👓 After decades of triumph, democracy is losing ground | The Economist

Read After decades of triumph, democracy is losing ground (The Economist)
What is behind the reversal?

I’m just hoping our institutions aren’t so heavily weakened that there’s no turning back for us.

Syndicated copies to:

👓 The Theranos Story and Education Technology | Inside Higher Ed

Read The Theranos Story and Education Technology (Inside Higher Ed)
A great new book has me thinking about ed tech.

This is an interesting and useful analogy.

In ed tech, schools are the customers, but students are the users.

This also reminds me of the market disconnect between students and their textbooks. Professors are the ones targeted for the “sale” or adoption when the actual purchasers are the students. This causes all kinds of problems in the way the textbook market works and tends to drive prices up–compared to a market in which the student directly chooses their textbook. (And the set up is not too dissimilar to how the healthcare industry works in which the patient (customer) is making a purchase of health care coverage and not actually the health care itself.

Syndicated copies to:

🔖 Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber

Bookmarked Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber (Simon & Schuster)

From bestselling writer David Graeber, a powerful argument against the rise of meaningless, unfulfilling jobs, and their consequences.

Does your job make a meaningful contribution to the world? In the spring of 2013, David Graeber asked this question in a playful, provocative essay titled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” It went viral. After a million online views in seventeen different languages, people all over the world are still debating the answer.

There are millions of people—HR consultants, communication coordinators, telemarketing researchers, corporate lawyers—whose jobs are useless, and, tragically, they know it. These people are caught in bullshit jobs.

Graeber explores one of society’s most vexing and deeply felt concerns, indicting among other villains a particular strain of finance capitalism that betrays ideals shared by thinkers ranging from Keynes to Lincoln. Bullshit Jobs gives individuals, corporations, and societies permission to undergo a shift in values, placing creative and caring work at the center of our culture. This book is for everyone who wants to turn their vocation back into an avocation.

Syndicated copies to:

👓 This Is How a Newspaper Dies | Politico

Read This Is How a Newspaper Dies by Jack Shafer (POLITICO Magazine)
It’s with a spasm of profits.

This article outlines an intriguing method for plundering the carcass of a dying business to reap as much profit from it as it dies as one can. I suppose that if one is sure a segment is on its way out, one may as well exploit its customers to turn a profit.

I wonder how long it will take for traditional television and cable related businesses to begin using this model as more and more people cut the cord.

Syndicated copies to:

👓 Everything You Should Know About Karl Marx | Teen Vogue

Read Everything You Should Know About Karl Marx (Teen Vogue)
The anti-capitalist scholar’s ideas are often memed (and probably more prevalent than you think).
Syndicated copies to:

👓 Save Barnes & Noble! | New York Times

Read Opinion | Save Barnes & Noble! by David LeonhardtDavid Leonhardt (nytimes.com)
It’s in trouble. And Washington’s flawed antitrust policy is a big reason.

There are some squirrel-ly things that Amazon is managing to get away with, and they’re not all necessarily good.

Syndicated copies to:

🎧 Barges and bread | Eat This Podcast

Listened to Barges and bread: A new book looks at London and the grain trade by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Time was, not so long ago, when you could barely move on the Thames in London for ships and boats of all shapes and sizes. Goods flowed in from the Empire in tall-masted sailing ships and stocky steamers and were transferred to barges and lighters for moving on. The canals, too, were driven by, and served, the industrial revolution, bringing coal and other raw materials to factories and taking away the finished goods by water, the cheapest and quickest system for bulk transport. By the late 1960s, much of the waterborne traffic had gone. Ships unloaded in the docks and goods were transferred by road and rail. A bit of freight continued to move on the water, some of that in the hands of Tam and Di Murrell. Di Murrell’s new book, Barges & Bread: canals & grain to bread & baking traces the interwined development of the grain trade and bread as it played out in the Thames basin and beyond.

The importance of bread (and beer) to the people is encapsulated in the Assize of Bread and Ale, a statue of 1266 (though it appears to have codified earlier laws) and the first law in England to deal with food. Loaves were sold by size for a penny, a half-penny and, most commonly, a farthing (quarter of a penny). The finer the flour, the smaller the loaf you got at each price point. The price of grain naturally varied from year to year and from place to place, but the Assize fixed not the price but the weight of a penny loaf and also regulated in minute detail the baker’s profit and allowable expenses.

