India: Links for 17th June, 2019

  1. “A changing global order, energy transitions and climate change and rapid technological advancement – India’s next government has the difficult task of steering the country through an interesting and crucial time. India 2024: Policy Priorities for the New Government, is a compendium of policy briefs from scholars at Brookings India, which identifies and addresses some of the most pressing challenges that India is likely to face in the next five years. Each policy brief is based on longer, in-depth and academically rigorous publications from the scholars.”
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    An excellent set of links to bookmark and keep handy to get a useful set of information about a) where India is today, and b) what she might need to do in terms of policy reform.
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  2. “While some of these issues can be resolved only in the next base-change exercise, greater transparency on the methodology and better data dissemination standards can help improve the credibility of the official GDP numbers. The CSO, which has now been merged with NSSO, can learn from the latter’s dissemination policies and start releasing unit-level data for all databases used in national accounts estimation (including MCA-21) in a machine readable format so that independent researchers can assess the quality of the data being fed into national accounts.”
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    Here’s a useful thumb rule to keep in mind when it comes to thinking about GDP. If the exercise doesn’t give you a headache, you haven’t thought hard enough about it. I am joking, of course – but only just. In this article, you get a sense of the myriad problems with the measurement of GDP in India. As the author of the piece above has mentioned on Twitter, what we need is a more reasoned discussion about how to measure economic data in this country, rather than fall into partisan debates of a political nature.
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  3. “Here is our contention: How far and how fast we can go below current 3.4 per cent as far as the centre’s fiscal deficit is concerned against the current demand slowdown? Do we stay put at 3.4 per cent (assuming it is met) for the first two years of the current government and then move down aggressively, as growth comes back to the system? We propose a radical shift in thinking as far as fiscal is concerned. The alternative to targeting fiscal deficit is that like most advanced economies and several emerging market economies India should target a structural deficit, which serves as an automatic counter-cyclical stabiliser.”
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    Lots to take away from this review of an article penned by two authors worth following in their own right, but rather more useful as a way to realize that this is how articles ought to be read: critical reading is exactly this.
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  4. “The government has completed laying optical fibre cables across more than 100,000 gram panchayats in the first phase and had aimed to complete connecting the remaining 150,000 councils by March 2019. The second phase has seen “zero progress”, according to government officials close to the matter. Pained by poor utilization of digital infrastructure, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) suggested auctioning BharatNet infrastructure on an “as is where is” basis after a meeting held in December at the prime minister’s office to take stock of the mission.”
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    Livemint on what needs to be done to revolutionize access to the internet even more in India. The role of gender in this case was not something I had thought about before, read the article to find out more. The bottom line is that we have come a long, long way – but also that there is a long, long way to go.
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  5. “There could be no compromise over values. And to understand those values, he rediscovered the wisdom from India’s ancient stories to bring clarity to our ambiguous present. And thus Karnad told us the meaning of what it means to be human.”
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    Livemint again, and this time it is Salil Tripathi mourning the passing away of Girish Karnad. RIP.
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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.

