Assorted links

1. Angus on the Fed succession debates.

2. Borges on Dr. Johnson.

3. Private coupon currency in the Bangladesh slum in Kenya.  The legal update is here.

4. Will India beat us to biometric ATM cards?

5. The etiquette of escalator travel, where inefficiency and barbarism reign.

6. Why has India been so successful in reducing poverty?  For one thing, there is some progress on the agricultural front.


That is a truly wonderful essay by Borges.

His non-fiction is horribly underrated, I feel it is much better than the short stories. His writings on Dante, idealism, One Thousand and One Nights, translation, etc. are profoundly illuminating, always humorous, and of course written in that fantastic, dense, inimitable style of his. Even his film criticism is great, this little gem in particular comes to mind:

Thank you for the link. I especially enjoy those of his works of fiction which combine the fictional and nonfictional elements, such as "Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote". When I took up a fourth foreign language, I opted for Russian, but Borges weighed heavily in favor of learning Spanish.

Re: escalators, Germans say it best. Rechts stehen, links gehen!

More accurate is: Rechts stehen, Links warten bis the other bugger gets out of the ****ing way!

#4. This is actually what I am working on right now. Only with the product I'm helping create, customers won't even need an ATM card, or even a bank account. Just a fingerprint (and a little deregulation) will do.

India has already beaten us to biometric , including biometric social security numbers ("Aadhaar"), and I don't really see that changing. Part of the reason why is that they have a big head start (~350 million biometric SSN's already); but the more important reason is that their cultural norms about privacy and personal space are MUCH more permissive of interesting uses of biometric identification than American norms.

I don't think cost is a major issue. There is a very important word in Hindi and Urdu -- "jugaard" -- which basically means "innovation in a resource-poor setting" or "workaround." India's economy basically runs on jugaards, and I am confident that India will find a jugaar to deal with the cost of biometrics, like they deal with the cost of everything else (prosthetics, refrigerators, welders, vehicles, etc. etc.). You can add "jugaard's" to your list of reasons why India has been successful in reducing poverty.

Maybe they won't have biometric ATM's everywhere (or even regular ATM's everywhere), but maybe instead they will have ordinary retailers (like your local convenience stores) facilitating bank- and ATM-like transactions (deposit, withdraw, make payment, check balance, etc.) at the point of sale using biometric fingerprint readers purchased by them at a price that is subsidized by the IT companies facilitating those transactions electronically.

Regulation is actually the biggest barrier (IMO), but even that is coming down. Reserve Bank of India (etc.) regulations currently make it difficult or impossible to do something like the jugaard I described above, with the ratailers acting like ATM's and so on, but the regulators are very much aware of this and want to de-regulate. The reason is that the government is very heavily invested in Aadhaar (biometric Social Security numbers), having enrolled hundreds of millions already but with almost a billion left to go, but no one in the private sector is actually *using* them for anything, which makes it harder to sell to the public. They want to hold up innovative private sector uses of Aadhaar and say "aha! look, see? Aadhaar was worth it!", which helps at election time, gets the program more funding, etc. etc. I think they are not wrong to see this btw, and to liberalize.

I'm still unsure about Aadhar. They really have found no use for it yet! The project's been around for a couple of years already.

Personally, I think the biggest winners in Aadhar were IT firms and contractors. Whether that massive investment will help at all is debatable.

They have found at least one extremely important use -- weeding out dead & fraudulent welfare recipients from the rolls, and clearing theft out of the welfare delivery channels -- and I anticipate them using it at worst the same way the U.S. uses Social Security numbers.

Here is a good paper on biometric ID systems in general:

...the paper goes into >160 case studies of biometric ID systems, and all the various ways they are used (or not used). Many systems & uses have failed; many haven't "failed" but do have a lot to prove; but a small handful (including Aadhaar) look relatively promising and well-designed.

Maybe I should have clarified: Biometric ID systems in general are workable. My skepticism is about the Aadhar project in particular. That project is way too large, too centralized, too many vested interests, not broad enough internal consensus (another dept. in the Indian govt. has already begun an essentially duplicated effort ) and the government just does not have enough learning experience to pull that off.

In particular, the idea of Aadhar did not come organically from within the Govt. It was clearly a push from the IT vendors to create a massive demand for their products. Just look at the pedigree of the guy who's heading the Aadhar project; it's so hard to no believe a conflict of interest exists.

Those people who stand on escalators, can't they stand somewhere else? They would lose exactly the same amount of time resting in some corner away from the main traffic flow as they would on a narrow moving incline.

When I stand on an escalator, it's because I don't want to climb, not because I don't want to walk. It's usually when I'm tired. But climbing an escalator is more effort than walking on flat ground.

I can see your argument for people who stand on moving walkways, though.

When I stand on an escalator it is to enjoy the sublime thrill of being gently wafted up or down while standing erect in the open air, as if I were being raised or lowered on the palm of a huge genie. So unlike the confined horror of an elevator. And very different from the aerobic rush of running up a static staircase two steps at a time -- which I also enjoy.

