Categories
Economics VATSANALYSIS

Do we perform better when we are rewarded?

You are given a wax-candle, a box of matches and a box of pins. These are placed on a table next to a wall. Without using anything else, you have to fix the candle on the wall and light it in a way that no wax drips down the table. How would you solve this problem?

The above is called the Candle Problem. Two groups were asked to solve it. One of the groups was promised some money if they finished the task in a given time. The other group could take as long as they wanted; they weren’t getting any money whether they solved it or not.

Which group do you think finished the task faster?

The group that was not given any monetary incentive took lesser time to solve! I know, I know.

You can watch the above video to understand what explains this non-intuitive result but the short answer is – when a task requires creative thinking, we perform worse when working for a reward (think performance bonus). A reward leads to a bias called “functional fixedness” that makes us slower at coming up with creative solutions.

The speaker in the above video goes on to add that when the task is a straightforward one (simple set of rules + clear destination), then monetary incentive does lead to better performance.

Let me now flip the original question – do we become more productive when our earnings are taxed less?

For example, would the top 1% rich in the world be any less productive / innovative if we increased their taxes?

There is this ‘intuitive’ prevalent belief that low tax rates are necessary at the top, because the likes of Ambani need to be given the incentive to work hard, be creative, and launch the next Jio to change the game for everyone.

But the sad truth is that there is no evidence this actually happens, as Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo investigate and observe in their book – Good Economics for Hard Times.

There is absolutely no relationship between the depth of the cut between the 1960s and 2000s in a country and the change in growth rate in that country during the same period.

Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo – Good Economics for Hard Times

One of the possible reasons why the rich continue making more money even when you tax them is that a rich person who makes 100X more than a poor person is not really working 100X times harder or innovating 100X times more.

Click on the image to read the full article (could be behind paywall)

Since the major chunk of all the money that the rich person makes, is simply not coming from his / her efficiency (or productivity), even if they feel like not working as hard because of higher tax (hypothetical scenario), it does not cause any significant dent in their overall earnings.

The speaker in the below TED talk also suggests the same (just watch the first three minutes if you are pressed for time).

By the way, if a person A who makes 100X more than a person B, is not not really creating 100X value compared to B (or anywhere even close to that), what explains the income difference? Rent seeking is one of the answers.

‘To put it baldly,’ says the economist Joseph Stiglitz, ‘there are two ways to become wealthy: to create wealth or to take wealth away from others. The former adds to society. The latter typically subtracts from it, for in the process of taking it away, wealth gets destroyed.’ Rent seeking is nothing more than a polite and rather neutral-sounding way of referring to what I call ‘accumulation by dispossession’.

[…]

As Stiglitz remarks, ‘Some of the most important innovations in business in the last three decades have centered not on making the economy more efficient but on how better to ensure monopoly power or how better to circumvent government regulations intended to align social returns and private rewards.

Harvey, David – Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism

If you are someone who knows more about Economics than me and find some of my arguments faulty, do let me know. Over the past few months I have been trying to understand how much of the outrage against the rich getting richer, is justified. Growing inequality is bad, but do we blame Ambani for that or the government? There is a lot that I am still reading and my perspective at this point in time is definitive by no means. Also, I don’t want to imply that all that Ambani does is make money by rent-seeking. I am sure he is also generating real value. But how much? Does the increase in the amount of wealth of the top 1% (or the top 0.1% or the top ten) truly reflect the increase in value that they generate? So far, all that I have read tells me – clearly not.

Let me end this post with a profound statement Nick Hanauer makes in the above embedded TED video – “people are not paid what they are worth; they are paid what they have the power to negotiate”.

Categories
Economics VATSANALYSIS

Does democracy make it difficult to introduce useful reforms?

NITI Ayog’s CEO Amitabh Kant was all over the news recently for the one line that he said in a video interview (that you can still see on Youtube) – “we are too much of a democracy”.

The context: relationship between dealing with democratic decision-making and ability to usher in “hard reforms”. Kant seemed to suggest an inverse correlation – the more democracy there is, the harder it is to introduce reforms. But is it really true?

Last week, I was having a conversation with a startup founder who said something similar. I don’t remember the exact words, but let me share an extract from a World Bank paper that sums up this intuitive logic that many seem to hold.

