Initial Impressions: India and Mumbai

by on January 30, 2017 at 6:00 am in Economics, Law, Travel | Permalink

Stanley Pignal, the new Mumbai-based South Asia correspondent for The Economist, tweeted:

Having landed two hours ago, I’m upgrading myself from “India novice” to “India watcher”. Tomorrow “expert”, next week “veteran”

With that in mind as also applying to me, here are some initial thoughts:

People in India drive on the wrong side of the road and I’m not talking about the fact that they drive on the left.

It’s easier to find a good Indian restaurant in Fairfax than in Bandra.

The quality of the intellectual class relative to GDP per capita is the highest of any country I know.

The quality of the intellectual class at the top is as high as Singapore but in Singapore the intellectual class runs the government.

You can take a 1-hour UBER ride for a $5, A taxi is even cheaper. A 10-minute auto-rickshaw drive is 50 cents.

Google FI worked right off the airplane. If you are coming to India for a week or two it’s great. Oddly, however, all of the Indian apps for food delivery, calling the Indian equivalent of UBER or paying with digital cash only accept an Indian telephone number so I am going to have to get a SIM card. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, getting a Sim card is a bureaucratic hassle although apparently it’s scheduled to get better.

English is fine for getting around. The surprise is the number of Indians who don’t speak English and yet have to operate in a world in which advertising, signage, operating instructions, and so forth are in English.

Netflix works!

Inequality as measured by a standard Gini index is actually lower in India than in the United States. As measured by what you can see, however, inequality is very high. It’s easy to step out of a Louis-Vuitton boutique and over a child sleeping in the street. Doesn’t appear to be causing a revolution, however.

Crime is low. Much lower than in the United States.

Pollution is high, much higher than in the United States, and at levels that do not seem optimal even give low GDP per capita.

In the developed world you go outside for fresh air. In India you go inside for fresh air. (Many homes and businesses have air purifiers with hepa air filters. I bought two.)

PM Modi wants to bring Elon Musk’s hyperloop technology to India. Delhi to Mumbai in an hour. Mumbai to downtown Mumbai in an hour and a half…on a good day. Start simple!

Retail, one of the largest sectors in many economies including India, is very inefficient. You have to go to a dozen small stores in different parts of town to get half of what you need. I was surprised to see a Walmart in Mumbai on Google maps. Great! I took an Uber. It was fake.

Parts of Mumbai are reminiscent of Havana–elegant buildings put up in earlier times including some art-deco buildings, that are now falling apart and even abandoned due to rent control and poor land use policy. At the same time, Mumbai looks like Miami with much new construction interwoven with the older decay. Capitalist shoots pushing out of socialist pavement.

1 Anonymous January 30, 2017 at 8:02 am

Enjoyed this. Welcome to India.

“The frustrating thing about India”, I was told by one of my teachers, the great Cambridge economist Joan Robinson, “is that whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true.” (Amartya Sen)

2 dearieme January 30, 2017 at 9:45 am

Except in the south.

3 prior_test2 January 30, 2017 at 10:18 am

Kerala – Marxist run state government, high performing economy in terms of actual benefits to the populace.

Why would southern India be excluded?

4 JC January 30, 2017 at 11:05 am


5 Magnus S. January 31, 2017 at 4:25 am

Same can be applied, perhaps not to the same extent, to PRC.

6 Richard Kerley January 30, 2017 at 8:05 am

Some time since I last visited … 6 years perhaps , def pre-UBER.

At certain times of the day , in certain parts of the metropolitan area, a 1 hour UBER journey might have taken you …oh.. 1/2 miles?

Enjoy it – great city; ‘Maximum City’ in fact

7 Chip January 30, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Went to Mumbai for work in the early 90s. On walk from the Oberoi to the office I stepped past people sleeping all over the sidewalks and a donkey parked outside the front of our building.

On another trip a dancing, dread-locked guru fellow ran up to me and pinched my arm, leaving dark finger prints on my crisp white shirt for the rest of the day.

People set up typewriters on the side of the road to write up documents for those who couldn’t write.

Loved India. More memories from those trips than a year in Toronto.

8 Burkean January 30, 2017 at 8:16 am

About crime being low, my bet is inaccurate/inefficient records are kept.
It’s not unsafe, just a lot of underreporting going on. Some of it being lack of trust in institutions, cultural reasons, just plain disincentive and cost of reporting, justice system, policing…

9 Andrew M January 30, 2017 at 8:55 am

Yes, the spate of bus rapes that hit the headlines over the last few years would certainly seem to suggest that there’s an unreported undercurrent of violence. The U.S. might not be the safest country in the world, but I find it hard to imagine an off-duty bus driver going out for a drive with a group of like-minded friends, with the intention (stated or implicit) of picking up female passengers and raping them.

10 Kris January 30, 2017 at 9:06 am

“Spate”? I don’t think so. The crimes that occurred were reported in the press. I wouldn’t go around projecting a much large number just on suspicion. And the US has its share of lurid sex crimes.

But I would agree that the US is in general a safer society than India, at least for women (for men, I would say they are both at par.) The reason for fewer incidences of violence in Indian that you would expect is simply because this is a very traditional society where women outside of urban cosmopolitan enclaves put their heads down and behave very conservatively, avoiding situations that could get them into trouble. In the US, of course, women have no intention of putting themselves down relative to men, which may expose them to a higher likelihood of violence. Just my theory.

