Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

June 7, 2021

White privilege, and how to get it

Filed under: Demographics,Economics — Razib Khan @ 10:15 am

The figure above shows that Indian American women make $1.21 for every $1.00 that a white man makes. I knew this data, but the infographic was brought to my attention to illustrate that not all South Asians are privileged. Pakistani women make $0.84 and Bangladeshi women $0.69.

Here’s the “problem” – 84% of “South Asians” are Indian American.

The reason that Indian Americans do so well is pretty obvious: human capital. They’re educated, they’re entrepreneurial, etc. At least to me. What if you believed that all outcome differences between nonwhites are due to white supremacy?

What have you heard about this? How is it people who now accept The Narrative explain how brown-skinned Indian Americans do so well while brown-skinned Pakistanis don’t? What have you heard?

May 31, 2021

Pivoting to the future

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 4:25 pm

2020 and2021 are clearly going to be lost years. Delhi Reopens a Crack Amid Gloomy Economic Forecast for India:

The Indian capital, which just weeks ago suffered the devastating force of the coronavirus, with tens of thousands of new infections daily and funeral pyres that burned day and night, is taking its first steps back toward normalcy.

Officials on Monday reopened manufacturing and construction activity, allowing workers in those industries to return to their jobs after six weeks of staying at home to avoid infection. The move came after a sharp drop in new infections, at least by the official numbers, and as hospital wards emptied and the strain on medicine and supplies has eased.

Life on the streets of Delhi is not expected to return to normal immediately. Schools and most businesses are still closed. The Delhi Metro system, which reopened after last year’s nationwide lockdown, has suspended service again.

But everyone has to focus on the future. So what’s going on? How’s Modi’s going to supercharge the economy? I’m not Indian, I’m American. A strong India is good for America. An economically vibrant India is good for humanity.

October 11, 2020

Climate change is a development problem

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 11:17 am

In the comments below there is some mention of the problems that Bangladesh will face due to increases in global sea level. The hypothesis is that there will be a mass migration to India as Bangladeshis flee low-level zones which are going to be inundated. I don’t think this is capturing the real issue: if millions of Bangladeshis are still subsistence farmers on marginal maritime zones then there has been a massive development failure.

Even extreme sea-level scenarios by 2100 posit a 2.5-meter rise, which means only a small proportion of the territory of Bangladesh would be inundated. If by 2100 Bangladesh is not a predominantly urban society after 80 years of economic development from 2020, there are much deeper structural problems to deal with than climate change.

Development and wealth change the downsides of risk a great deal. The 1970 Bhola cyclone caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. Something that is unlikely to be replicated in the region for various reasons (e.g., information technology and coordination are far better!).

I’ve been paying attention to climate change since the late 1980s. As someone whose family is from Bangladesh I have been very worried…my image in 1990 was of peasants fleeing inundated paddies. But things have changed a great deal. In 2020 nearly 40 percent of Bangladeshis live in cities. By 2100 a substantial majority should…

Beyond the Bangladeshi basket-case

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 12:57 am

Coronavirus has been an economic disaster all across South Asia. But, beyond that, there are changes that have occurred before the pandemic and will continue after. For example, Bangladesh’s per capita GDP now higher than eastern and northeastern India:

Bangladesh’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is now higher than most Indian states in eastern and northeastern India, with the exception of small hill states such as Mizoram and Sikkim. According to the data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bangladesh’s per capita GDP was $1,905 in 2019, against West Bengal’s $1,566 in 2018-19 (FY19) — economically the most developed state in eastern India.

Bangladesh is not really comparable to India, which is a diversified economy that is more than an order of magnitude larger. But, it is comparable to West Bengal. On economic matters, I am broadly sympathetic to right-liberal, so I’ll spare you the interpretation of what’s going on.

October 10, 2020

Economic data on South Asia

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 8:32 pm



So what are the reasons for various differences statistically?

