Category Archives: Book review

Are Internet companies complicit in promoting hateful and harmful content?

By Hany Farid – In 2016, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter announced that they would work together to develop new technology to quickly identify and remove extremism-related content from their platforms. Despite some progress, serious problems remain.

First, we need a fast and effective method to remove content. Once content has been identified, reported, and determined to be illegal or in violation of terms of service, it should be immediately removed (Prime Minister Theresa May is calling for a maximum of two hours from notification to take-down).

Fourth, we need to invest in human resources. While advances in machine learning hold promise, these technologies – as technology companies will admit – are not yet nearly accurate enough to operate across the breadth and depth of the internet. There are more than a billion uploads to Facebook each day and 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube each minute of the day.

This means that any machine-learning based solution will have to be paired with a significant team of human analysts that can resolve complex and often subtle issues of intent and meaning that are still out of reach of even the most sophisticated machine learning solutions. more> https://goo.gl/X2ACdL

It’s Time to Rewrite the Rules of Our Economy

By Tim O’Reilly – Business leaders making decisions to outsource jobs to low-wage countries or to replace workers with machines, or politicians who insist that it is “the market” that makes them unable to require companies to pay a living wage, rely on the defense that they are only following the laws of economics. But the things economists study are not natural phenomena like the laws of motion uncovered by Kepler and Newton.

The political convulsions we’ve seen in the United Kingdom and in the United States are a testament to the difficulties we face. We are heading into a very risky time. Rising global inequality is triggering a political backlash that could lead to profound destabilization of both society and the economy. The problem is that in our free market economy, we found a way to make society as a whole far richer, but the benefits are unevenly distributed. Some people are far better off, while others are worse off.

Why do we have lower taxes on capital when it is so abundant that much of it is sitting on the sidelines rather than being put to work in our economy?

Why do we tax labor income more highly when one of the problems in our economy is lack of aggregate consumer demand because ordinary people don’t have money in their pockets? more> https://goo.gl/2DioyZ

When Even the Simple Stuff Is a Crisis

By Robert Schlesinger – What’s going on? If everyone agrees on these successful programs, why are they stuck in legislative purgatory?

The proximate cause is that the Republican majority got too distracted with its endless, fruitless attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act. That consumed their attention through the year and very specifically in the crunch time during which the final deals should have been cut on basically noncontroversial legislation like renewing funding for CHIP and community health centers. But that went by the boards when the GOP dropped everything to push the late, unlamented, half-baked Graham-Cassidy bill.

Uncertainty abounds. And again, we’re talking about noncontroversial stuff here, which speaks to a larger problem with the political system. The failure of this Congress to understand “the need to act responsibly, to reauthorize needed programs without catastrophic disruption … is simply striking,” says the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, who has written extensively on GOP dysfunction (most recently “One Nation After Trump,” with Thomas Mann and E.J. Dionne). more> https://goo.gl/1xQG84

When Wall Street Owns Main Street — Literally

BOOK REVIEW

Makers & Takers: How Wall Street Destroyed Main Street, Author: Rana Foroohar.

By Rana Foroohar – Made up primarily of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, the Inland Empire was at the heart of the subprime mortgage crisis and has yet to fully recover.

In the early 2000s, predatory lenders flocked to the area, offering dicey deals to the largely minority and lower-middle-class white populations who, unable to afford housing on the coast, still craved the American Dream of homeownership. It ended, as it did in so many neighborhoods and cities across America, in tears and massive foreclosures, turning entire cities into ghost towns of derelict properties.

Private equity funds like Blackstone are giant financial institutions that operate largely outside the scrutiny of governmental regulation, since they are officially designated “nonbanks” or “shadow banks”—never mind that many of them are bigger than the better-known institutions that are subject to regulation.

Most people rightly associate private equity with offshore bank accounts (remember Mitt Romney and Bain Capital?), big corporate buyouts in which formerly healthy firms are loaded up with debt and stripped of their assets, mass layoffs, and an utter lack of transparency in their financial dealings.

