A Call for Help Re: Substack

What are the pros and cons of moving this blog to Substack?

This blog will forever be free, so I’m not looking to shift in order to monetize anything. But for those of you who have used Substack (and especially for those of you who have used both WordPress and Substack), what can you tell me that the Internet cannot?


  1. In what ways is Substack better, and in what ways is it worse in your experience?
  2. What are the limitations of Substack?
  3. Particularly for those of you who did migrate over to Substack, how complicated was your experience?

Thank you very much in advance!

Blogging Everyday

I try to blog everyday, and as some of my regular readers might know, I don’t always succeed.

Why do I try to blog everyday?

Many reasons, but here are the top three. First, it helps makes concepts clear in my mind. Second, it instils a sense of discipline. Call it rountine, and I might even accept that it has become an addiction, but in this case, I would say it is entirely worth it. And third, my blog has become my note-taking tool. Increasingly, I end up searching my own blogposts regarding concepts I’m sure I’ve come across before. If it was important to me, I am sure I must have written about it.

There are other advantages – I’ve gotten work as a consequence of writing here, I’ve made friends and I’ve met lots of very interesting people. To cut a long story short, there are many, many advantages and virtually no downsides. You don’t get to be as lazy as you’d like to be, it is true, but people tell me that’s a good thing. Who knows, they may well be right.

There are two people I look up to when it comes to blogging every single day, come rain or shine. The name of one of them is likely to be familiar to many of you – Tyler Cowen, of course.

The other is Seth Godin.

I don’t know for how long now, but Seth has been blogging for easily more than fifteen years at least. And when I say he has been blogging for fifteen years, I mean that he has been blogging every single day for those fifteen years (and probably more). I could look up the exact number, but the point in this case ins’t the statistic itself, it is admiration for being able to keep at it for so long. It’s a habit I admire and envy, and it is a habit I aspire to. And like Jessica Hagy the other day, so also with this post. It is a tribute of sorts, and also a way to introduce some of you to bloggers who I read without fail.

Seth has over the years introduced me to authors, introduced me to concepts, taught me fun ways of thinking about stuff, made me rethink simple math, and above all – and I’ll never be able to thank him enough for this – introduced me to good bread (and do read other posts he has written in honor of Poilane). There’s so much more on his blog that trying to create a list is pointless – as with Jessica’s blog, so also with Seth’s, but even more so. Dip in, and see what catches your fancy.

Above all, though, Seth has taught me three things. He has taught me that everything that I do is marketing. Every single thing. Now, I can tell you that this means I’m not a very good marketer, but the good news is that I have one more reason to try and be better at everything I do. But he also has taught me that marketing isn’t a fad, a gimmick or a thing to be sneered at. On the contrary, it is an indispensable skill.

Two, he has taught me to show up every single day. In fact, the phrase “show up” and the word “ship” I will forever associate with Seth. If you are confused about why a marketer is talking about ships, note that we’re talking about the verb, not the noun – and I’ll reiterate my invitation to dip into his blog. I ship a blogpost daily on this blog – or try to, at any rate, purely because I admire his (and Tyler’s) tenacity and gumption. Read what he had to say about this back in 2013, when he wrote his 5000th (yup, not a typo) post:

My biggest surprise? That more people aren’t doing this. Not just every college professor (particularly those in the humanities and business), but everyone hoping to shape opinions or spread ideas. Entrepreneurs. Senior VPs. People who work in non-profits. Frustrated poets and unknown musicians… Don’t do it because it’s your job, do it because you can.
The selfishness of the industrial age (scarcity being the thing we built demand upon, and the short-term exchange of value being the measurement) has led many people to question the value of giving away content, daily, for a decade or more. And yet… I’ve never once met a successful blogger who questioned the personal value of what she did.


(And as an economist, that second paragraph is so much food for thought!)