Links for 4th June, 2019

  1. ““Alexa, are you recording everything you hear?” It is a question more people are asking, though Amazon’s voice assistant denies the charges. “I only record and send audio back to the Amazon cloud when you say the wake word,” she insists, before referring questioners to Amazon’s privacy policy. Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, gives a similar answer. But as smart speakers from Amazon, Apple, Google and other technology giants proliferate (global sales more than doubled last year, to 86.2m) concerns that they might be digitally snooping have become more widespread. And now that these devices are acquiring other senses beyond hearing—the latest models have cameras, and future ones may use “lidar” sensors to see shapes and detect human gestures (see article)—the scope for infringing privacy is increasing. So how worried should you be that your speaker is spying on you?”
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    The article doesn’t answer the question it frames in as direct a fashion as readers might wish, but read this to understand that there is (as with everything else in life) a benefit to this technology, as also a cost.
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  2. “Many voters may have felt that others, more wealthier than them, were also being hurt by demonetization, and hence supported the adventurist move.The results of the second round of the YouGov-Mint Millennial Survey conducted in early 2019 suggest that even today and, despite all the evidence to the contrary, many urban youths who support the ruling party consider demonetization to be a great success of the government.”
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    Can you drive in reverse in a tunnel, Professor Hirschman? Livemint does a three year review of demonetization, and it is worth reading for a variety of reasons.
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  3. “Not all New York City views are created equal.Direct Central Park views may be the most valuable amenity in Manhattan real estate, but in a market filled with soaring new developments — some of which wind up blocking the views of other buildings — even a partial glimpse of a river, park or the city skyline can also command a hefty premium.”
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    This article is proof that microeconomics can be fun. But beyond that, it is also worth going through the article to take in the photographs. New York looks gorgeous!
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  4. “What Microsoft figured out is that it made far more sense for both Microsoft and their customers to pay on a subscription basis: companies would pay a set price on a monthly or annual basis, and receive access to the latest-and-greatest software. This wasn’t a complete panacea — updating software was still a significant undertaking — but at least the incentive to avoid upgrades was removed.There were also subtle advantages from a balance sheet perspective: now companies were paying for software in a rough approximation to their usage over time — an operational expense — as opposed to a fixed-cost basis. This improved their return-on-invested-capital (ROIC) measurements, if nothing else. And, for Microsoft, revenue became much more predictable.”
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    Ben Thompson helps one understand Microsoft, SaaS, Slack, Zoom and a simple way to understand what makes new businesses potentially attractive – be sure to read through the entire article to reach the four quadrant diagram at the end. Entirely worth your time.
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  5. “When it was finally time to deploy, with no hint from the U.S. or China or Brazil or India that anyone would send out a countering air force to simply knock the planes out of the sky, the three billionaires went back to the island and sent the aerosols tumbling through the stratosphere. There was no ceremony, no champagne, no photographs. This was nothing to be celebrated.”
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    My phrase-I-learned-today: Solar Radiation Management.

Links for 3rd June, 2019

  1. “His social credit score has been lowered, and the South China Morning Post reports that Xu also faces travel restrictions for accusing Chen of being a fake master. As a result, Xu can’t ride in second class or above on planes or sleeper trains, and cannot ride high-speed trains at all (and if he had kids they’d face prohibitions, too).”
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    First, the excerpt above is noteworthy because of the real world implications of a reduction in one’s social credit score. Second, read the article to find out why his score has been reduced in the first place. Truly mind boggling.
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  2. “There could be two reasons for this. In rural areas, the downside in incomes appears to have eroded any positive effects of lower inflation. Among urban consumers, the persistent inflation in goods and services other than food may have restricted the real and sentiment impact of lower food inflation. To be sure, it is possible that if inflation is lower but consumption has not gone up meaningfully, then savings have risen. But there is no clear data to prove this yet.”
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    Ira Dugal points out the problems of low inflation in India (who’d have thought it, huh?), but also, more broadly, points out how difficult it is to think through macroeconomic issues.
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  3. “The government has no business being in business. There are scores of government owned companies that do exactly the same thing – like BPCL, HPCL and IOC are all refiners and oil marketing companies. There’s OIL and ONGC. And a GAIL, a Petronet, an IGL and so on. That’s just in the Oil and Gas space. There are a gazillion public sector banks. There needs to be a regular practice to get rid of most of the stake in these companies and to corporatize them. What better time than when you have a mandate?”
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    Deepak Shenoy walks us through his wish list of what the new government should do, and provides (as always) an easy to understand overview of what the response of the markets has been (thus far) to the election results.
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  4. “The Great Trigonometrical Survey is credited with having measured the heights of 79 Himalayan peaks; they include the Everest, K2 and Kanchenjunga. It also measure the baselines of Saint Thomas Mount, Madras, baselines of Calcutta, Coimbatore, Tanjore, Guntur, the measurements of the Cauvery Delta, the measurements of Mysore and the Great Indian Arc – an arc extending from the tip of the Indian subcontinent to the mountains of Himalayas. The measurement of the great Indian arc is a significant milestone for Indian geography because it was the first effort to plot, in mathematical terms, the vastness of the subcontinent from the north to south.”
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    The Madras Courier helps us understand the importance of the Great Trigonometrical Survey, and gives us a peek into the romance associated with the entire exercise. If you find yourself interested in the entire exercise, there is also an entire book about it.
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  5. “So, here’s a story. On 15 April 2019, when the roofspace over the crossing of Paris Cathedral caught fire, I was in a pub in east London having a burger. My initial reaction was not one of anxiety for the 12th-century Early Gothic church, with its splendid 13th-century Rayonnant superstructure and rose windows with contemporary (if VERY restored) medieval stained glass, but instead a slight feeling of dismay of how long this would mean the building would be closed and how much it would cost to replace the roof. It was also a great shame to lose the crowning achievement of the restorer Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, his magnificent Neo-Gothic crossing flèche, albeit mere days after all the statues had been removed from it for restoration. Anyway, then I went off to watch Kubrick-themed Italian thrash-metal revival band Ultra-Violence open for Wisconsin death metallers Jungle Rot without that much worry.”
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    A rather flippant, and therefore enjoyable dissection of the Notre Dame, the damage done to it, and what could be done about it. I do not know enough to comment about whether it makes sense or not, but I learned from reading it – hence the recommendation. Via The Browser.

