IndiaSpend ResearchWire


Putting this newsletter together has been a labour of love, and a great learning experience. In this edition, we present a retrospective of some of the most insightful and interesting things we read, and what we learned in the process.

There is also a short feedback form for you to fill--and I really hope you will. The end of the year is a good time to pause and reflect, and I’d like to begin that by getting to understand you, and your needs better.

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If you have missed any of our earlier editions, you can read them here.

Governance matters, but conditions apply

Contrary to popular belief, corruption is prevalent in developed countries as well, but it is more sophisticated, legal, and has more to do with “access” and not “speed”--i.e. you pay a bribe to get access to productive resources, not to get your work done (faster). In the Indian context, deals between Indian businesses and politicians are often unproductive.

Be that as it may, is ‘market-enhancing’ good governance a prerequisite for growth? History shows it is not. The ability to enforce minimum wages or labour protection is as important as any other governance capability, even when it may be ‘market distorting’.

Also, those in power have the power to influence behaviour, and we can’t ignore daft statements from them.

It’s confirmed: It’s hard to beat the patriarchy

Women form 70% of the global healthcare workforce, but masks & other PPE are designed for men’s bodies. The world is literally designed for men. This explains, for instance, why women’s loos have longer queues and why cars are more dangerous for women

Women have borne a disproportionate impact on their safety, incomes and well-being during this pandemic.

More women than men lost jobs in the lockdown. Our men did not disappoint and domestic violence and cybercrime increased, most where the lockdowns were the strictest. Reported rapes and sexual assault complaints decreased as thankfully fewer women showed up in public places.

52% women and 42% men believe spousal violence is justified

We learned that there are no easy solutions. The Indian government is mulling raising the minimum age of marriage for women, but the real reasons behind early marriage are many (here and here), and have little to do with the law. Such a revision can in fact reduce young women’s autonomy, doing more harm than good.

The 2005 Supreme Court judgement declared equal property inheritance rights for men and women in 2005, and that didn’t pan out the way we’d hoped. The new law exacerbated the preference for sons over daughters.

Mothers-in-law continue to act as gatekeepers, curbing movement and social relationships of young daughters-in-law. With little social contact, young women lose out on access to, and utilisation of, reproductive health services.

The time for climate action is now--as it has been for some time

Earlier this year, thanks to one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, Delhi saw unusually blue skies.

COVID-19 has created opportunities to flatten the climate curve, but few countries appear to be thinking of a “green recovery”. There is solid economic rationale for a well-funded government response to climate change. The benefits of implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change far outweigh its costs--the health benefits alone could exceed investment costs 1.5-2.5 times.

The Centre’s National Clean Air Programme seems to be floundering: A civil society tracker shows slow progress in disbursement of funds. The stakes are high. Thanks to air pollution, the average resident of Delhi-NCR loses over nine years of life. The average Indian resident loses more than five years.

But the pollution crisis is not all. Yamuna’s fish are dying, cotton cultivation in Odisha is sowing the seeds of a climate crisis, and the rain has gone rogue in Thane.

Externalities matter

If you didn’t know what externalities are, you discovered them here: “…95 percent of economics is about the imperfections of markets, and how the government can correct them.” 

With the vaccines rolling out, here’s an explainer of the economics behind them and externalities. You need to worry less about vaccine manufacturers making too much money from a COVID-19 vaccine, and instead worry about how to ensure that they make enough.

International trade is not the enemy

India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar came down heavily on globalisation but even as India turns inwards, we learned that this is based on at least three misconceptions. The domestic market is much smaller than you imagine; India’s growth since the early ‘90s has been based on exports, and not domestic markets; and deglobalisation is not inevitable.

But good economics may well be the wrong politics. Delhi’s proposed smog towers have no scientific basis--but are attractive for governments because they are visible and easy. But they are giving economists ulcers.

We learned to be circumspect

The World Bank paused the publication of their Doing Business Report and initiated an audit of its data and methodology. This was a long time coming. Back in 2018, India jumped the ranks on the index, but it was the changes in World Bank methodology, and not reform that made that possible.

We discovered new resources

Alice Evans kept things interesting. We read two great blogs from her on India--why Indian men live with their parents, and why do the north and south of India treat their women differently? Both of these sent Indian Twitterverse into a tizzy, getting everyone’s hackles up about India’s culture and family values, and keeping the rest of us entertained. 

We read Tim Harford on whether the mental scars of COVID-19 will fade, or endure and why we fail to prepare for disasters. In his brilliant blog and podcast we found an economist who talks so everyone can understand. 

Anna Rosling’s Dollar Street and One Hundred Homes both presented images of what poverty looks like in India and around the world. 

We found joy, humour, nerd gold and music

We read this graphic-rich analysis of infection risk in different scenarios and cancelled all weekend plans.

We learned that rich people hate paying taxes too and read this fascinating account of how “with the devotion of a diehard fan and a detective’s eye for detail” Spanish tax authorities used social media to corner Shakira for tax evasion to the tune of €14.5 million. We learned how tax evasion by the rich is a problem not solved by giving money to charity. 

We learned to stop moaning and read this FT piece on how others have it worse--of struggles with “coronacarbs” and the challenges of finding the right work wardrobe when your Chanel tweed blazer just won’t do. 

Finally, we discovered magic and grace in this fabulous Bhojpuri rap song that captured all the emotions, angst and complexities of the migrant crisis. Performed by Bollywood star Manoj Bajpayee, the song moved us to tears as we watched it for the sass, the heartbreak and the goosebumps.

That’s it from us this year. If you’ve enjoyed reading our newsletters, please take a moment to tell people about it.

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Amee Misra
Contributing Editor, IndiaSpend

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