Although they'd make rather less progress to their end objective.

You make less progress no matter where you stand. The only difference with an escalator is that it places an upper limit on the amount of time you can stand on it.

I suppose, it is just a matter of trading off effort for time. They try to get to their destination using the minimum amount of effort, and time is not that important.

RE: 3, in the US I always assumed you reserved the left side for people who are walking rather than standing because we use the left lane for speedier traffic on the roads, and slow traffic stays on the right.

Sorry, that should be regarding 5 (not 3)

Yeah, the article failed to give a satisfactory explanation. According to the article, Brits also stand to the right, and walk to the left. The researcher suggested that the escalator custom is linked to what side of the road drivers use, but that clearly fails as an explanation given that most escalator riders reportedly stand on the right regardless of which side of the road they drive on. Except for Australia, which really introduces some head-scratching wonder. It'd be nice if they reported where the Japanese and New Zealanders stand.

As for Shanghai, it's been over 10 years since I was there but one of the notable things about China was that the people there have almost no concept of queueing (except in the airport -- which had a semi-militaristic atmosphere with all of the uniformed soldiers standing about). I would expect their behavior on escalators to be equally chaotic.

Britain is an exception.

If you meet an Australian in a corridor, she will probably dodge to her left. Brits are fairly unpredictable, but I've read that they dodge right more often that left. I blame the tourists.

But I don't know what the escalator etiquette in Australia is.

The Japanese stand to the left, walk to the right. People in most Chinese cities tend to stand to the right. People in Hong Kong obediently stand to the right.

In Tokyo people stand to the left, walk to the right. In Osaka people stand to the right and walk to the left. Slightly puzzling, especially since there are no signs pointing people to stand on either side (as far as I'm aware).

Oddly, when Londoners are walking above ground, they walk on the right-hand side of the pavement despite driving on the left.

This is eminently logical. You get to see the drunk swerving driver coming...

1. The oddest complaint about Summers is he has too many ties to Wall Street. Where do people think Volcker and Martin came from?

Two of the classics in the economics of the escalator decision are,

Steve Landsburg at


Steve Margolis at

They are both wrong, though. The former, because walking on an escalator does not actually save you less time than walking on stairs, and the latter, because usually some people stand, while the others walk past them quite effectively.

#5 - On the graphic representing what to do and not to do on an escalator, is that actually a person, crouched, just before the fatal point, in the act of defecation?

Isn't that how we all think of the awful people who stand on the escalator?

The really infuriating thing about American escalators is that lawsuit paranoia here leads us to run our escalators far slower than other nations.

Think about how much time you are wasting.

The EU norms seem to be similar. There used to be quite a lot of fast escalators around Prague, after entering eu they started rebuilding them for slower ones.

1. Looking back, it is amazing how much praise and adulation financial leaders such as Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan received for the prosperity and stock market boom of the 1990s. Remember how Rubin was called the greatest Treasury Secretary since Alexander Hamilton and many said Greenspan was indispensable. Whatever one thinks of Rubin, Greenspan, and others who were at the helm in the 1990s, I think some perspective and humility might be good when assessing the performance of whoever is in power. A lot of people look smart when stock prices go up for 10 years.

I like how when I google Janet Yellen the first link is Ezra Klein talking about a "sexist whisper campaign against her."

Amartrya Sen argues in his new book that India has been less successful than other, poorer countries in reducing poverty:

Even more stark is the comparison with Bangladesh. "Our hope is that India's public policymakers will be embarrassed by the comparison with Bangladesh. On a range of development indicators such as life expectancy, child immunisation and child mortality, Bangladesh has pulled ahead of India despite being poorer.' What makes this comparison so powerful is that Bangladesh has targeted the position of women not just through government policy but also through the work of non-governmental organisations such as BRAC and the Grameen Bank. As a result, there have been astonishing successes, says Sen, such as a dramatic fall in fertility rate and girls now outnumbering boys in education. All this has been achieved despite having half the per capita income of India. Other impoverished neighbours such as Nepal have made great strides, while even Sri Lanka has kept well ahead of India on key indicators despite a bitter civil war for much of the last 30 years. Drèze and Sen conclude in their book that India has "some of the worst human development indicators in the world" and features in the bottom 15 countries, along with Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan. Seven of the poorest Indian states account for the biggest concentration of deprivation on the globe.

What's the right infant mortality figure for India? Wikipedia lists two sources, one claiming 45 and the other 53 (deaths/1,000 live births). Both sources put Bangladesh at 47-49.

Is it factually clear, that Bangladesh has outpaced India in infant mortality. What's the typical error bar on these estimates, anyways?

Has Bangladesh outpaced Bengal? That seems like a more focused comparison culturally. Plus it seems like a testing ground for the sort of politics Sen seems to like!
I actually don't know the answer, just curious.

Comments for this post are closed