Housing in Singapore

“Solved” is, at the least, ambitious phrasing. But the video is well worth watching. Via Sahil Shaikh, a SYBSc student at GIPE

On Serendipity, Housing and a Request

Just the other day (the 15th of September, if we want to be exact), a student from GIPE sent across a video that I found to be very interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I scheduled it for this coming Sunday’s post. It is about housing in Singapore, and I’ll leave it at that for the moment.

And then, just yesterday, I finally got around to reading some of Shruti Rajagopalan’s interviews of doctoral candidates and postdoctoral researchers for her excellent podcast: Ideas of India. The third interview in the series is of Tanu Kumar, a postdoctoral fellow at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute.

That’s where the serendipity bit in the title of today’s post comes in – the interview is in some ways closely related to the video. (Interesting aside about the etymology of the word serendipity. Got nothing to do with anything, but hey, it’s Friday)


Tanu Kumar’s paper is about housing subsidy programs, and how they might affect political behavior. The paper is about the effects of a housing subsidy program in Mumbai, and local political participation, it would seem, went up among the beneficiaries of the program.

Just a broad overview of this paper is that the Indian government—and actually, governments everywhere—they invest a lot in making housing affordable and accessible to lower-income residents. So, I wanted to understand how these programs actually affect beneficiaries and shape their behavior and their decision-making.
Because these programs are such a large scale—maybe even 5 percent or more of the Indian population benefits from them—any effects on political behavior would have implications for the broader political landscape. What I find is really in line with what you just said—benefiting from a subsidized housing program in Mumbai makes people more politically active at the local level. They’re more likely to complain about local services, attend meetings about local public issues, and they also know more about local politics.
What’s particularly interesting is that they actually care more about local-level community issues like water, electricity, and sanitation. This is different from what we’ve seen in the past, where we find the people who benefit from different programs might participate less in politics. And the difference here is the outcomes that I focus on. I’m focusing more on, really, everyday politics, everyday making of complaints and stuff in cities to make services better as opposed to voting and turnout.

https://www.discoursemagazine.com/politics/2020/12/24/ideas-of-india-how-does-subsidizing-housing-prices-shape-political-behavior/

Read the whole thing, but the reason I found the discussion so interesting is because my intuitive guess would have been that political engagement will go down, not up after getting the benefits of a subsidy such as this. Tanu Kumar thinks that one reason political engagement at the local level is going up is because people have more capacity (time) to spend on these issues.

RAJAGOPALAN: What do you think is driving this? Is it because now people have succeeded once through winning the lottery for subsidized housing that it changes their perception of what is possible in terms of the interaction with the state? Is it that now the need for housing has been satisfied, they push their clientelist efforts towards getting other things?
Is it a locational thing? Now that the housing problem has been solved, they are geographically fixed, but they’re also fixed electorally. Now they know that they are constituents of a certain group of people, and maybe now they want to push more, given the geographical elements. Maybe some of these things wouldn’t transfer if it were a different kind of subsidy which wasn’t so geographically rooted. What do you think is driving this push for greater participation?

KUMAR: There could be many different things going on. It would probably vary across the whole population. But what I think is actually going on is two things. First of all, people have greater political capacity. They’re wealthier. They have more time.
I don’t really see more political participation across the board, but I actually see it targeted in a very specific way, like targeted around local, very community-level services. There is probably some element of having better expectations or changed expectations of what the government might provide, but it’s also action that’s very motivated by protecting the value of these homes, is what I argue.

https://www.discoursemagazine.com/politics/2020/12/24/ideas-of-india-how-does-subsidizing-housing-prices-shape-political-behavior/

I have two questions. First, it is interesting that the beneficiaries choose to spend their greater capacity (time or money) on local political issues rather than elsewhere. Why might this be?

Tanu Kumar in a way answers this question, for she says that folks are motivated to protect the value of these homes. What I find fascinating is that if this is true, then the beneficiaries truly believe that the best way of protecting the value of these homes is through greater involvement in local politics – which is a Very Very Good Thing Indeed.

And my second question: if it really is skin in the game that is at play – and that is the simplest way to think about this, correct? – then how should we think about doing more about it at the local grassroots level? And not just for housing, but other goods?

Which brings me to the last part of the title of today’s post…


Do any of you know where I might get to read more about whether involvement in local politics goes up given public housing subsidies? Did this happen in Singapore? In Hong Kong? In other parts of the world?

If yes, it would make the argument for subsidies in public housing (among other things) even stronger, and that is a topic worth thinking about, no?

