Weekly Roundup 161: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web!
Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!
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The Patriots Corner ( Inequality & Other Issues to Get Your Blood Boiling):
Lockdown: The coming war on general-purpose computing – via Boing Boing – General-purpose computers are astounding. They’re so astounding that our society still struggles to come to grips with them, what they’re for, how to accommodate them, and how to cope with them. This brings us back to something you might be sick of reading about: copyright.
Rick Bookstaber: The Bifurcated Society – via rick.bookstaber.com – There is less mobility in the work force because the computers are not simply displacing jobs, they are taking out the middle. Computers are good at routine cognitive tasks in the middling white-collar range, the desk jobs, the jobs that require keeping track of things, making arithmetic calculations. They are not so good at motor tasks, the blue collar jobs that require coordination, manual dexterity and sense-of-the-world adjustments. Computers can crunch numbers but they can’t drive a truck or make up a hotel room. When it comes to computers taking on human tasks, as Steven Parker notes, the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard.Because they take out the middle, it is a lot harder to pursue the American dream by working your way up the ladder. Climbing up rung by rung, you will find a machine staring down. And it won’t retire or move up the ladder to make room for you. Once in place, a retirement or promotion is not going to happen, it isn’t going to be opening up a spot.
Torturer’s Apprentice – Magazine – via The Atlantic – The new science of interrogation is not, in fact, so new at all: “extraordinary rendition” and “enhanced interrogation” and “waterboarding” all spring directly from the practices of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. The distance, in both technique and ideology, between the Inquisition’s interrogation regime and 21st-century America’s is uncomfortably short—and provides a chilling harbinger of what can happen when moral certainty gets yoked to the machinery of torture.
Six million households have only five days’ savings – via Yahoo! Finance UK – Around six million households would be unable to survive for more than five days if they stopped being paid, such are the low levels of savings among Britons, new research shows.
The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie · LRB 11 January 2012 – via www.lrb.co.uk – The possibility of the privatisation of the general intellect was something Marx never envisaged in his writings about capitalism (largely because he overlooked its social dimension). Yet this is at the core of today’s struggles over intellectual property: as the role of the general intellect – based on collective knowledge and social co-operation – has increased in post-industrial capitalism, so wealth accumulates out of all proportion to the labour expended in its production. The result is not, as Marx seems to have expected, the self-dissolution of capitalism, but the gradual transformation of the profit generated by the exploitation of labour into rent appropriated through the privatisation of knowledge.
Does Inequality breed Altruism or Selfishness? Gauging Individuals’ Predispositions Towards Redistributive Schemes – via Munich Personal – Economic and political decisions usually involve a trade-off between efficiency and equality considerations. While some inequality is expected to prevail in our societies, high levels of it are objectionable on various grounds. One of the fundamental roles of government is to collect and reallocate resources among its citizens, and identifying the right policies to guide these reallocations is central to promoting higher equality. While we now have a good grasp of which policies lead to more equality and which do not, we know much less about why they seem to be adopted to varying degrees of intensity in some places and times and not in others. To explain this variation in policy outcomes, the most fundamental task is to identify the constituencies for the different policies. Who supports what policies and under what conditions do they support them? In this paper this question is investigated based on public opinion data on preferences over taxation and government spending on conditional-cash-transfers, pension schemes, and education. All policies that were found to significantly affect inequality. We find that disagreement across socio-economic groups arise not so much on whether the government should tackle inequality, but on how it should go about doing it. Poorer respondents tend to support cash transfers to a greater extent than the rich. But the rich tend to be more likely to support expenditures on public provision education than the poor. Contrary to what is commonly assumed, inequality seems to breed altruism among the rich when it comes to the quintessential poverty reduction scheme of conditional-cash-transfers.
The Myth Of American Productivity -Via Washington Monthly- Politicians say we have the most productive workers in the world. They don’t know what they’re talking about.
Making It in America – Magazine – via The Atlantic – In the past decade, the flow of goods emerging from U.S. factories has risen by about a third. Factory employment has fallen by roughly the same fraction. The story of Standard Motor Products, a 92-year-old, family-run manufacturer based in Queens, sheds light on both phenomena. It’s a story of hustle, ingenuity, competitive success, and promise for America’s economy. It also illuminates why the jobs crisis will be so difficult to solve.
