Etc: Inequality, Gigerenzer, solstices, technology today, and Sir Abed

Five links that I read about recently that I figured you might enjoy reading too.

  1. “A decade ago, the writer Deborah Solomon asked Donald Trump what he thought of the idea that “all men are created equal.” “It’s not true,” Trump reportedly said. “Some people are born very smart. Some people are born not so smart. Some people are born very beautiful, and some people are not, so you can’t say they’re all created equal.” Trump acknowledged that everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law but concluded that “All men are created equal” is “a very confusing phrase to a lot of people.” More than twenty per cent of Americans, according to a 2015 poll, agree: they believe that the statement “All men are created equal” is false.”
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    The New Yorker on inequality. I learnt about luck egalitarianism by reading this article, but it is a good overview of the topic more generally.
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  2. “There is a low-tech way design your portfolio. It’s simply called 1/N formula or equality heuristics. Simple divide your funds equally across funds. It sounds too simplistic for the complex world of finance, and unlikely to impress any investor from whom you are raising funds (unlikely to impress you if someone is asking for your money, saying 1/N is their portfolio allocation strategy). ”
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    A nice profile from Founding Fuel of Gigerenzer’s work, ideas and productivity.
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  3. “I’m informed, however, that this 20 minute error in the Hindu solar calendar is deliberate, and that this has been put in place for astrological reasons. Apparently, astrology follows a 26400 year cycle, and for that to bear out accurately, our solar calendar needs to have a 20 minute per year error! So for the last 1700 or so years, we have been using a calendar that is accurate for astrological calculations but not to seasons! Thankfully, the lunar calendar, which has been calibrated to the movement of stars, captures seasons more accurately!”
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    The catchily titled Noenthuda blog explains more about Makar Sankranti and the summer solstice.
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  4. “…few companies are pure “tech” companies seeking to disrupt the dominant cloud and mobile players; rather, they take their presence as an assumption, and seek to transform society in ways that were previously impossible when computing was a destination, not a given. That is exactly what happened with the automobile: its existence stopped being interesting in its own right, while the implications of its existence changed everything.”
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    Contextualizing technology today, by Stratechery.
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  5. “The idea is to give an extremely poor family an asset — say a cow or a goat or bees — that can increase its income over time. BRAC is hardly the first group to use this model; another prominent one is Heifer International. But BRAC combines the donation with a mix of services that has proved highly effective — including training and coaching on how to use the asset, cash grants to tide the family over while getting a new enterprise started, and help with health care and education.”
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    As the title of the blog post says, a profile of the most influential poverty fighter you’ve never heard of. Education matters!

