Category Archives: Science

Evidence for Tribalism in Economics

While economists like to pretend otherwise, humans are social animals.
By Blair Fix – The ideal of science is beautifully summarized by the motto of the Royal Society: nullius in verba. It means ‘take nobody’s word for it’. In science, there is no authority. There are no gods, no kings, and no masters. Only evidence.

In this post, I reflect on how ‘taking nobody’s word for it’ cuts against some of our deepest instincts as humans. As social animals, we have evolved to trust members of our group. Among these group members, our instinct is to ‘take their word for it’. I call this the ‘tribal instinct’.

When we do science, we have to fight against this tribal instinct. Not surprisingly, we often fail. Rational skepticism gets overpowered by the instinct to trust members of our group. If the group happens to be powerful — say it dominates academia in a particular discipline — then false ideas get entrenched as ‘facts’.

This is a problem in all areas of science. But it’s a rampant problem in economics. The teaching of economics is dominated by the neoclassical sect, which has managed to entrench itself in academia. Among this sect, I believe, tribal instincts trump the rational appeal to evidence. more>

China in the Firing Line

By Clare Goldsberry – A two-hour webinar held by the Alliance of American Manufacturing last Thursday provided a forum for four members of Congress along with a business owner, a representative from the United Steelworkers, and the President and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations to talk about bringing manufacturing back to the United States.

“Crisis Brings Consensus: Prioritizing U.S. Industrial Policy in a COVID-19 World” began with a Q&A moderated by Josh Rogin featuring Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Josh Hawley (R-MO). Rubio noted that the increased push to bring back manufacturing and the need to change U.S. policies regarding trade with China is not “unique to a pandemic,” which has exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain across several industries.

“This issue needs more than anger at China,” said Rubio. “While the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to dominate the world in key sectors are evident, we’ve allowed them to do this. We need a strategy, then tactics to put in place the strategy to bring back U.S. manufacturing.” That would include developing incentives for companies to return their manufacturing to the United States.

Hawley began his remarks by noting that we live in a very different world today than we did after WWII. “The economic order is very different, and we need to address the rise of imperialist China,” he said. “We need very serious reform to address this different world and different [economic] system.” Hawley is not in favor of abolishing the WTO, while that issue has been raised by some. “I would rather ‘fix’ it than ‘nix’ it,” he added.

Hawley, who said he’s heard more about bringing U.S. manufacturing back home in the past four months than in the 14 months he’s been in Congress, does not approve of isolationism. “We are a trading nation and will continue to be, but we need reforms such as dispute resolution, which is a mess,” he stated. “We need an American economy that is strong and a strong American worker. Manufacturing is vitally important to the future of the United States. We need to bring back our supply chains.” more>

Could “banksters” become bankers again?

By Lena Deros – The term “bankster” has become trendy recently due to the various financial problems governments and economies are facing. Problems arise and somehow get resolved, but only through financial ruses.

In the 1980s, I was working with one of the world top Investment Banks in Europe. At that time hedge funds, derivatives and all kind of paper products were traded through the capital markets and were the top theme for any sophisticated investor.

One of the most legendary traders in the bank at that time was recruiting the best minds in math and physics from the top schools in the UK to train them and create financial products (derivatives).

The profits that the boys were accumulating were out of proportion to what a normal business person or executive could earn in a normal business, especially as they were just coming out of the university.

Of course, they were all ecstatic. The simplified procedure was based on the real economy. They were creating products 3 or 4 levels over the real assets and these were bought and traded by hedge and pension funds. Since trading was done in big amounts, and on a daily basis, the profits were excellent, but the result when viewed from the perspective of the economy, was that strong minds were deprived from producing real services and products. Instead, profit was created through paper trading. This generated claims to real wealth without creating one potato.

This enhanced inflation and created bubbles. Of course, no banker, financial consultant, or investor wanted to use their logic at the time as they were all plunging into the flood of increased profits without thinking of the immediate future.

It took some years until the surprised sector began to see what it knew all-to-well to be wrong as it was going bankrupt. Everyone was looking for a scapegoat, and most of the solutions were, again, based on 2+2=5 logic. more>

Why Society’s Biggest Freeloaders are at the Top

No, wealth isn’t created at the top. It is merely devoured there.
By Rutger Bregman – This piece is about one of the biggest taboos of our times. About a truth that is seldom acknowledged, and yet – on reflection – cannot be denied. The truth that we are living in an inverse welfare state.

These days, politicians from the left to the right assume that most wealth is created at the top. By the visionaries, by the job creators, and by the people who have “made it”. By the go-getters oozing talent and entrepreneurialism that are helping to advance the whole world.

Now, we may disagree about the extent to which success deserves to be rewarded – the philosophy of the left is that the strongest shoulders should bear the heaviest burden, while the right fears high taxes will blunt enterprise – but across the spectrum virtually all agree that wealth is created primarily at the top.

So entrenched is this assumption that it’s even embedded in our language. When economists talk about “productivity”, what they really mean is the size of your paycheck. And when we use terms like “welfare state”, “redistribution” and “solidarity”, we’re implicitly subscribing to the view that there are two strata: the makers and the takers, the producers and the couch potatoes, the hardworking citizens – and everybody else.

