Links for 6th June, 2019

  1. “That night, after singing in the Rose Garden, Nelson went to sleep with his wife, Connie, in the Lincoln Bedroom. Then one of the president’s sons knocked on his door.“Chip Carter took me down into the bottom of the White House, where the bowling alley is,” Nelson says. Then they went up to the roof and smoked a joint. Nelson remembers Carter explaining the surrounding view — the Washington Monument, the string of lights on Pennsylvania Avenue. “It’s really pretty nice up there,” Nelson says.”
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    I found it hard to extract an excerpt from this article, because it is (all of it) entirely readable, multiple times. There’s information about music, weed, economics, sustainability, mortality, longevity and so much more!
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  2. “Graham Fagg, the British miner who punched through to the French side and became the face of continental connection, on Friday told French news agency AFP that he was now a Brexit supporter. “I worked on the Channel Tunnel and did the breakthrough, but I actually voted for Brexit,” the 70-year-old said. “I don’t see that as incompatible.”Fagg said he supported joining the European Economic Community — the forerunner to the EU — in a 1975 referendum, but did not realize it would become a political union.”We voted for a trade deal,” he explained. “I can’t remember anybody ever saying to me, ‘we’re going to turn it into a federal Europe. We’re going to set all the rules and you’ve got to obey them’.””
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    A short, but very readable article about the Chunnel – I didn’t know the history was as long as all that. I also found the Thomas The Train picture quite poignant.
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  3. “The consistent critic of anarchism must, however, attack with equal force all of those who suppose that large groups will whenever the need arises voluntarily organize a pressure group to deal with the state, or a labor union to deal with an employer. Bentley, Truman, Commons, Latham, and many of the pluralist and corporatist thinkers are fully as guilty of the “anarchistic fallacy” as the anarchists themselves. The anarchists supposed that the need or incentive for organized or coordinated cooperation after the state was overthrown would ensure that the necessary organization and group action would be forthcoming. Is the view that workers will voluntarily support a trade union, and that any large group will organize a pressure-group lobby to ensure that its interests are protected by the government, any more plausible?”
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    Aadisht Khanna reviews “A Theory of Collective Action”. This, I should confess, is a book I started but have (at least for now) given up on. It is not an easy read. But reading Aadisht’s review, this excerpt caught my eye – it is the strongest argument I have seen to make me want to vote.
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  4. “And so Thibaw wasted away in Ratnagiri, “a very unpleasant place to live in”, he wrote, full of “snakes and scorpions”. His expenses—much of it religious—led to endless debt, even as he petitioned the British for the return of valuables he had entrusted to them when surrendering his former capital (including a celebrated ruby, never seen since). His wife was initially resolute: She smelt conspiracy everywhere, Shah notes, and taught her daughters to cook, certain that they would be poisoned otherwise. But, by 1900, bogged down by their fall, she was in the grip of depression. Denied regular social contact, and policed and watched, their daughters too grew up lonely—the princess who in 1944 gave mangoes to her visitor began an affair with their Maharashtrian gatekeeper, her love child later marrying the family’s dog-walker. This granddaughter of the last king of Burma would one day transform herself from TuTu to Baisubai, selling paper decorations in the local market.”
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    Do you follow Manu Pillai on Twitter? Do you read his columns in Livemint? Have you read his books? Get started right away!
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  5. “The results of this survey have not been officially released. However, the leaked reports of an historically high unemployment rate and the subsequent resignation of two members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), who were involved with the PLFS, created a furore and heightened the politicisation of unemployment. The Opposition used this as an opportunity to malign the government, while the government representatives at NITI Aayog resorted to the view that the survey results have not been reviewed by experts, and therefore the report was not deemed reliable enough to be released. The truth of the matter, however, is that there is neither credible evidence of a job crisis in India, nor credible evidence of the absence of it.”
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    There is a problem pertaining to data measurement in India, and it is a big one. This article doesn’t necessarily tell you how to solve that problem (no article can, in the length that articles usually comprise of), but it does help you be aware of what the problem is.
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Links for 4th March, 2019