11 kevin January 30, 2017 at 9:35 am

Do you think these bus drivers made the decision to rape knowing they would wind up in the press? If the answer is no, then they are either incredibly unlucky that the only time this was done it was published, or there were a number of other incidents that weren’t published that we don’t know about.

As to your second point, I don’t want to speculate which type of behavior is more likely to attract violence, but I don’t find it difficult to think “where women put their heads down and behave very conservatively, avoiding situations that could get them into trouble” would be behavior consistent with not reporting violence that did occur.

12 dan1111 January 30, 2017 at 9:41 am

People do stupid things all the time. The assumption that the bus drivers evaluated the risks and consequences and decided it was a net positive does not seem warranted.

13 Kelley January 30, 2017 at 9:51 am

well, just how does an American tourist accurately assess crime-rate… after but a few hours in country? (try wandering the streets at midnight?)

Also, would be interesting to get his impression of the general condition of city streets and environs (crowds, noise levels, street cleanliness, etc) and attitudes toward Westerners.

14 carlospln January 30, 2017 at 9:17 pm
15 Mumbaiker January 30, 2017 at 9:48 pm

How does an male American tourist accurately assess crime-rate? Try wandering the streets after midnight as a woman.

16 improbable January 30, 2017 at 11:09 am

I’m sure the reporting system isn’t great, but street crime also just isn’t a thing the way it is in (say) Brazil or Kenya, where there are comparably mixed up cities.

Part of this is cultural, Hinduism is really deeply woven into how people see themselves and the world. There’s also some enforcement outside the formal system — muggers risk getting beaten to a pulp by all the other commuters. And guns are rare.

There are other forms of crime, of course. Try to find someone who bought a flat in bombay entirely above board. And look for stories of young brides mysteriously burned to death their stoves (in north india, mostly). But these won’t directly affect Alex.

17 Kelley January 30, 2017 at 11:28 am

“…but street crime also just isn’t a thing the way it is in (say) Brazil or Kenya, where there are comparably mixed up cities.”

…kinda vague statement

In Mumbai, is it generally safe for a lone American, male tourist to walk the main city streets at midnight ?

(how about a lone American female tourist ?)

18 improbable January 30, 2017 at 11:44 am

Yes this was my experience. Don’t forget your laptop on the bus, and make sure your wallet is zipped in on the train… but being mugged is very very unlikely. In fact you can go for a jog at night, and if you get lost and end up in a slum, what will happen after some confusion is that a child will be delegated to show you the way out. I would not dream of trying this in Nairobi or Rio.

Sadly I think women are a bit more constrained, although less so than in Delhi. In many areas there will be lots of local women walking around in the evening, pavement stalls etc, and this will be fine. There are also areas which are 100% male and a bit scary, I am told. The dress code is modest but not crazy.

19 N.K Anton January 30, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Mumbai is generally far more safer at night – very young and cosmopolitan – the groping on trains doesn’t happen in Mumbai from what the women I knew in Mumbai told me. Delhi is supposed to be a ‘shithole’ due to politically privilaged families that can get away with anything and migrants from the Northern states where even a male like me was cautioned against walking alone after dark.

20 Axa January 30, 2017 at 8:16 am

That’s normal, restaurants in India please customers from Bandra. Restaurants in Fairfax please US customer’s taste.

21 sunbomb January 30, 2017 at 8:29 am

I grew up in Mumbai in the 80s and 90s. Went back after a decade last year. Actually went to Bandra to a restaurant; tastes there have swung toward Western (US) fusion. So the restaurants have followed suit. The older street vendors still purvey the local cuisine, but there is a risk there.

22 prior_test2 January 30, 2017 at 9:18 am

So cynically observant, and so likely. That was certainly the case of the Indian running a food stand near Mannheim’s Marktplatz in the mid-90s. We chatted about a bit about how one needs to adapt to the tastes of the customer as, since he wasn’t busy at the time (nor is it likely he was able to adapt, as the next time I was downtown, his stand (technically, Imbiss) was no longer there..

And it isn’t as if this is exactly a secret – Prof. Cowen references how restaurants prepare different dishes for different clientele.

23 Axa January 30, 2017 at 9:53 am

Yes, once Tyler wrote about McCurry and veggie hamburgers in India. I’ve seen crimes against the humanity such as McBurritos in Mexico, McTortilla in Spain and McRaclette in Switzerland.

24 prior_test2 January 30, 2017 at 10:21 am

The last two I find almost impossible to grasp. The first not so much, but mainly because real Mexican food does not play much a role in American fast food menus anyways, and burritos have become an ubiquitous concept

25 anon January 30, 2017 at 9:55 am

Shouldn’t you hire a cook and have the best food every day?

26 prior_test2 January 30, 2017 at 10:22 am

Come now, it is Prof. Cowen that lauds servants, not Prof. Tabarrok.

27 anon January 30, 2017 at 10:45 am

My grandmother cooked for a wealthy family during the Great Depression, so I have the right “class background” to say that servants are fine.

28 prior_test2 January 30, 2017 at 11:22 am

And I’m sure that the author of Average Is Over would suggest that your children or grandchildren would do well to emulate your grandmother when looking at a good future career.