In reality, it is precisely the other way around. In reality, it is the waste collectors, the nurses, and the cleaners whose shoulders are supporting the apex of the pyramid. They are the true mechanism of social solidarity. Meanwhile, a growing share of those we hail as “successful” and “innovative” are earning their wealth at the expense of others. The people getting the biggest handouts are not down around the bottom, but at the very top. Yet their perilous dependence on others goes unseen. Almost no one talks about it. Even for politicians on the left, it’s a non-issue.

To understand why, we need to recognize that there are two ways of making money. The first is what most of us do: work. That means tapping into our knowledge and know-how (our “human capital” in economic terms) to create something new, whether that’s a takeout app, a wedding cake, a stylish updo, or a perfectly poured pint. To work is to create. Ergo, to work is to create new wealth.

But there is also a second way to make money. That’s the rentier way: by leveraging control over something that already exists, such as land, knowledge, or money, to increase your wealth. You produce nothing, yet profit nonetheless. By definition, the rentier makes his living at others’ expense, using his power to claim economic benefit. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Personalizing change management in the smartphone era
By Alexander DiLeonardo, David Mendelsohn, Nikil Selvam, and Alexandra Wood – CEOs know that making organizational change stick requires convincing big groups of geographically dispersed people to think, act, and approach their work differently. And this is devilishly hard, as human beings are motivated by many things, have different fears and aspirations, feel varying levels of empowerment and commitment, and tend to be reluctant to change in the first place. Undifferentiated approaches that don’t carefully consider employees’ mindsets will fall flat and may even breed cynicism that saps morale and undermines progress.

The good news is that when it comes to personalization, senior executives have plenty of inspiration, courtesy of analytical pioneers such as Instagram, Netflix, and Spotify, all adept at tailoring products to meet individualized preferences via apps and other easy-to-use digital platforms. A large global manufacturer’s ongoing experiment in tech-infused mass personalization shows how this thinking can be applied to organizational change. The company’s experience suggests how smart combinations of digital technology, analytics, and behavioral science can make change more inclusive and persuasive—and help employees unleash their enthusiasm in ways not possible otherwise. The key is to use the available tools to better understand people and meet them where they are—a guiding principle that’s equally relevant for implementing long-term change and for leading a remote workforce through the current disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a few years, the manufacturer had tried with limited success to implement cultural changes across a key region’s 7,000-strong workforce—for example, by promoting behaviors it hoped would break down silos, empower and motivate frontline workers, and bolster performance. Now the CEO wanted a fresh start. An assessment highlighted places where the company’s organizational health was poor or needed strengthening. From these areas, senior leaders focused on three management practices: operational discipline, inspirational forms of leadership, and the use of rewards and recognition to better motivate employees.

The company then formed a team to translate these broad cultural goals into specific mindsets and behaviors that would both generate the desired organizational outcomes and also help employees better understand how they personally contributed to the improvement. For example, the manufacturer wanted employees to think of operational discipline as everyone’s job. One tangible way to promote this would be to encourage shop-floor operators and supervisors to consciously review the company’s “golden rules of safety” before every shift. Likewise, the company sought to instill a mindset of valuing continuous improvement and celebrating small victories. One way of doing this would be to encourage people to speak up immediately when they saw a colleague do something positive (a motivational take on the mantra “if you see something, say something”).

The team now had a discrete set of behaviors they wanted to encourage. But they knew that to do so effectively, they needed to meet people where they were—they couldn’t simply tell people to change. The team needed to address any mindsets or beliefs that could act as barriers. more>

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Updates from Ciena

Next-generation networks help DOT’s deliver quality motorist experience
Converged packet-optical technology enhances Department of Transportation’s intelligent transportation systems while paving the way for future automated highways.
By Daniele Loffreda – On statewide highway systems, road conditions can change without warning. Snowstorms, rockslides, vehicle collisions, traffic congestion and wildlife activity are just a few examples of sudden changes that can disrupt road travel. For Department of Transportation (DOT) traffic managers in central operations centers, accessing real-time data from remote roadside “smart” devices is critical. Trying to resolve roadside problems from afar without real-time data is like trying to steer a car that has a mud-splattered windshield. Although there may be a few clear patches, it is nearly impossible to see the whole picture.

Traffic managers need real-time access to data flowing from intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies, smart traffic control devices and connected vehicle applications. Combining this data with analytics software provides traffic managers a clearer view of what is happening throughout the highway system. Armed with these insights they can quickly resolve problems, dispatch emergency crews, alert motorists to pending hazards, and recommend alternative routes to their destinations.

The challenge? The enormous data volume generated by video cameras, sensors, monitoring devices, vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) and other technologies can quickly clog a network increasing congestion and outages. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

How leaders can rise to the challenge of COVID-19
By Daniel Diermeier – As cases of COVID-19 continue to grow across the world, leaders in business, government, and other spheres face unprecedented challenges. The disease has encroached not only on public health but on global economic well-being and on some of the most fundamental practices of modern society. It has generated great anxiety and exacted an enormous and growing human toll. And it has required virtually every organization to reinvent its processes to cope with a world in which many people simply don’t feel safe being in the same room together.

