Tag Archives | Siddarth Gore

Blockchains and societies

Some practical and impractical applications and implications of blockchain.

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Photo Credits: Flickr

Blockchains are useful when you need to maintain an immutable history of transactions in which both parties do not trust each other as well as the intermediary. It is also useful in maintaining the anonymity of the participants in a transaction. Given these characteristics what does it mean for countries and societies at different levels of development and organization?

Close to dysfunctional government

Honduras recently has an incident where the top level bureaucrats went into the system allocated whole swaths of land to themselves. Such incidents do not inspire confidence in the authority which is supposed to safe guard people’s land rights and resolve dispute. A solution using blockchain to maintain land records was proposed to solve this problem.

Fiscally irresponsible government

When Argentina faced run-away inflation in 1989 people lost trust in the value of the currency. A currency such as bitcoin which is based on the blockchain technology can be a recourse for people in such a situation as no country can alter the supply of a digital currency forcefully.

Societies with irresponsible media

News based on photographs and videos taken on mobile phones are increasing becoming common on social media as well as main stream media. Unfortunately, so is their tampering and obfuscation. A system where all media is put on a blockchain before it is shared will ensure that it cannot be edited or deleted later on. Thus there will always be a permanent link to the that piece of information which can be visited in case of confusion or controversy.

Societies with poor banking services

Since trust is in distributed in the network peer-to-peer money transfers can be enabled with the inter-mediation by banks. The commission for mining will still have to be paid but the transaction can be recorded on distributed ledger and no one will be able to contest it.

Societies lacking unique identity documents

Services such as onename or keybase use blockchain technology to authenticate users uniquely. Other features like bio-metric information or attributes like address, birthdate, etc. can also be added on top of this.

Societies with authoritarian governments

The transactions on a blockchain are anonymous and thus difficult to track. They can be used for conducting transactions when the parties involved do not want to reveal themselves. Though the privacy provided is not as strong as it seems and there have been many instances when actual people behind the pseudonyms and keys have been identified.

Societies where stock exchanges do not function properly

Since a trusted intermediary is not needed blockchain can be used to trade digital assets or assets which can be uniquely represented in the digital form. This can also be applied to betting markets.

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Victimless Crime आणि बारबाला

Source : Flickr

Source : Flickr

एखादा गुन्हा घडला की कोणीतरी गुन्हेगार असणार आणि कोणीतरी बळी गेलं असणार हे आपण गृहीत धरतो. मग ही victimless crime काय भानगड आहे? असा कुठला गुन्हा असू शकतो का ज्याच्यात कोणावर अन्याय किंवा कोणाचंच नुकसान होत नाही? Dance Bar चं उदाहरण घ्या. सुरवातीला आपण असं गृहीत धरू की कोणावर कसलीच जबरदस्ती होत नाहीये. जे लोक तिथे जात आहेत ते त्यांच्या मर्जीने  जात आहेत. जे पैसे उडवत आहेत ते त्यांचे स्वतःचे आहेत. बारबाला देखील स्वतःच्या मर्जीने ते काम करत आहेत. आणि हे समस्त लोक १८ वर्षाच्या वर आहेत. जर ह्या व्यवहारात भाग घेणाऱ्यांची हरकत नाही तर हा गुन्हा कसा काय होऊ शकतो? पण जर सरकारने ही गोष्ट बेकायदेशीर घोषित केली आणि न्यायालयांनी ते मान्य केलं तर ते victimless crime बनेल.

जुगार, वेश्याव्यवसाय ह्या गोष्टी पण ह्याच प्रकारात मोडतात. आपण ह्या गोष्टी चांगल्या आहेत का वाईट ह्या विषयी भाष्य करत नाही आहोत. फक्त ह्या प्रकारचे गुन्हे आणि चोरी, दरोडा, खून ह्यासारख्या गुन्ह्यांमधला फरक बघतो आहे. जिथे कोणाला तरी इजा होत आहे किंवा त्याच्या मालमत्तेचं नुकसान होत आहे तिथे मामला स्पष्ट आहे पण असे नसते तेव्हा त्याला गुन्हा का म्हणायचं ह्याचा विचार केला पाहिजे.