Reforms are often unpopular because they tend to reduce living standards in the short run. Even reforms that increase overall prosperity (measured in GDP growth) may be unpopular if compensation schemes for the losers are not credible; and if benefits are far in the future and costs more immediate.

These problems are compounded by the fact that democracies offer more channels of protest and influence on policy-making to subordinate groups than authoritarian regimes. Democratic rule may fragment decision-making authority among branches of government, allowing opponents of reform to interfere more easily with program design.

In contrast, authoritarian governments have less need to respond to either popular opinion or vested interests and hence can more readily base their decision on criteria of economic rationality. They are better able to make long-run plans than are democratic governments tied to electoral cycles; and have greater centralization of power that facilitates the implementation of reforms.

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, 2016

Now comes the twist – this same World Bank paper goes ahead and analyzes 140+ countries to see if data supports this hypothesis and the answer is – NO! There is in fact robust evidence for a positive link between democracy and growth-enhancing reforms. A move from below-average to above-average level of democracy for example, increases the probability of reform by 20% +

Source: World Bank

Another paper from 2010 had a similar conclusion. The authors plotted a) the global democratic index from 1960 to 2004 and b) reform index for the same period (feel free to read up on how these indices were calculated in the linked paper). Almost always, the two graphs matched – implying that the more democratic the world gets, more reforms happen.

Now this is just a correlation, so causation may be debated but what the above charts show, is still significant – a belief that ‘hard reforms’ happen better in non-democratic setups is not backed by any statistical evidence.

So now we know the link between democracy and reforms. What about growth? Do democratic countries grow faster? Data says – yes. Below is a graph from a study by MIT, published last year.

So even when data doesn’t justify less democracy for the sake of better reforms / growth, why do some folks believe so? Amitabh Kant may have an agenda but what about the startup founder who is extremely rational and wouldn’t last in the industry if he didn’t rely on hard data to make business decisions (his company has been doing good)?

In the same conversation that I mentioned earlier, he narrated to me the story of chewing-gum ban in Singapore that was brought in at a time when miscreants were using the gum to block metro doors. He remarked how radical changes like the chewing-gum ban are so difficult to introduce in a democracy like India. But what he was telling me was a story – one that fed his intuitive idea of how the world probably works (by focusing on exceptions than what usually happens).

There is a deep gap between our thinking about statistics and our thinking about individual cases.

[…]

…even compelling causal statistics will not change long-held beliefs rooted in personal experience.

Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, Fast & Slow

The “China growth story” is another example that makes it easy for many to resist looking at the aggregate global evidence. It is easier to give in to the urge to conclude that democracy in general comes in the way of reforms / growth without asking – is China an exception or a rule? Has China grown in spite of democracy or because of its absence? Most of us never ask these questions; we simply form our opinions and beliefs based on stories that sound reasonable and once the opinion is formed, data becomes irrelevant – stories are all that remain.

Categories
LHE

Does apologizing work?

This blog is part of my Learnings from Human Experiments (LHE) series

The authors of an Oct 2019 paper in Behavioral Public Policy did a social experiment in which respondents (in USA) were given two versions of two real-life controversies involving public figures. Approximately half of the participants read a story that made it appear as if the person had apologized, while the rest were led to believe that the individual had stood firm.

In the first experiment, where the public figure was a politician, hearing that he had apologized for his comments on civil rights did not change whether respondents were less likely to vote for him. Essentially, had he not apologized, he would have done as well!

In the second experiment, when presented with two versions of the controversy surrounding Larry Summers and his comments about women scientists and engineers, liberals and females were more likely to say that he should have faced negative consequences for his statement when presented with his apology (the effects of the apology on groups other than liberals and women were smaller or neutral).

So net net, when a prominent figure apologizes for a controversial statement, public in general is either unaffected or becomes more likely to desire that the he/she be punished! If you are a public figure – don’t apologize; doesn’t work!

Categories
LHE

Metaphors and neural regions

This blog is part of my Learnings from Human Experiments (LHE) series

Having a rough day basically means the same as having a bad day, right? So does it matter how one says it? Apparently, yes. Brain-scans have illustrated that using metaphors / similes in sentences can make us feel different, than possible without them.

