesting snippets about how humanity has, over the ages, tried to make sense of its surroundings. This link is via The Browser – if you like reading, and have some cash to spare, I’d recommend subscribing.
- “India is interested in creating a reliable transport corridor that would link it with Central Asia, Russia and Northern Europe; however, the corridor would have to pass through Pakistani territory – and strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad stand in its way. Similarly, territorial disputes between New Delhi and Beijing have put paid to the hope of a commercial corridor being developed through Chinese territory.”
How might India develop better relations with the Central Asian nations. Most of us would struggle to even place all the Central Asian nations on a map – but this article helps us begin to understand why the relationship is important, and the challenges associated with developing it.
Links for 25th February, 2019
- “So it makes sense that, when Bibi and Poldi were on the outs, the Happs and their colleagues tried to patch things up. After all, this was a couple that—whether they knew it or not—had made it through the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the millennium. Surely one little spat wouldn’t do them in.”
Love, as it turns out, doesn’t last forever – only about eight decades or so. Interesting for a variety of reasons besides the obvious one – the efforts that were taken at reconciliation on part of the staff I found equally instructive!
- “Coal use in China is very high and increasing. India has been canceling coal plants as solar becomes cheaper but coal is still by far the largest source of power in India. Thus, there is plenty of opportunity to buy out, high-cost coal mines in China and India.”
Alex Tabarrok on why buying coal might well be a great way to, well, not use coal – or at least, help others not use it. And where else might this idea be usefully applied, hmmm? And does buying always mean by paying money?
- “The master key is part of a new global effort to make the whole domain name system secure and the internet safer: every time the keyholders meet, they are verifying that each entry in these online “phone books” is authentic. This prevents a proliferation of fake web addresses which could lead people to malicious sites, used to hack computers or steal credit card details.”
The internet, which we not just take for granted but are positively addicted to, has a rather weird security system underpinning it – and having read the article twice, I can’t quite say I understand it. Which is worrying, really. This is via @insoupciant on Twitter.
- “In the meantime, slow productivity growth may be the last thing that’s holding back wage growth. Even as they try to make up for past rises in inequality, policy makers shouldn’t forget the importance of technology and economic efficiency. But regardless of what policy does, workers may finally be getting more of the raises they’ve been missing out on for more than a generation.”
Noah Smith on wage stagnation in the USA – what changed, when it changed and why (the reasons are many). Worth reading for a good introduction to wage rates in the USA.
- “Los Angeles architect Tim Smith was sitting on a Hawaiian beach, reading through the latest building code, as one does, when he noticed that it classified wood treated with fire retardant as noncombustible. That made wood eligible, he realized, for a building category—originally known as “ordinary masonry construction” but long since amended to require only that outer walls be made entirely of noncombustible material—that allowed for five stories with sprinklers.His company, Togawa Smith Martin Inc., was working at the time with the City of Los Angeles on a 100-unit affordable-housing high-rise in Little Tokyo that they “could never get to pencil out.” By putting five wood stories over a one-story concrete podium and covering more of the one-acre lot than a high-rise could fill, Smith figured out how to get the 100 apartments at 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost. The building, Casa Heiwa, opened its doors in 1996, and the five-over-one had been invented.”
A fascinating article in Bloomberg on how most modern construction in urban America is on the back of a loophole in the rules regarding construction in USA. An unintended consequence, if you will. The pitfalls of policy-making, rules, incentives and unbridled urbanization, all in piece. Well worth your time!
Video for 24th February, 2019
Tweets for 23rd February, 2019
Last night, I was in an Indian television studio, where the anchor was asking why India doesn't do more to punish Pakistan economically. When will things change? The short answer – and something many Indians don't realise – is that it has.
— Dhruva Jaishankar (@d_jaishankar) February 16, 2019
Came back after ages to really just share something that's bothering me greatly as a Pakistani and a son.
