Livemint Interviews Cass Sunstein

Quick update, especially pertinent given the behavioral economics workshop at Gokhale Institute: Cass Sunstein interviewed by Anil Padmanabhan.

 

Who is Cass Sunstein, you ask?

Here’s a slightly old profile. Here’s the link to his Amazon author page. Here is an interview he did with Tyler Cowen. Here is his faculty page. Here’s a piece I loved reading (written by him).

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India: Links for 13th August, 2019

Five links about India from the past couple of weeks:

  1. Nitin Pai explains why the banana thingie was a mere storm in a teacup.
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  2. A rather uninspiring review of the GST impementation, by reading the CAG review of the… well, GST implementation.
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  3. Vivek Kaul in the Livemint analyzes credit growth in the economy, and asks who exactly is borrowing. To me, this article raises more questions than answers.
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  4. “At the Centre, the privatisation of state enterprises during the Vajpayee era is an aberration which validates the norm. The government is the largest business house and owns 339 enterprises in 2019. Leave alone the disinvestment of Air India or 23 other enterprises. In 2018, the ownership of private carrier Jet Airways is parked on the balance sheet of public sector banks. The debate is not just about government ownership but about political management. ”
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    To me, a deeply depressing issue is the fact that no government in India, bar none, has taken divestment seriously, with the notable exception of the Vajpayee government. It’s been more of the same before, and more of the same after. Deep sigh.
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  5. Is democracy an end in and of itself, or is it the means to an end?

Etc: Links for 26th July, 2019

  1. “Novak Djokovic has a way of winning even when he’s losing. He has a way of patiently absorbing his opponent’s most devastating play, doing just enough to stay alive, and choosing precisely the right moment to strike back. He’ll lose a spectacular rally and then, while the commentators are still gushing about the other player, unspectacularly win the next point. You’ll think he’s getting run off the court, and then he’ll absolutely maul a couple of forehand winners, and suddenly you realize that he’s about to win the set. Tennis is a game of moments hidden inside a game of runs. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player who knows how to exploit that duality better than Djokovic.”
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    Brian Philips on the phenomenon that is Novak Djokovic.
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  2. “Let’s make copies of these videos and send them to schools, to young athletes, coaches, administrators, parents, teams. Youngsters need to appreciate every part of sport, especially this, the professionalism of showing up and looking the questioner in the eye. The strength that it requires to be honest, to let people glimpse your despair and also witness your conviction. On their worst days, the great athlete is only beaten, not broken.”
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    Rohit Brijnath on the phenomena that are Kane Williamson and Roger Federer. As I said on this Sunday – sports has a lot to teach us.
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  3. “The idea of a power law is fundamental to under­standing the music market as well as the superstar phenomenon. The distributions of streamed songs, album sales and concert revenue are all closely approximated by a power law. And so are the numbers of Twitter followers, YouTube subscrib­ers and Facebook likes that musicians attract.”
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    I have a sneaking suspicion that I linked to this when Alan Krueger passed away, but still – worth reading again. On the economics of Rihanna’s stardom.
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  4. “However, while physicists have studied the physics of mixing concrete, fewer have taken a close look at the forces at work in chocolate conching, as the process is called. Now a team of physicists, funded in part by Mars, the confectionary company, published a paper last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing just what happens as the ingredients of chocolate are given a stir on their way to becoming a delicious treat.”
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    My word for the day: conching.
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  5. “On the other hand, the fish are huge—Bolbometopon muricatum can reach up to 4.5 feet long, and 165 pounds or so—and fairly funky-looking. Their foreheads are almost comically bulbous, like they’ve just been clonked on the head. Their mouths, with 1,000 strong, sharp teeth that demolish coral, algae, and squishy polyps, make them look like perpetually startled horses. And then there’s the reason scientists were in the water to begin with: to collect their prodigious amounts of poop.”
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    Fish, poop, science and research. This piece markets itself.

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.

