Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tent Cities in the US

Lest we only focus on slums in India, here are some sad stories about tent cities in the US in the New York Times.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Financial disaster continues

While the Indian economy slows to 6-7% growth, the overall international financial system still looks like it is in horrible shape. I'm not convinced the plan floated yesterday is a positive step, despite the positive response of the stock market. I liked this interview with Paul Krugman criticizing the plan entitled "the Zombie Ideas Have Won" and criticizing the timid response of the government. I agree with him that it appears that folks are afraid to acknowledge the true scope of the problem and the need for drastic restructuring of the whole financial system, including regulation of it. How do you provide appropriate incentives for innovation that is productive in a social sense, especially if it entails public money? On this one, I'd rather have the government spending huge quantities of money on a range of green technologies rather than bailing out financial institutions (and their staffs) that made bad decisions, but earned ridiculous amounts of money before passing the buck to the government and taxpayers.

I look forward to hearing what the "big plan" that Geithner promised turns out to be -- will it be a return to Glass-Steagal? That would be okay, as long as it also includes better systemic supervision of all parts of the financial system. Someone at the federal level needs to look at insurance companies for example. The SEC, Fed, and Treasury (not to mention FDIC, CFTC, etc.) need to be mandated to work together better and cooperate rather than view each other as competitors. Someone needs to clearly be in charge but it needs to be stronger than the current "umbrella supervisory powers" that the Fed has, cause the Fed clearly wasn't doing it. We shall see.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Some interesting articles

Since Amartya is busy with his lemonade stand, I can actually do some reading and writing. Here are a few things in today's New York Times that I found worthwhile.
(1) "Chilean Town Withers in Free Market for Water"- privatized water rights run amuk. How do you handle water in a very dry place, where water has been polluted, amidst little regulation and privatized water provision?
(2) "Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools?"- Is there even a doubt?
(3) of course, the article I wrote about earlier, under "outrage"
(4) "Harnessing the Sun, With Help From Cities" - if we were to starting internalizing the externalities, I think solar would start looking a lot less "subsidized" and more economical. Okay, for those non-economists, that just means bring in the costs that now are not paid any attention to when setting prices. For example, if gas prices included the damage to the environment and pollution gas consumption causes, then the price would be much higher. In the Indian context, where the sun is plentiful, the coal is even dirtier than in the US, and oil is imported, it is a total non-brainer in the long run, but getting there in the short run is still expensive and hard.
(5) "OFF THE SHELF: India’s Potential, Seen From the Inside" - a review of Nandan Nikekani's book entitled Imagining India. I have to confess that I haven't read the book yet, but Nandan is clearly a smart guy with interesting insights, and he clearly cares about India. My problem with him and the book stem from his treatment as one of the new Holy Cows of "modern" India. I think there are lots of folks with interesting things to say, but the Holy Cows get all the attention, and are handled with kid gloves. But it is probably worth a read.
(6) Immigration Explorer: A great interactive graphic on how the proportion of foreign born population differs over time, broken down by source of immigration, presented on a map by county of the US. I'm not sure the link will work, but it is worth tracking down if you are interested in these types of things (or just interesting data display).

Okay, that's it for now. Back to reading about urban planning and slums around the world.

Lemonade stand

Amartya and Marton manning the stand.
A rite of passage: Amartya's first lemonade stand, co-run with his Hungarian friends. It has kept him occupied today, even if it meant that I squeezed lots of lemons/limes in the process.
The little brother is the advertising man. He stirred up lots of business by riding his bike around the complex and announcing the stand.
Sub checking in and making sure things are under control. Our car is under the silver tarp.

outrage on financial bailout

I have to imagine that continued articles on financial services bonuses (like this one on AIG planning bonuses of $165 million in today's New York Times) will provoke more outrage and suspicion of the financial bailouts being offered to the largest firms while individuals continue to lose their houses. I don't care if these were legally obligated, these executives were also legally obligated to perform adequately. I'm sure a good lawyer could make the case that the legal obligations were broken on both sides. For example, what would happen in a bankruptcy? It is not clear to me that they would need to be paid.

There is so much more to write here, but I'd better post this now and return later as I have to get lunch ready now (mundane but true).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Color and water on the ground, a sign of Holi. Broken water balloons are often part of it too.
The spring festival -- celebrated by throwing water and colored powders at each other -- isn't so big here as in the North, but we "played Holi" and it was fun. Here are some of the powders. These are non-toxic and organic, but there are many injuries throughout India because of toxic colors.
One of Amartya's classmates dipping her hands into the powder. The little girls seemed to enjoy the powders more than the boys, who were into spraying water on each other.
Everyone got plenty wet.
Squirt guns in action.
Then we have to dry off and change clothes. Several times. Most of the shirts that are pink here started as white before playing.

In the newspaper

I haven't been writing much, mainly because I have been working so hard. My camera battery charger also broke, and just writing without images is too dull, but now my battery is charged again, so I hope to capture some pictures of Holi today.

Here is a clipping from last Sunday's DNA-Bangalore, one of the newspapers here, about what we do at work. If I had thought they would actually use such a large picture, I probably would've tried to look a little less disheveled. The other pictures show our offices.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Optimism in India despite gloom worldwide

Worthwhile piece from the New York Times by Heather Timmons contrasting the gloom and despair in the rest of the world with the optimism here in India. The article does end with some dissenting voices, and I certainly think that things will be slower here, but there is much more positive sentiment than the total despair I feel from talking to all kinds of people in the US, and from looking at the economic data.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Is this successful slum upgradation?

Here are some shots of a slum upgradation project in central-south Bangalore. Also, officially a slum must have 20 households according to the official definitions. This area has a sign saying that it is linked to a Construction Workers Union.
Here is a woman collecting wood and sticks, probably for cooking, in a field close to the project. The contrast with the Kingfisher stewardesses in their short skirts behind is reflective of many of the sharp contrasts everywhere.
Now, moving up a bit, here are some other small houses.