Category Archives: Media

Politics, Pessimism and Populism

By Sheri Berman – Social democracy was the most idealistic, optimistic ideology of the modern era.

In contrast to liberals who believed “rule by the masses” would lead to the end of private property, tyranny of the majority and other horrors and thus favored limiting the reach of democratic politics, and communists who argued a better world could only emerge with the destruction of capitalism and “bourgeois” democracy, social democrats insisted on democracy’s immense transformative and progressive power: it could maximize capitalism’s upsides, minimize its downsides and create more prosperous and just societies.

Such appeals emerged clearly during the inter-war years, when democracy was threatened by populism’s more dangerous predecessor—fascism.

In the United States, for example, FDR recognized that he needed to deal not merely with the concrete economic fallout of the Great Depression, but also with the fear that democracy was headed for the “dust heap of history” and fascist and communist dictatorships were the wave of the future. This required practical solutions to contemporary problems as well as an ability to convince citizens that democracy remained the best system for creating a better future. As Roosevelt proclaimed in his first inaugural address:

‘Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for…. [Our problems are not insolvable, they exist] because rulers have failed…through their own stubbornness and… incompetence….This Nation asks for action, and action now….I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems….The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’. more>

The Wounds Won’t Heal

By David French – We usually place outsized emphasis on elections that define our politics and too little emphasis on the values that define our culture.

But it was the nomination of Kavanaugh and the wrenching debate about core cultural and constitutional values that dominated American discourse these past few weeks. It’s a debate that illustrated the fundamentally different ways in which conservatives and progressives view the world, and it unlocked not just an intellectual response but an emotional response that has radicalized otherwise reasonable and temperamentally moderate individuals into believing that the other side hates even the good people in their own tribe.

And so when Ford came forward, it’s as if her allegations landed in two different countries. The good-faith residents of Redworld were skeptical and said, “Prove it.” The good-faith residents of Blueworld believed Ford and said, “Finally, she has a chance for justice.” The presumptions were diametrically opposite, and everything that followed turned on those different presumptions. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

The danger of making policy based on assumption
By George J. Stigler – The denunciation of American complacency, however, is not my purpose, at least not my explicit purpose. I admire the humane and generous sympathies of our society—sympathies that extend to the uneducated and the uncultured and the unenterprising and even the immoral as well as to the educated and the cultured and the enterprising and the moral.

We are a people remarkably agreed on our basic goals, and they are goals which are thoroughly admirable even to one, like myself, who thinks one or two less fashionable goals deserve equal popularity.

Fortunately, our agreement on basic goals does not preclude disagreement on the way best to approach these goals. If the right economic policies were so obvious as to defy responsible criticism, this would be an intolerably dull world. In fact, I believe that each generation has an inescapable obligation to leave difficult problems for the next generation to solve—not only to spare that next generation boredom but also to give it an opportunity for greatness. The legacy of unsolved problems which my generation is bequeathing to the next generation, I may say, seems adequate and even sumptuous.

It is not wholly correct to say that we are agreed upon what we want but are not agreed upon how to achieve it. When we get to specific goals, we shall find that our agreement does not always extend to orders of importance. For example, some people are willing to preserve personal freedom of choice for consumers even if the choice is exercised very unwisely in some cases, and others will be more concerned with (say) the health of consumers which these unwise choices may impair. Nevertheless, it is roughly true that we know where to go.

We do not know how to get there. This is my fundamental thesis: we do not know how to achieve a given end. more>

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The Collapse Of European Social Democracy, Part 2

By Paul Sweeney – The privatisation of state assets in Europe has added little value and was a costly distraction from the proper management of public services and development of a strong public sector ethos, delivering excellent services. Despite the privatisation of hundreds of billions of asssets, the outsourcing of public services, and fresh privatised ways of funding public services, spending in the modern state has not shrunk, though the value of state assets has been reduced.

