Learning by Proxy

Tax – Real Estate – Water | Learning by Proxy

Every Saturday, I publish this series called ‘Learning by Proxy’. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.

Follow Up

Indian and China have been having a lot of heated exchanges in Ladakh. This week it escalated and resulted in India losing 20 soldiers including a Commanding Officer.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh Tuesday reviewed the current operational situation in Eastern Ladakh, following Monday’s violent faceoff on the LAC, along with the Chief of Defence Staff and the three Service Chiefs. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was also present during the meeting.

Source: Indian Express

One name is conspicuously missing, don’t you think? Modi has been AWOL.


The Indian army said that both sides suffered casualties, but there has been no word on numbers from China yet.

Tuesday’s battle was reportedly fought with rocks and clubs. However, no shots were fired.

The Indian army said a number of its troops “were critically injured in the line of duty”.

Source: BBC

Rocks and Wooden Clubs? No Shots fired? What the hell is going on?

China has taken the Galwan Valley and now their Foreign minister is like – Go on. Nothing to see here. Everything is resolved.



Law is always very political and the appointment of supreme court justices is the greatest power wielded by politics over law. Trump got to appoint two Supreme Court justices and that was expected to swing the Supreme Court towards the far right. Imagine the surprise then, when the court declared that employment could not be taken away if a person was LGBTQ. The final vote came down the interpretation of the term ‘sex’ in a 1964 act. Whether it meant only man and woman or all sexual orientations. Neil Gorsuch who was the first appointments by Trump wrote out the order.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday outlawing anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination is a triumph for both the country and the court. It is a victory for the country because, in one fell swoop, the court granted vital protections to LGBTQ people in every state, making the United States a fairer, freer place.

Source: Quartz

Shooting yourself in the foot

The so-called stimulus package is an attempt by the Modi government to roll out the red carpet to investors to choose India. At the same time, the abysmal state of the government is forcing the tax officials to look at any vestige from which revenue can materialise. The Central GST collection during the lockdown fell from Rs. 47,000 Crores same period last year to a shade below Rs. 6000 Crores this year. An 87% per cent drop. The IT Department slapped Tiger Global with a tax bill of Rs. 14,500 Crores. Flipkart would not be Flipkart without Tiger Global. Antagonising them despite a Double Tax treaty with Mauritius is not a great move.

Earlier this week, news reports said Tiger Global may take India’s quasi-judicial body, Authority of Advance Ruling (AAR), to court over its claim that the investor has outstanding tax dues on its sale of shares in e-commerce major Flipkart in 2018.

Prima facie, experts, believe Tiger Global is protected against the payment under the India-Mauritius Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA), which prevents investors from being taxed twice on the same income in both countries.

Source: Quartz


Tipping Energy

Coal has been on its way down for a few years. In the US, gas-powered power plants have proved to be a much more viable source of energy than coal. This combined with the falling costs of renewable energy has made it harder for coal mines to continue to operate. Trump had said he will bring these coal jobs back. No one can stop the steady march of better economics, especially in a capitalistic system. This is not about the environment, it’s about profits.

The Texas-based utility that owns the Maryland plant just announced it will shut down Dickerson’s three power units after 60 years of operation, citing the high cost of operation. Like dozens of other coal plants across the country, Dickerson is a casualty of coal’s fast-moving demise. The industry has been squeezed between cheaper natural gas and expanding use of renewable energy for several years, but now the Covid-19-driven recession has jammed a stake through its economic heart.

Source: Wired

Stimulus – Togo Style

All of the big nations have been busy announcing large stimulus programs to get their economies back on their feet. To date, Germany has been one of the few that has put its money right in the hands of the workers who have lost their jobs or stand to lose their jobs. Togo is going a step further and putting money in the Novissi (digital wallet) accounts of informal workers!

