India: Links for 9th September, 2019

  1. Mild disagreement with the conclusions of this piece, but that notwithstanding, a useful piece to read. This is on the slowdown in the Indian economy
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  2. “Those who access public services can be roughly divided into three segments—those who can pay to get, those who vote to get, and then there is the middle class.”
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    Shankkar Aiyar is a fine, fine writer. Here’s further proof.
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  3. “There is no real right time for disinvestment—only the right reason. Yes, mergers are good, but what about erosion of value—the market value of HDFC Bank is more than all PSBs put together.”
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    And even further proof
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  4. Niranjan Rajadhakshya on the linkages between GST reform, DTC reform, and how they feed into and out of each other.
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  5. On Bouncing Boards.

India: Links for 24th June, 2019

  1. “Was the earlier system, based largely on ASI (Annual Survey of Industries) for manufacturing (registered and unregistered), perfect? No, it wasn’t. Is the MCA-based system perfect? No, it isn’t. Despite problems with MCA, is the MCA-based system superior to the ASI-based one? The consensus (I didn’t use the word unanimity) among experts seems to be that it is.”
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    Bibek Debroy’s article discusses Arvind Subramanian’s paper. That excerpt above is probably the best way of thinking about it – and as I’ve said before and will say again: if thinking about GDP measurement doesn’t give you a headache, you aren’t doing it right. By the way, two of the twitter threads this past Saturday were about the same issue: worth reading, in my opinion.
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  2. “In manufacturing, the increase in informalisation is due to two reasons, according to a 2018 study by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations: first, because of dispersal of production from larger to smaller units; and second, because of the creation of an informal workforce subject to fewer regulations, the fact that employing contract (or informal) workers reduces the bargaining power of the regular or formal worker, suppressing wages overall.”
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    Indiaspend reviews the state of employment in the country, and finds that there is far too much informalization – but also that this is increasing  over time. In this regard, the best book, by far, to read is Bhagwati and Panagariya’s “Tryst with Destiny”.
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  3. “Indian macro policy has been operating under an implicit 2-4-6-8 framework, which are the targets for the sustainable current account deficit, the desired level of retail inflation, the consolidated fiscal deficit target embedded in law and the aspirational rate of economic growth. There is a need to take a fresh look at this macro policy playbook for two reasons. First, the individual targets have been decided at different points of time by different parts of the economic policy ecosystem rather than emerging from a common analytical project. Two, there are reasons to doubt its internal coherence given that India has rarely been able to meet all four targets simultaneously over the past decade.”
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    The always excellent Niranjan Rajadhakshya comes up with a useful framework to keep a tab on India’s macro levers: 2-4-6-8 is a very useful mnemonic. The rest of the paper speaks about whether this framework makes sense!
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  4. “This crisis has systemic written all over it because the market can no longer distinguish financiers that are illiquid from those that are insolvent.”
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    I’m calling it: there’s a major crash just waiting to happen in the Indian equity (not just equity) markets, no matter what is done. Speaking of what is to be done, the five suggestions here make a lot of sense. Andy Mukherjee doing what he does best.
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  5. “India’s firm size distribution is excessively small, even compared to other developing countries. Also, complementarily, the number of really large firms are also excessively small. We have a “small is bad” problem. What is driving the small-ness? Is labour regulations responsible for discouraging businesses from “placing too many workers under one roof”? Is there anything else driving or contributing significantly to this trend?”
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    Bhagwati and Panagariya once again. Also, urbanization matters! Artificial dispersion of industries or people (same thing) tends to not work. Gulzar Natarajan on what needs to be done to increase productivity in India.

