India: Links for 8th July, 2019

  1. “The stark fact is that, by and large, there are few incentives for people to save water. There are few incentives for urban water utilities — who might lose 40 per cent of the water along the way— to become more efficient. There are few incentives for public investment in water supply. Needless to say, other than at the premium segment and in the unregulated tanker racket, no private investor will get anywhere close to the water supply business. That incentive is called price.”
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    Nitin Pai on one of the most important factors behind solving the water crisis: incentives.
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  2. “I would not be surprised if estate tax is reintroduced. The richest 10% of Indians own 77.4% of the country’s wealth. The bottom 60%, which is the majority of the population, owns 4.7%. The richest 1% own 51.5%. There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor, and estate tax can bring equality in distribution of income and wealth. This could be a significant step in that direction. Aside from the economic agenda, the reintroduction can be also politically guided.”
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    This post is being compiled on Friday, the 5th of July, 2019. The budget will say what it has to, and the estate tax may or may not come about. But this paragraph in particular, has much to unpack within it, as a student of economics. Best get a cup of coffee, sit with friends, and debate this piece threadbare.
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  3. ““I have no Homeland,” BR Ambedkar said to Mahatma Gandhi at their first meeting in 1931, “No self-respecting Untouchable worth the name will be proud of this land. The injustice and sufferings inflicted upon us are so enormous that if knowingly or unknowingly we fall prey to disloyalty to this country, the responsibility for that act would be solely hers.”Images of Ambedkar and Gandhi feature in Anubhav Sinha’s powerful film Article 15 – as in a scene where portraits of the two icons flank the desk of IPS officer Ayan (Ayushmann Khurrana), who is investigating caste murders in a small town.”
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    I have not yet seen this movie yet (although I certainly hope to. But that being said, I enjoyed reading this review, as do I enjoy reading practically anything written by Jai Arjun Singh. Scroll through to the bottom of the post for links to other reviews he’s done about movies related to caste in India.
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  4. “The irony, of course, is that not only that historian from a hundred years ago, but many even today, remain reluctant to embrace this aspect of our heritage and tradition. The colonizing of Indian minds in the colonial era by Victorian sensibilities was severe, added to which is generations of patriarchy—it will take time and patience before change comes to how history is imagined. Clubbing a courtesan with a mahatma may not immediately be understood or approved of by some. But that is precisely where the courtesan belongs, for, in the larger scheme of things and the big picture of our civilization, her role is no less significant than that galaxy of saints and monks we have all been taught to venerate.”
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    One, read this piece. Two, listen to this podcast. Three, buy this book. Each action will yield handsome returns.
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  5. “In 1962, India’s per capita GDP (in 2010 constant dollars) was almost twice that of China. India’s renewable internal freshwater resources per capita (henceforth per capita water), measured in cubic metres, was 75% of what it was for China in 1962. By 2014, the latest period for which water statistics are available, India’s per capita water had become 54% of what it was for China, even as China’s 2014 per capita GDP became 3.7 times that of India.”
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    We started with water in India, and let’s finish with water in India. An editorial from the Hindustan Times about water and how it has been (mis)managed in our country.

India: Links for 1st July, 2019

The usual five articles today, and as usual, about India. But there is a common theme that runs through them: that not just of agriculture, but also a tribute of sorts to a man about whom many more people should know.

 

