New Episodes out every Monday
The turbulence in the world economy today is enabled by the same phenomenon that caused the 2008 financial crisis, and was perversely also a response to that crisis: Easy Money. Vivek Kaul, author of the Easy Money trilogy, joins Amit Varma in episode 56 of The Seen and the Unseen to explain the damage irresponsible governments can do to the economy.
It is important to always question received wisdom. In episode 55 of The Seen and the Unseen, libertarian thinker Yazad Jal joins Amit Varma to challenge the commonly held view on five subjects. Listen in and see if you agree with him.
The Budget presented by the government of India is an annual ritual that millions of people tune in to. What was the 2018 budget like? Pavan Srinath and Pranay Kotasthane, staff writers of Pragati, join Amit Varma to offer their quick analysis, and to supplement the budget coverage at Pragati.
Narendra Modi famously invoked a pakoda seller last week when he spoke about job creation in India. How apt is that invocation? Columnist Vivek Kaul, who coined the term ‘Pakodanomics’, and economist Shruti Rajagopalan join Amit Varma in episode 53 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss the prime minister, the pakoda seller and India’s job problem.
Also read: Why Pakodanomics is Not the Answer to Creating Employment -- Vivek Kaul
Modern India's greatest shame is that even after 70 years of Independence, we still haven't solved the problem of caste. Shruti Rajagopalan joins Amit Varma in episode 52 of the Seen and the Unseen to shed light on some of the ways in which we have messed up at an institutional level.
The chess program Alpha Zero made waves recently when it taught itself chess in four hours -- and then thrashed the strongest chess engine in the world, Stockfish. This illustrated a dramatic advance in Artificial Intelligence. Devangshu Datta joins host Amit Varma in episode 51 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about its impact for both chess and AI.
Also read: The New World Upon Us -- Amit Varma
Indian politics is complex to the point of being almost unfathomable. JP Narayan, that rare public intellectual who also embraced electoral politics, joins Amit Varma in episode 50 of The Seen and the Unseen to share his learnings.
Social media has enabled everyone to have a voice -- but no one listens any more. In episode 49 of The Seen and the Unseen, Amit Varma examines why our political discourse is so polarised. One particular bugbear of his is the tendency to shift the focus from the argument to the person, and he outlines a few different ways in which people personalise arguments.
For almost two decades, V Ravichandar has been "a civic evangelist and a patron saint of lost causes" fighting to reform local government in our cities. He joins Amit Varma in episode 48 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about the lessons he has learnt, and what keeps him going.
Poker and stock markets are very similar -- and both holds lessons for life. Ace investor Mohit Satyanand joins former poker pro Amit Varma in episode 47 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss how both disciplines reveal the flawed machinery of the human brain.
Also read: The archives of Amit's poker column for the Economic Times, Range Rover,
We live in times when media is fragmented and there is no consensus on the truth any more. Journalism has become a race to give people what they want to believe. What are we to do? Prem Panicker joins Amit Varma in episode 46 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss the State of the Media.
Over the last few years, the BJP has built the most formidable election machine in human history. Prashant Jha, author of the book 'How the BJP wins', joins Amit Varma in episode 45 of The Seen and the Unseen to break down the elements behind their success.
It is well known that the key cause of Delhi's smog is the 'stubble' burnt every year by Punjab's farmers. Vivek Kaul joins Amit Varma to discuss the bad incentives in play, how government sops might have caused this problem, and what can be done about it.
Natasha Badhwar, the author of a celebrated parenting column, recently released her moving book, 'My Daughter's Mum.' In episode 43 of The Seen and the Unseen, she joins Amit Varma to discuss the process of parenting, writing about it, and the Seen and Unseen Effects of Parenthood.
To celebrate Richard Thaler's Nobel Prize, behavioural econ geek Nidhi Gupta joins Amit Varma in episode 42 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss key concepts from the field -- all of which explain many of the Unseen Effects of our actions, and the way we're wired.
Cricket has been transformed in the last four decades, first because of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, and then recently by the IPL. Noted cricket writers Gideon Haigh and Prem Panicker join Amit Varma in episode 41 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss the enormous impact of this commercialisation.
Also Read: The Cricket War by Gideon Haigh.
