Some non-academic essays

Economics & Politics

Inequality, Justice, and Economics, Aug. 22, 2022, 3 Quarks Daily. 25-min video version.

Excerpt: In the last two decades the topic of inequality has entered the public discourse across a broad spectrum of issues, with an urgency that is astonishing...Surprisingly, economists are not front and centre of this discussion...[because] today’s empirical economists don’t talk about justice. Why [not]?

When Autonomy Helps Team Performance — and When It Doesn’t (with Viktoria Boss, Linus Dahlander, Christoph Ihl), December 1, 2022, Harvard Business Review.

Excerpt: From GitHub to Google, companies are increasingly adopting policies that allow teams substantial autonomy over both who they work with and what they work on. This can help employees to feel greater levels of ownership over their work, thus boosting creativity and innovation — but recent research suggests it’s easy to take autonomy too far. In a new study, the authors found that teams which were allowed to choose both the composition of their groups and the ideas they worked on actually performed substantially worse than those who were only allowed to choose either teammates or ideas (but not both). Based on this surprising finding, the authors argue that the question managers should ask themselves is not whether they should give teams autonomy, but what kind of autonomy they should give them. Instead of becoming obsessed with autonomy above all else, the authors suggest that managers should take a more nuanced approach and think critically about which areas will benefit from autonomy — and which will not.

Market Power, Jan. 10, 2022, 3 Quarks Daily.

Excerpt: [I]f my support for minimum wages rested on my commitment to social justice, the prospect of this policy instrument causing a dramatic increase in unemployment would give me pause...The good news is that a large body of economic research from rich countries indicates that, for the most part, unemployment hasn’t increased dramatically with the introduction of higher minimum wages.

Prime Minister Modi--What Gives? May 31, 2021, 3 Quarks Daily.

Excerpt: I know someone...who is a Modi supporter. Personally, I have great affection for him. Politically, we are now like oil and water... In order to understand why people like him continue to support Modi—even now, as India is ravaged by the pandemic—I did something that I hadn’t done before. I asked him, and I listened without arguing.

Canada should be a leader in global vaccination and here is how to do that (with Peter Burns) May 10, 2021, Toronto Star.

Excerpt: How has Canada responded to India’s crisis? It has banned travel from India and offered $10 million in aid to its 1.4 billion people: equivalent to placing a dime on the doorstep and shutting the door. Needless to say, the door is not actually shut. The dominant variant in India is already present and spreading in Canada.

So, you "Stand by #FarmerProtests", April 5, 2021, 3 Quarks Daily.

Excerpt: Protesters worry that this leaves them vulnerable to powerful business interests. Like the Gauls in Asterix & Obelix, left at the mercy of the Roman empire, except…that smell wafting from the cauldron? It isn’t the druid’s magic potion that gives Gaulish warriors superhuman strength. It’s dal makhani. Delicious, but unlikely to level the playing field.

The Economic and the Social: Anatomy of a Contract Change in India (with Debraj Ray), July 26, 2017, VoxDev

Excerpt: In a variety of interactions, the economic and the social rub shoulders, often in uneasy co-existence...‘Extrinsic incentives’ linking performance to money may crowd out ‘intrinsic incentives’ to exert effort. Is the same true of paid employees in organisations governed by the profit motive?

Culture & Identity

Raji Cells, October 17, 2022, 3 Quarks Daily, Audio version

Excerpt: The first haematopoietic, or blood-derived, human cell line was named for a Nigerian boy who died of Burkitt’s Lymphoma in 1963. His name was Raji.

Rite of Passage, May 2, 2022, 3 Quarks Daily.

Excerpt: Embarking on a road trip destined for a deserted strip of land on India’s southern coastline had never been on our radar. Neither had we imagined making such a trip in order to consecrate our mother’s ashes to the sea.

Canadian Club, March 7, 2022, 3 Quarks Daily.

Excerpt: I arrived in this city that seemed engineered for inclusion, fully expecting to be embraced into its fold. Turns out, just because society is mixed doesn’t mean it wants to mix with you.

The Death of Waggy, July 26, 2021, 3 Quarks Daily.

Excerpt: That year, we had a house guest. Anand bhaia was a Bengali-Fijian priest and, it being December, our parents adopted his Christmas traditions with gusto. We were unenthusiastic, but our parents insisted on our active participation. "Atithi Devo Bhava,” our mother explained. A guest is God. The irony of this Hindu foundation for her embrace of Christianity was not lost on her but, blinded by indignation, we mistook her generosity for hypocrisy.

Plumbing the Depths, December 14, 2020, 3 Quarks Daily, Audio version

Excerpt: During the puja, our heads remained bowed. It was a pose that our parents mistook for devotion but was in fact calculated to avoid having the occasional jets of urine, emanating from the bats housed in the pitch-black rafters overhead, from landing on our faces.

The Many Identities of Kamala Harris, August 24, 2020, 3 Quarks Daily.

Excerpt: Kamala Harris resembles nothing so much as a Hindu God whose multiple heads are being revealed one-by-one in some kind of elaborate magic trick. I’m totally fine with this, and I suspect most other Indians are too.

Cultural Aphasia, July 27, 2020, 3 Quarks Daily, Audio version

Excerpt: Over the last few decades, numerous Indian states and cities in the field have been re-christened, mostly because the British romped around the planet mispronouncing names and then spelling them accordingly. I’ve spent a long time trying to decide whether their misspellings are a mark of a. carelessness, b. arrogance, or c. disrespect. My best guess is d. all of the above.

Nudity, June 29, 2020, 3 Quarks Daily, Audio version

Excerpt: Tourists visit Germany for four main reasons...The fourth is naked people.

Gender & Race

Minding the Gender Wage Gap, September 20, 2021, 3 Quarks Daily

Excerpt: [E]qual pay for equal work is very important, and it’s a battle worth fighting. But it’s not going to win the war because, very often, the premise of that statement is flawed. Work is not equal to begin with.

Girls and Math (with Peter Burns), February 8, 2021, 3 Quarks Daily

Excerpt: Girls don’t start school hating math or doing worse at it than boys. Then, somewhere in elementary school, this changes for many girls and in some (though not all) countries, a gender gap in math performance appears....[Then] kids hit high school where they get to choose their subjects, and the great divergence is set in motion. Girls disproportionately opt out of math-intensive subjects. From there, there’s really no turning back. Girls tend to study subjects, and graduate with degrees in fields, that have lower math requirements. In the U.S., women receive only about a quarter of bachelor’s degrees in physics, engineering and computer science; the pattern persists in graduate school. That there are tragically few women in these professions, is a logical consequence.

Systemic Racism -- Vicious Circles (with Larry Blume), November 16, 2020, 3 Quarks Daily

Excerpt: The blunt reality is that vicious circles are pervasive, pernicious, and hard to break out of. The adaptive capacity of individuals in such systems to adjust to their circumstances, be they good or bad, makes system outcomes resilient to change. If indeed “The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism”, the Biden-Harris administration will have to address this kind of systemic racism with social policies that work at large enough scale to be truly disruptive.

Racial Disparity & Racial Bias, October 19, 2020, 3 Quarks Daily

Excerpt: Evidence that racial disparities can be attributed to statistical discrimination gives me no joy. But it does give me a modicum of hope that something can be done to reduce disparities.