Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: 28 June, 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. Inclusion does not mean endorsement. -CA


World & Politics

Did we ever really understand how the EU works?

The EU27’s whole approach to the talks, in other words, underlined how the politics of staying together trumped the potential value of trade with Britain. Furthermore, the underlying dynamics of the negotiation were always going to be profoundly asymmetrical, not just because it pitted 27 against one, but more importantly because the EU could unite in the defence of a pre-agreed system whereas the British had to devise its desiderata from scratch. Mapping out what Britain desired would always have been a challenging task, not least because Leave voters hold markedly divergent views on the question; it has been even more so in a deeply polarised country, led since 2017 by a minority and profoundly split government. (LSE)

What a Military Intervention in Venezuela Would Look Like

The most likely scenario lies somewhere between the two extremes. After a U.S. invasion, the Venezuelan military would likely surrender quickly, the regime would collapse, and most Cuban and Russian personnel would withdraw. But the U.S. presence would push military defectors, paramilitary groups, and militias into hiding. The United States would have to lead the rebuilding of Venezuela’s security forces and keep troops in the country for years. (Foreign Affairs)

Mass protest is a two-edged sword, and a rise in mass mobilizations may bring not an era of resurgent democracy but one of instability. A more basic phenomenon may be at play in the rise of mass protest movements: Social media, by making it far easier to spread outrage and mobilize people, has made political uprisings subject to the law of large numbers. Simply put, as many more protests are attempted, Dr. Margetts said, the number that succeed will also rise. (New York Times)

How China Really Sees the Trade War

China has already limited the export of rare earth minerals, essential in the production of high-tech electronics, to the United States. And it has drawn up a preliminary list of large U.S. companies to be deemed “nonreliable,” although what sanctions those on the list will face is not yet clear. At the same time, China has made life easier for British, French, German, and Japanese companies. The People’s Bank of China has steadily reduced its holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds, thus gradually constraining Washington’s ability to finance its deficit at low interest rates. Even North Korea has come into the picture: Xi’s visit to Pyongyang last week was timed to remind the U.S. side that China can help or hurt the United States not only economically but strategically as well. (Foreign Affairs)


Business & Economics

Capitalism: A Rejoinder

Capitalism as an economic system replaced slavery and feudalism, but it merely reproduces the master/slave and lord/serf relationships in a new form: employer/employee. Like its antecedents, this is a relationship built on the creation and delivery of surplus: Employees, or workers, create surplus value for a small portion of the population who own and control capital. (Institutional Investor)

Will a robot really take your job?

To avoid the trap, Mr Frey argues, today’s policymakers should take advantage of the fact that this time around it is possible to see how things might play out, and manage the transition accordingly. In particular that means making greater use of wage insurance, to compensate workers who have to move to jobs with a lower salary; reforming education systems to boost early-childhood education and support retraining and lifelong learning; extending income tax credit to improve incentives to work and reduce inequality; removing regulations that hinder job-switching; providing “mobility vouchers” to subsidise relocation as the distribution of jobs changes; and changing zoning rules to allow more people to live in the cities where jobs are being created. (The Economist)

Impact Investing’s ‘Third Phase’: What New Challenges Lie Ahead?

In a way, impact investing has been inherent in how people use money whether they realize it or not. “Money is a construct. Humans came up with it. It was a way to organize our economy in our societies, but it’s not an end in itself. It really has always been a means to create the world that we want to live in,” Bugg-Levine said. With impact investing, “we’re returning to a core instinct that I do believe most humans have, which is that wealth and resources should be put to work not only to enrich the individuals that happen to own them at that time. Impact investing connects with an intuitive sense many people have.” (Wharton)

What happens to people’s careers when demand for their occupations declines?