Links for 7th June, 2019

  1. “In 1982, Deming’s book Quality, Productivity, and Competitive Position was published by the MIT Center for Advanced Engineering, and was renamed Out of the Crisis in 1986. In it, he offers a theory of management based on his famous 14 Points for Management. Management’s failure to plan for the future brings about loss of market, which brings about loss of jobs. Management must be judged not only by the quarterly dividend, but also by innovative plans to stay in business, protect investment, ensure future dividends, and provide more jobs through improved products and services. “Long-term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation. The timid and the fainthearted, and the people that expect quick results, are doomed to disappointment.””
    I cam across this link via Amit Paranjape on Twitter. I was familiar with Deming’s role in Japan, but hadn’t read the book referenced here, in this excerpt. Duly added to the list.
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  2. “While the Constitution provides for setting up of SFCs at regular intervals, this has
    not been adhered to by the states. The paper reviews the reports of the latest SFCs of 25 states in India. This involves examining the status of constitution of SFCs, their functioning and the approach adopted by them in carrying out their task and the principles adopted by them in allocating resources to local governments both vertically and horizontally. It also quantifies the devolution recommended by the SFCs in order to get a comparative picture of funds devolved by them across states. It is observed that there is huge variation in the recommended per capita devolution across States. We do not find any relation between the recommended per capita devolution and per capita income of States, but per capita devolution is in general very low across states in India. Is it that the state governments arbitrarily reject the recommendations or are the SFCs themselves to be blamed for non-acceptance of their recommendations? The paper also examines the quality of SFC
    reports from the point of view of their implementability and finds that at times state governments are constrained to implement these recommendations on the grounds of poor quality of SFC reports.”
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    Financial decentralization (well, decentralization in general) has never really worked in India. Financial decentralization in particular is an important, under-rated topic in economics. This paper is not a good place to learn about these topics, but it is good analysis of how State Financial Commissions haven’t really worked at all in India.
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  3. “What is Luminary’s problem? The answer is that their strategy is not well thought out. They give all of the appearances of starting with the notion ‘Netflix for Podcasts’ and then jumping to the later Netflix model to start that (where Netflix spends $$ on its own content) rather than where Netflix started which was streaming older ad-free content.Where should they have started? They should have started with an idea — “we are going to bring expensive to produce audio content to the Internet” — and then asked who their customers would be, what technology choices they would make, what is the core of their business and who precisely will they compete against?”
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    Worth reading for three reasons. One, it helps you understand what podcasts really are, and how they started. Second, because this article helps you understand how to evaluate business models. Third, because Joshua Gans is worth following in any case.
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  4. “This very short sketch of the well-known effects of the first globalization allows us to remind ourselves of both its positive and negative sides: huge technological progress as against exploitation, increased incomes for many vs. grinding poverty and exclusion for others, European mastery of the world vs. a colonial status of Africa and much of Asia.In what ways should it inform our thinking about the current globalization?”
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    An important question to ask, and one that is succinctly answered in this op-ed. A good article to read to get a sense of global economic history, and what inequality means in that context.
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  5. “I haven’t studied philosophy, but from the outside it mostly seems to revolve around three basic issues:Reality (ontology)

    Values (ethics and aesthetics)

    Knowledge (epistemology)

    Here are three basic questions, one from each field:

    A. Why is there something rather than nothing?

    B. Is it better that there is something rather than nothing?

    C. Can we answer questions #1 and #2? If so, how?”
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    A lovely, and slightly unusual post from Scott Sumner – he does return to typical topics towards the end. But enjoyable, to help you understand how to think about philosophy, economics and therefore monetary theory. And try coming up with your “three questions”!

Links for 25th March, 2019

  1. “The researchers discovered that commonly visited places, like coffee shops, can be within a few feet of each other but they can each primarily have visitors from completely different income brackets. This indicates that economic inequality isn’t just present at the neighborhood level, but it can also show up among the places people visit as part of their daily routines. It suggests that income inequality might impact not just where people live, but also where they go. ”
    A great article to help you think through the following: inequality, how to measure it, how to measure it using modern methods, what is the difference between class inequality and income inequality, sampling, the limitations of sampling, the Data For Good initiative, 100 Resilient Cities and the SmartCitiesDive program.
  2. “An experiment that the researchers arranged hinted at a possible explanation of the correlation they found. They asked participants to picture and describe what it would be like to have a certain amount of daily free time, and then report how they’d feel about that allotment. “What we find is that having too little time makes people feel stressed, and maybe that’s obvious,” says Holmes. “But interestingly, that effect goes away—the role of stress goes away—once you approach the optimal point.” After that point, Holmes says, the subjects started to say they felt less productive overall, which could explain why having a lot of free time can feel like having too much free time.”
    One of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes strips has the quote “there never is enough time to do all the nothing you want to”, or words to that effect. This article tells you that having more than 2.5 hours of “nothing” time may well be too much.
  3. “While India has 70-odd companies that are rated highest quality, only two companies in the US enjoy this distinction. No company in Germany and UK enjoys AAA rating. Among emerging countries, China has only 14 AAA-rated entities. This implies a gulf between credit standards in India and elsewhere. The exacting standards observed in other countries are missing among domestic agencies.”
    Via Gulzar Natarajan, this article points out a disturbing statistic – Indian firms might well be given ratings that don’t really indicate their reliability. Rating agencies the world over took a hit to their reputation post the 2008 crisis, but this story seems to be unique to India. The article does have some caveats, but I’d say the news is, even so, worrying.
  4. “We employ Comin et al.’s (2010) data on ancient and early modern levels of technology adoption in a spatial econometric analysis. Historical levels of technology adoption in a (present-day) country are related to its lagged level as well as those of its neighbors. We allow the spatial effects to differ depending on whether they diffuse East-West or North-South. Consistent with the continental orientation hypothesis, East-West spatial effects are generally positive and stronger than those running North-South.”
    Are you familiar with vertical vs horizontal business models? Apple is vertical (controls everything, end-to-end) and Netflix is horizontal (needs to be available across multiple verticals to succeed). I was strongly reminded of that when I read this.
  5. “He is maddening in ways they never anticipated, along vectors they’ve never seen; he is a tireless innovator in the craft of mass irritation. He can cause fans to go absolutely nuts whether he wins or loses. McEnroe himself has spent a good chunk of the past five years complaining about Kyrgios, and McEnroe is probably the greatest tennis player of all time at driving people wild. Being found intensely annoying by John McEnroe is a high honor for any exasperating person. It’s like Beethoven humming your melody.”
    In which Brian Philips makes the case for the upside to Kyrgios being, well, Kyrgios. The interesting question is where else might such a contrarian philosophy work, and why?

