Sunday, 28 August 2016 - 8:11pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 28/08/2016 - 8:11pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Ramen is displacing tobacco as most popular US prison currency, study finds — Mazin Sidahmed, in the Guardian Holy cow; the one place where you can find a genuine commodity currency. But how do they buy noodles? With noodles?: Ramen noodles are overtaking tobacco as the most popular currency in US prisons, according a new study released on Monday. A new report by Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona’s school of sociology, found the decline in quality and quantity of food available in prisons due to cost-cutting has made ramen noodles a valuable commodity.
  • Caitlyn Jenner and Our Cognitive Dissonance — Robert Sapolsky in Nautilus: Then there’s spotted hyenas, gender-bending pseudo-hermaphrodites. It’s nearly impossible to determine the sex of a hyena by just looking, as females are big and muscular (due to higher levels than males of some androgenic hormones), have fake scrotal sacs, and enlarged clitorises that can become as erect as the male’s penis. None of which was covered in The Lion King.
  • Ideas for Australia: Welfare reform needs to be about improving well-being, not punishing the poor — Peter Whiteford in the Conversation: The OECD report suggests the job-search requirements in Australia are more onerous than those in the other countries studied. In 2007, a jobseeker in Australia could be required to report between eight and 20 job-search activities each month, compared to four to ten each month in Switzerland, ten in the UK and only two in Japan. The OECD also notes that since 2000 there have been “vast swings” in sanction rates (penalties for non-compliance), with sanctions ranging in this period from 25,000 a year to 300,000.
  • When Bitcoin Grows Up: What is Money? — John Lanchester in the London Review of Books: Yap has no metal. There’s nothing to make into coins. What the Yapese do instead is sail 250 miles to an island called Palau, where there’s a particular kind of limestone not available on their home island. They quarry the limestone, and then shape it into circular wheel-like forms with a hole in the middle, called fei. Some of these fei stones are absolutely huge, fully 12 feet across. Then they sail the fei back to Yap, where they’re used as money. […] It has sometimes happened to the Yapese that their boats are hit by stormy weather on the way back from Palau, and to save their own lives, the men have to chuck the big stones overboard. But when they get back to Palau they report what happened, and everyone accepts it, and the ownership of the stone is assigned to whoever quarried it, and the stone can still be used as a valid form of money because ownership can be exchanged even though the actual stone is five miles down at the bottom of the Pacific.
  • The era of predatory bureaucratization – An interview with David Graeber — Arthur De Grave in OuiShare: Many expected Occupy to take a formal political form. True, it did not happen, but look at where we are 3.5 years later: in most countries where substantial popular movements happened, left parties are now switching to embrace these movements’ sensibilities (Greece, Spain, United States, etc.). Maybe it will take another 3.5 years for them to have an actual impact on policy making, but it seems to me like the natural path of things. […] Right now, the most important thing for anti-authoritarian and horizontal movements is to learn how to enter an alliance with those who are willing to work within the political system without compromising their own integrity.
  • Fix our debt addiction to fix our economy — Michael Hudson: As the “One Percent” of banks puts the “99 Percent” deeper into debt, financialization has become the major cause of increasing inequality of wealth and income. In due course, the amount of debt will exceed the economy’s ability to produce a large enough surplus to pay it back. This makes a financial breakdown inevitable.
  • Krugman discovers the obvious — Alexander X. Douglas: Here it is. There is no operational difference between: (a) the state spending, selling bonds to ‘fund’ its spending, and then buying back the bonds, and (b) the state spending and not issuing the bonds in the first place. This is a point economists outside the mainstream have been making for years […] It’s obvious when you think about it. Suppose I give you $100. Then I ‘borrow’ back the $100. Then I buy back the debt from you, for $100. Or suppose I just give you the $100.
  • Branko Milanovic advocates reinventing apartheid — Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber: Part of what’s going on here is the economist’s perspective on policy, which just focuses on net improvements in well-being or utility, with income serving as a proxy, and which doesn’t, therefore, see human beings as possessed of basic rights which it is impermissible to violate. Rather, all and any rights can be sacrificed on the altar of income improvement, just in case someone is poor and desperate enough to make a deal (who are we, paternalistically, to stop them?). The road to hell is paved with Pareto improvements.
  • You May Hate Donald Trump. But Do You Want Facebook to Rig the Election Against Him? — Trevor Timm at the Guardian at Common Dreams: As Gizmodo reported on Friday, “Last month, some Facebook employees used a company poll to ask [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg whether the company should try ‘to help prevent President Trump in 2017’.” Facebook employees are probably just expressing the fear that millions of Americans have of the Republican demagogue. But while there’s no evidence that the company plans on taking anti-Trump action, the extraordinary ability that the social network has to manipulate millions of people with just a tweak to its algorithm is a serious cause for concern.