Friday, March 20, 2009

Jai who?

Last night I heard Jai Ho (Jai Ho) all the way through. My impression was the same, just firmly bolstered, as it was on the night it won the Oscar for best film score (technically, for “Achievement for Music Written for Motion Pictures”): Either the competition was negligible (I’ve not seen the other movies up for best score) or its win was a gesture toward America’s quest for forgiveness for classifying, and usually treating, faceless South Asians with suspiciously American-sounding names, at the far, f-a-r end of a staticky telephonic line, as annoying dunderheads.

Jai Ho is a sorry piece of music, both for Americans not familiar with first class Indian music, and for lovers of everything great from Bollywood. However, besides America’s sudden crush on all things Indian (but not including those sleepy people whose heavily-accented English we can’t make out, and who can’t get our point, either), there may be another reason it’s apparently so wildly appealing.

Assistant Professor Phil Maymin has, in the careful way empiricists do things, observed and objectively documented a striking relationship between stock market returns and popular music beat variability (“volatility”) over the last 50 years. I hope he will forgive me (since I work at the school where he earned his doctorate, though I have not met him) for quoting verbatim the abstract of his paper, Music and the Market: Song and Market Volatility:

“I compare the annual average beat variance of the songs in the US Billboard Top 100 since its inception in 1958 through 2007 to the standard deviation of returns of the S&P 500 for the same year and find that they are significantly negatively correlated. With the recent high stock volatility, people should now prefer less volatile music. Furthermore, the beat variance appears able to predict future market volatility, producing 2.5 volatility points of profit per year on average.”

So in other words, our market has been so treacherously volatile for months now that it seems we need to be stultified by an unchanging beat. By my unscientific analysis, that would pretty much characterize Jai Ho from beginning to end.

Maymin’s article appears as a working paper on SSRN (Social Science Research Network)’s page.

May I take this opportunity to recommend a charming, sweet, and infinitely more successful effort at humanizing the folks working the customer service departments and technical help lines? KLK and I both greatly enjoyed the movie Outsourced. Oh, and it’s so funny. Just thinking about it makes me laugh.

The image is from a pamphlet prepared to celebrate Kruti Patel's bharatanatyam arangetram, or classical Indian dance debut, in 1998. Kruti's mom and I became good friends and devoted colleagues years ago, when we worked together at the Clinical Research Center of the University of Chicago.

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