बरेच वेळा आपण आपले विचार दुसऱ्यांवर लादण्यासाठी ह्या गुन्ह्यांचा उपयोग करतो. मला एखादी गोष्ट आवडत नसेल तर तू पण ती करायची नाहीस असं मी घोषित करतो आणि जर ते विचार लादण्याची ताकद माझ्याकडे असेल तर ते मी इतर सगळ्यांवर लादतो. इथे अडचण एवढीच आहे की फक्त बंदी घातल्यामुळे त्या गोष्टीची मागणी कमी होत नाही आणि जिथे मागणी आहे तिथे पुरवठा होतोच. मग ती कामे बेकायदेशीररित्या होऊ लागतात. कोणाचेच त्यावर नियंत्रण राहत नाही आणि एकूण बघता समाजाला फायद्यापेक्षा नुकसान जास्त होतं.

काही लोक हे खरच चांगल्या उद्देशाने करतात. त्यांची अशी समजूत असते की ह्या प्रकारचे व्यवहार करणाऱ्या माणसाला त्याचं भलं कशात आहे ते समजत नाही. म्हणून इतरांनी मिळून त्याला रोखण्याची गरज आहे. अशी प्रेमाची सक्ती पालक आणि मुलं किंवा जवळच्या लोकांमध्ये ठीक असली तरी पूर्ण समाजावर लादली की त्यातलं प्रेम कमी आणि सक्ती जास्त मोठी होते. भारताची घटना व्यक्तीस्वातंत्र्याला खूप महत्व देते. म्हणून एखादी गोष्ट बेकायदेशीर ठरविताना ती करणाऱ्या व्यक्तीच्या स्वातंत्र्याला इजा पोहोचणार नाही ह्याची काळजी घेतली पाहिजे.

अजून एक असे बघायला मिळते की मूळ गुन्हा रोखणे अवघड असते म्हणून कुठे तरी दुसरीकडेच निर्बंध आणले जातात. बायकांवर अत्याचार आणि त्यांना मारहाण करणे हा खरा गुन्हा आहे पण त्याची उकल करण्यासाठी दारूबंदी लागू केली जाते. मग हा victimless crime बनतो. तसंच महिलांना जर जबरदस्तीने dance bar मधे नाचायला लावत असतील तर तो गुन्हा आहे. पण ते बार बंद केल्याने ह्या प्रश्नाची उकल कशी होईल ? त्यांना रोजगाराचे इतर पर्याय निर्माण झाले तरच ही जबरदस्ती नाहीशी होईल.

आता victimless crime ला चांगला मराठी शब्द सुचवा.

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Kanhaiya Kumar and blockchain

In a society with severe trust deficit technology can help bridge the gap.


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There have been many victims in the JNU incident but none suffered greater damage than the credibility of the media, especially the TV reportage. Video journalism was on the rise throughout the last decade but with the proliferation of smart phones this took a different turn altogether. Everyone can be a reporter now and not just write but present video proof in real time. The Kanhaiya Kumar case brought out another aspect of the video technology out in the open for everyone to see, that it can doctored. And doctored easily. We can expect this drama to go on for a while. Now that some videos have been found out to be fake, people will deny that they were aired. They will try to create obfuscation about the timing and the exact content of the videos. The hope is that you create so much confusion that people stop believing anything. But what if you had a very simple and tamper-proof way of checking the authenticity of the video or any other media?

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Enter blockchain. Blockchain is the technology behind the crypto-currency bitcoin. One of its fundamental properties is that it de-centralizes trust. You do not need to trust a central authority to do transactions or maintain records. Another property is that the history cannot be altered. Once a transaction is recorded in what is known as the distributed ledger then it cannot be tampered with. What it needs is a lot of individuals to run nodes (a software) on their own computers. The more people run the nodes, the more secure and fool-proof the system becomes. You can imagine it as a tweet which cannot be deleted.

