So it seems like every week these e-mails start with an obit or some cricketing insanity. This week we’ve got both: first India’s continuing attempt to re-popularise binary coding outside of the computing field (just look at all the 0s and 1s in this scorecard), and secondly the passing of Kenneth Arrow (significantly closer to a century at 95 than any of the Indian batsmen). Tim Harford has a nice, short appreciation here. Arrow was such a foundational figure in modern economics it’s almost a surprise to realise he wasn’t long-dead already. It’s a sign of how relatively young modern economics is that the co-author of the First and Second Fundamental Theorems of Welfare Economics (all capitalised, of course, because very econ student learns the FTWEs) could also be a co-author of a ground-breaking letter stating the economic risks posed by climate change. Arrow was a remarkable economist and inspired further remarkable economics: Amartya Sen made his name extending and critiquing Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, already a canonical finding in economics 45 years ago.
1. You don’t need to be remarkable economist to recognise the mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy or be outraged at the consequences of it. Vox’s reporting of the numbers is a bit bizarre (“three quarters of respondents report losing an average of…” – wtf?), but it seems that the latest national surveying shows that most of the population has lost, on average, 19 pounds in body weight over the period of the crisis. This amounts to a crime against humanity, frankly; and I can’t believe this isn’t a bigger deal around the world. What’s worse is that the political leadership responds to this stark evidence with increasing certainty in their own capabilities. I’d say it couldn’t happen anywhere else, but events across Western Europe and in the US prove me wrong. This is what scares me the most: we feel that if things turn bad, people will recognise their mistakes and change course. No: they may well just double down on what caused the damage in the first place.
2. Speaking of economic mismanagement, you know your new currency isn’t taken seriously when it trends on ebay as a collector’s item. That doesn’t exactly speak of market confidence that it’s going to last long, does it? However, since each bond note is selling for more than its dollar value in Zimbabwe, maybe the Reserve Bank should just cut out the middleman and start selling the notes as a novelty gift to foreigners? (thanks to Adam Lyons for pointing me to that one).
3. Let’s pile on some more bad news, while I’m still frothing with outrage: apparently, we’re all at risk – banking crises in other countries can cause domestic banking crises even in the absence of direct financial ties or trade relationships. That bodes well for the next five years.
4. To cheer us up a little, I thought the James Martin memorial lecture given by David Miliband recently was excellent. He mounts a sturdy defence of DFID and singles our new Economic Development Strategy and our work on the Jordan Compacts for particular praise; and he inches towards an approach to reconcile global and local politics.
5. There’s hope, too, in this excellent New Yorker piece on behavioural science and its role in policy making in the US, using the example of Flint, Michigan. We constantly make little movements of progress that help us build a better world. The shocks that push us back are more visible, but the war will be won by the creeping tides of progress.
6. There are echoes of this in this Tim Harford piece about setting rules and targets – we’ve made a lot of progress in identifying patterns, which has left us open to new mistakes – and we keep working out ways to get around them.
7. And lastly, because the first half of this e-mail was a total downer, let’s end on a joyous note: Boogie Cousins has just signed to play alongside Anthony Davis in New Orleans, which means they’ve finally found an on-court combo cool enough to overcome the tragedy of being called ‘the Pelicans’ (seriously, I love birds but when they were selecting names did they just ignore the teams called things like Thunder, Rockets, Bulls, and all those other awesome things to pick that?!) And if you’re not enough of a basketball tragic to be excited by that, here’s Giannis Antetokuoumnpo (it’s pronounced exactly how it’s spelled) dunking the soul right out of Steph Curry. It’s only 28 seconds and watch it for the look on DeAndre Jordan’s face at 0:20s.
Have a great weekend, everyone!