Many of the things wrong with India's economy today are Unseen Effects of Demonetisation and the botched design of GST. Vivek Kaul join joins Amit Varma in episode 40 of The Seen and the Unseen to take stock.
Episode 2: Demonetisation
Episode 3: GST (Goods and Services Tax)
Episode 28: GST Revisited
Episode 32: NPAs (Non-Performing Assets)
Amit Varma's Twitter thread with links to all his pieces on Demonetisation.
Why don't Indians eat out as much as people in other countries do? Karthik Shashidhar joins Amit Varma in episode 39 of The Seen and the Unseen to explain how we landed up in an equilibrium in which our restaurants prefer 'tasty' to 'healthy'.
The Foreign Trade Policy 2015-2020 is an example of a policy that harms those it is meant to help. Sudhanshu Neema joins Amit Varma in episode 38 of The Seen and the Unseen to explain why.
Obamacare is almost an article of faith for elite American liberals, but it has had devastating Unseen Effects. Economist Sudhanshu Neema, who joins host Amit Varma on episode 37 of The Seen and the Unseen, believes that it was responsible for Trump coming to power. Listen up!
Special Economic Zones are usually set up with the best intentions: to attract businesses and create employment. But what are their Unseen Effects? Karthik Shashidhar joins host Amit Varma in episode 36 of The Seen and the Unseen.
Also check out: Karthik Shashidhar's book, Between the Buyer and the Seller.
In episode 35 of The Seen and the Unseen, economist and lawyer Shruti Rajagopalan explains why there were three Bhopal Gas Tragedies, not just one.
Also read: Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Paternalism and Filicide (pdf link) -- Shruti Rajagopalan
Isn't surge pricing exploitative? Shouldn't it be banned? Karthik Shashidhar joins Amit Varma to speak about the Unseen Effects of price caps. He also describes how Uber turned an illiquid market into a liquid one.
Also check out: Karthik Shashidhar's book, Between the Buyer and the Seller.
How does the football transfer market work? Why do some players command insanely high transfer fees while others get nothing? Karthik Shashidhar joins Amit Varma to demystify this particular market.
Also check out: Karthik Shashidhar's book, Between the Buyer and the Seller.
Indian public sector banks have a notorious problem of non-performing assets, or NPAs. Vivek Kaul and Kumar Anand join Amit Varma to discuss the causes of this problem, and what can be done about it.
Also read: The Separation of Knowledge and Power -- Vivek Kaul
Our cities are in a mess. They are not in such bad shape because of corrupt individuals or apathetic citizens, but because our structures of governance are all messed up. Shruti Rajagopalan joins Amit Varma to explain why.
Why do real estate prices in India not fall when demand goes down and inventory stops moving? Vivek Kaul plays economic detective to help Amit Varma solve this mystery.
The government of India often fixes the prices of medicine in India so that poor people can afford them. Pavan Srinath joins Amit Varma to discuss the Unseen Effects of this, and how they can be ameliorated.
In Episode 3 of The Seen and the Unseen, we had discussed GST -- the Goods and Services Tax. Now that it's actually been implemented, Vivek Kaul joins Amit Varma to discuss its Seen and Unseen Effects.
Indian television is appalling, and the reasons for that go beyond culture. Renowned journalist Ashok Malik joins Amit Varma in episode 27 of The Seen and the Unseen to describe how government regulation has played its part.
Also read: Why Are Indian News Channels So Disappointing? -- Ashok Malik
The Right to Property is the underpinning of all our rights -- and yet, the Indian constitution does not consider it a Fundamental Right, though it once did. Constitutional expert Shruti Rajagopalan joins Amit Varma to discuss why this right is important, and the consequences of its being weakened in India.
Also read: Why We Need The Right To Private Property -- Shruti Rajagopalan
In episode 25 of The Seen and the Unseen, Kumar Anand and Vivek Kaul join Amit Varma to talk about the part farm-loan waivers play in keeping farmers in PPP: Perpetually Planned Poverty.
For all practical purposes, prostitution is banned in India, and looked down upon by society. Manasa Venkataraman joins Amit Varma to discuss the legal, moral and economic aspects of criminalising sex work.
Also read: 'Legalise Prostitution to Fight Trafficking' -- Amit Varma & Manasa Venkataraman
In 1969, Indira Gandhi carried out a wave of bank nationalisations with some excellent stated intentions. But what were the Unseen Effects? Mumbai-based economist Kumar Anand joins Amit Varma to discuss the structural flaws in the very concept of public sector banks.