Links for 19th March, 2019

  1. “Why do two people need a scrap of paper except to reassure them there’s concrete proof of their relationship?”
    … is a question worth asking in many respects, not just relationships. But some articles don’t really need to be subjected to analysis. A truly beautiful read, by Priya Ramani.
  2. “The episode is symptomatic of a fundamental European problem: unlike in China, macroeconomic policy, industrial policy and foreign and security policy are run independently of each other. The Huawei 5G bid shows that the EU is not well prepared to deal with a connection between security and industrial policy. Nor have the Europeans paid much attention to the impact of their fiscal rules — not least on defence and security policies. China, by contrast, has an integrated approach to economic and foreign policy.”
    Wolfgang Manchau on China and Germany, and who will have the upper hand going forward. Also an interesting way to think about what works better – top down approaches, or decentralized decision making. I usually find myself in favor of decentralization, but this article made me think about that a bit.
  3. “Second, growth in India has been unequalising because the top 10 per cent have benefitted disproportionally more from it than the bottom 90. In addition, growth has been unequalising across regions and ethnicities. In these circumstances, arguments for direct transfers are in vogue to compensate for this failure, not to address it.”
    Rathin Roy in an excellent article explains why we spend far too little on far too many things (and when I say we, I mean the government). Two things: this, theory suggests, is inevitable. Two, the column doesn’t mention – probably because of lack of space – the political compulsions that make this all but inevitable. But it is a great read!
  4. “Economists and commentators who have written on UBI for India have made the case for doing away with many subsidies and exemptions. The problem is that doing so may not be politically feasible. How does any politician sell the taking away of food subsidies to the masses of the country? Or how does any politician justify the introduction of tax on agricultural income or the introduction of estate duty or doing away of subsidies on urea and other fertilizers?”
    And while on that topic, Vivek Kaul in ThinkPragati reviews a book about Universal Basic Income by Guy Standing. I have not read the book, but the quote above jumped out at me. In my opinion, the problem with implementing UBI in India is not an economic one, but a political one.
  5. “Olive trees follow a pattern known as alternate bearing, with bad years routinely followed by good. This year, the EU expects Europe’s overall olive basket to be saved by a surge from its biggest producer, Spain.A trend there towards super intensive plantations may partly mitigate climate change impacts, according to Valentini – but at a cost to traditional farming and biodiversity. Fast-growing, high-density olive plantations might be more drought-resistant but water resources could also be limited by these plantations, he said”
    Will future generations understand the phrase “like taking coals to Newcastle”? Italy – and I cannot believe I am typing this out – will import olives this year. Whatever will the next Mario Puzo do?