And finally, he’s taught me to think daily. This is related to the second point, but this is important enough to be a point all on its own. You see, writing daily becomes a habit if you do it long enough. But even more importantly, you realize very quickly that writing something daily also means having to think daily. And you’d be surprised at how good we all are at going though the day without thinking. If you don’t know what I mean, I invite you to try and write daily.

Thank you for leading by example, Seth, and for showing up everyday.

Write The Harder Version

Ben Thompson writes a lovely (as usual) essay about the latest Meta-Microsoft partnership. There’s a lot to think about and ponder in that essay, but for the moment, I want to just focus on a part of it that appears in the introduction:

That was why this Article was going to be easy: writing that Meta’s metaverse wasn’t very compelling would slot right in to most people’s mental models, prompting likes and retweets instead of skeptical emails; arguing that Meta should focus on its core business would appeal to shareholders concerned about the money and attention devoted to a vision they feared was unrealistic. Stating that Zuckerberg got it wrong would provide comfortable distance from not just an interview subject but also a company that I have defended in its ongoing dispute with Apple over privacy and advertising.
Indeed, you can sense my skepticism in the most recent episode of Sharp Tech, which was recorded after seeing the video but before trying the Quest Pro. See, that was the turning point: I was really impressed, and that makes this Article much harder to write.


When you’re writing about a particular topic, and particularly if you write often enough, you realize that there are two ways to go about it: the easy way, and the hard way. The easy way isn’t necessarily about slacking off – in fact, part of the reason it might be easy to write is precisely because you haven’t bene slacking off for a long time in terms of writing regularly.

Doing so – writing regularly, that is – gives you a way of thinking about what to write – a mental framework that lays out the broad contours of your write-up, a way to begin the first paragraph, and even a nice rhetorical flourish with which to end.

I speak from personal experience – every now and then, I can see the blogpost that will be written by me while I’m reading something. And this is a truly wonderful superpower – the ability to know that you can churn out a somewhat decent-ish piece about something in very short order. Which is why both writing regularly and writing with self-imposed deadlines is on balance a good thing.

But there is, alas, no such thing as a free lunch. The downside of this is that one also then develops the inability to push oneself more. Why bother coming up with a different way of thinking what to write about, and how to go about it? Even if you’ve developed the intuition while reading something that your regular mental framework will do just fine, and it might well be what your audience is expecting from you anyways, you know that you really should be framing it in a different way. Either because that’s really what the subject matter at hand demands, or because you’re somehow convinced that this new, different way will result in a better framing – but you just know it in your bones.

That’s the hard bit: should you then stick to what you know and thump out a piece, or should you take the time to pause, reflect and push yourself to build out a better essay? Should you pursue that contrarian take, even though it might take longer?

And if you have a regular schedule to keep up with, the answer need not necessarily be yes. But I would argue that every now and then, it does make sense to take a step back, allow yourself the luxury of time, and write the more difficult piece instead.

Yes it will take longer, and yes it will be more tiring, but now what to do. Such is life.

All that being said, three quick points about Ben’s essay that really stood out for me:

  1. What is Mark Zuckerberg optimizing for with this move, and what cost to himself and his firm? Why? Weirdly, it would seem as if he is pushing the technology (VR) at the cost of at least the short-term growth of his firm, and he seems to be fine with it. Huh.
  2. Who are likely to be the early adopters of your service, and how likely are they to eventually become your marketers for free is a question that never goes away, but remains underrated.
  3. I’ve never used a VR headset, but even after reading Ben’s article, it becomes difficult to see why this might take off at current costs – and those costs aren’t just monetary, but also about mass adoption, inconveniences and technological limitations. I just don’t get it (which, of course, is a good thing. More to learn!)

Showing Up For Work

I ended up not posting on these pages this past Wednesday.

I’m not proud of it, and I wished I had posted on that day, but let’s talk about showing up for work. The phrase isn’t mine, in the sense that I associate it with Seth Godin. And this practice, of trying to write here every weekday, and post links to interesting Twitter threads and videos over the weekend, is partly because of Seth’s practice of writing daily without fail. And also, of course, due to that other blog that has daily updates, come rain or shine.

