Category: Travel

India’s Tallest Building Cut Down To Size

The FT writes about the bust in India’s construction sector:

It was meant to be the tallest building in India, with luxury flats, a swimming pool and cinema where billionaires and Bollywood stars could enjoy a life of perfect splendour looking down over the Mumbai skyline.

But the Palais Royale complex now sits unfinished alongside other partially built structures tangled in the megacity’s traffic-choked downtown streets, an apt symbol of a crisis that threatens a key part of India’s financial system.

Part of the problem is cyclic, a shadow banking system that overextended credit and is now having to deleverage. India’s construction sector, however, is also plagued by systematic issues including the fact that major construction projects are invariably sued and thus become entangled with India’s notoriously slow legal system. Drawing on a Brookings India working paper by Gandhi, Tandel, Tabarrok and Ravi the FT notes:

But progress was soon slowed by legal challenges over allegedly unauthorised features, sparking a series of delays….However grand the planned building, Palais Royale’s woes fit a familiar pattern: 30 per cent of real estate projects and half of all built-up space in Mumbai is under litigation, according to a 2019 Brookings India report, with projects taking an average of eight and a half years to complete.

The cow circuit: the tourism culture that is India

The Union government is exploring a new tourism opportunity — a cow circuit. To promote cow-based tourism economy, the newly formed Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog has decided to carve out a route that will wind through places in the country which breed indigenous cows.

The board has identified states like Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Goa for this circuit.

Tourists, especially from foreign countries, students and researchers, will be told about Indian cows, which will also help them in research…

“We have so far focussed on religious, recreational, and adventurous tourism, but if we can link our cow tourism with tourist hotspots, we will be able to promote our indigenous breeds like Gir from Gujurat, Gangatiri from UP, or Ongole from Andrha Pradesh…this will also help in promoting cow-based economy as products made from cow ghee, cow urine and cow dung will be sold at tourist places…”

Here is the full story from Times of India, via Rayman Mohamed.

That was then, this is now

As he prepared for Apollo 11’s lift-off, Neil Armstrong thought he had a 10 per cent chance of dying during the mission, and a 50 per cent chance of not walking on the Moon. “There was still a debate about if you stepped on to the Moon, would you step into 10ft of dust?” says former Nasa official Scott Hubbard.

The entire mission was vulnerable to a single-point failure: if the service module’s engine had failed, for example, there was no back-up.

Nasa’s whole attitude to risk has now changed. Until recently, each system was built to tolerate any two faults. This is now seen as a blunt approach, treating all components as equally important. So Nasa instead tries to limit the probability of failure. The chance of losing SLS and Orion on its first mission is one in 140, according to the agency’s analysis.

That is by Henry Mance and Yuichiro Kanematsu, in the FT, from their splendid look at the current attempt to drive a moon mission.  And this:

“We do not have time or funds to build unique, one-of-a-kind systems,” William Gerstenmaier, a senior Nasa official, said recently. The agency’s biggest rocket — Boeing’s troubled Space Launch System (SLS) — will use some of the same engines as the Space Shuttle. Blake Rogers, an engineer at the Aerospace Corporation, a government-funded research agency, told the FT: “2024 is really soon. So there’s not a lot of brand-new technology…Today, Orion’s processing power will still be below 500MHz — significantly less than a MacBook.

Recommended, gated but of course you should subscribe to the FT.

Taipei notes

My other visit here was thirty years ago, and most of all I am surprised by how little has changed.  The architecture now looks all the more retro, the alleyways all the more noir, and the motorbikes have by no means vanished.  Yes there are plenty of new stores, but overall it is recognizably the same city, something you could not say about Seoul.

Real wages basically did not rise 2000-2016.  The main story, in a nutshell, is that the domestic capital has flowed to China.  About 9 percent of the Taiwanese population lives in China, and that is typically the more ambitious segment of the workforce.

I am still surprised at how little the Taiwanese signal status with their looks and dress.  The steady heat and humidity may account for some of that, though the same is not true in the hotter parts of mainland China.

The Japanese ruled Taiwan from 1895 through the end of WWII, and those were key years for industrial and social development.  The infrastructure and urban layouts often feel quite Japanese.

Thirty years ago, everything was up and buzzing at 6 a.m., six days a week; that is no longer the case.

The National Palace Museum is the best place in the world to be convinced of the glories of earlier Chinese civilizations.  It will wow you even if you are bored by the Chinese art you see in other places, as arguably it is better than all of the other Chinese art museums put together.  How did they get those 600,000 or so artworks out of a China in the midst of a civil war?

The quality of dining here is high and rising.  Unlike in Hong Kong or Singapore, Taiwan has plenty of farms, its own greens, and thus farm to table dining here is common.  Tainan Tai Tsu Mien Seafood is one recommendation, for an affordable Michelin one-star, emphasis on seafood.  Addiction Aquatic Development has superb sushi and is a first-rate hangout.  At the various Night Markets, it is still possible to get an excellent meal for only a few dollars.

One can go days in Taipei and hardly see any Western tourists, so consider this a major arbitrage opportunity.