February 18, 2020

Brown privilege in the American executive suite

Filed under: Economics,Social Science — Razib Khan @ 5:26 pm

Why East Asians but not South Asians are underrepresented in leadership positions in the United States:

Whereas extensive research has examined the “glass ceiling” faced by women, little research has examined the “bamboo ceiling,” whereby Asians appear disproportionately underrepresented in leadership positions in the United States. To investigate the mechanisms and scope of this problem, we compared the two largest Asian subgroups: East Asians and South Asians. Across nine studies (n = 11,030), East Asians were less likely than South Asians and whites to attain leadership positions, whereas South Asians outperformed whites. The leadership attainment gap between East Asians and South Asians was consistently explained by cultural differences in assertiveness, but not by prejudice or motivation. To leverage diverse leadership talent, organizations should understand the differences among different cultural groups and diversify the prototype of leadership.

I’ll put some stuff from the discussions of each of the analyses:

– “Our analysis of the population of S&P CEOs revealed notable leadership attainment gaps among EAs, SAs, and whites. Whereas EAs had a lower CEO-to-population ratio than whites, SAs actually had a higher CEO-to-population ratio than whites. These results indicate that at the highest level of US corporate leadership, EAs are less likely than SAs and whites to attain leadership positions, whereas SAs actually outperform whites.”

– “By analyzing a large-scale field survey distributed to a set of S&P 500-level companies, study 2 provided evidence that the leadership attainment gap between EAs and SAs exists not only at the CEO level (study 1) but also in broader senior leadership across large US companies. Importantly, this effect could not be explained by control variables such as birth country, education level, or the economic prosperity of EA vs. SA countries.”

– “By analyzing another large-scale field survey, study 3a provided evidence that EAs were less likely than SAs to attain senior leadership positions partly because EAs were lower in assertiveness, but not because they were lower in motivation. Again, these effects could not be explained by control variables such as English fluency, birth country, education level, or the economic prosperity of EA vs. SA countries.”

– “By analyzing another large-scale field survey, study 3b provided further evidence that EAs were lower than SAs in both current and prospective leadership attainment, partly as a function of EAs’ lower assertiveness.”

– “Complementing the field studies involving large US companies (studies 2, 3a, and 3b), study 4 analyzed a large MBA dataset that mitigated self-selection and self-report biases. Replicating the prior studies, EAs were less likely to be nominated as leaders than SAs; this effect was again mediated by assertiveness. Consistent with study 1’s finding about CEO representation, SAs were more likely to be nominated as leaders than whites. Importantly, these effects could not be explained by control variables such as personality, SES, and birth country.”

– “By analyzing the objective leadership attainment of a large dataset of MBA students, study 5 provided further evidence that EAs were less likely to attain leadership positions than SAs; this effect was again mediated by assertiveness. Consistent with the prior studies, SAs were more likely to attain leadership positions than whites. In addition, EAs and SAs did not differ significantly in leadership motivation or aptitude, suggesting that these two factors were unlikely to be the main reasons for the leadership attainment gap between EAs and SAs.”

– “Dovetailing with study 6a, study 6b found that non-Asian Americans exhibited greater prejudice toward SAs than EAs. These results suggest that prejudice is unlikely to be the main reason for the observed leadership attainment gap between EAs and SAs. As a robustness check, we replicated these results in another preregistered study that employed a group comparative design (for details, see SI Appendix).”

– “Study 7 provided experimental evidence that non-Asian Americans rated EAs lower on leadership potential than SAs. Consistent with our prior studies, this effect was significantly mediated by perceived assertiveness, but not by prejudice or perceived motivation. Together, these results suggest that, despite facing less prejudice than SAs and being equally motivated, EAs are less likely to attain leadership positions.”

The authors cite Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative India, but anyone who has spent time around subcontinentals and East Asians is aware of the difference. To be frank, we brown people can kind be annoying dicks, lacking in grace and civility. This is evident in comments on this weblog. But these antisocial tendencies happen to be good for selecting CEOs of major American companies.

September 26, 2019

A tale of two Pakistans

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 9:50 pm

Bangladesh to clock highest growth in Asia this year.

Pakistan’s growth to be lowest in South Asia in current fiscal.

8% vs. 3%. From a geopolitical perspective at current rates of relative stagnation India’s Pakistani problem will “solve” itself as the Islamic Republic is turning into a macroeconomic midget. All of the geopolitical posturing will be irrelevant if the Pakistani polity doesn’t get its structural house in order (e.g., shift away from the oligarchy).