In June last year my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Docs gave him 3 wks tops. It's Feb & he pulled thru so far but now it's almost time. A bit about dad:
— Tony Khan (@anthonypermal) February 16, 2019
I tried to write out an explanation of how the heating due to greenhouse gases works, and realized there's a big hole in my understanding. Can someone who understand the detailed physics help or point me to a really clear and thorough explanation?
— michael_nielsen (@michael_nielsen) February 17, 2019
Links for 22nd February, 2019
- “We seem somehow bored with thinking. We want to instantly know. There’s this epidemic of listicles. Why think about what constitutes a great work of art when you can skim “The 20 Most Expensive Paintings in History?”I’m very guided by this desire to counter that in myself because I am, like everybody else, a product of my time and my culture. I remember, there’s a really beautiful commencement address that Adrienne Rich gave in 1977 in which she said that an education is not something that you get but something that you claim.
I think that’s very much true of knowledge itself. The reason we’re so increasingly intolerant of long articles and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a 300-page book into a three-minute animation — even in that we skip forward — is that we’ve been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it.”
Have you heard of Maria Popova? This interview helps you understand who she is, and her importance in combating what I linked to a couple of days ago – David Perell’s article about the Never Ending Now.
- “Thanks to government backing, the state-owned company building the bridge is unlikely to default or go bankrupt. But bridges like Chishi leave local governments and developers struggling with debt, and those who live below nonplused.“If you don’t build roads, there can’t be prosperity,” said Huang Sanliang, a 56-year-old farmer who lives under the bridge. “But this is an expressway, not a second- or third-grade road. One of those might be better for us here.””
The New York Times on bridges in China – and how there might be one too many of them. Economists have worried for many years now about how China’s economy will slowdown in the years to come, and also about how China’s economy has masked it’s imminent slowdown by building bridges, roads and entire cities when the immediate need is not apparent.
- “Turns out the reason was likely the same as the one behind every one of my life choices: it involved the least effort. As Frankie Huang, a writer and strategist based in Shanghai, told me over email, numbers are far easier to type for purposes like websites’ names, as compared to pinyin, the Romanised system for Chinese characters.”
…speaking of China, Mithila Phadka explains why the Chinese prefer using numbers evreywhere possible – even preferring to use numbers rather than text for URL’s. 12306.cn is preferred to ChinaRail.com, for example.
- “In Study the Great Nation, you can catch up on the latest state media reports on Mr. Xi’s decisions, savor a quote of the day from Mr. Xi or brush up on “Xi Jinping Thought.” You can quiz yourself on Mr. Xi’s policies and pronouncements, or take in a television show called “Xi Time,” which is … well, you get the picture.Doing each of these activities can reward users with “study points,” which can be redeemed for gifts in future versions of the app.”
I worry that China won’t be the only country doing this for very long – far too many leaders in far too many countries are likely to be tempted to be, um, inspired.
- “This conclusion, if it withstands open-minded analysis in India, does not mean that India lacks ways to punish Pakistan and motivate it to demobilize groups that threaten to perpetrate terrorism in India. Rather, it suggests that more symmetrical and covert operations would yield a better ratio of risk to effectiveness for India. There are many ways to make Pakistani military leaders conclude that the cohesion, security, and progress of their own country will be further jeopardized if they fail to act vigorously to prevent terrorism against India. Limited, precision air strikes are not India’s best option now or for the foreseeable future.”
This is from 2015 – but as of that point, this rather well researched article points out that India may not be able to carry out precision air strikes against Pakistan – because of the threat of escalation, because of the technology available with Pakistan today, and because other ground based options may be more operationally feasible.
Links for 21st February, 2019
- “Premise 1: The only coherent way of characterizing monetary policy as being either too “easy” or “tight” is relative to the policy stance expected to achieve the central bank’s goals.Premise 2: “Monetary policy can be highly effective in reviving a weak economy even if short-term interest rates are already near zero.”
Premise 3: After mid-2008, and especially in early October, the expected growth in the price level and nominal GDP fell increasingly far below the Fed’s implicit target.”