Very roughly, if the price of wheat was 12 pence a quarter (a quarter weighing 240 pounds) then the baker had to ensure that a farthing loaf of the best white bread, called Wastel bread, weighed 5.6 pounds. Wastel bread was not the most expensive. Simnel bread, “because it has been baked twice,” cost a bit more and so called French bread, enriched with milk and eggs, a bit more still. The coarsest “bread of common wheat” was less than half the cost of wastel bread.

From every quarter of wheat, the baker was permitted to sell 418 pounds of bread. Anything he could squeeze above that was called advantage bread, and was essentially pure profit. There was, naturally, every incentive for bakers and millers alike to add all sorts of things to increase the weight of flour and bread.

It is the connection between money and the weight of bread that is most intriguing. Weights, like money, were expressed as pounds. A pound in money was the pound-weight of silver, while the penny – the only coin in circulation – was a pennyweight of silver. But how much was a penny weight? 32 Wheat Corns in the midst of the Ear according to the Assize of Bread and Ale, which then explained that the 20 pence-weight made an ounce, and 12 ounces made one pound.

Notes

  1. Di Murrell’s book Barges & Bread: canals & grain to bread & baking, is available from Amazon and elsewhere, including direct from the publisher, Prospect Books.
  2. Di also has a website, Foodieafloat.
  3. If you really want to get to grips with the Assize of Bread, you need to read Alan S. C. Ross. “The Assize of Bread.” The Economic History Review, vol. 9, no. 2, 1956, pp. 332–342. JSTOR.
  4. Incidental music is the Impromptu from Zez Confrey’s Three Little Oddities, played by Rowan Belt

Sad that they managed to win their court case for shipping grain, but were still frozen out of the market.

Syndicated copies to:

🎧 A visit to Hummustown | Eat This Podcast

Listened to A visit to Hummustown: Doing good by eating well by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast
Refugees selling the food of their homeland to get a start in a new life is, by now, a cliché. Khaled (in the photo) joined their ranks a year ago. But cliché or not, selling food is an important way to give people work to do, wages, and hope. If it’s happening on your doorstep, which it is, and the food is good, which it is, what’s a hungry podcaster to do? Go there, obviously, and report back. Which is why, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself, microphone in hand, waiting patiently in line for a falafel wrap.



Truth be told, there aren’t that many Syrian refugees in Italy. The most recent official statistics put the total at around 5000 with a little over 600 in Rome. Hummustown is helping a few of them.

Notes

  1. The Hummustown website tells more of the story and has a link to the GoFundMe campaign.

Somewhat different than the usual episode here, but in the best of ways. Still a wonderful look at food, culture, and humanity wrapped up in a fantastic story.

Syndicated copies to:

🎧 Trump’s Tariffs | The Daily – New York Times

Listened to ‘The Daily’: Trump’s Tariffs by Michael Barbaro from nytimes.com
President Trump said that protections on steel and aluminum imports were in the interest of national security. But could the threat be the tariffs themselves?

A nice breakdown of the history of trade in the 20th century.

Syndicated copies to:

👓 Studies are increasingly clear: Uber, Lyft congest cities | AP News

Read Studies are increasingly clear: Uber, Lyft congest cities by Steve LeBlanc (AP News)
One promise of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft was fewer cars clogging city streets. But studies suggest the opposite: that ride-hailing companies are pulling riders off buses, subways, bicycles and their own feet and putting them in cars instead. And in what could be a new wrinkle, a service by Uber called Express Pool now is seen as directly competing with mass transit. Uber and Lyft argue that in Boston, for instance, they complement public transit by connecting riders to hubs like Logan Airport and South Station. But they have not released their own specific data about rides, leaving studies up to outside researchers. And the impact of all those cars is becoming clear, said Christo Wilson, a professor of computer science at Boston’s Northeastern University, who has looked at Uber’s practice of surge pricing during heavy volume. “The emerging consensus is that ride-sharing (is) increasing congestion,” Wilson said.

It’s interesting that the “simple” story peddled by ridesharing companies is the one that’s most believed. Outside studies like this are certainly both wanted and needed.

It’s always seemed to me that these companies weren’t quite doing what they said they were from a simple economics standpoint. Particularly with these companies losing money to build market share, they’re essentially subsidizing a portion of their user’s cost. The fact that they’re siphoning off people from public transportation isn’t widely reported. I suspect that outside of major metropolitan areas they’re not doing as much as they are in them. They’re building market share, but primarily by breaking regulations in places with taxi or other related services. I’d certainly love to see more broad based statistics of their ridership compared with statistics from taxi companies and municipal transportation services. I have a feeling the economic piper will eventually come for them when the playing field is leveled.