Our findings suggest that earnings losses from occupational decline are smaller than the losses suffered by workers who experience mass layoffs, as reported in the existing literature. This is likely because occupational decline is typically gradual, and can be partly managed through retirements, reduced entry into declining occupations, and increased job-to-job exits to other occupations. Gradual occupational decline may also have a less pronounced impact on local economies compared to large, sudden shocks, such as plant closures. (LSE)



Science & Technology

How much of the responsibility for guarding electronic transmissions lies with hotels and how much with guests is “a nasty philosophical question,” says Mike Wilkinson, global director at Trustwave SpiderLabs. Mark Orlando, chief technology officer for cybersecurity at Raytheon IIS, advises corporate clients to avoid using personal devices altogether while on the road. That could mean requesting a loaner laptop or buying a burner phone. Even ordinary travelers should use virtual private networks to connect to the internet when outside the U.S., he says. (Bloomberg)

The history of the electric car is longer than you might think

“In 1901, 38 per cent of the cars were electric, and 20 per cent or so were petrol, and in the middle, there was the outgoing technology of steam,” says technologist and historian David Kirsch. “If you’d asked the great experts of their age in 1900 which technology would come to dominate the motor-based transportation, I think most learned people would have said electricity.” (ABC)

A Non-Scientist’s Guide to the Neuromarketing Toolkit

The choice to use neuromarketing – and which neurometric to adopt – largely depends on the question or problem that you want to resolve. We do not think of the above neuromarketing techniques as replacing traditional methods, but rather as a complement. For example, if you want to change some features of your product and alter prices accordingly, then survey-based conjoint analysis should be your chosen method. For online or offline store optimisation, combining neuromarketing research with field experiments and A/B testing has yielded good results. (INSEAD)

Toward a world that values insects

Although public interest in insects varies from one country to another, biological education about the conservation of insects and their natural habitats is urgently needed at all levels of society, starting with field education programs (14). The extraordinary natural history of insects offers many opportunities in biological education and citizen science (14). Field surveys and experiments help the public to appreciate the importance of insects in terrestrial biodiversity (14). Such activities may promote greater empathy and curiosity toward insects and their habitats. Finally, promoting science through traditional and social media can spread enthusiasm and respect for insects and those who study them. (Science)


Culture & History

America’s new redneck rebellion

West Virginia has just 14,000 people working underground — barely a 10th of its mid-20th-century peak. That headcount has risen marginally since Trump was elected. But not even he can arrest the march of natural gas, which is the main cause of coal’s decline (as opposed to Obama’s regulations, which are seen as the chief culprit by many West Virginians).  “People keep telling us there’s a hundred years of coal in the ground,” says Wilma. “That’s a myth. At best we have 10 years.” The Steeles show me government survey maps that leave little doubt that the bulk of the remaining coal seams are uneconomic. “The good ol’ boys don’t talk about that,” Wilma says. (Financial Times)


“Some retail and ecommerce stores have started to receive a lot of refund requests for fashion clothes by consumers who cannot pay for them and only bought them for taking Instagram photos or shooting YouTube videos,” Abdalla says. She has lots of sad anecdotes to share, like a woman who vlogged from the Apple Store and edited the footage to make it seem like she was in her living room, and low-income teenagers who thought they needed to buy designer clothes before they could be accepted in a mall.  (WIRED)

An Exhibition of Gordon Parks’s Photography Suggests New Roles for African-American Collectors

It would be easy to relegate Parks’s work to being just representations of the past, but the issues Parks addressed — poverty, racism, and a myriad of other injustices — still plague America. The truth is Parks’s work may be relevant now more than ever. The current socio-political climate, where hate is high and progress is slow, is eerily similar to the exhibition images that reveal some of America’s most abhorrent moments. Conversely, his photos reveal the humanity of Black people: Park captures them adorned in their Sunday best, or at an ice cream shop amidst fear and hatred. These images serve as a testament to the collective resilience of African-American people and are integral to the larger narrative of the African-American experience. (Hyperallergic)

He is back onstage seated at the piano. He begins to play. He comes to the second movement — the lovely opening bars of the Arietta from the Op. 111. Should he look? The notes cascade along. The theme is so beautiful, so transfixing. But … has his associate removed the lobster? He looks nervously around. He worries that the lobster might not be in its box, and that concern begins to dominate his thoughts. He’s thinking about the lobster and not about the music, the Op. 111. He shouldn’t have taken the risk. It was a mistake to put his concert career in jeopardy. (New York Times)

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