But these days, the big news about private equity is that it is at the heart of the country’s housing rebound.

Private equity investors have become the single largest group of buyers in the residential housing market, purchasing $20 billion worth of steeply discounted properties between 2012 and 2014 alone and reaping huge rewards as housing prices have slowly risen from their troughs. more> https://goo.gl/P6fcNA

The flaws a Nobel Prize-winning economist wants you to know about yourself

BOOK REVIEW

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, Authors: Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

By Eshe Nelson – Sorry to say it, but you’re not perfect. We like to believe that we are smart, rational creatures, always acting in our best interests. In fact, dominant economic theory these days often makes that assumption.

What was left of this illusion was further dismantled by the The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, who awarded the Nobel prize in economics to Richard Thaler, an American economist at the University of Chicago, for his pioneering work in behavioral economics, which examines humanity’s flaws—namely, why we don’t make rational economic decisions.

People can make bad economic choices based on something Thaler dubbed the “endowment effect,” which is the theory that people value things more highly when they own them. In other words, you’d ask for more money for selling something that you own than what you would be willing to pay to buy the same thing.

People experience the negative feeling of loss more strongly than they feel the positive sense of a gain of the same size. This is also impact by anchoring: If you are selling an item, your reference point is most likely to be the price you paid for something. Even if the value of that item is now demonstrably worth less, you are anchored to the purchase price, in part because you want to avoid that sense of loss.

This can lead to pain in financial markets, in particular. more> https://goo.gl/eR1B2B

How Does Fascism Sneak Into Pop Culture?

BOOK REVIEW

Against the Fascist Creep, Author: Alexander Reid Ross.

By Elizabeth King – Donald Trump’s rise from real-estate businessman and washed-up reality television star to United States president has many people thinking anew about fascism.

The fascist tradition of using the arts as vehicles for expanding the movement is visible in the U.S. today, in some cases in eerily similar ways to the original rise of European fascism in the early 20th century.

In Futurism, we see some early examples of “cultural fascism,” if you will. Filippo Marinetti, founder of the Futurist movement, would be a good place to start. Futurism was founded in Italy in the early 1900s, and was one of the earliest proto-fascist and, in some cases, fascist movements. The idea [of Futurism] was to return to the noble myth [of] the new man who stands for family and tradition, but in a super-powered world of dynamism and adventure.

But if you look at the emergence of fascism and the development of fascism in its original form, one of the interesting things that you see in cultural avenues is that they are often primarily interested in disruption.

And, inevitably, there are liberals in mainstream institutions who accept the expressions of [fascist disruptors] insofar as it is expression, and insofar as it’s good to explore the arts and humanities. So there’s a tendency to accept these movements to some degree, and perhaps even adopt some of their mindsets under this position. This is incredibly dangerous, because fascism is so vitriolic and mercurial that it’s difficult to contain. more> https://goo.gl/gSRBwt

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Why nation-states are good

BOOK REVIEW

Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy, Author: ani Rodrik.

By Dani Rodrik – A principled defense of the nation-state would start from the proposition that markets require rules.

Markets are not self-creating, self-regulating, self-stabilizing or self-legitimatizing, so they depend on non-market institutions.

Anything beyond a simple exchange between neighbors requires investments in transportation, communications and logistics; enforcement of contracts, provision of information, and prevention of cheating; a stable and reliable medium of exchange; arrangements to bring distributional outcomes into conformity with social norms; and so on.

Behind every functioning, sustainable market stands a wide range of institutions providing critical functions of regulation, redistribution, monetary and fiscal stability, and conflict management. These institutional functions have so far been provided largely by the nation-state. more> https://goo.gl/yjmnyK

Do We Need to Rethink What College Means?

BOOK REVIEW

Bridging the Gaps. Authors: James Rosenbaum, Caitlin E. Ahearn and Janet E. Rosenbaum.