29 dearieme January 30, 2017 at 4:16 pm

My wife cooked for a wealthy family during the 1960s, mainly the game they’d shot.

30 anon January 30, 2017 at 10:47 am

(She was a poor immigrant at the time.)

31 jim jones January 30, 2017 at 8:18 am

These photos of India impressed me greatly:

32 Saturos January 30, 2017 at 9:18 am

Wow that is a …. very racist site. It makes some correct points though, which are no doubt very impressive if you’ve never been to a large poor urbanized country. The images are possibly representative of the urban areas, though not representative of what you’ll see if you’re a tourist or just anyone who can afford not to live around those scenes. In general, as Alex says, things are a lot better indoors (inside private property, especially the property of anyone approaching American incomes).

33 Peter Schaeffer January 30, 2017 at 12:12 pm

JJ, S,

That is one strange website. A few quotes

“The bigots better get used to it: Amazon Prime drones are going to deliver life-saving HIV medicine directly to gay people”
“As per the Internet Bill of Rights, you have access to most of the forums here, but MPC is a white privilege zone and you must become white to have a voice.”

Of course, HIV medicines (a changing list) have been available from pharmacies for decades….

34 dearieme January 30, 2017 at 8:51 am

“The quality of the intellectual class relative to GDP per capita is the highest of any country I know.” Is it the numerator or the denominator that strikes you most?

35 Govco January 30, 2017 at 9:18 am


36 rluser January 31, 2017 at 7:09 am

Well said.

37 Kris January 30, 2017 at 8:56 am

As measured by what you can see, however, inequality is very high. It’s easy to step out of a Louis-Vuitton boutique and over a child sleeping in the street. Doesn’t appear to be causing a revolution, however.

That’s because the poor in our cities are overwhelmingly immigrants from rural areas which at this point in time have little for them. They are just grateful to get to a city and have some shot at a livelihood, however squalid their surroundings may be. It’s like in the US where revolutionaries are either white lefties (turned on by neo-Marxist thinking) or blacks (who consider themselves as American, if not more so, than most whites, and (justifiably) have a deep-seated grievance about being a permanent underclass. You don’t see immigrants revolting; they are more likely to be uber-patriotic or completely apolitical, keeping their heads down.

38 Jum Seet January 30, 2017 at 10:42 am

Right. Rural people coming to cities in India are something like Immigrants in their own country.

39 improbable January 30, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Right. And it was the goal of city government for decades to limit this immigration, largely through restrictive zoning — this is part of why there are so few tall buildings (and so much surviving art deco).

The planners did their sums about water supply and rail capacity and so on… and of course what they got was Dharavi.

40 carlospln January 30, 2017 at 9:26 pm

Like the families LIVING on roundabouts, immersed in heavy traffic [including 2 cycle rickshaws] continually 24/7, whose children beg from passing vehicles.

41 anup January 30, 2017 at 8:58 am

try this restaurant:
Pali Bhavan
10, Adarsh Nagar, Pali Naka, Bandra West, Pali Market, Pali Hill, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400050, India

42 ClickByCommenter January 30, 2017 at 9:59 am

The best food is the pani puri tour, best done on the way from the airport at 3am.

43 Hoover January 30, 2017 at 12:54 pm
44 #bandraisbetter January 30, 2017 at 9:55 pm

There are 100 Indian restaurants in Bandra better than wherever on the Little River Tpk. you professors do your faculty lunches.

45 rayward January 30, 2017 at 8:58 am

Christianity is the third largest religion in India, supposedly brought to India by the Apostle Thomas (Judas, his name, as Thomas means twin). The Gospel of Thomas was discovered in Egypt in 1945 and is considered Gnostic. Unlike the canonical Gospels, the Gospel of Thomas is not a narrative but consists of sayings (logia). Whether the Apostle Thomas was the actual author is subject to debate. I understand that Thoma is a popular name in India. Christianity is not considered a major religion in Bandra (Maharashtra) but is the location of a famous Catholic church (Mount Mary’s). I’m curious if there are recognizable Gnostic influences among the Christians in Bandra.

46 Kris January 30, 2017 at 9:09 am

I would be skeptical of that. Most Indian Christians are converts from the colonial period (British as well as Portuguese, in Goa.) Kerala, a small state in the southwest, has an old Christian community though. There were also old Jewish communities there, but they’ve emigrated to Israel, based on what I’ve read.

47 dan1111 January 30, 2017 at 9:50 am

There was definitely a Christian community established in India at least by the 4th century, and some pretty good evidence that it existed as early as the 2nd century.

There isn’t any solid evidence that Thomas went to India. However, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Such a journey would follow well-established trade routes and wouldn’t be all that different from Paul’s missionary journeys.

48 Saturos January 30, 2017 at 9:21 am

literally never heard of an Indian named Thoma

49 sunbomb January 30, 2017 at 9:59 am

In Kerala, that name is anglicized to Thomas, but in the native language, Malayalam, a man is often called Thoma-chan (brother or dear Thoma.)

50 Thiago Ribeiro January 30, 2017 at 10:04 am

It makes no sense. According to Father António Vieira, who helped to spread the teachings of Prophet Bandarra, St. Thomas was sent to Brazil by Christ to convert the Brazilian indians, i.e. natives, not Indians.

