Links for 27th May, 2019

  1. ” In today’s world, we’re typically writing contracts in natural language, or actually in something a little more precise: legalese. But what if we could write our contracts in computational language? Then they could always be as precise as we want them to be. But there’s something else: they can be executed automatically, and autonomously. Oh, as well as being verifiable, and simulatable, and so on.”
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    Stephen Wolfram on computational languages, and what it might mean for all of us in the future. Can’t say I understood all of it right off the bat, to be honest – which is why I’ll be reading it again sometime later.
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  2. “I was interested in the notion that you could take a busy place — an airport and a marketplace, you can call it kind of a mall, with hundreds of shops and all that comes with it — and cohabit it with a magical park, which is nature at its best, which is relaxing and serene, and is the escape from all of that busyness.Airports are not exactly relaxed places, and I thought, what would be better than to create a place of total serenity?

    We’ve planted thousands of trees and all kinds of other vegetation. And now, six months since we planted it all, it’s already a lush jungle.

    You walk through the trails, and you forget you’re in a city, and you forget you’re in an airport, and you forget you’re in a building. You’re just out there in nature and, in that sense, it’s completely magical.”
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    Singapore’s Changi airport now has a seven storey waterfall apparently. Of course it does.
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  3. “Econtwitter is wonderful. Yesterday, an undergraduate emailed me to ask for book recommendations about the overlap between economics and philosophy. I recommended:Amartya Sen The Idea of Justice
    Michael Sandel What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
    Agnar Sandmo Economics Evolving
    and
    D M Hausman and M S McPherson and D Satz Economic analysis, moral philosophy, and public policy
    Then I asked Twitter, and here is the resulting, much longer, list. I won’t editorialise about them, although some are not good undergraduate intros in my view. One striking thing is how few recent overviews there are, however (as @esamjones also pointed out on Twitter). Huge thanks to all who made suggestions. This is a fantastic collective list.”
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    Whatever bookmarking method you use, add this to that resource. And as she mentions, #econtwitter, really is wonderful. Diane Coyle with a very important, very useful list. Undergrad resources for the intersection of economics and philosophy.
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  4. “If you missed the Chinese mission, maybe it’s because you were focussed on the remarkably inexpensive spacecraft from SpaceIL, an Israeli nonprofit organization, which crash-landed into the moon on April 11th, soon after taking a selfie while hovering above the lunar surface. The crash was not the original plan, and SpaceIL has already announced its intention of going to the moon again. But maybe you weren’t paying attention to SpaceIL, either, because you were anticipating India’s Chandrayaan-2 moon lander, expected to take off later this year. Or you were waiting for Japan’s first lunar-lander-and-rover mission, scheduled to take place next year. Perhaps you’ve been distracted by the announcement, in January, on the night of the super blood wolf moon, that the European Space Agency plans to mine lunar ice by 2025. Or by Vice-President Mike Pence’s statement, in March, that the United States intends “to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years.””
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    The New Yorker explains how the moon is becoming a rather crowded place, and is likely to only get even more crowded in the years to come – and also explains why.
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  5. “Santacreu and Peake compared research and development (R&D) efforts of the U.S. and China for the period 1999-2015. As of the most recent year, China’s R&D intensity, measured by R&D spending as a percentage of GDP, was 2.1% of GDP versus 2.8% for the U.S.However, China’s R&D intensity grew from less than 1% over the period studied, therefore increasing considerably faster than that of the U.S. “Because R&D intensity is a proxy for technological advancement, these data suggest that China is catching up to the U.S. in technology,” the authors wrote.”
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    Ask yourself this: in about thirty years from now, are you more likely to see the world’s innovation hub be in China or America? This article points to the likely answer.
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Links for 17th May, 2019

