Links for 16th May, 2019

  1. “The other risk of a huge centrally planned response to climate change is that of a huge centrally planned response to anything: clumsy megaprojects chosen for their political or bureaucratic acceptability rather than because they deliver the biggest results for the lowest cost.”
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    In which the ghost of Pigou is found to be giving a contented chuckle. Pigouvian taxes is a term you should learn about, and read this article to find out how and why the idea continues to resonate.
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  2. “With casuals being the next wave of streaming adopters, their impact will increase. But despite being ‘more valuable’ they will also reduce royalties, because more streams per user means revenue gets shared between more tracks, which means lower per-stream rates. The music industry thus has an apparently oxymoronic challenge: it is not in its interest to significantly increase the amount of media consumption time it gets per user, but instead it will be better served by getting a larger number of people listening less!Current market trajectory points to more streams per user, which – for subscriptions, where royalties are paid as a share of revenue – means lower per-stream rates.”
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    Have you read The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson? Read it (or about it), and then read this article to learn about the problems that will arise in a world full of long tails.
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  3. “The answer is no and yes. The views of Piketty and Blanchard can indeed be reconciled, because they are talking about different interest rates. While Blanchard focuses on the rate on low-risk government bonds, Piketty is concerned with the return on risky capital investments. Because the two interest rates are separated by a risk premium of roughly five percentage points, it is entirely possible for the rate on government bonds to be below the economic growth rate, while the rate on capital is above it.”
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    Barry Eichengreen on the return (as he puts it) of fiscal policy. A short article, but a useful one to understand macroeconomics better.
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  4. “When historians in the distant future look back at our era, the name Alfred Sauvy may appear in a footnote somewhere. Sauvy was a French demographer who coined the term “third world” in a magazine article in 1952, just as the Cold War was heating up. His point was that there were countries not aligned with the United States or the Soviet Union that had pressing economic needs, but whose voices were not being heard.”
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    The always excellent Tim Taylor on the nomenclature for “third world” countries – how it came about, what it means, how it might change going forward – and ends with a clarification about how it may not have been what we have thought all along!
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  5. “I have to tell you, I’m a pretty lazy person, I don’t work more than 40 hours per week. What I’ve discovered helps me is to not compartmentalize – because if I thought of my life as, “there’s teaching, there’s research, there’s writing on my blog, there’s X, Y and Z…” then you very quickly run out of hours in the day. But almost everything I do spills over into almost everything else I do. So I’m constantly looking for ways to take whatever I do and get it to serve three or four or five purposes.”
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    A fascinating interview with Aswath Damodaran – a person you must know more about if you want to study finance. The entire interview is worth reading – but this excerpt is for you even if you are not a student of finance – his view about what qualifies as work, and what doesn’t.
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Links for 13th May, 2019

  1. “There should be limits, too, on the rights investors can sign away. In recent years, some companies — such as Smartsheet and Twilio — have done dual-class issues in which the extra voting rights expire after a certain number of years. These sunset provisions preserve the potential benefits of leaving initial control in the hands of founders, while avoiding the risk of creating a dynastic birthright. That’s a sensible compromise. The Securities and Exchange Commission, or the exchanges it oversees, should make such provisions mandatory.”
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    A very useful article to help understand how to think about IPO’s, Uber, Lyft valuations, mandatory disclosures from firms and how they try to get around the issue – and the excerpt above is yet another example of a favorite adage of mine: the truth always lies in the middle.
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  2. “We find that between 1300 and 1400 a 10 percentage point higher Black Death mortality rate was associated with a 8.7 percentage point fall in city population, but between 100 and 200 years later, the impact of mortality was close to zero. When we examine the spillover and general equilibrium effects of the Black Death on city populations, we similarly find negative effects in the short run, and no effects in the long run. Cities and urban systems, on average, had recovered to their pre-Plague population levels by the 16th century.”
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    A worrying article, especially towards the end, but two major takeaways for me: cities matter, and trade matters. But my major takeaway is there is (yet more) cause for worry.
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  3. “Unfortunately, the world’s most prominent specialists are rarely held accountable for their predictions, so we continue to rely on them even when their track records make clear that we should not. One study compiled a decade of annual dollar-to-euro exchange-rate predictions made by 22 international banks: Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and others. Each year, every bank predicted the end-of-year exchange rate. The banks missed every single change of direction in the exchange rate. In six of the 10 years, the true exchange rate fell outside the entire range of all 22 bank forecasts.”
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    Forecasts are useless. I cannot be more serious when I say this. Forecasts are useless. But foxes are better at the impossible then the hedgehogs – this article helps you understand these terms, and their usefulness. This blog is about becoming a better fox!
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  4. “Again, one can argue that the amount of redistribution should be larger. But it would be untrue to argue that a significant amount of redistribution–like doubling the after-taxes-and-transfers share of the lowest quintile–doesn’t already happen. ”
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    The always informative Timothy Taylor on taxes, their composition, their effectiveness and the resulting redistribution in the United States of America. Also, read the book that is reviewed in this article – the entire book is worth your time, but the chapter on income tax is what I was reminded of.
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  5. “When Paul Romer expresses an opinion, it is always worthwhile to listen because it is always well-considered. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, he puts forward a proposal to restore what he terms is the “public commons” of the provision of information in support of democracy. He actually puts forward two linked proposals: one for a target on targeted ads by digital platform companies and a proposal that the tax is progressive (which may be a check on dominance). The latter is interesting but I will just focus on the former here.”
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    I do not recollect if I linked to the Paul Romer piece that is linked to in the excerpt above – in case I did not, please go ahead and read it. The rest of the current article speaks about why Romer’s proposal is a good idea, but not necessarily implementable right away.