July 15, 2019

The ubiquity of the rentier state

Filed under: Economics,Mughals — Razib Khan @ 9:05 pm

Angus Maddison’s Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History is one of my favorite books (though if you are looking for economic history, Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium is underrated/underread).

Maddison’s work is cited in this piece,
No, Mughals didn’t loot India. They made us rich: They remained as Indians, not colonists
. Overall, I found it to be specious and sophistic in the details.

The specious part is the attempt to assert that India was rich during the Mughal period. The sophistic part was the interleaving of anecdata and observation to buttress the quantitative point, made with an appeal Maddison’s data set.

The reality is that it is likely that Maddison was wrong, and more importantly, the Mughal state was highly extractive:


There is more here. It is not my place to judge economic history, it’s not my specialty (though on the whole, I don’t dissent from the judgment of “Pseudoerasmus” on most things in his wheelhouse). And I still value Maddison’s magisterial work. And so should you.

The reason is simple: contrary to what Rana Safvi would have you believe, the vast majority of pre-modern people and societies were poor, with very marginal differences in per capita wealth in a modern sense. I am convinced by various arguments that large polities, such as the Roman Empire, can obtain some gains in efficiency through economies of scale, as well as reducing costs of production through imposing peace. But these differences were marginal compared to anything we moderns might believe to be worth notice.

To see what I mean, I’ve plotted some of Maddison’s data below:

According to Maddison, there was a decline in per capita wealth from the Mughal period to the early British period: from 550 to 533 dollars. First, this is hardly much at all. Second, it is clear that Maddison’s estimate here is very coarse, and we shouldn’t put that much stock in it.

But the bigger picture that I’m alluding too is clear when you look at all of Maddison’s data. 2,000 years ago Italy was the richest region of the world on a per capita basis (though since Madison is comparing a province of the Roman Empire to all of China, I think this is somewhat misleading). But Italy seems to have been only about twice as rich on a per capita basis as the poorest areas of the world. By 1500 the British Isles was already wealthier than India on a per capita basis, but it was only 1.3 times as wealthy.

When pre-modern observers, as quoted in the piece above, mention the wealth and riches of a polity, what they truly mean are the goods of the people of power. In 1500 France and the British Isles were at the same per capita wealth level. But the monarchy of France was much wealthier and more powerful than the monarchy of England. There were two reasons:

  • The French monarch had a larger population from which they could extract taxes.
  • The French monarchy engaged in a higher base rate of extraction from its subjects than the English monarchy.

According to economic historians, one way that the British closed the gap in later centuries was much better management of and recourse to public debt. The British “punched above their weight” in terms of mobilization of resources for this reason (eventually Britain surpassed France in population and per capita wealth).

But that’s neither here nor there. Observations of the wealth of the Mughals by European observers is mostly a function of the reality that the domains under Mughal control were extensive, and the Mughal  Empire had a much larger population than any European state. Its wealth was not due to intensive production of economic vitality, as much as extensive exploitation of productivity. Similarly, the domains of the Chinese Emperors of the contemporary period allowed for lavish wealth, but that was due to the massive population increase in their territories in the centuries of peace.(part of this was due to the introduction of maize into lands where it was more suitable than rice or wheat).

Of course, there are differences between various political arrangements. Even before seeing the data on extraction levels above, I suspected that the Mughals were not necessarily encouraging economic flourishing in an atypical manner. The reason here is historical and ideological. Though the average per capita wealth of China across history did not vary a great deal, there were ideological variations which resulted in different levels of poverty and uncertainty. The orthodox Confucian Chinese view was rather libertarian and physiocratic. It emphasized low taxes on the farmers so as to encourage freeholding and rural prosperity. Though this was not always executed, it was the ideal. The pre-modern Chinese state as actually relatively “light.”

One can think of a major exception here: the Yuan dynasty. That of the Mongols. Unlike the Manchus, the Mongols did not assimilate to Chinese norms. They engaged in massive extraction, pure rent-seeking, and brought in “middle-men minorities” (Central Asian Muslims often) to do much of the dirty work.