Links for 6th May, 2019

  1. “Not long ago, the Liverpool away coach uniform was technical mountain climbing apparel, which had its roots in drug dealers in cold northwest England figuring they didn’t need to freeze to death slinging weed in a park. That meant a lot of North Face gear, which became fashionable. One leader at an LFC firm bought so much high-end gear that when he got a stadium ban several years ago, he actually started climbing mountains around the country, unsure of what else to do with all the stuff he’d bought.”
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    A nice long read on Liverpool: the city and the club. Also a fascinating peek into a place in England that isn’t necessarily English.
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  2. “In my view, reform of government economic administration must take priority. As things stand, it is a prerequisite for the success of any other reform. A weak state cannot deliver anything other than grandiloquent statements of intention. This must change. Without a capable State, there can be no transformation.”
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    Rathin Roy explains in the Business Standard why India hasn’t fulfilled its potential so far, and what needs to be done to change the status quo.
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  3. “How much, in all, does Popovich spend annually on food and wine? That’s hard to say. But he reportedly earns $11 million a year, the highest salary in the league for a head coach. Considering the offerings from his private wine label and that he holds thousands of bottles in his cellar, plots out dozens of high-end dinners per year at some of the country’s most high-end restaurants, drops $20,000 on wine alone at some dinners, and routinely leaves exorbitant tips — well, it’s not a stretch to suggest that Popovich might ultimately drop a seven-figure annual investment on food and wine. “He’s spent more on wine and dinners than my whole [NBA] salary,” former NBA coach Don Nelson says. But in San Antonio — where Popovich has won more with his team than any NBA coach has with a single team in history — the investment, apparently, has been worth it.”
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    Is good dining the means to an end? Read this fascinating article to find out one man’s answer.
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  4. “Gorbachev pushes back at the notion that the Soviet Union’s end was somehow a triumph for the other side. “Americans thought they’d won the Cold War, and this went to their heads,” he says. “What victory? It was our joint victory. We all won.” Well, maybe not entirely — Vladimir V. Putin, pointedly absent from most of the film, is glimpsed in footage of Raisa Gorbachev’s funeral — but you come away from the movie agreeing with Herzog’s assessment, and yearning for Gorbachev’s brand of diplomacy.”
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    A short article about Gorbachev – a documentary about the man. He’s 88 this year, but the article is interesting throughout. And the excerpt is a great way to think about whether you have really understood the concept of a zero-sum-game.
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  5. “The Northern states are densely populated. But this density has clearly not provided the economies of scale to promote rapid economic growth. One problem is that the dense population in the Gangetic plains is not clustered in large cities. Prateek Raj of the Indian Institute of Management in Bengaluru has written about the metropolis vacuum in the Hindi speaking states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which together have 500 million residents (bit.ly/2UOS2Kv). “The glaring absence of a major metropolitan center in the region has forced young people to migrate away from the small towns and move to other cities in the West and the South,” he argues.”
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    A lovely read from Niranjan Rajadhakshya about what ails Northern India and how one might tackle the issue. The lack of urbanization is a very real problem in Northern India, among others.

