Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: 28 September, 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

Christian Hirte, the government commissioner for eastern Germany, insisted that the real situation in the region was “better than its reputation”. He added: “German reunification was a stroke of luck in German history . . . We can today look back with great pride and with self-confidence on what has been achieved in the new federal states over the last 30 years.”  Mr Hirte conceded, however, that the economic and political turbulence of the post-unification years had left a deep mark on the east’s population. (Financial Times)

Journalists in Chinese state media to be tested on loyalty to President Xi Jinping

About 10,000 reporters and editors from 14 state-run online media outlets in Beijing are expected to sit the “pilot tests” using the Xuexi Qiangguo mobile app, a media source who requested anonymity said on Wednesday. Often compared to the Quotations of Chairman Mao – or the “little red book” as it was known in the West – Xuexi Qiangguo is essentially a news aggregation platform for articles, video clips and documentaries about the president’s political philosophy. Launched in January by the propaganda department, it is an example of the party using tech to strengthen its ideological control in China. The name translates as “study to strengthen the nation”, but also plays on the character “Xi” to suggest it is a way for people to learn about their head of state. (South China Morning Post)

A Post-Soviet “War and Peace”: What Tolstoy’s Masterwork Explains About Putin’s Foreign Policy

Many Russians see themselves as inhabitants of an embattled civilization. The United States has reinforced that view by attempting to isolate the country internationally. In practice, the isolation has consisted of expelling Russia from the G-8 in 2014, minimizing high-level diplomatic meetings, and refusing to invite the Russian president to certain symbolic events, such as World War II commemorations. But efforts to sequester the country have backfired, insofar as they appear to stigmatize not only Putin’s government but all of Russia. The more Russia sees itself confronted with a binary choice—authenticity or Western rejection—the more an escalatory conflict acquires the aura of a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Foreign Affairs)

Thomas Cook: the Brexit bankruptcy?

But Thomas Cook will come to be seen as the Brexit bankruptcy more through its impact than its precise causes. For one thing, it is no ordinary firm. Founded in 1841, the travel company came into being as Britain was approaching its moment of peak power. A decade later the Great Exhibition put Britain’s industrial prowess on display and Cook arranged transport for people in the Midlands wanting to visit it. The firm became a standard-bearer for the growth of tourism that has been part and parcel of the modern era. Its demise, through a failure to adjust to the changing nature of competition, is yet another reminder of the futility of the nostalgia that infuses the Leave cause.

Most telling of all, just weeks before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU, if necessary without a deal, the government is having to launch the biggest repatriation of its citizens in peacetime history. No doubt “do-or-die” Brexiters will wrap the flag round this emergency operation, representing it as a Dunkirk of the air that shows Britain at its best. But as Churchill himself told the House of Commons in June 1940, an evacuation is not a victory. (Prospect)



Business & Economics

The required change must be radical but it can deliver, over the next few decades, strong and inclusive growth and poverty reduction.  It can boost output (in a demand-constrained world) and sharpen supply in the short to medium term.  It is already setting off a wave of Schumpeterian technical progress, which will be powerful over the coming decades.  And we know there is no long-run high-carbon growth story.  It would self-destruct on the very hostile environment it would create.

None of this can happen without good policy.  That is where economics must play its role.  In addition, it should be clear that we need analytical contributions from right across our subject.  Much of this will be about political will and institutions – political economy is central. And behavioural change is fundamental. Sadly, far too much of the economic modelling has treated the problem in this way.  We should not shoehorn the problem into familiar structures just because they are familiar.  That approach simply fails to capture the issues at stake.  Further, we have to take the ethics and moral philosophy seriously.  (Vox EU)

How Business Schools Can Help Restore Trust in Capitalism

The loss of trust in capitalism, in big business, and in governments should alarm all business schools. They are an essential part of the system. Not only can lower trust lead to lower enrollment or support for traditional business programs, it suggests that business schools are not delivering on their purported missions of making the world a better place. In a divisive political climate, failing to address why trust in capitalism is faltering can lead to policies that would ultimately harm both business and society. (HBR)

The Rise of Soloism and Birth of the Aloneness Economy

Today’s society is more connected than ever before, yet, despite the growth of our online presence, 1-in-3 people describe themselves as being “socially isolated.” But being socially isolated or alone is no longer a negative thing. In the past five years, we’ve seen a 40% increase in solo travel, a rise in remote working to nearly 50% and record numbers of single-person households globally. The data proves that the popularity of solo living is on the rise, yet marketers have yet to take hold of the opportunity to connect with this audience and leverage the Aloneness Economy. What was once a cultural taboo deemed lonely or sad is now an opportunity for brands to rewrite the narrative of aloneness and create a new norm that caters to the needs of this growing population. (Advertising Week)\

The Economics of Sports Gambling

“The one that is the top end of the skill spectrum is bicycle racing. Which makes sense because if you’re fast, you’re fast,” Hosoi says. “Sometimes you have bad luck in a bicycle race. But for the most part, whoever is going to put out the most power is going to win. So now we come to the interesting chunk of the spectrum: Basketball rewards skill the most, hockey rewards skill the least. Because basketball has a large number of scoring opportunities in each game and a large number of games in the season. So that means that one lucky shot in basketball doesn’t matter very much, whereas one lucky shot in hockey can matter a lot. And football and baseball are somewhere in the middle.”(Medium)