51 Jum Seet January 30, 2017 at 10:52 am

Christianity is small. But concentrated. Almost 1/3of huge pop of Kerala – mainly Syrian Christian?. And a sizable to huge majority population in the small 7 states of North-East India – Protestant..Some growing numbers in TamilNadu & Andhra coast. But having a very deep philosophical divine tradition Indians (Brahmins) are a little weary about the pompous Christian claims to superiority. However the population in general is like the kid on the street – very basic ideas, superstitious, seeking personal favors rather than divine bliss or wonder

52 dearieme January 30, 2017 at 4:19 pm

“the population in general is like the kid on the street – very basic ideas, superstitious, seeking personal favours”: that’s pretty much the classical Protestant view of Roman Catholicism.

53 shrikanthk January 30, 2017 at 9:28 am

“Crime is low…….no signs of revolution”

One can attribute both to the Hindu religion, with its heavy emphasis on conduct, modesty, sobreity, and its aversion towards “Upstarts”. India hasn’t had a bloody revolution in its 4000 year history.

“low per-capita income”

Per-capita income is the big red-herring when it comes to India. It has a very very large unorganized sector that operates outside the reach of the government. And people are not as poor as you think. A slum dweller in Dharavi could well have a per-capita income of $20-30K and wealth in excess of $100K and yet seem like a beggar going by outward appearance.

54 Cliff January 30, 2017 at 9:37 am

Evidence bro?

55 prior_test2 January 30, 2017 at 10:27 am

‘India hasn’t had a bloody revolution in its 4000 year history.’

I’m guessing that the following does not count as a revolution? Maybe because it often called a ‘rebellion,’ right? – ‘The Indian Rebellion of 1857 was a rebellion in India against the rule of the British East India Company, that ran from May 1857 to July 1859. The rebellion began as a mutiny of sepoys of the East India Company’s army on 10 May 1857, in the cantonment of the town of Meerut, and soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, western Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region. The rebellion posed a considerable threat to East India Company power in that region, and was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858. The rebellion has been known by many names, including the India’s First War of Independence, Indian Mutiny, the Great Rebellion, the Indian Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857, the Rebellion of 1857, the Uprising of 1857, the Sepoy Rebellion, the Indian Insurrection, and the Sepoy Mutiny.

Other regions of Company-controlled India, the Bombay Presidency, and the Madras Presidency remained largely calm. The large princely states of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, and Kashmir, as well as the smaller ones of Rajputana, did not join the rebellion. In some regions, such as Oudh, the rebellion took on the attributes of a patriotic revolt against European presence. Some rebel leaders, such as Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, became folk heroes in the nationalist movement in India half a century later. In the Bengal Presidency, the revolt was entirely centred on Bihar which experienced multiple disturbances in the Shahabad region where the revolt was led by Kunwar Singh. In Punjab, the Sikh princes backed the Company by providing soldiers and support.’

56 Jum Seet January 30, 2017 at 10:56 am

The well-off Indians are also very touchy. They would like the whole world to pretend that India is not stinking but has a special wonderful aroma. That poor are rich. That the dirt is temporary. That the actions of the masses somehow do not represent the deep cultural depth of India (of the elite castes actually)

57 y81 January 30, 2017 at 11:54 am

Sort of like Brazilians?

58 Thiago Ribeiro January 30, 2017 at 12:24 pm

It is completly different, Brazil is an old, stable republic while, as a Brazilian ambassador famously pointed out, the Indians are not really culturally ready for governing themselves effectively. Unfortunatwly, Brazil’s thoughtful warnings were disregarded. As a Brazilian saying has it, when the head doesn’t think, the body pays for it.

59 msgkings January 30, 2017 at 12:38 pm

And as another Brazilian saying has it, when Benjy’s Boys come a-calling, run for your lives!

60 Thiago Ribeiro January 30, 2017 at 3:10 pm

There is no such a saying. Liar. Why do lie like that?!

61 msgkings January 30, 2017 at 3:15 pm

Of course there is, “Thiago”. I’m starting to suspect you aren’t really Brazilian given how much of its history you don’t know.

62 Thiago Ribeiro January 30, 2017 at 3:51 pm

I am a self-taught expert on Brazil’s Empire and Early Republic, specially the gloriously wars of our Army, Caxias’ Sword. There was no such a war. Brazil has never been defetead in war and never will be. It is our fate to rise like lions and crush the serpent with our heels. As a Brazilian song says, “the future belongs to us and we are just beginning”.

63 msgkings January 30, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Don’t be silly, of course the Great Southern War of 1891 happened. As an American song says, “Man those Brazilians are stupid”

64 Thiago Ribeiro January 30, 2017 at 4:04 pm

No, we are not. And there was not such a war. It is anri-Brazilian propaganda. We are the masters of an Empire bigger than the Roman Empire at its height, we are invencible.

65 msgkings January 30, 2017 at 4:06 pm

If you want to have any credibility here, you need to stop lying Thiago.

66 Thiago Ribeiro January 30, 2017 at 5:20 pm

You are the liar.

67 Turkey Vulture January 30, 2017 at 7:30 pm

There are some really odd exchanges in the comments to this post.

68 Atanu February 11, 2017 at 11:58 am

“The well-off Indians are also very touchy. They would like the whole world to pretend that India is not stinking but has a special wonderful aroma.”

