Why Are Economists Giving Inequality the Cold Shoulder?


I’ve long questioned the value of economics as a profession. Most economists focus on the quantitative rather than the lived. They are also consistently unable to explain or predict economic movements. I think the former may lead to the latter. Indeed, in this piece in the Boston Review, the author examines professional economists’ opposition to Thomas Piketty’s focus on inequality:

But perhaps the greatest rebuke of Piketty to be found among academic economics is not contained in any of these overt or veiled attacks on his scholarship and interpretation, but rather in the deafening silence that greets it, as well as inequality in general, in broad swathes of the field—even to this day. You can search through the websites of several leading economics departments or the official lists of working papers curated by federal agencies and not come across a single publication that has any obvious or even secondary bearing on the themes raised by Capital in the Twenty-First Century, even in order to oppose them. It is as though the central facts, controversies, and policy proposals that have consumed our public debate about the economy for three years are of little-to-no importance to the people who are paid and tenured to conduct a lifetime’s research into how the economy works.

Read the full article at The Boston Review

Marshall Steinbaum — Boston Review

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Business is not politics


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John Kay brings amazing insights in his writings. This article explains why a businessman might not be suited for politics. Simple and lucid.

The most important function of a chief executive is to build a strong and supportive management team.  The ability of a political leader to do this is seriously circumscribed, because many others also enjoy democratic legitimacy. They are also elected, and they hold positions of power conferred by their party positions.  This leads to dysfunctionality in leadership, as individuals who would not have chosen each other and more or less openly covet each other’s roles must work together: neither Donald Trump nor Paul Ryan would have selected the other for the role each occupies.

The complete article

John Kay

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It Is Known


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This is an anecdote. The writer is very clear about where his support lies in the French election. Good short read.

I asked him where he was from and he said Corsica. The Corsicans, he explained, were “the most dangerous people in the world,” and he showed me the tiny knives tattooed on his shoulder. I can’t be sure, but I believe each represented someone he had killed. I asked him if he had enjoyed his time in India and he said, “I hate it.” He was “too sensitive,” he explained: the poverty hurt his feelings. I asked if he had liked the food, at least, and he replied, “French food is the best in the world.” When I suggested this was a matter of opinion, he banged his fist on the pullout tray and said: “NO. IT IS KNOWN.”

The complete article

Rajeev Balasubramanyam — the Paris Review

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The Choco Pie Diplomacy


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North Korea is generally in the news. Whatever we know of the country is through media reports which are almost always negative. Today’s needull is a book review of The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha.

With too many international vested interests in North Korea, the future is difficult to gauge.

Stripped of its cuteness, the story contains two lessons. The first is a reminder of what should be obvious: ordinary North Koreans are in most ways just like everyone else. For all their affected concern for human rights, this is overlooked with depressing frequency by people who should know better. North Koreans are not a ‘zombie nation’ (Martin Amis), an undifferentiated mass of ‘racist dwarfs’ (Christopher Hitchens), but 24 million individuals, as virtuous and vicious as the rest of us, and just as keen on sweet and sticky snacks.

The complete article

Richard Lloyd Parry – London Review of Books

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The Last Diplomat


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Dear Readers, today, I present to you the story of Robin Raphael who worked for state department as diplomat. In a career spreading over four decades and 5 countries, Robin distinguished her self in a profession dominated by male. She was from generation where information was gathered not by electronic surveillance but by rubbing shoulders with Politicians, Journalists, Military Officers over tea, dinner and cocktail parties. This also included working through informal channels to bypass government bureaucracy. Lest she knew that her traditional diplomacy will result in her being branded as mole by FBI

“Pakistan is a country of 200 million people. But its leadership is like a deck of cards,” said Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to Washington. “However you shuffle them, the same 52 people will show up in one hand or another. Robin understood that.”

The FBI is very structured about communications. Agents see things as binary—on or off, authorized or unauthorized, black and white. State has a bunch of informal communications channels. Things are gray. It’s just the way State is.

The agents investigating Raphel didn’t have extensive experience dealing with State Department diplomats. They had even less exposure to diplomats of Raphel’s generation. By the way she spoke, Raphel sometimes made it sound as if she was giving Lodhi and other Pakistani contacts extremely valuable information.

Full article here

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The Call of Jihad


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Why do young people, who are well-educated and doing good for themselves and their family decide to leave all behind and join ISIS? Today’s needull looks at a small village in Kerala in India and tries to find out what is happening on the ground. An eye opener on the harsh realities today.

As a family, Hafisuddin’s has been well exposed to cosmopolitan life. His grandfather was among the early residents of Padanna to open a hotel in Bombay. “He was the first man to own cars in our village. He also owned a flat in Mumbai,” says Rahman. “You have to see the irony in it. The grandfather was a man who was urbanised in the 1960s, but the grandson [fifty years later] went back to conservative values and wanted the life of a jihadi.”

Radicalisation, however, may have little to do with such exposure. Or even geography. “It is certain that the seeds of extremism are sowed somewhere else, and not in Kerala. I think they got their wrong understanding of Islam from the internet,” says Rahman, “They are educated and exposed to foreign countries.”

The complete article

Shahina KK — OPEN

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Why was the media so wrong in its prediction?


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Today’s needull looks at recent changes that have happened in the media industry and tries to find the reason why was the media completely clueless about the US election results. What is the reality behind groupthink?

The answer to the press’ myopia lies elsewhere, and nobody has produced a better argument for how the national media missed the Trump story than FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, who pointed out that the ideological clustering in top newsrooms led to groupthink. “As of 2013, only 7 percent of [journalists] identified as Republicans,” Silver wrote in March, chiding the press for its political homogeneity. Just after the election, presidential strategist Steve Bannon savaged the press on the same point but with a heartier vocabulary. “The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country,” Bannon said. “It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no fucking idea what’s going on.”

The complete article

Jack Shafer & Tucker DohertyPolitico

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