Links for 29th May, 2019

  1. “And so India will continue to grow at her sluggish pace; socialism will continue to thrive; Air India will continue to fly; and Modi will continue to waste a fifth of our yearly budget on PSUs. Modi always knew that the secret to winning elections is socialism. What he has learnt now is the secret to running India. It is to gamble.”
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    I have posted this link not because I agree with the conclusion (I don’t), but because I share the sense of pessimism when it comes to matters pertaining to economic reforms, or the lack of them. India needs me, and the author, to be completely wrong about our pessimism.
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  2. “Zahran Hashim, 33, radical preacher and alleged ringleader, found little acceptance in his hometown Kattankudy, in eastern Batticaloa. Mosques in the predominantly Muslim town rejected him outright. Their members even complained to authorities, before he went absconding in 2017 after a clash with a fellow priest who challenged his interpretation of Islam.But soon, a team of young Muslim men — and one woman — from other, mostly Sinhala-majority, areas eagerly joined him on his Easter mission to carry out a suicide attack on churches and high-end hotels in and around Colombo and Batticaloa. All nine bombers were in their 20s and 30s.”
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    A mostly depressing, but also revealing, portrait of the nine people who perpetrated the terror attacks in Sri Lanka recently.
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  3. “There are striking parallels between the philosophies of Trump and NIMBY urbanists. Trump asserts that America is “full” and so wants to restrict the flow of immigrants. The urbanists, who tend to be Democratic and highly educated, assert that their cities are too crowded and so want to restrict the supply of housing. The cultural valence of the two views is quite different, but the practical implications have a lot in common — namely, a harder set of conditions for potential low-skilled migrants to the U.S.”
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    As he so often does, Professor Cowen reminds us why studying economics is entirely worth our time. In this case, he explains why NIMBYism, and high minimum wages are at least as anti-immigration as are, well, walls.
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  4. “Our goal is to defeat the snail in a race.”
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    Possibly the shortest extract I have put up ever, but it is hard to improve on that sentence. For once, I won’t speak about what the link is about. Try guessing what it might be about before clicking here!
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  5. “What’s happening here is much more complicated than an imagined zero-sum game between the defenders of books and library futurists. The decline in the use of print books at universities relates to the kinds of books we read for scholarly pursuits rather than pure pleasure, the rise of ebooks and digital articles, and the changing environment of research. And it runs contrary to the experience of public libraries and bookstores, where print continues to thrive.”
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    The Atlantic on substitutes and complements. On books actually, but read this article to understand how to think about the implications of thinking about complements and substitutes

