Posts tagged with India


follow-up: @_onionesque is one of Mark Singleton’s detractors:

Balwant Singh’s Elephant Clawed by a Lion by Nainsukh of Guler, 1752


Draupadi (द्रौपदी) with her five husbands (the five Pandavas पाण्‍डव).

Draupadi (द्रौपदी) with her five husbands (the five Pandavas पाण्‍डव).


"By 1881, annual tea production in India had reached roughly 50 million pounds."
—Reversals of Fortune in the Tea Industry Part XXIV: The Cutty Sark under Captain William Bruce


people at three different socioeconomic levels in Mumbai


Landsat Image of the Sundarbans mangrove forest in India.

High Res (23 mb)

via infinity-imagined


More from @vruba: In which I politicize a natural disaster:

Here’s Bangladesh, home of 160,000,000 people:

This picture is about 750 km (450 mi) on a side. Bangladesh is the area of New York State. It has the highest population density of any country except micronations like Singapore and the Vatican.

Notice there is no patchwork logging texture like most of the developed world has from space. Bangladesh’s only remaning lowland forests of any size are the Sundarbans, a dark green mangrove swamp on the coast. Except some foothills around the edges, the country is almost entirely a dense network of villages between fields and ponds. More than two thirds of its people – roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Japan or Mexico – live outside cities. If you pull it up on Google Maps, you’ll see many ponds have been squared off as surrounding farm plots crowded at their edges over centuries.

Notice the braided rivers. These are the members of the Ganges river system. Rivers can only flow in that kind of pattern on flat land. The land is flat because it is mostly the delta of the Ganges. Soil from the mountain range at the top of the frame, the Himalaya, washes down the rivers and has slowly built a bay into a huge bench along the Indian Ocean. About a third of Bangladesh is below 10 meters. The Sundarbans are legally protected partly because they buffer storm surges: when a cyclone makes landfall, the seawater it pushes is slowed by the manifold roots. This was learned the hard way.

Notice two cities – lichen-like gray patches. The one in the lower center of the frame is Dhaka (Dacca); 15 million people live there, or a little less than twice as many as in the five boroughs of New York City. To its southwest, not far from the water, is Kolkata (Calcutta), just over the border in India, with a population of about 14.5 million. Both of them are roughly half below 10 meters.

The border with India is winding and sometimes contentious. One of the main disagreements is sharing the water of the Ganges. The Ganges depends on the monsoons and snowfall in the Himalaya. The area is politically complex. To the west, India, a nuclear-armed democracy, plays a difficult set of roles in the world and is not always friendly. To the north, past the tiny Himalayan countries, is China, a nuclear-armed single-party state and rival of India. To the east is Myanmar, a terribly oppressive dictatorship. Bangladesh would soon find itself in trouble if many of its people, even a small proportion like ten million, spilled across any of its borders. As I write this, I see that the UN High Commission on Refugees has in fact just asked Bangladesh to open its borders to people leaving Myanmar.

Bangladesh’s Human Development Index is comparable to that of Cambodia or Angola, two countries that suffered generation-long episodes of violence near the end of the last century, but Bangladesh has been basically at peace since the year-long war of independence in 1971. It is simply very poor. It’s getting richer, but it’s very poor. The nation cannot afford to, say, take the approach of the Netherlands and wall out the ocean, even if that were possible in a country of rivers. Now, for all its challenges, Bangladesh has well-chosen strategies to deal with them. It is not powerless and it is not a lost cause. But it is 160,000,000 people living under a threat that, so far, only increases.

Debt service ratios in
from 1980’s or 1990’s through to 2012.
via FT Alphaville

Debt service ratios in

  • Ireland
  • Spain
  • UK
  • US
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Norway
  • Switzerland
  • Brazil
  • China
  • India
  • Turkey

from 1980’s or 1990’s through to 2012.

