Gender gaps in education

Narratives

Interesting new paper from Dr Ashwini Despande of Ashoka University on gender gaps in school education in India, which underlines the persisting gaps in the quality of education offered to girls as compared to boys. The paper notes that “the gender gap in private schooling increased slightly over the period, with the largest increase in families with unwanted girls. The expenditure gap between girls and boys was driven by families with unwanted girls” during 1995-2018.

These gaps can have large implications for economic growth in a country where numerous studies have highlighted the culture of son preference stunting the rights of the girl child to education and work opportunities. Even as the total fertility rate (TFR) has rapidly declined in India during 2001-2011 and some change has been recorded in the culture of son preference, there is a decline in the already low female LFPRs indicating the low priority accorded to women’s place in the labour force. As the paper notes, “growth, development, and structural shifts in India have not acted as natural antidotes to gender discrimination. Sex selection and educational investments in children appear to be part of family strategies to achieve upward mobility”.

Read more here.

Market for Economists 2021

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Here is an interesting paper on what the academic job market looks like for new PhD economists in 2021. The findings reveal that while the supply of PhD economists is likely to be stable, the share of employers with at least one position open is likely to go down with a drop in demand.

Read the full paper here.

David Graeber

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David Graeber passed away earlier this month. Around the same time, I tested positive for Covid, hence the late post. I kept reading the condolences and remembrances pouring on the internet, as tweets, articles and newspaper obituaries, starting with his partner Nika Dubrovsky tweeting about his demise:

She later also shared Graeber’s plans for his childhood home:

I had in a passing reference sort of way come to learn of David. His work, as I realised over time, is important for work of economists and economic historians who are keen on interdisciplinary work. But for the book I have been working on unemployment, his importance can’t be stated enough. Graeber made the case for the dismantling of a work situation where it offered no opportunity or incentive to develop or share creativity/brainpower. Here, in conversation with Peter Thiel, he made the argument that much of creativity in the world is scuttled because of unimaginative or uncreative jobs people were given to do. This happened this year.

Here is another very popular talk he gave in 2018:

Here and here are two more that I absolutely recommend that you give a listen, besides this very popular talk of his at Google.

A tribute in Tribune Mag described Graeber as a happy and kind man, quintessentially seeing kindness in people and what they can be beyond capitalism. To quote:

David thought that we all needed to act as though we are already free. We need to challenge – play with – the oppressive structures that seem to dominate our lives; even if that’s as simple as a small rebellion like, as Nathalie Olah puts it, ‘stealing as much as you can’ from your employer by reading, writing or learning in the hours your chained to your desk. We might not be able to destroy capitalism by pushing at its ideological boundaries in such a way, but we’ll probably learn something about just how fragile the system is, how much it relies upon our obedience, and how powerful we could be if, together, we just said ‘no’. 

But perhaps, David’s most abiding belief – the belief that was the foundation of his politics, his research, and his friendships – was that people are, at their core, good. More than his writing, more than the organisations he set up, David’s life – and the way he impacted the lives of the people he left behind – is a testament to the fact that by believing human beings are capable of great altruism, compassion and solidarity, you’re helping to create a world filled with just those qualities. As he put it – far better than I ever could – “the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it‘s something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”

Another obit recounted the time he was invited by  German President Steinmeier to talk about his book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. The article said:

With Graeber and Steinmeier sitting together on stage side by side in front of 750 people at the Admiral’s Palace, Graeber gave an invigorating no-holds-barred summary of his research about how debt had historically been used as a tool of enslavement. Some of the first prisons built in England were debtors prisons like The Clink, and debt repayment is a common justification for human slavery and imprisonment continuing even today.
Graeber concluded his presentation by detailing how Germany’s demands for Greek debt repayment were in practice merely a tool of punishment promoting immoral violence, and not an effective way to solve the wider European problem. A question from the audience to Graeber and Steinmeier asked, “What should be done then to solve this crisis?” Graeber turned to Steinmeier and bluntly told him in no uncertain terms, “Germany and the banks need to wipe out this debt now.” Cheers broke out in the audience, and many rose to their feet.