Links for 24th May, 2019

  1. “A few months ago, as I was reading Constance Reid’s excellent biography of Hilbert, I figured out if not the answer to this question, at least something that made me feel better about it. She writes:
    Hilbert had no patience with mathematical lectures which filled the students with facts but did not teach them how to frame a problem and solve it. He often used to tell them that “a perfect formulation of a problem is already half its solution.”
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    A very short, but oh-so-readable essay from Paul Graham. Please read it for a variety of reasons, but mostly to understand that reading is a long term activity with a lot (a lot!) of positive payoffs in the long run.
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  2. “When the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) measures economic output, it categorizes spending with the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA). Some of this spending, which is counted as C, I, and G, is spent on imported goods.1 As such, the value of imports must be subtracted to ensure that only spending on domestic goods is measured in GDP. For example, $30,000 spent on an imported car is counted as a personal consumption expenditure (C), but then the $30,000 is subtracted as an import (M) to ensure that only the value of domestic production is counted (Table 3). As such, the imports variable (M) functions as an accounting variable rather than an expenditure variable. To be clear, the purchase of domestic goods and services increases GDP because it increases domestic production, but the purchase of imported goods and services has no direct impact on GDP.”
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    From within the link to the Noah Smith article yesterday, a good, short explainer of GDP, and why imports don’t “reduce” from GDP.
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  3. “In economics, there is no free lunch. While TV channels feel that they are saving money by not paying the experts, what they get in return is a total mess and not some meaningful, coherent programming, in which people can take away some learning at the end.”
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    Vivek Kaul explains why people on the news shout so much. Incentives – it’s all, always, about incentives!
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  4. “In a 2009 summary paper of their respective decision-making sub-fields, psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein spell out the conditions required for expertise to exist. They discover that in order for expert intuition to work, the practitioner needs to inhabit a domain where:The environment is regular. That is, the situation must be sufficiently predictable, with observable causal cues.
    There must be ample opportunities to learn causal cues from the environment.”
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    An interesting article about whether ideas from one domain should be used in another, and under what circumstances.
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  5. “Whether the East Asian Model will take hold in East Africa and beyond is not a given. But it also isn’t a stretch to see how the African “Lion economies” could accelerate their transformation by embracing the formula that successively produced the Asian Tigers and China.In his seminal Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen equated personal freedom with economic development. But to reach that objective requires traversing through the phase of “development as imitation” of successful models that came before.”
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    Can Africa achieve in this century what Asia did in the previous one, following the same playbook? This is going to be the most important question for this century, and this article helps you understand how to think about it. One useful way to start thinking about it, at any rate.

Links for 20th May, 2019

  1. “The debate could have been depoliticized if the CSO was more sensitive to criticisms, and had made proactive disclosures on the error estimates of different sub-sectors of GDP, with explanations for why output estimates for some sectors were more reliable than that of others. In fact, the first national account estimates presented by Mahalanobis after India’s independence carefully noted the data gaps and limitations of the estimates, as well as the error margins associated with each sectoral estimate. Providing such error estimates would also have drawn wider attention to data gaps, and could have helped MoSPI garner the requisite resources to fill those gaps.”
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    An article entirely worth reading if you are interested in India’s statistical organizations – from independence until today, the tale has been one of slow and painful deterioration.
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  2. “In short, Indian agriculture has undergone a phenomenal change over the last decade that it is no more dependent on just foodgrain or one sector. In fact, it has emerged as a versatile sector that still provides employment to over 50 per cent of the country’s population (per 2011 census) and keeps the economy ticking in rural areas despite the vagaries of weather.”
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    A useful place to get a good summary of Indian agriculture over the last decade or so. But I would argue that the key point is that there are far too many people employed in this sector – and that is the real problem.
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  3. “The four main factors they identify are as follows. First, there are historical institutions such as slavery and colonial rule. Second, the impact of cultural norms linked to religion, trust, family ties and beliefs. Third, there are geographical factors such as the terrain, temperature shocks and the frequency of floods. Fourth, historical accidents, such as the way national boundaries are drawn, also have an impact. These four factors together play an important role in the development trajectory of a country through time. The question is, what can be done to overcome these constraints in case they are a barrier to development? Can anything be done at all?”
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    Using cricket to learn about development economics. Or is it the other way around? Exactly the kind of article the world sees far too little of!
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  4. “The state legislators who are passing these bills know they will be challenged in court. They also know they will probably lose. But their sights appear to be set higher than their state jurisdictions: With a solidly conservative majority on the Supreme Court, anti-abortion advocates are eager to seed the challenge that could one day take down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 opinion that legalized abortion up to the point of fetal viability. At the very least, they hope the Supreme Court will undercut Roe and subsequent decisions that reaffirmed abortion rights, the idea being that each legal challenge makes it a little harder to obtain an abortion in the United States.”
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    Have you heard of Roe vs. Wade? Might you be curious to learn about what exactly culture has to do with economics, as we discussed in the link above? A useful, if unfortunate example is this article.
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  5. “What concerns health practitioners is the high transmissibility of the bug. “We studied the fungus in January, 2017, when we found it had colonized the skin of a patient who was referred to the Trauma Care ICU from another hospital. But within four days, it (bug) had spread to all the other patients admitted in the unit. All nine of them,” said professor Arunaloke Chakrabarti from Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh.”
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    Just in case your Monday wasn’t depressing enough. Be afraid – be very afraid.