On the whole, I believe that the Mongol influence on economic growth was predominantly negative in Eurasia during their period of dominance, because the steppe nomad ethos was extractive and predatory toward the ancient agrarian civilizations of Eurasia. The Pax Mongolica likely introduced some efficiencies through trade and the spread of ideas, but the local impact of Mongol rule in China, Persia, and Russia seems to have been one of predation and consumption, rather than fostering production.

The Mughals were in part descended from Mongols. And as Timurids they were patrons of culture but also adhered to the steppe ethos of extraction and predation. Rana Safvi emphasizes that the Mughals became more Indian genealogically over time. This is true. And the Mughals also relied on Rajputs to administer their domain. But anyone who has read about the Mughal state apparatus knows that like the Mongols in Yuan China they relied extensively on West and Central Asian first-generation immigrants (the preference for non-natives even within these ethnicities is a clear tell that it was important they not be too attached to India, and mirrors “Mameluke” regimes further west). While Turks and Afghans were the military elite, the civilian class was saturated with Persians.

The ethno-religious distance between the ruled and rulers to me would set a prior expectation that there would be an emphasis on extraction and extensive rent-seeking. Muslims, like Ibn Battuta, had long seen India as a land of riches and a place where young adventurers could make a fortune. In the pre-modern world, unfortunately, this often involved some sort of rent-seeking activity, rather than productive entrepreneurship.

And yet were the Mughals qualitatively different from what came before an what has come after? To be honest, I don’t think so. One of the major problems with South Asia is that it is a world of “communities,” and communities look after their own. Han Chinese bureaucrats culturally identified with the peasants that they ruled. Even the connotation of “peasant” in Chinese is far less pejorative than in Europe, which had a blood nobility. In South Asia, the ruling elite has often by logical necessity been different from those the ruled because no one group identity has been a majority. This is often true even locally, while Hindu zamindars ruling in eastern Bengal over Muslim peasants, or Muslim potentates in the Deccan over Hindu peasants.

September 20, 2018

The Chinese eradication of extreme poverty in one generation

Filed under: China,Economics — Razib Khan @ 4:45 pm

There have been write-ups in the media of the decline of extreme poverty due to a World Bank data release in the past few days. This is kind of a pretty big deal, and one of the reasons that books like Enlightenment Now are still worth writing: much of the American public is unaware of the “good news.”

But as made clear in the graphic in The Wall Street Journal, this is to a great extent a regional story. In particular, it is the story of the near eradication of extreme poverty among the ~20% of the world’s population that is Chinese.

As the chart makes visible, the “Third World” or the “Global South” OR “Developing World”, whatever you call it, is very economically diverse. Was very economically diverse. In 1990 most of the world’s extreme poor lived in East Asia. Overwhelmingly in China. Outside of Sub-Saharan Africa and South & East Asia extreme poverty, using this definition, was actually not that common. Latin America, the Middle East & North Africa, and the post-Soviet world, suffered by comparison to North America and Western Europe.

People who traveled widely across the “Third World” knew this. In the 1980s and 1990s one of my uncles was an engineer, and later officer, for an Iranian oil tanker, and so traveled across the Middle East. He eventually wrote a peculiar book on poverty in Bangladesh after he retired, and in it he recounted how clear and distinct the differences in acute poverty were when he compared Iran with his homeland.

To give you a different general sense, I pulled the World Bank data and focused on a few large nations of diverse profiles. And, rather than looking at just the % below a very low poverty threshold ($1.90 per day), I increased the threshold ($5.50) and focused on the poverty gap. While the poverty headcount just tells you what % of the population falls below the threshold, the poverty gap is measuring the average distance below the threshold. In other words, it is measuring intensity of poverty.

What you can see above is that China went from having the highest poverty gap to the lowest in 25 years. But the story isn’t just about China. Fifteen years ago Vietnam had just as much extreme poverty as Bangladesh, but today it is in the same range as China. In the 1990s we talked a lot about the “Asian Miracle.” But that was minor leagues. The real miracle has occurred in the 21st century.