Here is a collection of moving tributes from some of his friends and colleagues who worked closely to him and were influenced by his work.

On Twitter, through some of his tweets, heartwarming glimpses of his personal life appeared from time to time, including this announcement of his wedding to Nika last year:

Later, Nika shared pictures of the hospital where David breathed his last. Looking at these photos, I could only pray he is at peace wherever he is, even as he lives on with his work in our world:

50 before I die

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Making to-do lists is banal. We may never get around to doing them. But perhaps, putting them on a list will help me stay focussed. I need daily reminders of things I want to do before I die.

Here is the first 14 out of 50 in the order of priority:

1. Work on strength training and lifting weights. Get a ripped body.

2. Travel all across Europe, solo.

3. Learn to draw illustrations.

4. Publish my poetry.

5. Take acting classes.

6. Join a poet’s collective.

7. Write memoirs more often.

8. Build a list of detailed archives in Economic History in India.

9. Go on a rowing trip.

10. Practice trampoline.

11. Learn make up.

12. Build a successful startup.

13. Learn embroidery and knitting.

14. Learn how to make Ayurveda products for beauty and healing.

What has happened to Shinzo Abe?

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Shinzo Abe
Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has resigned on account of poor health. Speculations to this effect were rife after he was seen emerging out of a hospital earlier this week. Abe has been Japan’s longest serving prime minister, quite a remarkable feat for a country obsessed with consistently high performance, so replacing him will be a difficult task, though many contend his long tenure was made possible by the lack of dissent in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

I read David Pilling’s Bending Adversity, a sharp book or rather a portrait of contemporary Japan essentially detailing how, despite years of stagnation, Japan continues to be one of the world’s largest economies. Pilling, in his launch event at the LSE where I was a student that year (2014, I think), talked in great detail the fascinating cultural aspects of Japan that make it a resilient economy in the face of financial distress and natural and man-made disasters. In the book, Pilling particularly described the devastating impact of the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear catastrophe that only served to highlight both the resilience of ordinary Japanese people and an arrogant and negligent political culture. Pilling‘s own experiences living in Japan as a foreign correspondent for six years resonate throughout the book with deeply engaging reflections and reportage. The book, I remember, had generated quite a buzz that year, especially at the LSE where my advisor, herself a widely respected Japan expert, had moderated the event and that had partly attracted me to the mysticism and exceptionalism of Japan in history.

Where do we place Abe in this context? Certainly very high up in the analysis, I think, since he has ruled for great many years during which Japan has struggled with disasters and stagflation that has wrecked Japan’s economy. A hawkish politician, Abe worked circumstances in his favour and luckily and the stocks too tilted on his side besides the currency advantage in comparison to Yen much before he became the PM in 2013. His efforts at reviving the Japanese economy from stagflation, much popularly called ‘Abenomics’ apart, securing Japan as the host of Olympic Games 2020 was quite a coup for Abe (which sadly has now been disrupted by Covid-19). His government has been widely criticised for its inaction during Covid-19. Observers now say, this is an “honourable” way for him to relinquish office. On a normal day, he would be criticised for abandoning Japan at this moment of financial and health crises.

Now, on to the speculation over his health: Abe hasn’t been well for quite sometime. With quite the reputation of a workaholic, he took a three-day break recently and used one day out of that for his medical examination! Meanwhile, his political rivals are what they are everywhere – challenging, demanding, often inconsiderate of his circumstances.

The CNN reports:

The do-or-die mentality gambaru permeates Japanese society, where the pursuit of a goal can carry more significance than the outcome.
“The prime minister insists that he be there to lead himself,” said chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga when asked why Abe, 65, had worked 147 days straight.
Abe has long suffered from ulcerative colitis, a chronic intestinal disease, and many worried that the stress of the pandemic combined with his health problems had finally caught up with him. 

