RoW: Links for 27 Nov 2019

  1. Via Mostly Economics, a short write-up on how Islamic Banking came to be in Pakistan. I have many more questions than I do answers, so more reading is required on my end.
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  2. “Neumann, according to the Vanity Fair article, believed that WeWork “was even capable of solving the world’s thorniest problems. Last summer, some WeWork executives were shocked to discover Neumann was working on Jared Kushner’s Mideast peace effort. According to two sources, Neumann assigned WeWork’s director of development, Roni Bahar, to hire an advertising firm to produce a slick video for Kushner that would showcase what an economically transformed West Bank and Gaza would look like.””
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    Via FT Alphaville, Adam Neumann, founder of WeWork on…uh… peace for the Middle East.
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  3. “The paper identifies actions China has taken to pursue its territorial and maritime claims and control around features, including encroaching on coastal states’ exclusive economic zones, increasing its military presence around features, seeking to deny the United States and other countries navigational and other freedoms of the seas, and escalating its militarization of features it occupies. These actions have allowed China to gain military advantages in the event of conflict and, significantly, non-military advantages in situations short of outright conflict, by deterring other claimants from putting up a strong resistance to Chinese incursions and undermining U.S. credibility in the region. The paper examines the responses of Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.”
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    China in the South China Sea. That is all.
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  4. A short photo essay on Yongbyon. Let us hope as few people as possible are aware of this city, say, 20 years from now.
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  5. “This made me think of China, and its policy-driven booms and busts. Typically, money floods into a sector when it receives government favor and subsidies, leading to a surge in production, and later overcapacity, falling prices, and a shakeout as the government reconsiders subsidies (see: solar panels, wind power, electric vehicles). In terms of labor, the willingness of Chinese migrant workers to uproot themselves and their families also shows no shortage of capacity to transform, but perhaps at too high of a social cost. So while capacity to transform in the US may now be too low, China’s might be too high.”
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    The always eminently readable Andrew Batson on a lot of things, each of which worth pondering upon. Deliberately vague, this introduction: do read the post!

RoW: Links for 23rd October, 2019

Five books that I have read about our neighboring countries that helped me understand them a little bit better. If you ‘re looking for books to read during the holidays, this list might help:

  1. From a while ago, and set many decades ago, but I loved reading The Glass Palace. Anything by Amitav Ghosh is worth your time, I’d say, but this helped me learn more about Myanmar.
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  2. Samanth Subramanian is a magnificent writer, and that is not hyperbole. In this book, This Divided Island, he brings us a raw, disturbing and depressing account of Sril Lanka today, and how it is divided, perhaps beyond repair, on grounds of ethnic and religious conflict. He doesn’t pull his punches, but more: he doesn’t take sides. If you are looking to understand Sri Lanka today, this is the book to read.
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  3. How did Bangladesh come to be Bangladesh? What was Pakistan’s role in it? What was India’s? What was – and this might come as a surprise to some – the USA’s? The Blood Telegram answers these questions, and more besides, in a always interesting read about the war of 1971.
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  4. And two recommendations about Pakistan. The first is a book by Stephen Cohen: The Idea of Pakistan. Is Pakistan an army with a country or the other way around? Why? Will this change in the future. What is (or what used to be) the political calculus of the United States of America when it came to Pakistan? This book answers these questions, and then some.
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  5. And finally, Pakistan: A Hard Country, by Anatol Leivin. A Ukraininan journalist who has spent some time in the country, and is equally horrified and fascinated by it. Somewhat sympathetic in its treatment, it still helped me understand the country a little bit better – without, of course and unfortunately, ever having been there.