For its part, Togo has looked to solve that problem with Novissi, a digital cash transfer program that sends funds to citizens through mobile money. Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé has said the scheme targets informal workers whose incomes were “disrupted” by lockdowns. As of mid-April, over 1.1 million Togolese citizens—13% of the population—had registered for Novissi with around 450,000 people (65% of which were women) proving eligible beneficiaries and receiving up to 35% of the minimum wage.

Source: Quartz


Flying Low

The airline industry has always been out with a begging bowl. In good times and in bad. As Richard Branson famously put it – If you want to be a Millionaire make a Billion dollars and start an airline. Almost every major western airline has been bailed out by the government and in some of them, the governments hold massive stakes. Interestingly, low-cost budget airlines in Europe seem to be in better stead despite not having needed a bail-out.

Ryanair and Wizz stocks are better bets right now than Air France-KLM and Lufthansa, according to Morgan Stanley. That’s because the flag carriers rely more heavily on business travel and long-haul routes that will likely to be slower to bounce back. They will also have a lot of work to do to repay the money they’ve borrowed from taxpayers. (Norwegian Air, a discount carrier for long-haul flights that got a $271 million loan from the Norwegian government, has fallen more than 90% in the stock market this year.)

Source: Quartz

Real Estate

I had written about the reckoning that real estate will soon be faced with. The increasing move towards ‘work from home’ and the closure of malls causing an upsurge in OTT was bound to hit commercial real estate. Malls thrive because of the footfalls multiplexes drive to the malls. Multiplexes have been closed and have no clear opening date. Retailers refused to open their stores unless malls waived rent. An open mall with stores closed does not make for good business. DLF blinked.

Under the new proposal, DLF Shopping Malls is offering rental partners a 100% waiver on MG rent for the entire lockdown period till June 15. Post this, a 75% off on MG rent is offered till June 30, sources said. DLF has also proposed a 50%, 24% and 10% waiver on MG rent for July-September 2020, October-December 2020 and January-March 2021, respectively, they added.

Source: Financial Express

To add insult to injury, CavinKare one of the large FMCG companies based in the south known for brands such as Chic and Nyle decided to pull the shutters on its HQ. Everyone except factory employees can work from home!

“We have shut down our corporate office and closed all four branches. We see no need for it. We have called for bids from tenants for the 40,000sqft office,” Ranganathan said. Additionally, the four branches have also been shut. “Only factories and R&D centres will have employees come in and work,” he said. Nearly 300 people worked out of the corporate office, while the company has a staff strength of 1,900. 

While most companies have announced aggressive WFH models in a bid to save on costs and stop the spread of the Covid pandemic, Cavinkare’s Ranganathan said he has chosen it for productivity reasons. “It is more from a productivity standpoint. We have seen a 30% increase in productivity in the nearly 100 days of lockdown,” he said.

Source: Times Of India

Technology / Science

The Price of Water

In space water is an especially valuable resource, but not for the reasons that you think. Yes, water is important for humans to survive. Also, in space, the only way to create thrust is by losing mass. Water = Mass. When you use fuel in space to propel, you are essentially ejecting mass to create force (thrust) towards the opposite direction. It costs about USD 18,500 to put one Kg in space. Not the most economical way to put fuel in space. Alternatively, you can mine the water on the Moon and use it as fuel. Now, NASA is going to determine the price for it.

That’s why Bridenstine’s statement is so important: If NASA follows through by saying we’ll pay $X for propellant delivered to location Y, that could give hypothetical lunar mining entrepreneurs the market they need to get off the ground and encourage private propellant buyers to make their own plans to use these resources. (One technological wrinkle will be designing spacecraft for regular refuelling.)

Source: Quartz

Retweet no more

Recently Twitter has grown a spine. This has meant that the company is beginning to cut back on all kinds of misinformation. How many times have you retweeted an article just after looking at its headline without even bothering to read it? They have started tracking that!

Twitter seemingly expanded the amount of data it collects from users to include the links in tweets that were opened, the tweet that included the links, and when it was opened. Zucker-Scharff noted that the link-tracking appears to have begun last month; he said the file containing the history of links on which he had clicked did not appear the last time he examined Twitter’s code in 2018.