Ulcerative colitis, when given prompt medical attention and care, can be treated so this brings me to why this condition has driven Abe to quit work. Partly, Japan’s extreme workaholic culture, popularized as “death by overwork” is to be blamed. Abe, like any average Japanese, worked long hours with no work-life balance, which also compromised his health severely. According to Japan government’s internal studies, one in five workers in Japan are at risk of working themselves to death. The Japanese word for it is Karoshi (death by overwork).

Here is the list of possible successors for Abe.

Debuted with Opinion in Moneycontrol today

Narratives

I will be writing op-eds for moneycontrol, India’s number 1 financial news website, and today was my debut. Do read.

Moneycontrol Link: https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/opinion/time-for-a-policy-rethink-on-crime-and-poverty-eradication-5762451.html

How to be happy

UPDATES

I am attempting to gather my thoughts around each of the points suggested by Harsh Mariwala on Twitter today on how to be happy. Let’s see how it goes:

Think about what you’re grateful for

Umm. What am I grateful for? For life, no matter whatever it brings. Being alive is a gift. Also for the gift that I can write. I can’t imagine a life where I am not writing (whatever it is) because writing has been a way to heal myself and to find catharsis. From the time I was a child. I will be rudderless without it. I am also grateful for my efforts at constantly trying for things I want. And for the courage I have that has helped me battle adversity and try and stay afloat. I think I am grateful for these.

Speak to someone who you think is happy.

Ah that’s a tough one. Seriously, why should I have to try? Everyone seems to be faking it these days. It’s really not fair. No one is happy. Happiness is trying for happiness when you are unhappy. That’s it. That’s what I do and you should too. There is no concrete motion of happiness. I find it in an email some days. So? Yours is better than me? Never happens that way. Happiness is what you think it is. I have wonderful things in my life but I have never been happy even as a child. I have been on a quest, a journey towards being happy. Never gotten there. There, I said it.

Get some sun.

This is a great one. Thinking of the Sun, I terribly miss those days when I would trek alone and sleep next to the sheep near the Seven Sisters Park in England. I want to do that again the moment the lockdown lifts.

Exercise.

Yes, that’s a given. However small an effort, it counts because health is wealth.

Learn to practice acceptance.

Yes. What do I need to accept? Let me try. The fact that I am a late bloomer. My idealism doesn’t work in the real world. My quest for perfection slows me down. I trust people easily. My anger hurts me, no one else. Besides, it’s unpleasant. But I look at my anger from the prism of acceptance. If something is making me angry, why should I stop myself from feeling it? There you go. Acceptance is not the last word in finding peace. What else do I need to accept? Many things but for now, I am happy to start with these.

Notice the little things.

Yes, I don’t. I need to work on it. I don’t notice the small things unless I am in the middle of nature. May be, we need nature to notice the small things. What has COVID-19 done to us?

Laugh.

This one I am very serious about. I need to laugh more. I am practising it consciously. Like, how to break into a smile as soon as I see anyone. Anyone. I want to do that. It makes everyone feel good.

The Ambani-Adani alliance in Indian business

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Chances are, you have read this already. If you haven’t, I would urge you to read this sharp piece by Andy Mukherjee. It’s an alarming tale, cautioning us of the monopoly India is poised to be heading towards. If privatisation has done any good, it has mostly done it for the capitalists, more recently in ownership of airports. Mukherjee puts it succinctly:

Airports are natural monopolies. To have one private owner controlling eight or more — a fresh batch of six will soon go under the hammer — can’t possibly be great news for airlines, fliers, or businesses operating from the premises. 
More worryingly, the concentration of economic power in aviation infrastructure is now symptomatic of a broader trend in India, particularly in businesses where the government supplies a key ingredient, such as telecom spectrum.

Further (packs a punch):

The worry is that dominance by a handful of capitalists may not leave enough space for others. But then, who’s even ready or willing to compete, especially in sectors where state policy has a big role in determining winners? Barring some notable exceptions, the Indian business class is overextended, trapped in the debris of assets created with the help of syndicated loans from pliant state-run banks. Politicians even have a name for it: phone banking, where they make the calls and tell bankers to whom to give loans. 

Extremely important piece on Indian business today. Must read. Go here.