When participants in one study read the words ‘he had a rough day’, their neural regions involved in feeling textures became more activated, compared with those who just read ‘he had a bad day’.

In another study, those who read ‘she shouldered the burden’ had neural regions associated with bodily movement activated more than when they read ‘she carried the burden’.”

I learnt about this while reading The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr, and thought it was worth documenting here as part of my LHE series. That’s it – that’s the whole post. I hope this insight is useful to you when you frame a sentence next.

Categories
general

Slaves, sugar, honey and tea.

Did you know that the entire sugar industry in the Americas, until the mid-nineteenth century, was based on slavery?

Slaves were acquired from Africa and transported to the Americas to be exchanged for sugar. Sugar was then exported to England (and other parts of Europe). From there, the ships would carry goods to be exchanged for slaves in Africa. And then from Africa, the slaves were transported to America (the Caribbean) to work on sugar plantations. This became known as the ‘Triangle Trade’.”

I found out about this while reading Sugar: A Global History by Andrew F. Smith. The way we consume sugar all the time, even when it’s bad for our health*, fascinates me. And that’s why I felt like digging up some history books on this topic (haven’t found any worth recommending).

Honey, by the way is a relatively healthier option compared to refined sugar. But as we all read in news this week, most brands have apparently been cheating us!

Let me share one more history trivia (gathered from the same book). It’s about tea.

A random Bri-Tea-sh trivia!

During mid 17th century in England, tea was not common in houses (it was expensive). The well-to-do would visit coffee-houses to have tea there (same for coffee / chocolate). The lower classes would typically drink beer in taverns.

Only once the British East India Company began to import tea in bulk (annual imports increased from just a little over hundred thousand Kg in 1725 to almost 11 million Kg in 1800), did the price of tea fall below that of chocolate and coffee, and it became affordable for the middle class. So yeah, that’s how tea became England’s hot beverage of choice!

Now, here’s a quick question: for the not-so-well-to-do Britishers of the 18th century, what was their preferred sweetener for tea / coffee? Honey or sugar?

Right answer: Honey.

Yes, back then, honey was six to ten times cheaper than sugar!. Of course with time, the price of sugar kept falling (thanks to cheap slave labour / triangle trade) and its consumption rose from 2 kg per capita in early 1700 to 10 Kg per capita by beginning of 1800.

How much is the sugar consumption in UK today? Around 30 Kg per capita. What about India? 20. Not so sweet, right? That’s it – that was the blog.

Click on this image to open an interactive global sugar consumption map

*A quick summary of how sugar damages your health (this is not from the book; this is just basic knowledge that I have via reading, and discussions with folks from the fitness field).

Your body needs both calories and nutrients, for all the internal organs and muscles and other such things to be healthy and functional. Now technically you can consume pure sugar for calories and take all the required nutrients from different supplements but the thing with nutrients is that, there are just too many of them!

So it’s pretty much impossible to consume all that’s needed by your body, through tablets. The best and easiest and cheapest and full-proof way to supply all kinds of nutrients to your body is to just eat food that has less sugar (or carb – which gets converted to sugar) and more nutrients (vegetables > whole grain rice and wheat > maida > sugar).

When your body converts the vegetable you eat to sugar, it also ends up absorbing all the nutrients in that vegetable and you stay healthy. But when you eat just sugar, you end up providing calories to your body without nutrients. See the issue?

Even when you eat both sugar and vegetable, your body will ignore the vegetable and rather take the calories from sugar directly (nobody wants to work hard, you see). So the vegetable gets wasted. And doing this as a habit (offering the option of sugar to your body) leads you on a path of cumulative nutrient deficiency. Over time, your organs get unhealthy and you die. So yeah, in short, this is the primary way sugar fucks you up. There are other ways it harms too (by making you diabetic for example), but let that be for some other time!

Categories
general

Brandolini’s principle and vaccines – what’s the connection?

Brandolini’s principle states that ‘the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than [that needed] to produce it’. But what does that have to do with vaccines? Read on!

I found this out while reading an interesting book – Calling Bullshit – by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West.