And trust me, it is hard to do! I don’t feel quite so bad about not posting for long stretches over the past two years, because there were days where I simply didn’t feel like writing. And I was completely fine with that. But this past Wednesday, it was part laziness, part lots of other things to do, and part logistical issues.

But I should stop wussing around and ‘fess up. These are all excuses, and if I aim to post daily, then failure to post is I not prioritizing this task above all else. Generally speaking, I try to schedule posts a week ahead, and a good Friday is when I have posts lined up all through next Sunday.

But alas, this doesn’t always happen. And so you might see me hunched up over my laptop, a gently sympathetic cup of coffee next to me in a café, typing away furiously to meet my self-imposed deadline of posting by ten am. A bad day is one on which I miss the deadline, and a horrible day is one on which I don’t post at all.

The reason I’m writing this post today, and the reason I’ve spoken at length about my failure this past Wednesday, is because I want to leave you with two messages:

  1. If you write (and preferably post publicly) regularly for long enough, you will reach a stage where it becomes an almost compulsive habit, and that is A Very Good Thing. As Seth himself says, there is no such thing as writer’s block. Just sit and write. Some days will be diamonds and some will be stones, but the point is to first write. Worry about quality later.
  2. If you feel as bad as I do about missing a day, that is An Even Better Thing! But keep at it, and show up for work the next day, and then the day after, and then the day after that. Each day is, as it were, a marginal revolution.

And while you are at it, wish me luck. For today is Friday, and I don’t yet have any posts scheduled for next week.

Ah well, onwards!

Learning by Writing (But There’s More!)

As you might imagine, I’m a big fan of the idea of learning by writing, and preferably, writing for public consumption.

Writing is its own discipline, and it is a wonderful way to make thoughts and concepts clear in your own head. And writing for public consumption forces you to be clearer in terms of how you frame your thoughts, and the internet acts as an extremely alert editor for free. Trust me, writing your thoughts down is great. Try it!

But there’s ways and means to make this process even better, and I chanced upon a nice little essay that gives advice on just this very point:

I usually start by trying to read the most prominent 1-3 pieces that (a) defend the claim or (b) attack the claim or (c) set out to comprehensively review the evidence on both sides. I try to understand the major reasons they’re giving for the side they come down on. I also chat about the topic with people who know more about it than I do, and who aren’t too high-stakes to chat with.


The essay is titled “Learning by Writing“, but I interpret it more as an essay about how to get better at learning by writing. That is, I think the essay is about how to get better at the process of writing – the fact that you will learn by doing so is all but guaranteed.

And to me, the most important part of the process of writing is the quote above, and in particular, the following: “I also chat about the topic with people who know more about it than I do, and who aren’t too high-stakes to chat with”.

Blogging, and writing more generally, is a very solitary endeavour. Reading 1-3 pieces is the easy bit, and is a lot of fun to do. I tend to be a very opinionated reader, so forming an opinion or a hypothesis one way or the other isn’t difficult to do. Taking a contrarian position – a position that is at odds with your take on the issue – is rather more difficult, but I have found it entirely worth my while.

But that last bit – chatting with people who more about it than I do, and who aren’t too high-stakes to chat with, that bit is difficult. Lots of people know much more than I do about lots of things, so there’s no shortage of supply in that regard, but the “aren’t too high stakes to chat with” isn’t easy.

Also, given the fact that I try to post everyday, and my, shall we say, above average procrastination skills make it difficult to meet the deadline of posting on time and having conversations about what I am going to write about.

But in the cases where I manage to do so (chat about what I am going to write about with friends/mentors/experts), I find my own writing to be noticeable better. So not for all posts that will follow, but at least for some of them, I shall try and do exactly this: chat with folks who know a bit about the topic, before writing about it.

