Weekly Selection 15 November 2019

David Graeber, Against Economics

(The New York Review of Books, December 5, 2019)

The anthropologist reviews Skidelsky’s “Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics” – an impressive book that investigates the causes that might explain why the discipline of economics seems no longer fit for purpose. We now live in a different economic universe than we did before the crash: falling unemployment no longer drives up wages, and abundant liquidity does not seem to cause inflation. Yet the language of the public debate, and the wisdom conveyed in economic textbooks, remain almost entirely unchanged. A long (20 min+) and interesting take on one of today’s most intractable issues.

John Naughton, Don’t Be Evil review – how the tech giants have become too big to fail

(The Guardian, November 3, 2019)

This is a review of “Don’t Be Evil”, the FT global business correspondent’s (Rana Foroohar) masterly critique of the internet pioneers who now dominate our world. The overarching theme of her book is “how big tech betrayed its founding principles;” and one of the most significant insight is that big tech may have already become “too big to fail” because the companies have become systemically vital to our economies – for reasons that have little to do with technology (reads in 4-5 min).

Chandran Nair, Preventing the Dawn of Darkness in Hong Kong

(Berggruen Institute, November 7, 2019)

The founder and CEO of the Global Institute for Tomorrow (based in Hong Kong), explains in this short op-ed (reads in about 5 min.) that free societies require open-mindedness, a willingness to compromise and respect for people with different backgrounds and viewpoints. At a time when events in Hong Kong are pointing to an increase in violence and taking a turn for the worse, this is a must-read to understand what’s going on and how the situation may evolve.

Dan Rockmore, The Myth and Magic of Generating New Ideas

(The New Yorker, November 7, 2019)

Where do ideas come from? A mathematician responds and takes us through the different things that get the mind into motion. Problem solvers often overthink themselves into a dead end, but different stories suggest that an initial period of concentration needs to be followed by some amount of unconscious processing because the key to solving a problem is to take a break from worrying, “to move the problem to the back burner, and to let the unwatched pot boil”. Going for a walk is therefore always a good idea: it lets the magic happen (reads in 7-8 min).

Nicholas Kristof, Let’s Wage a War on Loneliness

(The New York Times, November 9, 2019)

The columnist explains why the condition of loneliness that corrodes modern life isn’t just depressing, but can also be deadly. More than one-fifth of adults in both the US and Britain now report they often or always feel lonely; and the problem has now become so pervasive that Britain just appointed a minister for loneliness. This article discusses some of the measures implemented in the UK that may be emulated in other countries (reads in 6-7 min).