The public sphere, open spaces, public ideas and the scientific commons which are open to all are coming under threat of being fenced off, privatised by extensions and enforcement of Intellectual Property, trademarks, copyright laws etc.. This needs to be curbed. The state has been remiss in protecting its own assets from privatisation over the past four decades and, simultaneously, it has given away substantial parts of this public sphere to private interests. It has done this by being over-zealous in protecting the “rights” of major corporations, drug companies, tech and data companies and rich individuals through extended patent rights, and the like.

Patents serve the useful purpose of protection for inventors whose ideas should be rewarded in order to encourage further innovation. But the balance has shifted from protecting innovation to blocking it. It is the state which provides this protection through internationally agreed laws and through enforcement. The growth in patents, trademarks, copyrights and industrial designs has been very high. The state is now agreeing to renewing patents and granting extensions to the likes of branded drugs, thanks to lobbying. Many patents are acquired to build a monopoly and to act as a deterrent against rival innovations.

Some MNCs now troll and hoover-up patents and others exist to build major patent portfolios with the purpose of blocking others’ innovations, moving upstream to protect broad future possible inventions. more>

How The Handling Of The Financial After-Crisis Fuels Populism

By Guillaume Duval – Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers people are frequently asking themselves why the crisis has done so much to strengthen populism and nationalism everywhere you go. However, economically and socially, the process that lies behind this development is, unfortunately, all too easy to describe.

During the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, central banks’ rescue of finance continued on an unprecedented scale for ten years with what is called Quantitative easing (QE). The striking effect of this was to send prices of financial assets sky-high and thereby substantially enrich the bankers, speculators and the already rich holders of these assets at levels that are much higher than before the crisis.

At the same time, ordinary people found themselves lastingly out of work on a huge scale. Governments whose own finances deteriorated steeply – not least because of their aid to the financial sector – rushed to cut back on their spending, especially on welfare. Everywhere, classic right-wing governments but also social-liberal left ones as in France adopted deflationary policies to cut the cost of labor and loosen up the labor market rules, thus making ordinary people’s working and living conditions far worse. While cutting again the taxes on the super-rich and corporate earnings to preserve the country’s “attractiveness.”

These public policies – that have put all European countries permanently on the edge of recession and deflation – are also the main reason for the pursuit of the above-mentioned monetary policy that has so significantly increased inequalities. more>

Updates from Adobe

BRIT(ISH): Visualizing the UK with Type
By Isabel Lea – I’ve always believed the role of a designer to be like that of a translator. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with words and languages, and so I’ve naturally gravitated towards a kind of design that allows me to translate these things from the written to the visual, bringing them to life.

As the first Adobe Creative Resident based in the United Kingdom, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to spend a year visualizing culture and language in our everyday lives through design. BRIT(ISH) is my starting project for the residency. The project is an attempt to explore insights and ideas about being young and British during this turbulent time. I aimed to visualize often-intangible emotions in a playful way that other people can understand. Each object in the collection directly responds to quotations, insights, and stories I collected from the environment around me in the UK.

For me, projects that respond to stories and insights are often the most interesting because they add a level of unpredictability to the process and can result in something much more authentic. more>

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The Tragedy of the Commons: How Elinor Ostrom Solved One of Life’s Greatest Dilemmas

By David Sloan Wilson – As an evolutionary biologist who received my PhD in 1975, I grew up with Garrett Hardin’s essay “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published in Science magazine in 1968. His parable of villagers adding too many cows to their common pasture captured the essence of the problem that my thesis research was designed to solve.

The farmer who added an extra cow gained an advantage over other farmers in his village but it also led to an overgrazed pasture. The biological world is full of similar examples in which individuals who behave for the good of their groups lose out in the struggle for existence with more self-serving individuals, resulting in overexploited resources and other tragedies of non-cooperation.

Is the so-called tragedy of the commons ever averted in the biological world and might this possibility provide solutions for our own species?