  1. “Under Uma, the NRCB has built Asia’s largest gene bank of 360 banana varieties. The popularity of Grand Nain—the long, pale yellow bananas that one encounters in most supermarket shelves (promoted by the giant Swiss horticultural conglomerate, Chiquita)—is such that it has been pulping production of more nutritious native bananas. Monoculture, or large-scale cropping of one strain without diversity, makes the crop susceptible to deadly disease attacks that could wipe out its production. There’s also the added risk of permanently losing indigenous varieties. This is one of the many threats Trichy’s famed banana growers face. The perennial scarcity of water has also meant that Tamil Nadu’s Theni district toppled Trichy from its top banana status. ”
    Only one excerpt from a very long article about the Cauvery  -and this long article is only part deux of a two part series. There was much to learn from reading it, about a whole variety of issues. Recommended.
  2. “Economic historian Barry Eichengreen has shown how countries that have experienced rapid economic growth during their escape from the clutches of mass poverty tend to falter in their subsequent move to mass prosperity. His research suggests that the most common point when inertia sets in, is when average incomes are either around $11,000 or $15,000 a year. This is the famous middle income trap. Fewer countries emerge from it than enter it.”
    Recommended for a variety of reasons – a good way to learn about the middle income trap, about China’s slowdown, about India’s opportunities, and about the implied risks for both China and India. Niranjan Rajadhakshya on China’s slowdown.
  3. “Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s policy adviser, Dan Riffle, contends that “every billionaire is a policy failure” (that’s the tagline on his Twitter handle) because “the acquisition of that much wealth has bad consequences” and “a moral society needs guardrails against it.” He’d like to see the 2020 Democratic primary contenders answer a question: Can it be morally appropriate for anyone to be a billionaire? ”
    Or, put another way, is the world a zero sum game or  a non-zero sum game? This blog is unapologetically in the latter camp. Economics, in fact, is defined by being a non-zero sum game.
  4. ““I’ve been very cautious about saying that until we got these results, but now I’m not so sure,” he said. “I think that a striped T-shirt might work very nicely.””
    The most fun way you will ever learn about evolution. Well, maybe not the most fun way, but you’ll enjoy reading this for sure.
  5. “As the process of Brexit unfolds, we are discovering how many pleasant aspects of modern life in Britain are closely linked to EU membership. A good relationship between Britain and Ireland should be added to that list.”
    Gideon Rachman on how Brexit might (make that will) affect relationships between Britain and Ireland.

Links for 1st March, 2019

  1. “What’s distinctive about modern cosmopolitanism is its celebration of the contribution of every nation to the chorus of humanity. It is about sharing. And you cannot share if you have nothing to bring to the table. Cosmopolitans worthy of the label have rhizomes, spreading horizontally, as well as taproots, delving deep; they are anything but rootless.”
    An excellent essay in defense of the idea of globalization and being cosmopolitan. Worth reading for many different reasons – understanding why Brexit may not make sense, understanding the etymology of ‘cosmopolitan’, and how affinity to those closest to you isn’t necessarily hatred for those a little bit farther away.
  2. “It might be difficult to believe that farms and physicians could use the same core compounds and never realize it—but pharmaceutical chemistry and agricultural chemistry are separate professional fields that attend different conferences, publish in different journals, and have no reason to talk to each other. Without medicine ever recognizing it, azoles came to account for one-fourth of all fungicides worldwide. They are used on cereals and seeds, tree fruits and soft fruits, vegetables and flowers, hops and beans. Because they kill fungi so effectively, their use has bled out of agriculture into a vast array of consumer goods, from paints to lumber to glue.”
    A rather alarming article about the rampant use of anibiotics – which is a theme common enough these days – across domains. You can’t help but be slightly alarmed when you read it, but all the same, it is heavily recommended reading – perhaps for that very reason. Sent to me by Aadisht Khanna, a never ending source of interesting information.
  3. “Asking a computer to ‘tell me about this picture’ poses other problems, though. We do not have HAL 9000, nor any path to it, and we cannot recognise any arbitrary object, but we can make a guess, of varying quality, in quite a lot of categories. So how should the user know what would work, and how does the system know what kind of guess to make? Should this all happen in one app with a general promise, or many apps with specific promises? Should you have a poster mode, a ‘solve this equation’ mode, a date mode, a books mode and a product search mode? Or should you just have mode for ‘wave the phone’s camera at things and something good will probably happen’? ”
    Benedict Evans, someone whose blog is worth following in any case, unpacks modern camera systems, and how they’re likely to change over the coming years – for the better is a matter of opinion.
  4. “A new circular from NSE changes the financing game for people who’ve been using the options market for financing deals. The NSE will require cash to be posted (instead of stocks or other instruments) as margin against call options shorted by participants in the longer term options markets.”
    This might not make sense to you if you don’t understand options, but if you do – please do read it. Fascinating – and also helps you understand why understanding anything by reading only a textbook never makes sense.
  5. “The American paddlefish is a beast. It weighs up to 160 pounds and can run seven feet long including its needle-nose snout. String one up and it looks like the Chrysler Building. The Roomba of the Ozarks, they patrol the waters with mouths open, filtering plankton through their gill rakers.But paddlefish have another quality — their eggs happen to taste quite a bit like Russian sevruga caviar. And that curious evolutionary fact explains why, in the mid-2000s, Russian émigrés began descending on tiny Warsaw, Missouri (pop. 2,177).”
    The story has more than its fair share of twists – and is worth reading for that reason alone. Plus, what better way to learn about markets?