Scott Sumner reviews a decade’s worth of blogging about one topic, and one topic only – his understanding of monetary theory. The three premises, and the conclusions, policies and problems that arise from there is what the next ten ears have been about. There are two reasons why reading this post is worthwhile. Number one, it helps you understand (I think) monetary policy better. This is true irrespective of whether or not you agree with him. Second, and perhaps more importantly, if you had to write down three ideas about which you could continue to write for the next decade – what would those ideas be? I’m still struggling to find an answer myself!
- “There’s a different thrill here for me which is actually the thrill of refutation of confirmation. With theory it’s almost like it emerges out of nothing. And really it’s only in our heads, it’s not something that we have seen before. It is a pure outcome of imagination and there’s a thrilling magnetism to that because that imagination might be right. For me that is the most amazing thing, being guided only by mathematics.”‘The correct analogy is that there’s this singular somewhere in the ocean and you don’t know where — there is only one giant white whale and you need to go kill it because it bit your leg off.””
Longreads.com, if you are not aware of it already, is just a fantastic website, full of hidden and not-so-hidden treasures. This particular piece was commissioned by Long Reads itself, and is worth reading because of the search for the so called ninth planet, but also because it explains why you should read (and re-read) Moby Dick – because reading Moby Dick helps you understand the link between monetary policy and the hunt for a planet that should exist.
- “Solving problems of will requires giving the poorest citizens information and the political heft to hold their leaders accountable. That is best accomplished by strengthening democratic institutions. Poverty is political: Solving problems of will, like problems of capacity, requires rolling up our sleeves and working with the governments in the countries where the poor live to redistribute not only income, but also power.”
There is much to ponder upon, and at least in my case, disagree with in this article. Read especially the part about India’s space program. But that being said, the article itself is worth reading because it highlights the problems of thinking about poverty – and doing the thinking across space and time. And that solving poverty requires institutional growth is a well understood concept in development economics – but not necessarily outside it.
- “It is true that most people are disengaged from serious news, and vote with their guts rather than their heads, or being guided by friends rather than a close reading of policy analysis. That does not make them fools.There is much to concern me in the current political information environment. I worry (partly selfishly) that it is harder than ever to sustain a business that provides serious journalism. I worry that politicians around the world are doing their best to politicise what should be apolitical, to smear independent analysis and demean expertise.I worry that there is far too little transparency over political advertising in the digital age: we don’t know who is paying for what message to be shown to whom.The free press — and healthy democratic discourse — faces some existential problems. Fake news ain’t one.”
The always excellent Tim Harford on why we overrate Fake News, and should maybe not spend so much time worrying about it – and that the world is saner than it might appear…
- “Soon, I will experiment with “atemporality.” For days or weeks at a time, I will escape the present moment and only consume content published in a different decade. For example, if I want to learn about the 1970s, all my media consumption will consist of books, videos, and interviews published in the 1970s. By doing so, I’ll embody the mindset of people in a bygone era and gain new perspectives on the here and now.Everything has been said before. The big concepts aren’t new. You’ll find them in old works. Nassim Taleb calls this the Lindy Effect: “The longer something has been in print, the longer it will remain in print and the higher value it is.”
With just a couple taps, we can transform our relationship with time, ignite our sense of history and escape the Never-Ending Now.”
… David Perell has some interesting ideas about how we might solve the problem Tim Harford speaks about above. One way of escaping Fake News, is to escape news itself. Maybe not for ever, and maybe not everyday – but escaping into the past by using the tools now available to us is a good idea.
Links for 20th February, 2019
- “There is no amount of growth that can’t be destroyed by an investor’s temptation to grab too much of it. And there is no opportunity so appealing that it will catch the eye of someone who refuses to look.But greed and fear aren’t always character flaws. People with the best intentions and ethics fall for their temptation. The two traits evolve from something innocent: the amount of confidence we have that our actions influence our outcomes.”