Our Concern Over ‘Indecency’ on TV is Misguided | TIME Ideas – via TIME.com – While the Supreme Court debates nudity on old episodes of NYPD Blue, research shows we have a much bigger problem with kids and TV
Global Agenda: The real story –– via J Post – The real story of the American economy is not whether there is or is not “going to be another recession,” but rather that in many key respects – the ones that affect most people’s lives and livelihoods – the previous recession never ended. It is not that the recovery is getting stronger or weaker, but that there has never been a “recovery” in which so little was recovered by so many, after so much had been lost.
The Perils of 2012: When Austerity Bites Back – via Common Dreams – As a result, global economic rebalancing is likely to accelerate, almost inevitably giving rise to political tensions. With all of the problems confronting the global economy, we will be lucky if these strains do not begin to manifest themselves within the next twelve months.
End of the Line – via NYTimes.com – In 2008, General Motors announced the closing of its metal-stamping plant in Wyoming, Mich., and 1,500 workers lost their jobs. Austin Bunn, a playwright and professor, chronicled the experience and what came after in a nonfiction play. Bunn, in collaboration with the Working Group Theater, spent two years trying to understand exactly what happened to the people and the town that relied on the factory. He recorded hundreds of hours of conversations with dozens of workers, managers, historians, bartenders, city consultants and others. Their words (edited and condensed for dramatic purposes) became the documentary play “Rust,” adapted here. (Some characters have had their names changed; one is a composite.) “Rust” had its premiere in Grand Rapids, Mich., in September.
Overt Class War in Canada – Via Media Union of Canada – The by-now notorious lockout in London, Ontario by the American corporate giant Caterpillar, and another in Quebec by the UK colossus Rio Tinto, signal a new make-or-break era for organized labour in Canada. The race to the bottom is picking up speed. Make no mistake: if corporations are permitted to get away with 50 percent wage cuts when they are making record profits, the ripple effect will be deadly.
Hatchet Job by Florida Inspector General to Justify Firing of Two Lawyers for Foreclosure Fraud Investigations – via www.nakedcapitalism.com – To put it mildly, if you read the 85 page document and didn’t know the context (the extensive, widespread evidence of bad conduct and strained pleadings by the foreclosure mills and LPS, and the prior tip top reviews received by Clarkson and Edwards), you’d think they were fuckups of the first order and were lucky to have jobs. This is heresay presented as unvarished truth, and the unsupported (and as we will discuss later, often obviously untrue or at best misleading) charges extend to two Florida foreclosure fraud investigators, Lisa Epstein and Lynn Szymoniak. To back up and give a bit more context first (and do read the very good overview by Dave Dayen), the Florida attorney’s general office recently underwent a regime change. The old AG, Bill McCollum, was a Republican but nevertheless launched some investigations into foreclosure abuses, specifically against the biggest foreclosure mills in the state. He left leave last January, replaced by Pam Bondi, who clearly has a much more conciliatory posture towards the mortgage industrial complex (she is on the executive committee of the now multi-state foreclosure settlement effort). In keeping, the old head of the economic crimes division was replace by the aforementioned Richard Lawson, who was in the business of defending white collar criminals, primarily banksters. And he made it clear that he wanted the fraud investigations to be treated “with great sensitivity.” I have to tell you, both in context and based on his actions, that means “go easy and do everything you can to protect the reputations of the parties charged.” Do you think this is even remotely the right priority for the head of an economic crimes unit?
Workers in Bad Jobs Have Worse Wellbeing Than Jobless – via therearefreelunches.blogspot.com – American workers who are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace — known as “actively disengaged” workers — rate their lives more poorly than do those who are unemployed. Forty-two percent of actively disengaged workers are thriving in their lives, compared with 48% of the unemployed. At the other end of the spectrum are “engaged” employees — American workers who are involved in and enthusiastic about their work — 71% of whom are thriving.