  1. “It was time for a satyagraha — and not just in Gujarat. The late Sharad Joshi, leader of the Shetkari Sanghatana in Maharashtra, took around 10,000 farmers to Gujarat to stand with their fellows there. They sat in the fields of Bt cotton and basically said, ‘Over our dead bodies.’ Joshi’s point was simple: all other citizens of India have acesss to the latest technology from all over. They are all empowered with choice. Why should Indian farmers be held back?”
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    Today’s series is inspired by Amit Varma’s article yesterday in the Times of India, in which he speaks about farmers in India not getting access to technology, but also speaks about Sharad Joshi…
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  2. “Joshi’s insights in the late 1970 was that this was caused not by the greed of middlemen but the interference of the Indian state. The state had set forth rules that the farmer could not sell his produce in an open market, responding to supply and demand, but only to a government appointed body called the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC). Because the farmers are not allowed to sell to anyone else, they are forced to take the price offered to them. And because all produce comes through the APMC, buyers also have no bargaining power.”
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    …about whom he has written earlier as well.
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  3. “Sharad Anantrao Joshi (3 September 1935 – 12 December 2015) was an Indian politician who founded the Swatantra Bharat Paksh party and Shetkari Sanghatana (farmers’ Organisation), He was also a Member of the Parliament of India representing Maharashtra in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament during the period 5 July 2004 till 4 July 2010. On 9 January 2010 he was the sole MP in Rajya Sabha to vote against the bill providing 33% reservation for women in Indian parliament and assemblies.Sharad Anantrao Joshi was a member of Advisory Board of the World Agricultural Forum (WAF), the foremost global agricultural platform that initiates dialogue between those who can impact agriculture. He is also founder of Shetkari Sanghatana, an organisation for farmers. Shetakari Sanghatana is a non-political union of Farmers formed with the aim to “Freedom of access to markets and to Technology”
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    Who exactly was Sharad Joshi: the Wikipedia version
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  4. “In his massive rallies, Joshi would often speak of farmers as entrepreneurs who were shackled by statism. He campaigned for higher prices because he believed these were being kept artificially low by the government, but he insisted that what was really needed was to liberate Indian farmers from a web of state controls.He believed the solution was free markets. Joshi was perhaps a soulmate of another liberal leader of the farming community, N.G. Ranga, one of the founders of the Swatantra Party in 1959. It is perhaps not a coincidence that both Ranga and Joshi were economists by training.”
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    And to finish off today’s list, two articles that were written in his honor after he passed away four years ago. One from Livemint
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  5. “However, unlike many other farmer leaders who often ask for more subsidies and higher Minimum Support Prices (MSP) from the government, Sharad Joshi’s main instrument to better farm incomes was to seek economic freedom for farmers – freedom to obtain best farm technologies from anywhere in the world and the freedom to sell their produce anwhere across time and space and time. This he gathered from his early experience in farming.”
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    … and the other from TOI, written by Ashok Gulati.

Links for 30th May, 2019

  1. “While England are the clear favourites, the rest of the field is pretty even. Any team can beat any other on its day. India have their best-ever bowling attack in a World Cup, and Virat Kohli is the greatest batsman ever in this form of the game – but I am worried about their chances of winning it. The reason for that is strategic understanding. Kohli’s captaincy can be dubious at times in the shorter forms of the game, and he would consistently underestimate par scores while playing for his franchise in the IPL. The team has the talent to win – but does it have the approach?”
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    Amit Varma on how T20 changed the approach to ODI cricket, among other things. As always, worth reading.
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  2. “The result is the same – looking at all-time data, games where the team batting first scored between 200 and 250 are the most interesting. While games in this range remain interesting even after the 2015 World Cup, we find that games in the 250-300 range are on average more interesting, with interestingness sharply dropping off after 300.”
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    Karthik S. disagrees with Amit Varma’s article above – which is kind of the point of being a cricket fan. And that point, of course, spills over into other domains as well!
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  3. “The Louvre pyramid also highlights Pei’s tendency to recycle his own ideas. This practice is no disgrace if an abandoned original of merit is ultimately realized or improved with further development. Frank Lloyd Wright often dusted off plans for buildings that were sidelined for one reason or another and sometimes recycled them successfully. Pei’s first attempt to realize a monumental sloping glass structure was his initial 1966 proposal for the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, for a site next to the Harvard campus in Cambridge.”
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    I know next to nothing about architecture (if that!), but I enjoyed reading this article about IM Pei. Tangentially, this also reminded me of A. R. Rehman and his decision to reuse some tracks for Slumdog Millionaire. The parallels are hard to miss – and therein lies a useful lesson.
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  4. “Given that robots can move through space in uniquely nonhuman ways, they wouldn’t necessarily be subject to boundaries between private and public spaces that constrain delivery people, allowing them to move goods in and out of homes in a constant flow. Amazon already has its “smart” lock system allow human carriers to enter a home briefly to drop off packages, and Wal-Mart is testing a similar system that lets its workers deliver groceries to a home’s refrigerator. But fully automated robots could travel deeper into homes without compromising privacy. You wouldn’t need to get dressed to greet a robot, if you noticed its arrival at all. It might unobtrusively enter and leave through an opening the size of a pet door.”
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    What all can robots do? The paragraph above, in particular, was striking to me. Here’s why: I thought of the problem in this way – what can robots change in the way homes are run? The excerpt forced me to think the other way around: how do homes need to change to best utilize robots? Again, a useful lesson! Both links above (3 and 4) are thanks to The Browser. I subscribe to it, and so far, I am not regretting it at all.
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  5. “China took the first shots, and they took them a long time ago. For over a decade U.S. services companies have been unilaterally shut out of the China market, even as Chinese alternatives had full reign, running on servers built with U.S. components (and likely using U.S. intellectual property).
    To be sure, China’s motivation was not necessarily protectionism, at least in the economic sense: what mattered most to the country’s ruling Communist Party was control of the flow of information. At the same time, from a narrow economic perspective, the truth is that China has been limiting the economic upside of U.S. companies far longer than the U.S. has tried to limit China’s.”
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    The USA hasn’t started the trade war with China under President Trump, it has responded to China’s “shots across the bows”. Please read the entire article, it is an important one.

