Links for 24th May, 2019

  1. “A few months ago, as I was reading Constance Reid’s excellent biography of Hilbert, I figured out if not the answer to this question, at least something that made me feel better about it. She writes:
    Hilbert had no patience with mathematical lectures which filled the students with facts but did not teach them how to frame a problem and solve it. He often used to tell them that “a perfect formulation of a problem is already half its solution.”
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    A very short, but oh-so-readable essay from Paul Graham. Please read it for a variety of reasons, but mostly to understand that reading is a long term activity with a lot (a lot!) of positive payoffs in the long run.
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  2. “When the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) measures economic output, it categorizes spending with the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA). Some of this spending, which is counted as C, I, and G, is spent on imported goods.1 As such, the value of imports must be subtracted to ensure that only spending on domestic goods is measured in GDP. For example, $30,000 spent on an imported car is counted as a personal consumption expenditure (C), but then the $30,000 is subtracted as an import (M) to ensure that only the value of domestic production is counted (Table 3). As such, the imports variable (M) functions as an accounting variable rather than an expenditure variable. To be clear, the purchase of domestic goods and services increases GDP because it increases domestic production, but the purchase of imported goods and services has no direct impact on GDP.”
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    From within the link to the Noah Smith article yesterday, a good, short explainer of GDP, and why imports don’t “reduce” from GDP.
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  3. “In economics, there is no free lunch. While TV channels feel that they are saving money by not paying the experts, what they get in return is a total mess and not some meaningful, coherent programming, in which people can take away some learning at the end.”
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    Vivek Kaul explains why people on the news shout so much. Incentives – it’s all, always, about incentives!
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  4. “In a 2009 summary paper of their respective decision-making sub-fields, psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein spell out the conditions required for expertise to exist. They discover that in order for expert intuition to work, the practitioner needs to inhabit a domain where:The environment is regular. That is, the situation must be sufficiently predictable, with observable causal cues.
    There must be ample opportunities to learn causal cues from the environment.”
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    An interesting article about whether ideas from one domain should be used in another, and under what circumstances.
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  5. “Whether the East Asian Model will take hold in East Africa and beyond is not a given. But it also isn’t a stretch to see how the African “Lion economies” could accelerate their transformation by embracing the formula that successively produced the Asian Tigers and China.In his seminal Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen equated personal freedom with economic development. But to reach that objective requires traversing through the phase of “development as imitation” of successful models that came before.”
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    Can Africa achieve in this century what Asia did in the previous one, following the same playbook? This is going to be the most important question for this century, and this article helps you understand how to think about it. One useful way to start thinking about it, at any rate.
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Links for 11th March, 2019

