Baumol Disease Index

In his excellent take on why┬áRohit Sharma’s 264 is bad for cricket, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha writes about the Baumol’s Cost Disease. This phenomenon, which was first described by William Baumol and William Bowen in the 1960s, describes the increase in cost of labour in industries that have seen little productivity. This has to do with an increase in productivity in other sectors which pushes up the clearing price of labour, which increases the costs of industries that have seen no improvements in productivity.

Based on this, we can construct an index on how industrialised an economy is, which I’m going to christen “Baumol Disease Index”. The basic idea is to pick a sector that is likely to be unaffected by productivity changes over the long term, and look at the median salary of workers in that sector in different countries and across different points in time. This can help us compare the relative levels of industrialisation and productivity in different countries, and in the same country over time.

In order to construct this index, we will take into account one sector which has a lot of “human input” and is unlikely to see much improvement in productivity thanks to mechanisation. My first choice for this was for employees of a company like McDonalds (taking off on The Economist’s Big Mac Index) but then that sector is not that insulated from greater productivity.

We could use the original example that Baumol and Bowen used, which is performing arts, but then performing arts is a winner takes all market – Iron Maiden will be able to command much higher ticket prices compared to the local orchestra thanks to their history and brand and perception of quality. So performing arts is not a great example, either.

Another good choice would be government bureaucrats, since their work is unlikely to be much affected by productivity. But then we’ve had some computerisation and that must have increased some productivity, and ability to be productive and willingness to be productive don’t always go hand in hand!

What about drivers? Despite the efforts towards development of driverless cars, these are unlikely to really take off in the next couple of decades or so, and so we can assume that productivity will remain broadly constant. The other advantage of drivers is that while salaries are tricky to measure (and we need to depend on surveys for those, with mostly unreliable results), taxi fares in different cities are public information, and it is not hard to separate such fares out into cost of fuel, cost of car and cost of driver’s time. This way, measurement of an average taxi driver’s income in different cities and countries, and at different points in time, should not be really difficult.

So, I hereby propose the Baumol Disease Index. It is the per month pre-tax expected income for a driver in a particular city after taking into account costs of fuel and car. This number is going to be imputed from taxi prices. And is going to be a measure of general levels of productivity and industrialisation in an economy. Sounds good?

And while we are on the topic of indices, you should read this excellent leader in last week’s The Economist on the profusion of indices. And since we have a profusion anyway, adding this one additional index shouldn’t hurt! And this one (Baumol Disease Index) measures something that is not measured by too many other indices, and is simple to calculate!

Howzzat?

Snow White meets Gandalf

I don’t know how to describe it. “Writing club” or “literature club” makes it sound too serious, and if it were indeed one, then we need not have put “informal” when we put it in our CVs. “Slander club” makes it sound like we were all bitches, which we were not – though I must admit that once in a while we used to bitch a bit. We weren’t even doing campus journalism – we were hardly regular, and never came in print. And we weren’t storytellers, either, since most of what we wrote was based on what actually happened.

Twisted Shout began when Hunger tried to murder War. However, the defining moment for the group happened when Snow White Meets Gandalf (a trilogy in five parts) was released. I must say it was a fairly random story. So random that most of you won’t understand it. If you are not from IIMB, you can give up every hope of figuring it out. If you are from IIMB but not from our batch, you might understand one joke in the entire trilogy. If you are from IIMB and from my batch and not from my section, you might probably understand half the stuff.

SWG had so many characters that I won’t blame you if you would get confused. Most of these characters are based on people in my batch and the batch senior to mine at IIMB. And it’s not a one-to-one correspondence between real and fictional characters. Some people in my batch were so colourful that multiple characters were based on them. On the other hand, the entire commie half of Sumo Yet So Far (my quiz team) had gotten merged into one character called Swaadisht.

We drew inspiration from several sources, with the primary source being our first test in Economics, which had a certain Queen Shilpa taxing coconuts. A number of other characters, and scenes were built based on interactions in class in term 1. There was heavy punning on people’s names, and even seemingly random sentences like “I find Aishwarya Rai so hot that I want her as my wife” found their way into the stories.

If my memory serves me right (it usually does in the long term), the first three parts of the Trilogy were written by Disease, who then proceeded to put NED (this was a full three years before the term NED was coined, btw). Madness, the correspondent from H Base, joined the great institution when he wrote the fourth part. The fifth part, which involved a Great War, based on the Mahabharata, was appropriately penned by War. And he had ensured that he gave due footage to himself, as well as to the Footage Queen.

The beauty of the series was that characterization was not constant. People would change sides more frequently than Disease would change his shorts – which means that they didn’t change sides too often, but did it once in a long time. Characters would disappear from the plot, and occasionally reappear at a strategic time. There would be sudden updates in relationships between characters – to account for similar changes in the real world. Every event of note that took place on campus, and even some insignifcant ones, got due footage. It was a masterpiece of its times.

Looking back at these stories today, I’m feeling nostalgic, and at the same time proud to have been part of such an august institution. We were to come up with a few other masterpieces during our tenure, but SWG would remain our best known work.

Two months back, more than three years after we had first folded up, we thought we should make an attempt to recreate the magic, and thus started the Twisted Shout blog. I admit that we haven’t been too regular in updating it, but each of us has been managing an important transition in our lives, and thus haven’t really had the time to update it. We hope to fix this in the coming months, though I’m not sure how funny we will be since we will be writing for a general audience. In hindsight, it was really easy writing for a restricted audience that knew exactly who each character was based on. Making inside jokes, it seems, is much easier than making generalized jokes.