  1. “Despite the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments, except in a few states, there has been little progress at decentralization—to both rural and urban local bodies. Most state governments have been reluctant to devolve the functions, funds and functionaries for delivering public services at the local level. The functions assigned are unclear, funds uncertain and inadequate, and decision-making functionaries are mostly drawn from the state bureaucracy. Local bodies do not even have powers to determine the base and rate structure of the taxes assigned to them. The states have not cared to create institutions and systems mandated in the Constitution, including the appointment of the State Finance Commissions, and even when they are appointed, states have not found it obligatory to place their reports in the legislature. In fact, the local bodies are not clear about delivering local public goods, with the prominent agenda of implementing central schemes obscuring their functions.”
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    M. Govinda Rao pulls no punches in pointing out how and why decentralization hasn’t (and likely will not) taken place in India. This is a conversation more people need to be having in India – and in particular, to aid meaningful urbanization.
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  2. “I love this paper because it is ruthless. The authors know exactly what they are doing, and they are clearly enjoying every second of it. They explain that given what we now know about polygenicity, the highest-effect-size depression genes require samples of about 34,000 people to detect, and so any study with fewer than 34,000 people that says anything about specific genes is almost definitely a false positive; they go on to show that the median sample size for previous studies in this area was 345.”
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    Slate Star Codex helps us understand the importance of learning (and applying!) statistics. The website is more than worth following, by the way.
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  3. “Sucking the life out of a mango is one of those primal pleasures that makes life feel worthwhile. The process is both elaborate and rewarding. The foreplay that loosens up the pulp inside, the careful incision at the top that allows access without a juice overrun, and then the sustained act of sucking every bit juice from the helpless peel. Senses detach themselves from the body and attach themselves to the mango, and even mobile phones stop ringing. The world momentarily rests in our mouths as we slurp, suck and slaver at the rapidly disappearing pulp. The mango is manhandled vigorously till only the gutli remains which is scraped off till it has nothing left to confess. As is evident, there is no elegant way to eat this kind of mango, no delicate and dignified method that approximates any form of refinement, which is just as well, for the only way to enjoy a mango is messily.”
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    An excellent column about an excellent fruit – there isn’t that much more to say! I completely agree with the bit about serving aamras front and center, rather than as an afterthought, by the way.
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  4. “Welcome to the 4th Annual Top Economics Blogs list. For the 2019 edition, we’ve added many newcomers, as well as favorites which continue to provide quality insight year after year. Like lists in previous years (2018, 2017, 2016), the new 2019 list features a broad range of quality blogs in practically every economic discipline. Whether you are interested in general economics or prefer more specific topics such as finance, healthcare economics, or environmental economics; there is something here for you. You will also find blogs which focus on microeconomics, macroeconomics, and the economics of specific geographical regions.Whether you are a student, economics professional, or just someone with a general interest in how economic issues affect the world around you, you’re certain to find the perfect blog for your specific needs.”
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    The most comprehensive answer to that most perennial of questions: what should I read?
    Bonus! If you’re wondering how to keep up with all of this, this might help.
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  5. “India should do the same with our state capitals. The Union government can create fiscal and other incentives to encourage state governments to shift their capitals to brown- or green-field locations. Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Jaipur or Lucknow, for instance, will continue to thrive even if the state government offices move out. Their respective states will benefit from a new urban engine powered by government.”
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    I have been sceptical about the feasibility of doing something like this – my reading of urbanization has always been that it more of an organic process – cities grow (or not) of their own accord, and rarely as a planned endeavor. But maybe I’m wrong?