Growing wealth gap threatens globalization – via Financial Post – A backlash against rising inequality – evident from the Occupy movement to the Arab Spring – risks derailing the advance of globalization and represents a threat to economies worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum.
Giant multinationals domiate food production – via FoodNavigator – The balance of power in global food production is shifting away from national governments to multi-national firms and from western economies to emerging nations, warns a new report from SAC’s Rural Policy Centre. In the first of a two-part series, we focus on the growing power of trans-national corporations (TNCs).
The Propaganda of Occupy Wall Street– via Vanity Fair – When the New-York Historical Society began collecting ephemera from Zuccotti Park this fall, it had no way of knowing whether the protest of the so-called 99 percent would be a passing fad, a turning point in American history, or something in between. Nonetheless, it sent Glenn Castellano, a member of its team, down to the park to collect what he could to capture the Zeitgeist of the movement. These 12 pieces from their nascent collection represent various aspects of the group’s messaging: from mockery of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans to peace paeans that evoke the flower-child activism of the 1960s. Together, they serve as the record of a movement whose actors often struggled to articulate exactly what they wanted—but who never failed to have a voice.
There Are 5,000 Janitors in the U.S. with PhDs – via gizmodo.com – There are 18,000 parking lot attendants in the U.S. with college degrees. There are 5,000 janitors in the U.S. with PhDs. In all, some 17 million college-educated Americans have jobs that don’t require their level of education. Why?
Best Reads of The Week:
Value Investing World: Secret Billionaire: The Chuck Feeney Story – via www.valueinvestingworld.com – Secret Billionaire: The Chuck Feeney Story
Paul Graham: Schlep Blindness – via www.paulgraham.com – One of the many things we do at Y Combinator is teach hackers about the inevitability of schleps. No, you can’t start a startup by just writing code. I remember going through this realization myself. There was a point in 1995 when I was still trying to convince myself I could start a company by just writing code. But I soon learned from experience that schleps are not merely inevitable, but pretty much what business consists of. A company is defined by the schleps it will undertake. And schleps should be dealt with the same way you’d deal with a cold swimming pool: just jump in. Which is not to say you should seek out unpleasant work per se, but that you should never shrink from it if it’s on the path to something great.
Taleb on the Fragility of Large Entities – via historysquared.com – It can take a few viewings combined with an even longer amount of time in cerebration to fully grasp and decipher, then apply Nasim Taleb’s provocative teachings, but they are worth the effort.
Americans Stumble on Math of Big Issues – via Seth’s posterous – Americans vastly overestimate the percentage of fellow residents who are foreign-born, by more than a factor of two, and the percentage who are in the country illegally, by a factor of six or seven. They overestimate spending on foreign aid by a factor of 25, according to a 2010 survey. And more than two-thirds of those who responded to a 2010 Zogby online poll underestimated the part of the federal budget that goes to Social Security or Medicare and Medicaid.
Behavioral Economics, Complexity Research, Decision Making, Psychology, & Risk:
Violinists Can’t Tell The Difference Between Stradivarius Violins And New Ones – via therearefreelunches.blogspot.com –
Professional violinists were asked to play new violins, and old ones by Stradivari and Guarneri. They couldn’t tell the difference between the two groups. One of the new violins even emerged as the most commonly preferred instrument.
How Happiness Affects Choice– via www.jstor.org – Consumers want to be happy, and marketers are increasingly trying to appeal to consumers’ pursuit of happiness. However, the results of six studies reveal that what happiness means varies, and consumers’ choices reflect those differences. In some cases, happiness is defined as feeling excited, and in other cases, happiness is defined as feeling calm. The type of happiness pursued is determined by one’s temporal focus, such that individuals tend to choose more exciting options when focused on the future, and more calming options when focused on the present moment. These results suggest that the definition of happiness, and consumers’ resulting choices, are dynamic and malleable.
Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect When it Comes to Understanding Risk – via Association for Psychological Science – Participants made the same choices when they learned about probability visually as when they were told the probabilities. And they made the same mistake people make when they avoid air travel: they think very unlikely events are more likely to happen.This shows that practice isn’t enough to get people to make good decisions based on risk, Maloney says. “You could imagine taking someone and saying, well, let’s practice them over and over and over again until they’re experts and maybe their decision-making will be perfect.” But that’s not what happens, he says. “Basically, the key idea is that people have a distorted appreciation of probability and it doesn’t go away even when you become one of the world’s experts at shooting rectangles.”