Oral History Interview for SAADA

Economic History

Such a lovely interview by Gaiutra Bahadur (whose Coolie woman is one of my favorite books based on the life of the subaltern) of her aunt Kokila Bahadur for SAADA, who arrived in America when she was in her late 20s as a nurse trainee at a local hospital. Today, she is 81 and in this interview, she remembers her departure from Guiana to America, her work and things she saw as she worked in hospitals and sugar estates throughout her life in Guiana and America. It’s really lovely to hear when she says, we were born poor and we live poor but I only want to remember happy memories.

It’s a very rich interview, and it teaches you amazing stuff about how to approach interviews and subjects, making oral histories, and about narrative storytelling. I am mainly focusing on the technique here.

I absolutely love the spirit of Kokila Bahadur. It’s inspirational. I won’t spill the beans, just follow the link and listen on.

Remembering Emmanuel Farhi

Staying in the Game, Top Reads

This month, thousands of readers have read my posts on Emamnuel Farhi, which is why I think, along with me, they would also like to join this online memorial service for the economist who would have turned 42 on September 8th. For those who missed my posts, you could read them below:

Emmanuel Farhi

Emmanuel Farhi, too young to say goodbye

Dear beautiful minds, don’t be perfect

Do sign up for this event being organised by Harvard University, Department of Economics.

Mercantile capitalism in a polycentric world

Economic History, Top Reads

Interesting new paper on the evolution of Indian capitalism that challenges the age-old trope of exceptionalism of the West and Asia’s fall.

A little brief on the paper and full download can be found here,

Insurgent Empire

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Neat review of Priyamvada Gopal’s book Insurgent Empire in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies by Dinyar Patel [citation below]

Gopal frames this period as just a prelude to truly sustained and productive co-operation between colonial subjects and British anti-imperialists in the inter-war period, but such alliances had already blossomed in significant ways. By 1900, black activists were listening to Indian nationalists at London Indian Society meetings and Indians were involved in planning the first Pan-African Conference. These colonised subjects also forged wide-ranging ties with Irish nationalists and British radicals.
Saklatvala’s and Padmore’s calls for working-class solidarity with colonised subjects were enunciated as early as 1885 when, on the heels of the Third Reform Act, Lalmohan Ghosh, the first-ever Indian to stand as a candidate for parliament, appealed to newly enfranchised labourers and Irishmen in London. Gopal pays limited attention to Henry Hyndman—a far more complex individual than has been advanced in scholarly literature—although Hyndman is an apt case study of a Briton influenced and radicalised by Indian nationalist thought.

Dinyar Patel (2020): Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British
Dissent, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00856401.2020.1777369

Millennials are gutted but some companies are trying to uplift them

Future of Capitalism, Top Reads

Millennails are truly gutted. I remember I had barely started my career as a journalist when the 2008 financial crisis plunged the global economy and it seems, my generation has not recovered from it yet. Blame it on economic crises after crises, and this year, we are staring into a recession even as we lose jobs, savings, and even lives. In the middle of all this mayhem, some companies may be finding it important to cancel out fun for us. Airbnb will now restrict bookings for under-25s in the UK, Spain and France as part of an effort to stop unauthorised house parties. Work from home has already led to serious psychological issues for us, and now some of us can’t even house-party! It may be alright, given that the pandemic isn’t over yet but the threshold of patience with quarantine and social distancing may be crashing now for many of us. We are social animals and we need people. I can totally imagine what this year is turning out to be for college freshers and younger folks. My heart for you, folks, carry on and perhaps take heart in this beautiful write-up, which argues that it’s not just the millennials who have never recovered, but also the Gen-X! I just love the way it ends and I cheer you on with this below:

Without inheritances or family savings to keep us afloat, we have recreated stability in a world that is unstable. We turned friends into family. We have accepted debt as a part of our lives. We have made peace with possibly never being homeowners. We have no expectations of being able to retire. ….
It would be nice if other generations noticed our resiliency. Our creative endeavors. Our platforms and social media and art and multiple jobs as evidence of our perseverance. But even if it’s never seen that way, we will know we are doing the best we can to create lives we can love.