Assorted corona links for Monday, 13th April

  1. False negatives don’t matter as much as you might think.
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    “The simulated data here contrast policies that isolate people who test positive using four different assumptions about the quality of the test. Even a very bad test cuts the fraction of the population who are ultimately infected almost in half. And when I say bad, I mean bad – an 80% false negative rate, which means that 4 out of 5 of people who are truly infectious will get a negative test result – i.e. a result saying that they are not infectious.”
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  2. An interview with Bob Nelsen. Worth reading!
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    “I mean, I’m biased, but I think antibodies are probably the highest probability to work. I hope some mRNA works. I think if you ask scientists, they’re more skeptical. But I hope it works, especially in populations that tend to have weak immune systems. When you get skepticism about mRNA, it tends to be, ‘Yeah, it might work in a young person, but how is it going to work in the populations at risk?’ My own gut feeling is that mRNAt works a little and I hope it works a lot. And even then, there’s a role for all of the systems.If mRNA works, it bides us time to develop more potent, longer term vaccines. Antibodies will likely work and have the highest probability of working. There are multiple companies pursuing antibody therapy. So you hope that mRNA and antibiotic therapy start ramping up by the fall.”
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  3. What is mRNA? Here you go.
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  4. Doing it like Singapore.
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    “We try not to meet at all with the other teams as much as possible. We’ll just say hi from across the corridor. Meals are the same. All our cafeterias and everything have got social distancing spaced in already,” said Chia, who is also a member of parliament and chairs a shadow committee on health.”
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  5. The Bill Gates TED Talk about pandemics (from 2015!)

RoW: Links for 20th November, 2019

Three links from the gift that keeps on giving, Marginal Revolution

 

  1. “A portrait of Yuri Gagarin, the first person in space, adorns the wall of the Kosmonavtlar Station. Gagarin, and other early cosmonauts, were some of the USSR’s most important heroes, symbolising Soviet power and supremacy during the Space Race and widely depicted in Russian propaganda. Around him, the walls are lined with surreal portraits of famous cosmonauts floating through space amid a futuristic design of blues and blacks – similar to the colours astronauts would see as they left Earth’s atmosphere.”
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    Read, as always, but more importantly, savor the photographs.
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  2. That all conquering Nazi war machine wasn’t all that impressive, apparently.
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    “Below, I hope to share some astonishing statistics that show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the modern concept of Nazi military might is a myth.”
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  3. Who all have said sorry to China?
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    “Without further ado, here is the list of companies that have apologized to China. The companies are listed in reverse chronological order of their apologies, with the most recent first. For each company, we note what Chinese social media (and sometimes the government) took offense at, and when the company apologized, with a link to their apology.”
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  4. “The North already has an arsenal estimated at 40 nuclear weapons; it has already carried out six nuclear tests; its fissile material production facilities at Yongbyon and elsewhere are, as far as we know, all operating and producing more and more bomb fuel.”
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    Gulp, as they say. North Korea, a very pessimistic take indeed.
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  5. “Yet over the past decade it has been clear that the pendulum is swinging back to Singapore. Hong Kong’s property prices have continued to spiral—doubling in real terms from 2010 to 2018—making it difficult today for the young to even get on the ladder. Meanwhile locals have felt even more disenfranchised by Beijing’s increasing control over the city, itself symptomatic of the centralisation of power under China’s leader Xi Jinping, who assumed office in 2012. ”
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    “HK v Singapore? There is only one winner.

