Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: 5 July, 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

The global crisis in conservatism

Conservatives respect business and are prudent stewards of the economy, because prosperity underpins everything. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, paints himself as a low-tax economic conservative, but undermines the rule of law on which businesses depend. Mr Trump is a wager of trade wars. Over 60% of Tory members are willing to inflict “serious damage” on the economy to secure Brexit. In Italy the League is spooking markets by toying with issuing government paper that would act as a parallel currency to the euro. In Poland Law and Justice has splashed out on a welfare bonanza. In France, in the campaign for the European Parliament elections, the rump Republican Party made more of a splash about Europe’s “Judeo-Christian roots” than prudent economic management. (The Economist)

How Oxford university shaped Brexit — and Britain’s next prime minister

Most students arrived in Oxford barely knowing the Union existed, but Johnson possessed the savvy of his class: he had run Eton’s debating society, and his father Stanley had come to Oxford in 1959 intending to become Union president. Stanley had failed but Boris was a star. Simon Veksner, who followed Johnson from their house at Eton to the Union, tells me: “Boris’s charisma even then was off the charts, you couldn’t measure it: so funny, warm, charming, self-deprecating. You put on a funny act, based on The Beano and PG Wodehouse. It works, and then that is who you are.” (Financial Times)

Power and Paranoia in Caracas

The Venezuelan government and opposition are deadlocked. The former is unable to shrug off U.S. sanctions and a regional diplomatic boycott, while the latter is chafing at its failure to win support from the military and disgruntled state officials. The country’s economy, which contracted 50 percent from 2013 to 2018, could lose up to another third of its value this year. Cash, food, and medicine shortages have been compounded by power cuts and fuel rationing. In the sweltering northwestern oil state of Zulia, restricted to a few hours of electricity a day, markets stink of rotten meat and cars can wait six days in line for gas. In the southern states of Bolívar and Amazonas, gold has replaced Venezuela’s worthless currency as the preferred medium of exchange. Four million Venezuelans have already fled the country. (Foreign Affairs)

Squeezed by U.S. Sanctions, Iran Shifts From Patience to Confrontation

The sanctions were designed to be harsher and more comprehensive than those imposed by the Obama administration, which was joined by the European Union, Russia and China and eventually forced Iran to negotiate the 2015 deal. Mr. Trump said it didn’t go far enough to rein in Iran’s military activities and political influence in the Middle East. Iranian leaders say they won’t negotiate with Mr. Trump on anything unless he lifts sanctions first, and has so far refused to discuss its conventional military means. But Iran’s strategy is aimed at finding a way to the negotiating table, said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazar, a business analysis website focused on Iran (Wall Street Journal)


Business & Economics

Vast Chinese Loans Pose Risks to Developing World

For some, the billions of dollars from China are a welcome contribution to helping many underdeveloped regions in Asia and Africa expand infrastructure. For others, the loans from Beijing have forced half the world into economic and political dependency on Beijing. Some have described the situation as “debt bondage,” while a group of U.S. senators wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last summer warning of China’s “attempt to weaponize capital.” (Der Spiegel)

Mysteries of Monetary Policy

But, again, the puzzle is how the Fed can keep inflation steady at 1.5‑2% per year by relying on a policy tool that seems to have only weak and delayed effects. Presumably, if inflation were to rise substantially above the 1.5-2% range, the Fed would initiate the type of dramatic increases in short-term nominal interest rates that Volcker carried out in the early 1980s, and these changes would have major and rapid negative effects on inflation. Similarly, if inflation were to fall well below target, perhaps becoming negative, the Fed would sharply cut rates – or, after hitting the zero-lower bound, use alternative expansionary policies – and this would have major and rapid positive effects on inflation. (Project Syndicate)

Sun, Sand, and the $1.5 Trillion Dark Offshore Economy

People here are well aware of the outrage over hidden wealth and lost tax revenue. They just don’t believe they’re to blame, and many people deny that their country is even a tax haven or a secrecy jurisdiction. The BVI is, in fact, one of the most vocal opponents of the worldwide transparency drive, which makes the success or failure of its pushback a barometer of whether the global squeeze on the offshore industry is working. (Bloomberg)