Love, love, love! These sentences are beautiful, they are making me all teary, and ever so ready to take on the world. We are the infamous cohort of people born between 1981 and 1996 and we will survive.

Before I forget, financial literacy is equally important and often, we have no one to go to for financial advice! I think this survey says a lot about this – ”Although 37% of Americans said their main source of financial advice comes from friends and family, Gen Zers cited social media as a go-to source. And 31% of those surveyed said they got no financial advice at all.

Meanwhile, even as you badger on, some companies may be trying to brighten up the lives of singles out there. German software company SAP has been hosting virtual wine tastings and barbeques for its single employees and even designed a Tinder-like app for lunch dates!

Alright world, I need to bow out with this. What do you think? How are you coping? What has your workplace done for your mental health? Write to me.

Netmeds

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India online pharmacy scene is hotting up. RIL has bought majority stake in Netmeds within days of Amazon making its foray into the Indian e-pharmacy market in Bengaluru. Walmart-owned Flipkart is also looking to foray in the space, which has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This windfall for the online pharma space in India come after years of struggles and bitter battles between a bunch of startups hoping to becoming large internet companies. Besides Netmeds, PharmEasy, Medlife and 1mg are some of the online pharmacies already in the fray. While margins in medicine delivery are low, Covid-19 has reversed the scenario for the players in the business. A Moneycontrol report pointed out that online pharmacies have seen orders increase by 50 percent in the last three months. Further, A 2019 report estimated the Indian pharmaceutical industry to grow from more than $29 billion in estimated revenues in 2019 to $55 billion in 2020.

However, smaller retailers have already raised resistance to all the action in recent weeks. A CNBC report said:

Within a few days of Amazon’s announcement to pilot in India, The All India Organization of Chemists & Druggists, an industry group that claims to represent hundreds of thousands of retail pharmacies and distributors, drafted a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Amit Agarwal, an Amazon executive based in India.
“We are writing to you as we came to know that http://www.amazon.com has decided to enter ‘Online Pharmacy’ space, probably oblivious to the fact that the E-Pharmacies are illegal and not recognized by the laws under Drug & Cosmetic Act & Rules there under,” the letter dated August 14 reads. “This space has been marred by extreme controversies, court cases and legal issues in the last few years.” 

Online pharmacies in India have often struggled on account of unclear regulations governing their business and have urged government for clarity time and again. Groups like The All India Organization of Chemists & Druggists are now arguing that online pharmacies will not only lead to misuse and overuse of medications, but also promote sale of counterfeit medicines in India. 

With impending face offs between online pharmacies, and trade bodies resisting their business, the battle lines have been drawn. In the coming months, the online pharma might see greater consolidation with more mergers and acquisitions.

India Unemployed

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Five million salaried Indians lost their jobs last month. This is the highest figure for this year. And as the graphs show, it’s going to get worse in August. The job loss among the salaried class is not a surprise to me. I have known this for sometime as I have spent the last year talking to these people. My research has led me to many uncomfortable, hurtful places and the data that has now come in terrifies me.

Here is the research I started last year and I urge you to fill up the form if you are currently experiencing unemployment or pass it on to someone you know who is going through this:

Submit Your Response to India Unemployed

On to the big news today:

A Mint report said:

“On a net basis, the plight of salaried employees has worsened since the lockdown began. In April, they lost 17.7 million jobs. But by July, their losses had swelled to 18.9 million,” CMIE data showed, adding that ballooning numbers of job losses among salaried class is a source of worry.
“While salaried jobs are not lost easily, once lost they are also far more difficult to retrieve,” CMIE mentioned. Only 21% of all employment in India is in the form of a salaried employment who are more resilient to economic shocks, the think-tank said. Salaried jobs were nearly 19 million short of their average in 2019-20.

While recovery may be picking up slowly in the informal sector, many salaried Indians have lost their jobs and are not likely to get them back easily.

Meanwhile, the numbers are rising through August.

All the screencaptures from CMIE website: https://unemploymentinindia.cmie.com/