Three Longs & Three Shorts

Published on: 14 Oct, 2018

At the end of each week, we will share with you our favourite reads. We would be grateful if you could reciprocate.

1. Long read: The creation of a mobile juggernaut
Authors: Kiran Stacey & Simon Mundy
Source: Financial Times (https://www.ft.com/content/4297df22-bcfa-11e8-94b2-17176fbf93f5)

If you are a budding Indian entrepreneur and are wondering how to create a giant enterprise in a highly regulated sector, you have to read this lucid piece from the FT on how Reliance Industries conquered the Indian mobile telephony sector and in the process humbled Bharti, Vodafone and Idea. The story is not exactly pretty but then one shouldn’t expect the conquest of a highly regulated sector in a country which is 131st on the UN’s Human Development Index to be a stirring tale of enterprise and innovation. Step by step the telecom regulator yielded ground until one day….

2. Long read: ‘This guy doesn’t know anything’: the inside story of Trump’s shambolic transition team
Author: Michael Lewis
Source: The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/sep/27/this-guy-doesnt-know-anything-the-inside-story-of-trumps-shambolic-transition-team)

The legendary Michael Lewis describes in this piece how Donald Trump could not (or did not) prepare properly to become the President of the United States. It is an extraordinary story of rich people on the verge of extreme power using colourful language but not realising the enormity of the task ahead of them. After reading it you will find yourself feeling a little proud that politicians in India are not like Trump. Last we knew, they don’t shout at their aides: “Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money.

3. Long read: How Online Shopping Makes Suckers of Us All
Author: Jerry Useem
Source: The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/05/how-online-shopping-makes-suckers-of-us-all/521448/)

As millions of Indians go beserk shopping online at this week’s annual binges at the likes of Amazon and Flipkart, this slightly dated yet fascinating piece by The Atlantic shows how online retailers may have regained their pricing edge over consumers who were supposed to have been empowered by the transparency of the internet. Employing an army of economists (Amazon has a dedicated jobs site for economists) combining Big Data with consumer psychology and Game theory among others, e-tailers are deploying exotic price discrimination strategies that maximise profit rather than simply offer the lowest price as popularly perceived.

“…its software engine isn’t built to match the lowest price out there. (That, Hariharan notes, would be a simple algorithm.) It’s built to manage consumers’ perception of price. The software identifies the goods that loom largest in consumers’ perception and keeps their prices carefully in line with competitors’ prices, if not lower. The price of everything else is allowed to drift upward….
…Are other companies doing this? Four researchers in Catalonia tried to answer the question with dummy computers that mimicked the web-browsing patterns of either “affluent” or “budget conscious” customers for a week. When the personae went “shopping,” they weren’t shown different prices for the same goods. They were shown different goods. The average price of the headphones suggested for the affluent personae was four times the price of those suggested for the budget-conscious personae. Another experiment demonstrated a more direct form of price discrimination: Computers with addresses in greater Boston were shown lower prices than those in more-remote parts of Massachusetts on identical goods.”

4. Short read: What made the US unique has become history
Author: Janan Ganesh
Source: Financial Times (https://www.ft.com/content/2f62e842-c62e-11e8-ba8f-ee390057b8c9)

Janan Ganesh is one the FT’s finest columnists and here he uses a Michael Porter-type competitive advantage framework to explain the decline of the USA. Ganesh says that until the 1990s, America could boast that its openness to immigrants, free & fair elections and its free market economy were unique strengths. Now, almost all significant economies barring Russia and China can say that they too have free markets and democratic elections. Furthermore, most of the OECD economies plus city-states like Singapore and Dubai have shown that they can assimilate immigrants successfully. In short, over the last 30 years many other countries have more or less copied the things that made America stand out. In fact now these countries can highlight things that they have but America doesn’t eg. long histories and “preponderant ethnic majorities”. And around such comparisons now hinges the jockeying between nation states intent upon reversing the tide of American exceptionalism.

5. Short read: Psychotherapy is not harmless: on the side effects of CBT
Author: Christian Jarrett
Source: Aeon (https://aeon.co/ideas/psychotherapy-is-not-harmless-on-the-side-effects-of-cbt)

Most psychologists and psychotherapists that you and I know will be trained in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT has become increasingly popular over the past 20 years as the stresses and strains of modern life amidst a raft of bestselling books on psychology have made visiting a shrink as commonplace as visiting the local clinic for a health check-up. However, CBT has powerful psychological side-effects and research is showing that these side-effects are severe or very severe for 40% of those who are subjected to CBT.

So what are these side-effects? “…the researchers estimated that 43 per cent of clients had experienced at least one unwanted side effect from CBT, equating to an average of 0.57 per client (one client had four, the maximum allowed by the research methodology): most often distress, deterioration and strains in family relations. More than 40 per cent of side effects were rated as severe or very severe, and more than a quarter lasted weeks or months, though the majority were mild or moderate and transient…Examples of severe side effects included: ‘suicidality, breakups, negative feedback from family members, withdrawal from relatives, feelings of shame and guilt, or intensive crying and emotional disturbance during sessions’.”

6. Short read: The Insane Physics of Airbags
Author: Rhett Allain
Source: WIRED (https://www.wired.com/story/the-insane-physics-of-airbags/)

In this somewhat amusing piece of scientific trivia, the WIRED explains the need for an explosion of sorts in your steering wheel as a safety measure. Given the need for inflated airbags to pop out almost instantaneously upon a crash to protect the driver, the airbags are inflated by the rapid expansion of gas triggered by an explosion.

Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor investment financial advice. Marcellus is not authorized to provide either. Marcellus does not seek payment for or business from this email in any shape or form.

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