But it wasn’t really a miracle at all. Nations such as Vietnam and China (and earlier Japan and Korea) had relatively high literacy rates, and a tradition of meritocratic advancement, long before contact with European colonialism. Before Communism. With high native human capital resources to begin with, they were poised for lift-off before they ever made it down the runway.

My wife happens to know a Chinese man who is now a professor of science at an American Research I University. Because this is someone we know, aspects of his life history have slowly emerged. In short, he grew up in a very poor peasant household in rural China. And not one that had just recently fallen down the class ladder from what we can tell.

Today he is a professor doing rigorous science, who has achieved an upper middle class American lifestyle. My horizons may be narrow, but I have never met a South Asian in the United States who has come from an analogous background of such grinding deprivation. I know they exist. But in general South Asian peasants in deep deprivation, the children of landless laborers and the like, do not seem to have the opportunity or expectation that they could become researcher professors in the United States.

Finally, Communism. It is strange today, though perhaps not, that much of the younger populace of developed nations are beginning to look with eagerness toward some sort of inchoate socialism. And yet here you have more than a billion who sloughed off the dead hand of command socialism, and in the process eradicated extreme poverty.

I understand the qualms about Chinese authoritarianism. I’m well aware that some elements of China’s economic growth are unlikely to be sustainable. Perhaps there will be a correction. Almost certainly there has to be one. But we can’t forget what the very recent past was like. We shouldn’t shrug off the miracle of anti-poverty that has occurred in East Asia.

To Americans, and Mexicans as well, 1990 wasn’t a different land. But in the past generation nations like China and Vietnam have transformed themselves in ways that we can’t even imagine.

Upward nobility in India by geography

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 12:15 am


The above figure is from Intergenerational Mobility in India: Estimates from New Methods and Administrative Data. Since everyone is talking about the caste results, I wanted to highlight geography.

July 25, 2018

East Bengal/Pakistan catches up to West Bengal/Pakistan

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 9:48 pm


Today I was looking on the internet to get some more information on the Pakistan election. Honestly, I don’t have a strong opinion….

But by chance, I ended up stumbling on articles like this, When East overtakes West:

…a recent article, “East overtakes West,” in The Economist has thrown a spanner in the works. The east is the erstwhile East Pakistan and the west is today’s Pakistan. It shows that the GDP per capita of Bangladesh is $1,538 and that of Pakistan lags behind at $1,470. This is the result of a GDP growth rate of over six per cent per annum in the past 12 years. One-third of the GDP is contributed by industry and the value-added garments exports are larger than India and Pakistan put together.

The truth is that Bangladesh’s better statistics in some measures are due to demographics. Per capita values will change in opposite directions if nation underestimated its population (as Bangladesh did), and another nation overestimated its population (as Pakistan did). Using PPP corrections and such Pakistan is still a more prosperous land per person. But it’s getting close. The trendline is definitely pointing in one direction. A piece at Brookings asks “Why is Bangladesh booming?” The author notes:

Once one of the poorest regions of Pakistan, Bangladesh remained an economic basket case—wracked by poverty and famine—for many years after independence in 1971. In fact, by 2006, conditions seemed so hopeless that when Bangladesh registered faster growth than Pakistan, it was dismissed as a fluke.

But I’ve always thought that the infant mortality and life expectancy statistics in Bangladesh were things that were more important to be proud of (and on this score Bangladesh does indisputably better than Pakistan). And curiously, on this measure, Bangladesh does even better than India! But to a great extent, that’s not a fair comparison, as India is a coalition of regions, while Bangladesh would just be a very populous Indian state.

More comparable is West Bengal. Bangladesh and West Bengal look to be at parity in terms of life expectancy and per capita GDP. And metropolitan Dhaka and Kolkotta now have about the same population, at ~15,000,000.

We live in interesting times.

June 30, 2018

The decline in South Asian poverty

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 12:47 pm

It has long been asserted that South Asia may make average strides economically, but it is still in absolute terms the locus of most of the world’s grinding poverty. This may not be true much longer. In particular, some estimates now suggest that India is no longer the world’s “leader” in extreme poverty in absolute terms. From Brookings, The start of a new poverty narrative:

According to our projections, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor in early 2018, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo could soon take over the number 2 spot (Figure 1 below). At the end of May 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall. In fact, by the end of 2018 in Africa as a whole, there will probably be about 3.2 million more people living in extreme poverty than there are today.

