New data on demonetization

[Epistemic status: I’m more uncertain about the costs and benefits of demonetization than I was in 2016, but I still think it did more harm than good and this data seem to vindicate that.]

In 2016, the Indian government “demonetized” eighty-six percent of its currency notes—₹500 and ₹1,000 banknotes. In other words, it declared them to no longer be legal tender. The logic was two-fold: (1) Reduce tax fraud and tax evasion by being able to more effectively track black money. (2) Move toward a society that was more cash-free and more based on digital transactions, which are easier to track, less vulnerable to theft, and increase the central bank’s control over the money supply.

I have written two articles criticizing this in the past. One, which I wrote for Feminism in India, was suggesting that it had a disproportionate negative short-term impact on women and the LGBTQ+ community. The other, written for my previous blog, was a more generic criticism. My epistemic status, as indicated above, is now more uncertain.

New data from the RBI suggest that the “demonetization gap”—that is, the difference between the amount of cash in circulation prior to demonetization and the amount of cash in circulation now—has shrunk substantially. Here’s JP Koning on Twitter. This seems to suggest that demonetization has been largely ineffective in achieving outcome (2), at least.

H/T: This was in Marginal Revolution’s links for May 9, 2019.

Right-libertarianism and restorative justice

Mainstream philosophical libertarians posit an ethical theory that contains the following features:

1) A variant of Mill’s harm principle—such as the non-aggression principle (NAP)—which says that all actions are morally justified except those that cause active harm to the negative rights of other non-consenting individuals. It is justifiable, however, to engage in aggression to correct for a previous violation of someone’s negative rights.

2) Property rights are important because of moral desert. Many people, like Taylor Swift, Serena Williams, and Jeff Bezos, earned their wealth by creating value for other people—whether through great music, entertaining sports play, or convenient online shopping. Thus, it is morally dubious that, for example, the state has the right to take away a significant chunk of this rightfully earned wealth and redistribute it, even if said redistribution is desirable in utilitarian terms. This includes inheritance, because it represents a choice made by someone who deserves the wealth.

Most modern right libertarians represent a less extreme version of these two viewpoints—they surely believe that we should care for the poorest people in society through some redistribution and we need a minimal state, perhaps even more than a monarchist state, to correct for market failures.

But I’m not convinced that most wealthy individuals morally deserve their wealth—not because they themselves did anything wrong, but because it often comes from previous violations of property rights. Lots of wealthy families profited out of conditions created by things like colonialism and slavery. The descendents of these families were born into relative social privilege, often, that enabled their current success (to the extent that many of them are successful). They aren’t culpable for colonialism and slavery, or for the wrong actions of their ancestors, to be sure. But the libertarian standard values inheritance—and the people today who would have otherwise inherited this wealth are now often the most unprivileged and disenfranchised.

Thus, it occurs to me that the non-aggression principle would allow for the radical redistribution of private property as it would be correcting a previous violation of the non-aggression principle—it would be morally equivalent to enforcing current property rights, at least in a rough and imperfect way. But this imperfect conclusion, from a libertarian perspective, seems more moral than not engaging in redistribution.

I’m not a libertarian and I do not endorse radical redistribution of property, but it seems that libertarians should get their story straight when discussing issues such as taxes and moral desert. I’m sure there are compelling objections to this that I haven’t thought of—but food for thought.

Current projects (1)

This is just a compilation of what I’m working on at the moment.

Research

I’m no professional academic—I’m a mere high school student—but I thought I’d give it a shot anyway. First, I’m reading loads of studies and trying to write a paper comparing four models of regulating prostitution—legalization, decriminalization, partial criminalization, and complete criminalization.

Second, I’m doing a similar thing with guaranteed minimum income proposals (basically a means-tested UBI) and whether they’d work in developing countries, especially ones with relatively low immigration, and whether they’d be an effective substitute for other in-kind welfare.

