Links for 11th April, 2019

  1. “Who has the upper hand in bargaining for wages and employment benefits? Who dominates markets and who must submit to market forces? Who can move across borders and who is stuck at home? Who can evade taxation and who cannot? Who gets to set the agenda of trade negotiations and who is excluded? Who can vote and who is effectively disenfranchised? We argue that addressing such asymmetries makes sense not only from a distributional standpoint, but also for improving overall economic performance. Economists have a powerful theoretical apparatus that allows them to think about such matters.”
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    Dani Rodrik makes the case for rewriting economics, rather than tinkering with it at the margins, in order to really tackle the problems that the world faces today. An article worth reading – I’d linked to their manifesto earlier.
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  2. “In San Lucar, selfish behavior is unacceptable. But in New York, a city with 8 million people, selfish behavior is the norm. It’s a dog-eat-dog mentality. Policemen are everywhere and sirens are the sound of the city. During rush hour on 5th Avenue, pedestrians fight like soldiers on a battlefield. They step over homeless people, weave through strangers, and J-Walk through red lights.Why are people so cooperative in San Lucar, but so selfish in New York?”
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    If you are a student of game theory, you already know that the answer is game theory. But the article is worth reading because it should prompt you to wonder if there is a deeper answer than the one provided – and Adam Smith might be a good place to begin.
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  3. “First, declining growth is a key, albeit low-frequency, cause of today’s social and economic distress. Second, the unfortunate consequences of the ICT revolution are not inherent properties of technological change. Rather, as Rajan notes, they reflect a “failure of the state and markets to modulate markets.” Though Rajan does not emphasize it, this second point gives us cause for hope. It means that ICT need not doom us to a jobless future; enlightened policymaking still has a role to play.”
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    Angus Deaton reviews Raghuram Rajan’s latest book, and leaves us with a sense of appreciation for the book (and in my case, a desire to read it), but also with a deep sense of foreboding about where we may end up as a society.
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  4. “That leads to a broader point: “tech” is not simply another category, like railroads or telecom. Tech is a means, not an end, but Senator Warren’s approach presumes the latter. That is why she proposes the same set of rules for the sale of toasters and the sale of apps, and everything in between. The truth is that Amazon is a retailer; Apple a combination of hardware maker and platform makers. Google is a search and advertising company, and Facebook a publishing and advertising company. They all have different value chains and different ways of impacting competition, both fairly and unfairly, and to fail to appreciate just how different they are is a great way to make bad laws that not only fail to fix problems but also create entirely new ones.”
    Ben Thompson on how to think about tech (and in a very long article, this excerpt really matters): tech is the means to an end, and therein lies all the difference in the world.
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  5. “You may never have heard of Islamestan, in Chinese Turkestan, or its one-time “king”, Bertram Sheldrake. Islamestan is long gone, swallowed up in the historical shifts of a turbu­lent region, but for a brief and unlikely moment, an English pickle-factory heir ruled, with his wife, Sybil, over the newly independent Muslim country, to the far west of China.”
    Stories don’t get much better than this, and that’s putting it mildly.
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Links for 29th March, 2019

  1. “”Because it’s so difficult for people with edge-to-edge bites to produce sounds like f and v, the study’s authors figured they would be unlikely to say them by accident, or to incorporate them into their languages. They checked to see whether they could find this pattern playing out in the real world by comparing the sound systems of languages across the world with the subsistence style of the people who speak those languages. About half of the world’s languages use labiodental sounds, but on average, languages spoken by hunter-gatherer societies turned out to use fewer than one-third the number of labiodental sounds as their agricultural counterparts.”
    An area I know nothing about, but I found this fascinating. How agriculture might have influenced speech, and how therefore we got around to using “F” and “V” sounds in language. It begs the question: how might current society be impacting the evolution of language?
  2. “Something interesting emerges from those figures. As the atmosphere is full of small eddies, so humanity experiences many small deadly quarrels, which result in a few fatalities. But now and again come huge storms, which kill millions. These are just the sort of outbreaks, like the world war Richardson had seen for himself, that people think of as surprising. Yet when Richardson plotted the frequency of wars against the number of deaths caused by each one, he found a constant and predictable relationship. On his graphs, the violence obeyed a “power law”—a constant relationship between the size and frequency of measurements. In his turbulence work, Richardson had found that such a power law governed the relationship between the rate of diffusion of objects in a turbulent stream and their distance from one another. Now he had found evidence of an underlying law in the supposedly unpredictable realm of politics.”
    Well worth the price of admission – the article begins somewhat slowly, but picks up pace and complexity, taking us on a journey through war, weather forecasting, religious background, and much else besides. People who don’t like math, especially, should really read this post.
  3. “Foreign investors believe they can navigate around India’s governance fault lines. Still, South Korea’s chaebol discount could also become a millstone for India if the grip of a handful of private interests on state institutions and economic opportunities tightens. The new boxwallahs will be much harder to shake off than the old cronies.”
    The always excellent Andy Mukherjee on the urgently needed corporate reforms in India. Well worth a read for its own sake, of course, but more importantly, a great read to help you understand what you should read more of when it comes to India’s business history.
  4. “There are undergraduate courses, and then there are great undergraduate courses. Today we have the 49 item course bibliography for Thomas C. Schelling’s “Conflict, Coalition and Strategy” along with its ten-page final examination”
    This is, I’m still gobsmacked to think about it, an undergraduate  course. We at the Gokhale Institute are starting an undergraduate course this year – it’ll be interesting to see if any of these references could be included in that course. I found this fascinating, especially because of the wide variety of subjects from which the list has been drawn up. A lot of bookmarks to be added via this link!
  5. “For, in both Ricardo and Marx, a conflict of interest is visible between social classes. In order to promote the ‘idea’ of a just and harmonius system, the theories (especially the labour theory of value) of Ricardo and Marx were criticised as being limited, and an alternative was proposed. This new theory completely did away with social classes. Individuals were chosen as the primary unit of analysis. Social classes, actually was modified into ‘factors of production’. A very interesting and important methodological shift, with powerful political implications! All the factors of production were assigned equal importance, and it was also shown how both labour and capital recieved incomes according to their contribution to the production process. That is, a capitalist system, with free mobility of labour and capital and with clear property rights (contracts), is essentially a just and stable system.”
    Why should one study economics? Most, if not all, colleges today leave students with the answer to this question being completely backward. We learn, and teach, theories of economics and then ask students to apply them to the world outside. Arguably, even the latter doesn’t happen nearly often enough. But this post helps you understand where theories come from in the first place! They came up in response to the world that was around those theorists – at that time, and at that place. This time, and this place is different – and we, as students of economics, would do well to remember that. Excellent article, and about an economist who isn’t studied enough.