That’s accurately observed.

India is filthy because . . . well, because Indians don’t think twice about living in the midst of the filth that they create. Martians don’t dump the garbage on the streets — Indians do. Every bit of shit (literal and figurative) in India is from Indians.

The problem is compounded by the fact that Indians don’t think about it and most of those who do realize that India is a dirty place, they rationalize it away.

69 Dd0000 January 30, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Nope – India’s extremely low PISA scores are in like with its GDP per Capita. Low human capital = low wealth generation

70 Maurice February 11, 2017 at 6:48 pm

You must be Indian.

71 4ChanMan January 30, 2017 at 9:38 am

For that tweet I downgrade Stanley Pignal to “Cuck”

72 Stanley Pignal January 30, 2017 at 9:45 am


73 Turkey Vulture January 30, 2017 at 10:21 am

The absurdity of this exchange has brought me a little joy this morning.

74 Jeff R January 30, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Lulz. Same.

75 asdf January 30, 2017 at 10:27 am

Higher caste indians are smart like Jews. Lower caste indians are dumb like blacks. India is like a country where you have a tiny Jewish elite trying to live with a majority black populace. The Jews would do some impressive things behind their walled compounds, but the government would still suck and people would be shitting in the street.

76 Jum Seet January 30, 2017 at 10:57 am

Bang On.

77 msgkings January 30, 2017 at 12:03 pm

And asdf thinks he’s smart but is actually dumb.

78 Mine Is the Virtuous Race January 30, 2017 at 2:53 pm


79 Chris Stucchio January 30, 2017 at 11:12 am

Tyler, here are some Bandra/Mumbai food suggestions leaning towards Indian food. I stay in Pune, but pass through Bombay (specifically Bandra and Dadar) often – it’s one of my favorite cities.

5 Spice – a very good chain of Indian Chinese restaurants.

Elco Pani Puri Center – excellent bombay style chaat place. Pani Puri is 60rs (crazy overpriced), but well worth it.

Khane Khas serves great rolls.

As an economist you must visit Bar Stock Exchange. Market pricing on drinks.

Have dhansak at Jimmy Boy – great parsi dal. See also brittania, which is a classic tourist place.

Be sure also to eat Misal Pav (classic breakfast) and Vada Pao (classic snack) while you’re in Mumbai. I think Hotel Usha Pure Veg in Bandra serves Misal. Not so popular in Bandra, this is classic Maharashtrian food, not so popular in super wealthy areas.

I strongly recommend trying out street chaat if you’ll be staying longer than a few weeks – it’s a classic cuisine, but carries great risk of spoiling a trip due to illness. Also try having a bombay sandwich from one of the guys on the street – that’s unlikely to make you sick.

Feel free to ping me for suggestions if you come to Pune.

80 Theo Clifford January 30, 2017 at 11:14 am

I feel like that algorithm from a while back is quite likely to mischaracterise this post as written by Tyler.

81 Chocolate Seller January 30, 2017 at 11:30 am

Which other cities are you visiting?

The diversity between different regions / cities is an interesting study.

82 Pervoskite January 30, 2017 at 11:46 am

Why sugar coat it? It’s a country with great human capital and horrible institutions, politics and social structure. Hence, it’s mostly a shithole. It’s a great example of the inestimable importance of institutions as well as intelligence and respect for education. Also, for the progressives and cultural relativists lurking here, poverty is never really that glamorous.

83 4ChanMan January 30, 2017 at 12:06 pm

You’re sugar coating it. India’s poverty is not caused by institutions, the institution are bad because the low-cast Indians have IQs comparable to those of subsaharan Africa. IQ drives development not institutions.

84 Mine Is the Virtuous Race January 30, 2017 at 2:57 pm

You can’t accurately measure intellectual potential when people are not given the opportunity to be educated properly.

85 Cooper January 30, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Extreme poverty of the sort that leaves children malnourished and sickly is bound to reduce IQs. Kids who go to school hungry don’t learn very much. Kids who can’t go to school at all because their family needs them to work on the farm aren’t going to master algebra.

86 Kris January 31, 2017 at 3:26 am

So what excuse do your hillbillies have?

87 Judah Benjamin Hur January 31, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Troll noted, but I’ll still respond.

I’m not one of those blank slate morons, but I’m skeptical about how well we’re measuring intelligence in many groups (especially with regards to “low cast” (sic) Indians). Moreover, it’s very dangerous to make group judgments and should be reserved for the proper defensive situations. For example, as a response to “affirmative action.”

88 rayward January 30, 2017 at 11:48 am

“As measured by what you can see, however, inequality is very high.” The very poor in proximity to the not poor, creating a sharp contrast between the two. In America, the very poor and the not poor tend to be segregated, so the latter seldom notice the former. Out of sight, out of mind. Of course, there are exceptions, such as in San Francisco, where it’s common to see the homeless among the splendor. In my low country community, it’s possible never to see the poor, the segregation of the very poor from the not poor is so complete. But there are very poor, lots of very poor, that the not poor never have to see. I’m curious about the attitudes of Indians about the very poor and inequality. In America, inequality is pretty much ignored. What about in India?

89 sunbomb January 30, 2017 at 12:18 pm

At the risk of extreme brevity, same.

