Weekly Selection 6 December 2019

Niall Ferguson, The New Cold War? It’s With China, and It Has Already Begun

(The New York Times, December 2, 2019)

The famous historian says that Cold War II started in 2019, and that though the US and China can probably avoid a hot war, it is still a daunting prospect. What started out as a trade war is rapidly metamorphosing into a cluster of other conflicts, but this cold war will be very different from the previous one: it won’t feature nuclear brinkmanship or proxy wars, and will probably confine itself to an economic and technological competition between two systems (reads in 5-6 min).

Paul Collier, Greed Is Dead

(Times Literary Supplement, December 6, 2019)

This is a great review of five new books that each in their own way explains why Economic Man (“duly characterized not just as greedy, lazy and selfish, which to some extent we all are, but as only greedy, lazy and selfish”) is a travesty. In well-functioning societies, humans construct and abide by a vast web of kindness and mutual obligations of which Economic Man would be incapable. Collier’s conclusion: “Economic Man is well-entrenched and will linger for years, but he is now beset by evidence that will cumulatively kill him off. Social psychology and anthropology have shown that people have some predisposition towards fairness and meeting obligations” (10 min).

Ivan Rogers, Ivan Rogers on Brexit: the worst is yet to come

(Prospect, November 25, 2019)

The coming UK general election (Dec. 12) and the likely victory of Boris Johnson won’t end Brexit uncertainty. Ivan Rogers – the former UK ambassador to the EU – explains why the biggest crisis of Brexit actually still lies ahead of us in late 2020. His speech is rather long (20 min+), but essential reading for those willing to comprehend what’s in store. His conclusion: “I believe we may be heading inexorably both to a “no trade deal” short-medium term, and a very difficult relationship after that. That is in neither side’s best interest. But it might require real vision from both to avoid it”.

Nurith Aizenman, Researchers Find A Remarkable Ripple Effect When You Give Cash To Poor Families

(NPR, December 2, 2019)

Abundant research has conclusively concluded that the most effective way to help the world's poor is to give them cash (with no strings attached) instead of goods like food or services like job training. A major new study goes further, suggesting that the whole community benefits from individual aid: in this particular experiment, every dollar in cash aid increased total economic activity in the area by $2.60 with local inflation of less than 1%. Cash transfers work! (reads in about 7-9 min).

Marina Koren, The False Promise of Morning Routines

(The Atlantic, December 2, 2019)

The undying genre of self-help literature churns out a relentless number of books about how to improve our personal productivity and wellbeing… Most of them are hopeless! This article helps us understand why everyone’s mornings seem more productive than our own. The simple truth: there are no foolproof rules and being productive in the morning is not simply a matter of strength and determination (reads in 6-7 min).