Links for 9th May, 2019

  1. “Matters came to a head in the summer of 1745. Nanasaheb Peshwa was in Satara and his grandmother, Radhabai, lived in Pune. Seeing the water crisis, she ordered that no water be drawn from the river for the gardens. However, her order was challenged and a letter of complaint was written to the Peshwa in Satara.”
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    A very nice article in the Pune Mirror about the cities water supply, and how it originated and was developed over time. Also, if you haven’t heard it already, you might want to listen to this short introduction to Visvesvarya.
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  2. “This isn’t to say we don’t learn from these exercises. We do. In both India and Tanzania, we learn that citizens value public services. In Tanzania, the researchers then led deliberative discussions about cash transfers, and some respondents highlighted that “social services encourage a collective voice that helps increase accountability, while cash transfers would focus people on private interests and leave room for corruption.”Listen to the voices of citizens. But before throwing the cash transfer baby out with the bathwater, let’s make sure those citizens have clear information about their trade-offs.”
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    Beware well-intentioned surveys – read this article to find out why. Questions in surveys – and the framing of these questions – should give you a headache. If they don’t, you haven’t thought enough about ’em!
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  3. “Someone reading a book is a sign of order in the world,” wrote the poet Mary Ruefle. Four centuries earlier, while ushering in a new world order, Galileo contemplated how books give us superhuman powers — a sentiment his twentieth-century counterpart, Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934–December 20, 1996), echoed in his shimmering assertion that “a book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
    Do you subscribe to BrainPickings? You really should – and clicking through to this link is a good enough reason to start. Amit Varma had a column in the Times of India about much the same thing the other day, which is also worth reading for a rather more, um, practical example of the benefits of reading.
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  4. The lungi is more than just a South Indian sartorial choice. But what are the origins of this popular garment? It is difficult to state this with certainty. The lungi’s well regarded cousin, the dhoti, seems to have, on the whole, cornered much of the attention, in terms of research into its history on account of its elevated social standing.”
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    The Madras Courier on the lungi – its origins, how to wear it, and its apparent near universality.
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  5. “The new regulations have been harder on some of the smaller developers who lack the wherewithal to navigate the labyrinth that is getting construction permits on time causing many to exit the market. The Authority has no jurisdiction to hold different government departments to account for withholding or delaying approvals without a valid cause. Without accompanying reforms that ease the complex permissions process and bring about transparency and predictability in rule implementation, the objective of easing housing supply bottlenecks to lower house prices and benefit homebuyers is going to meet with limited success. ”
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    A short take on what ails the real estate sector in India. And the answer that this paper gives is that there may be too much regulation of the sector, not too little. A classic example of unintended consequences. This paper, from that article, is also worth reading.
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Links for 28th March, 2019

