Tag Archives: Business

Four things that matter more than the Paris Agreement

In a new report, “Undiplomatic Action: A practical guide to the new politics and geopolitics of climate change,” David Victor and Bruce Jones write:

“Without confidence in new technologies and the policy and investment support that follows from that confidence, even the most advanced and elaborated global diplomatic agreements can only produce an ever-wider chasm between stated goals and realistically achievable outcomes.”

They contend that “real world” actions on the ground, not global goals, will drive energy transitions at the local level and in the private sector.

In the paper, they outline four key factors they believe matter even more than the global agreement:

  1. Facilitate leadership through small groups
  2. Focus on near-term emissions reductions
  3. Invest in technological innovation
  4. Demonstrate success and enable better governance


Source: Four things that matter more than the Paris Agreement


How to Build an Autocracy


How To Build An Autocracy, Author: The Atlantic.

By David Frum – Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.

Allegations of fraud and self-dealing in the TrumpWorks program, and elsewhere, have likewise been shrugged off. The president regularly tweets out news of factory openings and big hiring announcements: “I’m bringing back your jobs,” he has said over and over. Voters seem to have believed him—and are grateful.

Most Americans intuit that their president and his relatives have become vastly wealthier over the past four years. But rumors of graft are easy to dismiss. Because Trump has never released his tax returns, no one really knows.

Anyway, doesn’t everybody do it? On the eve of the 2018 congressional elections, WikiLeaks released years of investment statements by prominent congressional Democrats indicating that they had long earned above-market returns. As the air filled with allegations of insider trading and crony capitalism, the public subsided into weary cynicism. The Republicans held both houses of Congress that November, and Trump loyalists shouldered aside the pre-Trump leadership.

The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet.

In an 1888 lecture, James Russell Lowell, a founder of this magazine, challenged the happy assumption that the Constitution was a “machine that would go of itself.” Lowell was right. Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism.

The American system is also perforated by vulnerabilities no less dangerous for being so familiar. Supreme among those vulnerabilities is reliance on the personal qualities of the man or woman who wields the awesome powers of the presidency. A British prime minister can lose power in minutes if he or she forfeits the confidence of the majority in Parliament. The president of the United States, on the other hand, is restrained first and foremost by his own ethics and public spirit.

What happens if somebody comes to the high office lacking those qualities? more>


Knee-jerk cynicism is a failure of critical reasoning


Enlightenment Now, Author: Steven Pinker.
The Better Angels of Our Nature, Author: Steven Pinker.

By Thu-Huong Ha – If we see that science and humanism have solved the world’s problems before, Pinker’s argument goes, we’ll see that the problems we face today can be solved again through science and humanism. This hope ought to inoculate us against cynicism.

Despite all this sanguinity, the book also contains plenty of exasperation. Pinker chastises: the mainstream media, liberals bemoaning the state of inequality, white nationalists, communists, anti-vaxxers, social justice warriors, “climate justice warriors,” and Nietzsche.

“Since the time of the Hebrew prophets, who blended their social criticism with fore-warnings of disaster, pessimism has been equated with moral seriousness,” Pinker writes.

“Journalists believe that by accentuating the negative they are discharging their duty as watchdogs, muckrakers, whistle-blowers, and afflicters of the comfortable. And intellectuals know they can attain instant gravitas by pointing to an unsolved problem and theorizing that it is a symptom of a sick society.” more>


Updates from Chicago Booth

Google and Facebook have an effective duopoly on online advertising. For the average person, why is that a problem? Prices haven’t gone up. Why should we care?
By Luigi Zingales, Tyler Cowen – Most people don’t perceive that as a problem. The perceived price [for using Google or Facebook] is zero. It’s not really zero, because we are giving up our data in exchange. Google and Facebook’s market power in advertising increases the cost of advertising, which eventually will be reflected in the price of goods.

Antitrust in Europe is much more effective. Look at the price of cell phones and cell-phone services. They are a fraction of the price in the US, with better services. The EU is at the front end of enforcement of competition, while the US has become complacent. In the EU, they have a new directive requiring every bank to give customers access to their data at the customer’s request. That transfer creates competition because it reduces the friction and creates more opportunity for new entry. The monopoly that Facebook and Google have of our data, number one, prevents entry, and number two, gives them tremendous power. more>



Guns and the British empire


Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution, Author: Priya Satia.
An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Author: Adam Smith.

By Priya Satia – In the mid-18th century, advanced areas of northwest Europe and east and south Asia enjoyed roughly comparable life expectancy, rates of consumption, and potential for economic growth. But around 1800, in what scholars call the ‘great divergence’, the power and wealth of the West suddenly and dramatically eclipsed that of India, China and the Ottoman Empire.

The British in particular found vindication for their expanding empire in ideas of cultural and racial superiority.

Concerned about Britain’s aggressive pursuit of empire, Adam Smith presumed that the universal capacity for knowledge-sharing would ultimately right the wrongs of colonialism.

We know that history did not play out that way. Why not? Why didn’t knowledge-sharing equalize the world? Was Smith too generous or naive in believing that it had cultural purchase beyond Europe?

Smith’s naivety in fact lay in his presumption that the emerging political inequalities that he observed would not also shape the spread of knowledge. Like liberal thinkers today, he imagined that knowledge-exchange somehow transpires regardless of power relations.

In reality, in the 18th century, as now, power shaped knowledge-sharing everywhere.

In Britain, for instance, government offices engaged in military supply often prohibited contractors from patenting their inventions: a patent would slow the spread of innovation to other contractors and thus slow the production of urgently needed supplies.