MOOCs

I’m planning on taking an introductory course in probability and statistics, as well as a course by Esther Duflo—whom I really admire—on data analysis for social scientists.

Textbooks

I’m currently working my way through Jeffrey Perloff’s Microeconomics: Theory and Applications with Calculus and Matt Golder, Sona Golder, and William Clark’s Principles of Comparative Politics. I also intermittently use Simon and Blume’s Mathematics for Economists and James Stewart’s Calculus: Early Transcendentals. 

I’m hoping to do Jonathan Gruber’s public finance textbook, a combination of Mishkin’s and Jones’s macroeconomics textbook (Mishkin’s text along with the chapter on DSGE models from Jones), and a textbook in econometrics (haven’t decided which—am looking mainly at Woolridge, Stock and Watson, and Angrist and Pischke) after I’m done with these two.

Relatively More Boring Things

I’m taking the SAT Subject tests in Math II and Biology in May, and AP exams in Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Comparative Politics (though I’m now wishing I registered for Calculus BC or Statistics, and regretting my choices).

Media diet (1)

My media diet this week. I’m going to be making a new post about my media diet every once in a while. I’m inspired, in this respect, by Luke Muehlhauser.

Books

Recently Read

  • Michael Sandel, Justice.
  • Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail.
  • Tyler Cowen, Stubborn Attachments.

Currently Reading

  • Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics. 

Eagerly Anticipating

  • Allison Schrager, An Economist Walks Into a Brothel.

Plan to Read Soon

  • Julia Serano, Excluded.
  • Charles Wheelan, Naked Statistics.
  • Diane Coffey and Dean Spears, Where India Goes.
  • Atul Gawande, Complications
  • Annie Lowrey, Give People Money

Articles

I recently read some really good material:

Videos

This video on human population is great: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsBT5EQt348

Music

I’ve been newly introduced to a bunch of songs by a friend. Really like them:

  • “All We Ever Knew” by The Head in the Heart.
  • “Ophelia” by the Lumineers.
  • “Cigarette Daydreams” by Cage the Elephant.
  • “You’re Somebody Else” by Flora Cash.

Apart from that, I rediscovered some old favorites:

  • “Gravity” by John Mayers.
  • “All That We See” by The Black Ryder.
  • “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star.
  • “Promise” by Ben Howard.

Congress’s guaranteed minimum income

No, not the US Congress, the Indian National Congress.

The Indian National Congress has proposed a guaranteed minimum income scheme. It has sometimes inaccurately been described as a UBI, but this proposal would involve means-tested unconditional cash transfers (though, with an appropriate tax structure, a UBI and a GMI would effectively be the same thing).

Capital in the Twenty-First Century author and prominent French economist Thomas Piketty is joined by J-PAL co-founder and MIT economist Abhijit Banerjee in helping the Congress with formulating their proposal.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Here’s some interesting reading on both sides of the issue:

  • Scott Alexander compares a basic income with jobs guarantee schemes.
  • Simon Sarris’s initial article on why jobs guarantees are better than basic incomes and his subsequent response to Scott Alexander.
  • Tyler Cowen on why he changed his mind on a universal basic income.
  • A debate on Debate.org on the subject of a guaranteed minimum income.
  • Put a Number on It defends Andrew Yang and the UBI.

There’s a lot of interesting discussion on this elsewhere on the Internet as well.

Survey on sexual harassment

I know I’ve been posting a lot about sexual harassment and gender issues: I promise I’ll diversify my subject matter with my next long post.

However, until then, here’s a survey about sexual harassment that I’d appreciate if you could fill.

“Men’s rights” and male sexual assault

My article for Feminism in India about how the men’s rights movement hurts male survivors of sexual assault has been published. You can view it here. Here’s an excerpt:

The same principles that these organizations apply to women and non-binary people, in terms of disbelief of accusations and outing their identities, also apply to men who have been sexually assaulted. The message is clear – the interests of the two-percent who are falsely accused matter more than the interests of the victims of the ninety-eight percent who are not.