RoW: Links for 9th October, 2019

  1. On China’s reforestation programme. Also, if you haven’t already, read Seeing Like a State.
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    “After a half century of blistering economic growth, China is increasingly looking back at the environmental havoc it wreaked and searching for a greener path forward. It has boosted renewable energy, declared a “war on pollution,” and vowed to lower carbon emissions. But if Grain-for-Green is an indication, preserving biodiversity may represent a new challenge in China’s push to go green: protecting and restoring natural spaces with an eye to not just quantity, but quality.”
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  2. A review of No Friend But The Mountains, by JM Coetzee. I have not read the book, and am not sure I want to. Not, I hasten to add, because of the quality of the book or the lack of it, but because of the utter heartlessness the review manages to convey of a nation I am conflicted about.
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    “The UNHCR has been extremely critical of Australia’s offshore policies. In 2017 it concluded that PNG and Nauru were intrinsically unsuitable as resettlement homes, given “the impossibility of local integration.” In other words, Papuans and Nauruans do not want refugees living among them, and refugees do not want to live in PNG or Nauru. New Zealand has offered to take 150 of the inmates, but Australia has vetoed this offer on the grounds that former detainees might make their way from New Zealand to Australia, thereby weakening the deterrent power of Australian policy.”
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  3. A thought-provoking write-up by Danny Quah:
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    “In the new world order Asia’s leadership does not mean Asia has to become alternative architect. Instead, Asia only needs to be articulate and empowered consumer, and allow demand and supply to work in the marketplace. With care, thought, and unity, ASEAN (and indeed all of Asia) can continue to make a success of this new marketplace for world order.”
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  4. “A course at Yale-NUS College on dissent and resistance in Singapore was canceled two weeks before it was scheduled to start, the Singapore-based The Straits Times reported. Yale-NUS president Tan Tai Yong said some of the planned course activities and speakers would “infringe our commitment not to advance partisan political interests in our campus” and potentially expose students to the risk of breaking the law.”
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    Via (where else) MR, dissent on dissent in Singapore.
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  5. “Lok, 31, lives with her parents in North Point, in Hong Kong Island’s Eastern District. It is more than an hour away from the island of Tsing Yi, where 35-year-old Chau lives with his parents. Their three-year-old daughter, Yu, spends Monday to Thursday with Lok and the weekend at Chau’s. They can’t move in together in one of their family homes, Lok says, because the bedroom space is simply too small for two adults and a child.”
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    Not me being lazy, I promise, but this too, from MR… on the space crunch in Hong Kong, but oh so much more.

ROW: Links for 4th September, 2019

  1. “Culinarily, they are among the most homesick people I have ever met.”
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    Guess who? The last paragraph I enjoyed thoroughly, by the way
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  2. Sanjaya Baru on the (new?) geopolitics of Asia.
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  3. speaking of which
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  4. On aspirations.
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  5. Would you recognize the queen if you happened to bump into her?

Links for 27th May, 2019

  1. ” In today’s world, we’re typically writing contracts in natural language, or actually in something a little more precise: legalese. But what if we could write our contracts in computational language? Then they could always be as precise as we want them to be. But there’s something else: they can be executed automatically, and autonomously. Oh, as well as being verifiable, and simulatable, and so on.”
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    Stephen Wolfram on computational languages, and what it might mean for all of us in the future. Can’t say I understood all of it right off the bat, to be honest – which is why I’ll be reading it again sometime later.
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  2. “I was interested in the notion that you could take a busy place — an airport and a marketplace, you can call it kind of a mall, with hundreds of shops and all that comes with it — and cohabit it with a magical park, which is nature at its best, which is relaxing and serene, and is the escape from all of that busyness.Airports are not exactly relaxed places, and I thought, what would be better than to create a place of total serenity?

    We’ve planted thousands of trees and all kinds of other vegetation. And now, six months since we planted it all, it’s already a lush jungle.

    You walk through the trails, and you forget you’re in a city, and you forget you’re in an airport, and you forget you’re in a building. You’re just out there in nature and, in that sense, it’s completely magical.”
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    Singapore’s Changi airport now has a seven storey waterfall apparently. Of course it does.
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  3. “Econtwitter is wonderful. Yesterday, an undergraduate emailed me to ask for book recommendations about the overlap between economics and philosophy. I recommended:Amartya Sen The Idea of Justice
    Michael Sandel What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
    Agnar Sandmo Economics Evolving
    and
    D M Hausman and M S McPherson and D Satz Economic analysis, moral philosophy, and public policy
    Then I asked Twitter, and here is the resulting, much longer, list. I won’t editorialise about them, although some are not good undergraduate intros in my view. One striking thing is how few recent overviews there are, however (as @esamjones also pointed out on Twitter). Huge thanks to all who made suggestions. This is a fantastic collective list.”
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    Whatever bookmarking method you use, add this to that resource. And as she mentions, #econtwitter, really is wonderful. Diane Coyle with a very important, very useful list. Undergrad resources for the intersection of economics and philosophy.
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  4. “If you missed the Chinese mission, maybe it’s because you were focussed on the remarkably inexpensive spacecraft from SpaceIL, an Israeli nonprofit organization, which crash-landed into the moon on April 11th, soon after taking a selfie while hovering above the lunar surface. The crash was not the original plan, and SpaceIL has already announced its intention of going to the moon again. But maybe you weren’t paying attention to SpaceIL, either, because you were anticipating India’s Chandrayaan-2 moon lander, expected to take off later this year. Or you were waiting for Japan’s first lunar-lander-and-rover mission, scheduled to take place next year. Perhaps you’ve been distracted by the announcement, in January, on the night of the super blood wolf moon, that the European Space Agency plans to mine lunar ice by 2025. Or by Vice-President Mike Pence’s statement, in March, that the United States intends “to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years.””
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    The New Yorker explains how the moon is becoming a rather crowded place, and is likely to only get even more crowded in the years to come – and also explains why.
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  5. “Santacreu and Peake compared research and development (R&D) efforts of the U.S. and China for the period 1999-2015. As of the most recent year, China’s R&D intensity, measured by R&D spending as a percentage of GDP, was 2.1% of GDP versus 2.8% for the U.S.However, China’s R&D intensity grew from less than 1% over the period studied, therefore increasing considerably faster than that of the U.S. “Because R&D intensity is a proxy for technological advancement, these data suggest that China is catching up to the U.S. in technology,” the authors wrote.”
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    Ask yourself this: in about thirty years from now, are you more likely to see the world’s innovation hub be in China or America? This article points to the likely answer.