90 rayward January 30, 2017 at 12:55 pm

I’m an angler, and there’s a phenomenon among lake anglers to seek their catch at the farthest point from the place they launch their boats. I’ve noticed something similar among my neighbors, who will go on mission trips to central and south America to help the poor but not to the nearby community which is abjectly poor. This isn’t meant as a criticism (my neighbors do very good work on their mission trips), but I find it odd. I’ve also noticed television commercials during reruns of Law & Order seeking contributions to charities that help the poor in far off places (including India) but never across town. I assume it’s because charities that help the poor in far off places get way more contributions than charities that help the poor across town. Why are people more likely to help the poor in far off places than their neighbors who are poor? Is a not poor person in India more likely to help a poor person in Africa than the poor person he sees on his street?

91 sunbomb January 30, 2017 at 2:01 pm

I’ve observed this phenomenon, but I do want to clarify that abject poverty in a US community is more likely to look very different from abject poverty in, say, India. Food, clothing and shelter are definitely issues in poor US households, but utter starvation, nakedness and homelessness are the norm when referring to the abject poor in India. A while ago, when the movie Slumdog Millionaire came out, I was asked by my friends about the reality of one scene where the Fagin-like character makes one of the street urchins blind, so as to benefit from the increased income that comes from begging while blind. I personally did not know of any such kid that went through that experience, but I told them that I was not overly surprised by the idea. When poverty is at such high levels, kids will land on the streets, and when that happens, they will be trafficked in.

92 Harun January 30, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Great point. I suspect its because you know the poor in your own town, and you know they are not easy to change, and make poor decisions, etc. vs. the poor in Bomnicalistanya are unknown, and your mind can imagine brilliant, noble savages who are only brought down by their bad luck of not knowing the savior.

Social media plays a big role, too. Very easy to #bringbackourgirls. Very hard to go down the street to the corner where the hookers stand and help those people instead. Far off is safer.

93 Mine Is the Virtuous Race January 30, 2017 at 3:08 pm

Definitely far off poor are safer to help. And if your far away donation makes things worse e.g. the well drains all the ground water for many miles around and causes a drought, well you never find out. Helping the poor in any location can be complex. It’s just that if the poor are far away, you can hold on to the illusion that it’s easy. And you can just haphazardly throw money at the problems of the far away poor, and imagine that you helped far more than you really did.

There’s also the common Right Wing belief system that the American poor could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, that they are lazy and immoral through their own fault/sin, that the government already helps them enough that it saps their initiative and sense of personal responsibility etc. etc.

Few people want to look at the poor. In India, people have to, because they are not separate. If I am remembering what I have read correctly, Indians give less to the poor than Americans do. Which, if that’s the case, could be due to people hoarding their money, afraid to spend much except on a wedding or some event where it’s pretty much required. Middle class people may be terrified that they might one day sink to the level of those they see around them constantly. The images you see around you constantly affect you emotionally, even if you think you are ignoring them.

94 Cliff January 30, 2017 at 4:57 pm

It’s tough to find a poor person in many places in the U.S. since after-tax poverty is below 5%

Of course you can just say a poor person is someone whose stuff is not as nice as yours, but then donating doesn’t seem as urgent as for someone with no toilet

95 Cooper January 30, 2017 at 5:00 pm

$50 goes a lot further for a rural peasant than it does for my poor neighbors.

The poverty in India is objectively worse than the poverty in Indiana.

96 Amigo January 30, 2017 at 5:55 pm

It’s probably too snarky to say “if you do a local mission trip, they might start coming to your church,” but maybe there’s an element of that.

97 Thomas Sewell February 2, 2017 at 4:45 am

Most people under the “poverty line” in the U.S. would be at least middle class in India as well as many places in south/central America or Africa. There are a relative handful of living on the street truly poor in the U.S., but there are enough private and government programs that they also need some sort of mental illness to really stay that way for very long.

For example, there aren’t many large groups of people in the U.S. without access to basics like drinkable water without walking for miles each day. So what you’re seeing is people ignoring magical political borders and just helping the people they believe need it the most in an absolute sense, who also WANT the help.

My daughter just got back from southern Mexico on a trip to help build block buildings for an “orphaned” old folks home. Very basic concrete block structures with concrete floors and open windows which unskilled labor could build relatively quickly was way better than where they are currently living. You won’t find that same situation for old folks anywhere in the U.S.

98 y81 January 30, 2017 at 11:58 am

“The quality of the intellectual class relative to GDP per capita is the highest of any country I know.”

I presume Prof. Tabarrok is referring to intellectual quality, but the cultural element that has the largest effect on the fortunes of a country is the moral quality of its elite. India is fabulously corrupt, and so far as I know (I could be wrong), the intellectual class is not exempt from that. I suspect that Prof. Tabarrok would be shocked if he knew of some of the behaviors that his interlocutors from the intellectual class consider appropriate and normal.

99 Mine Is the Only Virtuous Political Tribe January 30, 2017 at 3:10 pm

I have known a lot of people in the U.S. who grew up in India, and they all report a rather shocking level of corruption.

The intellectual class is still quite brilliant, however, and they stick together in most ways, so as to have an intellectual oasis within an anti-intellectual society.

100 dope manatee January 30, 2017 at 12:12 pm

You forgot to mention the open-air street $hitting. You’ll never see that in the US, outside of NYC and the Texas Mexico border region.

