Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: Nov 2, 2018

Each week, I share some of the most interesting articles from the past seven days. Here is this week’s selection. -CA

Trumpism Comes to Brazil

Why would Bolsonaro break so dramatically with tradition? To be sure, angry, exhausted voters in Brazil view anything that signals change positively. But the deeper answer lies in a dilemma that has redefined the way many Brazilians see the world in recent years. On one side is Venezuela, which has devolved into economic chaos, authoritarianism, crime, and mayhem. Bolsonaro and his supporters have carefully cultivated a narrative in which recent presidents—particularly Lula and Rousseff—were hell-bent on taking Brazil down this same road. On the other extreme is the United States, where (again, in the social media reality created by Brazil’s ascendant right) Trump is a popular, enlightened leader of a strong, safe, prosperous nation. In this binary world, anything that brings Bolsonaro closer to Washington is immensely appealing to his base. (Foreign Affairs)

Like politicians, chief executives live in fear of saying the wrong thing

What to do? A few bosses have the iron self-discipline never to slip up in public—Tim Cook of Apple is a case in point. But not every individual is as restrained as Mr Cook and not every firm is as successful as Apple. The alternative is to pick one of three strategies. The first is to project a persona, just as celebrities do. Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, has published two books that offer a mixture of intimate biography, self-help and business know-how. This has insulated her from some of the blowback from Facebook’s scandals over the past two years. The idea is catching on. (The Economist)

Research: When Getting Fired Is Good for Your Career

Candidates were twice as likely to find a job through a professional network than via recruiters or personal network (59% vs. 28%). While friends may be eager to help and lend their sympathetic ear, ultimately the most powerful support comes from those who have seen the results you can deliver based on their direct working experience with you. Search firms have a wide exposure to available positions but typically play it safe and may be reluctant to put their credibility on the line with their client by presenting a candidate who had been fired before. Proactively reaching out to former bosses, colleagues, customers, or peers for whom you have delivered before proves more fruitful than golfing with friends from university or blasting your CV to the recruiting world — although those most eager do all three. (Harvard Business Review)

Building the Venture Capital State

If anything, however, international attempts to encourage the development of venture capital show the limitations of this view and further undermine the myth that the original Silicon Valley was merely a product of market forces. In the first place, most attempts to replicate Silicon Valley have been led by state actors (similar to what actually happened in the United States). Moreover, some of the most successful ones have relied upon overt state intervention and support. In fact, there are no cases of venture capital simply springing up unaided, and conformity with the Silicon Valley model is actually a poor predictor of success. Far more critical is a policy’s correspondence with local political and economic norms, and the quality of execution on the part of both state and private-sector actors. (American Affairs)

Working-class people are underrepresented in politics. The problem isn’t voters.

The exclusion of working-class people from American political institutions isn’t a recent phenomenon. It isn’t a post-decline-of-labor-unions phenomenon, or a post-Citizens United phenomenon. It’s actually a rare historical constant in American politics — even during the past few decades, when social groups that overlap substantially with the working class, like women, are starting to make strides toward equal representation. Thankfully, the share of women in office has been rising — but it’s only been a certain type of woman, and she wears a white collar. (Vox)

Freedom on the Net 2018: The Rise of Digital Authoritarianism

Events this year have confirmed that the internet can be used to disrupt democracies as surely as it can destabilize dictatorships. In April 2018, Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified in two congressional hearings about his company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which it was revealed that Facebook had exposed the data of up to 87 million users to political exploitation. The case was a reminder of how personal information is increasingly being employed to influence electoral outcomes. Russian hackers targeted US voter rolls in several states as part of the Kremlin’s broader efforts to undermine the integrity of the 2016 elections, and since then, security researchers have discovered further breaches of data affecting 198 million American, 93 million Mexican, 55 million Filipino, and 50 million Turkish voters. (Freedom House)

Artificial Intelligence Is Learning to Keep Learning

In another task, neural networks controlled a character moving in a simple maze to find rewards. After one million trials, a network with the new semiadjustable weights could find each reward three times as often per trial as could a network with only fixed weights. The static parts of the semiadjustable weights apparently learned the structure of the maze, whereas the dynamic parts learned how to adapt to new reward locations. “This is really powerful,” says Nikhil Mishra, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the research, “because the algorithms can adapt more quickly to new tasks and new situations, just like humans would.” (Scientific American)

What a massive database of retracted papers reveals about science publishing’s ‘death penalty’

A disturbingly large portion of papers—about 2%—contain “problematic” scientific images that experts readily identified as deliberately manipulated, according to a study of 20,000 papers published in mBio in 2016 by Elisabeth Bik of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and colleagues. What’s more, our analysis showed that most of the 12,000 journals recorded in Clarivate’s widely used Web of Science database of scientific articles have not reported a single retraction since 2003. (Science)

I Took ‘Adulting Classes’ for Millennials

Lots of those over-scheduled and test-prepped teens of the aughts also missed out on erstwhile educational staples like home economics and shop classes, where high-school kids once learned how to darn a sock or hold a hammer; many schools began mothballing these mandatory courses in the 1990s. As a result, legions of American high-school graduates are being unleashed on the world without any basic skills. Some higher-education institutions, such as New Jersey’s Drew University, have stepped in to offer “Adulting 101” classes in things like beginner car care for their undergraduates. (CityLab)

‘Italian Wines Are Drunk, Not Collected’

Individually, the more expensive wines are of course more profitable. But the truth is: In order to produce top wines, you also need wines that can be brought to market faster and for which you can use the grapes that are not suitable for the top wines but still make great wines. If you ask me, of course I would rather produce more great wines. But there is nothing shameful of producing wines like Santa Cristina for 7 euros a bottle. (Der Spiegel)

The Artist Who Witnessed the Beauty and Horror of WWI Aerial Combat

While there is a certain amount of romanticism in Farré’s work — he was an official delegate of the French Army Museum — he also visualized the horror of combat aviation. Men tumble from a burning plane into the depths of the clouds; a black trail of smoke from a downed plane disrupts luminous colors that suggest a sunset. Many of the casualties he portrayed are Germans; still, he painted plenty of French losses, such as the bloody body of a pilot being pulled from his cockpit. (Hyperallergic)

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