Links for 2nd May, 2019

  1. “I think that most capitalists don’t know how to divide the economic pie well and most socialists don’t know how to grow it well, yet we are now at a juncture in which either a) people of different ideological inclinations will work together to skillfully re-engineer the system so that the pie is both divided and grown well or b) we will have great conflict and some form of revolution that will hurt most everyone and will shrink the pie.”
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    Written from an America centric viewpoint, but the article is worth reading for the wealth of data it shares, as also for the viewpoint about the need to reform capitalism.
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  2. “The solution, Wishnatzki believes, is to make a robot that can pick strawberries. He and a business partner, Bob Pitzer, have been developing one for the past six years. With the latest iteration of their invention—known around the farm as Berry 5.1—they are getting close.”
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    Strawberry fields forever. The article is worth reading because it speaks about robots, unemployment, demographics, immigration and the inevitability of agriculture becoming ever more mechanized.
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  3. “He also had a warning to anyone who assumes it will be “business as usual” once America’s Trump fever breaks. The idea that the Trump presidency is some sort of accident, he says, is a fantasy.”
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    An interview with the outgoing French ambassador to America. Worth reading on trade, Israel, Iran and much else besides.
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  4. “The Scrabble career of Nigel Richards went from great to astounding this week, after he won the French-language Scrabble World Championships. A New Zealand native, Richards has won several English-language titles; his new victory follows weeks of studying a French dictionary.”He doesn’t speak French at all, he just learnt the words,” his friend (and former president of the New Zealand Scrabble Association) Liz Fagerlund tells the New Zealand Herald. “He won’t know what they mean, wouldn’t be able to carry out a conversation in French I wouldn’t think.”
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    Oddly depressing, for multiple reasons. Takes the romance out of Scrabble, for one, but also points to the inevitability of automation.
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  5. “What’s woefully underexplored by economists is what the prevalence of caste implies to the Indian economy. A basic premise of the free market model is the absence of entry barriers—not just for firms keen to enter markets for goods and services, but also for people pursuing career options. In theory, companies that are under the pressure of competition to perform would want to hire workers in a way that maximizes the productivity of their workforce; a caste bias would probably stymie the cause of corporate efficiency. None of it may be overtly or even consciously done, but the effects of such a tendency could add up. Caste, thus, would result in an inefficient allocation of human resources across the economy. ”
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    Worth reading if you are starting to learn economics, and aren’t quite sure what competition and barriers to entry mean – but also if you are a student of India today.

Links for 26th April, 2019

  1. “The world economy desperately needs a plan for “peaceful coexistence” between the United States and China. Both sides need to accept the other’s right to develop under its own terms. The US must not try to reshape the Chinese economy in its image of a capitalist market economy, and China must recognize America’s concerns regarding employment and technology leakages, and accept the occasional limits on access to US markets implied by these concerns.”
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    Dani Rodrik explains the need for, as he puts it, peaceful coexistence – between China and the USA. My money is on this not happening: history, current affairs and game theory are my reasons for being less than optimistic.
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  2. “Yes, there was arsenic in Bangladesh’s wells, and it may have posed a health threat. But in areas where people were encouraged to switch away from the wells, child mortality jumped by a horrifying 45 percent — and adult mortality increased too. It turns out that the alternatives to the wells, for most people in Bangladesh, were all worse — surface water contaminated with waterborne diseases, or extended storage of water in the home, which is also a major disease risk.”
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    Unintended consequences is one of the most underrated phrases in economics.
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  3. “Only one of Murdoch’s adult children would win the ultimate prize of running the world’s most powerful media empire, but all four of them would ultimately have an equal say in the direction of its future: Murdoch had structured both of his companies, 21st Century Fox and News Corp, so that the Murdoch Family Trust held a controlling interest in them. He held four of the trust’s eight votes, while each of his adult children had only one. He could never be outvoted. But he had also stipulated that once he was gone, his votes would disappear and all the decision-making power would revert to the children. This meant that his death could set off a power struggle that would dwarf anything the family had seen while he was alive and very possibly reorder the political landscape across the English-speaking world.”
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    A very long, but very entertaining and informative read about the Murdoch family – its rise, its stumbles and its influence on the world today. Be warned, this is only the first part – but the entire thing is a great read.
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  4. “There has been a lot of churn in the Sensex over the decades. Corporate power in India seems to be more fragile than usually understood. Only a handful of companies such as Tata Motors, Hindustan Unilever, Mahindra & Mahindra, ITC, and Larsen & Toubro have managed to hold their place in the index. Many of the older industrial houses such as the Thapar group, the Walchand group and the Kirloskar group have slipped out of the benchmark index. Even the real estate and infrastructure giants who had a strong presence in the Sensex a decade ago — Jaiprakash Associates, Reliance Infrastructure and DLF, for example — are no longer in the index.”
    Niranjan Rajadhakshya writes in Livemint about the churn in the Sensex. Worth reading for the chart alone that appears midway through the article.
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  5. “The government has tried to change ideas about death through directives and incentives. In 2016, officials issued guidelines for encouraging more burials within nature, rather than delineating plots for tombs and memorials. In a revised law on funeral management in September, the central government called on local governments to provide financial support for public cemeteries, which would be cheaper for residents.”
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    An interesting read about the burial problem in China, and what they’re doing about it.