Tech: Links for 10th December, 2019

  1. “To be clear, both roles can be beneficial — platforms make the relationship between users and 3rd-parties possible, and Aggregators helps users find 3rd-parties in the first place — and both roles can also be abused.”
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    The always excellent Ben Thompson on regulating monopolies online, drawing a distinction between platforms and aggregators. His articles, as I have mentioned before, are always a delight to read, and this one in particular is a great collection of links to articles he has written before. Plus, this article is inspiration, if you will, for the links that follow.
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  2. “Columbia University law professor Tim Wu coined the term “network neutrality” in a 2003 paper about online discrimination. At the time, some broadband providers, including Comcast, banned home internet users from accessing virtual private networks (VPNs), while others, like AT&T, banned users from using Wi-Fi routers. Wu worried that broadband providers’ tendency to restrict new technologies would hurt innovation in the long term, and called for anti-discrimination rules.”
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    An excellent explainer from Wired about Net Neutrality.
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  3. “For years, I winced at how Big Tech approached regulatory matters. When they wade into policy matters, they fail to see the bigger picture — and the younger the company, the worse they are at this. The hole that Facebook has dug for itself is entirely because its leadership seemed to believe that if they stayed within the letter of the current law they wouldn’t be regulated. This is a completely naive and ahistorical view. And this view has prevented Facebook from innovating in their own policy space. Without that policy innovation, we are left with essentially nonsensical suggestions to break up Facebook — which wouldn’t actually solve any of the issues anyone has with Facebook.”
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    If you’re looking to do research in this field, you can’t not read Joshua Gans. This is just one of many excellently argued articles. Do read the whole thing!
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  4. The internet activist Nikhil Pahwa lists out his expectations about the future of internet regulation in India. Agree or disagree (as usual, I fall in the middle), it is worth reading.
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  5. “More generally, however, the bigger Google gets the more countries it has a physical presence in (servers, sales staff and support etc.) and thus the more leverage individual countries, especially large countries, will have to degrade the services that Google offers not just within-country but to the world.”
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    Alex Tabarrok gives a fun example and a chilling analysis in the same short blog post.

RoW: Links for 25th September, 2019

Five articles about East Asia today, all interesting in their own right.

  1. Reading this article reminded me (of all the things in the world!) of the conversation that Aakash has with his dad in Dil Chahta Hai, where Aakash’s dad asks him to find out the vajah. Weird? Yes. Relevant? You be the judge!
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    “Without really knowing what the North is about, it has been hard to be certain about what they really want: relief from the economic pressure of sanctions and the need to circumvent them so that the Kim dynasty can continue in not-so-splendid isolation, or economic and political engagement with the international community and a route to becoming a normal state without hostile relations with the US.”
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  2. Speaking of North Korea
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  3. Part II of a two part series on energy (well, electricity)  in North Korea. Read both, though.
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  4. Hong Kong as a Shakespearean tragedy.
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  5. “There was no criteria except availability in English. Yes, this was more mad than methodical — but we’re proud of the result.”
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    A very useful list indeed: 100 books about China. I have read, I am happy to say, only six out of these. I am also slightly surprised to see that China Airborne didn’t make it to the list. And Taipan, maybe.

Tech: Links for 6th August, 2019

Smart Cities is a phrase that has been bandied about in India for a while now, but nobody who actually lives in any city in India can claim in good conscience to actually live in one.

What exactly is a smart city? What does it entail? What are the minimum qualifications to be thought of as one, what are the costs involved? Are all costs economic – as in, might it be rather lonely to be a part of a smart city? Rather than spend time defining each of these things, today’s links are about a city in South Korea that very few of you have likely heard of: Songdo.