China has become an influential force in India's neighbourhood recently. Is this something India should be worried about? Foreign policy expert Pranay Kotasthane joins Amit Varma to allay these fears.
Slums in India have been both demonized and deified. Some say they are an eyesore to the city; others say they are hotbeds of entrepreneurship. Pavan Srinath joins Amit Varma to take a deeper look at the role slums play in our society.
Many of the terrible policies followed by our government over the decades have one common unseen effect: a lack of jobs. India is headed for a jobs crisis, and Vivek Kaul joins Amit Varma to discuss why it has come about and what we can do to stop the slide.
The Right to Education Act sounds noble, but has caused devastation in schooling across the country. Vivek Kaul joins Amit Varma to discuss its Unseen Effects.
If you want to see the many ways in which the government resembles a hafta-extorting mafia, look no further than restaurant regulations. They come about with a noble stated intent, but end up harming both consumers and restaurants. Madhu Menon joins Amit Varma to talk about the intended consequences of restaurant regulations.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna. All these are centrally sponsored government schemes with good intentions at their heart. But are good intentions enough? Pranay Kotasthane joins Amit Varma to discuss the Unseen Effects of Centrally Sponsored Government Schemes.
Like all technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will make humanity better off in the long run. But in the short run, it will cause much disruption, including mammoth job losses in India's services industry. Futurist Ramez Naam and policy wonk Pavan Srinath join Amit Varma to talk about the Unseen effects of AI.
For decades, there has been a stricture in Karnataka that non-Kannada films cannot be dubbed into Kannada. The idea behind this was to protect the local film industry -- but were the unintended consequences just the opposite? Pavan Srinath joins Amit Varma to discuss the Unseen effects of this ban on Kannada dubbing.
Rent control is a classic example of a regulation meant to help the poor that ends up hurting everyone. Alex Tabarrok joins Amit Varma to discuss how real estate in Mumbai would be so much cheaper if not for such government regulation.
It is a sad day for any democracy when MPs and MLAs sell themselves to the highest bidder. Horse-trading is monstrous. It was to prevent exactly this that the Anti-Defection Law was passed in 1985. But did it end up doing more harm than good to democracy? Barun Mitra joins Amit Varma to discuss the unseen effects of this famous legislation.
For decades now, India has either banned or heavily regulated futures markets in agriculture. The conventional wisdom is that futures markets can turn farmers into gamblers. But what if the Unseen Effect of such regulation is exactly the opposite? Karthik Shashidhar joins Amit Varma to chat about the unintended consequences of such well-intentioned but misguided regulation.
Mumbai is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and one of the reasons is that there is too little land and too much sky. Alex Tabarrok joins Amit Varma to discuss Mumbai's insanely low Floor Space Index (FSI), a key reason why real estate here is at such a premium.
Big Brother is watching you, and you have no protection. There has been much hype about how 'Digital India' will transform our lives, but there are unseen elements to it that should make you worry. Devangshu Datta joins Amit Varma to discuss why it is so alarming that there are no laws in India to protect privacy and defend against data theft.
Also read: A Billion Indians With Their Pants Off -- Devangshu Datta.
Jawaharlal Nehru once said that profit is a 'dirty word'. He wasn't alone in his distrust of the profit motive, which is effectively banned in education in India. Amit Varma chats with education reformer Parth Shah on why this thinking is misguided, and might be responsible for the pathetic state of education in India.
Healthcare in India is in a dismal state, and so is the state of medical education. Pavan Srinath joins Amit Varma to discuss the role of the Medical Council of India in this mess. Is it a responsible industry watchdog helping keep standards high -- or is it a part of the problem?
For any shopper in India, there is no acronym as comforting as MRP: Maximum Retail Price. When you see that on any packaged good, you feel assured that you won't be ripped off. But is it really that simple? Prithwiraj Mukherjee joins Amit Varma to discuss the seen and unseen effects of MRP.
On September 18, 2016, a group of terrorists attacked an Indian army brigade headquarters near the town of Uri in J&K. Nineteen people died, and there was immense pressure on the Indian government to retaliate. The prime minister, Narendra Modi, eventually launched what he described as 'surgical strikes', meant to be a show of strength and resolve. Defence analyst Pranay Kotasthane joins Amit Varma to discuss the Seen and Unseen effects of these surgical strikes.