The Ideal Self at Play – via pss.sagepub.com – Video games constitute a popular form of entertainment that allows millions of people to adopt virtual identities. In our research, we explored the idea that the appeal of games is due in part to their ability to provide players with novel experiences that let them “try on” ideal aspects of their selves that might not find expression in everyday life. We found that video games were most intrinsically motivating and had the greatest influence on emotions when players’ experiences of themselves during play were congruent with players’ conceptions of their ideal selves. Additionally, we found that high levels of immersion in gaming environments, as well as large discrepancies between players’ actual-self and ideal-self characteristics, magnified the link between intrinsic motivation and the experience of ideal-self characteristics during play.
Does the Level at Which Cognitive Change Occurs Change With Age? – via pss.sagepub.com – Increased age in adulthood is associated with systematically more negative cognitive change, but relatively little is known about the nature of change at different ages. The present study capitalized on the hierarchical structure of cognitive abilities to investigate possible age differences in the level at which change operates. Reductions in the longitudinal associations between test scores when across-time relations were specified at different levels in the hierarchical structure were used to infer contributions to change from the level of abilities and from the level of a general factor. Although the pattern of influences varied across different cognitive abilities, the results revealed little or no age differences in the relative contributions to change from different levels in the hierarchy.
Memory for Emotional Simulations – via pss.sagepub.com – Mental simulations of future experiences are often concerned with emotionally arousing events. Although it is widely believed that mental simulations enhance future behavior, virtually nothing is known about how memory for these simulations changes over time or whether simulations of emotional experiences are especially well remembered. We used a novel paradigm that combined recently developed methods for generating simulations of future events and well-established procedures for testing memory to examine the retention of positive, negative, and neutral simulations over delays of 10 min and 1 day. We found that at the longer delay, details associated with negative simulations were more difficult to remember than details associated with positive or neutral simulations. We suggest that these effects reflect the influence of the fading-affect bias, whereby negative reactions fade more quickly than positive reactions, and that this influence results in a tendency to remember a rosy simulated future. We discuss implications of our findings for individuals with affective disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
On Assets and Debt in the Psychology of Perceived Wealth – via pss.sagepub.com – We studied the perception of wealth as a function of varying levels of assets and debt. We found that with total wealth held constant, people with positive net worth feel and are seen as wealthier when they have lower debt (despite having fewer assets). In contrast, people with equal but negative net worth feel and are considered wealthier when they have greater assets (despite having larger debt). This pattern persists in the perception of both the self and others. We explore consequences for the willingness to borrow and lend and briefly discuss the policy implications of these findings.
How Lying for Material Rewards Polarizes Consumer Outcome Satisfaction – via www.jstor.org – Consumers often find themselves in situations in which they are tempted to lie in order to obtain otherwise unattainable material rewards or financial benefits (e.g., when refunding or exchanging a product, qualifying for discounts and promotions, negotiating with a salesperson, etc.). This research examines how lying during an interaction with a service provider influences the consumer’s outcome satisfaction. Six studies demonstrate that because lying interferes with the ability to use diagnostic cues to update outcome expectations, liars are less prepared for the final outcome. This reduced outcome preparedness, in turn, leads to more polarized satisfaction judgments. These findings suggest that lying may not only have financial ramifications but that there are evaluative consequences as well.
Living Large – via pss.sagepub.com – In three experiments, we tested the prediction that individuals’ experience of power influences their perceptions of their own height. High power, relative to low power, was associated with smaller estimates of a pole’s height relative to the self (Experiment 1), with larger estimates of one’s own height (Experiment 2), and with choice of a taller avatar to represent the self in a second-life game (Experiment 3). These results emerged regardless of whether power was experientially primed (Experiments 1 and 3) or manipulated through assigned roles (Experiment 2). Although a great deal of research has shown that more physically imposing individuals are more likely to acquire power, this work is the first to show that powerful people feel taller than they are. The discussion considers the implications for existing and future research on the physical experience of power.