Wrapping Your Head Around Brexit

Everybody and their naani knows that Britain’s voted to leave the European Union. Everybody also knows that most people think this was a bad thing. This blog post attempts to explain why most people think this was a bad thing.

Three questions we need to answer in order to make sense of this particular brouhaha. One, what exactly is the European Union? Second, why exactly does Britain want to leave it? Third, from an Indian perspective: what my father goes?

First question ka jawaab: The European Union is an association of countries that try to pretend as if they’re really one big country. They all have a common currency, exactly the same way the states of Maharashtra and Orissa have a common currency, along with all the other states in India.

They also allow capital to move freely across their countries. Remember how Mr. Tata was able to move his Nano factory from West Bengal to Gujarat? In theory, the European Union makes it easy to move capital from Austria to France. They also allow labor to move freely across their countries. Notwithstanding Mr. Raj Thackeray and his attempts, most Indians are free to move  and work wherever they want across the country, and in principle, Europe was supposed to be the same thing.

However, and this is the fatal flaw in the way the European Union is structured, it’s not a fiscal union. Do you know, for example, what percentage of your income taxes went towards the construction of a road between Kanpur and Lucknow? No, you don’t, and nor should you know. We’re one country, and one of the reasons we elect our government is precisely because we expect those guys to handle issues like that. But German citizens care deeply about whether their income taxes are being used to fund unemployment benefits for Greek citizens. Remember how we said the EU is an association of countries that try to pretend as if they’re one country? Well, unfortunately it has turned out to be a bit of a halfway job. They’re more than separate countries, but less than a unified nation.

And that’s caused problems.

Second, why does Britain want to say sayonara. Well, the people who were in support of Brexit in Britain give out a lot of reasons, but it ultimately boils down to three. One, the Mr. Raj Thackeray effect. They really don’t want “other” people to come in to their nation. And that makes no sense for the same reason in EU as it does in India. Second, they think that Britain and its money should be separate, and it shouldn’t have to give any money to the Europeans. And third, they think Britain’s kinda culturally separate and removed from the mess that is the European Union today and don’t want anything to do with it.

If you ask us though, we get the impression it’s mostly reason no. 1.

Third, why should we care? Today, in the sixteenth year of the twenty-first century, the global economy is like a single organism. If Brexit is going to cause a slowdown in business between themselves and Europe (and you can bet that is going to happen), then you can expect our business with both Britain and Europe to suffer. Here’s a useful way to think about it: if the world was like the human body, it’s liver is now doing really badly. Saying that shouldn’t affect our overall health just doesn’t make sense, now does it?

How much will it affect us, and for how long, and when will the liver get better are all questions the patient really wants to get answers for – and we’re about to find out over time.

I don’t know about you, but hospital waiting rooms always kinda depress me.