Economics Society Technology

Reconn Reader: 22 December, 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

By contrast, five clubs in League One saw their home constituency change hands, along with three in both League Two and the National League. We’ve included Bury here, despite their expulsion from the English Football League (because we’re sentimental) and Chorley (a constituency which is now held by the speaker, instead of Labour). All but one of these were in Leave-voting constituencies. (Prospect UK)

Che Guevara’s Cuba and John Cowperthwaite’s Hong Kong: a six-decade natural experiment

Less well known is that Guevara was central to the creation of Cuba’s economic policy in the early 1960s; policies that remain largely unchanged. He ran the land reform programme, was President of the National Bank of Cuba, Minister of Industry, member of the National Directorate for the economy, member of the Council of Ministers, and chief negotiator with the Soviet bloc. Guevara would steer Castro and Cuba towards a Marxist economy. He led the collectivisation and nationalisation of agriculture; nationalised virtually all industrial and commercial activity; introduced central planning; established price controls and rationing; replaced the currency and seized most savings; set the wage levels of all jobs; set industrial policy and investment; and controlled all foreign exchange and bartered with Russia, China and other communist countries. (London School of Economics)

How Labour failed to connect with the British working class

Brexit also represented something deeper: a collision between Remain-voting civic-minded social liberals and Leave-voting ethno-nationalist social conservatives. This cut across left-right divisions and had been losing Labour votes in its heartlands for years. For many working-class social conservatives, Corbyn and his inner circle embodied the “metropolitan liberal elite”. (The Conversation)

Modi Pushes India Into Revolt

The government claims that the new act won’t impact the rights of any existing Muslim citizens of India. In a formal, legal sense, that is true. But to grasp the full insidiousness of the citizenship act, one has to consider it alongside another proposed measure: a National Register of Citizens, a sweeping nationwide catalog of the legal status of all individuals in India. Again, it is difficult to contest the idea that a country should be allowed to draft a register of its citizens. But how will authorities determine who is a citizen in a country where many poor Indians lack identifying documentation? (Foreign Affairs)



Business & Economics

Looming over this struggle is a philosophical question: As Airbnb scales up and commits itself to monitoring users more closely, does the company risk abandoning the “Live like a local” mantra that attracted independent-minded travelers in the first place? Kristin Luna, a Nashville-based journalist who’s been a high-­standard “superhost” on Airbnb for almost six years, says she’s already seen changes for the worse: “It feels like a big corporation where you’re just another number.” (Fortune)

Research: How Women Undersell Their Work

One difficulty in studying language usage stems from the fact that every article reports a unique piece of research, yet these findings differ in their novelty and in their importance. If men happen to conduct more novel research than women, then men’s more frequent use of phrases like “novel finding” may simply reflect the nature of the work, as opposed to self-promotion. To ensure a comparison of apples to apples, we only compared publications that investigated topics of similar novelty (determined from the keywords assigned to the articles). We also only compared articles published in the same journals in the same years to account for differences in journal prestige and subject area. (Harvard Business Review)

Keynes was wrong. Gen Z will have it worse.

For consumers, these services have made life more convenient. For owners, stock prices and corporate profits have been cruising higher and higher for decades. But as workers, we have suffered. Gone is the Webvan vision of highly trained, highly paid, upwardly mobile, stock-holding delivery drivers. Amazon’s treatment of its workers at all levels is so intensely exploitative that former employees have created their own form of writing: the “report-back,” an essay that exposes the particular, common hardships of working at the firm. It’s one part worker’s inquiry, one part trauma diary. (MIT Tech Review)

Businessweek at 90: Covering Business Through the Decades

Perhaps the most consequential development of the ’80s and ’90s was the export of American-style capitalism around the globe. BusinessWeek’s European and Asian editions thrived on tales of peripatetic executives taking advantage of market-opening trade deals, delivering the message that free markets would yield good-paying jobs and higher living standards. The failure of communism as an economic and social model, made official by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, gave U.S. companies a license to plant their flag in dozens of countries around the world. “New markets, rapid advances in communications, and new sources of brainpower and skilled labor are forcing businesses into their most fundamental reorganization since the multi-division corporation became standard in the 1950s,” a Nov. 18, 1994, cover story said. (Bloomberg)