Links for 1st May, 2019

  1. “As McKinsey points out, governments, businesses and individuals will all have to embrace change and figure out the best ways to move towards digitisation — including on such basics as land records and business transparency (which could improve access to bank credit). There are also many aspects of this wave of digitisation that are not to the good—including the impact of toxic social media, the loss of privacy, and so on. The rules for this new world will have to be framed carefully to prevent business capture as well as political misuse, and to protect citizens from predatory action. What is required is to minimise the costs as much as to maximise the benefits. Still, the over-riding message is clear: The prospects of digitisation are so overwhelmingly advantageous, if not also inevitable, that those who become laggards in adapting to the new reality are the ones that will be left behind.”
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    T N Ninan (author of the excellent The Turn of the Tortoise) writes about the potential of “digital” India while reviewing a McKinsey report about the same topic. The scope, details and aspects of such a topic simply cannot be dealt with in a single post – but with that in mind, this is worth reading.
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  2. “The Right to Education Act in 2009 guaranteed access to free primary education for all children in India ages 6-14. This paper investigates whether national trends in educational data changed around the time of this law using household surveys and administrative data. We document four trends: (1) School-going increases after the passage of RTE, (2) Test scores decline dramatically after 2010, (3) School infrastructure appears to be improving both before and after RTE, and (4) The number of students who have to repeat a grade falls precipitously after RTE is enacted, in line with the official provisions of the law.”
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    That is the abstract of this paper. Also, have you read this book? Also, have you listened to this podcast? Also, keep an eye out for this Sunday’s video.
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  3. “China’s TFP surged in the 1980s following the agricultural and ownership reforms, in the 1990s following the state enterprise reforms and the creation of a modern housing market, and in the 2000s as China prepared for and was then able to exploit WTO membership.The key takeaway is that China’s one-party system deservedly has won plaudits when it has been most ambitious with regard to economic reforms and experimentation with market mechanisms. But this is not the case, for example, before the 1980s and again since 2012, when reforms were suppressed or stifled and inputs were boosted, but without any improvements.”
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    An interview that remains interesting throughout if you are a student of economics, or China and especially the intersection set. Troubling times ahead for the Chinese economy, it would seem – and on account of a variety of short term reasons, and one very important long term one – TFP.
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  4. “That was when he saw the light. Two small, black, rectangular boxes were stacked next to an outlet on the far side of the guest room, both facing the bed. From afar, they looked like phone chargers. But when Vest got closer, he realized they were cameras, and they were recording.”
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    Airbnb, technology, privacy and customer relations. A great way to learn that There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
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  5. “In 1960, 13.4% of the population age 20-74 was obese (as measured by having a Body Mass Index above 30). In 2016, 40% of the population was obese.
    In 1970, 37.1% of those age 18 and older were cigarette smokers. By 2017, this has fallen to 14.1%.”
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    Just two out of many, many interesting tidbits about America today, and America back then.