Links for 9th May, 2019

  1. “Matters came to a head in the summer of 1745. Nanasaheb Peshwa was in Satara and his grandmother, Radhabai, lived in Pune. Seeing the water crisis, she ordered that no water be drawn from the river for the gardens. However, her order was challenged and a letter of complaint was written to the Peshwa in Satara.”
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    A very nice article in the Pune Mirror about the cities water supply, and how it originated and was developed over time. Also, if you haven’t heard it already, you might want to listen to this short introduction to Visvesvarya.
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  2. “This isn’t to say we don’t learn from these exercises. We do. In both India and Tanzania, we learn that citizens value public services. In Tanzania, the researchers then led deliberative discussions about cash transfers, and some respondents highlighted that “social services encourage a collective voice that helps increase accountability, while cash transfers would focus people on private interests and leave room for corruption.”Listen to the voices of citizens. But before throwing the cash transfer baby out with the bathwater, let’s make sure those citizens have clear information about their trade-offs.”
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    Beware well-intentioned surveys – read this article to find out why. Questions in surveys – and the framing of these questions – should give you a headache. If they don’t, you haven’t thought enough about ’em!
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  3. “Someone reading a book is a sign of order in the world,” wrote the poet Mary Ruefle. Four centuries earlier, while ushering in a new world order, Galileo contemplated how books give us superhuman powers — a sentiment his twentieth-century counterpart, Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934–December 20, 1996), echoed in his shimmering assertion that “a book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
    Do you subscribe to BrainPickings? You really should – and clicking through to this link is a good enough reason to start. Amit Varma had a column in the Times of India about much the same thing the other day, which is also worth reading for a rather more, um, practical example of the benefits of reading.
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  4. The lungi is more than just a South Indian sartorial choice. But what are the origins of this popular garment? It is difficult to state this with certainty. The lungi’s well regarded cousin, the dhoti, seems to have, on the whole, cornered much of the attention, in terms of research into its history on account of its elevated social standing.”
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    The Madras Courier on the lungi – its origins, how to wear it, and its apparent near universality.
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  5. “The new regulations have been harder on some of the smaller developers who lack the wherewithal to navigate the labyrinth that is getting construction permits on time causing many to exit the market. The Authority has no jurisdiction to hold different government departments to account for withholding or delaying approvals without a valid cause. Without accompanying reforms that ease the complex permissions process and bring about transparency and predictability in rule implementation, the objective of easing housing supply bottlenecks to lower house prices and benefit homebuyers is going to meet with limited success. ”
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    A short take on what ails the real estate sector in India. And the answer that this paper gives is that there may be too much regulation of the sector, not too little. A classic example of unintended consequences. This paper, from that article, is also worth reading.

Links for 15th April, 2019

  1. “But Bengaluru’s enthusiasm for pubbing as a well-established cultural and social activity pushes things along. Everyone meets over a beer—it is the new coffee. Work meetings are held over beer. Older millennials organize and participate in beer tastings and beer-and-food pairings. Co-working spaces like WeWork offer beer on tap. And most craft-beer lovers drink it not to get drunk, but for the taste and a mild high, as well as the social aspect of hanging out over a beer.”
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    I’ll be visiting Bangalore later on this week, and this couldn’t have come at a better time in Livemint! A long read, but informative in many ways about Bangalore and it’s modern drinking culture.
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  2. “Most people think that now is a terrible time to visit Iran. The renewed US sanctions on the country mean that popular travel websites like Expedia, Airbnb and Booking.com don’t work in Iran. International debit and credit cards can’t be used to make payments or withdraw money from ATMs. Most travel insurance policies don’t cover Iran. And social networks like Twitter and Facebook are technically banned.”
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    The rest of the article explains why, in fact, this is a pretty good time to visit Iran. Stunning photographs – Iran really does seem like it is worth a visit.
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  3. “Gradually, as the demand for Manbeasts increases, more Manbeasts will come forth. That’s supply and demand in action, and it’s a good thing. Manbeasts aren’t blind sloggers. They bring insane skill to the game, and it is glorious to watch. On top of everything else, Andre Russell is a bloody good batsman.”
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    Amit Varma explains T20 cricket using economics, at which he is rather good. Here’s the scary bit: Dre Russell is the start of the crazy hitting phenomenon, per Amit Varma. Read to find out why.
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  4. “Food delivery in India is creating an entirely new market; 70% of our regular users in Kolhapur had never tried food delivery in their life (even over a phone call), and Zomato was the first food delivery experience of their lives. All the marketing investment we made in FY19 will bear fruit in FY20 and beyond — when we realise the LTV (Lifetime Value) of the users that we have acquired.”
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    Zomato is a firm worth following for a variety of reasons: interesting business models, upfront communications, and Akshar Pathak does a great job too. But read the annual report for some fairly impressive statistics and trends about food in India.
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  5. “Great to hear! Check out this page: “Advice for Aspiring Astrophysicists” (and, if you’d like a shorter thread, this Storify). Basically you should learn a lot of math and physics and programming and communication skills, and, if at all possible, try to get involved in some kind of research. See the page for more tips. Good luck!”
    I, along with the rest of the planet, have been reading about astronomy for obvious reasons. This link was informal and informative – which is a very rare combination.