Within the field of medicine, Brandolini’s principle is exemplified by the pernicious falsehood that vaccines cause autism.

Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West – Calling Bullshit

I had to look up the meaning of pernicious by the way! 😀 It means something that is highly injurious or has destructive consequences. Lovely word – can be used to describe most of BJP’s policies! 😛

Anyway so I looked at data from USA and even when only a small percentage of the overall population seems to be definitive about vaccination causing autism in children, way many are ‘unsure’!

Look at the below graph that I created from a Gallup survey data. Only post-grads are mostly clear that vaccines don’t cause autism (longest yellow bar); next best are 18-29 year olds.

Chart created by Amrit Vatsa; data source – Gallop

The trend is even bad – while currently 10% of U.S. adults believe vaccines cause autism in children, in 2015 only 6% used to.

The Calling Bullshit book tells us that this misinformation about vaccines persists, due in large part, to a shockingly poor 1998 study published in The Lancet by British physician Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues.

THE WAKEFIELD FRAUD

There is a whole Wiki article on this scandal if you are interested, but let me quickly share what I read about it in the book, and how it connects to the Brandolini’s principle.

Wakefield’s research team raised the possibility that a syndrome involving autism paired with inflammatory bowel disease may be associated with MMR vaccine. MMR vaccine is given to children to save them from measles and mumps etc. Btw back in June, I had mentioned the developer of the MMR vaccine in my video on ‘why vaccine for Covid-19 is taking so long‘.

Anyway, back to Wakefield’s paper in The Lancet. It galvanized the contemporary “antivax” movement, created a remarkably enduring fear of vaccines, and contributed to the resurgence of measles around the world.

After millions of dollars and countless research hours devoted to checking and rechecking the Wakefield study, today it is one of the most utterly and incontrovertibly discredited studies done in the scientific world.

  • 2004 – ten co-authors of the paper formally retracted the “interpretations” section; the same year, Wakefield was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by Britain’s General Medical Council and his license to practice medicine in the UK was revoked.
  • 2010 – the paper was fully retracted by The Lancet.
  • 2011 – British Medical Journal editor in chief Fiona Godlee formally declared the original study to be a fraud, and argued that there must have been intent to deceive; mere incompetence could not explain the numerous issues surrounding the paper.

Wakefield eventually directed a documentary titled Vaxxed, which alleged that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was covering up safety problems surrounding vaccines. The film received a large amount of press attention and reinvigorated the vaccine scare.

Despite all the findings against Wakefield and the crushing avalanche of evidence against his hypothesis, Wakefield retains credibility with a segment of the public, and unfounded fears about a vaccine-autism link persist.

Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West – Calling Bullshit

What did this intentional misleading lead to? The US, which had nearly eliminated measles entirely, now suffers large outbreaks on an annual basis. Other diseases such as mumps and whooping cough (pertussis) are making a comeback.

So why has it been so hard to debunk the rumors of a connection between vaccines and autism?

This is Brandolini’s principle at work – explain the authors of Calling Bullshit. Researchers have to invest vastly more time to debunk Wakefield’s arguments than he did to produce them in the first place.

Alright, that’s the end of the story. What else comes to your mind when you think of Brandolini’s principle? Let me know!

Categories
general

Bhimbetka & the first modern humans in India

I was reading a pre-history book – Early Indians by Tony Joseph – when I stumbled upon the below paragraph.

If you want to get as close as possible to the lives of the first modern humans in India, one of the best places to go to is Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh’s Raisen district, about forty-five kilometres from the state capital, Bhopal.

Tony Joseph, Early Indians

The reason I got so excited about it was that just few weeks ago, my wife and I had named one of threada.in dresses, the Bhimbetka Dress! I had never heard of Bhimbetka before!

threada (pronounced thread-aa) is her clothing brand btw. I just help her in marketing and stuff, and of course photography and illustration. Anyway, back to the caves. Below is a photograph of one of the caves at Bhimbetka (sourced from Wikipedia). How old do you think these line-drawings (technical word is petroglyph) are?

Since I have never been to this place myself, let me borrow Joseph’s description to share more about these caves and the drawings / paintings we see there.

The caves were first occupied some 100,000 years ago! Ever since, the area has never lain vacant for too long.