Links for 25th April, 2019

  1. “Singapore appreciates the relative strengths and limits of the public and private sectors in health. Often in the United States, we think that one or the other can do it all. That’s not necessarily the case.”
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    It is always a good idea to learn about Singapore’s healthcare system, and this Upshot column from the NYT helps in that regard. Each of the links are also worth reading. If you spend time reading through the article and all the links therein, you might be a while, but it is, I would say, worth it.
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  2. “With Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, he collected evidence on happiness that remains my benchmark for social scientists’ ability to shed light on wellbeing. Prof Kahneman once warned me that expert advice can go only so far. Much happiness and sadness is genetically determined: “We shouldn’t expect a depressive person to suddenly become extroverted and leaping with joy.” Those words are much on my mind this week.”
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    Tim Harford remembers Alan Kreuger, and helps us understand a lot about the man, his work, happiness and much else in the process. Entirely worth reading.
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  3. “The Captain Swing riots are thus one more example, an especially vivid one, that new technologies which cause a lot of people to lose a way of earning income can be highly disruptive. The authors write: “The results suggest that in one of the most dramatic cases of labor unrest in recent history, labor-saving technology played a key role. While the past may not be an accurate guide to future upheavals, evidence from the days of Captain Swing serve as a reminder of how disruptive new, labor-saving technologies can be in economic, social and political terms.”
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    One, because reading something you hadn’t read before is always interesting. Two, because unemployment because of automation isn’t new. Three, makes for very relevant reading today (in multiple ways: automation itself, but also untangling causality.)
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  4. “He says he was inspired by the depth of the nun’s commitment to India’s least fortunate—but he was unwilling to emulate her approach, and not simply because of its material sacrifices. Although Shetty often performed free surgeries for the poorest of the poor, he reasoned that the only way to sustainably serve large numbers of people in need was to make it a business. “What Mother Teresa did was not scalable,” he says—perhaps the first time venture capital jargon has been applied to the work of the Angel of Calcutta.”
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    Interested in healthcare, or economics, or both? A lovely read, in that case. Also a good explainer of the challenges in front of Modicare.
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  5. “The argument in favour of having Tribunals is that they offer a specialised and dedicated forum for settling specific categories of disputes which are otherwise likely to get stuck in the regular judicial channels. But this assumption holds only if the regular judiciary exercises restraint and does not insert itself into the proceedings pending before Tribunals. ”
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    The problem with laws in India isn’t their framing – it is their implementation. Read this to find out more.