  1. “Built on 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea off Incheon, about 56 kilometres (35 mi) from the South’s capital Seoul, Songdo district is the largest private real estate development in history. By its completion date in 2015, the district was planned to contain 80,000 apartments, 5,000,000 square metres (50,000,000 sq ft) of office space and 900,000 square metres (10,000,000 sq ft) of retail space. The 65-floor Northeast Asia Trade Tower became South Korea’s tallest building. Computers have been built into the houses, streets, and offices as part of a wide area network.”
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    From Wikipedia. Reading this article also informs us that while a lot of us may not have heard of Songdo, we certainly have seen it.
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  2. A link (Business Insider) that has lots of pcitures, and information about Songdo’s urban density, transport, remoteness, trash collection and much more.
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  3. “This was all pretty slick, but where were the levitating buildings and flying cars we had envisioned? The city’s futurism was incremental, as it turned out, coexisting with the familiar and mundane. We had expected a city 25 or even 50 years ahead of the rest of the world; instead, Songdo felt like 2017—still the future, perhaps, but not the promised land of science fiction. There were mostly just subtle, somewhat odd differences from the cities of the present—for example, in Central Park, a small island filled with rabbits, a cordoned-off section with captive deer, and the occasional hidden speaker playing relaxing classical music.”
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    From a while ago… an article from the Atlantic talking about how Songdo was in 2014, and how it might turn out.
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  4. “The streets, footpaths and cycle lanes and racks are strangely empty for such a large city, there’s no presence of culture – no museums, theatres and just one cinema. On weekends, the cycle racks are empty and the area is desolate. One critic said it had a “Chernobyl-like emptiness” to it.
    Now it’s trying to entice US citizens to save the US$40 billion project from failure with the construction of a colossal “American Town”.”
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    People, it would seem, make cities what they are. Doing it the other way around seems to have not worked. Exercise: would you say this is good news for India?
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  5. And another article from CityLab that says more or less the same thing.

ROW: Links for 10th July, 2019

  1. “The radio station, whose call letters are KHIL, has long been the daily soundtrack for this frontier town (population 3,500) that prides itself on its cowboy culture and quiet pace of life. But six decades after the founding of the station, the property is in foreclosure, with utility disconnect notices coming nearly every month.”
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    Culture and Coase (an updated version) in rural America. For both of these reasons and more, worth your time.
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  2. “When Amnesty International U.S.A. started looking for a new headquarters in New York City, the human rights group settled on office space in a modest skyscraper in Lower Manhattan known as Wall Street Plaza.But just as the organization was about to sign a lease last week, the building’s owner said that its new parent company, a giant shipping conglomerate owned by the Chinese government, decided to veto the offer. The company, Cosco Shipping, did not want the United States chapter of Amnesty International, which has produced scathing reports highlighting human rights abuses in China, as a tenant, according to the group.”
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    Business, culture, nationalism, America and China.
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  3. “When you’re doing everything wrong, the best way to fix the problem isn’t usually to go through the list of things you’re doing wrong and fix them one by one. It’s best to step back and ask why you’re so bad at everything, whether a systemic problem is causing you to make so many separate mistakes. And in the case of the MTA, the root cause of its capital-construction failures is usually diagnosed as unaccountability: Nobody knows who’s in charge, so nobody has to be terrified of taking the blame for obscene costs and endless delays.”
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    Coordinating stuff is hard. The New York version of this story. Also, this is why Singapore deserves all the admiration it gets (and more)
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  4. “During the French referendum on the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, we observed that 60% of the voters with the lowest incomes, personal wealth or qualifications voted against, whereas the 40% of the electorate with higher incomes voted in favour; the gap was big enough for the yes vote to win with a small majority (51%). The same thing happened with the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, except that this time only the top 20% were in favour of the yes vote, whereas the lower 80% preferred to vote no, whence a clear victory for the latter (55%). Likewise for the referendum on Brexit in the UK in 2016: this time it was the top 30% who voted enthusiastically to remain in the EU. But, as the bottom 70% preferred to leave, the leave vote won with 52% of the votes.”
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    An article which helps you think a little bit more about the European Union and what plagues it.
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  5. “China’s overall external surplus is down. That’s not surprising—China’s general government deficit is somewhere between 4 percent of GDP and 12 percent of GDP, depending on what measure you use. The gap between China’s fiscal stance and that of Korea is even bigger than the gulf between Germany’s surplus and the deficit of France—and the gap between the euro area’s (tight) overall fiscal stance and the much looser stance of the United States.But the surplus of China’s neighbors, who have responded, in many cases, to the “rise” of China with policy stances designed to maintain weak currencies and protect their exports, has soared over the past ten years, and now is substantially larger than it was prior to the global crisis.”
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    A useful article about Korea’s macroeconomic choices, and the reasoning behind them.