Incompetent Male Leaders: The Case for Talent Over Gender

Now I recommend a much quicker way to find out about the prevalence of incompetent managers, which is to just to go to Google and type, “My boss is” or “My manager is,” and see what people think of their leaders. “Crazy,” “abusive,” “unbearable,” “toxic” and a lot of other things that are too rude to repeat here come up. We also know from engagement surveys that only about 30% of people like their jobs. Most people who dislike their job and leave organizations do so because of a direct line manager or supervisor.  (Wharton)


Science & Technology

Satellite and analytics companies say they’re careful to anonymize their data, scrubbing it of identifying characteristics. But even if satellites aren’t recognizing faces, those images combined with other data streams—GPS, security cameras, social-media posts—could pose a threat to privacy. “People’s movements, what kinds of shops do you go to, where do your kids go to school, what kind of religious institutions do you visit, what are your social patterns,” says Peter Martinez, of the Secure World Foundation. “All of these kinds of questions could in principle be interrogated, should someone be interested.” (MIT Tech Review)


There, the Outer Party, whose consumer life consists of telling mobile apps to tell humans to do things, has a different relationship with the Service Class. As an Instacart user for example, you’ll often have a person of color come to your door, laden with the groceries you couldn’t bother to buy yourself, and whose total value likely exceeds what they’ll make in a day of hefting and following Instacart prompts. Often, the order will contain errors, revealing that the buyer didn’t quite know what he was buying (fancy cheeses are particularly risky). You’ll peck at the app and leave a tip to assuage your conscience and avoid thinking about the soaring—and largely unshared—returns to technology and capital. (WIRED)

The Paradox of Expertise

The moral of this study is that novices, laymen, or generalists have a unique advantage over the specialist, and that is wide-ranging curiosity (or wonder, which is the wide-open precedent to curiosity). Foxes are curious about the world and explore different perspectives. They are eager to learn from each other and test their hypotheses. They accept failure and adapt. Curiosity creates space for creativity to flourish. Why then do we promote such singular focus on expertise? And more importantly, how can we avoid that tunnel vision? (Psychology Today)

For Smart Animals, Octopuses Are Very Weird

All of these were gradual processes that probably overlapped in time. “You can’t lose your defense before you have the alternatives ready, no question,” says Jennifer Mather, a cephalopod expert from the University of Lethbridge. “Likely, they had a good dose of the intelligence they are noted for, the shell gradually shrank or became more internal, and with less protection, the behavioral flexibility became much more important and gradually turned into the intelligence we see today.” (The Atlantic)

Culture & History

The Great Model Train Robbery

Intrigued, Price followed him outside to the back of the van, where the stranger showed him a green engine with brass boiler bands—just like the Mayflower’s. Price asked Jamie to come back into his shop so they could go over the paperwork required for trains with boilers. But just as Price turned to reenter his shop, he suddenly heard doors slam shut and, snapping his head around, saw the van zoom away. Moments later, an assistant ran up to the baffled shopkeeper to report a stunning crime: “You’ll never guess what! Gravesend Model Marine have had four locos stolen!” (Bloomberg)

As the World Heats Up, Soccer Must Adapt

FIFA said in its greenhouse gas accounting report that the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia would emit about 2.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. That number is equivalent to carbon dioxide emissions from about 456,500 cars a year, according to EPA estimates. The majority of the tournament’s greenhouse gas emissions were linked to travel and accommodations. (Scientific American)

The False Narratives of the Fall of Rome Mapped Onto America

It was this early interest in Roman history that had compelled Bryullov’s best known work: “The Last Day of Pompeii” (1830–1833), which showed the mayhem of the city of Pompeii in the midst of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. The theme of disaster and panic would pervade his subsequent “Invasion of Rome” as well. However, “Genseric’s Invasion of Rome” would also include the projection of a number of modern anxieties and orientalizing aspects that reflected the fears of the time in Russia. In particular the influence of Islam was dreaded. (Hyperallergic)

During moving season, his crew of 30 movers and eight trucks are in constant rotation. Every other moving company—even the bad ones—are booked solid. Many people opt for DIY moves, with offers of beer and pizza to friends in exchange for the extra limbs. In many cases, appliances belong to the renter and not the landlord; teams of two sway with each backwards step as they ease washers and dryers down from 3-story walk-ups. For Painchaud, it’s the most lucrative time of year but it’s also deeply exhausting. “I can’t wait for July 15,” he says. (City Lab)

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