EC101: Links for 7th November, 2019

  1. Idea Vodafone debt rating downgraded. Uh-oh.
    ..
    ..
  2. “When Arun Sarin, Vodafone Group Plc’s India-born former CEO, was charting the British telecommunications firm’s expansion into emerging markets in the mid-2000s, his home country with more than a billion potential phone users seemed a compelling choice.Sarin wasn’t alone. Norway’s Telenor ASA, Russia’s Mobile TeleSystems PJSC and Malaysia’s Maxis Bhd were also among a slew of companies that flocked to this fast-growing market. The carriers banded with local partners, bid for airwaves and licenses, spending billions of dollars to prepare their networks.

    But what once appeared to be their most-promising Asian wireless market has turned sour. Vodafone’s Indian venture with billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla, saddled with $14 billion of debt, is said to be seeking to revamp its borrowings amid mounting losses and a tariff war. Tycoon Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Airtel Ltd. is rated junk by Moody’s Investors Service. In a market that had a dozen carriers two years ago, just three are left standing today — two of them, barely.”
    ..
    ..
    Here’s more context from Bloomberg.
    ..
    ..

  3. “Notoriously high levels of pendency of cases discourage those with limited influence and resources from approaching the courts for justice. Police stations, especially those in rural areas, make registration of complaints and first information reports cumbersome to help them manage their strike rates. Some websites expect visitors to read privacy policies and indicate consent by checking specific boxes before letting them browse pages. The notice is sometimes in an unfamiliar language. Immigration applications involve onerous paperwork that is lengthy and confusing.”
    ..
    ..
    Puja Mehra, author of the excellent “The Lost Decade” explains what sludge is, and why it matters in India
    ..
    ..
  4. All incentives matter, but some incentives matter more than others. That’s the basic takeaway, but please, I beg you – take the time to read this article in full. Slate Star Codex is just utterly magnificent.
    ..
    ..
  5. A fascinating article on the origins of the Amazon battery.

EC101: Links for 27th June, 2019

  1. “Total Expense Ratio aka TER means cost incurred by a fund house to run a fund. It includes management fee, legal fees, registrar fee, custodian fee, distributor fee etc. The major part of the TER consists of management fee followed by distributor fee. The TER is calculated daily and will be deducted by AMCs on the same day, which means your NAV includes the impact of fees on your fund.”
    ..
    ..
    A good article to help you understand how mutual funds make money, what the new SEBI regulations mean for retail investors, and how dependent the mutual funds are (as of now) on the distributor.
    ..
    ..
  2. “…Say’s Law provides a theory whereby disequilibrium in one market, causing the amount actually supplied to fall short of what had been planned to be supplied, reduces demand in other markets, initiating a cumulative process of shrinking demand and supply. This cumulative process of contracting supply is analogous to the Keynesian multiplier whereby a reduction in demand initiates a cumulative process of declining demand. Finally, it is shown that in a temporary-equilibrium context, Walras’s Law (and a fortiori Say’ Law) may be violated.”
    ..
    ..
    Econ nerds only – and perhaps the even stranger beasts called macro-econ nerds only. David Glasner gives us a view of Say’s Law that may actually be (gasp) Keynesian in nature.
    ..
    ..
  3. “Why incentives? Economics is based on the premise that incentives matter. Incentives can help by increasing or decreasing the motivation to take up a certain activity, by changing the cost or benefit of the activity. If someone were to pay John enough for each time he hit his steps goal, he would likely begin walking, perhaps even enthusiastically. After all, health consequences are in the distant future, but cold, hard cash can be given in the present. ”
    ..
    ..
    That is from this link – you’ll actually have to download and read the PDF. This excerpt is useful to me because it essentially says that behavioral economics is, well, economics.
    ..
    ..
  4. “This view goes something like this – there are no priors (in fact, you discredit experience as being biased – after all you guys have been doing development for decades and we still have poverty and misery in abundance) >> and therefore conventions, latent wisdom, and experience counts for little >> therefore there are no theories >> so we need evidence on everything >> how better to create evidence than look for data >> so let’s do experiments (RCTs) or mine administrative data and understand reality and design evidence-based policies.”
    ..
    ..
    Gulzar Natarajan is less than pleased with Raj Chetty’s new course at Harvard (the first item from 23rd May, 2019’s posting), and I am very inclined to agree with his views. Empiricism is slightly overrated today.
    ..
    ..
  5. “The Baumol effect predicts that more spending will be accompanied by no increase in quality.
    The Baumol effect predicts that the increase in the relative price of the low productivity sector will be fastest when the economy is booming. i.e. the cost “disease” will be at its worst when the economy is most healthy!
    The Baumol effect cleanly resolves the mystery of higher prices accompanied by higher quantity demanded.”
    ..
    ..
    Alex Tabarrok over on Marginal Revolution is on a spree with the Baumol Effect, and having followed his series, I’d say with good reason. It upends several things in microeconomics that we might have taken for granted.