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 3rd May, 2019

  1. “So in the end what we get for policy to decide is whether the Indian aviation business should comprise large, medium or small oligopolies. If resolved sensibly it yields a solution to the problem of cross-subsidisation: the larger the number of firms, the greater will be the need for intra-firm cross-subsidisation as firms focus on a variant of the Ramsey Rule which says that network firms must maximise revenue instead of profits.This is best achieved via a public monopoly which far from reducing output, raising prices and making excessive profits as monopolies are expected to, can do the opposite just as Air India and Indian Railways do. In short, if we want to avoid a return to public sector transport monopolies, we must decide on the size of the oligopolies in the sector.”
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    A very short article, but an immensely interesting one, talking about airlines, India, monopoly, oligopolies, and regulation and policy in India.
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  2. “All that said, zero is still the best price. I think it’s appropriate for foundations or other funding sources to support a multiplicity of free textbook options. (I’m not looking at you, Bill Gates.) INET has done this with its CORE project, but no one else. I don’t think funding is the whole story, however. Economics needs to regard pedagogy as one of its central missions. This is not only a matter of having more panels about it at the national meetings; there needs to be more disciplinary reward for putting one’s time and energy into the development of strategies and materials for the classroom. This means promotion, prizes and esteem, and it would require a substantial cultural shift. Where to begin? I suspect we have a vicious circle that could well become virtuous. Today we have a bleak landscape of minimal innovation in pedagogy and little institutional recognition for those who do this work. In a world well-populated with innovative experiments in teaching and learning, it would be natural to reward the most successful or even just provocative projects. So again the next step seems to belong to the funders.”
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    A fairly interesting take on textbooks (econ textbooks, to be clear), what they cover, what they should cover, and what the price should be. Meta, but out of necessity.
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  3. “We find that the probability of seeing an outcome within 180 days from the date of admission is less than 5%. However, it picks up once the 180 day deadline is passed. Within 270 days, the chances of case closure are between 10 to 30% depending on the bench and case characteristics (e.g., creditor type). We observe high closure rate just past the 270 day period. Within 360 days of admission, the probability of seeing an outcome is significantly higher (30 to 70%). Quicker outcomes (liquidation or resolution) are observed for resolution proceedings triggered by the debtors themselves. Similarly, proceedings triggered before some benches result in resolutions speedier than those before some others.”
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    On the impact of the IBC on dealing with bankruptcies in India. Visit the link to find a link to a fairly good data-set pertaining to the issue being discussed.
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  4. “So buying shares of an IPO could be rational or irrational depending on your time horizon…and how lucky you are with what happens on the first day of trading.”
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    An interesting analysis on IPO’s and why they tend to be oversubscribed. Fairly well known, I’d say, if you’re a student of finance – but interesting nonetheless.
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  5. “The estimated cost of NYAY is substantial – Rs. 3.6 trillion a year. It would be broadly six times what has been allocated to MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) in the interim budget presented in February 2019. It is also nearly 13% of total central government expenditure for the fiscal year 2020. It is hard to see how such a large incremental spending programme can be funded through cuts in other expenditure items alone, including non-merit subsidies. That will be a very difficult political economy call, given that non-merit subsidies mostly benefit vocal interest groups. There thus has to be either fiscal expansion or an increase in tax collections. The latter could – but need not – entail higher tax rates. India could be at an inflection point at which its tax-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio begins to grow rapidly, but that is a guess rather than a hard fact. In short, there is ample reason to worry about the fiscal burden of NYAY. ”
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    Niranjan Rajadhakshya on the economic feasibility of NYAY. Students of public finance especially should read this to get a sense of how to judge questions such as the ones put forth in the interview.

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.