  1. “Well, I hope the ongoing changes in policy towards the Chinese government, most of which I think are justified as a direct response to Chinese government actions, do not also lead to a general prejudice against ordinary Chinese people or all things Chinese.So far, we haven’t seen that, at least not much.For example, Trump, who’s been utterly shameless in provoking racial and ethnic tensions when it comes to African-Americans, Latinos, Mexicans, Africans — maybe I’m missing something, but I haven’t seen the same sort of thing on China yet.Trump seems to put China mostly into the trade/jobs economic section of his brain, rather than the “chaos/social upheaval/white nationalism” section of his brain. (And that’s one reason why, so far, lots of Democrats and independents have supported his policies, along with the Trumpists.)”
    That second paragraph worries me a little bit, although I am unsure of my analysis. Economics and culture (very roughly, that’s how I think about the two concepts mentioned above) aren’t independent. The more I read about economics, the more I think each feeds upon the other, and that too, continuously. Such compartmentalization seems too simplistic. The rest of the interview is also worth reading – and as somebody who appreciates great questions, I loved the very last one.
  2. “In March 1951, a frustrated Kodak threatened to sue the U.S. government for the “considerable amount of damage to our products resulting from the Nevada tests or from any further atomic energy tests…” Finally the company and the government came to an agreement. The AEC would provide Webb, by now the head of Kodak’s physics division, with schedules and maps of future tests so that Kodak could take the necessary precautions to protect its product. In return, the people of Kodak were to keep everything they knew about the government’s Nevada nuclear testing a secret.”
    The world is stranger than you can know, and imagine. It is also scarily stupid in ways one simply couldn’t have contemplated. A sobering read about how Kodak discovered scary stuff about America’s nuclear bomb experiments – and was essentially asked to keep quiet about it.
  3. “Perhaps because most of us are descendants of immigrants thrust into an artificial construct of a nation, or maybe because we live in a country that is constantly renewing and rebuilding, one of the few tangible things that connects us to the past and our cultural identity is food.”
    Ten dishes you might want to try in Singapore, with a little bit of history thrown in. I am sad to report that I haven’t tasted all of them yet.
  4. “Many local African churches have reached out to Chinese workers, including incorporating Mandarin into services. A number of Chinese, in turn, have welcomed the sense of community and belonging that these Christian churches offer. And a small but growing number of ethnically Chinese missionaries from Taiwan and other countries are specifically targeting Chinese nationals in Africa, preaching to them with a freedom they’d never be allowed in the People’s Republic.”
    If the rest of the world is worried about Africa being unduly influenced by neocolonial China… China, it turns out, is worried about being influenced by evangelical Christianity from Africa.
  5. “If you missed reports of the shenanigans at Canada’s McMaster University last week, then the following article by academic Kevin Carrico is well worth a read. Universities are letting a minority of Chinese students behave in ways that are utterly unacceptable. One speculates that they do this because many universities depend heavily on Chinese students for fee income, because they and their academics fear the Chinese Communist Party, and because university administrations tend to be pretty weak-kneed.”
    I had linked a while back to events in Canada, at a university. Joe Studwell, author of the fantastic How Asia Works, links to an article that provides perspective on this issue.

Links for 6th February, 2019

  1. “Drawing about 250 cubic kilometres (sic) per year – more than a fourth of the global total – India is the world’s largest user of groundwater. More than 60 percent of India’s irrigated agriculture and 85 percent of drinking water supplies are dependent on groundwater, according to World Bank estimates”
    The Madras Courier writes on India’s impending – some would dispute the use of that word – water crisis. We simply don’t take it seriously enough, and if you want a good application of the importance of property rights, the power of pricing, and the difficulty of formulating effective policy from the top down, this is a good read.
  2. “…as Lardy suggests, in the absence of an extraordinary course reversal in government policies, as the role of the state impinges on private dynamism, growth in China will likely slow substantially over the medium term. Even with a major policy shift that provides greater scope for (domestic and foreign) private activity, a substantial pickup in growth would surprise us more than a continued decline.”
    The excellent Money and Banking blog reports on the bearish case for China in the medium to long term, on the basis of a close examination of it’s macroeconomic performance and policies of the past thirty years or so. One thing to try and understand about China is whether there is a recession underway or not in China (almost certainly, in my opinion). The second thing to try and figure out is why. That’s what this is about.
  3. “Russia sold twice as much weaponry to African countries in 2017 as it did in 2012, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Between 2013 and 2017, Russia supplied 39 per cent of Africa’s imported arms — compared with 17 per cent from China and 11 per cent from the US. ”
    In retrospect, hardly surprising – although I must admit I didn’t know much about this. Also, reading this article gave me my word for the day: Francafrique. It’s a term worth Googling.
  4. “Anyone considering starting a marketplace business should be aware of the types of marketplaces and the potential network effects that they could benefit from. Those who are already in the thick of building a marketplace or market network should create products and features that enhance and accelerate those network effects that can propel their success forward.”
    Any microeconomics student in India today knows about competing for market share. How many, I wonder, know about competing to build the market itself? This rather long article focuses on building out your thinking about building a market – and the nuances involved in thinking along these lines.
  5. “If all the past US intelligence estimates could be declassified, I suspect readers would find a wealth of accurate predictions, particularly with regard to technical developments in the WMD programs, but far fewer when it came to prognosticating what the North Korean leadership would do. That’s the point of pursuing face-to-face diplomacy with Pyongyang, to get a clearer picture of what is possible and what isn’t as well as to learn more about what makes the North Koreans tick.”
    Or put another way, predicting production is easy. Predicting personalities – not so much. A good read to understand the problems of trying to figure out what North Korea is up to – and teasing out the predictability (or lack thereof) of the human aspect.