By Dwyer Gunn – There are two ways to look at America’s college-for-all movement. On the one hand, it represents a rare policy success: Today, 90 percent of high school graduates enroll in college within eight years of graduating from high school, up from 45 percent in 1960.

On the other hand, it serves as a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of even the best-intentioned policy initiatives.

The book is actually named for them—the three gaps. And the gaps are really quite outrageous. When we interviewed students, the students talked about these three things: taking courses without getting credits, getting credits that didn’t count for credentials, and getting credentials that didn’t have payoffs in the labor market.

We found that such students were making bad choices because they didn’t have good information. And they were losing a lot of time and, ultimately, dropping out with no payoff. more> https://goo.gl/KKfJmS

Five Stages of Economic Grief

BOOK REVIEW

Economyths: 11 Ways That Economics Gets it Wrong, Author: David Orrell.
A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of ’08 and the Descent, Author: Richard Posner.
Economics Rules, Author: Dani Rodrik.
The Trouble With Physics, Author: Lee Smolin.

By David Orrell – When Economyths first came out, most economists were in a state of denial – especially those at the top of the profession. Future laureate Tom Sargent said in a 2010 interview “It is just wrong to say that this financial crisis caught modern macroeconomists by surprise.” (No mention of whether the non-modern macroeconomists saw it coming too.)

Laureate Robert Lucas preferred to see the unpredictability as a natural result of future laureate Eugene Fama’s efficient market hypothesis (though as Posner notes, that didn’t stop him from predicting, shortly after Lehman’s collapse, that the crisis would soon go away).Fama agreed that the efficient market hypothesis ‘did quite well in this episode’. The Nobel committee apparently agreed too.

As reality sank in, economists soon began lashing out in anger at anyone who dared criticize their field, including yours truly (I’m going to talk about this because it seems to be quite a general problem). At Canada’s top-ranked economics blog Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, for example, a group of prominent academics, including regular contributors to national publications (Globe and Mail, National Post, Maclean’s, Literary Review of Canada, etc.), shared their professional thoughts about the book online.

Descriptors used included idiotic, ignorant, intellectually lazy, juvenile, random, rubbish, semi-articulated, and ‘sort of like Malcolm Gladwell without the insight’ – ouch. Someone even compared me to a climate change denier (not uncommon, as it turns out). more> https://goo.gl/nAhwBT

Moving To Blue Ocean Strategy: A Five-Step Process To Make The Shift

BOOK REVIEW

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, Authors: W. Chan Kim and Rénee Mauborgne.
Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing – Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth, Authors: W. Chan Kim and Rénee Mauborgne.

By Steve Denning – Instead of struggling to survive in the bloody shark-infested “Red Oceans” of vicious competition, why not move to the “Blue Oceans” where there was little or no competition?

What inspired the authors was not “dividing up markets or the globe,” but rather organizations and individuals that created “new frontiers of opportunity, growth, and jobs,” where success was not about fighting for a bigger slice of an existing, often shrinking pie, but about “creating a larger economic pie for all.” The book was a publishing sensation. It sold more than 4 million copies and has been translated into 44 different languages.

Now, 12 years later, the authors offer an exciting new book that synthesizes their experience in assisting with the implementation of Blue Ocean strategy.

In effect, Blue Ocean strategy involves market-creating innovation. It opens up new possibilities that are not available to organizations operating within the existing cost-value structure. It expands the universe as to what is possible, often enabling higher value at lower cost.

Perhaps the most important chapter is Chapter 3, which delineates the Blue Ocean mindset and the distinctive opportunity-based thinking that is at the foundation of Blue Ocean strategy.

It is a perspective that enables strategists “to ask a fundamentally different set of questions,” the answers to which “in turn enable them to perceive and appreciate the fallacies behind long-held assumptions and the artificial boundaries we unknowingly impose on ourselves.” more> https://goo.gl/hNPdDG