101 N.K Anton January 30, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Mumbai was an amazing place for the months I spent there and I think its a place that is culturally and socially very in line with Alex, so no surprise you fell in love with it.

Its like urban life on crack, and the whole city feels like it’s about to fall apart but doesn’t.


102 Jon Murphy January 30, 2017 at 12:58 pm

What do you mean by “fake” Wal-Mart? There was nothing there? It was a knock-off store (like “Wall-Mart”)?

103 Shane M January 30, 2017 at 6:01 pm

Maybe this example similar. Non-existent locksmith locations on google maps.

104 Alex Tabarrok January 30, 2017 at 9:16 pm

Yes, nothing there.

105 Jay January 30, 2017 at 1:18 pm

“Inequality as measured by a standard Gini index is actually lower in India than in the United States. As measured by what you can see, however, inequality is very high. It’s easy to step out of a Louis-Vuitton boutique and over a child sleeping in the street”

Shouldn’t this be a wake-up call for anyone wanting to quote Gini as anything worth talking about?

106 Mine Is the Only Virtuous Political Tribe January 30, 2017 at 3:11 pm


107 jon livesey January 30, 2017 at 1:24 pm

And India has been independent since 1948.

108 dearieme January 30, 2017 at 4:23 pm


109 Jack January 30, 2017 at 2:23 pm

First rate Indian food can be found at virtually any hotel including such unlikely places at the two airport Hyatts. There are some local Indian hotel chains, i forget their names, that have interesting regional food that you do not see in the US. The variety of the food and the freshness of the spicing is in my experience way better than what you would find in the US because most Indian regional cuisine is not available in the US.

110 Bryce January 30, 2017 at 4:32 pm

When I was in Mumbai last summer, an interesting phenomenon happened when the taxi drivers didn’t know where my hotel was. They would periodically stop and ask people on the streets or other drivers where the place was, and spend an excessively long time getting directions, only to stop and ask for more directions about 10 minutes later. I could whip out Google maps and show them directions, but they would ignore them completely. Even with their own smartphones with maps capability, they seemed to prefer (or maybe trust more) asking people for directions.

I couldn’t understand the hesitance to use online directions. Is it because it doesn’t work as well there? Or is it some sort of cultural thing? See if you can get the same results. Note the communication inefficiency when getting directions as well… some of the conversations take seemingly forever.

111 Anon January 30, 2017 at 4:54 pm

Uh… Did they charge for time in cab? If so, i have a sneaking suspicion i might know the reason.

112 Li Zhi January 30, 2017 at 5:35 pm

You both DO know, I hope, that map reading is a skill and not an innate ability? Same can be said for reading.

113 Anon January 30, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Are you kidding me? Reading maps is closely tied to IQ. Hell, an IQ test is basically just like reading a map.

114 Bryce January 30, 2017 at 9:37 pm

They do charge for time in the cab, but I don’t think asking for directions added so much to the clock to give a useful revenue for the driver.

I’m more inclined to think that they couldn’t understand what was going on with the map. If that’s the case, what sort of cultural thing is going on so that the Indians aren’t inclined to become acquainted with free map apps, when the majority of them have smartphones? Is a formal education required to understand the map? Are the maps predominately English, and they’re a bother to use?

115 Jum Seet January 31, 2017 at 1:27 am

Sorry, but you have been taken for a ride. And Not just literally. Most drivers have smartphones, can read maps. Asking provides them a reason to choose a wrong longer route. Go in circles. The small extra profit is important.

116 Bryce January 31, 2017 at 8:46 am

Perhaps. Indians must be good actors.

117 Matt M January 31, 2017 at 6:44 am

You poor bastard, must have looked like an easy target. In the future when they try to pull that shit you’ve got to be more assertive. If they’re a taxi driver chances are they know the roads like the back of their hands, don’t believe any crap that they’re new either. If you don’t know the city pull up google maps and tell them where to go like you’re their boss. Give shifty people an inch and they’all take a mile.

118 Kris January 31, 2017 at 7:45 am

It’s a cultural thing. If you’ve lived all your life in India, asking for directions seems a natural thing, and the only option. It irritated me to no end when I moved back after a decade in the States. And whenever I drove with my Dad, he would find it irritating that I would never stop by to ask for directions and instead take my chances with Google maps.

119 Anon January 30, 2017 at 4:52 pm

“PM Modi wants to bring Elon Musk’s hyperloop technology to India. Delhi to Mumbai in an hour. Mumbai to downtown Mumbai in an hour and a half…on a good day.”

I am picturing hundreds of Indians pushing and shoving themselves onto the hyperloop. Now they can shit in two cities on the same day, and be home in time for dinner. Elon Musk’s great invention, a marvel of the modern world, smelling of curry and poo!

120 haha January 30, 2017 at 7:23 pm

Yes the smell of curry, right ? On good authority, Bannon’s poo smells heavenly.

121 January 30, 2017 at 10:59 pm

Re: The quality of the intellectual class relative to GDP per capita is the highest of any country I know.

You are trying to compare elite fraction with the mean, i.e. how much deviation from the bell curve, skewed or multimodal. In case of India it is multimodal. With respect to the Cognitive Ability used by Lynn, there is a gap between the top cluster from the rest, with seperation of about 0.6 SD from the pop mean. There are three overlaping in the middle, a gap, then the bottom cluster. With caste system, there should be considerable assortive mating.

