Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: 1 Feb, 2019

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


World & Politics

A new initiative aims to modernise global trading rules

An agreement could include regulations covering spam emails or rules helping digital purchases zip through customs. It could reach deep into members’ domestic regulations to cover cybersecurity or the protection of personal data. It could prevent barriers to cross-border data flows, or ban requirements to store citizens’ data on local servers. Every two years wto members renew a promise not to tax digitally provided goods, such as films from Netflix. A new deal could make that permanent. (The Economist)

‘My country is more dysfunctional than yours’ (Video)

As both British and US governments remain mired in political gridlock, two BBC correspondents discuss the state of their nations. (BBC)

Why Politics Is Failing America

Indeed, America’s current political system would be unrecognizable to our founders. Many of its day-to-day components have no basis whatsoever in the Constitution—which offers no mention of political parties, party primaries, caucuses, ballot access rules, segregated congressional cloakrooms, party-determined committee assignments, filibuster rules, and countless other practices that drive today’s dysfunction. John Adams, our second President and one of the most astute thinkers among America’s founders, even warned the upstart nation against slipping into a duopoly, saying, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.” (Fortune)

Venezuelan pirates – the new scourge of the Caribbean

Most of the pirates are ex-fishermen, who used to make a good living catching tuna, octopus and shrimp in the Caribbean’s warm waters. But under Venezuela’s former president, Hugo Chavez, the fishing industry underwent a well-intentioned but disastrous nationalisation programme, prompting companies to relocate abroad. With the added blow of hyperinflation, many of the fishermen now have no job and no way to feed their families. They do however have access to boats and to guns, which are in ready supply on Venezuela’s increasingly lawless streets. (BBC)



Business & Economics

“Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple,” Tammy Levine, an Apple spokeswoman, said at the time. “Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.” (New York Times)

Anish Kapoor Owns the Rights to the Blackest Color Ever Made. Now Another Artist Is Making His Own—and It’s Even Blacker

The first paragraph of the Kickstarter’s “about” section makes this abundantly clear: Important: By backing this project you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not backing this on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor. To the best of your knowledge, information and belief this material will not make its way into the hands of Anish Kapoor. (Artnet)

Is Huawei a Pawn in the Trade War?

U.S. officials have taken their campaign global, and the bid is gaining traction. Last August, Australia barred Huawei from supplying 5G equipment; New Zealand followed suit in November. A month later, the Japanese government effectively banned Huawei equipment from government contracts, and the country’s main telecom firms announced they would do the same. Canada, Norway, and the United Kingdom are now conducting security reviews of Huawei’s 5G technology, and the French, German, and Polish governments are considering bans of their own. Already, major Western telecoms like the British giant BT and its French counterpart Orange have announced plans to limit or exclude Huawei from their 5G networks. (Foreign Affairs)

In January, WeWork’s founder, Adam Neumann, announced that his start-up was rebranding itself as the We Company, to reflect an expansion into residential real estate and education. Describing the shift, Fast Company wrote: “Rather than just renting desks, the company aims to encompass all aspects of people’s lives, in both physical and digital worlds.” The ideal client, one imagines, is someone so enamored of the WeWork office aesthetic — whip-cracking cucumbers and all — that she sleeps in a WeLive apartment, works out at a Rise by We gym, and sends her children to a WeGrow school. (New York Times)



Science & Technology

Why 5G, a battleground for US and China, is also a fight for military supremacy

Suddenly one soldier, ambushed by an enemy combatant, is shot and loses consciousness. His smart wearable device detects his condition via sensors, immediately tightens a belt around his wounded thigh, injects an adrenaline shot and sends an emergency alert to the field hospital as well as the entire team. Having received the signal on their wristwatches, the team switch to a coordinated combat formation and encircle the enemy. An ambulance helicopter arrives to evacuate the injured soldier while auto-driven armoured vehicles come to reinforce – guided by devices on each soldier and antenna arrays nearby. (South China Morning Post)

Cal Newport on Why We’ll Look Back at Our Smartphones Like Cigarettes

I don’t know if there’s gonna be regulations or not. I’m convinced that within a five-year window, the culture’s gonna shift on young people and smartphones. You’re gonna look at allowing a 13-year-old to have a smartphone the same way that you would look at allowing your 13-year-old to smoke a cigarette. The data is so stark—and a lot of this is really recent—that it’s gonna shift. No responsible parent’s going to want to do it… I think that’s gonna be a cultural shift that’s probably gonna happen, maybe even before regulation is needed. (GQ)

Which Countries Are the Stars of World History?

Regardless of accuracy, with Russia at 61% or even the United States at 30%, these estimates seem to significantly depart from what one might call a realistic account of history. So what could explain these severely inflated estimates of the influence of our nations on world history? Intriguingly, the researchers hypothesize that the phenomenon may be driven by the availability heuristic: when we think about world history, we mostly think about the history of our own country, hence inferring that we must be important. (Scientific American)


Carroll, meanwhile, has emerged as a cult hero of privacy hawks, who follow every turn in his case, Twitter fingers itching. This week, he’ll become a movie star, appearing as a central character in a feature-length documentary called The Great Hack, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. “We hope this film sheds light on what it means to sign the terms and conditions that we agree to every day,” the filmmakers, Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, explained in an email. “What does it mean when we actually become a commodity being mined?” (WIRED)

Culture & History

The deep roots of the trust crisis

Early in the 20th century, Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, used Freud’s theories to refine the art of public persuasion; in so doing he laid the foundations of the modern public affairs industry. In 2002, this was explored by the influential documentary filmmaker, Adam Curtis, in a documentary series, ‘The Century of the Self’. In four films he described how, in developing public affairs, which manages the relationship between organisations and their stakeholders, Edward Bernays found ways to identify people’s unconscious desires and thoughts, and consequently market to them. He taught institutions to manipulate the public, in order to increase rates of consumption, and to value individuals solely as consumers. (London School of Economics)

What happened when Oslo decided to make its downtown basically car-free?

“Cities, like Oslo, have been built for cars for several decades, and it’s about time we change it,” Hanne Marcussen, Oslo’s vice mayor of urban development, said in an email. “I think it is important that we all think about what kind of cities we want to live in. I am certain that when people imagine their ideal city, it would not be a dream of polluted air, cars jammed in endless traffic, or streets filled up with parked cars.” (Fast Company)

The man who lost everything to football (Video)

Manolo el del Bombo has been cheering Spain’s national football team for 45 years – following them around the world and to 10 World Cup competitions. In the beginning there were times he had to hitchhike to get to a match. Now, he travels with the team on their official airplane. His love of football has strained his relationship with his family, but he would gladly do it all again. (BBC)

Who still has a pager?

The last major users of pagers are also their first major users; in 1950, the Jewish Hospital in New York was the first to put the technology to work. Doctors paid $12 a month (the equivalent of about $120 today) for a six-ounce device that looked like a small walkie-talkie. This first pager was surprisingly robust—it lasted for six months on a single set of batteries and could broadcast three-digit numbers to up to 60 doctors at once. (Quartz)

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