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Friday, December 14, 2012

Interesting readings

Ruminating over The Republic by Plato is the first step to thinking about politics and the State, and many angry young men that try to think about India do wrong by skimping on their intellectual foundations. Saugato Datta in Mint worries about similar problems in the domain of economics.

Ila Patnaik analyses the two kinds of criticisms of Aadhaar: (a) That a lot of money is being spent and this expenditure isn't justified and (b) That building Aadhaar will threaten civil liberties in India.

Trampling on the individual in India: Five ways Indian Internet users are fighting for free speech by Sruthi Gottipati on the India Ink blog on the New York Times website. Sec 66A: Curbs on free speech are part of Nehru family legacy by R. Vaidyanathan on FirstPost.

Emerging Markets Finance conference, 2012.

In thinking about Why is solving India's inflation crisis important?, see Does Inflation Harm Corporate Investment? Empirical Evidence from OECD Countries by Piotr Cizkowicz and Andrzej Rzonca.

Vivek Kaul has an excellent article in FirstPost about India's problems with ponzi schemes. Also see: Buying respectability. Ponzi schemes are one of the many consequences of the badly structured laws in Indian finance. We have created silos such as securities and banking, and existing agencies can wash their hands off what is going outside their jagirdari. The legal foundations must change in the ways proposed by FSLRC

In an interview with Akshai Jain on Tehelka, Arvind Panagariya says he isn't convinced the Indian child malnutrition data is horribly out of line.

Ila Patnaik on the role of FDI in non-tradeables as a essential element of competition policy, analogous to what trade does for tradeables.

Lant Pritchett and Shrayana Bhattacharya in the Indian Express on what cash transfers can do and what they cannot.

Evgeny Morozov has an amazingly well written article in the New Republic about new-age superficiality. Notes to self: One day I'm going to write such a hatchet job about a management guru or such like.

Joseph Sternberg has a great article on the things that went wrong when Bangladesh attempted industrial policy.

David Pogue of the New York Times is impressed at the new Samsung Chromebook . Hmm, $250 is Rs.13,000 for a laptop that's 1.1 kg, it is nice.

Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria?, and after that Lebanon?.


  1. I would recommend this article for a deeper and more convincing analysis regarding malnutrition in India,

    To summarize the argument there: Indian women face pervasive societal discrimination, with Indian adolescent girls being the most underweight in the world. The average Indian mother puts on only 5 kgs of weight during pregnancy, as compared to the average African woman (10 kgs) and the average American woman (16 kgs). Undernourished women produce weaker children and are not able to nourish their young as well as nourished women.

  2. Ms. Ila Patnaik's logic of limiting capture of 'better data' to the poor only sounds so perverse and appalling. This amounts granting legitimacy to the two common privacy concerns peddled by 'liberals' - one, that govt is evil and cannot protect the data, and two, that the privileged classes have the unrestricted right to hide from govt radar. Needless to say both are fundamentally flawed. Tax evasion and economic offenses are as big a concern for the country today, as are defective subsidy programs. Another big potential that Aadhaar has is in linking PAN cards to UID. These aren't at all untested and cast away and have been adopted in the West since a long time. In the U.S., the SSN - a non-biometric unique ID - forms the core of both the private and public identification systems.

    "There is merit in civil liberty groups' concerns about the threats to freedom in India, as well as in the concern about the implications of better data in the hands of the government. A reasonable compromise, which could satisfy everyone, consists of emphasising the use of UIDAI for the beneficiaries of subsidy programmes."

    1. Its not perverse or appalling because the other sections of society are relatively better tracked anyway. Its not that govt is evil, but some govt actors could be evil, which is hardly debatable. Its a point about human nature. And, yes, they can't protect the data, as is widely established based on various hacking events on govt databases. Please explain how these points are 'fundamentally flawed'? The evidence is clearly to the contrary. Just look at the error rate in information capture for voter ID cards to see how competent the govt is in the simple matter of information capture.

      Tax evasion and economic offenses can be tracked today via the PAN card, bank accounts, etc. Yes, there are transactions done outside the formal financial sector, but I don't see how UID would improve things over PAN? Those cases need other policy changes, better transparency in real estate transactions, reduction of cash transactions, etc. As you said, the potential would come from linking PAN to UID. Well, when someone already has a PAN, the govt capability to track tax and economic offenses doesn't improve by linking it to UID. Does it?

      "the privileged classes have the unrestricted right to hide from govt radar."

      Well, you don't have to take it to the other extreme. No one is saying that one should have unrestricted right. Its fairly prudent to wait for UID systems to be established before jumping on the bandwagon. Its about the value proposition and if there isn't much value and there is risk of misuse (either by evil actors or incompetent actors) then its only prudent to wait.

      Secondly, this is not about the privileged classes. The truly privileged can buy the privacy they want. This is mainly about people in the middle class, and people like me in the relatively organized service sector, who form the majority (perhaps not in terms of amount, but certainly in terms of numbers) of the 3% population paying taxes. We are already on the govt 'radar'. I understand the technology and would like to wait before the system is stable. Tax evasion or dubious economic transaction privacy is not an issue here. There are other legal and ethical privacy concerns too. Just look at all the failed programs and the track record of the govt. How in the world can anyone have faith in the govt and politicians? That's not to say that this program is bad, but I'm in no hurry to adopt it, simply because the value proposition doesn't suggest enough of an upside early on.

      To address your concerns, maybe the very poor and the very rich should both be targeted first. The first segment for subsidy and the second segment for fraud. Lets see how efficient and proactive the govt is in addressing fraud among the rich. Leave the middle class alone for now, unless you have a compelling value proposition for them.

  3. Ajay: Do you know of any govt sources of data related to number of individual income tax payers in the country or the number of tax payers by tax slab? These are such basic statistics and I could not find on any of the govt websites.


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