While the British government thus abetted the sharing of know-how within Britain, it actively stifled such sharing abroad.

British industrialists copied Asian textiles and pottery without scrupling over ‘intellectual property’, but could rely on their government to minimize the threat of colonial competition with their own manufactures. more>


Automating Influence: The Manipulation of Public Debate

By Andrew Trabulsi – While the application of influence campaigns for the purposes of altering public discourse and politics are rapidly gaining prominence, it’s a field, as discussed in previous writings, with a detailed past.

Tasked with winning the moral high ground during World War I, the famed British propaganda unit, Wellington House, distributed evocative, explicit reports of German barbarism to bolster public opinion in favor of the Allies. At a time before the interminable ubiquity of Internet communications, this tactic proved invaluable in securing the attention and support of the Allies’ war effort, improving recruiting and persuading neutrals.

Today, we see such tactics—albeit in different, non-traditional fashions—show up across case studies, for both political and commercial purposes. In a similar vein to the manipulation of public commentary on net neutrality, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed adjusting its rules to stunt abuse within payday lending markets, it too was berated with an abnormal number of duplicate and semantically similar comments.

As political and economic issues become increasingly influenced by technological engagement, it’s becoming more and more important to understand the limitations and vulnerabilities of such systems. more>


Leisure, the Basis of Culture


Leisure, the Basis of Culture, Author: Josef Pieper.

An Obscure German Philosopher’s Timely 1948 Manifesto for Reclaiming Our Human Dignity in a Culture of Workaholism

By Maria Popova – Today, in our culture of productivity-fetishism, we have succumbed to the tyrannical notion of “work/life balance” and have come to see the very notion of “leisure” not as essential to the human spirit but as self-indulgent luxury reserved for the privileged or deplorable idleness reserved for the lazy. And yet the most significant human achievements between Aristotle’s time and our own — our greatest art, the most enduring ideas of philosophy, the spark for every technological breakthrough — originated in leisure, in moments of unburdened contemplation, of absolute presence with the universe within one’s own mind and absolute attentiveness to life without, be it Galileo inventing modern timekeeping after watching a pendulum swing in a cathedral or Oliver Sacks illuminating music’s incredible effects on the mind while hiking in a Norwegian fjord.

So how did we end up so conflicted about cultivating a culture of leisure? more>


Growth Is Back! So What?

By Éloi Laurent – After ten years of real downturns, false starts and speculations on “secular stagnation,” a genuine global recovery has finally materialized.

But does it matter? It all depends on what you know about what Gross Domestic product (GDP) measures… and leaves aside.

GDP actually captures only a tiny fraction of what goes on and matters in our complex societies: it tracks some but not all of economic well-being (saying nothing about fundamental issues such as income inequality); it does not account for most dimensions of well-being (think about the importance of health, education or happiness for your own quality of life); and it says exactly nothing about “sustainability,” which basically means well-being not just today but also tomorrow (imagine your quality of life on a planet where the temperature would be four degrees higher or where there would be scant drinkable water or breathable air).

Consider the US, which is supposed to be growing faster than Europe: stock markets, profits and growth are up, sometimes at historic highs. But stock markets, profits and growth are the holy trilogy of mis-measuring the economy.

Consider another US trilogy: inequality, health and trust and the picture changes radically. Recent data show that income inequality is higher today than it was during the Gilded Age, relentlessly fracturing the American society; that Americans in large numbers have been “dying of despair.” more>


The end of liberal international order?

By G. John Ikenberry – No one can be sure how deep the crisis of liberal internationalism runs. In what follows, I argue that, despite its troubles, liberal internationalism still has a future. The American hegemonic organization of liberal order is weakening, but the more general organizing ideas and impulses of liberal internationalism run deep in world politics.

What liberal internationalism offers is a vision of open and loosely rules-based order. It is a tradition of order-building that emerged with the rise and spread of liberal democracy, and its ideas and agendas have been shaped as these countries have confronted and struggled with the grand forces of modernity.

Creating an international ‘space’ for liberal democracy, reconciling the dilemmas of sovereignty and interdependence, seeking protections and preserving rights within and between states—these are the underlying aims that have propelled liberal internationalism through the ‘golden eras’ and ‘global catastrophes’ of the last two centuries.

Despite the upheavals and destruction of world war, economic depression, and the rise and fall of fascism and totalitarianism, the liberal international project survived. It is likely to survive today’s crises as well. But to do so this time, as it has done in the past, liberal internationalism will need to be rethought and reinvented. more>


The danger in deregulation

By Samantha Gross – In the United States and around the world, energy production depends on support from local communities, what the industry calls “social license to operate.” Especially in a democracy, public opposition can make life very difficult for energy producers. Public support for energy resource development depends on trust—in the companies doing the development and in the regulatory structure that governs their activities.

When the Trump administration dismantles energy regulation, it runs the risk of undermining the trust that underpins domestic energy development. U.S. oil and gas production has grown dramatically in recent years, but we have also seen a public backlash.

The proposal to open nearly all U.S. offshore waters to drilling is an opening salvo in a battle likely to go on for some time. Many governors, even Republicans, are vehemently opposed to drilling in waters off their states.

But the hard push toward deregulation is likely to have consequences for public trust, not just in companies, but in government itself. If the public feels that the government is being run by and for the energy industry, accomplishing many important societal goals—like modernizing infrastructure and preventing the worst impacts of climate change—become much more difficult. more>