The rest of the essay isn’t actually about the point that I have raised over here, but it is still worth a read. Shown below is a table of the author’s outline for writing a piece:


Again, I don’t think something like this can/will work on a daily posting schedule, but at least one post a week?


Simplify. Then Simplify More. And Then Some More.

I try and post daily here on EFE, and as regular readers may have noticed, don’t always succeed.

I would like to try and write daily, which is a whole other challenge. But I cannot always manage to do so, alas. And let me be clear, the reason I can’t manage either is not because of my other commitments, or my regular job, or anything like that. It is simply because I am not good enough at managing my time well.

It is, for example, 10.03 am as I’m typing this out, and today’s blog should have gone out at 10.00 am. Better late than never, I am consoling myself as I type this out.

So it goes.

One major downside of trying to write/post daily – beyond the fact that I find it difficult to build this habit – is that I am certainly unable to read through my posts once before posting. In an ideal world, I would like to sit down with each post a day after I have written it, and go over it in detail. I would like to scrub out the unnecessary adverbs, rewrite passive sentences into active ones, adjust the length of the sentences so that they sound better, and so much more from a grammatical and aesthetic perspective.

But above all, I would like to be able to take out the time to make sure that what I’ve written is clear, concise and comprehensible.

I’ve christened this blog EconforEverybody. And at least some of my posts, I am sure, aren’t for everybody. Folks without a background in econ theory might not get them, or might be turned away by the opening paragraph, or hell, even the title. And even if they do make it past these hurdles, the topic may still prove too complicated for them.

So two things for me to note, then. One, try and write as simply as possible. An admonishment that I have regularly handed out to one of my favorite students is one that I should follow myself: shorter sentences always. Simpler words, too.

Two, before clicking on the “Publish” button, try and read the whole thing once. Try and eliminate the obvious errors, at the very least. And if you can find the time to make it even simpler, please, go ahead and do so.

If I can make this a habit, my writing elsewhere will benefit too. And that can only be a good thing.

So when I write, I must simplify. Then simplify more. And then some more.


Make Examinations Relevant Again

Alice Evans (and if you are unfamiliar with her work, here’s a great way to begin learning more about it) recently tweeted about a topic that is close to my heart:

And one of the replies was fascinating:

I’ve asked students to create podcasts in the past for assignments, but not yet for final or semester end examinations, because I am constrained by the rules of whichever university I’m teaching in. There are some that allow for experimentation and off-the-beaten-path formats, but the vast majority are still in “Answer the following” mode.

But ever since I came across that tweet, I’ve been thinking about how we could make examinations in this country better, more relevant, and design them in such a way that we test skills that are applicable to the world we live in today, rather than the world of a 100 years ago.

To me, the ideal examination would include the following:

  • The ability to do fast-paced research on a collaborative basis
  • The ability to work as a team to be able to come up with output on the basis of this research
  • The ability to write (cogently and concisely) about how you as an individual think about the work that your team came up with

What might such an examination look like? Well, it could take many forms, but here’s one particular form that I have been thinking about.

Imagine an examination for a subject like, say, macroeconomics. Here’s a question I would love to ask students to think about for such an examination today. “Do you and your team find yourself on Team Transitory or Team Persistent when it comes to inflation today? The answer, in whatever format, should make sense to a person almost entirely unacquainted with economics.”

This would be a three hour long examination. Say the exam is for a cohort of 120 students. I’d split the class up into 10 groups of 12 each, and ask each group to spend one hour thinking about this question, and doing the research necessary to come up with an answer. They can discuss the question, split the work up (refer to textbooks, refer to material online, watch YouTube videos, discuss with each other, appoint a leader – whatever it is that they need to do) and come up with an outline of what their answer is.

The next hour would be coming up with the answer itself: write a blogpost about it, or record audio, or record video. The format is up to them, as is the length. The only requirement is that the output must answer the question, and must include reasons for their choice. Whether the background information that is required to make sense is to be given (or referenced, or skipped altogether) is entirely up to the students.