Links for 6th March, 2019

  1. “A new transatlantic alliance will require both a U.S. president who recognizes its value and Europeans who are able to overcome their own internal divisions and commit to an equal partnership. The next alliance cannot be only about channeling U.S. contributions to European security; it must also be a global partnership to which each side contributes in order to protect their mutual security and economic interests. That sort of alliance remains possible. It is worth fighting for.”
    Not for the optimistic note that it strikes at the end of the article, but rather for the good summary of the history of the alliance between America and Europe, and how it hasn’t always been rocky – but never before as at risk as it is today.
  2. “I long held the belief that my grandfather felt regret at Pakistan’s creation because of the bloody years of the War on Terror, but now I know that he saw far worse. I wonder whether the regret came to him early, or if it was the last straw, his final impression of the history of a country he was able to witness from birth until his own death. ”
    Via The Browser, an article from a Pakistani about Pakistan – ranging from his grandfather and the start of that country, to the sad mess that is has become since.
  3. “In other words, what matters is not “technological innovation”; what matters is value chains and the point of integration on which a company’s sustainable differentiation is built; stray too far and even the most fearsome companies become also-rans.”
    I am teaching a part of the course on Industrial Organization at Gokhale Institute, and every so often, I feel like outsourcing it to Stratechery. This article is one reason why – it helps you not just understand what value chains are, but provides multiple examples of how to think about them, and through them. As almost always with Stratechery, a great read.
  4. “I think that a lot of people, on some level what they think they’re doing when they sponsor young co-workers is spotting talent—they called it “talent-mapping” in the accounting firm we studied. But a lot of people we talked to were also able to reflect and say, “Part of why I was excited about that person, probably, is because they reminded me of a younger version of myself.” The word we use in sociology is homophily—people like people who are like themselves.”
    File this under a variety of things: hiring practices, labor productivity, people compatibility – but more than anything, I’d file it under behavioral economics, and the word homophily.
  5. “It’s more important than ever to manage your passwords online, and also harder to keep up with them. That’s a bad combination. So the FIDO Alliance—a consortium that develops open source authentication standards—has pushed to expand its secure login protocols to make seamless logins a reality. Now Android’s on board, which means 1 billion devices can say goodbye to passwords in more digital services than seen before”
    It didn’t take long to go from unlocking your phone with your fingerprint to unlocking everything online with a fingerprint. How long before the next innovation in security and identity comes along, and will it mean that the phone will become irrelevant? A question worth pondering.

Links for 28th February, 2019

  1. “India holds the dubious distinction of having the worst non-performing loan ratio among the world’s major economies, having surpassed Italy. The Reserve Bank of India said in December that the ratio for banks fell for the first time since 2015, though it’s still “high for comfort.” A $190 billion pile of soured and stressed debt has cast the future of some lenders in doubt and curbed investments.”
    There actually isn’t that much more to read at the link, but the chart is instructive. Also bear in mind that it is quite unlikely that the data is accurate – this is not a criticism of the IMF, but rather of the banking system itself in both Italy and India.
  2. ““Let there be no misconceptions about who protects [JeM]. Pakistan is small potatoes . . . True global power shielding Jaish is China. As death toll rises today, let nobody forget how China has consistently blocked action against Jaish,” tweeted Shiv Aroor, a television reporter specialising in military and strategic affairs.”
    China’s blocking of India’s move to have Masood Azhar declared a terrorist has been an issue that hasn’t recieved as much attention, both within and outside India, as it should have. But the reason reading this article makes sense is because it’s a good way to think about how China’s bargaining position as regards this issue is slightly weaker now, given it’s trade wars with the USA.
  3. “All it takes is a half-hour at this intersection in Lagos, the sprawling metropolis in Nigeria, to begin fearing this city. White oil tankers crawl along both on and beneath an overpass on the multilane Apapa Road, making their way out of the Niger River delta. Zipping around them are black-and-yellow rickshaws and minibuses, with sweaty passengers clinging to the doors. Every few meters, a truck hits the brakes with an ear-splitting shriek, the clouds of exhaust mixing with the diesel fumes of the generators. The foul air hangs like a thick blanket over the corrugated metal slums to the right and left of the street. Just 30 minutes at this intersection is enough to make you want to flee this city — a megalopolis that is growing faster than almost any other place on earth.”
    Who can predict the future? Short answer: don’t bother trying. One thing that makes economics so endlessly interesting is reading conflicting views – if you recall the article on The Empty Planet the other day, this one is in direct contradiction – at least in terms of the theme, if not the data itself. Der Spiegel reviews three different countries and the challenges they are facing, and will face, on account of population growth.
  4. “Nobody is expecting the prince to do anything about Pakistan and India being on the brink of a war yet again. Like all little princes he does not have to pick sides or make a choice. When he visits India this week, he is expected to sign more investment deals. The Pakistani government calls his visit historic, and Indian officials call it historic. But only people with no sense of history call every passing chariot a historic event. The prince is playing with Pakistan and India because he is being temporarily snubbed by the boys and girls of the West, the ones he really wanted to play with.”
    Mohammed Hanif is dismissive of the storm in the teacup that is Prince Mohammed’s visit to India and Pakistan. Sometimes, having that perspective helps contextualize the visit, and it’s inevitability. Think from a game theoretic perspective: what choices did Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India (and China have)?
  5. “If these behaviors add up to consciousness, it means one of two things: Either consciousness evolved twice, at least, across the long course of evolutionary history, or it evolved sometime before birds and mammals went on their separate evolutionary journeys. Both scenarios would give us reason to believe that nature can knit molecules into waking minds more easily than previously guessed. This would mean that all across the planet, animals large and small are constantly generating vivid experiences that bear some relationship to our own.”
    The Atlantic explores a veterinary hospital in Delhi, Jainism, birds (crows in particular), fish, consciousness and a temple in Gujarat – all in one glorious article. Worth it in particular for the theme of consciousness – but much else besides as well!