Bangladesh has been making progress as well, from the World Bank:

Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty, supported by sustained economic growth. Based on the international poverty line of $1.90 per person per day, it reduced poverty from 44.2 percent in 1991 to 13.8 percent in 2016/17. In parallel, life expectancy, literacy rates and per capita food production have increased significantly. Progress was underpinned by 6 percent plus growth over the decade and reaching to 7.3 percent in 2016/2017, according to official estimates. Rapid growth enabled Bangladesh to reach the lower middle-income country status in 2015. In 2018, Bangladesh fulfilled all three eligibility criteria for graduation from the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) list for the first time and is on track for graduation in 2024.

Here’s GDP for South Asian countries in 2005 dollars:

I left Bangladesh in 1980. Not too long after I was born. I went back to visit in 1989 and 2004. In relation to 1980, per capita GDP was 1.15x. in 2004 it was 1.6x. In 2016 it was 2.9x. So over the past 14 years there’s been a 2x increase in GDP per capita in Bangladesh! The equivalent figure in the United States is 1.1x.

The decline in South Asian poverty

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 12:47 pm

It has long been asserted that South Asia may make average strides economically, but it is still in absolute terms the locus of most of the world’s grinding poverty. This may not be true much longer. In particular, some estimates now suggest that India is no longer the world’s “leader” in extreme poverty in absolute terms. From Brookings, The start of a new poverty narrative:

According to our projections, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor in early 2018, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo could soon take over the number 2 spot (Figure 1 below). At the end of May 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall. In fact, by the end of 2018 in Africa as a whole, there will probably be about 3.2 million more people living in extreme poverty than there are today.

Bangladesh has been making progress as well, from the World Bank:

Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty, supported by sustained economic growth. Based on the international poverty line of $1.90 per person per day, it reduced poverty from 44.2 percent in 1991 to 13.8 percent in 2016/17. In parallel, life expectancy, literacy rates and per capita food production have increased significantly. Progress was underpinned by 6 percent plus growth over the decade and reaching to 7.3 percent in 2016/2017, according to official estimates. Rapid growth enabled Bangladesh to reach the lower middle-income country status in 2015. In 2018, Bangladesh fulfilled all three eligibility criteria for graduation from the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) list for the first time and is on track for graduation in 2024.

Here’s GDP for South Asian countries in 2005 dollars:

I left Bangladesh in 1980. Not too long after I was born. I went back to visit in 1989 and 2004. In relation to 1980, per capita GDP was 1.15x. in 2004 it was 1.6x. In 2016 it was 2.9x. So over the past 14 years there’s been a 2x increase in GDP per capita in Bangladesh! The equivalent figure in the United States is 1.1x.

May 10, 2018

The bourgeoisie baby blues

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 8:03 pm


There are those instances when you see a plot that resonates with your experience so much that you don’t need to say anything. You just share it. Those who know, know. Those who don’t know, won’t know until they are in a position to know.

Median household income in the United States today is $59,000. “Household” is a broad category. All families are households, but not all households are families. The median family income is $72,000. If the plot above is correct households in the bottom 25% and somewhere in the top 1% are above demographic replacement. The 1% cut-off is $430,000, and from what I can tell poking around the households making $1,000,000 per year are probably the 0.1%. In other words, between the 75th percentile and 0.10% percentile Americans are below replacement in total fertility.

There is a particular trough between $50,000 and $250,000. From the core of the middle class into the heart of the upper middle class.

From $50,000 a year household income of $250,000 a year may look comfortable, but these are the children of Epictetus. The modern world is filled with those who lack freedom but live with some modicum of comfort, as well as avenues for leisure and self-cultivation. But freedom is reserved for capital, in particular, those with a lot of liquid capital.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a slave with a substantial income remains but a slave at the end of their days. Their comforts persist only at the sufferance at of those who have inherited or grasped their freedom.

