Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: 19 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

Europe risks irrelevance in the age of great power competition

Looking ahead, there is no reason to suppose that the global situation the EU is facing will change for the better any time soon. Should Mr Trump win another presidential term in 2020, for example, the challenges posed by disruptive US policies will be magnified. And, in any event, a full-blown transatlantic trade war might well have already blown up before then. (Financial Times)

With tenacity and torture, Venezuela’s awful regime is hanging on

In January the government allowed the bolívar to float almost freely for the first time since 2003, closing the huge gap between the official exchange rates (there were two) and the black-market rate. That ended a bonanza for loyalists who got access to dollars at the overvalued rate. The state and firms it owns have defaulted on more than $11bn of principal and interest due on bonds. Mr Maduro still blames many of Venezuela’s woes on the “criminal dollar”, but recently the dollar has become accepted almost everywhere, from flea markets in Maracaibo to government-run five-star hotels in Caracas.  (The Economist)

What Another Irish Housing Bubble Says about the EU Technocracy

It is difficult to overstate the loss of confidence that the Irish people will feel when this happens. They were told that the last round of boom and bust was a one-off event. They were also told that the whole thing was effectively the fault of a few rogue bankers at Anglo Irish. It was even hinted that these rogues had captured regulators and shifty Fianna Fáil politicians. None of this was true. And after the next crash, what people will see is that these problems are systemic—and the reason that they are ignored is because their entire elite, from the feckless Fianna Fáil farmer to the fresh-faced Fine Gael social justice warrior, are puppets in a larger system. As the Europeans extort the population into accepting austerity, and as unemployment climbs and youths migrate, the pitchforks will be sharpened and the effigies burned.  (American Affairs)

Thailand’s Unlikely Embrace of Cannabis

The country last year legalized medical marijuana with the approval of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, who then led Thailand’s junta and now heads the civilian government following a disputed general election in March. A key member of his coalition is pushing for full legalization of Thailand’s marijuana market, projected to grow to $661 million within five years, according to cannabis industry researcher Prohibition Partners. (Bloomberg)


Business & Economics

The Economist Who Would Fix the American Dream

For a man who has done so much to document the country’s failings, Chetty is curiously optimistic. He has the confidence of a scientist: If a phenomenon like upward mobility can be measured with enough precision, then it can be understood; if it can be understood, then it can be manipulated. “The big-picture goal,” Chetty told me, “is to revive the American dream.” (The Atlantic)

The Growing Tide Against Unpaid Internships

Reeves, senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution where he is also director of the Future of the Middle Class Initiative and co-director of the Center on Children and Families, is a passionate advocate against unpaid internships. “Unpaid internships pose a financial barrier for people wishing to engage in them, which is intrinsically exclusive,” he said. “Those who were lucky enough to be born into families where the parents are well-educated, affluent, and well-connected can do much better in some ways that are unfair.” (HyperAllergic)

Five Management Lessons From the Apollo Moon Landing

There was more tolerance for ambiguity and doubt during Apollo. Wernher von Braun, the former Nazi who became the chief architect of the immense Saturn V rocket, “went looking for problems, hunches, and bad news,” Epstein writes. Two days after the Eaglelanded, he zeroed in on one engineer’s guess about why a liquid-oxygen tank lost pressure, even though it was no longer relevant to the mission. “We must know whether there’s more behind this, that calls for checks or remedies,” von Braun wrote, according to Epstein. (Bloomberg)

It’s not uncommon for a company’s art to appreciate in value even as winter comes for the economy in general. Says del Rio, “That’s when we see corporations saying, ‘This work that I bought for $5,000 is now worth $500,000 or $5 million. We could be making much better use of our funds.’ Especially if the corporation is in a downturn and considering staff layoffs, how can you justify keeping a $5 million painting on the wall?” In other words, if a piece disappears from a public space, it may be because it’s been too good an investment. (New York Times)



Science & Technology

ARMSTRONG:Get a picture of that.