Japanese car rental markets in everything

People are renting cars, but then not driving them at all:

One respondent to the company’s survey said they rented vehicles to nap in or use for a workspace. Another person stored bags and other personal belongings in the rental car when nearby coin lockers were full.

In the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, rental cars were also used to recharge cellphones.

”I rented a car to eat a boxed meal that I bought at a convenience store because I couldn’t find anywhere else to have lunch,” said a 31-year-old male company employee who lives in Saitama Prefecture, close to Tokyo.

“Usually the only place I can take a nap while visiting my clients is a cybercafe in front of the station, but renting a car to sleep in is just a few hundred yen (several dollars), almost the same as staying in the cybercafe.”

Here is the full story by Andrew J. Hawkins, via Samir Varma and also Michael Rosenwald.

Should we ban bicycles in major urban areas?

“New Yorkers on bikes are being killed at an alarming rate,” said Marco Conner, the interim co-executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group.

Across the city, 14 cyclists have been killed in crashes this year, four more than all of last year, according to city officials. New York’s streets have seen an increase in bicycling while also becoming more perilous, in part because of surging truck traffic fueled by the booming e-commerce industry.

The mayor himself acknowledged on Monday that the city was facing an “emergency.”

That is from the New York Times, you will find more detail, and some further points of interest, at the link.

Would urban bicycling pass an FDA test of “safe and effective”?  Furthermore, as a driver and pedestrian I observe cyclists breaking the law — most of all running red lights — at an alarming rate.  And surely we all believe in the rule of law, so why should we allow technologies that seem so closely tethered to massive law-breaking?

I do get that bicycles are driven by cool people who are fighting climate change.  Nonetheless, what if self-driving vehicles were connected to fourteen deaths in NYC alone?  How would we treat them?  Alternatively, what if Facebook owned all of those bicycles?

A long harangue about how the car and truck drivers really were at fault will fail to pass the Coasean symmetric externalities test.

A simple American tale of travel and books

At Colorado Springs airport, on my way to Denver:

TSA official at security [pre-check, for that matter]: “We have to search your carry-on, it is suspicious that you have so many books.”

They searched every book.

TC: “Thank you, sir!”

I had fewer books in my carry-on than usual.

The heaviest book I had was Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad, which is why I had fewer books than usual.

My Conversation with Eric Kaufmann

Interesting and excellent throughout, here is the audio and transcript.  Eric is political scientist at Birkbeck College in London and the author of the recent Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities.  Here is part of the opening summary:

Kauffman’s latest book Whiteshift, which examines how declining white ethnic majorities will respond to these changes, is on Tyler’s list as one of the best books of the year. The two discuss the book and more, including Orangeism in Northern Ireland, Switzerland’s secret for stability, what Tocqueville got most wrong about America, predictions on Brexit’s final form, why Portugal seems immune from populism, how Notre Dame should be rebuilt, whether the Amish — or Mormons — will take over the world, and much more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Do conservative Muslims also have a much higher fertility rate?

KAUFMANN: The gradient between very conservative and sort of secular and liberal is not as strong in Islam as it is in Judaism or Christianity, but it’s about a twice higher fertility for women who are most in favor of Sharia compared to those who are most opposed to Sharia, in the cities. So I do think there is also this dynamic within Islam, yes.

COWEN: If we look at a country such as Iran, which now has a very low total fertility rate, is that a sign they’re not actually very religious? Or there’s something unusual about religion in Iran? What accounts for that?

And:

COWEN: Which group of French Muslims has assimilated most successfully and why?

KAUFMANN: Well, the outmarriage rate is almost 50 percent for French Algerian men, but even across the Franco-Algerian community, I think it’s in the 40 to 50 percent outmarriage —

COWEN: And they’re marrying ethnically white French women?

KAUFMANN: Right, or men. I think part of this stems from Algeria in its history. You have a large Berber population in Algeria, many of whom are anti the regime. They’re anti the Arab-Islamist regime. So they’re actually quite secular in many ways.

That’s part of it, but even amongst the Moroccans in France, there’s quite a high outmarriage rate of like 40 percent. So yeah, the French Muslims do seem to be melting in better than Muslims even of the same ethnicity. Compared to Moroccans in the Netherlands, for example, there’s a much higher outmarriage in France.

COWEN: And that’s the Berber factor, in your view?

KAUFMANN: I think it is the Berber factor. I don’t think there’s anything magical that the French are doing that the Dutch are not in terms of integration policy. I think too much is made of that.

And:

COWEN: What’s the most plausible scenario for Irish reunification?

KAUFMANN: I think the most plausible scenario is that Northern Ireland Protestants don’t have the same hostility to the Republic that they have traditionally had, so maybe a kind of charm offensive.

In a way, the unionist population is the one they have to win over. They are kind of foursquare against reunification. Somehow, the Irish Republic has to find a way to reassure them. That’s going to be the ticket to reunification, but it’ll never really happen just through economic integration. I think there’s got to be something symbolic that will win over the unionists.

Finally:

COWEN: So there’ll be more of a turn against immigration?

KAUFMANN: Yeah.

COWEN: In Canada.