 

April 2, 2018

When America is no longer the world

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 1:38 am

On this week’s Slate Money the author of The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies, was a guest. I’m not going to be reading this book, but it seemed interesting. Basically, he suggested that the reason franchise movies, and in particular comic book films, were taking over is that television has taken over niches such as period dramas. The comparative advantage of the movie theater is in big-budget action & special effects spectacles, and audiences enjoy revisiting “shared universes” so much that they’re far less risky than singletons.

This shouldn’t be surprising, there’s a reason that standalone fantasy books are not notable.

An issue that is discussed on the podcast is the fact that international blockbusters tend to be American. China tried to produce something that would be exportable to the USA with The Great Wall, but it was a bust.

It strikes me that when American movies no longer dominate internationally, that’ll be a good sign that true dusk is coming to our time as the global hegemon.

December 4, 2017

The supply chain in lieu of the welfare state

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 8:44 pm

The Wall Street Journal, of all places, has a fascinating human interest piece on Dollar General which is dense with insight, How Dollar General Became Rural America’s Store of Choice:

The local Dollar General store, built on a rural highway and surrounded by farmland, sells no fresh meat, greens or fruit. Yet the 7,400-square-foot steel-sided store has most of what Eddie Watson needs.

Dollar General Corp.’s 14,000 stores yielded more than double the profit of Macy’s Inc. on less revenue during its most recent fiscal year. And its $22 billion market value eclipses the largest U.S. grocery chain, Kroger Co., which has five times the revenue.

The more the rural U.S. struggles, company officials said, the more places Dollar General has found to prosper. “The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer,” Chief Executive Todd Vasos said in an interview at the company’s Goodlettsville, Tenn., headquarters.

Dollar General’s typical shopper “doesn’t look at her pantry or her refrigerator and say, ‘You know, I’m going to be out of ketchup in the next few days. I’m going to order a few bottles,’” said Mr. Vasos, the company’s chief executive. “The core customer uses the last bit of ketchup at the table the night prior, and either on her way to work or on her way home picks up one bottle.”

Camouflage is a proven winner. This year, Dollar General became the exclusive seller of dog food from the camouflage-gear brand Mossy Oak. “Even off-brand camo does well here,” said the Evensville store manager Justin Ray, who has a display of camouflage merchandise, including pacifiers and pet toys.

The supply chain in lieu of the welfare state

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 8:44 pm

The Wall Street Journal, of all places, has a fascinating human interest piece on Dollar General which is dense with insight, How Dollar General Became Rural America’s Store of Choice:

The local Dollar General store, built on a rural highway and surrounded by farmland, sells no fresh meat, greens or fruit. Yet the 7,400-square-foot steel-sided store has most of what Eddie Watson needs.

Dollar General Corp.’s 14,000 stores yielded more than double the profit of Macy’s Inc. on less revenue during its most recent fiscal year. And its $22 billion market value eclipses the largest U.S. grocery chain, Kroger Co., which has five times the revenue.

The more the rural U.S. struggles, company officials said, the more places Dollar General has found to prosper. “The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer,” Chief Executive Todd Vasos said in an interview at the company’s Goodlettsville, Tenn., headquarters.

Dollar General’s typical shopper “doesn’t look at her pantry or her refrigerator and say, ‘You know, I’m going to be out of ketchup in the next few days. I’m going to order a few bottles,’” said Mr. Vasos, the company’s chief executive. “The core customer uses the last bit of ketchup at the table the night prior, and either on her way to work or on her way home picks up one bottle.”

Camouflage is a proven winner. This year, Dollar General became the exclusive seller of dog food from the camouflage-gear brand Mossy Oak. “Even off-brand camo does well here,” said the Evensville store manager Justin Ray, who has a display of camouflage merchandise, including pacifiers and pet toys.

November 28, 2017

The Elephant, dragon and eagle

Filed under: Asia,China,Economics,India — Razib Khan @ 12:24 am


The Elephant, dragon and eagleThe relationship between China and India is clearly one-sided: India is obsessed with a China which is approaching lift-off toward becoming on the verge of a developed nation within a generation (certain urban areas are already basically developed, albeit not particularly wealthy in comparison to Hong Kong or Singapore).