Syndicated copies to:

🎧 Rethinking the folk history of American agriculture: Earl Butz is not the central villain of the piece | Eat This Podcast

Listened to Rethinking the folk history of American agriculture: Earl Butz is not the central villain of the piece by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast
Remember Farm Aid, which launched in 1985? A lot of people do, and they tend to date the farm crisis in America to the 1980s, triggered by Earl Butz and his crazy love for fencerow to fencerow, get big or get out, industrial agriculture. And of course, land consolidation is inevitable, because if you’re going to invest in all that capital equipment to make your farm more efficient, you’re bound to buy up the smaller farmers who weren’t so savvy. Those “facts,” however, are anything but. They’re myths, on which much of the current criticism of American farm policy is built. There are others, too, and they’re all skillfully eviscerated by Nate Rosenberg and Bryce Wilson Stucki in a recent paper.


One villain or two?

And here’s another thing. That first Farm Aid concert apparently raised $9 million. You could presumably help a lot of poor old dirt farmers with that kind of cash. But Farm Aid wasn’t actually about poor old dirt farmers, it was about people like Willie Nelson. He lost $800,000 the year before Farm Aid. Nine million dollars doesn’t go too far when individual people are losing that kind of money.

Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS | More
Support this podcast: on Patreon

An interesting often untold story of agriculture, race, and economics in the United States.

Syndicated copies to:

🎧 Containers Episode 8: Robots, Piers Full of Robots

Listened to Containers Episode 8: Robots, Piers Full of Robots from Containers
In the conclusion of this series, we peer into the future of human-robot combinations on the waterfront and in the rest of the supply chain. We’ll hear about the strange future of cyborg trucking and meet the friendly little helper bots in warehouses. The view of automation that sees only a battle between robots vs. humans is wrong. It’s humans all the way down.

The key to replacing jobs lost to robots and automation is going to be much more education, and we’re doing a painfully poor job of it. This episode is a bit more upbeat about the technology side as well as the human side of things. It’s fine to do the one, but it does a disservice to the other without the added complexities of the problems.

In sum, this was a great series of episodes that shows a lot of what the average person is missing about how global trade happens and how intricate it can be. It’s impressive how much ground can be covered in just a few short episodes. I recommend the entire series to everyone.

Syndicated copies to:

SFI and ASU to offer online M.S. in Complexity | Complexity Explorer

Bookmarked SFI and ASU to offer online M.S. in Complexity (Complexity Explorer)
SFI and Arizona State University soon will offer the world’s first comprehensive online master’s degree in complexity science. It will be the Institute’s first graduate degree program, a vision that dates to SFI’s founding. “With technology, a growing recognition of the value of online education, widespread acceptance of complexity science, and in partnership with ASU, we are now able to offer the world a degree in the field we helped invent,” says SFI President David Krakauer, “and it will be taught by the very people who built it into a legitimate domain of scholarship.”
Syndicated copies to:

🔖 A Course in Game Theory by Martin J. Osborne, Ariel Rubinstein | MIT Press

Bookmarked A Course in Game Theory (MIT Press)
A Course in Game Theory presents the main ideas of game theory at a level suitable for graduate students and advanced undergraduates, emphasizing the theory's foundations and interpretations of its basic concepts. The authors provide precise definitions and full proofs of results, sacrificing generalities and limiting the scope of the material in order to do so. The text is organized in four parts: strategic games, extensive games with perfect information, extensive games with imperfect information, and coalitional games. It includes over 100 exercises.

Tangentially suggested after reading In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium by Erica Klarreich (Quanta Magazine)

Free, personal copy is downloadable in .pdf format with registration here.

A Course in Game Theory

Syndicated copies to:

🔖 Subjectivity and Correlation in Randomized Strategies by Robert J. Aumann | Journal of Mathematical Economics

Bookmarked Subjectivity and Correlation in Randomized Strategies (Journal of Mathematical Economics 1 (1974) 67-96. North-Holland Publishing Company)
(.pdf download) Subjectivity and correlation, though formally related, are conceptually distinct and independent issues. We start by discussing subjectivity. A mixed strategy in a game involves the selection of a pure strategy by means of a random device. It has usually been assumed that the random device is a coin flip, the spin of a roulette wheel, or something similar; in brief, an ‘objective’ device, one for which everybody agrees on the numerical values of the probabilities involved. Rather oddly, in spite of the long history of the theory of subjective probability, nobody seems to have examined the consequences of basing mixed strategies on ‘subjective’ random devices, i.e. devices on the probabilities of whose outcomes people may disagree (such as horse races, elections, etc.).

Suggested by In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium by Erica Klarreich (Quanta Magazine)

Syndicated copies to: