Reconn Reader: March 15, 209

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. Inclusion does not mean endorsement. -CA

 

World & Politics

Can Putin Fix Russia’s Sputtering Economy?

The only other option for the Kremlin is to improve the business climate in ways that attract more Russian and foreign investors. Such moves, however, would also threaten the Kremlin’s ability to control Russian domestic politics. In many cases, the Russian government views foreign investors as a threat. One major American investor in Russia, Michael Calvey, was imprisoned in February on dubious charges. And improving the environment for domestic investors means reducing the power of the monopolistic state-owned firms—firms through which the Kremlin can exert power at home. (Foreign Affairs)

In Venezuela, Some Crime No Longer Pays

Up until a few years ago, authorities in Caracas’s upscale El Hatillo district—where many large ranch-style homes now sit vacant—used to log as many as two kidnappings a day, according to its director of citizen security, Javier Gorriño. But they have recorded just two since the beginning of 2018. In the latest one, the ransom payment was $400, he said, a far cry from the tens of thousands of dollars that professional gangs used to demand. “The crisis has hit us all, even the malandros,” said Mr. Gorriño. (Wall Street Journal)

Huge Pools of Dirty Money Are Europe’s Worst-Kept Banking Secret

Russians hold about $1 trillion outside their home country, according to both Bloomberg Economics and a 2017 study by economists Filip Novokmet, Thomas Piketty, and Gabriel Zucman that cited the U.K., Switzerland, and Cyprus among centers of funds. It’s such an open secret that until the current revelations, relatively few Europeans seemed perturbed by that money coursing through their financial systems and real estate markets. Certainly not enough to push for real reform—although its impact was obvious in rental costs and restaurant prices in London neighborhoods such as Knightsbridge and Mayfair. (Bloomberg)

Why China is struggling to realise its dream of a Hainan hi-tech paradise

The Post reported last year that, since the scheme’s launch, there had been a number of cases of people arriving in Hainan only to be refused entry, with most visitors having to spend 24 hours in the arrivals lounge before they were eventually given the green light.
The problem is that, while tourists are allowed to visit Hainan for up to 30 days without a visa, they must submit their personal and flight documents through a local travel agency 48 hours before arrival. They then face a processing delay, which includes having their fingerprints taken, before they are permitted to leave the airport and begin their holiday (South China Morning Post)

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Business & Economics

Is modern monetary theory nutty or essential?

Speaking with mmt’s adherents is sometimes like watching a football match with friends who insist the ball remains stationary while every other element in the game, including the pitch and goalposts, moves around it. Communication is made harder still by mmters’ sparse use of mathematical models. To economists who consider heavy-duty maths a mark of seriousness, such reluctance to use equations is either evidence of intellectual inferiority or a way of avoiding scrutiny. (The Economist)

The office networks of people who are thinking of quitting their job

People are known to have a strong need to belong and having close friendship ties helps people satisfy this need. The prospects of leaving the organisation seem to thwart this need. One way of dealing with this is to try to secure one’s friendship ties for the time after one has left the company. Thus, from the perspective of someone leaving an organisation it makes sense to hold on to existing friendship relations and not to jeopardise them. On the other hand, it makes little sense to start a new friendship because building a friendship relation costs time and effort. Because one expects to leave the organisation it may seem futile to build a new friendship and better to save one’s energy. (London School of Economics)

What Is the Future of Ecommerce? 10 Insights on the Evolution of an Industry

“The brands that are winning,” says Fab Dolan, Head of Marketing at Google Canada, “are the ones that understand and own the fundamental interplay between experiential and transactional. If we were to believe that retail is dead, then we should be spending all of our money doing online ads and guiding people to our website. And yet, what we’re seeing time and time again is that building anticipation and an appreciation for the magic of our products happens in the real world even though most people buy online or through call centers. (Shopify)

The Software That Shapes Workers’ Lives

The consequences of this relentless optimization are well-documented. The corporations that commission products pass their computationally determined demands on to their subcontractors, who then put extraordinary pressure on their employees. Thus, China Labor Watch found that workers in Heyuan City, China, tasked with producing Disney’s Princess Sing & Sparkle Ariel Bath Doll—retail price today, $26.40—work twenty-six days a month, assembling between eighteen hundred and twenty-five hundred dolls per day, and earning one cent for each doll they complete. (The New Yorker)

 

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Science & Technology

The Next Silicon Valley? Why Toronto Is a Contender

Goldfarb said Toronto has also had “a fair bit of luck, or foresight” in that it happens to have been a hotbed for technologies that are currently in high demand. “A lot of the current tech excitement is around AI, focused on machine learning, and many of those technologies were developed in Canada generally and Toronto in particular,” he added. “That turned out to be a big deal.” (Wharton)

The world pulls the Andon Cord on the 737 Max

Lion Air 610 should never have been allowed to get airborne on October 29, a conclusion shared by those familiar with the inquiry. The plane simply wasn’t airworthy. According to the preliminary investigation, PK-LQP’s Angle of Attack sensors were disagreeing by 20-degrees as the aircraft taxied for takeoff. A warning light that would’ve alerted the crew to the disagreement wasn’t part of the added-cost optional package of equipment on Lion Air’s 737 Max aircraft. A guardrail wasn’t in place. Once the aircraft was airborne, the erroneous Angle of Attack data collided with an apparently unprepared crew with tragic consequences as the MCAS system repeatedly activated, driving the jet’s nose into a fatal dive. (The Air Current)

The World Wide Web — not the internet — turns 30 years old

In a nutshell, the internet still runs on Kleinrock’s basic idea — the dissemination of information that’s split up into small amounts for easy transmittal. But these days, it’s a little more elaborate: Namely, it’s what connects our phones and laptops to servers full of information and puts content on our screens when we type in website addresses. It does this via the World Wide Web. And we have tech legend Sir Tim Berners-Lee to thank for it. (VOX)

Starstruck—60 Years of NASA’s Dazzling Archives

Astronauts Ed White (left) and James McDivitt in the launch pad elevator—with spacesuit technicians Clyde Teague (center right) and Joe Schmitt—head for Gemini 4, NASA’s first multi-day manned mission and the first U.S. spacewalk on June 3, 1965. Credits: NASA (Scientific American)

 

Culture & History

In 2004, a squadron of cataflics on patrol in the quarries broke through a false wall, entered a large, cavernous space, and blinked in disbelief. It was a movie theater. A group of cataphiles had installed stone-carved seating for twenty people, a large screen, and a projector, along with at least three phone lines. Adjacent to the screening room were a bar, lounge, workshop, and small dining room. Three days later, when the police returned to investigate, they found the equipment dismantled, the space bare, except for a note: “Do not try to find us.”(Longreads)

How India conquered YouTube

Nagar is so recognisable he can hardly leave the house any more. “He recently went to a shopping mall. A fan tore off his shirt, another punched me, someone else kissed him on the cheek,” says Nagpal. But, as proud as Nagar is of the global reach of his channel (“US, UK, Dubai”), he is in no rush to step out of his Hindi-speaking turf. Indeed, as he sees it, YouTube in India is only going to rise and rise. (Financial Times)

The Moral Failings of American Press Coverage of Nazi Germany

When it comes to documenting the Nazis’ murder of Jews, Schneidermann describes the Times’ coverage as fragmentary, incremental, and buried in “dry” briefings on interior pages. June 16, 1942, page 6: a short piece noting that sixty thousand Jews in Vilnius have been murdered. June 30, 1942, page 7: a press conference given by a Polish government official in exile concludes that around one-sixth of the European Jewish population of six to seven million has been annihilated. Schneidermann tries to grapple with the possible explanations—the incredulity of the reporters and editors, the banalization of so much recurring death. (The New Yorker)

So You Want to Be a Pop Star in China

Ahead of his first solo show in Beijing, Christopher was less worried about Chinese censorship—love songs are generally OK, as long as they’re not explicit—than he was about the possibility that nobody would show up. The charts in China are notoriously difficult to trust or understand. There’s no Billboard-like central body that issues weekly sales figures. Musicians are forced to rely on QQ’s charts and social media followings. “I don’t know if there will be 29 people or 300 or what,” he told his crew. “But we will convert them.” The show was sold out. In addition to Beijing and Shanghai, Christopher would pack venues in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Nanjing, and Wuhan, none of which he’d heard of before the trip. (Bloomberg)

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Carlos Alvarenga

Founder and CEO at KatalystNet and Adjunct Professor in the Logistics, Business and Public Policy Department at the University of Maryland’s Robert E. Smith School of Business.

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