Links for 15th March, 2019

  1. “Nellie’s tree is said to be the most romantic in the UK. Nearly a century ago, Vic Stead would walk to a nearby village to visit a woman he was courting, called Nellie. One day, he came across three beech saplings and grafted one between the other two to form the letter ‘N’ in an attempt to woo her. They went on to marry and have children, and the tree is a popular site for proposals today”
    The Guardian comes up with  a lovely photo essay about the ‘European Tree of the Year’. Do not miss the tree that stands in the middle of a highway that connects the Netherlands to Belgium as well.
  2. “At the moment, global CO₂ emissions are about 37 billion metric tons per year, and we’re on track to raise temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. To have a shot at maintaining a climate suitable for humans, the world’s nations most likely have to reduce CO₂ emissions drastically from the current level — to perhaps 15 billion or 20 billion metric tons per year by 2030; then, through some kind of unprecedented political and industrial effort, we need to bring carbon emissions to zero by around 2050. In this context, Climeworks’s effort to collect 1,000 metric tons of CO₂ on a rooftop near Zurich might seem like bailing out the ocean one bucket at a time.”
    Direct air capture of carbon, which is what the article is about, isn’t really going to ‘solve’ climate change anytime soon. But the article is worth reading because it speaks about a variety of economic issues, including climate change – there’s public goods, pricing, subsidies, micro-payments, the creation of markets, and much else.
  3. “Many of the dominant policy ideas of the last few decades are supported neither by sound economics nor by good evidence. Neoliberalism – or market fundamentalism, market fetishism, etc. — is a perversion of mainstream economics, rather than an application thereof. And contemporary economics research is rife with new ideas for creating a more inclusive society. But it is up to us economists to convince their audience about the merits of these claims.”
    Dani Rodrik, and ten others aim to recast economics as being for ‘inclusive prosperity‘. Ten policy briefs to begin with, and more to come later. The idea isn’t to form another think tank, as the post mentions, but to promote more academic research along these ten briefs.
  4. “This Letter quantitatively evaluates the beneficial impact a negative Fed policy rate could have had during the recovery from the Great Recession. While it’s difficult to capture all the complexities of the economy in a model, this analysis suggests that negative rates could have mitigated the depth of the recession and sped up the recovery, though they would have had little effect on economic activity beyond 2014. The analysis also shows that the interest rate does not have to fall too deeply into negative territory to accomplish meaningful economic improvements.”
    Would negative interest rates have helped generate a quicker recovery in the United States? This letter suggests that this may well have been the case. Forget the model that was used – that’s a rabbit hole in its own right – but take a look at this article for a very readable introduction to the world of negative interest rates.
  5. “‘NIRC’ – it’s a uniquely Singaporean economic abbreviation that stands for net investment returns contribution.
    It’s a mouthful, but in the coming weeks the term is likely to be on the lips of many of the Lion City’s lawmakers as they debate the national budget Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will unveil on Monday. The NIRC is the amount of Singapore government revenue that comes from interest earned on its outsize reserves.”
    Everything about Singapore is worth reading, and I really do mean that. Reading this article will introduce you to one of Singapore’s lesser known features – Singapore’s government runs a pretty large fund, it is pretty profitable (presumably), and there’s debate about what to do with the proceeds.