And the final hour must be spent on a short write-up where each individual student submits their view about their team’s submission. Given that the second hour’s output was collaborative, does the student as an individual agree with the work done? Why? Or why not? What would the student have liked to have done differently? This part must be written, for the ability to write well is (to me) non-negotiable.

To me, this examination will encompass research (which can only be done in an hour if the students are familiar enough with the subject at hand, so they need to have done their homework), collaboration and the ability to think critically about the work that they were a part of. Grading could be split equally on a fifty-fifty basis: half for the work done collaboratively, and half for the individual essay submission.

Sure, there would be some problems. Students might object to the groups that have been formed or students might end up quarreling so much in the first two hours that they’re not left with much time. Or something else altogether, which is impossible to foresee right now.

But I would argue that such examinations are more reflective of the work that the students will actually do in the world outside. More reflective than “Answer the following” type questions, that is.

The point isn’t to defend this particular format. The point is to ask if the current format needs to change (yes!) and if so how (this being only one suggestion).

Right now, examinations provide a 19th century solution to very real 21st century problems, and their irrelevance becomes ever more glaring by the day.

We need to talk about examinations, and we aren’t.

Observe, and Ask

Most students who take introductory economics seem to leave the course without really having learned even the most important basic economic principles. For example, their ability to answer simple economic questions several months after leaving the course is not measurably different from that of people who never took a principles course (Hansen, Salemi and Siegfried 2002). The problem seems to be that instructors of principles courses almost always try to teach students far too much. In the process, really important ideas get no more coverage than minor ones. Everything ends up going by in a blur

Frank, R. H. (2006). The economic naturalist writing assignment. The Journal of Economic Education37(1), 58-67.

So begins a paper called “The Economic Naturalist Writing Assignment”, a paper that everybody can (and dare I say should) read. Robert Frank has forgotten more about teaching principles of economics than most of us will ever learn. 48 years of teaching, so that last sentence isn’t rhetorical.

A successful economics learning experience should mirror these same steps. A short list of basic principles should be presented to students, one at a time in the context of simple examples drawn from familiar settings. Following each, students should be asked to practice the principle by using it to solve simple problems that are closely parallel to the ones used to illustrate the principle. The student should then be given the opportunity to pose original questions and use the same basic principles to answer them.

Frank, R. H. (2006). The economic naturalist writing assignment. The Journal of Economic Education37(1), 58-67.

Readers who are familiar with the book The Economic Naturalist will have guessed where this is going. For years, Professor Frank asked his students to write essays about things they saw around them that they found puzzling, interesting, or counterintuitive. The point of the essays was to, well, observe and ask. And then, using the principles of economics that had just been taught to them, try and come up with answers.

A really successful paper is one that begins with a really interesting question (one that makes the listener instantly curious to learn the answer) and then uses an economic principle or principles to construct a plausible answer. You’ll know you have a good paper if the first thing your roommate wants to do upon reading it is to tell friends about it.

Frank, R. H. (2006). The economic naturalist writing assignment. The Journal of Economic Education37(1), 58-67.

What kind of questions? Here are just two (the names in parentheses are of the students who asked the question, and went on to answer them in their essays):

  1. Why do brides spend so much money on wedding dresses, whereas grooms often rent cheap tuxedos, even though grooms could potentially wear their tuxedos on many other occasions and brides will never wear their dresses again?
    (Jennifer Dulski)
  2. Why are round-trip fares from Hawaii to the mainland higher than the corresponding fares from the mainland to Hawaii? (Karen Hittle)

Curious to hear the answers? Please, read the paper as an appetizer, and for the mains, buy the book.

In the paper I have been excerpting from, Professor Frank uses the analogy of how tennis is taught to beginners, beginning with basic drills (of which the forehand comes first).

Those who aspire to move their games to a higher level typically continue with formal instruction. However, for them, too, an important part of the learning process is continued play.