via FT Alphaville



Persuasion, Initiative, Freedom, Desire

  • @isomorphisms: Econ 101 leaves out persuasion. What fraction of business (/politics) is persuasion?
  • @isomorphisms: Of course that's only part of the problem with lacking a theory of where utility surfaces come from.
  • @isomorphisms: People choose careers, (spouses?), and clothes based on narratives someone else wrote. Whether it's the YC type "entrepreneur" narrative or Puma's "sleek" narrative, or sci-fi narratives of technological progress.
  • Where did economists themselves get the idea to become professors? Could it have been from 17 years of schooling???
  • @isomorphisms: It's rare for people to initiate their own dreams or be 100% originators of their goals or preferences.
  • @isomorphisms: Which presents a problem for the Edgeworth-box story of lonely individuals trading with each other.
  • @isomorphisms: But the story Don Draper told about Lucky Strikes is, I think, the same one as the fMRI Pepsi/Coke experiment. #neuromarketing
  • @isomorphisms: It's that ∄ difference between "lies" and "truth": perception is reality. It's that pleasure and preference themselves are malleable and being moulded by others all the time. (Or at least they're trying to mould it.) Even besides "marketing types" or essayists trying to influence your unconscious or conscious thoughts as their job, plenty of people reflexively enforce social norms and expectations without a strong desire or benefit
  • @isomorphisms: The story of Don Draper and the Lucky Strikes makes us individuals out not as free-willed inventors of ourselves, util-seekers and comandantes of our own pocketbooks--but as dull voids with no idea what to do with the incomprehensible freedom we enjoy in a society where incomes so far exceed subsistence.
  • @isomorphisms: It puts us as templates onto which meme-smiths paint their work, searching for 1 that will stick and replicate itself.
  • @isomorphisnms: It's somewhere in that spirit, I think, that persuasion in the workplace, in the store, on the TV, can be modelled. And without an effective theory of persuasion I don't see how economic theory can take an honest accounting of choice, preference, or "optimum".
  • Bike ride through streets named Brookside (nowhere near a brook), Ridgeview (not on a ridge), Westminster (none of their corpses will be entombed there). A tennis court on Buckminster Drive.
  • Ironically, this sign: "NO SOLICATIONS ON THE PREMISES". The real estate developers and bankers involved have already done all the selling, thank you. Now we need these people to obediently and consistently rise for work every day and pay OUR due, without YOU fingering their pockets as well.
  • Even "Alan Rickman Reads Proust", the suggestions of what to do with freedom--trips to India, faling madly in love, "On The Road" type life--aren't original ideas, those come from stories which we have no better idea than to live out.
  • But why point out the unoriginality of others when I have so much to draw on myself?
  • My first business was, literally, a copy of one I'd worked at in another locality. My dreams to become a quant? 100% seeded in the insinuations of my professors.
  • Or even my unclever insults above aimed at the ownership society. Did I invent those myself? No. Umpteen movies and stories and poems railing against suburban culture. Any surprise that Millennials want to walk to small shops whereas their parents preferred driving to the mall? Was it that something about cars and roads and shops changed? Or that a generation worth of artists told a nasty story that changed the demand functions.
  • This is depressing. I need a cigarette.

"The Chinese Proof" of the Pythagorean theorem (the little orange square is a², the medium orange square is b², and the large orange square is c²).
Harald Hanche-Olsen:

The righthand picture above appears in the Chou pei suan ching 周髀算經 (ca. 1100 B.C.), for the special (3,4,5) pythagorean triple….
…the earliest known proof of Pythagoras is given by Zhoubi suanjing (The Arithmetical Classic of the Gnomon and the Circular Paths of Heaven) (c. 100 B.C.E.-c. 100 C.E.)
[T]his proof, with the exclamation `Behold!’, is due to the Indian mathematician Bhaskara II (approx. 1114-1185) …
Jöran Friberg … presented convincing evidence that the … Babylonians were aware of the Pythagoras theorem around 1800 B.C.E.

Online Zhoubi Suanjing:

"The Chinese Proof" of the Pythagorean theorem (the little orange square is , the medium orange square is , and the large orange square is ).

Harald Hanche-Olsen:

The righthand picture above appears in the Chou pei suan ching 周髀算經 (ca. 1100 B.C.), for the special (3,4,5) pythagorean triple….

…the earliest known proof of Pythagoras is given by Zhoubi suanjing (The Arithmetical Classic of the Gnomon and the Circular Paths of Heaven) (c. 100 B.C.E.-c. 100 C.E.)

[T]his proof, with the exclamation `Behold!’, is due to the Indian mathematician Bhaskara II (approx. 1114-1185) …

Jöran Friberg … presented convincing evidence that the … Babylonians were aware of the Pythagoras theorem around 1800 B.C.E.

Online Zhoubi Suanjing:


The philosophical keystone holding up the idea that rich people contribute more to society is contained in the parable of the Edgeworth Box.