Links for 8th April, 2019

  1. “The message of the chart, after all, is the same in both versions. But the takeaway is important: if two series follow each other too closely, it is probably a good idea to have a closer look at the scales.”
    A lovely, lovely read on how even The Economist (gasp!) sometimes gets visualizations wrong. But jokes aside, it is a lovely read on how difficult data visualization is.
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  2. “What I am angry about is our underinvestment in figuring out how to better treat mental health problems. Even with all of the other suffering there is in the world, I believe that suffering from mental health problems is a large part of human suffering. Without referencing his own suffering, Alan did a lot to advance the recognition of the importance of mental health problems—and more broadly, the importance of everything that contributes to a good life—with his research on subjective well-being.”
    Miles Kimball, who was a peer of Alan Krueger’s at Harvard, writes a lovely essay about him, and more besides. Entirely worth a read.
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  3. “Grief is a gift, wrapped in the worst possible package. It shows you who you are, and teaches you lessons you would never have learned otherwise. Your compassion for others is magnified. Your understanding of what motivates people sharpens. You are grateful for small wonders and embrace happy moments as never before, because you know—you are absolutely clear about this—that you must celebrate when you can and while you can. Grief has taught you not to take these moments for granted. You become an open invitation for wonder.”
    I rarely do this, but on this one occasion, it makes sense. From within the essay in 2. above, this essay by Miles Kimball’s wife, Gail. Please make the time to to read it.
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  4. “While studying some of the oldest art in the world found in caves and engraved on animal bones or shells, paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger has found evidence of a proto-writing system that perhaps developed in Africa and then spread throughout the world.”
    Suggestive or not, accurate or not – it certainly makes for fascinating reading. The chart alone is worth the click. An article about whether there may be a common ancestry to symbols found the world over.
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  5. “Indian fiscal federalism is at a crossroads. The question of how money is to be shared between New Delhi and the states on one hand, and among different states on the other, will continue to resonate. There is a lot of talk about the importance of federalism as well as calls for greater centralization. Decentralization is needed because India is too complex a country to have a uniform approach to development. Centralization is necessary because of the risk that important national public goods, including regional equality, could be underfunded. These tricky questions of federal balance need an institutional mechanism that entails either a more effective NITI Aayog or a permanent Finance Commission.”
    Niranjan Rajadhakshya weighs in on what should replace the NITI Aayog and the Planning Commission,

Links for 2nd April, 2019

  1. “The growing use of digital transactions—by consumers, investors, tax payers—as well as the rise of newer forms of data collection has the potential to revolutionise Indian public policy. It is unlikely that these newer forms of data will completely replace the more traditional numbers derived from surveys, national accounts and administrative data. They will more likely complement each other. Government agencies will increase their dependence on big data analytics in the coming years—though the risks to individual privacy should not be underestimated.”
    Niranjan Rajadhakshya on big data, data collection, and how we might reach conclusions on the basis of both over time. The papers he mentions towards the end are also worth reading in their own right!

  2. “According to the Handbook Of Statistics On Indian Economy 2016-17, since the 1991 reforms, the Union government’s revenue has increased 25 times and state government revenues have increased 28 times in nominal terms, and about 4 times in real terms. Economic growth and the consequent increase in revenue also increases the ability of the government to focus on inequality and deal with sector-specific distress.”
    The article is about why economic growth is important for poverty alleviation, an as the article itself says, this is both an obvious point, but also one that bears repetition. But the excerpt above was notable for me: obvious in retrospect, but worth thinking about. Government revenues have gone up significantly since liberalization.

  3. “In 2014, the Delhi High Court found both major parties guilty of violating foreign-exchange laws when they accepted a donation from London-based commodities giant Vedanta Resources Plc.(The suit, filed by a former top bureaucrat and the Association for Democratic Reforms, was against the political entities and Vedanta wasn’t a party. The company didn’t respond to request for comment. The BJP and Congress argued the donations weren’t foreign because the Vedanta units that channelled the money were registered under Indian law.)
    The law passed last year changed the definition of a foreign company all the way back to 1976, effectively nullifying the court’s verdict because Vedanta’s overseas parent owned less than 50 percent of the Indian unit.”
    A somewhat depressing, if all too predictable read about campaign financing in India. There isn’t that much more to say  do read the whole thing, though.

  4. “This jellyfish doesn’t mean to brag, but it’s both beautiful and immortal. If it gets sick, or even stressed, it just reverts into it’s younger self so it can get strong and mature again, bouncing between youth and adulthood forever.”
    It’s impossible to choose one particular thing to highlight – please (for a change!) read every single comment. Nature is an impossibly weird thing, and we know far too little about it.

  5. “One of the great sources of leverage is other people. You can get leverage via directing folks to do things (a superpower whose impact I probably underappreciated when running my business solo). You can also get it by making them more effective at doing things.”
    A very long essay, perhaps rambling in part – but a great read nonetheless. About a whole variety of things, but mostly about productivity, I’d say – the self and the organization, both.