The paintings are not well-dated, so it is quite likely that most of them, though not all, were made within the last few thousand years, rather than many tens of thousands of years ago. But there are a few petroglyphs that could be the earliest evidence of art created by members of the Homo species anywhere in the world – a few perfect cupules (small cup-like depressions) with lines beside them.

The location itself deserves a mention too. The overall area is spread over seven hills that are full of naturally occurring rock shelters. The elevation of the hills makes it possible for the residents to keep track of who is approaching them: food or predator, nilgai or leopard!

There are perennial springs, creeks and streams filled with fish; plenty of fruits, tubers and roots; deer, boar and hare; and as many quartzite rocks as you need to make all the tools you want.

In the world of early humans, this must have been the equivalent of a much sought-after luxury resort.

Tony Joseph on Bhimbetka Caves, Early Indians

Now here’s the big question – even when we know that the caves were first occupied about 100,000 years ago, do we know exactly when the first modern humans set foot in Bhimbetka (or, for that matter, in India)?

The answer to the above question is pretty much what the book Early Indians explores. Read it if you want to (I am yet to finish it – there is a lot of info in there and I am not really a pre-history reader as such, so going slow – this is probably the first book in this genre that I have picked up).

Is there any pre-history book that you want to recommend? Do let me know! Let me end this post with an overtly dramatic 7 min History channel video on Bhimbetka (it’s in Hindi though).

Categories
general

Many Indian children are left behind in education; do we know what needs to be done about it? Yes!

I read a very interesting article in this week’s Business Standard where Abhjijit Banerjee explains what India should be doing to improve the learning outcomes of majority of its schools.

To understand what one means by learning outcomes, do watch my below short-film – you will love it and it’s super insightful. Plus, it shows how the problem can be resolved in a sustainable way.

In this blog, I am sharing six insights from the Abhijit Banerjee interview, interspersed with few related short documentary films that I have made over the last few years.

#1 – The mindset needs to shift from focusing excessively on the curriculum.

The new National Education Policy (NEP) of India acknowledges that ‘learning-gap’ is a critical problem. In many places, Grade 5 children are at Grade 2 level, but they are taught as if that doesn’t make a difference. There is an overemphasis on completing the entire curriculum.

If the child is still struggling with reading, what sense will the curriculum make?

Abhijit Banerjee

As per Banerjee, the NEP also recognizes the importance of basic skills of reading and numeracy, but they have not been made explicit enough.

Let’s forget about infrastructure investments for now – testing children on basic competencies needs more focus.

Abhijit Banerjee – Business Standard interview

On the point of testing, let me share the story of a startup that I created some time back. They focus on the right way for teachers to test whether a child has really grasped a concept (the startup calls their service ‘Thinking Classrooms’). Simple but efficient. Also, this ‘testing’ can be done in every class instead of waiting for exams to find out what the children have learnt.

#2 – There is evidence to show that enough people don’t know about the benefits of education.

This was a pretty surprising insight for me (and I guess for you too). These insights are coming from a recent large scale study done by a newly formed Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel by World Bank. Banerjee is a panel member.

The panel waded through the several hundred interventions tried around the world to improve learning outcomes and then identified the most cost-effective ones. Here’s the full report if you want to check that out. The best and most credible ‘buys’ that have been identified, can be replicated by other countries – is the hope and intention.

Only after parents understand the benefits (which many don’t), they alter their behaviour in a manner that helps improve learning outcomes for the child.

#3 – India’s Right to Education (RTE) policy doesn’t care much about ‘outcomes’

It is almost exclusively focused on the size of playgrounds, classrooms etc. – trying to dictate brick and mortar standards for the schools instead of focusing on verifiable learning outcomes.

There is another major issue with implementing a super important aspect of RTE – getting underprivileged children to access good schools. I created the below story some time back to show how some folks are trying to solve this problem by sheer persistence.

#4 – Handing out tablets, computers and other similar devices to students by Govt. is a “bad buy”

ICT (Information & Communications Tech), unless you combine it with the right pedagogical tools, is pointless – shares Banerjee. There are things ICT can help with, but in a thought-out manner. Just handing out laptops or tablets with little or no guidance will probably not yield any great strides in learning.