Edgeworth box

Edgeworth box with isoutility curves

People only engage in mutually beneficial transactions, endowment differences are left to the 2nd welfare theorem, and the only counterfactual is that we didn’t actually measure the utility surface.

1. “The sale begins when the customer says no”.—Randal J Kirk, billionaire.
Randall Kirk's email to Helen Dragas talking about learning to sell

So here you have a billionaire saying the same thing that all of my bosses in sales jobs said, and the same as Glengarry Glenn Ross’ famous line (which another sales boss send me the video clip as if it’s the realest advice ever), and it agrees with my experience doing sales.

Coffee’s for closers only.
Of course I can’t know if I change the free will of the customers I’m working opposite towards, but it certainly feels like it. In retail sales, door-to-door sales, and less aggressive stuff that still counts as “selling” in the more abstract (but, thankfully, more respectful / refined) way, it feels the same: I’ve been through this transaction many times, I’ve honed my pitch, I’m ready for all the directions your mind could possibly go (“objections”), and my bread comes from making you do what I want instead of what you want. If you’ve done well in sales and don’t agree with Randall Kirk’s quote, please leave a comment sharing your experience.

If sales is an aggressive head-to-head game where I, the seller, am playing against you, the potential customer, and your limited cognitive space you’re dedicating to not being manipulated by me, then that’s very different to the Edgeworth story where you only buy something if it suits you at the price.

I just find it very hard to believe that all of the sales tactics you can think of — rebates, $x.99, fuel points, upselling ("get you to agree to a little more, then get you to agree to a little more"), deals that aren’t really deals, mail packets, catalogues sent to your home, commercials — aren’t effective in getting people to buy what they wouldn’t of their own accord buy. Why are these idiot millionaires "wasting" ad budgets year after year after year? Aren’t they actually more likely to be rational than the consumers since they dedicate more headspace to it, they team up, they organise, they research, they practice, they test, and they analyse their own performance quantitatively?

At least for me, I don’t think I can convince someone to buy something they truly don’t want — and very infrequently I’ll get called out on a subtle trick I’ve pulled (with no cost to me, so I’ll just do it again on the next person) — but I do believe I can “shade" or "influence" people to spend more, and while I’m probably top .001%, I am at least top 50% at that…and I’d guess maybe top 20% or even top 10%.

A business that solves a problem may be a good place to start if you’re trying to come up with a completely new product or service. May. But obviously the ultimate test is whether sales > costs by a wide margin. In other words I don’t need any assumptions or hypotheses to say that sales are the foundation of a business, whereas to do some kind of welfare theorem I do need to assume a lot.

2. “I could have done that”.

This is a big one for me because, like Bryan Caplan, I’m bitter that I didn’t have the perfect milk round. No BCG, no McKinsey, no Goldman, no Bear for me. But if you ask me, of course I would out-compete those lazy Harvard MBA’s who landed the good jobs! … Well, of course you can’t really believe me since I’m biased. But it’s no stretch at all to believe that not everyone gets a Bloomberg terminal so the competition to figure out who’s the best trader eliminates a lot of competitors before they can even be tested. Same with every job at a large organisation (and, of course it’s important to note that large companies control a lot of money and have a lot of profits … that’s how they got large).

There’s no dynamic, cutthroat competition where I, with my CV listing factory jobs and menial labour, get to challenge Consultant Who Makes Six Figures for his job every day. In fact, Consultant Who Makes Six Figures got a lot of special training (and got paid to have it) just by being let in the gates at Megacorp C.
I wasn’t picking up anything about financial markets at the salmon canning factory, and if I want to scrape together a trading account on my own to challenge a trader who had the right-looking CV to get past Megacorp's HR flacks, it would take me years of saving to get the kind of AUM that he was vested with after a year of pouring coffee for some senior person who really knew what she was doing. I never got to watch Senior Trader, I never got a fraction of Megacorp's AUM, and it's not because I was measured to be objectively worse or because I was outcompeted at the job in question, but rather because I wasn't judged good enough due to my Yorkshire accent, charity-shop suit, and ugly face.

Point being, just because you make a lot of money, doesn’t mean somebody else couldn’t do your job equally well, close to equally well, or possibly even better than you could. Converse to this, I’ve often seen bourgeois people assume that if they weren’t doing their specialist high-paying job, they would be kicking *rse equally well at something else. I find that hard to believe. Nobody hiring for construction cares if you used to be an MD, they want to know if you have any actual trade skills. So what if finance is “above” construction in pay? Being good at finance doesn’t translate to being good at everything else in the world, and actually I think there have to be some tradeoffs so the people who are good at one thing have to be worse at something else.