KAUFMANN: Yes, and immigration attitudes are now very different, depending if you’re a Conservative or a Liberal voter. That didn’t use to be the case even five years ago, so there is more of a politicization of that issue now.

Recommended, and I found all of Eric’s books very interesting as well.

View story at Medium.com

Flying and academic quality

Using the University of British Columbia as a case study, we investigated whether the faculty at our institution who flew the most were also the most successful. We found that beyond a small threshold there was no relationship between scholarly output and how much an individual academic flies…

We certainly did find evidence that researchers fly more than is likely necessary. In the portion of our sample composed of only fulltime faculty, we categorized 10% of trips as “easily avoidable”. These were trips like going to your destination and flying back in the same day or flying a short distance trip that could have been replaced by ground travel. Interestingly, green academics (those studying subjects like climate change or sustainability) not only had the same level of emissions from air travel as their peers, but they were indistinguishable in the category of “easily avoidable” trips as well.

But success isn’t just measured by scholarly output, and so we also checked for relationships between how much academics flew and their annual salaries (which are publicly available). We did find a significant relationship: people who fly more, get paid more. Causation though, could lie in the other direction. Prestigious scholars with more grant money may have extra funds with which to book air travel, for instance.

Here is the full post by Seth Wynes, via Anecdotal.

Chernobyl model this

Now, in a strange turn more than three decades after the meltdown, the exclusion area around Chernobyl is gaining a following as a tourism destination, apparently propelled by the popularity of a TV mini-series about the blast that was broadcast in the United States and Britain last month.

The mini-series, HBO’s “Chernobyl,” fictionalizes the events in the aftermath of the explosion and fire at the plant’s Unit 4 nuclear reactor. It has been one of the highest-rated shows on the IMDB charts.

“The number of visitors increases every day, every week, by 30, 40, now almost 50 percent,” said Victor Korol, the head of SoloEast, a company that gives tours of the site. “People watch TV, and they want to go there and see the place, how it looks.”

Here is the full NYT story by Iliana Magra.  Not long ago I predicted, half tongue in cheek, that the Chernobyl show could end up making nuclear power more rather than less popular…

My question about Haifa

When visiting Israel, I spent two days in Haifa, Israel’s third largest city at about 279,000.  It seemed to me oddly empty, in a fractal sort of way.  The supermarkets had very little on their shelves.  There weren’t many supermarkets, or for that matter many restaurants.  No part of town seemed to be truly densely populated.  There was neither a center nor a thriving set of edge cities, not that I could see.  There weren’t even many parts of town.

Nothing even remotely resembling a real bookstore, not outside of the university at least.  So what gives?  What is the proper theory of Haifa?

My trip to Israel

I was very pleased to have been sponsored by the Friedberg Economics Institute, who were wonderful hosts and put together great audiences on my behalf.

Here is my interview with Globes, which they helped to arrange, excerpt:

“We started this trade war with China by shooting in all directions. It would have been much wiser to form our alliances first, and then consider doing something versus China. I believe that the current trade war with China is unavoidable. It would have taken place even without Trump as president. There are too many cases of unfair trading by China, of Chinese companies operating unfairly and even spying, of stealing of US ideas, and preventing US or Western businesses from operating in the country. This dam had to burst sooner or later.

“What is happening now is not good for any country: not for the US, not for China, and also not for Israel, which like many other small countries will be harmed by the trade war. We’re in a situation in which everyone loses.

“The US is pressuring, and will pressure, Israel not to cooperate with China. It has already begun, and it will get worse. You can understand Washington – if you have the Sixth Fleet in Haifa and China controls part of the port, US concern is understandable. On the other hand, China depends on oil from the Middle East. It needs reliable partners in the region in order to ensure its regular supply, and Israel is the only country that meets this criterion. Imagine a future in which China exerts strong pressure on Israel to help it conduct its foreign policy. I think that it will be harder and harder for Israel to cope with Chinese pressure on the one hand and US pressure on the other.”

A variety of other topics are covered at the link.

Millennials are OK with cars

Whew!

Anecdotes that Millennials fundamentally differ from prior generations are numerous in the popular press. One claim is that Millennials, happy to rely on public transit or ride-hailing, are less likely to own vehicles and travel less in personal vehicles than previous generations. However, in this discussion it is unclear whether these perceived differences are driven by changes in preferences or the impact of forces beyond the control of Millennials, such as the Great Recession. We empirically test whether Millennials’ vehicle ownership and use preferences differ from those of previous generations using data from the US National Household Travel Survey, Census, and American Community Survey. We estimate both regression and nearest-neighbor matching models to control for the confounding effect of demographic and macroeconomic variables. We find little difference in preferences for vehicle ownership between Millennials and prior generations once we control for confounding variables. In contrast to the anecdotes, we find higher usage in terms of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) compared to Baby Boomers. Next we test whether Millennials are altering endogenous life choices that may, themselves, affect vehicles ownership and use. We find that Millennials are more likely to live in urban settings and less likely to marry by age 35, but tend to have larger families, controlling for age. On net, these other choices have a small effect on vehicle ownership, reducing the number of vehicles per household by less than one percent.

That is from new work by Christopher R. Knittel and Elizabeth Murphy.