Five years ago, I was flown to a village in Gujarat to show how ICICI bank was helping a village digitalize (so that I could bring out the story via my 3MS). I did notice a similar problem there as far as using ‘tech’ in the village school went. Digital devices had been issued to the village school – but it all looked a bit superficial. Watch below?

Banerjee shares that one of the interventions tried in Rajasthan – MindSpark (run by a private company), has proved effective with science and math learning, where it first identifies the stage at which the child is and then uses a personalized learning journey to take them to the next level.

#5 – India has an ‘elitist mindset’ issue – one of the primary reasons why so many children are left behind

A central education minister once told me that the idea that no child should be left behind is not something he sympathies with.

Abhijit Banerjee – Business Standard interview

A few privileged kids do well but the rest fall behind. The Indian education system often destroys the confidence of children in their own abilities – claims Banerjee. This reminds me of my story on Arvind Gupta – the below film literally opens with a very similar line about schools killing some important things in children.

THE VEGETABLE SELLER EXPERIMENT

Abhijit Banerjee and team conducted a small experiment in some markets in Delhi and Kolkata among young children selling vegetables. They had shoppers buying a few vegetables from each child in varying quantities. Almost all the children reverted with the exact change, meaning they were managing to multiply, total up and subtract within a few seconds. They were doing math, doing it mentally, and almost instantaneously and perfectly.

But when similar problems were given to children in a Delhi government school (incidentally, better than most other government schools), they had a hard time solving. The moment children start thinking they have to solve a math problem, they lose their confidence.

Talking about Delhi Govt. schools – below is a story I documented few years ago to show how they have been improving, year after year. The Education Alliance – a Delhi based non-profit has played a major role behind the transformation of many Govt. schools in Delhi by making it easier for non-profits to work with government.

#6 – India can learn a lot from Vietnam

Vietnam is a stellar example of a country that’s made a lot of progress in ensuring that no child is left behind. People tend to think Vietnam is a much smaller country than India, but Vietnam is like Bihar, with a population of around 100 million. And since many of the Indian states are much smaller than Vietnam, there’s no reason why every Indian state cannot replicate Vietnam’s success.

Many of the good buys identified in the report have in fact been tried in India. Some have worked but have not been fully implemented.

For instance, it is now understood that access to schooling is not a problem for younger kids – there are private and public schools that are easily accessible in villages. But for older children, especially girls, access to high schools can be a problem. In Bihar, the government’s initiative of offering bicycles to girls helped tremendously in this regard.

So yeah, these were the six insights that I gained from reading up the interview. Hope this was useful and you learnt something new. Also, do watch at least one of the films shared here – they are nice – you will like what you see.

Categories
general

The beginning of migrant hatred is often benign

I follow author Puja Mehra on twitter. She has written a nice book – The Lost Decade: 2008-2018. She tweeted this recently –

Now some of you may instinctively agree with her line of thought. I would like you guys to hold on to your instinct and read my blog with an open mind to understand why we fall for this trap that sounds logical in our head – but is driven more from irritation than logic, and is often the starting point of migrant hatred / fear.

In short what a local ends up saying is – ‘if you have so much of problem, fuck off. Nobody asked you to move in anyway’. Before I explain the problem with this logic, let me share a nice video that I made about Chennai few years ago. A lot of response to this video (you can go read the comment section on Youtube) had a similar problem.

Many who you see speaking in the above video were born and brought up in Chennai itself (including some Tamils). We didn’t mention this fact in the video. And if you don’t watch the whole thing, it may look like (especially to a local Chennaite) that ‘outsiders’ are unnecessarily cribbing about a ‘great’ city and so you will find several comments on the same line – ‘if you have so much of problem, fuck off. Nobody asked you to move in anyway’.

Here’s the logical error with such annoyance / hatred – the presumptuous illusion of choice!

Just because someone has moved to a city does not mean they had the choice to work anywhere in India. Some may have that choice, most don’t! Other than job, many move simply because of marriage. Even data supports this. The thing is, shittiniess / awesomeness of a city is not the most important factor basis which people relocate and for a vast majority, that’s hardly a choice!