Links for 22nd February, 2019

  1. “We seem somehow bored with thinking. We want to instantly know. There’s this epidemic of listicles. Why think about what constitutes a great work of art when you can skim “The 20 Most Expensive Paintings in History?”I’m very guided by this desire to counter that in myself because I am, like everybody else, a product of my time and my culture. I remember, there’s a really beautiful commencement address that Adrienne Rich gave in 1977 in which she said that an education is not something that you get but something that you claim.

    I think that’s very much true of knowledge itself. The reason we’re so increasingly intolerant of long articles and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a 300-page book into a three-minute animation — even in that we skip forward — is that we’ve been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it.”
    Have you heard of Maria Popova? This interview helps you understand who she is, and her importance in combating what I linked to a couple of days ago – David Perell’s article about the Never Ending Now.

  2. “Thanks to government backing, the state-owned company building the bridge is unlikely to default or go bankrupt. But bridges like Chishi leave local governments and developers struggling with debt, and those who live below nonplused.“If you don’t build roads, there can’t be prosperity,” said Huang Sanliang, a 56-year-old farmer who lives under the bridge. “But this is an expressway, not a second- or third-grade road. One of those might be better for us here.””
    The New York Times on bridges in China – and how there might be one too many of them. Economists have worried for many years now about how China’s economy will slowdown in the years to come, and also about how China’s economy has masked it’s imminent slowdown by building bridges, roads and entire cities when the immediate need is not apparent.
  3. “Turns out the reason was likely the same as the one behind every one of my life choices: it involved the least effort. As Frankie Huang, a writer and strategist based in Shanghai, told me over email, numbers are far easier to type for purposes like websites’ names, as compared to pinyin, the Romanised system for Chinese characters.”
    …speaking of China, Mithila Phadka explains why the Chinese prefer using numbers evreywhere possible – even preferring to use numbers rather than text for URL’s. 12306.cn is preferred to ChinaRail.com, for example.
  4. “In Study the Great Nation, you can catch up on the latest state media reports on Mr. Xi’s decisions, savor a quote of the day from Mr. Xi or brush up on “Xi Jinping Thought.” You can quiz yourself on Mr. Xi’s policies and pronouncements, or take in a television show called “Xi Time,” which is … well, you get the picture.Doing each of these activities can reward users with “study points,” which can be redeemed for gifts in future versions of the app.”
    I worry that China won’t be the only country doing this for very long – far too many leaders in far too many countries are likely to be tempted to be, um, inspired.
  5. “This conclusion, if it withstands open-minded analysis in India, does not mean that India lacks ways to punish Pakistan and motivate it to demobilize groups that threaten to perpetrate terrorism in India. Rather, it suggests that more symmetrical and covert operations would yield a better ratio of risk to effectiveness for India. There are many ways to make Pakistani military leaders conclude that the cohesion, security, and progress of their own country will be further jeopardized if they fail to act vigorously to prevent terrorism against India. Limited, precision air strikes are not India’s best option now or for the foreseeable future.”
    This is from 2015 – but as of that point, this rather well researched article points out that India may not be able to carry out precision air strikes against Pakistan – because of the threat of escalation, because of the technology available with Pakistan today, and because other ground based options may be more operationally feasible.