Put together, this does much more than flag if a user is sharing something they haven’t read. It could also identify them. For example, if law enforcement has anonymized browser data on several users, officials could use timestamps to identify the person, matching the anonymous data with the Twitter timestamps.

Source: Wired

Spying with Lightbulbs

Researchers have found a way to listen to conversations taking place by watching the vibrations on a lightbulb! So stop using bulbs. LED all the way.

Researchers from Israeli’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Weizmann Institute of Science today revealed a new technique for long-distance eavesdropping they call “lamphone.” They say it allows anyone with a laptop and less than a thousand dollars of equipment—just a telescope and a $400 electro-optical sensor—to listen in on any sounds in a room that’s hundreds of feet away in real-time, simply by observing the minuscule vibrations those sounds create on the glass surface of a light bulb inside. By measuring the tiny changes in light output from the bulb that those vibrations cause, the researchers show that a spy can pick up sound clearly enough to discern the contents of conversations or even recognize a piece of music.

Source: Wired


Have you ever watched a Chess match? I am guessing not.

Hence it would come as a great surprise that Twitch, a service that streams video games is getting hooked to Chess. All thanks to Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura. I was watching a short video included in the news piece and its amazing.

Signing off…

Learning by Proxy

Canada – Money – Election | Learning by Proxy

Every Saturday, I publish this series called ‘Learning by Proxy’. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.

Follow Up

I had mentioned last week that the government is turning against its people and in the pursuit of higher growth, many iron-fisted moves are being made. The Indian Government relaxed a bunch of labour laws, with some states suspending all labour laws. ALL.

Some more on it from Rajiv Bajaj:

Also, I had mentioned cinemas are dying. Producers of a bunch of A-Lister movies decided to go directly to Online. A war of words has been on between the producers and cinemas.

Theatrics by a company that runs theatres. INOX decided to plant the first nail in its coffin. Read the comments, they are hilarious.


Canadian Thoughtfulness 

Thankfully, not all governments are like India. Canada announced that they would boost wages for essential workers. They made a provision for $3 Billion which should provide the basis of the boost. Given the inhuman hours and pressures that these workers have been under, it is a great gesture.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government has reached cost-sharing agreements with almost all Canada’s provinces and territories for the wage boost for essential workers. The deal will see Ottawa put up three-quarters of the cost, with the provincial governments footing the rest.

Source: GlobalNews

Building in the Sea

China has never been up to any good. But as the world has been looking away due to the troubles in their backyard, China is using this opportunity to consolidate its position in the South China Sea. 

Last month, China caused alarm by establishing new administrative districts for the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos and naming 80 islands and other geographical features in the sea, claiming sovereignty over underwater features along the way. (Mischief Reef, in its natural state, was submerged at high tide.)

Source: Quartz



As I had mentioned last week – the numbers will come clean now. Industrial output is said to have declined 16.5% in March 2020. Further, there was a decline of 0.7% for the entire FY20. The lockdown was in force for 9 days towards the end of March. According to the government we had been growing before that. An annual decline indicates that things were amiss much before. The government spent the whole year gaslighting economists and commentators.

Factory output growth was recorded at 4.6 per cent in February and 2.7 per cent in the same period last year. The data is likely to be revised due to lower response rate from the units from which data is collected, the National Statistical Office said.

Source: Indian Express

Printing Money

Last week the Indian government announced an Rs. 20 Lac Crore stimulus. It involves giving loans to some MSME businesses and also providing liquidity to banks. Rs. 17400 Crores given to farmers sounds like a lot. But when divided by 8.7 Crore of them, it translates to Rs. 2000 each. It is a mere drop in the ocean and unlikely to serve any purpose. On the other hand, Nobel Laureates have been suggesting printing more currency and putting it in the hands of the poor to stimulate consumption.

