Weekly Selection 7 February 2020

John Cassidy, Can We Have Prosperity Without Growth?

(The New Yorker, February 10, 2020)

We had a similar article last week. Worth repeating with this one as the “de-growth” trend - i.e. embracing zero or even negative GDP growth - is gaining traction (at least in the richest countries). The critique of economic growth, once a fringe leftist position, is now gaining mainstream attention in the face of the climate crisis. If a de-growth movement really takes off, it would mean reversing consumerism’s financial and cultural dominance in public and private life, which would in turn radically overhaul social values and production pattern (reads in about 10 min).

Brahma Chellaney, Preventing the Death of the World’s Rivers

(Project Syndicate, February 6, 2020)

The author of “Water, Peace, and War - Confronting the Global Water Crisis” argues that the main world’s rivers are under unprecedented pressure from contamination, damming, and diversion – all of which are straining water resources, destroying ecosystems, jeopardizing livelihoods, and damaging human health. He thinks that international cooperation could save riparian systems, but only if we first recognize the consequences of doing nothing (reads in 6-7 min).

Felicity Lawrence, Truth decay: when uncertainty is weaponized

(Nature, February 3, 2020)

A touchy and highly contentious subject! This is the review of a new book (“The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception”) that exposes in great detail how industries (from tobacco to food and fuels) all too often use denial, deceit, and doubt to corrupt. This is done through what the author – an epidemiologist and former senior safety regulator – calls the “denial machine”. In our era of fake news, deceptions are increasingly infecting the body of politics (reads in 6-7 min).

McKay Coppins, The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President

(The Atlantic, March 2020)

This is an article about the US election, but the points it makes and its conclusions apply to any democratic election held anywhere. In essence, new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators can now shape an election outcome. It works like this: instead of silencing dissident shouting in the streets or any other dissonant voices, dictators harness the power of social media to jam the signals and sow confusion. Academics call this new phenomenon “censorship through noise.” A rather long (15 min+) but insightful read.

David DeSteno, Gratitude Helps You Cooperate. Does It Also Make You a Sucker?

(Behavioral Scientist, February 2, 2020)

The answer is no. A great deal of empirical evidence shows that gratitude makes life better. In particular, it fosters cooperation – a fundamental human trait. Several experiments have shown that grateful people do make good peers and partners, but also that they are not suckers or complacent. Grateful people expect more moral behaviour not only from themselves but also from others (reads in 4-5 min).