Links for 3rd May, 2019

  1. “So in the end what we get for policy to decide is whether the Indian aviation business should comprise large, medium or small oligopolies. If resolved sensibly it yields a solution to the problem of cross-subsidisation: the larger the number of firms, the greater will be the need for intra-firm cross-subsidisation as firms focus on a variant of the Ramsey Rule which says that network firms must maximise revenue instead of profits.This is best achieved via a public monopoly which far from reducing output, raising prices and making excessive profits as monopolies are expected to, can do the opposite just as Air India and Indian Railways do. In short, if we want to avoid a return to public sector transport monopolies, we must decide on the size of the oligopolies in the sector.”
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    A very short article, but an immensely interesting one, talking about airlines, India, monopoly, oligopolies, and regulation and policy in India.
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  2. “All that said, zero is still the best price. I think it’s appropriate for foundations or other funding sources to support a multiplicity of free textbook options. (I’m not looking at you, Bill Gates.) INET has done this with its CORE project, but no one else. I don’t think funding is the whole story, however. Economics needs to regard pedagogy as one of its central missions. This is not only a matter of having more panels about it at the national meetings; there needs to be more disciplinary reward for putting one’s time and energy into the development of strategies and materials for the classroom. This means promotion, prizes and esteem, and it would require a substantial cultural shift. Where to begin? I suspect we have a vicious circle that could well become virtuous. Today we have a bleak landscape of minimal innovation in pedagogy and little institutional recognition for those who do this work. In a world well-populated with innovative experiments in teaching and learning, it would be natural to reward the most successful or even just provocative projects. So again the next step seems to belong to the funders.”
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    A fairly interesting take on textbooks (econ textbooks, to be clear), what they cover, what they should cover, and what the price should be. Meta, but out of necessity.
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  3. “We find that the probability of seeing an outcome within 180 days from the date of admission is less than 5%. However, it picks up once the 180 day deadline is passed. Within 270 days, the chances of case closure are between 10 to 30% depending on the bench and case characteristics (e.g., creditor type). We observe high closure rate just past the 270 day period. Within 360 days of admission, the probability of seeing an outcome is significantly higher (30 to 70%). Quicker outcomes (liquidation or resolution) are observed for resolution proceedings triggered by the debtors themselves. Similarly, proceedings triggered before some benches result in resolutions speedier than those before some others.”
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    On the impact of the IBC on dealing with bankruptcies in India. Visit the link to find a link to a fairly good data-set pertaining to the issue being discussed.
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  4. “So buying shares of an IPO could be rational or irrational depending on your time horizon…and how lucky you are with what happens on the first day of trading.”
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    An interesting analysis on IPO’s and why they tend to be oversubscribed. Fairly well known, I’d say, if you’re a student of finance – but interesting nonetheless.
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  5. “The estimated cost of NYAY is substantial – Rs. 3.6 trillion a year. It would be broadly six times what has been allocated to MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) in the interim budget presented in February 2019. It is also nearly 13% of total central government expenditure for the fiscal year 2020. It is hard to see how such a large incremental spending programme can be funded through cuts in other expenditure items alone, including non-merit subsidies. That will be a very difficult political economy call, given that non-merit subsidies mostly benefit vocal interest groups. There thus has to be either fiscal expansion or an increase in tax collections. The latter could – but need not – entail higher tax rates. India could be at an inflection point at which its tax-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio begins to grow rapidly, but that is a guess rather than a hard fact. In short, there is ample reason to worry about the fiscal burden of NYAY. ”
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    Niranjan Rajadhakshya on the economic feasibility of NYAY. Students of public finance especially should read this to get a sense of how to judge questions such as the ones put forth in the interview.

Links for 30th April, 2019

  1. “On average that means each MP represented 1.85 million people. Now it is 2.4 million. There can’t be anything more absurd in the world.”
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    A very short takeaway from a very interesting article, about an issue that not too many people have thought about – remapping India’s parliament. This is going to be rather complicated.
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  2. “Bayes classifiers seem natural, and in many applications they are. But an interesting insight is that some classification problems may have hugely different costs of type I and II errors, in which case an NP classification approach may be entirely natural, not clumsy. (Consider, for example, deciding whether to convict someone of a crime that carries the death penalty. Many people would view the cost of a false declaration of “guilty” as much greater than the cost of a false “innocent”.) ”
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    Stats nerds only – but if you are one, a fairly interesting set of papers awaits you at the bottom of this link.
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  3. “At the end of the book, Fukuyama, when discussing the contemporary China, writes that “good enough” rule of law is often sufficient for fast economic growth. Moreover, technology is much more important than property rights. Fukuyama points out that in a Malthusian world, no property rights will provide you with an economic surplus; but technological development will (p. 249).”
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    Reading this article should hopefully encourage you to read a little bit more about Hayek, Mancur Olson (which I myself have just started to do, courtesy prodding from a friend), and Fukuyama himself.
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  4. “There is one key idea of the book. If you wish to have a functional political order that enables economic growth and gives people freedom from arbitrariness of the sovereign or from oppression by their peers, you need three components: (i) a strong state, (ii) rule of law, and (iii) accountability.”
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    Do not diss either the excerpt, or the post, or the book it reviews. The link is in fact the first one from the article linked to in 3 above – but the post is important enough to merit a separate link.
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  5. “Thus, I agree with McCloskey that truly “thinking like an economist” is a very rare outcome in a principles course, and unless you are comfortable as a teacher with setting a goal that involves near-universal failure, it’s not a useful goal for instructors. But it also seems true to me that the series of topics in a conventional principles of economics course, and how they build on each other, does for many students combine to form a comprehensible narrative by the end of the class. The students are not thinking like economists. But they have some respect and understanding for how economist think.”
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    Gokhale Institute this August embarks upon an attempt to disprove this lovely article. Wish us luck.