Capitalism, Business, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance:
The Intelligent Investor: One Cure for Accounting Shenanigans – via WSJ.com – Accountants who audit a company for years know more about it, says Don Moore, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied conflicts of interest. But that knowledge, he says, “comes at a great cost—a web of personal connections with the company that cannot help but influence an auditor’s preference for how the numbers come out.”
Study: 401(k) Savings Plans May Hurt Low-Income Workers | Moneyland – via TIME.com – One of the most widely dispensed and universally accepted pieces of financial advice is that you should contribute at least enough to your 401(k) to get the full match from your company. If you don’t, so the wisdom goes, you will be giving up free money. Well, it turns out that money isn’t exactly “free.” In a sense, it’s coming right out of your paycheck.
Musings on Markets: Private Equity: Hero or Villain? – via aswathdamodaran.blogspot.com – The battle for the Republican presidential nomination seems to have claimed another “financial markets” casualty, at least in public opinion. In the last few weeks, we have seen Mitt Romney, who made his fortune at Bain Consulting, attacked for being a heartless, job-destroying private equity investor. I prefer not to enter political debates, but some of the critiques of private equity are so misdirected and over the top that I have to believe that these critics have no sense of what private equity is, the companies that they target and what they do at these companies.
Venture capital investing hits 10-year peak, sparking bubble talk – via GeekWire – Despite hiccups in the IPO and M&A markets, venture capitalists were still mighty busy in 2011. Investors in privately-held companies sunk $30.6 billion in 3,051 companies last year, the largest dollar and deal total in the past 10 years, according to a report out today from CB Insights.
Who Counts as ‘Rich’? – via NYTimes.com – We’ve written plenty of times about how little Americans know about the distribution of income in the United States, and how many rich people don’t realize they’re rich, at least relative to the rest of the country.
When to Sell Your Idea: Theory and Evidence from the Movie Industry — HBS Working Knowledge – via hbswk.hbs.edu – How completely should an innovator develop his idea before selling it? In the context of selling original movie ideas, I present a model that features the writer’s private information on the idea’s value, different protection levels associated with different development stages, as well as costly buyer participation. The empirical results are consistent with the model’s predictions: inexperienced writers are excluded from the market for earlier-stage ideas, restricting their choices to developing the idea fully or abandoning it; writers who have a choice select better ideas to sell at a later stage and sell worse ideas at an earlier stage.
The Eclectic Mix:
How is The Internet Changing the Way You Think? Edited, By John Brockman – Reviews – Books – via The Independent – Asking 150 contemporary scientists, intellectuals and artists how the internet changes the way they think is a bit like giving the Large Hadron Collider an extra four notches on its speed-dial. You know they’re going to use it to the max, smashing up ideas and generating spin-offs, though perhaps picking up a few radiation-burns along the way. Thus it proves with this book on “the net’s impact on our minds and future” – regularly illuminating, but sometimes intriguingly conservative, in response to the crisply formulated question.
“the Man Who Runs The World’s Smartest Website” (in The Observer) | Conversation – via Edge – The first thing you notice about Brockman, though, is the interesting way he bridges CP Snow’s “Two Cultures” – the parallel universes of the arts and the sciences. When profilers ask him for pictures, one he often sends shows him with Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan, no less. Or shots of the billboard photographs of his head that were used to publicise an eminently forgettable 1968 movie, . But he’s also one of the few people around who can phone Nobel laureates in science with a good chance that they will take the call.
How to Live a Creative Life – Via Man Made DIY– Equally interesting are the various breakout boxes and b-sides, including this awesome flow chart on How to Live a Creative Life, designed by ManMade faves, PopChartLabs. The infographic is a playful, “complete guide to making your inner genius your greatest on-the-job asset,” and features practical advice, ideas and inspiration, as well as coping tips for dealing with the struggles of living creatively.
The ‘rent to own’ vicious cycle – via Property Blog by Rightmove – Barnardo’s have just released a report highlighting how much more it costs to use ‘Rent to Own’ lenders for everyday appliances.