Links for 5th June, 2019

  1. “But I think Guo is here engaging in a strategy that is common for those who want to nudge the Chinese system in a more market-oriented direction: they tend to describe things are being more competitive and market-driven than they actually are, so that marginal change in that direction seems unremarkable and logical. If you pound the table and call China’s state-owned enterprises a core interest of the nation, it becomes quite difficult to change them. If you say, China is mostly a market economy already, then gradually reducing the role of SOEs over time seems pretty unthreatening.”
    ..
    ..
    Andrew Batson’s blog is entirely worth following (and for a variety of reasons!). In fact, the second link today will also be from his blog. But for the moment, let’s focus on how China might respond to America’s push against China’s State Owned Enterprises (SOE’s).
    ..
    ..
  2. “Local governments discovered they could borrow basically without limit to fund infrastructure projects, and despite many predictions of doom, those debts have not yet collapsed. The lesson China has learned is that debt is free and that Western criticisms of excessive infrastructure investment are nonsense, so there is never any downside to borrowing to build more infrastructure. China’s infrastructure-building complex, facing diminishing returns domestically, is now applying that lesson to the whole world.”
    ..
    ..
    Andrew Batson has a rather more optimistic take on the Belt and Road Initiative. Not as bad, as he mentions, as Brahma Chellaney makes it out to be. On the other hand, I still do think that Batson is far too optimistic about it – as usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle!
    ..
    ..
  3. “The strategy we have in mind would comprise three mutually reinforcing components: an increase in the skill level and productivity of existing jobs, by providing extension services to improve management or cooperative programs to advance technology; an increase in the number of good jobs by supporting the expansion of existing, local firms or attracting investment by outsiders; and active labor-market policies or workforce-development programs to help workers, especially from at-risk groups, master the skills required to obtain good jobs.”
    ..
    ..
    Dani Rodrik writes about how to create “good jobs”, and lots of them. I don’t think what he suggests will likely work, especially in a country like India, for a variety of reasons – but the biggest is that the kind of top-down, bureaucratic approach he suggests simply hasn’t worked in the past.
    ..
    ..
  4. “The overall trend was an incredible intensification of output. Splitters, one of the most skilled positions, provide a good example. The economist John Commons wrote that in 1884, “five splitters in a certain gang would get out 800 cattle in 10 hours, or 16 per hour for each man, the wages being 45 cents. In 1894 the speed had been increased so that four splitters got out 1,200 in 10 hours, or 30 per hour for each man – an increase of nearly 100% in 10 years.” Even as the pace increased, the process of de-skilling ensured that wages were constantly moving downward, forcing employees to work harder for less money.”
    ..
    ..
    An extremely readable extract from a book called The Red Meat Republic, this article in the Guardian speaks to how America’s beef industry came to be what it is. A great read for students of Industrial Organization, labor economics, development, pricing, transport economics – and more besides.
    ..
    ..
  5. “China has an industrial policy whose goal is to be competitive in these [branded goods] and other areas. Tariffs will limit profits for these companies and prevent Chinese products from achieving full economies of scale. So this preemptive tariff strike will hurt the Chinese economy in the future, even if it doesn’t yet show up in the numbers.”
    ..
    ..
    Tyler Cowen often forces himself to write the viewpoint on the other side – or at least, that’s how I interpret this article. I’m sharing it partly because it is worth reading (that’s a given, right?), but more so because that trait is worth emulating: force yourself to argue from the other side’s viewpoint. Whether in writing, or just as a thought exercise.

Links for 28th May, 2019

  1. “On March 18, 2013, at the Motera B ground, a scraggy-haired stick figure bowls his last two overs, landing (or trying to land) yorker after yorker. Looking on is former India coach John Wright, then head coach of Mumbai Indians. The batsmen are Mumbai openers Aditya Tare and Shoaib Shaikh. The No. 3, Abhishek Nayar, remembers: “Two pure batsmen at the crease, two overs of unbelievable yorkers. We couldn’t get him off the square.” Tare returns to the dressing room and says that the strange bowler was “a lot sharper than you thought”. One ball hits a batsman’s footmark, shoots up over wicketkeeper-captain Parthiv Patel’s head and zips over the boundary line. In the gallery, Wright sits up. Woah. The lad has wheels. “With some players you see something different and you go… there’s something there. It was the same that day. Real wheels.” He watches two overs, talks to Parthiv, makes a phone call to HQ, and Bumrah is invited to sign up for the IPL’s richest franchise.”
    ..
    ..
    Sharda Ugra in The Cricket Monthly on Jasprit Bumrah – but as Niranjan Rajadhakshya recently pointed out, really on development. Also, I was completely wrong about the IPL – it has, without a shadow of a doubt, been a boon for cricket in general, and Indian cricket in particular. Mea culpa!
    ..
    ..
  2. “The overall messages that emerge from our analysis are as follows. First, we find evidence that NPEs can be beneficial in improving allocation of technologies to end users (benign middleman), but also use the patent system to threaten litigation on downstream firms (stick-up artist). Second, the existence of NPEs in the market for ideas could discourage downstream innovators and encourage upstream innovators.Third, we show that the overall impact of NPEs on innovation is far from immediate, and depends on many forces in the market. A key question for understanding the impact of NPEs on innovation is what fraction of patent-infringing firms are innovators. On the academic side, researchers can further explore the role of non-innovators versus innovators in patent infringement. On the policy side, our work suggests that “patent trolls” need to also be understood in their multiple roles, instead of putting them into the single box of benign or malevolent.”
    ..
    ..
    The importance of opportunity cost, the role of patents, and how difficult it can be to understand how markets and market participants work, in one slightly complex article. Worth a read, for sure.
    ..
    ..
  3. “The scale of the potential changes seems hard to imagine. But look back through history, and humanity’s relations with the living world have seen three great transformations: the exploitation of fossil fuels, the globalisation of the world’s ecosystems after the European conquest of the Americas, and the domestication of crops and animals at the dawn of agriculture. All brought prosperity and progress, but with damaging side-effects. Synthetic biology promises similar transformation. To harness the promise and minimise the peril, it pays to learn the lessons of the past.”
    ..
    ..
    The Econommist examines, lucidly as always, the impact that synthetic biology might have on our future.
    ..
    ..
  4. “The Heckman Curve describes the rate of return to public investments in human capital for the disadvantaged as rapidly diminishing with age. Investments early in the life course are characterised as providing significantly higher rates of return compared to investments targeted at young people and adults. This paper uses the Washington State Institute for Public Policy dataset of program benefit cost ratios to assess if there is a Heckman Curve relationship between program rates of return and recipient age. The data does not support the claim that social policy programs targeted early in the life course have the largest returns, or that the benefits of adult programs are less than the cost of intervention.”
    ..
    ..
    On whether the Heckman Curve makes sense or not, from an empirial viewpoint. Again, for reasons of opportunity cost and the perils of policy planning.
    ..
    ..
  5. “Many regard the falloff in the creation of high-wage jobs as the inevitable result of advances in artificial intelligence and robotics. It isn’t. Technology can be used either to displace labor or to enhance worker productivity. The choice is ours. But to ensure that such decisions benefit workers, governments need to coax the private sector away from its singular focus on automation.”
    ..
    ..
    Darren Acemoglu helps us understand the importance of complements and substitutes, and how policy making, in spite of its many perils, remains important.