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 17th April, 2019

  1. “Nearly half a million people are incarcerated on any given day without having been convicted of a crime. Add it all up, and over 10 million people during a given year year are locked up without being convicted of anything. Roughly one-quarter of all inmates in state and local jails have not been convicted. ”
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    Timothy Taylor explains the pros and cons of eliminating monetary bail. The issue is a complex one, as one might expect, and is a useful way to learn about cost benefit analysis.
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  2. “It’s a reminder that “growth” in cities isn’t always what it seems and that architecture can be an awfully poor proxy for the social structures to which it seems so closely tied. Neighborhoods that appear to be magnets for new people and more apartments may, behind every historic façade, be losing both.”
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    Opportunity costs, population density, gentrification, urbanization and reducing family size – all there in this information dense article.
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  3. “A lot of what you learn when you work at a firm is its organizational culture. Moving within a firm means you learn new subject matter, but you are largely staying within the same culture. The psychologically more challenging move to a different organization gives you an opportunity to experience a different culture, sort of like spending time abroad.”
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    Arnold Kling on culture and the organization. On a related note, the recent somewhat viral article about AirBnB and its culture is also worth reading.
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  4. “There’s a lot going on when you speak. The whole assembly process of how you string words together and form sentences is complicated. If you could use a computer to analyze how an Alzheimer’s patient speaks over the years, you might be able to pick up on subtle changes—and then look for those same patterns in younger patients who show no other signs of the disease. If you’re able to identify those changes early enough, you might even be able to stop someone from getting Alzheimer’s in the first place (although we’d also need advances in Alzheimer’s prevention to do that).”
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    Might how you talk be able to predict if you will get Alzheimer’s in the future? A complicated topic, and one that is sketchy on the details – but very interesting nonetheless.
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  5. “Chinese government statements indicate that 50 state-owned firms have invested or participated in almost 1,700 projects in countries along Belt and Road’s path over the past three years, according to Baker McKenzie. The wider the road, the more drivers are bound to crowd in.”
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    International finance meets the Belt and Road Initiative. Who will win, and in what shape, is what the article speaks about.

Links for 13th March, 2019

  1. “For most projects I’ll never look at anything in ARCHIVES again. But of course it’s easy to do so if I want to. And the fact that it’s easy is important, because it means I don’t have nagging concerns about saying “this is finished with; let’s put it in ARCHIVES”, even if I think there’s some chance it might become active again.As it happens, this approach is somewhat inspired by something I saw done with physical documents. When I was consulting at Bell Labs in the early 1980s I saw that a friend of mine had two garbage cans in his office. When I asked him why, he explained that one was for genuine garbage and the other was a buffer into which he would throw documents that he thought he’d probably never want again. He’d let the buffer garbage can fill up, and once it was full, he’d throw away the lower documents in it, since from the fact that he hadn’t fished them out, he figured he’d probably never miss them if they were thrown away permanently.”
    It is exhausting just reading it, but a very long article from Stephen Wolfram o how he organizes his life. You don’t have to go quite as all out – but you might learn a trick or two about organizing your life better by reading this article. God knows I need all the help I can get.
  2. “Nonetheless, this work suggests a potentially serious problem. Many situations in economics are complicated and competitive. This raises the possibility that many important theories in economics may be wrong: If the key behavioral assumption of equilibrium is wrong, then the predictions of the model are likely wrong too. In this case new approaches are required that explicitly simulate the behavior of the players and take into account the fact that real people are not good at solving complicated problems.”
    If I was to be (excessively?) cynical, I’d say this would mean that economists know nothing. But that isn’t necessarily true – Herbert Simon’s work on bounded rationality come to mind here. But the article is interesting about how to think about excessively complicated stuff – such as life.
  3. “In a low-saving, low-investment economy like the US, it’s a little hard to conceive that its possible for savings and investment rates to be too high for a country’s economic health. But that’s where China has been, and shifting away from established patterns is rarely simple.”
    To range across domains, there is this line from dietary studies that goes something like this: “It is the dose that makes the poison”. But if the USA suffers from too low a savings rate (maybe), China has the opposite problem. And this article does a great job of explaining the how and the why.
  4. “Historically, interim budgets in India have consistently overestimated revenue growth and underestimated expenditure growth. An analysis of the projected, revised, and actual budget figures since 1991 by Deepa Vaidya and K. Kangasabapathy of the EPW Research Foundation showed that deviations from budget estimates tend to be extraordinarily high for budget estimates presented in interim budgets ”
    This should surprise nobody, but budgets shouldn’t be trusted. Households budgets tend to have the same biases and errors that government budgets do, and for mostly the same reason – they’re drawn up by humans, who will be tempted to gloss over inconveniences. This article is full of interesting infographics that help you understand this point better – and also makes the point that an independent fiscal council is both necessary and overdue. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
  5. “But as the global giants arrive, they have been driving up salaries, rents, and reputations. Now some fear that the multinationals that once nurtured this fledgling technology powerhouse are unwittingly damaging the potent but fragile mix of entrepreneurship, military training, and chutzpah that drew them to it in the first place. That, they worry, could prevent it from developing into a mature digital economy.”
    Can you guess, before you click on the link, which country we’re talking about? Reading this article should make you want to read more about industrial organization, low interest rate environments, and urbanization – three of the biggest issues in economics today.