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 5th March, 2019

  1. “Using a neural network trained on widely available weather forecasts and historical turbine data, we configured the DeepMind system to predict wind power output 36 hours ahead of actual generation. Based on these predictions, our model recommends how to make optimal hourly delivery commitments to the power grid a full day in advance. This is important, because energy sources that can be scheduled (i.e. can deliver a set amount of electricity at a set time) are often more valuable to the grid.”
    The big problem with renewable energy is its utter unpredictability – which is why we will always struggle to move to a world that uses renewable energy as a primary source. Unless, of course, we figure out how to make great batteries. But in the meantime, anything that helps us predict the pattern of availability of wind and solar power is great news.
  2. “Still, people do break Google’s protection. CAPTCHAs are an ongoing arms race that neither side will ever win. The AI technology which makes Google’s approach so hard to fool is the same technology that is adapted to fool it.Just wait until that AI is convincing enough to fool you.
    Sweet dreams, human.”
    Ever clicked on the “I’m a human” button and wondered why it seemed like such a stupid idea. Well, uh, not stupid. Not stupid at all.
  3. “This further tells us that people are buying and selling homes. It’s just that the builders are not a part of this transaction.”
    This is a very short excerpt, but especially for Indians, this article is well worth reading (and Vivek Kaul is well worth following!). Home loans are going up every year, but unsold inventory is also going up every year? What gives?
  4. “All of economics is meant to be about people’s behavior. So, what is behavioral economics, and how does it differ from the rest of economics?”
    An essay about behavioral economics and its many applications, written by two people who are more familiar with the field than almost anybody else. There isn’t much here for people who are already familiar with the field – but if you are new to behavioral economics, this is an excellent introduction.
  5. “Two landmark events helped pushed along the proliferation of Sichuan cuisine in New York. In 2005, the peppercorn ban was lifted, though imported peppercorns still had to be heat treated and were thus less potent than they might have been. (This restriction was finally lifted in 2018.) ”
    I was in New York in 2007, and knew nothing of how to try new food, and it is a major source of regret. Especially when I read articles like these.

Links for 27th February, 2019

  1. “The time for masking such equity-type investments as loans has passed. Real estate in India is facing a glut, with $110 billion worth of unsold homes across the top eight markets, including Mumbai. That’s almost four years of sales, according to property analytics firm Liases Foras. Back in 2009, when apartment inventory was equal to about one year of sales, only 25 percent of construction funding came from shadow financiers. Banks controlled 75 percent.The tables have now turned: Housing-finance firms and other nonbank lenders, more adventurous than conventional banks, account for 55 percent of advances to builders. Lenders pocketing 2 percent to 3 percent of the loan value as upfront fees in exchange for not collecting on the principal for years has allowed a buildup of poor-quality debt. Moratoriums have delayed builder bankruptcies, and prevented timely detection of the problem.”
    This is a problem just waiting to become a full blown crisis in India – not the real estate sector per se, but the financing of the real estate sector in India. Read this article to find out how and why it has become as big a problem as it has.
  2. “Like all great work, it was the foundation for other huge contributions – work by other great economists such as Oliver Hart, Bengt Holmstrom, Paul Milgrom and many others can easily be traced to this paper. The paper’s starting point – that coordination within firms is not accomplished ‘by fiat’ (Demsetz famously remarks “This is delusion”), and that one should instead examine how incentive structures within firms create efficiencies relative to other forms of organisation – became the starting point for nearly the entire field of the economics of organisation ever since.”
    I have linked to this piece earlier, I think in January. But since I am currently teaching a course in Industrial Organization at Gokhale Institute, I found myself reading this piece all over again. Demsetz really was a giant in this field – and his analysis of why firms exist, and how they coordinate and incentivize activity within the firm is truly illuminating.
  3. “So, the UN forecasting model inputs three things: fertility rates, migration rates, and death rates. It doesn’t take into account the expansion of education for females or the speed of urbanization (which are in some ways linked). The UN says they’re already baked into the numbers. But when I went and interviewed [the demographer] Wolfgang Lutz in Vienna, which was one of the first things we did, he walked me through his projections, and I walked out of the room gobsmacked. All he was doing was adding one new variable to the forecast: the level of improvement in female education. And he comes up with a much lower number for global population in 2100, somewhere between 8 billion and 9 billion.”
    Population “crises” are over-rated in any case (people are a resource!) – but even the forecasts for how many people there will be on the planet in the next thirty to eighty years are likely to be wrong. The world is changing right in front of our eyes. The problem of the (near) future isn’t one of too many people – it’s one of too few.
  4. “Instead, the signatories objected to the election of a student union president of Tibetan descent, who “was found to hold the political belief that Tibet should be free”.”
    Based on what you have read above, which country are we talking about? Not only might the answer surprise you, but it will also help you think about geopolitics, international finance and the benefits of diversification.
  5. “Most developed countries of today addressed many of their basic plumbing challenges largely through public production. China is clearly an example of the latter. It appears to have perfected the use of industrial policy to co-ordinate private enterprise even into some of the most difficult areas for private engagement. This is the case of industrial policy to both address a critical plumbing issue as well as catalysing a market. And this is what makes its achievement exceptional.”
    Law, innovation, state led industrial policy and judicial pendency, all in one lovely article by Gulzar Natarajan. Gokhale Institute recently released a report on judicial pendency in India – China has an interesting way of tackling this problem.