Here’s the second problem with such ‘fuck off’ responses – they attack only those who are not originally from the city. If you are from the city, then well, what can they be told – they apparently don’t have a ‘choice’ because they are ‘originally’ from the place. But like really? You can’t move out of Delhi just because you were born in the city? Ask around who have been buying houses after houses in Goa!

Such kind of complaints by locals, sugar-coated with logic, are essentially an expression of annoyance. They might fail the logic-test but they make the person bitching about outsiders complaining about ‘their’ city feel good. But hey, I have a news. That is exactly why anyone complains!

We complain (those of us who do) because complaining often releases stress.

It’s an emotional response to a situation. Of course, if all that we do is complain all the time about everything, then eventually we may get depressed and all that but it is one thing to be reminded of the negative effect of over-complaining and a totally different thing to be told to ‘not complain’ because ‘hey you have a choice’.

I will not blame Puja though. It is extremely easy to fall for this trap and use pseudo-logic to make the comment sensible in one’s head. It often originates from lack of empathy. When you have less empathy to relate to why an outsider complains about the city they have moved to, instead of viewing the situation as a ‘feeling’ response of the person, you end up viewing it as an ‘attack’ on your own identity. And when you feel attacked, you fight back. You tell them to go back to where they came from, or find some other city. The illusion of choice doesn’t feel like illusion at all. Some may view such a nativist rant as benign but there’s a big problem with letting it go unchecked.

When we let this nativist instinct take over, it doesn’t take much for the same argument to gradually move from a passive-aggressive tweet like Puja’s to severe case of hatred – often fueled by politicians who are masters at the art of exploiting the Us Vs. them fear.

Hostility – whether experienced by a group or an individual – stems from the same principles: seeing the adversary as wrong or bad, and the self as right and good. In either case, the aggressor shows the same “thinking disorder”: construing the facts in his favor, exaggerating the supposed transgression, and attributing malice to the opposition.

Aaron T. Beck – Prisoners of Hate

The reality is that, you will find people from Delhi working in Chennai complaining about Chennai and you will also find people from Chennai working in Delhi, complaining about Delhi. People are the same. You will obviously also have many who love their new city. There are just all sorts of people and all of them have the right to exist and be respected without being asked to fuck off (in however polite way) by any dick-acting local.

PS: Puja’s book is pretty nice and insightful – do check it out.

Categories
LHE

We cheat differently based on who we think we are.

This is part of my new series – Learnings from Human Experiments (LHE)


Researchers at the University of Zurich recruited a bunch of bankers and randomly split them into two groups.

Both groups were asked to flip a coin ten times and report the outcomes online. If they got more than a threshold number of heads (or tails) they were told they would get twenty Swiss francs (about 20 USD) for each extra head (or tail) they reported. Nobody was going to check whether or not they reported accurately, which created a very strong incentive to cheat.

But before the experiment began, one group was asked about their favorite leisure activity, highlighting their role as a “regular” person, and the other group was asked questions about their role as a banker, effectively highlighting their “banker identity”.

This is what happened in the end – the estimated cheating rate went from 3% for those thinking of themselves as regular people to 16% for those thinking of themselves as bankers! Crazy, right?

Being reminded of our profession seems to bring out a different moral self.

I came to know about this experiment in the book Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo (Nobel prize winners).

Let’s now come to India – where a similar experiment was done, but with college students.

The students were asked to privately roll a die 42 times and record what numbers they got each time. The reward was 50 paise if the die showed one, one rupee for a two, one and a half rupees for a three, and so on.

Students were free to lie about the numbers they rolled. Roughly the same proportion as in Switzerland did lie. But here’s the difference – while those who were reminded of their identity as bankers cheated more in Switzerland, in India students planning to work for the government cheated more (this is what this experiment was designed to test).

In contrast, when the study was again replicated in Denmark, which is justifiably proud of its social sector, researchers found the exact opposite as in India: those planning to join the government were much less likely to cheat!

That’s it – wanted to note down these insights as a stand-alone clue to human nature, as part of my Learnings from Human Experiments series. Also felt like drawing a bit – just for fun. Will keep adding such short experiment based posts, whenever I stumble upon them. Hope you learnt something.