[…]

[P]atriarchal systems of oppression – which men’s rights movements declare as illusory or non-existent – also oppress male survivors of sexual assault. Masculine gender socialisation means that men are taught that they cannot be ‘vulnerable’ or ‘powerless’ and thus cannot be sexually assaulted. Pop culture displays male sexual assault as something to be mocked. A study by Whatley and Riggio in 1993 found that male survivors are likely to be blamed for what happened to them. In short, patriarchal norms of ‘masculinity’ and ‘aggression’ have spread myths about the existence of male sexual assault that make it hard for male survivors.

The principle of charity

This is a pretty cliché thing for blogs to say when they’re new. I’m going to say it anyway.

If you watched the Julia Galef TED talk I linked in post #1, you’d know that I think it’s really important to be willing to constantly reevaluate positions on issues, and to maintain epistemic humility about your current position on said issues.

An important area, in real life, to apply that, in my view, is in real life arguments.

I’m a high school “formal debater” – complete with coaches and tournamnent experience and everything. The way formal debate works is there’s two teams (or two individuals) on opposite sides arguing each other in a series of speeches for a while. After that, a judge makes a decision about who won and explains why. In debate, we’re often told to be charitable to our opponents. To say, “the best version of our opponents’ case is X; now I’m going to explain why X is wrong,” often followed by a snide “keep in mind, though, that our opponents didn’t actually make the point this well.” But in debating, it’s really hard to be charitable for a long enough period of time. Debaters tend only to be charitable to the other side to the extent that the judge is likely to be charitable to the other side. It’s very rare to see debaters actually construct the complete, fantastic argument that their opponents should have made and then rebut it.

This is for two reasons.

First, it’s difficult to come up with an argument for the other side that easily. This is a problem I often had in prep time. It’s a common mistake to start off prep time looking at the debate exclusively from the lens of your team, such that, when you’re thinking of arguments from the other side, you’re still subconsciously doing it from the lens of “which arguments should I think of which would help us win the debate” – which means you end up thinking of weak versions of the other side’s case.

Second, even when you do come up with the argument, it’s hard to rebut it. It obviously takes more effort to rebut a well-made version of the argument. It’s much easier to rebut the version made by the other side, even when the other side’s version is weaker, and to mock them about how their version isn’t a good one.

I’m not going to talk about whether it’s good strategy in a debate to be 100% charitable or where that line should be.

However, in a real life argument, we should always be open to changing our own opinions. Winning an argument is a good thing because it reaffirms a previously held position; losing an argument is also a fantastic thing because it forces you to scrutinize your current worldview. Both of these situations help you come closer to the truth.

My position is that you should make the strongest version of your argument and also the strongest version of the argument of the other side, and compare the two. Arguments in real life aren’t about winning. They’re about getting closer to the truth. Therefore, placing a high level of scrutiny on your own arguments and being as charitable as possible to the person you’re arguing against is good.

Scott Alexander of SlateStarCodex explains:

“Absurdity is the natural human tendency to dismiss anything you disagree with as so stupid it doesn’t even deserve consideration. In fact, you are virtuous for not considering it, maybe even heroic! You’re refusing to dignify the evil peddlers of bunkum by acknowledging them as legitimate debate partners. Charity is the ability to override that response. To assume that if you don’t understand how someone could possibly believe something as stupid as they do, that this is more likely a failure of understanding on your part than a failure of reason on theirs.”

And that’s all on charity, for now. I hope you have a good day, a day filled with learning new things, even if they contradict things you thought you knew before.

Hello

I’ve blogged before. So, the point of this new blog is for me to blog with a bit more epistemic humility – and being a bit more willing to question my own opinions. That’s pretty much it. 

I wrote a longer version of this earlier, but it seems to have been deleted and I can’t find this. In any case, I’m going to be try to be regular with posts (and to remember to always write them in Google Docs so I don’t lose them).

In other news, here’s a TED talk by Julia Galef that I found interesting.