Coronaplague in India proves Dr. Jeff Goldblum’s theories?

Dr. Jill Biden’s colleagues (the “experts”) say “India Worst Hit Country in the World”:

The TIME article:

India became the country with the world’s second highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, surpassing Brazil, and now second only to the United States.

India now has 13.5 million confirmed cases, compared to the U.S.’s 31.1 million. The country is currently in the midst of a second wave of the virus, with confirmed daily infections reaching an all-time high of 168,912 on Monday.

Dividing by 1.4 billion is apparently too challenging for American journalists. How about the Brits? From the Guardian:

This week has marked a series of grim Covid milestones for India. It was this week the country once again outstripped Brazil to become the second-worst affected globally, with a total of over 13.68m cases.

In other words, India has suffered more from COVID-19 than a country in which 100 percent of the population died of COVID-19, just as long as that country had only 13 million people.

How bad are things in what TIME and the Guardian say is the worst-plagued country on Earth? The country has suffered 125 COVID-19-tagged deaths per million inhabitants (ranking). That compares to 2,530 per million here in Massachusetts (states ranked; note that this is per 100,000 so multiply by 10). Maybe they will be getting worse, though. If things get 20X as bad as they’ve been in India, the situation will be about as bad as it is right now in Massachusetts.

From the New York Times, the “cases”:

and the deaths tagged to COVID-19:

The trend certainly does not look good. I wonder if this proves what Dr. Jill Biden, M.D.’s colleague Dr. Jeff Goldblum said: “Life Finds a Way.” The non-Chinese Wuhan-edition coronavirus was perhaps not a good fit for hosts in India, which is why, adjusted for population size, not much happened during Coronawave #1 (TIME: “health experts had predicted that India, with a population more than four times the size of the U.S., would quickly become the world’s worst-hit country”). But now the virus, with approximately 30,000 base pairs, has evolved. How much? Here’s the March of the Mutants:

If there isn’t already, there should soon be a coronavirus suitable for any host: Indian, not Indian, vaccinated, not vaccinated, etc.

On the third hand, what goes up exponentially might well come down exponentially. So far the actual daily death rate from Coronawave #2 in India is lower than during the first wave. The higher case rate could simply be an artifact of increased test availability.

Readers: What’s your best guess as to how events unfold in India? My guess is based on regression to the mean. India was an outlier (125 deaths per million). When the dust settles, India will be somewhere in the middle (right now the worldwide average is about 375 deaths per million; 3 million deaths in a population of 8 billion). Perhaps we’d have to adjust for the fact that the median age in India is roughly 27, slightly younger than the world median (around 30).


  • “India sees record surges in cases due to coronavirus variants” (New Scientist): The surge appears to be driven mainly by the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant from the UK, which is causing around 40 per cent of cases in Asia, according to pathogen-tracking project Nextstrain. Another 16 per cent of cases are due to the B.1.351 variant that evolved in South Africa.
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How does Indian-American intersect with BLM?

Message in a discussion group from an (East) Asian immigrant:

My town is half Indian. Everyone is “Love is love”, “BLM”. I want to see their daughter fall in love with a Dalit boy.

Readers: How are your Indian-American friends doing with BLM? What does it mean to folks who recently showed up and missed nearly 400 years of Black-white relations? Are they identifying with the oppressed or the oppressors?

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Don’t count on India becoming the next China

I finished Billionaire Raj.

The author continues with his main theme that all of India’s challenges can be attributed to inequality. If only the government were bigger and less corrupt, India would turn into a larger scale version of Singapore. Also, since Hindus are violent and threatening while Muslims are peaceful and threatened, another way to improve India would be for the big government to require everyone to convert to Islam, thus eradicating the scourge of Hindu nationalism.

There is an important message for investors buried in here. The author points out that China is a unique story and investors shouldn’t count on that story being replicated in India. He notes that Brazil was growing wildly and apparently sustainably in the 1980s… and then it wasn’t. An Indian future of overpopulation, pollution, and poverty is at least as likely as a China-like middle class society developing.

When I mentioned this book to a global investor friend, he responded with “India is the most corrupt place that I’ve ever seen.”

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Billionaire Raj: only a bigger government can address the inequality create by a big government

I’m listening to the Billionaire Raj on Audible. For those of us who live in a U.S.-centric bubble, there is a lot of interesting modern history regarding India’s most successful people and enterprises, including Mukesh Ambani who lives in a $2 billion house in Mumbai and was rich enough to spend $30 billion building a from-scratch mobile operator called Jio. Some of the success seems to come from rapid growth in an immature economy, which therefore offers niches that don’t exist in Germany, Japan, or the U.S. (what start-up could realistically compete with Verizon, for example?). The author attributes most of the success, however, to cronyism. Current Indian billionaires were those who got early licenses and permits from paid-off friends in politics and government. Maybe they don’t need to bother with bribes now because they have huge market share and momentum.

The author, James Crabtree, makes righteous-sounding statements about the dramatic income and wealth inequality that prevails in India today. Implicit in his decrying of the current situation is that the Indian government needs to grow in size and capacity until money can be taken away from the undeserving billionaires and distributed to the worthy poor. He draws dozens of comparisons between India’s current crop of billionaires and the robber barons that grew rich in the late 19th century United States.

The book itself contradicts this comparison. Crabtree paints India pre-1990 as having a centrally planned economy with at least as many restrictions as the Soviet Union. Nobody could buy or sell anything without approval from a government bureaucrat. Nobody could get on a plane and leave the country without government permission. The Indian government, even in its stripped-down post-1990 form, is vastly larger and more powerful than the U.S. government was in the 1800s.

There are some good sections on the infrastructure of corruption. Most people don’t know how to bribe government officials and wouldn’t want to learn how. Thus, a corrupt society encourages the development of a layer of middlemen agents who obtain the required permits from government officials. If they’re paying bribes, the customer of the agent never need know.

Ever wonder why the folks calling with credit card refinancing scams all have Indian accents? There are plenty of people worldwide who speak English and quite a few are willing to work at low wages. Crabtree makes the case that India has the world’s richest and deepest tradition of corruption.

The author studied government and public policy and his proposal for India is essentially that government be “reformed” so that bribery and inefficiency are eliminated in favor of enlightened technocracy. Once that is done, presumably, then an Elizabeth Warren-style sanding down of the billionaires will take place to address the scourge of inequality.

Yet it is unclear how this glorious reform is to be achieved. The author describes Indian politics as driven by castes competing for victimhood status and parties promising to dole out government jobs and other government-controlled resources to victim castes. All party activities are fueled by cash from successful businesses and business owners. (Corrupt politicians are punished, however; after 18 years of prosecution and procedure, J. Jayalalithaa was sentenced to 4 years in prison (she served one month before returning to office).)

Ultimately the book is unconvincing regarding the source of wealth of current Indian billionaires. The book describes some of them going bust after making investments that were a bit too daring. The book describes Ambani being unable to get the government to approve helicopter operations off the roof of his $2 billion house. If he’s a government crony, why can’t he get his helipad? GE was able to get their cronies in the City of Boston to approve a helipad in South Boston that nobody else had been able to get (a condition of GE moving its HQ to Massachusetts). Certainly it seems that the Indian billionaires gambled big and won big as the economy continued to grow. And probably they faced a less competitive environment than in some countries with smaller governments and markets closer to the Econ 101 ideal.

Despite the logical contradictions and absurd dreams of hyper-efficient and hyper-honest government in a country that has a multi-century tradition of the opposite, the Billionaire Raj is useful for shaking the American reader out of the notion that the U.S. and China are the only places where big business happens.

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