Science & Technology

This story from Chicago serves as a timely warning as medical researchers turn to artificial intelligence (AI) to improve health care. AI tools could bring great benefits to people who aren’t currently served well by the medical system. For example, an AI tool for screening chest X-rays for signs of tuberculosis, developed by start-up Zebra Medical Vision in Shefayim, Israel, is being rolled out in hospitals in India to speed up diagnosis of people with the disease. Machine-learning algorithms could also help scientists to tease out which people are likely to respond best to which treatments, ushering in an era of tailor-made medicine that might improve outcomes. (Nature)

To Invent a Quantum Internet

The idea is not to replace the internet we have today but really to add new and special functionality. There are all kinds of applications of quantum networks that will be discovered in the future, but we already know quite a number of them. Of course the most famous application is secure communication: the fact that one can use quantum communication to perform what is called quantum key distribution, where the security holds even if the attacker has a quantum computer. A quantum computer would be able to break a lot of the security protocols that exist today. (Quanta)

The Dark Side of Light

I the years following Hölker’s 2010 papers, ecologists started to study those consequences. The results emerged quickly and with certainty. In artificially lit environments, songbirds advance their egg-layingwallabies delay their birthssalmon change their migrationfish delay their spawning; and maple trees keep their leaves later in the fall, which can cause frost damage. The list goes on.

In one study, Hölker’s team showed that streetlights could draw in moths that passed within a radius of about 23 meters. European lampposts are generally about 20 to 45 meters apart, so the area they illuminate overlaps. This might be nice for pedestrians, but for insects it acts as a trap, preventing their dispersal through the environment. “It’s a vacuum-cleaner effect,” Hölker said. Other animals respond too, in a cascade that changes the makeup of entire communities. (The Atlantic)

Vanishing: More Than 1 in 4 Birds Has Disappeared in the Last 50 Years

“It’s really a wake-up call for the importance of moving beyond just a single species, endangered species conservation framework,” Smith said. “We rescued the Trumpeter Swan and the Peregrine Falcon, and we should be proud and happy about those successes. But we’re at a stage where, given these extreme declines in so many species, we need to move beyond that framework.

“These are systems and biomes in serious trouble. I think we need to approach conservation of these endangered systems at a much more holistic level.” (Cornell Lab of Orinithology)

Culture & History

Is there success after a career in sport is over?

Returning to elite sportspeople, the transition to a sustainable after-sport career may be made less troublesome if we recognise that what they learn, how they perform and what they have to cope with as a sportsperson are critical skills in the modern world. Communication, teamwork, collaboration, leadership, resilience, stamina, discipline, optimism, networks are crucial aspects of a sporting career and they are critical aspects of assisting elite sportspeople in transitioning to ‘normal’ life. A few elite athletes may leave sport as multi-millionaires, but the vast majority do not. From a very early age they have chased a single dream of sporting success and at some point have to enter a career after sport. Our research shows how what they learn in sport can be of great value to them in their transition, while recognising, in addition, what they should do while in their sporting career in order to successfully transition from it. (LSE)

Which is the best language?

Languages, Mr Dixon says, are like a Western-style house. There are a few rooms you must have (kitchen, bedroom, living room, bathroom), and some discretionary options (office, guest room). On a fixed budget, you can’t have all the extras. He does not crown a “best” language. In the end, he says, readers should make their own list of desirable features, and then closely examine a few languages to decide whether one has more of them than another. But the list of advantages, he concedes, is itself a matter of judgment. For all his scientific criteria, in the end the verdict is in the ear of the beholder. (The Economist)

As the number of savvy customers grows, doll pages provide a useful glimpse into the less glamorous side of before and after — the details that people like to overlook, like bruising, drainage and the often painfully long process of healing after significant surgeries.

Patients become online advertisements for their surgeons. Surgeons develop a reputation on social media for being the best at certain procedures, for delivering a desired look, or for working with certain ethnic groups and body types.

“They’ll cry and upload videos of pain and success and their struggles, or whatever they’re going through, and their surgery sisters help uplift them,” Ms. Hall said.

(New York Times)


“It’s not macabre, it’s the human body,” Margolis said. “We all have one, and it’s interesting.”

Most jarring for some viewers, Margolis told Futurism, is coming to terms with the fact that they’re looking at a dead body that was once a living person with thoughts and feelings. On one stream, Margolis was removing a cadaver’s brain when someone commented “Is that person dead?”

“That’s part of it: how do you talk about death? I’ve made an effort to be sensitive,” Margolis said, explaining that he’s banned people for making fun of others who asked questions, even if the answer seems obvious to some. “If you’re asking a question, there’s no issue. How wonderful that you can ask! If you’re ready to know what dead is, then teach. Help someone know, build a positive attitude.”  (NEOSCOPE)

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