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.

Links for 6th March, 2019

  1. “A new transatlantic alliance will require both a U.S. president who recognizes its value and Europeans who are able to overcome their own internal divisions and commit to an equal partnership. The next alliance cannot be only about channeling U.S. contributions to European security; it must also be a global partnership to which each side contributes in order to protect their mutual security and economic interests. That sort of alliance remains possible. It is worth fighting for.”
    Not for the optimistic note that it strikes at the end of the article, but rather for the good summary of the history of the alliance between America and Europe, and how it hasn’t always been rocky – but never before as at risk as it is today.
  2. “I long held the belief that my grandfather felt regret at Pakistan’s creation because of the bloody years of the War on Terror, but now I know that he saw far worse. I wonder whether the regret came to him early, or if it was the last straw, his final impression of the history of a country he was able to witness from birth until his own death. ”
    Via The Browser, an article from a Pakistani about Pakistan – ranging from his grandfather and the start of that country, to the sad mess that is has become since.
  3. “In other words, what matters is not “technological innovation”; what matters is value chains and the point of integration on which a company’s sustainable differentiation is built; stray too far and even the most fearsome companies become also-rans.”
    I am teaching a part of the course on Industrial Organization at Gokhale Institute, and every so often, I feel like outsourcing it to Stratechery. This article is one reason why – it helps you not just understand what value chains are, but provides multiple examples of how to think about them, and through them. As almost always with Stratechery, a great read.
  4. “I think that a lot of people, on some level what they think they’re doing when they sponsor young co-workers is spotting talent—they called it “talent-mapping” in the accounting firm we studied. But a lot of people we talked to were also able to reflect and say, “Part of why I was excited about that person, probably, is because they reminded me of a younger version of myself.” The word we use in sociology is homophily—people like people who are like themselves.”
    File this under a variety of things: hiring practices, labor productivity, people compatibility – but more than anything, I’d file it under behavioral economics, and the word homophily.
  5. “It’s more important than ever to manage your passwords online, and also harder to keep up with them. That’s a bad combination. So the FIDO Alliance—a consortium that develops open source authentication standards—has pushed to expand its secure login protocols to make seamless logins a reality. Now Android’s on board, which means 1 billion devices can say goodbye to passwords in more digital services than seen before”
    It didn’t take long to go from unlocking your phone with your fingerprint to unlocking everything online with a fingerprint. How long before the next innovation in security and identity comes along, and will it mean that the phone will become irrelevant? A question worth pondering.