Cash transfers to India’s poor are the right thing to do “not just morally but also economically,” believes Nobel laureate Esther Duflo.

“Businesses should be keenly interested in this (cash transfers) and very much behind (it)…because it is the most important thing to do in their self-interest,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of economics said particularly in the context of India’s coronavirus lockdown.

Source: Quartz


The business of testing

The USA has conducted the most number of COVID test in the world. Since March, when testing began, they have conducted close to 10.5 Million tests. With the resurgence of CoronaVirus cases in Wuhan, the Chinese government is determined to test every person living in Wuhan – 11 Million of them – in 10 days! Are they doing a Trump or do they have lots of test kits that they are not making available to the world?

The tests need to be conducted within 10 days and should prioritize people such as those living in older compounds or in densely packed residential buildings, or people originally from outside of Wuhan who are more likely to travel between different places, according to the document. It is unclear how the department plans to meet the huge volume of testing kits required.

Source: Quartz


Under normal circumstance, it takes years to develop any drug or vaccine. These are not normal times. Many countries and their regulatory authorities have given a go-ahead to pharma companies to start human trials for the coronavirus vaccine. There is, in fact, a website where one can volunteer to be a guinea pig for the study. They first inject the vaccine and then infect you on purpose to see if the vaccine works!

ChinaUKUS and even Italy are running tests on humans. Would this imply a new standard of ethics for drug trials in the future? For now, we do not even know if any of these would succeed or not. Let us hope one of them have found a solution.



Several countries still conduct voting through a painful paper ballot process. The reason – Online is not secure enough to conduct voting. Well, it is safe enough to close contracts, transact Trillions of dollars worth of cash, commodities, bonds et al every single day. But ONE damn vote is impossible, is it not?!! The actual reason is to subvert democracy.

Democracy Live’s portal is hosted in Amazon Web Services through the cloud provider’s security-focused FedRamp certified offerings for the US federal government. It also uses AWS’s “Object Lock” feature on voters’ PDFs to keep submissions from being altered or deleted. The system has been audited by third-party security reviewers Shift State and RSM Labs, although those reviews are not posted publicly. When Democracy Live is used in voting, the elections also undergo retrospective audits to confirm the results.

Source: WIRED

Meet Artificial Meat

Meat is a big deal in the US. Americans love their pigs and cows (Not the way Indians do). A couple of years back artificial cell-cultured meat began to show up in stores. Cell cultured meat essentially grows proteins in Petri dishes – actually barrels. This has the same or perhaps better composition than real meat. The cattle lobby was up in arms and wanted brands to mention ‘Artificial Meat’ distinctly on the packaging. Then COVID happened. Will consumption shift completely?

Covid-19 has exposed the Achilles heel of the modern US meat system. As key meatpacking plants with sickened workers have been forced to pause production, consumers are facing the prospect of meat shortages in some places and higher prices virtually everywhere. Just one meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is responsible for 5% of US pork production. When that plant and a handful of others stopped production in April because of worker illnesses, it decreased the slaughtering of beef cattle and hogs by 36% and 37% respectively, according to US Department of Agriculture data. The ripple effect was big: Already the price of meat and eggs have increased by 5%. 

Source: Quartz


Since we have spoken about vaccines, do you know how vaccination was discovered in the US? It was way back in 1721 that vaccination was imported to the US from – Africa! An African slave taught them how. It was called Innoculation. And the anti-vaxxer movement protested back in the day as well. Little surprise there.

The operation Onesimus described was a common procedure in certain parts of the world. What happened was that pus from an infected person was rubbed into an open wound of a person uninfected with smallpox. If one survived this procedure, one was thus inoculated against smallpox, and could never contract it. The procedure was done in different places. In Africa, in China, in India, in the Ottoman empire. Most accounts place the origin of inoculation in either China (where they would blow scabs up a person’s nose) or India, and in both places, it was largely a secret procedure whose technique was passed down mostly in families.

Source: Quartz

COVID Designs

Would you like to go to a restaurant that looks like this?