Often when I see interviews with regular Chinese about their opinions of the other country the fixation is upon the manifest Third World nature of India, which seems to be changing much more slowly than their own nation. For me GDP is less important that vital statistics like child mortality or life expectancy. And it is in these sorts of statistics where you see the gap opening up between the two nations. India is developing…. but China is leading, and converging faster with developed nations.

It is in this context that this piece in The New York Times jumped out at me, Amazon, in Hunt for Lower Prices, Recruits Indian Merchants:

While Amazon.com has sellers hailing from many countries, Mr. Cheris said that India and China are the two most important places for Amazon to recruit new merchants since both nations are sources of cheap manufactured goods.

Unlike China, where local companies dominate e-commerce, India is also a huge domestic market for Amazon. Although most of India’s commerce is conducted offline, Indians are coming onto the internet at a rapid clip through their smartphones. Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, views India and its 1.3 billion residents as vital to his company’s future, and he has vowed to spend at least $5 billion building up his India operations.

The Elephant, dragon and eaglea, I was aware that Amazon really hadn’t gotten any traction in the Chinese market. I did not know that Amazon was so competitive in India, though Flipkart is still dominant there.

The story outlined seems to be part of a bigger trend whereby India is on a very different path from China in its relationship to the rest of the world. China’s economy is big enough and insular enough that it sees the world as either an export market or a source of commodities. It is quickly taking back its place of old as a lumbering hegemon. India, in contrast, seems to be developing a more integrative relationship with large economies such as the United States, despite its command and regulatory economy legacy.

Of course, the India-USA relationship is nothing like “Chimerica” in terms of magnitude, but the Sino-American relationship strikes me as very transactional. Despite the recent tendency of Indian society to espouse a stronger Hindu nationalist line, which is at odds with the West, it seems that there is more cultural exchange between elite Indians and Western societies in the deep sense of values, than has occurred with the Chinese and the West. And, yoga and aspects of spirituality notwithstanding, most of the cultural exchange seems to be toward cosmopolitan elites Indians assimilating to global values which draw from the mode of the West.

Ultimately all of this seems to have geopolitical implications. I’m assuming smarter people than me are keeping track of these trends….

September 27, 2017

The Asian world

Filed under: Asia,Economics — Razib Khan @ 10:52 pm


The Asian worldWe live in interesting times. The world system is slowly shifting back to the historical norm. That norm being that most people and economic production would occur in Asia.

The book When Asia Was the World chronicles period the between after the fall of the Roman Empirea and on the cusp of the European Age of Discovery. It prefigures a world of interconnections which don’t necessarily loop back to the West. It is strange on Facebook seeing my cousins on Bangladesh joining the international economy, but that economy not necessarily having the United States at its center and fulcrum. We are still the biggest player…but we are not necessarily an indispensable player.

A story in The New York Times brings this to mind, IBM Now Has More Employees in India Than in the U.S.:

Today, the company employs 130,000 people in India — about one-third of its total work force, and more than in any other country. Their work spans the entire gamut of IBM’s businesses, from managing the computing needs of global giants like AT&T and Shell to performing cutting-edge research in fields like visual search, artificial intelligence and computer vision for self-driving cars. One team is even working with the producers of Sesame Street to teach vocabulary to kindergartners in Atlanta.

The Asian worldThis is as much a social story as it is a matter of economics. A new global class is organically developing along the scaffolds provided by international corporations. This class, dare I say caste, is beginning to supersede the importance of the Tribes which Joel Kotkin wrote about in the early 1990s.

And no matter what Thomas Friedman and Francis Fukuyama tried to tell us, I’m not quite sure that the global cosmopolitan culture will reflect the mores and preoccupations of the Western post-materialist elite. To be entirely frank I’m not totally sure that this is a bad thing, either.

We can look at economic projections all we want. But the protean and unpredictable nature of cultural changes is really where the action is going to happen in the next few decades, as Islamic revivalism begins to fade and burn itself out.

September 18, 2017

Childhood goes into bankruptcy

Filed under: Economics — Razib Khan @ 11:05 pm


Toys ‘R’ Us, Crippled by Competition and Debt, Files for Bankruptcy. This is supposedly restructuring. But do classic toy stores have a future? I know FAO Schwarz closed a few years ago.

Remember video stores? Probably not.

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