Links for 23rd April, 2019

  1. “Obviously, there are many more novels and memoirs that mention long lists of books than are included here, but I’m limited, as ever, by time, availability of data, and the demands of maintaining sanity. So below, please find twelve books that are filled to the gills with mentions of other books, and feel free to add further suggestions in the comments.”
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    If you, like me, are fond of bookmarking lists that will prove to be useful at some undefined point of time in the future, you might find this useful. Books that contain lists of other books worth reading is an interesting enough article by itself – as an academician, I’d argue it’s the very best way to include a bibliography.
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  2. “Alas, if only healthcare policy were so simple. The reality is messy and there is no magic bullet. Singapore’s success in healthcare is built on a panoply of measures developed and refined over decades. The measures employ a variety of policy tools that both individually and collectively target the market and government failures afflict the healthcare sector. For a comprehensive understanding of health policy in Singapore, we need to understand all the policy tools used and how they operate individually and in relation to each other.”
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    A very readable PDF about what makes Singapore’s healthcare system so very awesome. Truly worth a read to find out how it evolved, and as an Indian, to understand how far we have to go.
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  3. ““You will hardly find women with wombs in these villages. These are villages of womb-less women,” says Manda Ugale, gloom in her eyes. Sitting in her tiny house in Hajipur village, in the drought-affected Beed district of Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, she struggles to talk about the painful topic.”
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    Speaking of a long way to go
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  4. “Facebook’s powerful network effects have kept advertisers from fleeing, and overall user numbers remain healthy if you include people on Insta­gram, which Facebook owns. But the company’s original culture and mission kept creating a set of brutal debts that came due with regularity over the past 16 months. The company floundered, dissembled, and apologized. Even when it told the truth, people didn’t believe it. Critics appeared on all sides, demanding changes that ranged from the essential to the contradictory to the impossible. As crises multiplied and diverged, even the company’s own solutions began to cannibalize each other.”
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    A very long article about the troubles at Facebook, but you can never read too much about the how’s and what’s at Facebook.
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  5. “If that’s an equally unpleasant prospect, consider Andreessen, who’s 47, the perfect messenger. From showy check-writing to weaponizing his popular blog and (before Trump) Twitter account to hiring an army of operational experts in a field built on low-key partnerships, he’s one of Silicon Valley’s poster boys for upending the rules. And it’s worked: In one decade, Andreessen Horowitz joined the elite VC gatekeepers of Silicon Valley while generating $10 billion-plus in estimated profits, at least on paper, to its investors. Over the next year or so, expect no less than five of its unicorns—Airbnb, Lyft, PagerDuty, Pinterest and Slack—to go public.”
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    a16z is a firm everybody should know more about – this article helps. By the way, their podcast is good as well.

Links for 15th March, 2019

  1. “Nellie’s tree is said to be the most romantic in the UK. Nearly a century ago, Vic Stead would walk to a nearby village to visit a woman he was courting, called Nellie. One day, he came across three beech saplings and grafted one between the other two to form the letter ‘N’ in an attempt to woo her. They went on to marry and have children, and the tree is a popular site for proposals today”
    The Guardian comes up with  a lovely photo essay about the ‘European Tree of the Year’. Do not miss the tree that stands in the middle of a highway that connects the Netherlands to Belgium as well.
  2. “At the moment, global CO₂ emissions are about 37 billion metric tons per year, and we’re on track to raise temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. To have a shot at maintaining a climate suitable for humans, the world’s nations most likely have to reduce CO₂ emissions drastically from the current level — to perhaps 15 billion or 20 billion metric tons per year by 2030; then, through some kind of unprecedented political and industrial effort, we need to bring carbon emissions to zero by around 2050. In this context, Climeworks’s effort to collect 1,000 metric tons of CO₂ on a rooftop near Zurich might seem like bailing out the ocean one bucket at a time.”
    Direct air capture of carbon, which is what the article is about, isn’t really going to ‘solve’ climate change anytime soon. But the article is worth reading because it speaks about a variety of economic issues, including climate change – there’s public goods, pricing, subsidies, micro-payments, the creation of markets, and much else.
  3. “Many of the dominant policy ideas of the last few decades are supported neither by sound economics nor by good evidence. Neoliberalism – or market fundamentalism, market fetishism, etc. — is a perversion of mainstream economics, rather than an application thereof. And contemporary economics research is rife with new ideas for creating a more inclusive society. But it is up to us economists to convince their audience about the merits of these claims.”
    Dani Rodrik, and ten others aim to recast economics as being for ‘inclusive prosperity‘. Ten policy briefs to begin with, and more to come later. The idea isn’t to form another think tank, as the post mentions, but to promote more academic research along these ten briefs.
  4. “This Letter quantitatively evaluates the beneficial impact a negative Fed policy rate could have had during the recovery from the Great Recession. While it’s difficult to capture all the complexities of the economy in a model, this analysis suggests that negative rates could have mitigated the depth of the recession and sped up the recovery, though they would have had little effect on economic activity beyond 2014. The analysis also shows that the interest rate does not have to fall too deeply into negative territory to accomplish meaningful economic improvements.”
    Would negative interest rates have helped generate a quicker recovery in the United States? This letter suggests that this may well have been the case. Forget the model that was used – that’s a rabbit hole in its own right – but take a look at this article for a very readable introduction to the world of negative interest rates.
  5. “‘NIRC’ – it’s a uniquely Singaporean economic abbreviation that stands for net investment returns contribution.
    It’s a mouthful, but in the coming weeks the term is likely to be on the lips of many of the Lion City’s lawmakers as they debate the national budget Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will unveil on Monday. The NIRC is the amount of Singapore government revenue that comes from interest earned on its outsize reserves.”
    Everything about Singapore is worth reading, and I really do mean that. Reading this article will introduce you to one of Singapore’s lesser known features – Singapore’s government runs a pretty large fund, it is pretty profitable (presumably), and there’s debate about what to do with the proceeds.