Personal atmosphere

Source: CNEWS


Planes designed like this

I wish everyone was this thin
Think about getting to the window seat on the second row!

Source: Travel and Leisure

Signing off…

Learning by Proxy

COVID-19 and the changing world | Learning by Proxy

During a conversation a few weeks back, a friend suggested that I create a digest of things that one should be reading about. Since I read hundreds of blogs each day, it might be worth sharing some of the undercurrents that I notice.

So I am starting this series called ‘You need to know this’. I hope I don’t let this die away just like many other things that I have started in the past. So here goes the first one.

You need to know this – 4th April

COVID-19 Trends

There is a shortage in the CoronaVirus War supply chain. We were never prepped for this kind of response and that is becoming painfully obvious with each passing day. Governments are starting to request various companies to rework their factories to produce health equipment – the last time this was done was in 1942, World War II. How many genetic tests would have been run on a normal day? It is suddenly skyrocketed! Not only that, even medicines.

Also during this lockdown think about living in the absence of the Internet what would you do? This is exactly what the net neutrality debate was about. The calls to reclassify the internet as a public utility are growing in the US. I think it’s a public utility everywhere. But can they keep blocking the internet all over the world in authoritarian regimes then? It’s like cutting off the electricity to keep people in order.

People are sitting at home and watching a lot of TV. Also trading or getting into trading – Across the world. Zerodha saw the highest growth in sign-ups.

Health insurers are having a hard time – but car insurers? Nobody is driving around but they are all required to buy car insurance by law in most countries in the world. Car insurance companies are profiting a lot as claims drop off!

The poor people and the middle class are staying locked up at home by diktat. The rich on the other hand are taking their private jets to faraway lands. Is it right? You can see this on 

The one segment of the economy that we all have come to depend on heavily during these times is gig workers. The food delivery boys are still running around cities delivering food. Essentials are still being delivered, this is forcing a re-think about the classification of these workers. No worries so far as India is concerned, not for now at least.

People losing jobs in different places due to corona

The globalised supply chain is becoming more and more obvious. As Italy is ravaged with patients, garments workers who produced for Italian brands are losing their jobs in Bangladesh. One Million of them have lost their jobs.

One the subject of jobs. Do you know why the companies in the US are so rich? They take a 2 Trillion bailout for their government and then fire all their workers. 

Pollution reduction in the times of corona

The planet has probably been the greatest beneficiary of this crisis. Thousand Greta Thunberg’s could not have done what this one virus has done. Air traffic has ground to a halt completely. There is no movement of people in many of the large cities across the world. Industrial production is at its lowest. When we think pollution we do not think Italy – The video shows the precipitous decline. The same is true across the world.

Stimulus – Saving shareholders not employees

The USA released one of the largest stimulus packages that the world has ever seen and the businesses have gone ahead and fired their employees promptly both mentioned above. So the package was really about saving the shareholders and ensuring that their money is not lost, not about the workers. Oh, by the way, the airlines are standing with a bowl in hand. The same airlines which bought back shares worth 2 Billion dollars just a few months ago.

Japan on the other hand is giving away money to their people.

The Indian government was already struggling with lower tax collections and a slowing economy. They decided to increase the tax on oil despite the international price drop to ensure the government takes more from us.

Empty cities of the world

A lot of the cities are under lockdown across the World – Northern Italy, Spain, New York, All of India. This leaves these cities empty and they look like something you would have never seen.


What VCs think startups should do

Is the coming generation going to be called GenC, Seth Godin makes a point.

And Finally, America has become the world leader in CoronaVirus cases in a very short time overtaking everyone. New cases are being added at a rate of 30000 per day, more than certain countries have in total. The death rate has spiralled to over 1000 a day. And leadership has been exemplar. Trump is the worst person to be handling this situation. This will send shockwaves through the global economy because America happens to be the largest economy in the world. I don’t know how long we will continue to say that though.

Signing off.