Weekly Selection 31 January 2020

Stephen Roach, A Global Economy Without a Cushion

(Project Syndicate, January 27, 2020)

From 1990 to 2008, annual growth in world trade was 82% faster than world GDP growth. Now, however, this cushion has shrunk dramatically to just 13% over the 2010-19 period, leaving the world economy more vulnerable to all-too-frequent shocks. For global business-cycle analysts, the 2.5-3.5% growth band is considered the danger zone: when world output growth slips to the lower half of that range – as it did in 2019 – the risks of global recession need to be taken seriously (reads in 5-6 min).

Aaron Timms, Beyond the Growth Gospel

(The New Republic, January 27, 2020)

This is a long read (30 min+), central to understand the debate raging on today about economic growth and climate emergency. It details how, within just a few years, de-growth has gone from a fringe concern to a creeping presence in the climate emergency’s literature of prescription. More and more people argue that GDP growth – today’s most critical measure of human flourishing - seems increasingly untenable in the age of accelerating climate change. So what’s coming next? No one in the de-growth community disputes that sacrifices are necessary, but how extreme do we need to be?

Shoshana Zuboff, You Are Now Remotely Controlled

(The New York Times, January 24, 2020)

The author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” claims that surveillance capitalists now control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth. Two quotes that capture the essence of her argument: “We thought that we search Google, but now we understand that Google searches us”; and: “We assumed that we use social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us”. This is a damning, well-researched and cogent argument about the dark side of tech. Central to her analysis: the notion of “epistemic inequality” (reads in 15 min+).

Sam Altman, How to Invest in Startups

(Blog, January 23, 2020)

This piece is premised upon two observations: (1) there is a lot of advice about how to be a good startup founder, but there isn’t very much about how to be a good startup investor; (2) this is a hard time to invest in startups (it’s easier to be a capital-taker than a capital-giver!). To do well as an investor, you just need to: (1) get access to good opportunities, (2) make good decisions about what to invest in, and (3) get the companies you pick to choose you as an investor. Get some valuable insights on access, decision, close rates and help in just 6-7 min.

Mark O’Connell, Splendid isolation: how I stopped time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours

(The Guardian, January 24, 2020)

In this long read (15-20 min), the author explores how stepping outside for a day and a night while doing nothing offered an antidote to the busyness of his life. Everything was getting busier, faster until he stopped for a “wilderness solo”, and then it got better!