It makes sense to put such videos on the blockchain. Once they are there no one can dispute or create confusion about the timing or exact contents of the videos. This is greatly help with quick resolution of facts instead of getting wound-up in endless hours of deciphering who said what. The best thing is that everyone can participate in the maintenance of the network and no one person or organization is responsible for it. There are many technical details that need to be figured out – like using the SHA1 hash of the video might be good enough, an incentive structure for running the nodes, etc.

Ultimately, no technology can help if there is no social capital for its adoption. But the blockchain technology is tailor-made to work in situations where there is a trust deficit. And the current Indian media qualifies.

Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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‘Inflation’ ला मराठीमधे काय म्हणाल?

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

महागाई चलनवाढ असे अनेक शब्द आपण रोजच्या वर्तमानपत्रात वाचत असतो. पण ह्यांचा नक्की अर्थ काय आहे? महागाईसाठी कोणाला दोष द्यायचा हे ठरवण्याआधी ती नक्की कशामुळे निर्माण होते ते पाहूया. महागाई दोन कारणांमुळे होऊ शकते. पहिलं अगदी सोपं आहे. एखादी गोष्ट बनवायला जो कच्चा माल लागतो तो जर महाग झाला तर त्या गोष्टीची किंमत पण आपसूकच वाढणार. जर आंतरराष्ट्रीय बाजारात तेलाची किंवा धातूंची किंमत वाढली तर प्लास्टिक स्टील इत्यादी गोष्टींची किंमत पण वाढणार. आपल्याला असे वाटते की आधी महागाई वाढते आणि मग आपला पगार वाढतो पण उत्पादनातला एक महत्वाचा घटक म्हणजे कामगार असतो. म्हणून पगारवाढ हे पण महागाईचं एक कारण असू शकतं. ह्याला अर्थाशात्रात ‘cost push inflation’ म्हणतात.

महागाईचं दुसरं कारण सहसा लक्षात न येणारं आहे. कुठल्याही गोष्टीची किंमत फक्त त्याच्या निर्मितीला लागलेल्या खर्चावर ठरत नाही. बहुतेकदा त्या गोष्टीची किती मागणी आहे आणि किती पुरवठा शक्य आहे ह्या वर त्याची किंमत ठरते. म्हणजे जरी ती गोष्ट बनवायला निश्चित खर्च आला असेल तरी त्याची विकण्याची किंमत अनिश्चित असू शकते. कांद्याचे भाव हे ह्याचं उत्तम उदाहरण आहे. कधी ते १० रुपये किलो असतात तर कधी १०० रुपये किलो. उत्पादनाची किंमत तर बदलत नाही मग काय बदलतं? कांदे अशी गोष्ट आहे की ज्याच्या मागणीत फारसा बदल होत नाही पण पुरवठ्यामधे खूप तफावत दिसते. पुरवठा जास्त झाला की किंमती पडतात आणि कमी झाला की किंमती वाढतात. ह्या उलट हॉटेलमधे राहण्याचा खर्च बघा. इथे पुरवठा बऱ्यापैकी स्थिर असतो पण मागणी वर खाली होत असते. म्हणून सुट्टीच्या दिवशी बुकिंग महाग पडते. ह्याला ‘demand pull inflation’ म्हणतात.

पण फक्त कांदे किंवा हॉटेल बुकिंग महाग झालं तर त्याला तुम्ही महागाई म्हणाल का? महागाई म्हणजे सरसकट सगळ्या गोष्टींची किंमत वाढणे. बरेच वेळा चलनवाढ हे महागाईचे कारण असू शकते. जेव्हा RBI जास्त नोटा छापते तेव्हा देशातला एकूण पैसा वाढतो. जर त्या प्रमाणात पुरवठा वाढला नाही तर आहेत त्याच गोष्टी जास्त किंमतीला विकल्या जाऊ लागतात आणि महागाई वाढते.

आता ह्या ‘Inflation’ ला चांगला मराठी शब्द सुचवा.

 

Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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Can Private Certification replace Government Censorship?

There can be a market for certification because in involves choice but there cannot be a market for censorship because it involves force.

