Etc: Links for 23rd August, 2019

  1. Google Assistant can now have you assign reminders to other people. Solve, as they say, for the equilibrium.
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  2. On the whole, a depressing read about higher education in India.
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  3. “Anyway, please join me on an annotated trip through my favorite parts of the mandatory filing.”
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    A delightful (truly!) romp through WeWork’s IPO filings.
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  4. Robotic shorts that make walking and running easier.
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  5. xkcd is a treasure. This one on conferences.
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EC101: Links for 15th August, 2019

Another student of mine, Amruuta, got in touch recently asking about fair valuation and how to think about it. That a) got me thinking about the topic, and b) going down a rabbit hole of articles about the topic. And you have her to thank for today’s lot 🙂

  1. This is (probably) why Amruuta got interested in the topic in the first place.
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  2. Bookmark, rather than read: a short explainer of the differences between the old and the new accounting standards. Note to readers: I am nowhere close to being more than a slightly informed layperson in this area. If anybody knows a more updated source, please let me know.
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  3. How to do valuations in the first place?
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  4. What is fair market value?
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  5. A blog post from Fred Wilson (who has scored a deserved hat-trick, by the way) on hands on valuation exercises. The spreadsheets alone are worth it.

 

Thanks, Amruuta! I learnt a fair bit myself.

EC101: Links for 1st August, 2019

Heard of cantons?

Here’s an interesting question to ask: when one thinks of an organization, how decentralized should it be? Should all decision making flow from the very top, with lower levels of hierarchy being essentially automatons with no autonomy at all? Or should it be the other way around – little fiefdoms that are only nominally a part of a larger whole?

When you are early to check in at a hotel, should the clerk have the ability to decide whether you should be checked in, or should she be inflexible about rules that have been set at the very top?

Can one think of nations as one thinks of organizations? If yes, then what about the ability to tax and spend at the governmental level? Should that rest with the centre, or the states? Today’s five articles help us start to learn about this particular problem, keeping India front and centre:

  1. Here’s the World Bank with it’s view on decentralization in India.
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  2. “The effectiveness of decentralization requires the calibration of the administrative, political and fiscal dimensions. Without political decentralization, participatory decision-making is not possible. Administrative decentralization is necessary to implement political decisions, and an important precondition for fiscal decentralization. Efficiency in the delivery of public services depends on administrative efficiency and accountability. To assess rural local government finance in India, it is useful to compare the system with current thinking on a well-functioning intergovernmental fiscal system.”
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    Again from the World Bank, this time the rather more difficult issue of separating out decentralization and what it means in an administrative sense, and in a fiscal sense.
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  3. The results of a UNDP survey about decentralization in India. I found the slide on challenges about decentralization to be the most thought provoking.
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  4. “Vertical imbalance essentially arises due to the fiscal asymmetry in powers of taxation vested with the different levels of government in relation to their  expenditure responsibilities prescribed by the constitution. Our Federal Structure has three levels of Governments: Central Government, State Governments and the elected Local Bodies. In India the Central government has far greater or larger domain where it may tax e.g., income taxes personal or corporate, taxing consumption of goods and services (CGST), taxing foreign transactions (exports/imports) and capturing natural resources rents, e.g.,
    Spectrum Auction. In contrast, post-GST, the State governments may only tax the consumption of goods and services (SGST) and agricultural incomes, while the local or the third tier has even more limited power to tax which is largely confined to property tax”
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    My apologies for the poor alignment of the text – pasting from a PDF is an act of sorcery that I am very far from mastering. The PDF itself is well worth reading for a student of fiscal federalism in India – Dr. Kelkar on the subject in a working paper.
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  5. And finally, if you have made it this far, a rather long (but fascinating) read from the RBI on the experience of fiscal decentralization from other nations – especially pertinent for India in terms of how to think about this rather thorny issue in the years to come.

Tech: Links for 23rd July 2019

  1. “Cichon’s find shows us that when thinking about their overall impact on the planet, it’s not helpful to think in isolation about producing 2 billion iPhones. Instead, we should think about a counterfactual: What would have been produced over the past 12 years in a smartphone-free world? The answer, clearly, is a lot more: a lot more gear, and a lot more media.”
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    You might think that this piece is about technology. But it is at least as much about opportunity costs.
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  2. “Comparably high pricing has long been seen as a roadblock to success for Netflix in India, where competitors charge significantly less for their paid video services. For instance, Disney’s Hotstar service only charges consumers INR 365 for a full year of paid access.”
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    Will Netflix lower its prices in India? What do competitive markets have to say about this?
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  3. “China has been stealing our intellectual property and conducting cyber-warfare, and China is an unusually dirty country dirtying up the planet. Trump’s 25% tariffs on China should be reframed as a carbon tax.
    You don’t want people negotiating trade treaties who are dogmatic about free trade. The worse job they do, the better job they think they are doing. You need people who are skeptical to be negotiating trade treaties, in order to get a better deal for the U.S. You don’t want them to be playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” in the background.”
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    Notes from a Peter Thiel speech. If you want to learn how to do contrarian thinking, there probably isn’t a better person around.
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  4. “Of all the fables that have grown up around the moon landing, my favorite is the one about Stanley Kubrick, because it demonstrates the use of a good counternarrative. It seemingly came from nowhere, or gave birth to itself simply because it made sense. (Finding the source of such a story is like finding the source of a joke you’ve been hearing your entire life.) It started with a simple question: Who, in 1969, would have been capable of staging a believable moon landing?”
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    I am (emphatically!) not saying that the moon landing was a conspiracy. I just enjoyed reading this article because it is a good exercise in the following exercise: I don’t believe it – not for a second. But if it were to be true, how might it have been done?
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  5. Not the most well written article you’ll find, and the advertisements aren’t fun to switch off – but a useful list of startups in the education space. As you might imagine, a topic I find very interesting indeed.