I am currently teaching, at the Gokhale Institute, a course on Behavioral Finance. This blog post will be a part of the required reading when I teach the section on overconfidence (and it’s mirror image)
- “A Facebook press officer said, in a prepared statement: “This is one study of many on this topic, and it should be considered that way.” The statement quoted from the study itself, which noted that “Facebook produces large benefits for its users,” and that “any discussion of social media’s downsides should not obscure the fact that it fulfills deep and widespread needs.”
What happens if you go cold turkey on Facebook? I haven’t read the paper itself, but this article from the NYT is a useful read – but not for the usual Facebook bashing reasons. There are benefits to using Facebook, for all of us. I myself no longer have the Facebook app on my phone, but freely admit to checking Facebook every now and then on the browser on my phone.
- “Mere hours into the first day of the Google block, my devices have tried to reach Google’s servers more often than the 15,000 times they tried to ping Facebook’s the entire week before. By the end of the week, my devices have tried to communicate with Google’s servers over 100,000 times, comparable to Amazon, at 293,000 times during its block. Most of Google’s pings seem to be in the form of trackers, ads, and resources built into websites. ”
Speaking of which, what might life look like if you decided to go cold turkey on Google? Much worse, it turns out – your productivity takes a direct hit, as the article above makes clear.
- “We’ve made the case for the divergence among equipment manufacturers before: Ultimately robots and excavators aren’t dependent on the same business cycles. This is now playing out.”
Partially because my own research during the PhD was on this topic, but also because it is a useful way to start thinking about which sectors in the economy tend to move together, and which don’t. More – does this relationship hold over time?
- “But the rental market is largely fragmented and unorganized. The build-to-rent model that has worked well globally in many countries hasn’t even scratched the surface here. It is a space ripe for disruption.And in the past 3-4 years, a slew of startups have begun to do just that, particularly targeting young adults and millennials (those in their 20s and early 30s) who need a place to stay when they move out of their parents’ nest or are moving to a new city.”
This had to happen sooner or later in India – it was simply a function of the way the real estate market is, and has been in India for some time. Watch this space – I’d argue that future growth in India’s real estate sector will happen in this fashion.
Links for 19th February, 2019
- “…granted, most supply has moved to Facebook and other social networks; it is no longer possible to build a viable web business with display ads. At the same time, the web is still as open as can be, which means there is room for new business models like subscriptions, a model that has only gotten started and is already producing far better content than the old mass market media model every (sic) did”
The always excellent Stratechery blog on Spotify moving into the podcasting business. Read this to understand how pricing works in the world of the internet, and how an ad-based business is going to be difficult to sustain.
- “Goodhart’s law states that once a social or economic measure is turned into a target for policy, it will lose any information content that had qualified it to play such a role in the first place.”
A current favorite of mine as an example: students must attend at least 75% of all classes in a semester assumes that a student will auto-magically learn once in class – for that is the reason behind the 75% attendance requirement. Do read, though. I’m sure you can think of a million different applications.
- “The constitution ensured that the Senate could protect the people against themselves, and simultaneously ensured that the Framers armored the Senate against the people. Should America be too Democratic, and grant too much power to the House, Madison worried that government would have a propensity “to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factitious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.””
As an Indian, I enjoyed reading this as a reminder of the thinking behind the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. And which is why I’d recommend you read it too!
- “What these results suggest is the headline inflation – expected to be in the 3% handle in the near future – will eventually start converging, over a 12-month period, towards core inflation which is currently running above 5%. If this were to come to pass, space for any monetary policy easing cycle – notwithstanding a one-off cute in February or April this year – would virtually evaporate.”
Expect there to be an intense discussion about the differences between headline (overall) and core (overall minus fuel and food) inflation. This article is a decent analysis of the link between the two in the past, and today.
- “Consider Ms. Nishimasa’s daily routine. The preschool her two youngest children attend requires the family to keep daily journals recording their temperatures and what they eat twice a day, along with descriptions of their moods, sleeping hours and playtime. On top of that, her 8-year-old son’s elementary school and after-school tutoring class require that a parent personally signs off on every homework assignment.”
A fascinating read from the NYT, to help us better understand the culture that is Japan.