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There was an incident in Pune a few years back where the Shiv Sena and some other political parties marched on the streets to protest against a particular billboard ad campaign in the city. They were outraged that the municipal authorities allowed the display of large posters of skimpily clad women at major junctions in the city. Never mind that it was an undergarments manufacturer merely advertising its wares.

The why of censorship is a complex topic with long history and lots of nuances. But the short summary is that all societies have always allowed some kind of censorship. But the how and what of censorship is very interesting and is not part of much debate. Should movies be subject to censorship, what about drama? Street play? What about a guy screaming from a footpath?

From the standpoint of the viewer there is a case from differentiating between media which are avoidable and which are not. For example, a billboard which is smack above a traffic signal is non-avoidable. But a video on YouTube will not play by itself in front of you so is avoidable. The yardsticks that apply to these two types of media should be different. For non-avoidable media there is a case for applying the standards which are most acceptable for all (i.e. most conservative) but you can have much lenient standards for things which you will not be exposed to unless you choose to be. In the ideal case for such avoidable media all you need is certification and not censorship.

There is a strong case of opening up the certification sector to private participation. The government can continue giving out its ratings but I need not be forced to use them. If there are other entities which rate the movies, then I can choose the ones I trust the most. This reduces the possibility of me getting accidentally offended by something. After all many people do read reviews in newspapers before deciding to go for a movie. The credibility of the review depends on the track record of the writer so the writer has a good incentive to be consistent (if not entirely honest). This is similar to how a market for certification will work.

Certification and censorship work on two very different premises. Certification is useful for people who want to avoid certain things willingly. Censorship is for someone to deny others what they might be interested in watching. There are some instances in which censorship makes sense, like disallowing certain content for children but the vast majority of cases can be addressed with certification alone.

Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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Taming our roads

Traffic cops need to be armed only with a camera.

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Technology does not solve any problem if the stakeholders are not serious about solving it in the first place. But technology does make the job easier if the social capital exists. While we have strong debates and opinions about loftier things like Freedom of Speech and Nationalism, rarely do we have national debates on the state of our urban infrastructure. Yet it is the most tangible aspect of the government action (or inaction) which affects more than half of the country now. Urban spaces are different than villages in the sense that they are harder to govern without formal institutions. A village can form a group of elders fairly easily and they can act as interlocutors for disputes and also for matters related to management of community resources. A city works on a different scale. No one knows everybody and everyone cannot agree to anything. Hence, respected institutions and very clear rules that can be followed without much hand-holding is an explicit need of a city.

Traffic in Indian Cities is a beast that needs to be tamed. It is a perfect example of people coming together and causing disharmony instead of cohesion. No one follows the rules even if it will make everyone happier by following them. Behavioral Sciences study these kinds of interactions and place significant weight on initial conditions. With the same set of rules and participants but with different initial conditions, systems tend to move towards very different equilibrium. Hence a mere change in rules like increasing the penalty, etc. will not change the situation much. A focused effort needs to be put in to change the fundamentals and arrive at a new stable point. But who will make the change?

Three agencies need to come together to achieve this. The municipal corporations need to update and maintain the infrastructure. The RTO needs to license and maintain records of vehicles and authorized drivers. And finally the traffic police need to enforce the rules on the road. The key ingredient that is missing in most cities is the ability to track and recover fees. Technology can help in this regard. Bangalore already has a system which can send challans to the offenders at their doorstep or over email. The traffic cops need use this data more effectively. Unless people are convinced that they cannot get away with breaking traffic laws there will not be a change in the behavior.

 

Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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Should autos be allowed surge pricing?

If you don’t restrict the market you don’t need to restrict the price.

The Mumbai auto drivers followed their brethren in Paris and New York and went on a one-day strike against the growing number of cab-aggregator services in the city. The strike itself is a testimony to the popularity of these new and innovative means of urban transportation. It shows that people are interested in trying out new options if it helps them save time and money. The resistance from the entrenched players is obvious but what is not obvious is what the government will do about it. The confusion begins right from the start, is this public transport or private transport?