Episode 5: This is All Because of Rupal Ben
A few years ago, a photo studio in Ahmedabad offered its customers free passport photographs. There was no catch, no small print. It was a free lunch. Amit Varma is joined by Mohit Satyanand, as they explore how this free lunch transformed financial regulation in India. They also discuss how bad incentives can lead to corruption becoming a cultural phenomenon.
The history of humanity is the story of an Expanding Circle: one in which the world gradually gets more and more globalised, and the movement of goods and labour becomes more and more free. But recent years have seen the rise of populists who, among their many follies, are suspicious of immigration. America, a land built by immigrants, just elected a demagogue who prefers walls to bridges.
In Episode 4 of The Seen and the Unseen, Amit Varma discusses Immigration with Shikha Dalmia. Are the demagogues right about immigration being a bad thing? Do immigrants take jobs away from locals? Are they a strain on resources? Should we build yuge walls?
Also read: Dalmia’s piece for Reason, ‘An Argument For Opening America’s Borders’ (pdf link).
There are two kinds of diversity in India, one good, and one not so good. Our greatest strength is our diversity of people and cultures and languages. But one of our great weaknesses is our diversity of taxes, across states and regions. We have so many different kinds of taxes that the cost of compliance is the most daunting cost for many businesses, and corruption is out of control. Also, taxes create friction in trade, and the costs are borne by consumers and businesses alike. It’s a negative-sum game.
The Goods and Services Tax (GST) was supposed to be the panacea that would get us out of this mess. While India has been one country since 1947, it hasn’t been one market, and the GST was expected to get us to that promised land. It has been many years in the making, though, and has become more and more convoluted in the process of political and bureaucratic negotiation. Thus, while the Seen Effects of a perfect GST would normally be excellent, the potential Unseen Effects of the GST in its evolving form could be quite messy.
In Episode 3 of The Seen and the Unseen, Devangshu Datta takes Amit Varma through the nuances of the GST and their possible implications.
On November 8, 2016, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi announced that 500- and 1000-rupee notes would cease to be legal tender from midnight that day. This removed 86% of the cash from circulation, an unprecedented event in human history. Demonetisation, as it was then called, or DeMon or Notebandi as it is also known, had humanitarian and economic effects that might take years to play out. In episode 2 of The Seen and the Unseen, Amit Varma is joined by Suyash Rai, an economic analyst from Delhi, as they examine whether demonetisation achieved any of its intended effects, and try to come to terms with some of its unintended (but foreseeable) consequences.
Both Varma and Rai have been early critics of this demonetization, and have written extensively on the subject. Some of their pieces:
Narendra Modi Takes A Great Leap Backwards—Amit Varma, The Times of India, November 20, 2016
The Humanitarian Cost Trumps Any Economic Argument—Amit Varma, India Uncut, November 24, 2016
The Rise and Fall of Emperor Modi—Amit Varma, Hindu Business Line, November 25, 2016
Three Reasons Why A Cashless Society Would Be A Disaster—Amit Varma, The Times of India, December 18, 2016
Narendra Modi Makes Some New Year Resolutions—Amit Varma, The Times of India, January 1, 2017
Tackling Black Money—Suyash Rai, NIPFP, November 17, 2016
A flawed policy: The real problem with demonetisation is not just in implementation—Suyash Rai, Scroll, November 22
The Demonetisation Decision: Event, Impact, Narrative and Meaning—Suyash Rai, The Wire, December 4, 2016
India has a panoply of laws that prevent corporations from getting into farming, and which prevent farmers from escaping agriculture, by virtue of not being able to sell their farm land for non-agricultural purposes. The Seen Effect of this is that they are protected from exploitation by rapacious capitalists. But are the Unseen Effects worse?
Amit Varma is joined by guests Pavan Srinath and Karthik Shashidhar, who explain that a key reason why Indian agriculture is in such a dreadful state today is the bad laws governing it set by different governments.
All public policies -- indeed, all actions by humans -- have two kinds of effects: those that are intended, and visible; and unintended consequences, which are invisible. The Seen and the Unseen is a podcast that aims to examine both the seen and the unseen effects of our action