Same as earlier, which is what ibid means

Now, about that “continued play” being an important part of the learning process, Tyler Cowen has a post out today, titled “Why do they keep the books wrapped in Mexican bookstores?“:

Yes, wrapped in clear shrink wrap. So you can’t page through them and see what the book might be like. I can think of a few hypotheses:
They don’t want you standing in the bookstore reading the thing, rather than buying it. A bit like some U.S. comics news stands in days past. Yet this doesn’t seem so plausible for longer books or most novels.
They want the books to look nicer and less grimy.
How about price discrimination?


If Tyler Cowen can take the time out to practice his forehand, surely the rest of us can also train like athletes?

Principles of economics can be learnt for free online, using any resource of your choice. I’m not linking to any specific one because I want to make the point that you can very, very easily choose a resource, and it will likely be great.

But better still, principles of economics can be practiced very easily too! What are you waiting for? 🙂

Finally: Crosswords (at least the one closest to my home) wraps some books in clear shrink wrap, but not others. Does anybody know why?

Hajjar Awesome!

The phrasing of the title is because of English August, a book I read long ago, and still remember very fondly. And it’s sort of a pat on the back for myself because I completed a thousand posts on EFE. Well, strictly speaking this is post number 1003, but let’s round it off to an even thousand today.

My friends and colleagues, past and present, will be happy to confirm that there are few folks lazier than me, and I’ll happily admit to it myself. Which is all the more reason to celebrate this, because to keep this going for a thousand posts over five years is an achievement of sorts for me.

We started this blog on a whim sometime in June 2016, my wife and I, without having a very clear idea about what was to come of it. I started off, as I almost always do, with a large amount of enthusiasm, and as with everything else I do, said enthusiasm petered out soon enough. But since June 2018, I’ve been fairly regular, averaging about a post a day.

There have been periods of radio silence last year, and the reason is that I went through extended bouts of “but what is the point?”. Not jus the point of writing on the blog, but doing anything at all. It was that kind of a year, and I will not beat myself up over feeling that way, and about breaking my streak. Excreta, as the poet says, happens.

And there have been periods of radio silence this year too, but the second wave was devastating for all of us. We have all suffered losses, immediate family or extended. But for all of our sakes, let’s not dwell on that anymore. We’ve all had enough of it.

What have I learnt from writing these thousand posts?