Depending where you want to pin the average CA to the IQ scale. If on IQ100, then the mean of the top cluster is about 110, which might be the average IQ of Indians migrating to USA.

122 Larry Siegel February 2, 2017 at 2:59 am

I don’t know about gas station owners or motel operators, but Indians in the professions and academia in the U.S. all seem like geniuses. As much so as the Jews, or more. I’d have to guess an average IQ of 130 for the top cluster.

123 Peter January 30, 2017 at 11:13 pm

Try Punjab Sweet House in Bandra for the Pani Puri on the street. Their upstairs restaurant is good too. Try a Veggie Sandwich in Santa Cruz outside of Friendship, the ride from Bandra isn’t too long. While you’re there, do not miss out on kebabs from Bademiya in Colaba (a two-minute walk from the Taj). There are separate vegetarian and meat stands. While there, take some time to watch the Roti Chennai being freshly made.

124 shrikanthk January 30, 2017 at 11:33 pm

Alex T : You may be interested in this. Here’s what some observers have commented on India and Indians in past millennia.–2.html

125 shrikanthk January 31, 2017 at 7:02 am

“Retail, one of the largest sectors in many economies including India, is very inefficient.”

Supermarkets galore in just about every part of Mumbai (and every other major city). What you are saying reflects the state of affairs some 20 years ago

126 Arun Ezhutachan January 31, 2017 at 1:36 pm

‘The quality of the intellectual class at the top is as high as Singapore but in Singapore the intellectual class runs the government.’ Both India and Singapore were led by firebrand barristers who were impressed by Socialist planning and who wanted to make their countries more self-reliant and cohesive. Nehru actually wanted to create a corps of Engineers and other Scientifically trained experts within the Government. However, the bureaucracy foiled this initiative.
Singapore as a Port City should have been a den of criminal inequity run by Triads feeding off misery in the slums. Lee Kuan Yew used conscription to build a sense of esprit de corps and wisely did not try to get too tough with the Triads straight off the bat.
His aggressive embrace of Technocracy- his son and successor didn’t become a barrister but was a Maths/Computing maven before taking a Masters in Public Administration- was successful because Public Housing and Education was visibly levelling the playing field in terms of life chances for ordinary people.
Nehru too wanted to move in a technocratic direction and Engineering Sciences gained in prestige thanks to his advocacy. His grandson, Rajiv- later Prime Minister- enrolled for an Engineering degree at Cambridge though he could not complete it. However, the Nehruvian ‘Modern Sector’ could not expand rapidly, indeed it stagnated because of rent-seeking, dirigiste policies, and political mismanagement.
In a previous post, this blog mentioned the high percentage of criminals in Indian politics. Perhaps the failed Technocratic project of the barristers empowered the class of their blood stained clients. The lawyers got dis-intermediated. ‘Gandhian activism’- i.e. grass roots agitation- retains some appeal though every single big populist agitation has merely thrown up an equally corrupt and incompetent political class. Criminals it seems we will always have with us because both the Law and Populist agitation are based on ‘preference falsification’ and paranoid availability cascades which have no basis in incentive compatibility. Currently, it seems, a madcap ‘demonetization scheme’ will help the ruling party despite being an utter shambles. Arguably, Trump’s victory shows even advanced countries are not immune to availability cascades.
There is an economic theory that if the Police catch the small crooks then, paradoxically, the big crooks benefit. Essentially a barrier to entry is created. Thus low street crime can go hand in hand with the Criminalization of Politics.
Singapore is very small compared to India but its ethnic pluralism and Colonial heritage makes it an inspiring role model. Back in the Nineties, there were some tough Administrators- e.g. in Ahmedabad- who tried to bring order to chaos on the Singaporean model. What is remarkable, is that they succeeded beyond expectations. However, in India, officials are transferred after two or three years (to guard against corruption) so it is clear that there has to be a change in the political set-up or mind-set for such administrative reform to be sustainable.

127 Ricardo January 31, 2017 at 11:18 pm

“The surprise is the number of Indians who don’t speak English and yet have to operate in a world in which advertising, signage, operating instructions, and so forth are in English.”

This is true throughout Southeast Asia. It is partly a product of elitism, given the general correlations in many countries between level of education, SES, and English ability. If you can’t understand the sign, advertisement or instructions, it isn’t meant for you.

English is also used frequently in slogans and company names in Thailand, a place with even less English ability among ordinary people compared to India. It is the prestige factor: using English signals you deal with foreign customers and rich locals and that is supposed to entail high quality and desirability.

128 Lok February 11, 2017 at 6:03 am

“The quality of the intellectual class relative to GDP per capita is the highest of any country I know.”

May be there is an environmental or geographical bias in your observation.

If ‘intellectual’ class means English speaking graduates clad in western attire with knowledge of Hollywood stars and what’s trending in American politics and economy, then they haven’t really fully opened their mouths. Perhaps they are just regurgitating what they hear on television. One needs to dig deep to know how ignorant they are on just about everything, incl. their academics. 99.9% desi intellectuals have no independent opinion or thought process of their own. Per capita Nobels and medals is a perhaps a better proxy here.

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