Links for 5th March, 2019

  1. “Using a neural network trained on widely available weather forecasts and historical turbine data, we configured the DeepMind system to predict wind power output 36 hours ahead of actual generation. Based on these predictions, our model recommends how to make optimal hourly delivery commitments to the power grid a full day in advance. This is important, because energy sources that can be scheduled (i.e. can deliver a set amount of electricity at a set time) are often more valuable to the grid.”
    The big problem with renewable energy is its utter unpredictability – which is why we will always struggle to move to a world that uses renewable energy as a primary source. Unless, of course, we figure out how to make great batteries. But in the meantime, anything that helps us predict the pattern of availability of wind and solar power is great news.
  2. “Still, people do break Google’s protection. CAPTCHAs are an ongoing arms race that neither side will ever win. The AI technology which makes Google’s approach so hard to fool is the same technology that is adapted to fool it.Just wait until that AI is convincing enough to fool you.
    Sweet dreams, human.”
    Ever clicked on the “I’m a human” button and wondered why it seemed like such a stupid idea. Well, uh, not stupid. Not stupid at all.
  3. “This further tells us that people are buying and selling homes. It’s just that the builders are not a part of this transaction.”
    This is a very short excerpt, but especially for Indians, this article is well worth reading (and Vivek Kaul is well worth following!). Home loans are going up every year, but unsold inventory is also going up every year? What gives?
  4. “All of economics is meant to be about people’s behavior. So, what is behavioral economics, and how does it differ from the rest of economics?”
    An essay about behavioral economics and its many applications, written by two people who are more familiar with the field than almost anybody else. There isn’t much here for people who are already familiar with the field – but if you are new to behavioral economics, this is an excellent introduction.
  5. “Two landmark events helped pushed along the proliferation of Sichuan cuisine in New York. In 2005, the peppercorn ban was lifted, though imported peppercorns still had to be heat treated and were thus less potent than they might have been. (This restriction was finally lifted in 2018.) ”
    I was in New York in 2007, and knew nothing of how to try new food, and it is a major source of regret. Especially when I read articles like these.

Links for 20th February, 2019

  1. “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)
  2. “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.
  3. “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.
  4. “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?
  5. “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.

Beh Econ Update, Day 2

Yesterday was all about fallacies: the gambler’s fallacy, the conjunctive and disjunctive fallacy, the base rate fallacy, the framing effect (which, if you think about it, is a kind of fallacy) and one of my favorite stories from behavioral economics: the organ donation case from Europe. We’ll get to each one in turn.

The word fallacy comes from the Latin word fallere, which means to be decieved – also making me wonder if the phrase “to fall for” is related to the same word. The story with the three “fallacies” that we’re talking about in this post is the same: our brain falls prey to some errors that are in retrospect irritatingly obvious.

The Gambler’s Fallacy

Have you ever felt you were on a lucky streak while playing a game of cards – felt as if you were invincible while rolling a pair of die? That’s the hot hand fallacy. On the other hand, have you ever felt tempted to continue playing a game because you have been losing for a while, and feel like your luck is due to turn for the better? That’s the reverse of the hot hand fallacy – but both are really (excuse the pun) two sides of the same coin: you think the next outcome is a function of the previous ones, whereas basic probability teaches you that they are independent events.

The Conjunctive (and Disjunctive) Fallacy

Say a person is introduced to me at a party, and I learn that this person has done her education in finance and investing, and is very enthusiastic about Picasso’s paintings. Which of the two options I describe below is likelier?

One, that she is in banking. Two, that she is in banking and has some Picasso prints hanging on her wall at home.

Most people (myself included) would be tempted to go with the second option. But again, basic probability teaches us that this is wrong, because we are talking about the intersection of two things (the probability that she is a banker AND the probability that she has Picasso prints hanging at home) – and two things happening at the same time is unlikelier than either of these things happening individually.

The disjunctive fallacy is the same idea in reverse. Meet my friend Rahul. Rahul is six and a half feet tall, is built like a bull, and can demolish multiple plates of food at the same sitting. He spends a couple of hours a day (at least!) at the gym. What is likelier:

  • Rahul is a wrestler
  • Rahul is a wrestler or a classical singer

The point is that once should always choose the second option because it includes the first in any case.

The Base Rate Fallacy

I’ll not get into the math in this case, but just give you the short description of the idea: false positives are going to be overwhelmingly likely if the base rate is very low, and the human brain has trouble understanding this idea.

Here’s what this means:

Of the millions of people who transit through airports the world over, a vanishingly small minority will actually be terrorists. If the algorithms used to detect them are even slightly inaccurate, they are likely to err on the side of over-identifying potential terrorists. We would therefore be wrong to assume that every person who is flagged as a potential terrorist actually is a terrorist.

(Note that it is way more complicated than this, but that’s the shortest version I could manage).

This post is already a fairly dense one in terms of ideas, so I’ll split this one into two, and cover the rest tomorrow: the framing effect, and the European organ donation saga.