Links for 28th March, 2019

  1. “While nightlife and entertainment are certainly drivers of the night-time economy, they need not be the only ones. According to a report released by the London mayor’s office, 1.6 million people in London—constituting more than a third of the workforce—worked at night in 2017. Of these, 191,000 worked in health and 178,000 in professional services, with nightlife coming in third at 168,000. These were closely followed by transport, automotive, IT and education.In other words, the city’s nighttime economy is not merely bars and restaurants, but an extension of its day-time economic activities as well. It is estimated that the night component comprises 6-8% of the city’s economy and contributes £18-23 billion in gross value added to the British economy. The figures are approximations but significant enough for Mayor Sadiq Khan to champion the night-time economy and appoint a “Night Czar” to manage it.”
    In which Nitin Pai makes the argument for having more shops, establishments and services operate at night as well, in India. A useful read for students of urbanization, microeconomics and life in India.
  2. “I think that our economic system reflects our understanding of humankind, and that understanding has been developing, with especial rapidity lately. You have to understand people first before you can understand how to devise an economic system for them. And I think our understanding of people has been accelerating over the last century, or even half-century.”
    Robert Shiller chooses five books to help us understand capitalism better. I haven’t read all of them, and read one a very long time ago (Theory of Moral Sentiments) – but this has tempted me to go and read at least A.O. Hirschman’s book, if not all of them!
  3. “The problem with cricket in most cricket-playing countries, certainly in India, is that the cricket market is what economists call a monopsony. A monopsony is a market in which there is only one buyer for a particular class of goods and services. Until now, a young Indian cricketer who wanted to play at the highest level could only sell his services to the BCCI. If it treated him badly and did not give him his due rewards, he had no other options open to him.”
    I am happy to admit that I got the IPL gloriously wrong – I approached the IPL while wearing my cricketing purist hat, but I really should have approached it wearing my economist’s hat. Which is exactly what Amit Varma did, ten years ago. Monopsony, the power of markets, incentive mechanisms, it’s all here.
  4. “The 737 assembly line in Renton, Wash. is a marvel of lean manufacturing. The line inches forward little-by-little as assembly proceeds. Born from Toyota’s production methods, the process is one of continual improvement. It’s what made the 737 the lifeblood of Boeing in the first place and why this crisis, taken to its most extreme, could threaten the company’s very existence. But the assembly line also comes with a tool called an Andon cord. The cord empowers all employees to pull it and stop the line if something is amiss or requires investigation and needs fixing. The rest of the world has already pulled it.”
    A mostly understandable explanation of the possible reasons behind the crash – but when I say possible reasons, I do not mean the technical ones. Why compromises had to be made, and the impact of those compromises.
  5. “I’m happy for the descriptive part of economics to stay as it is. The prescriptive part, when we tell people what to do – that one should be much more broad. In fact, we should stop using just economics and take all kinds of ideas from psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and economics, and test which ones work, which ones don’t work and under what conditions. There is no question that behaviour is the ultimate goal – to try to understand behaviour, and how to change or modify it. I hope we can create a discipline that is much more empirically based and data driven. Maybe we can call it “applied social sciences”. It will draw from all the social sciences equivalently as we approach problems in the real world, and try to find solutions for them.”
    Dan Ariely on five books that he’d recommend when it comes to understanding behavioral economics better. If you are interested in this topic, as I am, the interview is great reading – and the books too! I have not read Mindless Eating, and will begin it soon.