  1. As David Perell pointed out on Twitter recently (as have others), if you take care of the quantity, the quality will take care of itself. Some of my posts have been atrociously bad, some have been about me trying to find my voice, and a lot have been of fairly middling quality, at best. But there are some that I am genuinely proud of, and remember very fondly indeed.
    My learning has been to show up (almost) everyday, without fail. It doesn’t matter if people read what I have written or not, comment or not, share or not. The writing is its own reward. I may have said this before on these pages, but if you’re a student reading this, please: write. Or make videos, or Instagram posts (or stories, or whatever one calls it), or tweet, or make a podcast. But put your work out there, and that regularly. Trust me, it does wonders for you.
  2. I haven’t bothered with measuring anything. I don’t add identifiers to outbound links, I haven’t installed Google Analytics, I don’t do affiliate links, and I don’t advertise anywhere. I try to respond to whatever comments folks put up, whether here on the blog, or on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you have written a comment and I have not responded, my apologies! I have also automated the sharing of these posts on Facebook, but I (quite literally) haven’t logged in to Facebook in years.
    My learning has been that quantifying stuff is strictly optional. I write everyday (well, almost), and even that is not a measure or a requirement. It’s a choice. Who is reading this, is the readership going up over time, which social media site drives the most traffic to my website – I don’t know any of this. And it doesn’t really matter. I just write.
  3. Writing these thousand posts has made me painfully aware of how little I know. Nassim Taleb has made famous the concept of the anti-library, and in that sense, writing on this blog is a daily reminder of how much remains to be read, learnt and written about.
    My learning is that writing is a humbling experience, and that becomes truer the more you do it. And that’s a good thing! Think of it this way, you don’t write to show how much you know. You write to understand how much there remains to be learnt.
  4. I don’t schedule my posts too much in advance. The most I’ve ever managed is a couple of weeks or so, and that because I was due to go on vacation. Otherwise (and this includes today) it is a case of get up, arm yourself with coffee, and think about what to write. That has its disadvantages, because an unmarinated blogpost doesn’t acquire the depth of flavour it could have otherwise. But it also has its advantages, because I am the kind of person who works best when panicking a little bit about upcoming deadlines.
    My learning is that habit formation is a real thing, not just management speak. If you do something for long enough, it becomes a habit, but better – it becomes a habit you’re unwilling to break. And you end up finding the time one way or the other to keep at it. And that, in and of itself, is worth it.
  5. The more I write, the more I remember stuff I’ve written. This is not a statistically valid observation, and I haven’t analyzed it, but I do think that I increasingly link to posts I’ve written earlier. I don’t say this to show how much I’ve written in the past, but to explain that I’m able to “connect the dots” better. I now understand better how what I’m writing about today can be thought of as an aspect of something I’ve written about earlier (or vice versa). My understanding of the world, such as it is, is definitely better than it was earlier. That’s a healthy profit right there!
    My learning has been that writing is a way of teaching myself to think, to see the larger picture, and to make connections between topics that I would not have otherwise. And for that reason, I highly recommend it. It is not for me to say if I have become a better writer. That is for others to judge. But I can think better for having written these posts, that I feel (mostly) certain about.
  6. I wanted to celebrate the thousand posts by coming up with a book based on on what I would have called some of my best work here. I even spoke about this with some of my friends and students, all of whom were very kind with their encouragement. But on reflection, the “could’ve been a blogpost instead” argument was much too strong to go up against. A book ought to be a book, not a vanity project.
    But spinoffs is a good idea, I think. And for that I would like your help. What can I do more of? Less of? Add a weekly podcast that reflects in greater detail on what I’ve written that week? I’ll happily admit to not having the faintest idea about where I’ll find the time, but that’s one possibility. A day of the week dedicated to book reviews? God knows it’ll force me to read more books, and get better at writing about them. What else? Please send in your suggestions, and I really do mean that.
  7. I don’t have any desire to turn this into a newsletter (Substack, or Revue, or anything else). One, because I’m lazy. I can’t bear to think about the nightmare of moving over into another system and all of what that entails. Plus, WordPress, which is where this is hosted, is just fine by me. Except for the new block editor style they have. I loathe it, and it is far too buggy for my liking. But I’ve gotten used to it now, and I’ve quite literally adopted the way I write to its idiosyncrasies, so why invest in changing now? (You want examples? Those little “..” signs that you see throughout this post are there because I don’t know how to introduce spacing between points otherwise. Pah.)
  8. I cannot tell you about the number of people I have gotten a chance to meet and work with as a direct consequence of this blog. Students, professors, folks from the corporate world, people who work in think tanks, research organizations, and more besides. I often tell students that putting your work out there is a great way to build out your network, and I don’t say that without basis. It quite really is true. That ought not to be the reason to write, but it is a positive externality spillover, and a very welcome one. I’ve built my community as a consequence of writing this blog, and I am very thankful for it.
  9. There are opportunity costs, of course. Those never go away.
    1. Maybe I could have written more academic papers? I don’t necessarily want to, and I’ll explain why in a blogpost one day, but I certainly could have.
    2. Maybe I could have read more books? This one hurts, because I really could have, and I really would have wanted to. But I think the takeaway is becoming better at time management. In other words, do both, but sacrifice something else in my day. Meetings. I would love to “sacrifice” meetings.
    3. Made more podcasts? Learnt a new skill? Made more videos? Traveled more? Again, I think the answer lies in learning how to get better at becoming more productive.
    4. So a promise to myself (and I’m old enough, and perhaps cynical enough, to already come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably end up breaking it): read more books, create more podcasts, make more videos, and attend less meetings.
  10. Thank you for reading! I hope to do this for years to come, and I’m grateful that you have chosen to read whatever it is that I put out on these pages. If you have any feedback or suggestions for me, I would love to hear it. Again, thank you very, very, much 🙂