India: Links for 15th July, 2019

Five articles that help you understand different aspects of water in India.

  1. “Asia’s water resources are largely transnational, making inter-country cooperation and collaboration essential. Yet the vast majority of the 57 transnational river basins in continental Asia have no water-sharing arrangement or any other cooperative mechanism. This troubling reality has to be seen in the context of the strained political relations in several Asian sub-regions.”
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    First, the big picture. This article helps you understand India’s issues with water from a transnational, Asian perspective. The author of this book, by the way, has written an entire book about water and how it might (in his view, probably will) lead to conflict in the region. You might think, by the way, that the article isn’t about India – oh, but it is.
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  2. “The much-awaited train transporting water from Vellore to Chennai was flagged off on Friday morning from Jolarpet station. The water, transported in 50 bogie wagons, is expected to reach the city at around 2 p.m.A senior official of the Southern Railway said the water wagon would by arriving at Villivakkam where State Ministers would be present to receive the train.”
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    Reading this article prompted me to compile today’s list. There really isn’t that much more to say!
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  3. “So-called virtual water exports – the molecules of H20 embedded in exported goods, alongside those rendered unusable by the production of those goods – amount to a net 95.4 billion cubic meters a year, according to data collected by the Water Footprint Network, a group that encourages thriftier usage. This makes India a bigger exporter of water than far better-endowed countries such as Brazil, Russia, the U.S. and Canada, and represents nearly four times the 25 billion cubic meters consumed by India’s households and industrial enterprises.”
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    Not pricing water, as Nitin Pai spoke about in last week’s collection, is a really, really bad idea. This article explains some of the implications. Incentives matter!
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  4. “Based on estimates from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in 2017, provision of piped drinking water for all households required close to Rs. 500,000 crores. Even if states are expected to put in around half of what is required, the per annum allocation requirement for a 4-year period will be over 60,000 crores, to cover hardware, human resources, water quality infrastructure, operations and maintenance costs, citizen’s engagement, and special arrangements for quality affected as well as other marginalised populations, according to Raman.”
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    So what is the government planning on doing about this?
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  5. “RWH can be done in homes, apartments, societies, schools, institutions, commercial premises and any other space as long as there is a catchment area in the form of a roof or open space to capture the rain.Domestic rainwater harvesting is a relatively simpler affair, where even a rain barrel can serve as a storage unit for rooftop RWH. Individual homes have successfully implemented this easy and eco-friendly method of augmenting household-level water availability. Farmers also have implemented RWH to transform a barren piece of land into a self sustainable, lush green farm.”
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    OK… so what can I, as an indivdual do about it?

EC101: Links for 11th July, 2019

  1. “The two approaches reflect different attitudes toward risk, the role of government and collective social responsibility. Analogous to America’s debate over health insurance, the American philosophy has been to make more resilient buildings an individual choice, not a government mandate.”
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    Risk, how (not) to measure it and therefore understand it. As Taleb is fond of saying, “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence”.
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  2. “Is it possible that interest rates are a net input cost in the Indian context? This existential monetary question is yet to be even acknowledged by economists, let alone addressed.”
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    A superb (and I use the word advisedly) overview of monetary policy and how it works in India.
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  3. “I would challenge my students at the start of the new semester with the following three questions; 1) how much does it cost you to go to the beach (we lived in a coastal city)? 2) should Tiger Woods mow his own lawn? or 3) should Lebron and Kobie go to college?”
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    Opportunity costs, economic costs and accounting costs – all in one article, and therefore a great read.
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  4. “The cornerstone of Harvard professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s introductory economics textbook, Principles of Economics, is a synthesis of economic thought into Ten Principles of Economics (listed in the first table below). A quick perusal of these will likely affirm the reader’s suspicions that synthesizing economic thought into Ten Principles is no easy task, and may even lead the reader to suspect that the subtlety and concision required are not to be found in the pen of N. Gregory Mankiw.”
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    A hilarious (but perhaps only to an economist) take on the ten principles of economics.
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  5. “And the long version of the history is crucial here. It shows that for much of the 20th century, total taxes on the very wealthy were much higher than they are now. Before World War II, the average rate hovered around 70 percent. From the mid-1940s through the mid-1970s, the average rate was above 50 percent.”
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    David Leonhardt on taxing the rich in America. His newsletter is worth subscribing to, by the way.

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.