Politics & the Nation
  • India's road network
    • India’s 3.2 million km road network is the second largest in the world.  Of this only 2% constitutes the famed Golden Quadrilateral highways.  
    • US has built about 46,000 miles in 12 years and China, 30,000 miles in half the time!
    • The total completion rate of the National Highways Development Programme stands at 28% overall or 9,165 km out of the proposed 31,755 km.
    • BTW do you know that the cost of building NHAI stretches has gone up from Rs 4-5 crore a kilometre to Rs 10 crore a kilometre?
  • Know anything about the "Prisoner's dilemma" in game theory?
    • This is one the most common examples cited to explain game theory.   Suppose the police arrest two people who have committed armed robbery together. But there is not enough evidence to book them. However, there is enough evidence to send them away for auto theft for two years. The chief inspector makes the following offer to each prisoner separately. 
      • If one prisoner confesses to the robbery, he goes scot free but the other prisoner gets ten years. 
      • If both confess, they get five years each. 
      • If neither confesses, then each gets only two years just for auto theft. This is also seen as optimal solution and least damaging for both. 
    • So what should the prisoners opt for?  This is the dilemma.
  • We did take a look at the gist of a couple of manifestos of political parties in recent times; didn't we?
    • What should a manifesto contain?  Shlould it contain promises, and more promises?  Or something else?  
    • Today's ET piece on the subject is worth a read.  Very well written.  Excellent.  Some excerpts:
    • One could argue that there is nothing wrong with populist promises so long as they benefit the poorer sections of society.  Perhaps, that is the case. However, the point here is not about the promises themselves as much as it is about the lack of policies in manifestos. Ideally, manifestos should be more of documents of proposed governance rather than a compendium of promises. If parties are really serious about benefiting the populace then they would do well to spell out not just the outcome (a TV in every household is just an outcome) but more importantly the policy (In the case of the free TV example the underlying policy, one supposes, might read as the need to provide entertainment to the masses) which determined this outcome. The difference between policy and outcomes is an important one because policy is an indicator of the dominant thinking prevalent whereas outcomes can only be judged once the dominant thinking is given the chance to govern. To focus on outcomes rather than policy is to put the cart before the horse. 
    • A good policy document has to also demonstrate why a particular policy has found favour. For example, the party promising free TV sets rather than free schooling would also (assuming that it is serious about serving the populace) explain why entertainment is more important in its policy framework than say, education. 
Finance & Economy
  • What explains the plunge in sugar prices?
    • For the first time in India, wholesale sugar prices have dipped below the industry’s cost of production at a time when the output is far below domestic consumption, 155 lakh tonnes versus 220 lakh tonnes in 2008-09. Plus, the early estimate for the 2009-10 sugar season is only 200 lakh tonnes.  Given these realities, sugar prices should raise; know?  But why are they falling?
    • Seek the answers in elections.  How did the government manipulate to keep the sugar prices low?  
      • Government's policy of duty-free imports of sugar and limits on how much of sugar a mill can hold, depressed the prices. 
  • Why can't the government place bonds directly (aka private placement) with the RBI to raise resources?
    • Because the country has adopted the FRBM Act.  Doing such private placement now, will need an amendment to the Act.
  • Some lessons in futures trading.
    • What is contango?
      • It is the premium that a far month contract quotes to the front month because traders are willing to store/hold the commodity for a better price in the future.
    • Who are momentum traders?
      • Those who buy and sell a commodity at predetermined levels.
  • An excellent graphic that explains the latest US administration plan of detoxifying banks' bad assets.  Take a look.
Language lessons
  • teeter: Verb
    • Move unsteadily, with a rocking motion