Evolutionary theory’s individualistic turn coincided with individualistic turns in other areas of thought. Economics in the postwar decades was dominated by rational choice theory, which used individual self-interest as a grand explanatory principle. The social sciences were dominated by a position known as methodological individualism, which treated all social phenomena as reducible to individual-level phenomena, as if groups were not legitimate units of analysis in their own right. And UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher became notorious for saying during a speech in 1987 that “there is no such thing as society; only individuals and families.” It was as if the entire culture had become individualistic and the formal scientific theories were obediently following suit. more>

How The Republican Leadership Broke The Four Rules Of Crisis Management

By Steve Denning – In its actions over the last ten days, the Republican leadership has jeopardized its goals through its failure to respect the rules of crisis management:

  • Recognize the crisis as a crisis
  • Get out as much information as possible as soon as possible, particularly any negative information
  • Avoid saying anything that has to be withdrawn
  • Avoid doing anything that looks like a cover-up

The first failure of the Republican leadership was the failure to recognize the crisis as a crisis. The Republicans’ first instinct was to to brush aside the accusation as partisan politics and press ahead with a quick vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination. A single accusation from one woman 36 years ago was presented as “a little hiccup.” (Senator Dean Heller)

However, once the identity and professional background of the accuser became known, first to the FBI on September 13, and then to the public on September 16, it became apparent that she deserved to be heard, as Senators Flake and Collins insisted. In effect, if the Republican leadership had pressed ahead, it would have been at risk of not having enough Republican votes for success.

What the Republican leadership hadn’t initially grasped was that this was a real crisis for Kavanaugh’s nomination. It would have been one thing if the accusation was being made by a partisan politician. It was another when it was made by a well-respected professor, with no active record in partisan politics and no particular axe to grind. Coming in the midst of the #MeToo movement, the accusation was bound to be a sensation. more>

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Four Lessons (Not) Learned From The Financial Crisis

By John T. Harvey – That’s fantastic. Good work, Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump. But just because we bailed the water out of the sinking ship doesn’t mean we patched all the holes. And while the former is a necessary first step, without the latter we won’t remain upright for long.

So what didn’t we fix that could still potentially cause a catastrophic leak? Too much. Here’s a short list of what we should have learned but didn’t.

  1. If you are going to bail someone out, bail out the debtor and not the creditor
  2. Financial institutions should be very closely supervised
  3. The market is not always right
  4. Deficit spending doesn’t cause inflation or bankruptcy

Most people assume that what financial institutions do is loan out other people’s money. That is, of course, part of what they do, but what is far more significant is the fact that they create money. I don’t just mean the intro-econ, money-multiplier story where banks make loans after the Federal Reserve injects new funds. In fact, that view is so wrong that economics professors are beginning to eliminate it from their curriculum (not nearly fast enough, but it’s getting there).

Rather, the standard scenario is one in which banks increase the money supply first by making loans to customers and then the Federal Reserve steps in second to supply the necessary reserves. Financial institutions make money out of thin air, not from someone’s savings, and if that leaves the system short of reserves then the Fed buys securities from banks. They do this to prevent interest rates from rising above their targeted rate and therefore the central bank accommodates rather than dictates when it comes to the supply of money. more>

Could China’s Raw Materials Strategy Leave US Automakers Behind?

By Charles Murray – China’s business relationships are so aggressive, said Jose Lazuen, an electric vehicle and supply chain analyst for Roskill, that it’s almost “too late” for automakers in other regions of the world to catch up now.

“The North American and European companies are not at the same level as the Chinese OEMs,” Lazuen stated. “They’ll face problems if raw material costs increase at some point.”

Chinese suppliers at the show said they view relationships with miners as a necessity, given the volatile and unpredictable nature of the market. “The only way you’re going to (get control) is to have a mindset to get ahead of the game by buying rights to those minerals to keep the prices down,” noted Robert Galyen, chief technology officer of CATL, a China-based company that is now the biggest battery manufacturer in the world.

The question of future metal costs is a growing concern, experts said this week, because lithium, cobalt, and nickel will continue to play key roles in future electric car batteries. One speaker at the show noted that the price of cobalt rose 130% last year, while lithium climbed by 50% and nickel was up 28%.

If those increases continue, raw material costs could negate any economies of scale that might otherwise be gained through increases in production volume. more>