Links for 20th February, 2019

  1. “There is no amount of growth that can’t be destroyed by an investor’s temptation to grab too much of it. And there is no opportunity so appealing that it will catch the eye of someone who refuses to look.But greed and fear aren’t always character flaws. People with the best intentions and ethics fall for their temptation. The two traits evolve from something innocent: the amount of confidence we have that our actions influence our outcomes.”
    I am currently teaching, at the Gokhale Institute, a course on Behavioral Finance. This blog post will be a part of the required reading when I teach the section on overconfidence (and it’s mirror image)
  2. “A Facebook press officer said, in a prepared statement: “This is one study of many on this topic, and it should be considered that way.” The statement quoted from the study itself, which noted that “Facebook produces large benefits for its users,” and that “any discussion of social media’s downsides should not obscure the fact that it fulfills deep and widespread needs.”
    What happens if you go cold turkey on Facebook? I haven’t read the paper itself, but this article from the NYT is a useful read – but not for the usual Facebook bashing reasons. There are benefits to using Facebook, for all of us. I myself no longer have the Facebook app on my phone, but freely admit to checking Facebook every now and then on the browser on my phone.
  3. “Mere hours into the first day of the Google block, my devices have tried to reach Google’s servers more often than the 15,000 times they tried to ping Facebook’s the entire week before. By the end of the week, my devices have tried to communicate with Google’s servers over 100,000 times, comparable to Amazon, at 293,000 times during its block. Most of Google’s pings seem to be in the form of trackers, ads, and resources built into websites. ”
    Speaking of which, what might life look like if you decided to go cold turkey on Google? Much worse, it turns out – your productivity takes a direct hit, as the article above makes clear.
  4. “We’ve made the case for the divergence among equipment manufacturers before: Ultimately robots and excavators aren’t dependent on the same business cycles. This is now playing out.”
    Partially because my own research during the PhD was on this topic, but also because it is a useful way to start thinking about which sectors in the economy tend to move together, and which don’t. More – does this relationship hold over time?
  5. “But the rental market is largely fragmented and unorganized. The build-to-rent model that has worked well globally in many countries hasn’t even scratched the surface here. It is a space ripe for disruption.And in the past 3-4 years, a slew of startups have begun to do just that, particularly targeting young adults and millennials (those in their 20s and early 30s) who need a place to stay when they move out of their parents’ nest or are moving to a new city.”
    This had to happen sooner or later in India – it was simply a function of the way the real estate market is, and has been in India for some time. Watch this space – I’d argue that future growth in India’s real estate sector will happen in this fashion.