Links for 15th May, 2019

  1. “Our science is past its childhood, but has not reached its manhood yet. On the one hand, our patience is still being tried by the phraseology of “schools ” and “-isms,” and there is still plenty of scope and shelter for the products of bad workmanship passing themselves off as new departures; but, on the other hand, the really living part of our science shows hopeful signs of, if I may say so, that convergence of effort, which is the necessary and sufficient condition of serious achievement. Those economists who really count do not differ so much as most people believe; they start from much the same premises; problems present themselves to them in much the same light; they attack them with much the same tools; and, although some of them have a way of laying more stress on points of difference than of points of agreement, their results mostly point towards common goals. This is not only true of fundamentals of fact and machinery, but also of what is going on within the precincts of every one of our time-honoured problems.”
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    Professor DeLong treats us to an extended excerpt from Joseph Schumpeter on business cycles, and while the extract isn’t light reading for anybody, I found the “isms” quoted above to be of interest.
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  2. “Oh, for sure. I’ve had three or four people tell me they called him on it on the first hole. He kicks the ball so much that caddies call him Pelé [a reference to the famous Brazilian soccer player]. He throws it out of bunkers, he retakes shots, he throws other people’s balls into the water.But every time people call him on it, he has the same answer, which is, “Oh, the guys I play with, you’ve got to do this just to keep it fair.” It’s the Lance Armstrong defense: Everybody’s doing it, so I have to do it just to keep up, otherwise I’m getting cheated. It’s the default rationalization of a cheater.

    But in reality, the National Golf Foundation says 90 percent of people don’t cheat when they play. But this guy cheats like a mafia accountant.”
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    Guess the sport, the person being spoken about, and most important, the reason for including this article in today’s set (hint:it’s not the obvious answer). I’ll write down the answer after the fifth link today.
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  3. “This assessment of BRI should not be taken to mean we can be complacent about other things that China does, some of which are most likely part of a conscious strategy. It’s just that we need to assess trends on their merits and not be led purely by conspiracy theories and our availability biases or preconceived notions.”
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    Urbanomics shares a useful set of links to do with BRI, China and how there may well be a simpler set of explanations than a grand over-arching theory that is mostly about a conspiracy.
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  4. “I think that what will take people by surprise will be:the failure of monetary policy to be adequately stimulative in the next downturn while

    there is so much polarity and conflict both within countries and between countries.

    I think that these things will be surprising to people because they’ve never happened before in their lifetimes though they’ve happened many times before in history. I suggest that you study the cause-effect relationships in the 1930s to see the mechanics that led to the outcomes of that period.”
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    Ray Dalio does an AMA, and all of the answers are worth reading (the one on time, for example, while being a bit obvious, is still an excellent one)
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  5. “When it had its premiere in 2011, “Now on My Way to Meet You” was a tear-jerking reunion program featuring families separated by the Korean War, but before the show had a chance to reunite anyone, it underwent a transformation. The way the producers tell it, in their scramble to recruit separated families, they kept running into a new generation of defectors. So they made the rather canny decision to reorient their show around appealing young women, whom they took to calling “defector beauties.” The show’s on-location backdrops of humble homes and noodle restaurants gave way to a glitzy game-show-type set, and estranged septuagenarians were replaced with girlish defectors. Pretty soon, the only thing left of the original program was its name and the desire for reunion.”
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    Since I chanced upon this via MR, I’ll use the phrase “interesting throughout” – and for a variety of reasons!