  1. “While nightlife and entertainment are certainly drivers of the night-time economy, they need not be the only ones. According to a report released by the London mayor’s office, 1.6 million people in London—constituting more than a third of the workforce—worked at night in 2017. Of these, 191,000 worked in health and 178,000 in professional services, with nightlife coming in third at 168,000. These were closely followed by transport, automotive, IT and education.In other words, the city’s nighttime economy is not merely bars and restaurants, but an extension of its day-time economic activities as well. It is estimated that the night component comprises 6-8% of the city’s economy and contributes £18-23 billion in gross value added to the British economy. The figures are approximations but significant enough for Mayor Sadiq Khan to champion the night-time economy and appoint a “Night Czar” to manage it.”
    In which Nitin Pai makes the argument for having more shops, establishments and services operate at night as well, in India. A useful read for students of urbanization, microeconomics and life in India.
  2. “I think that our economic system reflects our understanding of humankind, and that understanding has been developing, with especial rapidity lately. You have to understand people first before you can understand how to devise an economic system for them. And I think our understanding of people has been accelerating over the last century, or even half-century.”
    Robert Shiller chooses five books to help us understand capitalism better. I haven’t read all of them, and read one a very long time ago (Theory of Moral Sentiments) – but this has tempted me to go and read at least A.O. Hirschman’s book, if not all of them!
  3. “The problem with cricket in most cricket-playing countries, certainly in India, is that the cricket market is what economists call a monopsony. A monopsony is a market in which there is only one buyer for a particular class of goods and services. Until now, a young Indian cricketer who wanted to play at the highest level could only sell his services to the BCCI. If it treated him badly and did not give him his due rewards, he had no other options open to him.”
    I am happy to admit that I got the IPL gloriously wrong – I approached the IPL while wearing my cricketing purist hat, but I really should have approached it wearing my economist’s hat. Which is exactly what Amit Varma did, ten years ago. Monopsony, the power of markets, incentive mechanisms, it’s all here.
  4. “The 737 assembly line in Renton, Wash. is a marvel of lean manufacturing. The line inches forward little-by-little as assembly proceeds. Born from Toyota’s production methods, the process is one of continual improvement. It’s what made the 737 the lifeblood of Boeing in the first place and why this crisis, taken to its most extreme, could threaten the company’s very existence. But the assembly line also comes with a tool called an Andon cord. The cord empowers all employees to pull it and stop the line if something is amiss or requires investigation and needs fixing. The rest of the world has already pulled it.”
    A mostly understandable explanation of the possible reasons behind the crash – but when I say possible reasons, I do not mean the technical ones. Why compromises had to be made, and the impact of those compromises.
  5. “I’m happy for the descriptive part of economics to stay as it is. The prescriptive part, when we tell people what to do – that one should be much more broad. In fact, we should stop using just economics and take all kinds of ideas from psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and economics, and test which ones work, which ones don’t work and under what conditions. There is no question that behaviour is the ultimate goal – to try to understand behaviour, and how to change or modify it. I hope we can create a discipline that is much more empirically based and data driven. Maybe we can call it “applied social sciences”. It will draw from all the social sciences equivalently as we approach problems in the real world, and try to find solutions for them.”
    Dan Ariely on five books that he’d recommend when it comes to understanding behavioral economics better. If you are interested in this topic, as I am, the interview is great reading – and the books too! I have not read Mindless Eating, and will begin it soon.

Links for 11th February, 2019

  1. “We probably would not have planes, trains, or automobiles if we had insisted on today’s safety levels during the early days of those technologies’ development—likewise, we should have laxer safety standards for new emerging technologies.”
    Worth reading this for many reasons. Don’t miss the bit about the need to change ideological commitments on the basis of rationally-arrived-at conclusions, for example. But that excerpt above is a great way to understand the concept of, and the importance of, opportunity cost.
  2. “I want to make it clear that although enriched environment dominated the 20th century, IQ gains are not destined to persist like the law of gravity. Factors that were immediate triggers of IQ gains included more adults per child in the home, more and better schooling, more people at university, more cognitively demanding jobs, and better health and conditions of the aged. There are signs that these are beginning to show diminishing returns.”
    The Flynn effect is one of the more interesting things you can learn about – and having learnt about it, it might interest you to know that the Flynn Effect may now be reversing.
  3. “They’re having a fight about the wall except the wall is the English Channel: half of these people want to turn the English Channel into a wall to keep out their version of the Mexicans.”
    An interview with Anand Giridharadas about the perils of philanthropy. Worth reading, not necessarily to agree with everything he has to say, but to think about was in which he may be right.
  4. “So, for example, if people don’t take into account the macro consequences of their borrowing, then they could borrow collectively at the same time, which might be rational from an individual perspective but that collective borrowing leads to future problems such as a foreclosure problem that has spillovers for everyone in the economy. When people borrow individually, they may not take into account those spillovers. And so, again, from a macro perspective, people might over-borrow.For all of these reasons, a possible result conceptually is that if and when credit expands, it is possible for households to over-borrow, to overstretch from a macro kind of social perspective. And that over-borrowing, that overstretching during the boom phase of the credit cycle, can then come back to hurt on the downside and lead to a deeper recession than it would otherwise have been.”
    This much is straightforward for a student of macroeconomics – but the rest of the interview with Atif Mian is worth reading for how he teases out the mechanisms of thinking about the follow-up questions in the context of today’s economy. If you want to learn how to think like a macro-economist, this interview will help.