Crisis situations can overwhelm even the most experienced leaders, presenting unexpected, complex scenarios that evolve at a fast pace and in several directions. Even in cases in which contingency plans have been prepared, those plans need to be adjusted to respond to rapidly changing circumstances. Fortunately, there are tools and perspectives leaders can use to help their organizations weather difficult times. By building trust, managing fear, and encouraging a sense of duty and community orientation, any leader—whether in business, government, or the nonprofit sector, and in organizations big and small—can better navigate the difficult path of crisis management.

Crises frequently happen without warning and require a response under extreme time pressure. Decision makers often find themselves drowning in data, yet truly vital information is not available. During these situations, leaders must continue to build trust, both internally and externally. Doing so generates much-needed room to maneuver and the goodwill that leaders will need to rely on when tough decisions have to be made.

Even though the desirability of trust is obvious, leaders often struggle with building and maintaining it, especially during high-stakes crises. Research has identified four major factors that influence the level of trust among stakeholders involved in a crisis, summarized in what I’ve called the Trust Radar:

Full transparency is reached when, in the mind of your audience, all relevant questions have been addressed. Your audience—not you—will determine what information is considered relevant. What is relevant will also vary for different audiences. more>

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The Coronavirus Crisis in the U.S. Is a Failure of Democracy

By David Litt – It’s become commonplace to refer to COVID-19 as “the worst public health crisis of our lifetimes.” But what has cost the United States so many lives and jobs during the pandemic is not, at root, a failure of public health. It’s a failure of democracy.

Despite our political polarization, and in the face of an unprecedented threat, the American people have been in remarkable agreement about what they expect from their government. From the time the virus was discovered, our scientists and public health officials urged aggressive action and put forward plans to save lives. Poll after poll has shown that a clear majority of Americans trust want our leaders to heed the experts’ advice. Yet that hasn’t happened. We were far too slow to implement social-distancing guidelines – a delay epidemiologists found is responsible for 90% of U.S. coronavirus deaths – and now we’re acting far too quickly to reopen the economy.

In other words, with lives on the line, our elected leaders are ignoring the people’s will, and Americans are dying as a result. In our shining city on a hill – the global model for representative government – how could this possibly happen? more>

Updates from McKinsey

Beyond contactless operations: Human-centered customer experience
As we look forward to the next normal, consumers are already demonstrating a preference for companies that deliver great service while reducing risks all along the customer journey.
By Melissa Dalrymple and Kevin Dolan – As the global fight against COVID-19 continues and much of normal daily life remains on hold, organizations are trying to navigate a rapidly evolving landscape. Many have moved beyond initial actions to protect the lives and livelihoods of their people and are working to tackle the concerns of the estimated millions of consumers who expect the effects of COVID-19 to be long lasting—customers who are making decisions about whether or not to engage with a company based on its actions to address safety concerns and the way it communicates changes. Beyond addressing safety concerns, organizations that find ways to rebuild the human experiences that existed before COVID-19—among everyone from suppliers to employees and customers—within a contactless world will differentiate themselves and gain customer loyalty.

Companies are moving quickly to institute new policies and processes that will allow them to reopen—or in some cases, remain open. Many are investigating opportunities to shift toward contactless service and operations, allowing the cores of their businesses to continue operating while assuring both employees and customers of their safety. Companies that develop a long-term strategy now to mitigate risks while delivering distinctive and human-centric experiences will emerge from the pandemic with stronger operational resilience, more agile organizations, and sustainable competitive advantage that can better respond to a changing economic context and any future shocks.

It will be important that companies work across silos to provide solutions that deliver effective, end-to-end employee and customer experiences, maintaining the value of their brands through the operational adjustments they make. A new, data-driven perspective, summarized as IDEA (identify interactions, diagnose and prioritize risks, develop and execute solutions, and adapt and sustain), can provide crucial structure and rigor in helping an organization see risks, assess their intensity, and create solutions to address them iteratively as the external environment evolves.

Leaders can then develop interventions and redesign critical customer and employee journeys, enabling their organizations to reopen or sustain operations while also building trust with both customers and employees, such as redesigning the way hotel guests check in by developing a completely digital experience without a check-in counter. Over time, IDEA can flex to include more human elements while keeping safety and security at its core. more>

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Optimizing Thermoelectric Energy Generation

By Elizabeth Montalbano – Deriving energy from the heat electronic devices emit so they can provide their own sustainable sources of power is a Holy Grail for scientists developing power sources for sensors that will drive the future of healthcare devices as well as the Internet of Things.

Researchers in Japan now have come up with a new thermoelectric generator that can convert temperature differences to electricity can be used to power small, flexible devices.

Scientists at Osaka University developed the device in the form of a bismuth telluride semiconductor on a thin, polymer film that weighs less than a paperclip and smaller than the size of an adult fingernail.

However, packed in the tiny device is a maximum output power density of 185 milliwatts per square centimeter, which “meets standard specifications for portable and wearable sensors,” Tohru Sugahara, an associate professor at the university’s Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research, in a press statement. more>