Science & Technology

A violation of privacy will result in autonomy being undermined, particularly when one additional condition is met: the observing (privacy-violating) person is in one way or another exercising control over the other person. For instance, the person involved might feel pressure to alter her behaviour just because she knows she is being observed. Or a person who is not aware of being observed is being manipulated. This occurs very often in the digital age, characterised by persistent surveillance and invisible algorithms. When privacy is under threat, the independence of individual decisions is typically also compromised. (London School of Economics)

How we know global warming is real

Sonnblick itself is now a victim of the very change it helps measure. Rising temperatures are melting the mountain’s permafrost, said Elke Ludewig, who heads the observatory. “And that’s why we had to put a lot of steel into the top peak, to save it from falling apart.” (Washington Post)

The Role of Luck in Life Success Is Far Greater Than We Realized

The importance of the hidden dimension of luck raises an intriguing question: Are the most successful people mostly just the luckiest people in our society? If this were even a little bit true, then this would have some significant implications for how we distribute limited resources, and for the potential for the rich and successful to actually benefit society (versus benefiting themselves by getting even more rich and successful). (Scientific American)

Is 3D printing the future of battery design?

It is challenging to create versions of these materials that are suitable for 3D printing, whether by the extrusion of a solid or a liquid or by the polymerization of liquid. Once printed, these materials must maintain their electrical interconnections, tightly control any chemical reactions that take place between components, and ensure that the batteries can charge and discharge over many cycles. (MIT Tech Review)


Culture & History

Cats is a baffling, humourless CGI nightmare—and the people deserve an explanation

History books of the future will tell of the twin disasters in December 2019. The first, the Labour Party’s results in a pivotal general election. The second, Cats.

In each case, the early portents (opinion polls; a trailer) loomed large, seeming to augur an impending fiasco. Yet throughout, hopeful campaigners and cinephiles clung desperately to the increasingly threadbare delusion that… maybe… it wouldn’t be… so bad? And then—on 12th December at 10pm, and again on 17th December at 6:30pm—the sheer scale of the catastrophe descended upon us with a crash. This was not just any old failure, but a cataclysmic one, which could set back democracy in Britain/the art-form of cinema for a generation. (Prospect)

Eye of the beholder – how the Prophet Muhammad has been depicted through the centuries

We live, unavoidably, in what Gruber calls a ‘post-cartoon’ world. But we can at least try to lose some of our modern cultural baggage. ‘What if we were to backtrack 30 years, backtrack to the 16th century?’ she asks me. ‘How do we put ourselves into that?’ Notably, she doesn’t reproduce any satirical images in The Praiseworthy One, or the essay collection. For a more nuanced historical analysis we need to forget about modern issues such as free speech and terrorism, and to imagine ourselves into the milieu of Muslim artists and patrons who honoured the Prophet through painting. (Apollo)

Beyond the grim new Britain created by a decade of Conservative austerity looms the even bleaker world being created by the climate emergency. Perhaps the most frightening of this year’s many apocalyptic books is The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. Its chapter titles read: Heat Death. Hunger. Drowning. Dying Oceans. Unbreathable Air. Wildfire. Plagues. Economic Collapse. Climate Conflict. It’s intended to be a forecast of the planet’s near future that will shock readers out of their complacency. But during the 2010s almost all the disasters that the book names have already started to happen. Global capitalism has largely carried on regardless. For many people in Britain and beyond, the 2010s have been a bad time, with the promise of much worse to come (The Guardian)

Old Mistresses Turn Tables on Old Masters

“Self-Portrait at the Easel” (1556-57) invites us into her studio, while letting us know we’re interrupting. She shows herself at half-length, applying a few daubs to a painting-in-progress, a glowing Virgin-and-child scene. Her pigment-smeared palette, which rests on a wooden shelf attached to her easel, is angled downward, jutting toward the viewer. She has rendered the palette so skillfully you almost feel that you can touch it. It is the most real thing in the painting and, by implication, in her world. (New York Times)


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