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Source: Flickr

We generally refer to autos and taxis as public transport even if they are privately owned. Perhaps because the government mandates many things that the autos need to do. The color, the fare, the uniform, even the number of autos that can be on the roads is fixed by the government. In fact, the increase in the permit charges from 200 to 10000 is one of the reasons for the strike. But why would a government try to restrict the number of autos (by increasing the price of the permit or not allowing more permits)? If there are more people who want to commute by autos, then shouldn’t there be more autos on the road? The reason generally given is to protect the livelihoods of the auto drivers. Then why are the auto drivers themselves striking against the decision?

The auto drivers in Mumbai are one of the best in the country when it comes to plying by meter. But will they be now tempted to do surge pricing as well? The way to control surge pricing is not by capping it. But by allowing more vehicles and drivers to offer their services. This is beneficial for both drivers as well as passengers. The central government sent out an advisory in July of 2015 and Karnataka State Government has come out with its own policy for regulating the cab-aggregators. Both policies have focused on treating this new phenomenon like traditional auto or a taxi service. Which it is most definitely, not.

Safety should be the chief concern of these regulations. Other operational parameters like prices, hours of service, etc. should not be unnecessarily regulated. Urban public transport is in desperate need of innovation and the government should do all it can to support it. Greater use of such services will result in less vehicles on the road and easing of pressure on the current municipal transport systems. Both would benefit the poor who are dependent on fast and cheap public transport for their everyday needs. Creating a regulatory framework which puts safety and ease of compliance at its heart would be a step in the right direction in this regard.

Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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‘Consumer Surplus’ ला मराठीमधे काय म्हणाल?

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Source: Flickr

एखादा व्यवहार होण्या किंवा न होण्यामागे काय कारणं असतात? एक म्हणजे विक्रेत्याला त्या गोष्टीची जास्तीत जास्त किंमत हवी असते. पण एक अशी किंमत असते जिच्याखाली तो ती गोष्ट विकायला तयार होणार नाही. तसंच ग्राहकाला ती वस्तू कमीत कमी किमतीला हवी असते. पण अशी एक किंमत असते ज्यापेक्षा जास्त तो भरायला तयार नसतो. मग व्यवहार अशाच वेळेला शक्य आहे जेव्हा ग्राहकाची देण्याची तयारी (किंमत) हि विक्रेत्याच्या घेण्याच्या तयारीपेक्षा जास्त असते.

असं समजा की तुम्ही एका नवीन शहरात कपडे विकत घ्यायला गेले आहात. तुम्हाला एक गोष्ट आवडते. त्याची किंमत ५०० रुपये आहे. विक्रेत्याला नफा होण्यासाठी कमीत कमी ३०० रुपये गरजेचे आहेत. तुमचं बजेट ५५० आहे असं समजा. तुम्ही वाटाघाटी सुरु करता. तुम्ही ३०० म्हणता तो ४५० म्हणतो आणि अखेर तुम्ही दोघेही ४०० वर सौदा पक्का करता. आता काय झालं बघा. विक्रेत्याच्या अपेक्षेपेक्षा त्याला १०० रुपये जास्त मिळाले म्हणून तो खूष झाला आणि विकायला तयार झाला. तुम्ही ५५० मोजायला तयार होता पण तुम्हाला ४०० मधे मिळाल्यामुळे तुम्ही पण खूष झाला आणि विकत घ्यायला तयार झाला. इथे असं म्हणता येईल की तुम्हाला १५० रुपयांचा (प्रतीकात्मक) फायदा झाला. अर्थशास्त्रात ह्याला ‘Consumer Surplus’ म्हणतात आणि विक्रेत्याच्या १०० रुपयांना ‘Producer Surplus’ म्हणतात. इथे आपल्याला असं पण लक्षात येतं की व्यवहाराच्या दोन्ही बाजूंना फायदा झाला. म्हणून बाजारव्यवस्था हि एखाद्या खेळासारखी नसते जिथे एक जिंकला म्हणजे बाकीचे हरावेच लागतात.

आता ह्या ‘Consumer Surplus’ साठी चांगला मराठी प्रतिशब्द सुचवा.

Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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