Anyway, winning the HR game and therefore acceding to a position of power where you’re hooked up to capital structures that allow you to contribute more to society, doesn’t imply that you deserve more money than the people who aren’t hooked up to the capital structures. Yes, your productivity will be higher and your output will be higher. But you didn’t win a fair fight to get access to the capital structure, you won the “looks good to HR” fight and even if you consider throwing ‘bows to get to the front of the line “fair”, it’s hard to square that kind of behaviour with “I’m an upstanding citizen who contributes to society and you’re a garbage collector”.

So OK, technically the richer people here are contributing more, so my title is not apt. But they aren’t better people than the lower earners. Given that it’s well-known that people who have to go through zillions of CV’s a year have other concerns than administering fairness, social justice, and moral dessert—why should we be surprised about that?

3. “There’s no money in taking care of the homeless”.

So you think you contribute more to “society" because you make more money? You must mean "the society pages" society!
Hit it too hard tonight. @karlmarkustien @viktorprill #rkoi #domp by mrlager 
If your goal is to receive pieces of paper that are going to induce shopkeepers and airlines to provide goods and services to you, then you should probably provide services to the people who have the most pieces of paper to give. Duh. On the other hand, let’s say you don’t care about providing for yourself and invest all your capital in installing water purification systems for poor people around the world who die of cholera (the sh*ts). What are they going to give you? Goodwill, sure. But money? They don’t have any! The same principle applies in less exaggerated form to any consumer situation, which is why the other weekend I got a solicitation from a “dating website” with income categories >250k, >350k, >500k, >1M. It’s people looking for the easy score: dumb people with too much money. Not that I believe the people got to be rich by being so dumb; whenever I see a business with that air (except for iAmRich the iPhone app) I smack my forehead. But for example it’s smarter to go into B2B hedge fund services and bring together a bunch of secretaries to do all the paperwork for fund managers, than to start a coffee shop that needs to do volume and can’t charge much per customer. Again, duh.

Of course if you’re like me, you’ve read puff pieces in The Economist about how wonderful Unilever and Nestle are for marketing powdered milk to “the growing African middle class”, and the distribution is so wonderful and would be impossible by a government and the marketing department has figured out exactly the details of how to make a cheap product that suits them, and so on. Maybe that’s true. I don’t know, it sounds a little too heavenly on the corporations and like that kind of simplistic viewpoint The Economist likes to take. But I’m not trying to argue that capitalism doesn’t work. Just that it’s a fairly f*cked up state of affairs that some primates, because of possession of certain kinds of pieces of paper, get to eat caviar whilst others get to fish through trash.

I’m not sure there’s a moral or ethical purpose to things being that way, in fact it would seem the opposite. But if you want to market to “the growing Indian middle class” you’re going to have to offer homogeneous products, find a way to make them very cheaply, and if you can really multiply it out times a billion then you win. But isn’t it much easier to make Instagram? Every iPhone app has as part of its business plan the fact that everyone who owns an iPhone ∈ the richest .1% of the world’s population AND has proven willing to spend large amounts of money on stylish, expensive toys. So who do you think is the easier mark: the hardened mother of 4 who has mastered the art of budgeting so that a small income can be stretched thin enough to support all 6 and even buy 4 presents at Christmas? Going to market 5 days a week and coming back empty-handed some of them? Or the brand manager with the expensive clothes and straight teeth owing to orthodontia, with loads of cash to blow, itself derived from providing services to well-heeled corporations staffed by well-heeled individuals? Yeah, I would rather have the rich client as my customer as well.

I’m not pretending I know everything about  business or where all the opportunities are, I do recognise there’s money to be made in emerging markets, but just making the point that dollars don’t correspond directly to good deeds done. I would feel a little too populist using some finance examples of the “hatchet man” CEO coming in and firing a ton of people to make a lazy, sort of profitable company into a lean profit-smoking demon. That may or may not add a social value. But these kinds of examples should undermine the confidence of anyone who thinks that a band selling out is by definition a good thing because whatever the market rewards is whatever the market wants, and whatever the market wants is whatever’s good for society. No, that’s not even derived from neoclassical economic theory, it’s just a distortion that somehow went from doctors making more than sandwich fillers to an unwarranted and overbroad theory of every wage comparison in the society.