Arbitrage and Writing

Here are excerpts from two newsletters that you should consider signing up for if you are a student of economics:

In late June, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), India’s central bank and the banker to the banks, released the household financial debt figures based on select financial indicators. Household financial debt is basically loans that you and I have taken from the formal financial system of the banks (both commercial and cooperative) and the non-banking finance companies (NBFCs).
Of course, there are other ways to borrow as well. One can borrow against gold as a collateral from a local jeweller or simply borrow from a local money lender or borrow money from friends and family, which is why, the RBI calls it household financial debt based on select indicators.
It needs to be kept in mind here that borrowing from the informal sources is perhaps easier but at the same time more expensive, given that the risk for those lending money is higher.
So, what does the RBI data tell us? In absolute terms, the total household financial debt based on select indicators has gone up from Rs 55.38 lakh crore to Rs 73.13 lakh crore, between June 2018 and December 2020.


That is from Vivek Kaul’s (relatively) new newsletter, Easynomics. It is written in Vivek’s trademark style: easy to read, gloriously simple sentences (which is hard to do!), and sprinkled with just enough additional information to keep you engaged as you read through his main points. In short, really, really well done.

Here’s an excerpt from the second newsletter:

Despite this, it is unreasonable to expect that the government will reduce tax on these two fuels. Why? Sample this: excise duties on petrol and diesel accounted for a whopping 28 per cent of the central government’s tax revenue last year. Which government would let such a bounty slip by, especially when the country’s economic recovery is fragile? Think about it.
And, unlike income tax and goods and services tax, which entail a collection cost, oil marketing companies just have to do a simple RTGS transaction to pay the fuel tax they collect from us to the government! The government then uses the money for a range of welfare schemes.


This, to my mind, is equally easy to read! The point of this blogpost is to point out that both writers have created simple, easy to understand posts about aspects of the Indian economy that matter to the common Indian citizen.

And they have done this by taking data from government websites. This data, as I have discussed here before, is not always easy to acquire. But those of us who have done the hard work of understanding how it is captured, where it is stored, when it is released, and how to go about making it analyzable1, have an advantage over those of us who remain blissfully unaware of all this.

But those of us who are blissfully unaware wouldn’t mind reading about the implications of this data, only if somebody were to take the time and effort to acquire that data and write simple, useful takeaways about it.

In finance, this is called arbitrage:

In economics and finance, arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices at which the unit is traded. When used by academics, an arbitrage is a transaction that involves no negative cash flow at any probabilistic or temporal state and a positive cash flow in at least one state; in simple terms, it is the possibility of a risk-free profit after transaction costs. For example, an arbitrage opportunity is present when there is the possibility to instantaneously buy something for a low price and sell it for a higher price. (Emphasis added)


If you are an economics student, and you know where all this data hides, and you know enough about how this data impacts the daily lives of citizens, and you want to get better at communication, there is riskless profit to be made. Get the data, analyze it, write about it, and give it away for free.

You learn the art and skill of of acquiring this data, you learn the art and skill of analyzing it, you learn the art and skill of writing about it (and you only get better over time, so don’t worry if the first few pieces aren’t “great”). You get to publish stuff that you can put on your CV – in fact, as I am fond of saying, it has the power to quite literally become your CV. Folks get to read what you’ve written, and they therefore understand our field and its implications in their lives a little bit better.

Nobody loses out, and we all win!

And when that great and glorious day arrives, and governments in India acknowledge that the way they make data available to its citizens is crappy, you have the ability to write a series of posts about exactly how the government could do a better job in this regard.

Learn how to work with data if you are a student of economics in India, and then write about it.

It’s a great form of arbitrage.

  1. what an utterly horrible word![]