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Sunday, 12 February 2017 - 6:00pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 12/02/2017 - 4:00am in

This week, my academic performance has delivered a crushing blow to my self-confidence, so to reassure myself that I'm still capable of abstract thought, I have been mostly reading:

  • Nature is priceless, which is why turning it into ‘natural capital’ is wrong — Bram Büscher and Robert Fletcher: The move from nature to natural capital is problematic because it assumes that different forms of capital - human, financial, natural - can be made equivalent and exchanged. In practice - and despite proponents’s insistence to the contrary - this means that everything must potentially be expressed through a common, quantitative unit: money. But complex, qualitative, heterogeneous natures, as these same proponents acknowledge, can never adequately be represented in quantitative, homogenous money-units. […] Natural capital is therefore inherently anti-ecological and has little to do with giving value to nature, or rendering this value visible. It is the exploitation of nature to inject more value, and seeming legitimacy, into a faltering capitalist growth economy.
  • The true cost of our insanely low Newstart allowance — Peter Martin: This week, at the National Press Club, Social Services Minister Christian Porter dismissed suggestions that it needed to lift the Newstart unemployment benefit of just $264.35 per week. "The fact that people who find it challenging to subsist on Newstart do so for short periods of time might actually speak to the fact that that's one of the design points of the system," he said. The low rate was "working okay because the encouragement is there to move off those payments quickly".
  • Reducing income inequality — Bill Mitchell: […] financial market deregulation provided capital with ‘all its Christmases at once! – it could have a higher profit share and suppress real wages growth and keep profits high by realising the increased sales and productivity improvements. How? The trick was found in the rise of so-called ‘financial engineering’, which pushed ever increasing debt onto the household and corporate sectors. The capitalists found that they could sustain purchasing power and receive a bonus along the way in the form of interest payments. This seemed to be a much better strategy than paying higher real wages.
  • Why credit card interest rates are high — Peter Martin: The best guess as to why most of us don't much care about rates comes from studies that find that alongside the sizeable proportion of the population that pays off its cards on time (and so doesn't care about rates) is a larger group of "deluded optimists" who believe they will pay their cards off on time. They're not concerned about rates either because they falsely believe they won't have to pay them. Psychological tests show the more likely people are to select cards with high rates, the more optimistic they are about all things.
  • The current system of knowledge dissemination isn’t working and Sci-Hub is merely a symptom of the problem — Iván Farías Pelcastre and Flor González Correa in the LSE Impact Blog: Some scholars consider that, by removing barriers to access to knowledge, Sci-Hub is actually promoting the widest possible dissemination and use of academic research for the benefit of the entire scientific community. For instance, Masoud Shahnazar, Iran-based independent literary researcher, states that “we Iranians really owe [Sci-Hub] a lot” for providing access to the materials Iranian scholars require for their research. How researchers are able to access paywalled papers in a country faced with economic sanctions which prevent international payments is one of many questions that the current model cannot effectively answer.
  • Time To Treat Bank CEOs Like Adults — Dean Baker in HuffPo: Regardless of the exact motives, the real question is what will be the consequences for [Wells Fargo CEO John] Stumpf and other top executives. Thus far, he has been forced to stand before a Senate committee and look contrite for four hours. Stumpf stands to make $19 million this year in compensation. That’s almost $5 million for each hour of contrition. Millions of trouble-making high school students must be very jealous.
  • Stupefied: How organisations enshrine collective stupidity and employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door — André Spicer in Aeon: One well-known firm that Mats Alvesson and I studied for our book The Stupidity Paradox (2016) said it employed only the best and the brightest. When these smart new recruits arrived in the office, they expected great intellectual challenges. However, they quickly found themselves working long hours on ‘boring’ and ‘pointless’ routine work. After a few years of dull tasks, they hoped that they’d move on to more interesting things. But this did not happen. As they rose through the ranks, these ambitious young consultants realised that what was most important was not coming up with a well-thought-through solution. It was keeping clients happy with impressive PowerPoint shows. Those who did insist on carefully thinking through their client’s problems often found their ideas unwelcome. If they persisted in using their brains, they were often politely told that the office might not be the place for them.

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