    What does that article teach us about how to judge ourselves?

Links for 29th March, 2019

  1. “”Because it’s so difficult for people with edge-to-edge bites to produce sounds like f and v, the study’s authors figured they would be unlikely to say them by accident, or to incorporate them into their languages. They checked to see whether they could find this pattern playing out in the real world by comparing the sound systems of languages across the world with the subsistence style of the people who speak those languages. About half of the world’s languages use labiodental sounds, but on average, languages spoken by hunter-gatherer societies turned out to use fewer than one-third the number of labiodental sounds as their agricultural counterparts.”
    An area I know nothing about, but I found this fascinating. How agriculture might have influenced speech, and how therefore we got around to using “F” and “V” sounds in language. It begs the question: how might current society be impacting the evolution of language?
  2. “Something interesting emerges from those figures. As the atmosphere is full of small eddies, so humanity experiences many small deadly quarrels, which result in a few fatalities. But now and again come huge storms, which kill millions. These are just the sort of outbreaks, like the world war Richardson had seen for himself, that people think of as surprising. Yet when Richardson plotted the frequency of wars against the number of deaths caused by each one, he found a constant and predictable relationship. On his graphs, the violence obeyed a “power law”—a constant relationship between the size and frequency of measurements. In his turbulence work, Richardson had found that such a power law governed the relationship between the rate of diffusion of objects in a turbulent stream and their distance from one another. Now he had found evidence of an underlying law in the supposedly unpredictable realm of politics.”
    Well worth the price of admission – the article begins somewhat slowly, but picks up pace and complexity, taking us on a journey through war, weather forecasting, religious background, and much else besides. People who don’t like math, especially, should really read this post.
  3. “Foreign investors believe they can navigate around India’s governance fault lines. Still, South Korea’s chaebol discount could also become a millstone for India if the grip of a handful of private interests on state institutions and economic opportunities tightens. The new boxwallahs will be much harder to shake off than the old cronies.”
    The always excellent Andy Mukherjee on the urgently needed corporate reforms in India. Well worth a read for its own sake, of course, but more importantly, a great read to help you understand what you should read more of when it comes to India’s business history.
  4. “There are undergraduate courses, and then there are great undergraduate courses. Today we have the 49 item course bibliography for Thomas C. Schelling’s “Conflict, Coalition and Strategy” along with its ten-page final examination”
    This is, I’m still gobsmacked to think about it, an undergraduate  course. We at the Gokhale Institute are starting an undergraduate course this year – it’ll be interesting to see if any of these references could be included in that course. I found this fascinating, especially because of the wide variety of subjects from which the list has been drawn up. A lot of bookmarks to be added via this link!
  5. “For, in both Ricardo and Marx, a conflict of interest is visible between social classes. In order to promote the ‘idea’ of a just and harmonius system, the theories (especially the labour theory of value) of Ricardo and Marx were criticised as being limited, and an alternative was proposed. This new theory completely did away with social classes. Individuals were chosen as the primary unit of analysis. Social classes, actually was modified into ‘factors of production’. A very interesting and important methodological shift, with powerful political implications! All the factors of production were assigned equal importance, and it was also shown how both labour and capital recieved incomes according to their contribution to the production process. That is, a capitalist system, with free mobility of labour and capital and with clear property rights (contracts), is essentially a just and stable system.”
    Why should one study economics? Most, if not all, colleges today leave students with the answer to this question being completely backward. We learn, and teach, theories of economics and then ask students to apply them to the world outside. Arguably, even the latter doesn’t happen nearly often enough. But this post helps you understand where theories come from in the first place! They came up in response to the world that was around those theorists – at that time, and at that place. This time, and this place is different – and we, as students of economics, would do well to remember that. Excellent article, and about an economist who isn’t studied enough.