COLLINS: Oh, sure, I will.

COLLINS: I’ve lost a Hasselblad. Has anybody seen a Hasselblad floating by? It couldn’t have gone very far, big son of a gun like that.

(New York Times)

AI passes theory of mind test by imagining itself in another’s shoes

Artificial intelligence has passed a classic theory of mind test used with chimpanzees. The test probes the ability to perceive the world from the view of another individual and so AIs with this skill could be better at cooperating and communicating with humans and each other. AIs with theory of mind are key to building machines that can understand the world around them. In recent years, the skill has emerged in a robot whose memories are modelled on human brains and in DeepMind’s ToM-net, which understands that others can have false beliefs. (New Scientist)

A new immersive classroom uses AI and VR to teach Mandarin Chinese

In the first year, the new course will use the virtual environment nearly half the time and a traditional classroom the rest, although this arrangement might change in the future. If the class provides strong evidence of improving student learning outcomes, it could serve as a model for others. The most obvious idea would be to extend it to other languages. But it could also be used beyond universities to coach executives, train government staff, or conduct any other preparation activities that might benefit from scenario simulation and role play. (MIT Tech Review)

Is Medicine Overrated?

There is no place I would rather be after a serious accident than in an intensive care unit. For a headache, aspirin; for many infections, antibiotics; for some diabetics, insulin—there are a handful of truly amazing medical intervention, many discovered between seventy and ninety years ago. However, by most measures of medical consumption—number of patients, number of dollars, number of prescriptions—the most commonly employed interventions, especially those introduced in recent decades, provide compelling warrant for medical nihilism. (Scientific American)


Culture & History

The sad decline of spectacular Afghan weddings

“When we opened, we enjoyed great business,” says Mr Sharifi. But now it is not always as easy to fill up every hall. And costs, like the lights, remain undimmed. Running generators can burn over 1,000 litres of diesel a night. Hundreds of staff are involved: not just caterers and musicians, but dozens of armed security guards, since wedding halls are vulnerable to attacks by jihadis. In November a suicide-bomber killed 50 people at a gathering of clerics hosted at a wedding hall. That does rather put people off, admits Ahmad Azimie, the manager of the Arg wedding hall.  (The Economist)

What’s left of liberalism?

But more frustrating than pure semantics is that liberalism’s most ardent defenders tend to credit the liberal order for victories won beyond the means of properly liberal politics. More often than not, the march toward justice in liberal societies has been fueled by illegal strikes, civil disobedience, riots, and, at times, the threat of violence — not merely winning arguments in the “public square.” If we always played by liberalism’s rules, abiding by its preference for legal and parliamentary procedure over open revolt, the progressive victories now attributed to liberalism’s natural egalitarian tendencies would never have been achieved. (The Outline)

What Zoo Design Reveals About Human Attitudes to Nature

In my research, I tried to figure out the relationship between man and animal in each generation. And unfortunately, [current] architecture already reflects this. It shows the state of mind that we as people have toward animals. And the strange thing is, until today, nothing has really caused a tremendous change. We still keep animals in enclosures. They’re a little bigger and a little bit more—at least in Europe or in the United States—fancy, with nice scenery. But still, we still keep animals for our pleasure. In my opinion, it’s a strange thing, and it reflects our position as people that we still don’t care that much about nature and animals.  (City Lab)

Craigslist’s Craig Newmark: ‘Outrage is profitable. Most online outrage is faked for profit’
There is an entire ecosystem at work, he continues, that can enable a falsehood from the obscure reaches of the web to jump on to millions of TV screens with dizzying speed. “It’s a small amount of disinformation originating in some of the social media platforms used by foreign adversaries and their domestic allies. They get amplified: there’s multiple levels including conspiracy sites, then news sites which don’t care about fact-checking. And then once that becomes news, sometimes that emerges into conventional or mainstream media.” (The Guardian)

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